Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Daywander

Odd thoughts put down at once, in stream-of-consciousness fashion.

Daywander

Drilling U-Channel - 500 Wide.jpg

There’s been an unexpected irruption of normalcy here, while we sail upon the whine-dark seas of modern American life. (I’ve been wanting to use the word “irruption” here, correctly, for some time.) What this means is that I’ve been able to do some of what I want to do, and not merely what my do-it list tells me I have to do. It won’t last, but while it does I’m going to make the most of it.

A number of people have suggested that I write a few short novels to get the size of my list up a little. I wrote Drumlin Circus (53,000 words) in only six weeks, after all. But as I recall, those were very full weeks. So a month or so ago I got an idea for a new short novel, and I’m glad to say I now have 6,300 words down on it; figure 12% or so. It’s whimsical, and whether or not it’s fantasy depends heavily on whether you believe that the collective unconscious is real or not. I’d like to bring it in at between 50,000 and 60,000 words, so don’t expect all-new built-from-scratch universes a la The Cunning Blood. However, I do promise a trademark Jeff Duntemann mayhem-filled action climax.

And a dream repairman. I mean that: A guy who drops into your nightmares and hands you your pants while he gives you directions to calculus class. People who have nightmares love him. The nightmares, well, not so much.

My old writer friend Jim Strickland and I are going to attempt something interesting to keep our productivity up: a chapter challenge. Starting February 1, we’re going to dare each other to get a certain amount of story down in a week, and then exchange that’s week’s worth of story for some quick critique. He’s working on the sequel to Brass & Steel: Inferno and needs a gentle noodge. I need one too, though sometimes what I really need is a two-boot noodge right in the glutes. Neither of us has ever done anything quite like this before. I’ll post reports here as things happen.

Even the do-it list has yielded some things that are actually fun, including a bit of metalwork to make an aluminum grating for my particle board shelves to rest on out in the pool shed (against the several times a year when a hard rain gets under the door and soaks the floor) and mounting some Elfa hardware on the opposite shed wall.

Drilling three 8′ pieces of U-channel for the grate took a little finesse in my slightly cramped workshop. The drill press is where it is (close to the center of the space) for a reason. (See the photo at the top of this entry.) The next major project (as time allows) is getting a solid ground for my station and antennas. I have an 8′ ground rod. I need some bentonite, and a post hole digger. After that, le RF deluge…

Whirly Birds and Wherethehells

Move to a new house in a new state. Keep your stomach lining intact.

Dare ya.

Ok. Barely a day after we got here, I was putting stuff away in one of the 10-foot-high walk-in closets, lined on both sides with the best infrastructure that Closet Factory can offer, all the way up to the (distant) ceiling. Alluva sudden:

Drip.

I looked up. Took another direct hit on my forehead. The ceiling was leaking. WTF? The leaks were right next to one of our two heat/AC air handlers in the attic. As we later found out, there was a bad PVC pipe joint in the condensate drain line. By chance I had discovered the leak early: While I watched, three more drip spots appeared on the ceiling wallboard. This was on Saturday afternoon; I tried to contact the home warranty people, and was told by their answerobot to call back on Monday.

Screw that. It was 112 outside. We called a local firm that does service calls on Sunday and hoped that they would arrive before the closet ceiling caved in. They did. They found the bad glue-job in the drain line and fixed it. Now we have to get the ceiling wallboard replaced. Home warranties? Don’t get me started.

Oh. And birds. Last December we took delivery on an expensive patio table-and-chairs set, which spent the several months that we were in Colorado on the patio under the patio’s pair of ceiling fans. Well, without either dogs or humans to disturb them, the local birds took a shine to sitting on the fan blades, comfortably out of direct sun. Sitting, and something else that rhymes with it, in quantity.

Fortunately, the water pressure here is quite high, and our pressure nozzle got everything clean again. But…yukkh!

