Ten Years and Counting – Happy Anniversary “Tales of Time & Space”

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of the creation of this blog and its long-departed “sister” self-hosted blog, “SFreaders.com”, both created back on the evening of May 3rd, 2007. It’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging for ten years, although there were lengthy spells during which I wasn’t posting at all for various reasons (mostly domestic problems and health issues causing periodic loss of interest in blogging).

I’ve actually been online for almost 22 years, and most of that time I’ve spent on various forums or, more recently, on Facebook and several other social media platforms. I was already online for over a decade before I even started blogging, so I’ve been doing it for slightly less than half my time online (even less, if you count all the times I haven’t been posting and my blogs have been inactive). Even so, I still think it’s important that I mark the 10th Anniversary of this blog and the long-gone “SFreaders.com”.

It’s hard to believe, looking at this blog now, that back at the beginning, it was the bastard stepchild, the black sheep of my blogs. I never used it. The main one was “SFreaders.com”, the self-hosted WordPress.org blog which I’d set up on my newly-acquired web-hosting platform, complete with unlimited webspace, unlimited bandwidth and all the other bells and whistles. That one was the one that I was focusing on, and was pretty active for six months, hitting 42 posts before I burned out and stopped posting on it.

I had only created THIS blog in order to get the API key for my self-hosted blog, which I, as I’ve said, I had just created earlier that same evening. You had to do that back in 2007 – I don’t know if that’s still how things are done when setting up a self-hosted WordPress.org blog. Once I’d gotten my API key to activate my “SFreaders.com” blog, this blog wasn’t needed any more. It was surplus to requirements. I already HAD the self-hosted WordPress.org blog on my own website, so I didn’t need this one. The stone cold fact was that this was never intended to be an active blog in the first place. It was a “throwaway”.

So, apart from a couple of rubbish posts in June 2007, a month after I’d created it, and four more posts over Feb-April 2010, this blog was pretty much left to rot until the end of 2012. Aside from the above six posts and several throwaway posts on Blogger and LiveJournal, plus a few blog posts on my social networks on Ning.com and FanCentral, I did no serious blogging at all between my last SFreaders.com post on October 29th, 2007 and my first regular posts on Blogger starting from November 2011 through to December 2012. Most of my online activity from Feb 2009 onwards wasn’t on blogs at all, but on forums and on Facebook and other social media sites.

Then, in December, 2012, I switched from my Blogger blog and started posting regularly here instead, and I’ve been doing it ever since. After all the faffing around, I just seemed to decide to settle on this blog as my primary one, and it’s been my main blog for the past five years now. I’ve been beavering away, posting at least once or twice a month, not exactly prolific, but slow and steady does it. Even the early years of this blog (2007-2012), at one time empty and forlorn, are beginning to look a lot healthier and are filling out slowly, as I gradually import the old blog posts from “SFreaders.com” and the other defunct blogs that I’ve set up and abandoned over the years. I have to preserve those posts somewhere, and this blog is where you’ll find them now. I find it extremely ironic how things have turned out, with this blog, which was never intended at the time it was created to be a functioning blog, ending up becoming my main blogging platform in recent years.

Most of the other old blogs are long-gone now, “Other Worlds, Other Times”, the one on LiveJournal.com (only one post and purged back in 2011, due to being inactive for more than a year) and “SFreaders.com” (42 posts, inactive since October 29th, 2007, and completely gone since mid-2009 due to the webhosting provider going belly-up). Then there are the long-gone blogs that I had on the various communities on Ning.com, of which I was a member during the last two or three years of the Noughties.

There’s also my blog on the much loved FanCentral social network community on Spruz.com, where I’ve been a member since 2009, which has become mostly inactive in recent years, as FanCentral very sadly seems to be dying a slow death, due to the members deserting it over the past few years and moving to Facebook. And finally, there’s several of my other old blogs on Blogger.com, which have been booted and rebooted over the years since their initial creation back in early 2010, all now lying relatively inactive, although I do revisit one or two of them every now and again to make the occasional post.

Those other blogs have come and gone, but through it all, this blog still endures, through thick and thin. Sure, there have been long periods over the years that I’ve neglected this blog, but I’m glad it’s always been here, “just in case”. It’s always been my back-up, the one I fell back on when my other blogs failed. It’s been my regular blog since 2012 and the one I always post to first, and it’ll always be here for me to come back to, even if I do seem to lose interest altogether in blogging at times. That is, unless the highly unlikely thing happens, and the massive WordPress.com platform folds and disappears on us. Fingers crossed that that doesn’t EVER happen, but I still make regular backups, just in case.

So, Happy 10th Anniversary “Tales of Time & Space”! May you have many more years ahead of you.


The Blogging Life – My Experiences With WordPress, Part Two

In Part One, I recounted the rise and demise of my first blog, SFreaders.com, between 2007 and 2009. I made the first post to that blog on May 3rd, 2007, and the final post on October 29th, 2007, so I was actually only posting for a few days short of six months. The blog itself lasted for almost two years before being taken permanently offline by the collapse of the webhost, Centrica Hosting, in early 2009. So, for the last year and a half of its life, it was actually inactive, with no posts being made to it at all.

In stark contrast to SFreaders.com, I’d set up this blog (originally titled the GrumpyOldGeek blog – it’s had a couple of different names over the years before settling finally on its current title Tales of Time & Space back in 2012) on WordPress.com at the exact same time as SFreaders.com, but solely for the purpose of getting the API key for the self-hosted blog. Once that was done, the WordPress.com blog became pretty much irrelevant, as I was focusing on my much more powerful, more flexible SFreaders.com blog, my only real (blogging) concern at that time. So I walked off and left the WordPress.com blog without so much as making a post.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did make a couple of posts to the blog, the first one on June 3rd, 2007, exactly a month after my first post to SFreaders.com, and a second six days later, on June 9th. But these posts were insubstantial, silly, lame, half-assed, basically just ANY old rubbish to get something up on this blog. Then I walked off again, and didn’t come back to my WordPress.com blog for nearly three years.

