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Daybook

Descriptions of what I did recently; what most people think of when they imagine a “diary entry.”

Fighting the Time Bandits…

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…not to mention the energy bandits. I didn’t always have trouble with those.

So. I have not abandoned Contra, am not dead nor even injured. (I took some skin off one of my toes in Hawaii.) I don’t know that I can manage a detailed entry today, but I’m not sure I’ve ever gone a month without posting here. I’ve done a little better on Facebook, but that has mostly been posting interesting links and maybe a little commentary.

Like, f’rinstance, the Sun has gone to sleep, and has been asleep now for twelve days. For ten of those twelve days, even the solar plages went missing, and I generally don’t see that. Yesterday I started to see some plages again, so I’m guessing we’ll see some spots in the next few days. It’s remarkable for this to happen just two years after a solar maximum, poor limp excuse for a maximum that it was. We’re certainly seeing a much quieter Sun than we’re used to. What that means is impossible to know right now. I doubt we’re sliding into a new Ice Age, though it’s fascinating to speculate…and one of the reasons we may not be is that we have a little more CO2 in the atmo to keep things warm.

The cool part (as it were) is that I will probably live long enough to see if a weaker solar cycle has any measurable effect on climate. (I won’t be 90 until 2042, and I certainly intend to live at least that long.)

So. The reason I’ve been so strapped is this: When we packed the house last December so we could winter over in our new house in Phoenix, we packed what we needed, and left everything else in Colorado. Now we have to empty the house except for some furniture and knicknacks for staging.

What was startling was how much was left after we extracted what we needed.

There’s a lesson in that somewhere, and if I had time I’d dig for it. Instead, Carol and I are doing triage on an enormous amount of stuff, packing and labeling the keepers and hauling the discards to whoever will take them. I’m making a salvage run to the metal yard later this week with a couple of ’50s chrome kitchen chairs with the padded panels removed, a couple of ’70s folding chairs ditto, a ’50s charcoal grill, a ’50s stepstool, some odd steel scrap, and about ten pounds of copper wire and other odd copper/brass items. I’m selling furniture and our gas grill on Craigslist. We’re shredding twenty years of odd bills and recycling several boxes of old magazines that somehow escaped the heave-ho last year. Almost all back issues of the Atlantic are now online, so I don’t need to keep paper mags, even the ones tagged with significant articles. (The Atlantic used to have a lot more of those in the ’80s and ’90s than they do today.)

Solar Panel 300 Wide.jpgCarol’s packing glassware and kitchen and office stuff and much miscellany. I have to get rid of a solar panel that I cobbled up in 1977 from six 6-cell subpanels that doesn’t work anymore, and I would like to investigate the peculiar failure mode if I had time: When first placed in the Sun it generates 17 volts, but over a period of no more than five minutes the voltage drops down under 10 volts and eventually to 5. It hasn’t been in the Sun at all these past 40 years…so what died? I’m curious, but not curious enough to keep it and do exploratory surgery on it.

The kicker, though, is this: No sooner did we get back from our Hawaii vacation than I was sent the PDF proofs of my six chapters of Learn Computer Architecture with the Raspberry Pi. That’s 100,000 words and 90 hand-drawn technical figures. I have to read them closely, because I’ve already spotted typos that were not present in the edited manuscript ARs. Somebody, somewhere changed “Jack Kilby” to “Jack Kelby.” The inventor of the integrated circuit deserves better. I may be the last line of defense against stuff like that, so I have to read slowly and pay complete attention. Also, don’t get me started on example code. Whitespace is significant in Python…and for what, Lord? To torment typesetters and technical editors?

Sheesh.

We’re still trying to schedule some essential work, like having an epoxy coating put down on the new garage floor, getting all the outside windows washed, and having the carpets and drapes cleaned. So, evidently, is everyone else in Colorado Springs. Want to make good money? Forget your Grievance Studies degree and go into carpet cleaning.

By now you may be getting the idea. I turned 64 on the 29th, and am feeling every day of it. I’m desperate to do some new SF (so desperate that I’ve started writing country-western songs in my head while schlepping boxes) and that’s not going to happen for awhile.

The bad news is that this isn’t going to be over any time real soon. End of July, I hope. But if the house keeps vomiting up weird stuff that we didn’t have to deal with last time, all bets are off. Your best bet is to watch Facebook, as I allow myself fifteen minutes of online time during the day.