Carol came up with a solution: Turn on the fans to their lowest possible speed, which is about how fast ceiling fans turn in bad movies set in the African desert. We’ve watched some of the local birdies trying to land on the blades. They hover for a moment, confused, and then go elsewhere in a hurry. If I haven’t told you lately, I married a brilliant woman.

A few days later, I was carting a large and heavy plastic bin of recyclables out to the can. I stumbled, and hit my head on one of the light fixtures to either side of the garage door. No damage to my skull, but the light fixture’s pot-metal casting cracked off from its mount, and is still there swinging from its wires. The fixtures haven’t been available for probably ten years. So do we replace all eleven outside light fixtures with new ones? Or do we quietly swap in one of the fixtures from the hot tub courtyard?

Guess.

We have close to a quarter acre of quarter-minus pea-gravel. It has dawned on us that sun-baked dog poop is precisely the color of quarter-minus pea-gravel.

My new workshop is so small that there isn’t room to swing a ten-foot length of 1/2″ conduit. Don’t ask me how I know. I’ll be cleaning up the mess for some time.

I have misplaced my entire box of hookup wire. There will be no hooking up until I unearth it.

Having consolidated several toolboxes and bags, I realize that I own nine pairs of dykes, and three spring-loaded wire strippers. This sounds more interesting than it is.

The rat’s tangle of cables in a panel at the far rear wall of my walk-in closet includes four Cat 5 runs that vanish into the ceiling. There are exactly three RJ45 jacks in this house. So where does that fourth cable go? Is it flapping around loose in the walls? Or was it mistakenly wired into an RJ11 landline phone jack? (We don’t have a landline phone and don’t intend to get one.) I’d start removing RJ11 wall plates, except that it would rip up the paint on the plate edges. There is probably a gizmo that can tell me where that fourth Cat 5 is hiding. If you know what it is, please send me a link. I could probably lash something up, but there’s too much else to do.

And…finally…the wherethehells. The boxes are mostly gone, and in their place are piles of wherethehells. A “wherethehell” is something that you don’t want to get rid of, but have no idea where the hell it should go. Wherethehells breed freely in houses without basements. I still have several decks of punch cards from the FORTRAN course I took in high school in early 1970. Wherethehell should they go? What about my last remaining 8-track tape? My two photo tripods? The bundle of 4′ long Lionel track sections? My Lunar globe? We brought a great deal of stuff here in plastic bins. They’re now empty. What do we do with the bins?

The pool has largely kept us sane. Alas, when I jump into the pool, Aero panics and tries to hide on the other side of the house.

There is a second meaning to the command, “Don’t move.” It’s not in any dictionary I have (and I have more dictionaries than dykes) but trust me, I now know what it is.

Shoveling Heavy Metal

I literally didn’t know that it was Earth Day until the metal recycler guy thrust a bright green T-shirt in my hands. I had just sold them $77 worth of metal, and on Earth Day they were giving away T-shirts. He invited us to stay for their free Earth Day barbecue, but I had to decline: I was still shoveling.

I missed Earth Day mostly because I was shoveling. That morning I had shoveled close to 300 pounds of metal into the back of the Durango. About 30 pounds of that was bronze and copper, and another 100 or so was aluminum. The rest was iron and steel.

My scrap metal collection is legendary; why did I let so much of it get away? Easy: I dumped the stuff that wasn’t likely to be useful. Chunks of pure copper don’t machine well. Brass is way better–I wasn’t giving away any brass. The bronze was a sort of special case. Carol’s dad had given me several husky bronze Acme-threaded bearing brackets that once gripped a lead screw from some very large but long-dead surface grinder. Each one was bigger than my fist. I’d been staring at them (and carting them from state to state) since the early 1980s, and never came up with a use for them. In the cause of The Duntemann Ensmallening, I decided to trade them in for something much more useful: cash.