When I did come back to blogging again, it had been almost exactly four years since my son had died, and I thought that I’d take another crack at it. However, I was unwilling (luckily, as it turned out) to go down the self-hosted route again. But I had this old blog sitting there on WordPress.com, totally unused for almost three years. Why not make use of it? So I made one post in February 2010, two posts in March and one in April, the last three all part of the lengthy “It’s A Geek’s Life” trilogy, and certainly far more substantial and interesting efforts than the two pieces of fluff that I’d posted back in June 2007. Certainly the fact that those three posts were far superior to the first two indicated favourable things about my improving state of mind. But I was still suffering badly from depression, and having major problems focusing and committing myself to anything. It was obvious that I was still deep in the bereavement phase (still am today, more than nine years after his death – I just handle it much better these days), and it was still too soon after the death of my son to commit myself to something like this.

So I disappeared AGAIN, this time not returning to my WordPress.com blog until more than two and a half years later, in December 2012. This time I was stronger, I was ready for it, and I was back to stay. I renamed and refocused the blog, and started posting regularly (I haven’t missed posting at least once a month since December 2012), and effectively turned Tales of Time & Space into my main blog, despite running a number of other blogs “on the side”. I have one other blog on WordPress.com, three on Blogger, and my second self-hosted WordPress blog, SF Universe, which I started around the same time as I relaunched this one, back at the end of 2012.

Tales of Time & Space and SF Universe are multitopic blogs, and all posts made to one are also made to the other, essentially providing a back-up of the blog posts. The other four blogs are all single-topic blogs. I STILL don’t trust self-hosted blogs, after what happened to SFreaders.com back in 2009, so I regard this one to be my main blog, rather than SF Universe, which I can experiment with at my leisure. That’s quite a change from the rather dismissive way that I used to regard this blog, but I’ve learned from my past mistakes, and I won’t repeat them again. This blog is now my main blog because it provides security, and will always be here, even if the unthinkable happens again, and history repeats itself with my second self-hosted blog also vanishing without warning. A blog on a big platform like WordPress.com is highly unlikely to just up and disappear on me someday, the way some self-hosted blogs do, although Dreamhost, the ISP with whom I have my hosting plan, is a reputable company who have been around a few years. No more cowboy resellers for me! I’ve learned a LOT over the past few years.

All of which now brings me back full circle, to the first paragraph of Part One, where I said that I had found all the back-up files and databases from my old SFreaders.com blog. Well, the good news is that I’ve decided to import all of the posts from SFreaders.com, rather than leaving them to gather cobwebs on my hard drive. These posts really should see the light of day again, despite the fact that they are quite different in look and feel to the other posts on this blog – the posts to SFreaders.com during those early days tended to be short, snappy, single subject posts, often just casual throwaway observations and comments, and totally unlike the much longer, more detailed posts that I tend to make these days. It’ll be interesting to compare them.

I’ve already tried importing the database, but that didn’t work – those old WordPress databases are .sql format, and incompatible with the modern .xml databases – so the only way now is to import all of the posts, one at a time (there’s only forty-two of them), and altering the dates so they are archived with the same dates that they originally appeared on SFreaders.com (I’ve already started on this). If this works, I might even start digging out posts from other defunct blogs that I’ve had over the years, and import those as well. Tales of Time & Space will become the “One Blog to Rule Them All”. 🙂

After all these years, it’ll be extremely gratifying to see the posts from SFreaders.com resurrected and integrated as part of Tales of Time & Space. And one thing’s for sure – the archives for 2007 will definitely become a lot more interesting and overcrowded than they are at present. 🙂

The Blogging Life – My Experiences With WordPress, Part One

I was rooting through the archives the other night, looking at stuff I have squirrelled away in old folders on my hard drive, and I came upon some long-forgotten, but very interesting bits ‘n’ bobs. One folder in particular stood out, a big one, with multiple sub-folders, containing all the back-up material that I’d saved from my very first, original, self-hosted WordPress blog, SFreaders.com.

These brought back lots of memories of my initial stuttering beginnings with blogging, and as it’s been a long time since I’ve done any kind of personal history posts, I thought I’d cook up a lengthy two-parter about my experiences with blogging on the WordPress platform, both on my self-hosted sites and here on WordPress.com. Here we go with Part One of Two…

Once upon a time, way back in the Jurassic era (beginning of May 2007), I started up SFreaders.com, my first blog. It was the first time I’d ever had a proper presence online that wasn’t merely a collection of three or four naff web pages on a free webhosting service. I’d had a couple of those in the previous five years or so, but they never went anywhere, certainly never more than a tiny website with a handful of drab, linked pages. The lack of webspace and options on those sites didn’t allow for very much more.

So, I decided to go looking for something a bit more serious, not that I had the slightest clue what I was supposed to be looking for or what to do with it when I found it. All I knew was that I needed something a lot more substantial, one of those paid hosting plans with all the bells and whistles. Purely by chance, during April 2007, I managed to buy a ridiculously cheap hosting plan on Ebay.co.uk, from some outfit called Centrica Hosting, who were resellers leasing server space from Heart Internet, one of the UK’s bigger ISPs. This was to lead to the very start of my first blogging experience.