I’ll be back. (Didn’t somebody else say that? Oh, yeah: I used to have some 75 ohm terminators, but they’re long gone.) I haven’t been doing this for 18 years only to stop now.

The Duntemann Ensmallening Continues

As I lugged box after box from our furnace room up All Those Stairs (people who have been to our Colorado house known of which I speak) it wasn’t just the boxes that were heavy. These were boxes of computer books and magazines, and all of them went into our recycle can for next week’s pickup. With each tip of a box into the recycle can, my heart grew heavier. These were not somebody else’s DOS programming books. Uh-uh. These were copies of Degunking Windows, Degunking Your PC, Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses, Jeff Duntemann’s Drive-By Wi-Fi Guide, and Assembly Language Step By Step, 2E (2000).

Lots of them.

When an author writes a book, the publisher typically sends him one or more boxes of books without charge. I’ve been a published tech book author since mid-1985. Do the math. Ok, sure, I no longer have box quantities of Complete Turbo Pascal. However, I do have the printed manuscript for Complete Turbo Pascal 2E (1986) in a monsteroso 3-ring binder. (See above.) The damned thing is 4″ thick. That book was work. And if I recall (I no longer have it) the printed manuscript for Borland Pascal 7 From Square One was in two binders, each 3″ thick. I also found the original submission manuscript for Pascal from Square One with Pascal/MT+, from mid-1984. That manuscript was sold, but the publisher prevailed upon me to rewrite it for another Pascal compiler whose name you’d know. (Alas, they changed the title on me. But they’re dead, and I’m still alive, so I win. And there will be a Lazarus from Square One someday.) Do I keep these manuscripts? I still have the word processor files on disk, though I’m not entirely sure about the Pascal/MT+ ones. It’s another ten or twelve pounds of paper, and I freely admit I haven’t looked at either binder since we moved to Colorado in 2003. So I guess they have to go.

How heavy can your heart get before it collapses into a black (red?) hole?

I know a lot of you have been through one or more ensmallenings of your own, because you’ve told me. A couple of you have offered me your complete runs of PC Techniques/VDM. I already have five or six copies of all sixty issues. I’m keeping a full set. The others will feed the can as soon as I catch my breath enough to lug them up the stairs. (I’m not writing this entry because I have time on my hands…)

A lot of other odd stuff has come to light: My original Rio MP3 player, year unknown. A box of 3.5″ floppies. My father’s medium-format Graflex camera. My own trusty but now useless Nikon film SLR. What’s to become of it? The Rio is scrap, as is Carol’s final-generation APS film camera. My SLR is probably not worth much anymore. About my dad’s Graflex I have no idea. I’ll probably keep them both for the time being. A great deal of other stuff is going out on the curb. The concrete people are replacing the garage slab on May 4, and the garage has to be dead-empty by then. What needs to be kept from the garage collection has to come down to the furnace room, which means gobloads of other stuff must exit the furnace room first, and forever.

Man, this is work. And work at 6600 feet, at that.

You’ve heard me say this before, though I’ve forgotten who said it originally: Not everything from your past belongs in your future. Keep everything that reminds you of your past, and you end up turning into a museum that only you ever enter…

…if you ever actually do.

Time’s up. Another load or six needs to go up the stairs. They say it gets easier after the first twenty loads. I guess I’ll find out.

A Grand Ride North, and a New Grand Champion

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We’re back in Colorado Springs, and sooner than we thought, too. A day came early last week when we realized that we had pretty much gotten everything done that we expected to while wintering over. Furthermore, there was a big dog show in Denver on April 9-10. Dash’s coat was in pretty good shape. The weather forecast looked marvelous throughout the West. (Sorry about the East Coast, guys.) So we looked at each other, nodded, and started throwing things into the Durango.

It’s 835 miles, all of it Interstate, and we’ve done it many times by now. We did well enough to stop for an afternoon in Albuquerque, to visit with a friend of ours who has Dash’s brother, Charlie. As we had all four of the Pack with us, and Sherry has two Bichons of her own (both boys) it turned into a backyard Bichon party very quickly. There was much running around and squirting-of-things, which is all any (male) Bichon would ask of a party. Everybody slept really well that night, not least of whom were the two of us.