Ditto the aluminum, most of which consisted of aluminum grinding wheels from very large but (probably) long-dead surface grinders. The largest were 24″ in diameter and 5/8″ thick. All had once had a coating of fine diamond abrasive on their edges, suitable for the grinding of carbide dies, which was what Carol’s dad did for a living. When the diamond coating got thin at any spot along the edge, the wheel was swapped out for a new one and scrapped.

He gave me a lot of them.

I did keep a few, and I have used a couple in the last 35 years, especially the smaller, 8″ diameter ones. The rest of the aluminum pile was odd stuff I’d picked up cheap at hamfests in the 42 years I’ve been going to hamfests. As for the steel, well, it consisted of odd and generally rusty chunks that used to be frames for chairs, lamp base weights, a beat-to-hell surface plate, and several 3′ lengths of badly galvanized (and now corroding) 1″ threaded rod that I no longer remember obtaining at all. 1″ threaded rod is stock at Artie’s Ace Hardware in Phoenix, and I don’t have to scrub the rust off of theirs. Out it went.

I’m probably due for another Advil. There’s a hard deadline for emptying the garage utterly: On May 4 the jackhammers will show up to take out our crumbling garage slab. Much of what I will be doing between now and then will be shoveling. Tomorrow I’ll shovel a load of ancient computers, computer accessories, dead cordless phones, ratty computer speakers, and cables (RCA / VGA / parallel etc) into the car to take up to Best Buy for recycling. I still have to Craigslist my small workbench and figure out how to con somebody into taking a middling list of dead or limping radio gear, including my Kenwood TS-520S (blew out its balanced modulator) a WWII Navy MAB receiver, condition unknown, and a Heathkit HW-22A that’s immaculate but may or may not work. (I bought it cheap at an estate sale, sans cables.) Most regretted may be my Hammarlund HQ-145X general-coverage receiver, which was my SWL radio in college and later my Novice receiver. It always had a few quirks, and probably has a couple of bad tubes, as it doesn’t bring much in anymore. (I haven’t had it opened up in 30 years or so.) Alas, the Hammarlund is enormous, and does nothing that my IC-736 doesn’t already do, in a third the space. I’ll miss it, I guess. But that’s what an Ensmallening is all about.

I’m going to ask $75 for the whole pile and see what happens. I could probably have gotten more for them by selling each item individually, but it would be a bad use of my time, considering all the shoveling that still has to be done.

I may try to foist a few things off on my hapless partygoers at our nerd party next Saturday. We still have a Midcentury Modern steel stepstool, decorated with drips of every color known to Sherwin Williams, and a “flying saucer” charcoal grill from the ’50s. Beyond that, what’s left is lumber scraps and useless crap that’s going out on the curb this Wednesday, if I can force myself to keep shoveling.

No ifs. Shovel I must, and shovel I will, until the Ensmallening is done.

Tripwander

Before we left our Phoenix house in September, we arranged for a great deal of work to be done, and spent these past ten days down there making sure it all got done. And it did. Paint throughout, cabinet work, drywall work, and a new air conditioner in the single-bay garage (which will be my mad scientist’s workshop until I build a better one) among many other, smaller things. While we were there we had all the trees on the property trimmed to civilized proportions, had the AC vents cleaned, and had an interesting business called Seal Out Scorpions come out and, well, seal out scorpions by filling cracks and running matte-finish transparent silicone around the edges of all the wall plates. Those guys are into scorpions on a total lifestyle basis, and I learned a great deal about the little bastards just listening to scorpion guru Mike Golleher walk us through the seal-out process. They glow under UV, but I’m sure most of you knew that. (Didn’t you?)

Tourist shops around here sell lollipops with real scorpions in them. You probably didn’t know that.

The real mission was to make sure the house was ready to receive the Big Truck of Stuff, which is scheduled to arrive there on or about December 15. So we vacuumed and mopped and stacked spare floor tiles in the slump-block shed, collapsing into bed a little after nine every night. Oh, in truth we collapsed after spending half an hour in our hot tub, which made the collapsing all the more pleasant…especially on the night we knew Chicago was getting 16 inches of snow. I drew the outlines of my several workbenches in blue painter’s tape on the floor of the small garage. We figured out how to use the washer and dryer. We did not figure out–entirely–how to use the Nest thermostats, but they’re impressive in one slightly unnerving way: When you walk past one, even a couple of feet away, it wakes up the display. When this happened at 6 AM in a dark house, I jumped.