Unlike the previous free ISPs I’d been with, which only gave you a tiny amount of webspace, to which you could ftp a few web pages and pictures, this new, paid hosting plan delivered the full range of services that these packages usually offer. To say that I was a bit overwhelmed would be a complete understatement. At that time, I only knew a smattering of basic HTML and CSS, picked up almost accidentally over several years of pottering around on the free websites. All of this new-fangled stuff about PHP, MySQL databases and dynamic webpages was total greek to me.

My initial intention had been to ignore all of that stuff altogether and just continue as before, sticking up a few static webpages and making use only of the unlimited webspace and unlimited bandwidth, which would allow the static website to expand and develop slowly, growing over a long period of time, without fear of running out of space. But I was no expert at HTML or CSS, just a competent beginner, learning as I went along, and coding all those pages by hand was pretty darned slow. It was taking me forever to get even a relatively small website together on my hard drive, to upload to the webhost’s server.

In addition, it did seem to be an awful waste not to use at least some of the multitude of extras included in the new hosting plan. So I began exploring the options on the webhost, although I really didn’t understand too much at first. But a bit of searching around the web and reading up of various computer magazines, and I was starting to get up to speed on things. Just by coincidence, at the very same time, I was reading an article in a computer magazine about something called “blogging” and something else called “WordPress”, which was supposed to be easy to install and maintain, and apparently a much easier and more automatic way of getting online and maintaining a site than coding by hand. This article changed everything for me.

Up until that point, I had settled firmly on starting up a static website. I was literally only minutes away from doing so when I read this article. I was actually on my webhost, looking at all the options, getting ready to start setting up the file structure and ftp the HTML pages and images to the site, when I spotted something that was pretty much what we now call “One-Click Installs”, or, at least, the 2007 equivalent. And one of the options was to install this WordPress thingy that I’d just been reading about. So right out of the blue, at the very last minute, I changed my mind and decided to try this instead.

Following all the (admittedly simple) instructions, in a mere few minutes, I had a shiny new blog installed and up-and-running. This was the evening of May 3rd, 2007, and within the following half hour, I had my first post and an About page up on SFreaders.com. I was well chuffed, and totally gobsmacked at how easy it was. During the next few days, I set up a few more Pages on my blog, and I began posting frequently and regularly from that point onwards. Over the next six months, from May 2007 up until October 2007, I put up a total of forty-two posts and a bunch of pages. I had my first serious and (relatively) long-lasting online presence at last.

Why did I make the last minute switch to a blog, when I had been for so long set on having a static website? Aside from the obvious fact, of course, that I hadn’t known anything about blogging or WordPress right up until I read that article? Well, I wanted a site up online fast and easily, and the article had convinced me that I could do just that with WordPress, which proved to be definitely true. It would’ve taken me months to get up a decent static site, at the snail’s pace that I was handcoding pages. Likewise, the article had convinced me that I could post content and maintain my blog much more easily than I could a static website. Again, this was (sorta) true, at least on the posting side of things. Thirdly, I wanted something a bit more interactive than a static site, so the idea of comments also attracted me, and they seemed to be a major plus, at least in theory, but didn’t exactly work out that way in reality.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. Firstly, my big hopes for comments and interactivity ended up a huge disappointment. Despite a half-dozen replies to posts over the six months, there was virtually zero interactivity with others on my blog. The comments thing proved to have been a complete waste of time. The blog might as well have been a static site. A secondary drawback was that I simply could not resist the obsessive urge to tinker with the appearance of my blog – the themes, the CSS, everything – and I often spent far more time tinkering than I did actually posting content. In many cases, I just could not leave well enough alone, and ended up making a mess of things on quite a few occasions. I knew just enough to be dangerous.

Thirdly, and most seriously, once I started blogging, I simply stopped learning about web design. Back when I was hand-coding web pages, I was constantly learning more about HTML and CSS, picking up something new with each new page that I coded. But I’m essentially a lazy git, and once I started using WordPress, with the exception of occasionally fiddling with the CSS of a theme, my hand-coding experience came to a grinding halt. Why bother with all that learning code carry-on when WordPress did everything for me pretty much automatically? Seemed like a great idea at the time, but in the long run, it was extremely detrimental to my learning web design, as I’ve advanced very little in all the years I’ve been blogging. I often think of how far along I’d be now if I’d stuck with designing static webpages instead of switching to WordPress.

Overall, however, installing WordPress had proven to be a positive experience, and had kick-started my first serious, regular, online presence. As I’ve already said, for six months I posted regularly, very regularly at first, sometimes five or six times a week. But the frequency decreased as time went on, down to once or twice a week, until, at almost forty posts, I hit a brick wall. I didn’t make a single post for three weeks, just seemed to lose interest, run out of juice. I came back after the three week break and made three more posts and then gave up on blogging completely.

Why? Well, I think the main reason for this happening was simply bad timing. I simply should not have started a blog when I did. I could not have chosen a worse time. My teenage son had died in April 2006, slightly more than a year before I started my self-hosted blog. I really was in no fit state to run a blog or anything else at that time in my life, and it was remarkable that I was even able to get one started at all, let alone keep it running for six months. It was completely the wrong time to attempt such a venture. My mental state was very fragile indeed, and I was completely numb with grief after the death of my son. I was almost a zombie, totally at sea and basically existing day-to-day on autopilot. Everything that I did during that period was pretty much automatic, and I was in a permanent daze, as though I was seeing everything through a dense fog. I really don’t remember very clearly much of what happened in the first year or so after my son’s death.