We got into the Springs Thursday night, turned on the water, and got a decent night’s sleep. We dropped everybody but Dash off at Gramdma Jimi’s the next morning, and headed up to Denver for the show. Most of our Bichon Club friends were there, and nine Bichons were entered. Dash won Best of Breed for the Owner Handled category both days. This meant that he would represent the breed in the Group competition. As its name implies, the Non-Sporting Group is a kind of none-of-the-above category containing breeds including the Poodle, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, Keeshond, and others that aren’t good fits in any of the other groups. I’ve often wondered why the Dalmatian isn’t in the Working Group, and why the Boston Terrier–sheesh–isn’t in the Terrier Group. Doubtless there are historical issues, all of which have long been forgotten.

No matter. Dash looked about as good as he ever does, thanks to a foot bath and a great deal of fussing by Carol. On Saturday he took Third Place in the Non-Sporting Group for owner/handled dogs, and on Sunday he took Second Place, ditto. We took home two very fancy ribbons, and–more important–a large number of points. Dash won 45 owner-handled points at the show, which gives him 225 owner-handled points overall. This makes him the #2 owner-handled Bichon in the country right now. Given that the #1 Bichon has only 350 owner-handled points, it’s actually a contest. (The photo above is by Patrina Walters Odette, and used with permission. Thanks, Patrina!)

But more than that, the additional points make Dash a Grand Champion. Championships in dog showing are a little like dans in karate: There is an ascending hierarchy of championships, based on an entirely different tally of Grand Championship points. Dash made Champion a couple of years ago. The Phoenix Project slowed us down; there wasn’t a lot of showing going on in 2015. However, Dash has done so well in the few shows we’ve entered that he accumulated 25 Grand Championship points and took Grand Champion this past weekend. The next step is Bronze Grand Championship, which requires 100 Grand Championship Points. This is four times what Dash has now, but we may give it a shot. Beyond that are Silver Grand Championship (200 points), Gold Grand Championship (400 points) and Platinum Grand Championship (800 points.) Whew. That’s a whole lotta brushing, on both Dash’s and Carol’s ends of the brush. Let’s see how life unfolds for the next couple of years.

And unfolding it is. We now have the task of getting the Colorado house ready to sell. This means sifting, sorting, selling and/or giving away a lot of stuff, and shipping the rest down to Phoenix. It was necessary (if maybe a little unnerving) to dump two boxes of my books into the recycle bin. I have a couple of pristine copies of Degunking Your PC and Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses…do I need a whole publisher’s box of both? It’s going to be harder with my assembly book and my Wi-Fi book, but downsizing means…cutting down the size of your stuff. As people who have been here know, we have a lot of stuff.

So the downsizing continues. More as it happens. Anybody want some plywood?

Using GWX Control Panel to Lock Out Pesky Windows 10 Upgrade Stuff

A few days ago, a countdown timer appeared on Carol’s Win7 PC when she booted up. It told her that Windows 10 would be installed in two hours.

WTUBF?

I turned off the machine and started digging around online. A lot of people have this problem, apparently. All of us who aren’t already running Win10, of course, have been nagged mercilessly about upgrading since last summer. I don’t care if it’s free. I don’t want it now. If I want it later I’ll pay for it. But just so you know, I don’t plan to leave Win7 land before 2020. I dislike the nags, but nags are just nags. This time MS told me they were going to give me something I didn’t want and hadn’t asked for.

Uh-uh.

So. I quickly learned that the upgrade software is contained in a Windows update module called KB3035583. I turned Carol’s machine on and as soon as I could I uninstalled KB3035583. That ended the spy-movie countdown timer. Alas, the next morning the damned thing was back. The countdown timer now said Thursday, (it was Tuesday morning) which was some comfort. I still had some time to work.

I hid KB3035583. The next morning, someone (guess!) had un-hid it. Ok. This means war. I dug around a lot deeper, and found an enormous amount of cussing and bitching and suggested fixes. I tried a couple of things with mixed success. Then I stumbled upon the GWX Control Panel, by Josh Mayfield of the Ultimate Outsider site. Josh initially released it late last summer, and has been updating it periodically ever since. Josh’s instructions are pretty good, but for something a little clearer, take a look at Mauro Huculak’s article on Windows Central. He did a good job, which I know because I followed his instructions when installing GWX Control Panel on my lab machine. I had no issues, and understanding that MS was about to start messing with my wife’s PC, I installed it on her machine as well.