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As aerobic as the trip was, we lucked out in a major way not once but twice. I had selected Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 as the successor to our increasingly cranky 2011-era Droid X2 phones some time back, but by the time I did, the inferior Note 5 was out and carrier shops around here no longer sold Note 4s. While shopping the Scottsdale Costco, I spotted a Note 4 on display at the smartphone kiosk. Assuming it was just display leftovers, I asked one of the kiosk guys if they still sold Note 4s. He looked up inventory, and sure enough, there were six of them on the shelves. Sold! said Jeff. We walked out with what amounted to a pair of unlocked phones on the Verizon network, which I’ve seen named as having the best coverage in the Phoenix metro area. At any time we can pay off the balance on the phones and take them elsewhere. I’m not used to that kind of deal in the smartphone world; perhaps the universe is now unfolding as it should.

The display is gorgeous, and although the upgrade to Lollipop (no scorpions!) ate up a spectacular amount of data, we’re very pleased with the phones. I’ll have more to say about them here once I’ve had a little more spare time to poke at them. Such time has been scarce; patience, patience.

Our second bit of luck was even stranger. Carol was going to supper with her friend Jan, and on the way to their favorite Paradise Bakery, they passed Oasis Waterbeds up near Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard. Out of the corner of her eye Carol saw what looked disturbingly like a “Going Out of Business” sign in the front window.

Whoops. We shopped there in August, and had decided to order a waterbed as soon as we got down there for the winter. Carol and Jan took a quick detour and confirmed that the store was half-empty, with inventory going fast. Carol cranked up her Note 4, buzzed me, and told me to get my hindquarters up there Right Damned Now.

A bit of backstory: Carol and I had a waterbed all the 13 years and change we lived in Scottsdale, and when we sold the house, the buyer asked if we’d sell him the bed. We decided to try the new Sleep Number technology when we got up to Colorado, and have been using that ever since. Sleep Number works well, but on balance, we both prefer the old waterbed. With growing alarm, we realized that there were only a handful of beds left in stock, and just a couple in Cal King. Had we waited until mid-December, there might have been none at all. So we bought one on the spot, for delivery December 17.

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Getting the rest of our Colorado house into boxes by December 9 is going to take everything we’ve got, so I expect to be scarce here, as much as there is to say. In closing, I must show you the Einstein Brothers coffee cup I got the morning we had breakfast there, at 64th and Greenway. Evidently Einstein’s has signed The Crawling Eye to be their holiday mascot for 2015. This would be a problem, if anybody but me remembered The Crawling Eye. (Hint: It was Forrest Tucker’s big film debut. Then again, since nobody but me probably remembers Forrest Tucker, that won’t help much.)

Daywander

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We had another estimator come out today for the move. After she was gone, once again Carol and I collapsed on the couch and didn’t say much for awhile. The reason is interesting: After working on this move for as long as we have (and with about 150 boxes stacked up to prove it) we get worn out thinking about how much we still have to do. We’re going to drive down to Phoenix in November with a small U-Haul trailer and no dogs, to make sure all the work on the new house was completed and done correctly. Then we fly back and kick into high gear on packing in preparation for a December move.

A fair amount of stuff will remain in this house so that we can come back in the spring to finish repairs and stage it for sale. That will take a couple of months, and we’ll have to have the ordinary machineries of life available while we work: clothes, a bed, a kitchen table, a coffee maker, a couch, kitchen implements, etc. Resistors and capacitors, not so much. So we’ll need to have a second (much smaller) truck bring down what’s left when the house goes on the market.