But as the months went on, the nature of my grief and mental state changed. Instead of being numb and in a permanent daze, my head began to clear, and the pain flooded in. The raw grief was indescribable. The waves of severe depression began to hit me, one after another after another, and I felt as though I was drowning. My mental health crumbled, and with it my physical health also deteriorated markedly. I had stopped looking after myself, and I lost interest in pretty much everything, both offline and online, including blogging. It was a truly dark time in my life, and it was during these months that I drifted away from blogging, at first gradually, and then totally.

So I backed away from the blog, fully intending the break to be temporary, with the intention of returning to it when my mental and physical health had improved. For the next year or more, I did absolutely nothing with it, aside from coming online occasionally to check for any new comments. Then, one day early in 2009, I came online and SFreaders.com was gone, disappeared completely. The reseller that I had bought my hosting package from had gone bust (I should’ve guessed that it was too good to be true), and taken my blog (and I dare say quite a few others) with it. All gone, disappeared, kaput, without so much as an email or any kind of prior warning.

I was gutted that my lovely blog and all that hard work had just disappeared into the aether without warning, but was fortunate that I’d had the foresight to backup the database files and pretty much everything else on my hard drive several months before. Still, it left a thoroughly unpleasant taste in my mouth regarding self-hosted blogs, a distrust that persists to this very day.

So ended SFreaders.com, and my very first experience with blogging or running any kind of online site for a prolonged period. Next time out, my return to blogging on WordPress.com…

To Be Continued…

In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part Two)

When I first joined CompuServe UK, back in Christmas 1995, we were still in that antediluvial period when we had to pay by-the-hour for internet access, and it was a couple of years yet before Compuserve was to introduce monthly flat-rate payments (at the end of 1997), in response to an earlier similar move made by AOL. But, despite this, I quickly became an online junkie, with some pretty big quarterly phone bills to show for it. I learned very quickly (after the first phone bill, which was huge) that it would be very wise to start using an OLR (Off-Line Reader), a fantastic piece of software that automated the connection process with CompuServe, going online, downloading all my forum messages very quickly, and going offline as soon as that was done.

This helped cut my time online (and phone bills) down considerably from what they had been initially. I could now read and respond to all my forum messages offline, without running up huge bills, and all replies would be automatically uploaded and new messages downloaded the next time the OLR connected to CompuServe. I loved my OLR – actually, there were two – first I used NavCIS, then I moved on to OzWin, my favourite OLR, when NavCIS was discontinued. So much so that, even when CompuServe did away with the by-the-hour charges and introduced a monthly flat-rate of £19.99 in late 1997, I continued to use my OLR instead of the normal CompuServe online software (WinCIM), simply because it was a better piece of software, and much nicer to use.

By the end of the 1990’s, the state of the primitive web browsers had improved to a level where I started using them occasionally to venture out into the Web. But CompuServe remained my main base of operations for several years yet. AOL, CompuServe’s biggest rival, bought out the CIS branch of CompuServe in 1998, and CompuServe went into a slow and steady decline thereafter, with many members deserting it for other online enclaves or taking the big step of just booting up their web browsers (Mosaic and the earliest versions of Netscape were the most powerful at that time) and striking out into the web by themselves.

I hung on at CompuServe for a while yet, but, by 2002-2003, I followed the mass exodus out into the internet. By that time, I had another, cheaper ISP, which let me have browser-based internet access, and CompuServe had declined to such an extent that it was a mere shadow of its former self. I no longer saw any need to pay for two internet accounts, so I dropped CompuServe, ending an era which had encompassed my earliest, most happy days online.

Moving out into the wilds of the World Wide Web, I roamed all over the place for a couple of years like a crazy man, absorbing and downloading everything that I could. But once the novelty had worn off, I began to realize that I’d lost something very important, very special, that strong sense of belonging, of being a member of that classic, irreplaceable CompuServe community. In all the years since then, even with the advent of Facebook and other social media, I’ve never quite rediscovered the magical feeling that I felt during my first few years online with CompuServe, and I’ve never come across forums as active, exciting and fun to be a member of.

Those days will always remain my happiest times online, when I was part of that huge, close-knit, vibrant CIS community. I’ve always retained a deep affection for my first online home, and I still go back regularly to the CompuServe forums (what’s left of them) to visit my old buddies in SFLIT. CompuServe Classic, the original service, is now gone, but CompuServe 2000 still exists, and a few of the old forums still survive, and will continue to exist as long as there are enough people still using them to make it worthwhile.

The forums are now, of course, a pathetic shadow of their former glory, and most of the thousands of forums that existed back in the good old days are long gone, disappearing as the original membership left CompuServe in droves. But a few small groups of die-hards in SFLIT, BOOKS AND WRITER’S COMMUNITY and a handful of other forums have refused to give up, and are still fighting the good fight. So those forums continue to keep on keeping on, although the overall number of forums is now a tiny fraction of what once existed. This number continues to shrink ever further as forums fold, one-by-one, due to declining membership and post activity.

SFMEDIA folded into SFLIT quite a while back, and, most recently it was the COMICS & ANIMATION forum which folded into the BOOKS AND WRITER’S COMMUNITY. Those were two of my Top Three forums to hang out in, back in the day, when I used to check in on SFLIT, SFMEDIA and COMICS & ANIMATION daily, downloading hundreds of messages and posting regularly. So it really saddened me a lot to see those two forums disappear.

There are still some good old friends in SFLIT, and it’s always nice to go back for a decent conversation. Some things about CompuServe will never change, even if it has gone downhill, compared to the glory days of the Nineties. But I really, really miss the sheer excitement and fun I had during my earliest days on the classic CompuServe forums. It’s a great pity that we’ll never see the likes of those days again. 😦

In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part One)

I’ve been online for a long time now, almost twenty years, in fact. My love affair with the internet started when I first came online on Christmas morning, December 1995, and has continued ever since. I can now barely remember what life was like before the internet, and it’s so much part of my daily existence nowadays that I simply couldn’t picture how my life would be without it.