Like Philip Phillips says, Gone Gone Gone. We’ve not even seen the nag window since Thursday, much less the countdown timer. I quickly added GWX Control Panel to all of our other Win7 machines. Worked every time.

Now, why did Carol’s machine say it was about to install Win10, while our several others just kept nagging? We don’t know how, but Carol’s PC thought that somebody had reserved a copy of Win10. The download manager in KB3035583 had already downloaded well over a gigabyte of stuff, which I assume was all the install machinery and the OS itself. Carol doesn’t remember clicking on anything, nor do I. It’s possible that one or us selected something by mistake. MS seems to be increasingly desperate to get as many people as possible to upgrade, and its popups offer no clean way out.

Ironically, I vaguely remember reserving a copy from my lab machine way back when this business first came up. The lab machine did not have the install files and was not giving me a countdown timer. My only theory is that Carol’s PC may now be using the local IP address that my lab machine was using way back when I (may have) reserved a copy, even though that was in Colorado. It’s kind of crazy, but I have no better ideas.

I don’t have anything strong against Windows 10. I know a lot of people who like it just fine. I will probably use it eventually–once it has several years of history behind it. However, as most of you know, I do not like to be pushed. That’s the heart and soul of being a contrarian. The harder you push me, the more likely I am to go in the opposite direction.

All the usual cautions apply to GWX Control Panel. Do a full backup and a restore point before you install it, just as you would with any new software. Follow the directions closely, and do your best to understand what you’re doing. We’ve had no adverse issues with it, granted that I installed it yesterday. If anything changes tomorrow morning, well, you’ll read about it here.

Dash Gets Best (Almost) In Show

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Earlier today, Dash won his biggest dog show prize yet: Reserve Best in Show for the Owner/Handler category at the Heart of the Desert Classic here in Phoenix. I was filming the final judging on my Galaxy Note 4, and when the judge pointed to Carol and Dash for Reserve, I said something awkward and almost dropped the camera.

Dash has done well in dog showing for the past few years. He’s already a champion, and is now within four points of becoming a Grand Champion. After that there are Silver, Gold, and Platinum Grand Champion. He’s still headstrong and sometimes defiant, and loves to play with kids and other dogs so much that he simply won’t stand still in the presence of either.

A quick note on jargon here: “Owner/Handler” is a category defined by the dog’s owner (in this case, Carol) being the handler at the show, which simply means running the dog around the ring and presenting it to the judge. Not everyone presents his or her own dogs in shows, for many reasons including lack of time, poor health, or simply a disinclination to run around the country winning ribbons. There are specially trained people who take other people’s dogs to shows for a fee. These are called professional handlers. It’s possible for owner/handlers to compete against professional handlers (which we have done, and won from time to time) but professional handlers cannot compete in the Owner/Handler category.

The notion of “reserve winner” is harder to explain. It’s insurance against the possibility that an award cannot be given because the winning dog is shown to be ineligible for some reason. Another dog got Best in Show for Owner/Handler, but before the award is logged in the AKC’s books, the organization checks the winner’s eligibility. It’s unlikely, but if an irregularity is found, the award goes to a sort of runner-up called the reserve winner. It’s pointedly not second place. There is only one “best in show,” but in Dash’s case, he will inherit the award if the winning dog is disqualified.

It’s a really really big deal, especially at a dog show as big as the annual 4-day Heart of the Desert Classic in Phoenix.

As you might imagine, Carol is glowing in the dark. We all had a Cane’s Chicken Fingers feast this evening, and everybody got some chicken. We’re all dog-tired, and I’m going to shut this thing down now and get some Zs. As will Carol. And, as I strongly suspect, will Dash.

Now Available: Souls in Silicon on Kindle and KU

Souls in Silicon: Tales of AI Confronting the Infinite

I am pleased to announce the Kindle ebook edition of Souls in Silicon, my second short fiction collection, containing all my stories about strong AI, plus excerpts from both The Cunning Blood and Ten Gentle Opportunities. It’s available for $2.99, or as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. No DRM.