Back in those days, the internet had been up and running for a while, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and only a relatively few people were brave enough to venture out into the “wilds” of the Web, using nothing but one of the primitive web browsers available at the time. Besides, that early on in the Web’s existence, there weren’t really very many good websites out there anyway. So most of the fledgling web denizens tended to hang out in the safe online enclaves provided by the large commercial online services such as AOL, CompuServe and GEnie, which dominated the internet during its first couple of decades. And it was on CompuServe, otherwise known as CIS (CompuServe Information Service) that I was to spend my first few years on the internet.

In the heyday of CompuServe and AOL, every UK household used to get AOL and CompuServe CDs regularly in the mail. They bred like rabbits! I had dozens of them lying around the house, so many that I was never short of beer mats. 🙂 Early on Christmas morning, I unpacked my latest, most anticipated Christmas present, a shiny new US Robotics Sportster 28.8k modem, connected it to the computer, popped a CompuServe CD in the drive, and I was off and running. I was about to enter the online world for the very first time.

I was a huge Doctor Who, Babylon 5 and Star Trek fan at that time (I still am), so the very first thing I did after joining CompuServe was to become a member of the SFMEDIA forum, a busy, bustling community full of nice, friendly sci-fi geeks, who all just happened to love the same kind of television series and films that I did. After living my entire life in almost complete isolation from other sci-fi fans, I was now in geek heaven. I had literally thousands of like-minded geeks to converse with online every single day. I made my first posting in the Babylon 5 section of SFMEDIA at 4.55am on Christmas morning, and never looked back.

As I was also a big fan of written SF, I moved on to join the SFLIT forum a day or two later, and I liked that forum even better than SFMEDIA. Then, after a few weeks finding my feet in the two SF forums, and as I was also a comics fan, I joined the COMICS & ANIMATION forum, then the SCIENCE forum, the SPACE forum, the HISTORY forum, and quite a few others. But it was the SFMEDIA, SFLIT and COMICS & ANIMATION forums which always remained my main hang-outs, my central “base of operations”, so to speak. From 1995, up until about 2002, my entire online existence, both on CompuServe and elsewhere revolved around those three forums.

These were the days before everyone and their dog had their own webpage/website, when anyone who was anybody had a presence on CompuServe. Big companies like IBM, Microsoft, Lotus and Borland had their own communities there, and ran their online business from CompuServe. Many of the big SF authors and fandom figures hung out on SFLIT (Mike Resnick, Ray Feist, Catherine Asaro, David Gerrold, Jeff Carver, Gardner Dozois, Jon Stith, Dave Truesdale and many others come to mind), the likes of Joe Straczynski (yeah, JMS himself) hung out on SFMEDIA, and Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber and many other big comics writers and artists hung out on COMICS & ANIMATION.

Having notable media figures like this all in one place, interacting directly with fans and other members in the forums every single day, made CompuServe an absolutely incredible place to be back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

To Be Continued…

What’s In a Name…?

Okay, time for a quick name change for the blog. I’ve decided that the title “GrumpyOldGeek” is altogether too facetious, and I’m changing the title of the blog to something much more pompous and ostentatious. 🙂

As I said last time out, in my first post on this blog, my reason for setting it up was initially quite mercenary: get the API key for my main self-hosted WordPress blog at SFreaders.com, and that’s it. This one was always intended to be purely a throwaway. Set it up, get the API key, and forget about it afterwards. But now that I’ve got a second blog here at WordPress.com, I’ve decided that leaving it unused would be a terrible waste, and I might as well use it for something.

What as, I’m not so sure yet. Maybe as a back-up blog to my main one. Maybe as a place to yibber-yabber on about topics that don’t fit my main blog, which is more specialised. Maybe a bit of both. Only time will tell. As the other blog is supposedly focused more around SF literature, I reckon that I’ll orient this one mainly around my other geek hobbies of sci-fi on television (aka telefantasy) and at the cinema, comic books and music (and anything else that I decide to chuck in). There will certainly be a lot of Doctor Who posts on here, as it’s probably my all-time favourite telefantasy series, and I’m fascinated by time travel in all its forms.

Now that I’ve decided that I’m taking this blog more seriously, a change of title is obviously in order, to something more representative of the contents. And I wanted something that sounds a bit more high-fallutin’ than “GrumpyOldGeek”. Given what I reckon the subject matter of the blog will (mainly) be, the new title didn’t take a lot of thought, to be honest. Henceforth, the blog will go under the title of “Tales of Time & Space”.

So welcome to Tales of Time & Space. Onwards and Upwards!

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Three)

The Barren Years – The Near-Death of Geekery During the Eighties

All throughout the first half of the 1970’s, I was in geek heaven, having seemingly unlimited time to spend on my obsessions with comics, sf literature, telefantasy and sci-fi films. But by 1977-78, things began to change considerably.

I began my A-Levels at college in September 1977, two years of brutal, non-stop studying, followed immediately by another four years of more of the same as I pursued an Honours degree at university. This intensive studying at college and university during the 1977-83 timeframe drastically curtailed my free time. Except for a few short weeks over the summer breaks, I had no free time at all.

Added to this, there was the rapidly declining health of my father and the ever-growing responsibilities that I had looking after both him and my disabled brother. My father was being increasingly crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis and other debilitating health problems, and within a few short years, by the time I was in my first year at university, he was a wheelchair-bound invalid. I was now responsible not only for looking after two disabled adults, but for also somehow trying to miraculously find the time to study for an Honours degree as well.