The POD paperback edition has been available since 2008. I’ve updated the cover to a more legible font; the same font used in The Cunning Blood and Cold Hands and Other Stories. I’m evolving a line look here, and so far, I like it a lot. The original cover type font for Souls in Silicon was a little more atmospheric, but it didn’t read well on Amazon thumbnails. The cover art is the same 2008 drawing by Richard Bartrop, created specifically for the book.

The stories inside are all the stories I’ve written about strong AI that I’m pleased with:

  • “The Steel Sonnets”
  • “Guardian”
  • “Silicon Psalm”
  • “Marlowe”
  • “Borovsky’s Hollow Woman” (with Nancy Kress)
  • “Bathtub Mary”
  • “STORMY vs the Tornadoes”
  • “Sympathy on the Loss of One of Your Legs”

People who have followed my work closely since the beginning (there are a few) will notice that “Ariel” from Burchenal Green’s Tales of the Marvelous Machine isn’t here. It wasn’t in the POD paperback either. The reasons are complicated. “Ariel” centered on two characters from a failed novel that I was tinkering in 1980 and eventually abandoned as untenable. The theology, furthermore, is dicey. I know more now than I did then. A modern priest who grew up with computer technology would not have the reaction that Fr. Fiocca did to Ariel the AI.

So I’ve wondered here and there down the years if I should rewrite the story. If I did it would be a pretty radical rewrite. That decision will have to wait for another day; there’s too much to do in the meantime. I have one more significant story, a longish novella, that needs to be dealt with and posted on Kindle, but it has its own share of problems, which I’ll talk about in a future Contra entry.

In the meantime, Souls in Silicon is up there. Go get it. Don’t forget to drop a review on Amazon when you can.

Right now, I have stuff to write. Lots of stuff.

Ten Gentle Opportunities: Go Get It!

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In case you hadn’t gotten the word yet, this morning Amazon cleared my upload of Ten Gentle Opportunities, and it’s now in the catalog, ready to buy for $2.99, or as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. No DRM. Cover by the utterly amazing Blake Henriksen. It’s in a genre that barely exists anymore: Humorous SF and fantasy, with a pinch of satire for those with ears to listen. I tried to shop it to tradpub imprints for a couple of years after I finished it in 2012. An editor at a major press told me that Douglas Adams did SF humor so well that nobody else can ever hope to compete.

Huh? That’s like saying that Heinlein did hard SF so well that nobody else should bother to try. Well, dammit, I’m competing. More than one of my beta readers said the book kept them up all night, and one called it “pee-your-pants funny.” Me, I consider that a win.

The book has an interesting history. I’ve been fooling with it for almost fifty years.

Here’s the story. Back in 1967, when I was 15, I got an idea: What if there were a sort of partial or incomplete magician who could change magical spells, but not create them? What sort of mischief could he get into? I called him The Spellbender, and started writing a story about him. I shared it with the writer girl down the street, and we talked about collaborating on it. Nothing came of that, because she and I had utterly incompatible understandings of magic. She saw it as a sort of moody, ethereal, hard-to-control spiritual discipline. I saw it as alternative physics. (We had other issues as well; when I finally meet God I’m going to ask him if He could please flash the human firmware and get rid of puberty.)

Not much happened on the story. I had a short catalog of gimmicks and little else. The Spellbender had a sidekick who was an incompetent djinn named Shrovo. Not only could he not remember how many wishes he gave people, he simply couldn’t count, and so had had his djinn license revoked for reckless and excessive wishgranting. Sure, it sounds dumb. I was 15.

I eventually got bored with it and tossed it back in the trunk, where it stayed until 1978. That year I read it over, dumped Shrovo, and told another tale about the Spellbender, which I presented at the Windy City Writers’ Workshop, in front of luminaries like George R. R. Martin and Gene Wolfe. Nobody liked it. Back in the trunk it went.

Come 1983, I had become a close friend of Nancy Kress, and we surprised one another by collaborating on a novelette that was published in Omni and drew a surprising amount of favorable buzz. If we could pull off “Borovsky’s Hollow Woman,” well, what else could we do? Nan suggested a contemporary fantasy, and I was quick to sketch out still another take on the spellbender concept, adding in the sort of universe-jumping gimmick that Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt had used to such good effect in the Harold Shea stories. A spellbender who had gotten on the wrong side of a magician jumps universes to finds a place to hide, and lands in a small-town advertising agency in our near future. Nan was working for precisely such an agency at the time, and told the story of a staff meeting at which someone was talking emphatically about tangential opportunities, which Nan heard as “ten gentle opportunities.” I knew a great title when I saw one, and grabbed it.