The result of all this was that my geek hobbies pretty much died in the early Eighties, or were put on life support for quite a few years, at the very least. This prolonged period of sheer, relentless drudgery totally broke two out of three of my longest-standing geek hobbies – reading comics and SF literature. Only the sci-fi television and film obsession escaped relatively unscathed, and my sci-fi TV and film watching habit has remained relatively constant over the years.

It took me a long time to recover from those years, particularly when it came to reading SF. Sure, I still read a fair bit of SF today, but, even now, my SF reading habit hasn’t quite recovered to its former frequency, and is certainly nowhere near the obsessive marathon levels it had been at during my teens. Unlike back then, I rarely read novels at all these days, although I still read short fiction regularly.

As for comics, I actually gave up reading them altogether for a full decade, from 1982-1991. I came back to them sporadically from 1991-1997, but I only really became a serious comics collector again from about late-1997 onwards. However, the good news is that my comics reading habit has actually grown again in recent years to a level that surpasses even what it was back in my teens.

I’m still a hardcore geek, and always will be. But those dark years back at the end of the 1970’s and during most of the 1980’s almost totally ruined it for me on a permanent basis. Luckily I’ve now pretty much fully recovered most of my geek cred and activities. Mostly.

But as much fun as being a geek still is today, the one thing that I can regretfully never rediscover is that wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and sense of sheer joy that I experienced way back in my early teens, when I first became a serious geek. It’s like being a virgin. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. 🙂

It’s all just not quite as wondrous and pure any more when you’re a middle-aged cynic. 🙂

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part One)

Here’s the first part (of three) in the story of my rise to geekhood.

Early Days in the Sixties – Genesis of a Geek

I’m a card-carrying geek. I’ve always been a geek. I’ve been one all my life, right from when I was a very young child, and I simply can’t conceive of being any other way. It’s as natural for me as breathing.

I’m also not one of those shy, retiring types who tries to hide the fact that I’m a geek out of view, for fear of ridicule. I’ve always been very proud of my geek status. I don’t give a damn who knows it or who doesn’t like it. They can all take a great running leap off the top of a high building, as far as I’m concerned.

My early childhood was not a particularly happy one, what little of it I can recall. My family was poor, very poor, and we never had much in the line of material goods. For much of the time it was a struggle for our parents to even feed and clothe us. We also lived on a council estate in Northern Ireland during that infamous period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”, which began in 1968 (I was only seven years old at the time), and was to last right up into my thirties. It overshadowed my entire earlier life, and for everyone of my generation who lived through it, it was a dark time, full of tensions, fear, and unhappiness.

Any kind of an escape from the dreary and depressing reality of life in a poverty-stricken, 1960’s Northern Ireland council estate was a welcome one, and so I took every chance I could to escape from “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. But WHEN did I actually become a geek, and, more importantly, HOW and WHY? Why did I choose that path, rather than follow the more mundane hobbies that the vast majority of other kids my age indulged in?

I suppose it all began at a very early age, before I’d even started school, back when I started to read my first “proper” books (books with lots of words, rather than mere “picture books”). By the time I first went to school (aged four and a half years), I was already a voracious reader, very advanced for my age, and my parents and other relatives encouraged me as much as possible by continually giving me new books to read. My uncle started buying me books on a regular basis, and these were invariably based around science, nature and technology. They were full of dinosaurs, spaceships, and stories of other worlds and solar systems, all of which captivated my fertile young imagination. My preferences were already being shaped around science-oriented themes even at that early age.

Even this early in life, I showed a very strong preference for the fantastic rather than the mundane, for wild adventures into space and through time, dinosaurs, aliens, indeed anything “out of this world”. I took every chance I could to escape from boring “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. So all the influences and obsessions of a future geek had already been laid down right from the start. It was almost like I was pre-ordained to become a geek, although we all know that couldn’t be true, could it?

Soon afterwards, at about four or five years old, I started reading comics and quickly developed a strong preference for the more SF-oriented strips over the less fantasy-oriented stories, particularly the war and sport strips which were more dominant in British comics at that time. And around the same time, I also started paying attention to sci-fi and fantasy films and sci-fi television series on UK TV.

Doctor Who, on UK television, started having its first really strong influence on me about 1966-67, when I was about six years old, and at about roughly the same time, my life was changed forever when I saw the classic George Pal movie adaption of The Time Machine (1960) for the first time on Irish television (RTE). I became totally obsessed with the concept of time travel, which remains my favourite SF theme even now. At the young age of six or seven, I was already a confirmed SF nut, at least as far as comics, films and television were concerned.

As a direct result of this obsession with The Time Machine (1960) movie and Doctor Who, I was also to start reading SF. About a year or two after I’d seen the movie, I found the original H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in a local library, and I just had to read it. I was hooked, despite the drastic differences between the novel and the film, and moved from there on to reading anything else I could find by Wells, then on to Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the greater world of SF authors at large. I’ve never looked back, and remain a hardcore SF literature fan to this day.

As I got older, I immersed myself ever further into the fascinating world of comics, watching sci-fi TV and films, reading great SF books, and also drawing and writing, almost always something connected with the aforementioned comics, books, TV series and films.

I drove my poor parents mad. They just didn’t “get” sci-fi at all, but humoured their crazy kid. My father really hated all of this “silly sci-fi nonsense”, and Doctor Who in particular, but tolerated it when I was very young. He hoped desperately that I’d “grow out of it” as I got older, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening! Here I am, more than forty years later, and still a hardcore SF fan.

Poor Dad! He must be turning in his grave!

To Be Continued…

The Prodigal Returns…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

My last post on this blog dates from more than two and a half years ago (June 2007). To be brutally honest, I’d set up the account for the purely mercenary reason of obtaining an API Key for my self-hosted WordPress blog – the much missed (by me, anyway) SFreaders.com – which I’d just installed on a newly purchased domain. That one was always going to be the main blog, a more specialized one, but I did state at that time my intention of keeping this one up and running for posts and rants of a much more general nature.

I did originally have the bright idea of having several separate blogs for my main interests, as I already had four blogs at my disposal – my self-hosted WordPress blog, this one on wordpress.com, and one each on livejournal.com and blogspot.com. However, that approach quickly proved to be a bit over-ambitious and not so great an idea in the longer term. So I made a couple of posts here, and then… nothing. I stopped using this blog altogether.

So what happened? Well, the honest truth is, I’m more of a “one blog person”, not like all those other guys out there who seem to have blogs all over the place, and are making zillions of posts every day. I have enough trouble keeping one blog at a time running, without trying to juggle a whole bunch of them, and I don’t have enough free time to post so much anyway.

Even on a single blog, I’m not a prolific poster at the best of times, and I suffer badly from depression, going through spells when I post very little, and during which I have little interest in anything. Even during a good spell, a couple of posts per week is decent going for me. I like to make long posts, not little snippets or soundbites, and I like taking my time over two or three days to think about what I want to say. I also prefer breaks in between posting, taking a breather to marshal ideas for the next one. I also prefer to post when I feel the urge to, rather than give in to the constant pressure to churn out a lot of crap posts by the clock, just so I can boast that I’ve made so many posts per week on my blog.

With my “slow but steady” approach, on a single blog, I could build up to a fairly healthy body of posts over time. But spread those posts out over a number of blogs, and it starts to look pretty lousy, resulting in several “undernourished” blogs rather than a single strong one. Those blogs tend to die off due to disinterest and lack of posts. I’d rather focus on a single blog, which would receive my undivided attention, and which would be be much more likely to last the course in the long one.

So I concentrated on my main blog, and allowed this one and the others I have scattered over the ‘net to lie idle. For a year and a half, things ran smoothly. Aside from a few fallow patches during which the depression kicked in (it seems to come and go in “waves”) and posts were very sparse, the total number of postings increased steadily over time, until it was by far my most sustained effort… ever… at maintaining an ongoing online presence. I’m into a very wide range of topics, and the well was never going to run dry with regards to having material to post, at least during the periods when the depression didn’t sap my will to post (or do anything in general). Things were building up, slowly but steadily, and overall I was well pleased with myself, and had great plans for the future direction of my blog.

Then disaster struck. One morning I switched on my computer, booted up Firefox, and clicked on my blog. It wasn’t there anymore. There’d been a couple of downtime glitches before, but I knew from the onscreen error messages that this time was different, and this wasn’t a temporary problem. My ISP had suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, gone belly-up, taking my blog (and doubtless many, many others) with it. All that work, all those posts, a year and a half of serious effort, building that bloody blog up, with big ideas for even greater things down the line. Gone. All gone. I just sat there, staring at my monitor, totally sick to my stomach. I’d made the fatal mistake of choosing my ISP unwisely.

The WordPress self-hosting experiment had died a sudden and painful death, and I gave up in disgust, not having the heart to start up again somewhere else (despite having saved everything from the old blog). I was so pissed off that I didn’t even have the slightest interest in starting up from scratch again with another hosting service, so I decided to take a long time out to think about what I was going to do. Even at this present point in time, I still haven’t really regained any enthusiasm for self-hosting a blog, and, for more than a year now, I’ve been dithering and dithering, drifting about, undecided as to what approach I’d take next. Did I even want to go down that same path again? What other options were there?

Well, at least the time out gave me a lot of time to reflect on the entire experience and to think about the overall positive -vs- negative aspects of self-hosting. As I see it, the “plus” things I liked about my self-hosted blog as opposed to the service here on wordpress.com were the sheer extra power, flexibility, and the ability to configure stuff, mainly themes, css and php code. Learn enough css and php, and you can do pretty much anything with a WordPress self-hosted blog.

The problem is, these “plus” things also turned out to be a liability, for me, at least. I’m no expert – I’m not a beginner, either, but I fall under the heading of “knows enough to be dangerous”. Combine that with my compulsive need to tinker, and it’s an explosive mixture. In extreme cases this could result in a non-functioning blog – luckily enough I’m not that stupid. But I did spend an unacceptable amount of time tinkering with css and php, messing with themes, etc, rather than actually posting. Maybe fewer options would’ve been better for someone like me.

Another thing I found was that, yes, a self-hosted WordPress blog may be way more configurable and powerful than the more limited wordpress.com version, but it also takes a lot more work to maintain it. In general, I found that the administration of my blog, whilst not too difficult, took up a lot of my time. The constant stream of upgrades seemed to come far too quickly – it feels like you’ve hardly installed an upgrade when there’s another one landing down the pipe, and you have to go through the same thing all over again.

Despite the process becoming a bit more automated over time, it was still a pain, and I found a few niggling little problems each time I upgraded, which prevented my blog operating at full efficiency. It seemed that I was spending far more time on maintaining WordPress upgrades than I actually wanted to, rather than posting on my blog, which defeated the whole idea that running a blog should be easier than maintaining a static website. All in all, I’d become royally fed up with the seemingly never-ending WordPress upgrade cycle, long before my ISP ever pulled the plug.