I also drew on a novelette I wrote in 1981, which centered on a war in a robotic copier factory, and an AI named Simple Simon.

We tried. We really did. But as it turned out, Nan could move in a hard SF world a great deal more nimbly than I was able to move in a fantasy world. Shades of Lee Anne down the street. (Puberty, at least, was no longer an issue.) After a few thousand words she ceded me what we had and we decided to set it aside. Back in the trunk it went, this time for almost 25 years.

The Cunning Blood came out in hardcover in 2005, and garnered enough rave reviews (including one from Glenn Reynolds and another from Tom Easton at Analog) to make me feel like I should start something else. As was my habit, I went digging around in my trunk for concepts. Three aborted novels came to hand: My cyberpunk experiment, The Lotus Machine; a gimmicky hard SF concept called Alas, Yorick; and Ten Gentle Opportunities. The Lotus Machine went back in the trunk almost immediately; by now I understand that, as cyber as I might be, punk remains forever beyond my powers. I spent a fair amount of time reading and meditating on the 14,000 words I had of Alas, Yorick, but ultimately went with Ten Gentle Opportunities. Why? I like humor and I’m intrigued by the challenges of writing it. I had an ensemble of interesting characters, and the very rich vein of “fish out of water” humor to mine. And–gakkh–it was fun! Can’t have that now; we’re serious SF writers…

Basically, I went with fun. And it was.

I wrote three or four chapters in 2006, then got distracted by another concept that I’ve mentioned here, Old Catholics. TGO didn’t exactly go back in the trunk, but I didn’t touch it again until February 2011. That’s when I took it to this new writer’s group I’d joined. I submitted the first thousand words or so for critique and asked them if the concept was worth pursuing. The answer was yes, and it was unanimous.

I took it to Walter Jon Williams’ Taos Toolbox workshop that summer, and got my momentum back. After that it was my main writing project until I finished it in November 2012. I asked my nonfiction agent to shop it, and some shopping got done, but there were no nibbles. So several months ago I took it back and decided to publish it myself.

Oh–and then we kicked into high gear with our move to Phoenix. Writing of all sorts went on the back burner.

Which brings us to the current day. There’s a lot to be done yet here in the new house, but the end is at least in sight. We’re far enough along that I can afford to take a couple of days a week to Just Write. Which brings me (again) to the question of what I do now.

Truth is, I don’t know. But I’ll think of something.

When it Starts to Feel Like Home

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Well, I’m back. Back from being incommunicado, mostly, and (almost) back from being nose-deep in boxes in dire need of emptying. I’m now not quite calf-deep in boxes, having emptied sixteen today alone, twelve of them boxes of books. Carol polished the last two Hundavad bookshelves yesterday, and today I filled them. I think there are maybe three more boxes of books, possibly four. Overall, I think fewer than 25 boxes remain to be emptied.

That’s serious progress.

Our biggest single problem for our first two weeks here was getting access to the Internet. Yes, we probably got more done per unit time without Facebook to mess with, but I don’t like being completely disconnected. Cox Cable had to run brand new coax from the node in the alley to the house. My guess is that the existing coax was damaged when the house was gutted to the walls in 2003 and rebuilt. (Bulldozers and Bobcat front-loaders can do that.) It took two weeks, during which we were eating out a lot at places with free Wi-Fi, especially Wildflower Bread Company but occasionally Einstein’s Bagels.

The previous owner had Dish, and evidently never used cable. He had coax outlets in every room in the house, including the master bathroom. All of it came together behind a panel in one of the walk-in closets. (Above.) Some cables are marked, many aren’t, and I have no clue what the unmarked cables are about. So, mostly, I’m ignoring them. We have little interest in TV to begin with, and I’m going to explore streaming from the Internet to our big wi-fi enabled Samsung TV. When the Cable Guy came yesterday morning to hook up the new coax, he found which cable from the ratsnest above went out to the box outside the house, dropped in a cable modem, and handed me a Cat 5E patch cord. I had literally hung an old Wireless G router on a nail next to the panel, and connected the four switch ports to the four Cat 5 sockets in the panel. (It’ll do until I get an 802.11ac router and build a more elegant mount for it.) I plugged in the patch cord, and It Just Worked.

Yeah, I know, it sounds lame, but it didn’t really feel like home here without broadband. Now it does. We don’t even have a kitchen table (we’re shopping) and have been eating all our at-home meals at the island breakfast bar, but it still feels like home. Bit by bit, other things are falling into place as well: I drilled and tapped two holes in a Linksys 5-port switch and made an aluminum bracket for it to hold it to my temporary computer table, and that helped. (Making my drill press turn over for the first time in who knows how many weeks felt peculiarly good.) But bottom line, it was broadband that did the trick.

Much remains to be done. I need to get my VHF discone assembled and mounted on the roof. We need to get a diningroom table. I need to wire my lathe to the new 220V feed in the wall beside it. My workshop needs, well, work. And then there are those 25 remaining boxes…

It’ll all get done.

Happy new year, everybody. There’s much to write, and I can (finally) see some quality writing time heaving up over the horizon. In the meantime, expect more Contra. Alas, expect some delay in my getting Ten Gentle Opportunities posted on Kindle. Life happens, and always takes longer than you expect.

It does, however, happen. More later.

Stay Tuned…

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Tessellating the Big Move

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Packing continues apace. I consistently get 5-8 boxes packed every day, and over time it adds up. I have well over 100 piled around the house by now. A lot of the most difficult stuff has been done, including almost everything in my biggish workshop. Carol and I hoarded cardboard boxes for most of a year before the move, and in fact before we began looking for a place in Arizona. We knew we would have to pack the garage before we emptied it in preparation for replacing the concrete slab. The garage contains a lot of high-density items, most of them metal. Smaller boxes are good for that. Once we decided that the whole house had to be packed, small boxes became even more useful, for tools and Meccano parts and panel meters and much else from my twelve feet of head-high shelves.

We’ve done this before, but we’re doing it more carefully this time. I’ve mentioned the core reason: We’re going from 4400 square feet to 3000 square feet. During the process I’ve been passing judgment on things to be packed, asking myself if this item or that item really needs to follow us to Arizona. Such decision-making is difficult when you have to pile everything in the house into boxes over a single long weekend because a new job awaits you somewhere on the other side of the country. In the past, well, we just piled.

There’s another reason to be careful: Movers emptying a moving van have to put boxes somewhere. Empty bookshelves take up as much space as full bookshelves, and 2200 books take up a lot of space, period. If we intend to be able to move around in the new house once everything gets down there, we need to put as much stuff into as few boxes as possible.

In pursuing that goal, I realized I have a personal super-power: tessellation. I can look at a pile of things beside an empty box, and fairly quickly fill the box so that little dead space remains. (See the photo above.) Mass-market paperbacks are no big challenge, because they’re all nearly the same size and differ mostly in thickness. Hardcovers and trades are trickier. Reference books are all over the map, size-wise, and are the trickiest of all. Spools of wire are tricky too, because if you’re clever you can nest them. I got an amazing amount of wire into a single Borders book box. (I still have a fair number of those from our move 12 years ago.) Tessellating test equipment proved diabolical, but I got a lot more into fewer boxes than I ever have in the past. I got my entire GRC-109 Special Forces radio set into a single 12″ cube, though it’s so heavy I fear for the box’s life. (The radio units themselves are essentially armored and not especially vulnerable to weak forces like gravity.)

Tagged Boxes - 500 Wide.jpg

I have a labeling system to tell the movers what room to put each box in: I defined a 3-character code for each room in the house (plus the two garages and the shed) and then printed several sheets of Avery 5263 10-up labels for each code. I also have Visio documents for each code that place the code on a single sheet of paper as large as will fit. (The tags above indicate that the boxes are to be stacked in my office.) On moving day we’ll tape those sheets to the entrances of each room in the house so that the movers know which code has been assigned to which room.

So box by box, we crawl ever-closer to moving day. Each time we do this, we tempt the Fates by saying we hope never to do it again. This time I’ll play reverse psychology on the Fates by saying, Yo! Fates! Tessellation Man is ready for whatever you can throw at him!

I wonder if they’re even listening.