Sometimes I found myself yearning to go back to simpler times, doing a static website coded by hand, and giving up the whole blogging lark altogether. Looking with a clinical and dispassionate eye at the entire experience with my blog, I’d never actually used a fraction of the capabilities of WordPress anyway, and probably never would have. It was simply too powerful and too complex. By comparison, the more limited nature of a blog on wordpress.com means that a lot of this complexity and the overall hassle with administration and upgrading is removed, whilst still seeming to keep just about enough of the power plus the familiar environment to satisfy me.

My needs are relatively simple – I’m mainly a text-based person, a writer, so I don’t ask for much. A handful of decent templates (I’ve already settled on one that I like), a nice text editor (which we already have), a few nice “dashboard” options (ditto), and the ability to easily upload one or two pictures from time to time (ditto). That’s about it. I have no need for lots of glitzy stuff, no excessive amounts of graphics, videos, flash, music, or any of that kind of thing. WordPress.com seems to have all the bases covered. The only thing I can foresee becoming a problem down the line is running out of hosting space. I’m one of those weirdos who prefers to have “unlimited” webspace, or at least a paltry 20GB or so, “just in case”. Saying that I’ve only got two or three gigabytes makes me nervous.

So I’ve started for the first time to take very seriously the idea of having my main online presence here, on my long-abandoned wordpress.com blog, something I’d never really considered doing before. I’ve fallen badly out of the habit of blogging and posting in general, and grown very, very stale over the past year or so. It’s so easy to turn into a lazy sod, but much harder to kick-start oneself again after a prolonged period away from blogging. Maybe concentrating on this blog, rather than going back down the more complex self-hosted route, will prove to be a more successful tactic for getting me back into regular posting again.

Despite some prolonged periods without regular posts, I was (in general) on a roll with my old blog before it disappeared, and I’d really like to get back on that roll again. Whether or not I’ll stay the pace, or fade away as I have so many times before, I dunno. But I’ll never know unless I try, and the signs are good. Over the past few months, I’ve been starting to get back the old urge to start posting again – I’ve got lots of stuff to post about, and a need to get it “out there”.

Things might just be about to get a bit more interesting around here.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Man, it is hot, really hot. We’ve had several days of scorching sunshine and high temperatures that are definitely not the norm in this usually damp and miserable part of the world.

And I am suffering in this heat, like all overweight people tend to do in soaring temperatures. I’m sizzling like a large banger cooking under a grill. Every window and door in the house is wide open, and it’s still too freakin’ hot! I’m reminded of the old saying “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” – well, I’m nowhere near the kitchen, and the temperature hasn’t gone down any. Short of climbing into the freezer for a few days, there’s no escaping it.

So I’m sitting at my computer, cooking in my own juices, and blasting rock music loudly on the hi-fi – “Shadow King” by the group of the same name (with ex-Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm and ex-Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell). Not a bad album. It’s the weather for cold drinks, ice cream and music, with a computer thrown in for good luck. Whatta way to live!…

Might as well enjoy the sun while it lasts, which won’t be long. We’re lucky to get a couple of weeks of bright sunshine per year. Next time I post, it’ll probably be back to wet and miserable again… (moan, gripe, bitch…)

Hello from a Grumpy Old Git!

Hello there! Welcome to the GrumpyOldGeek blog, where you’ll find me wibbling on about all and sundry.

Initially, my reason for setting up this blog was quite mercenary: get my API key and forget about it afterwards. I needed the key because I recently started up my first WordPress blog, a self-hosted one at SFreaders.com. But now that I’m here at WordPress.com I’m finding myself thinking “What the heck! I’ve got a blog, so I might as well use it!”

The reasons?

Well, number one, I feel that it’ll put me in closer contact with the great WordPress community, something that’s severely lacking at the moment with my self-hosted blog (have to give it time – it’s only been live about a month). Hopefully I’ll find out more about the community and learn a lot as I go along, and maybe down the line I’ll start making contributions of my own. I’m a “community” type of person, particularly of the free and “open” (unsullied by commercial greed and perversions) kind. I’ve long been (in spirit) a great fan of the Open Source philosophy – maybe some of these days I’ll gather up the courage to shift totally away from Windows XP to either Linux or FreeBSD.

Secondly, I’d really like to get into the nuts ‘n’ bolts of WordPress (what better way to become an artisan than know your tool well), and I reckon that the best way to learn something is to watch how others use it. Learn from more experienced users, and maybe help others out in turn as I become more experienced. As well as the general chit-chat, I’d like to use this blog to talk about the WordPress specific stuff, and maybe practice my (hopefully) growing skills.

Thirdly, I can rant on about any old thing. My self-hosted blog is a bit more specialized in nature, so I tend not to stray too far from the various subjects in the categories I’ve created. On here, I can be a bit less restrained and wibble on about any old thing that takes my fancy. Fire off a few rants – I love ranting when the blood gets up. Even when nobody’s listening. But I gotta watch the blood pressure.

Finally, and this is a purely selfish motive, I want to “put myself out there”. To use my blog on WordPress.com to let people know about me and my other blogs, maybe gaining a few visitors in the process. My main blog is a bit quiet as yet, and, although I’m not obsessed with stats and huge numbers of visitors, it would be nice to have a few.

None of my blogs are (or will ever be) money-making ventures, and SFreaders.com is aimed at fans of science fiction literature, sci-fi movies and TV series, comic books, music, general science, history and a few other things. It’s mostly the SF literature, sci-fi movie and comic book fans that I’m trying to attract. So if anyone reading this is of that particular grouping, please take note.

Well, enough from me for now. Hopefully some of you guys will take pity on me and leave a few comments. 🙂