Among (many) other things, we packed the stuffed animals today. Some people have knicknacks (and we have our share) but a lot of the odd items on our shelves are stuffed animals. Not all are animals; I have a stuffed Space Shuttle, created by my very brilliant seamstress sister Gretchen Duntemann Roper. Decades ago, in the Age of APAs (google it; blogging didn’t come out of nowhere) I wrote an APA called “A Dead Rat and a String to Swing It On.” So she made me a dead rat, complete with a string to swing it on. (Above.) Nearby was the closest thing to an action figure that I own: a giant squid with posable (is that the word?) tentacles. I’ve never actually handled a dead squid and it’s not on my bucket list, exactly, but I’m wondering how well one would hang together if swung in a circle by one of its long feelers. (I suppose it depends on how long it had been dead.) However, someday, perhaps in some saga I have not yet imagined writing, somebody will grab a giant squid by a tentacle and swing it in a brawl. The image smells a little like a Stypek story back in his ancestral Realm of Tryngg, but no promises.

A book came to hand on its way to a box today that I think I’ve mentioned before: Conjuror’s Journal by Frances L. Shine. (Dodd-Mead, 1978.) I see that numerous hardcovers are available on Amazon for 10c plus shipping. Read the first review of the book, which is mine. If you want a quick, cheap read that will, at the end, both bring tears to your eyes and make you want to stand up and cheer, this is it.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and we’re having our first and last Halloween nerd party here at Phage House in Colorado Springs. I’m of way more than two minds about leaving here, but the little box I just clipped to my finger says my blood oxygen is at 88%. Better than nothing…but it’s not enough. And so the move goes on.

Tripwander

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I’ve been away a long time. Sorry about that. We bought a house…at least three months earlier than we expected to.

As you may recall, Carol and I drove down to Phoenix back in May for two weeks in order to interview neighborhoods for a winter place. We hadn’t intended to look at individual properties, but after meeting a local real estate agent during a walk through one of Phoenix’s parks, we decided to accelelerate the process, and saw ten or twelve homes before we ran out of time.

Elva Weissman (who is perhaps the single most expert and energetic agent we’ve ever worked with) plugged our parameters into her MLS portal as a sort of stored query, and the system has been emailing us listings for a couple of months now. We jotted down a short list of properties we wanted to look at during our planned August trip, including a couple that stood out, one in particular in the NE corner of Phoenix that checked more of our boxes than nearly any other. It was about $50K too expensive by my reckoning, but it was at the top of our list as the closest match so far. We figured if it was still listed in August we’d arrange a showing. We were also following another strange and wondrous house that had a patio and a swimming pool right smack in the middle, with the rooms arranged in a rough pentagon all around them. That one sold about a month ago, but it was very cool.

Then, on July 7, the seller cut the price by…$50K. Suddenly the house was dead-center in the crosshairs. Carol and I looked at one another, ground our teeth for a minute, and then got on the phone to arrange a trip in record time. By that Saturday morning we were on a plane, and on Sunday morning we were walking through a 3000 ft2 one-level Southwestern midcentury ranch, which had been gutted to the walls and rebuilt in 2003. I gulped. This was a winner. I took some notes and some pictures, and we walked through another three or four properties that same day. All those other houses just pointed up how close we had already come to a perfect match. By the end of the day we had submitted an offer. 24 hours later, the seller accepted it. We were both nervous wrecks. But hey, do the math with us:

Pros:

  • It’s all on one level, and (like all of north Phoenix) over a mile lower in altitude than Phage House here in Colorado Springs. My lowest blood oxygen reading there was higher than my highest here.
  • It’s on over 5/8 of an acre, with 75″ block walls on two of three sides of the backyard.
  • It has a separate one-car garage to serve as a workshop. I may build a bigger shop later on, but for the time being, as soon as I have an AC unit installed, it will do.
  • There is no homeowner’s association, and having been built in 1966, the deed restrictions are simple and mostly concern setbacks. There is no mention of antennas whatsoever, and there are guys within a block or two with 50′ towers and rotatable beams.
  • The back yard has a great deal of vegetation (including several ginormous palm trees) but nothing with thorns. Carol and I did thorns when we lived near Cave Creek in the ’90s, thank you very much. No more.
  • It has a small walled courtyard with a newish 6-person hot tub.
  • It has a gorgeous PebbleTec pool with a gas heater and a granite-rock waterfall. There is room for a solar pool heater, which is in our five-year plan.
  • It has a nice 25-bottle wine fridge and a huge standalone freezer.
  • It has a dedicated fenced dog run, with a doggie door into the laundry room.
  • It has a huge tiled great room spanning 40 feet at its greatest extent. Good party house.
  • It has a pair of gargoyles to either side of the front courtyard gate. Or at least there will be when we cut enough of the vines down so you can actually see them.
  • The leaded glass design in the front door looks like it has a little Space Invaders guy at the center.

Cons:

  • The walk-in closets (like all the ceilings) are ten feet high, with three ranks of clothes bars, one right at the top. They’ll hold a great deal, but you have to fish your less-often-worn shirts down with a hookie thing on a long wooden handle.
  • The pool still needs a fence, to keep doggies out of it.
  • The walls around the yard and front courtyard are covered with some as-yet-unidentified thornless (whew) creeper vines that shed foot-long bean-ish seed pods.
  • It’s no longer $50K overpriced, but it was still $50K more than we had hoped to spend. Ahh, well.
  • There’s a grapefruit tree. I like grapefruit a lot, but I can’t eat them on one of the meds I’m now taking. Bummer. Maybe someday.
  • It has a gigantic wet bar in the corner of the great room with an icemaker, a fridge, and a two-keg beer keg cooler and taps.
  • It’s painted dark gray.

So as you can tell, the pros win by a Phoenix mile. Most of the cons can be fixed. In fact, we’ve already talked to Keith’s handyman, who says he can get rid of the mirrors behind the wet bar without much trouble. Whether we should keep the wet bar itself is something I won’t know until we throw a couple of parties. Such a thing might well be handy for buffet dinners. The beer taps will have to go, though. I have a reputation to maintain.

As I’ve already told my inner circle, the real work starts now. We’re going from 4400 ft2 to 3000. I will have nothing like my 12 foot high library wall with rolling ladder. We will have to manage two houses for at least a year, while we get Phage House ready to sell. I’m already throwing stuff in boxes to give Rescued Hearts, and our trash can is getting a workout every week.

We may well keep a (small) place here in Colorado, but what and where we just can’t know yet.

As for everything else, stay tuned. I had hoped to mount several ebooks (including The Cunning Blood) before the end of July. Not going to happen, sigh. May not happen in August, either. We’ll see. But the cover art for Ten Gentle Opportunities is going to be spectacular. A novella I’m calling Fire Drill is growing in the back of my head and starting to hammer on the inside of my skull to be let out. I really really want to be a writer again. The word “triage” looms large in my near future.

Whatever. With Carol by my side and an extra-large economy-size jar of Aleve on the shelf, we can do it. Gonna be a wild ride but a good one, trust me.

Daywander

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“Hey, Contra Boy! Are you dead or something?”

Me? No. C’mon, if I were dead I would have mentioned it. So I’m not dead, though I am something, and while I can tell you it isn’t ill-health (for either of us) I can’t say much more about the something beyond that.

It’s certainly gotten in the way of other pursuits.

Anyway. For the first time I am hands-up-to-the-elbows in Windows 8. Carol wanted a new ultrabook-class laptop for Christmas, and we shopped together. She chose the 11.5″ version of the Lenovo Yoga 2, which (like my Transformer Prime) attempts to be both a loptop and a tablet. Unlike my Transformer Prime, I think it actually succeeds. The pivoting display (see above) lets it work as a tablet, and while I’m still not used to grabbing keys on its virtual backside while gripping the little slab in tablet mode, the machine ignores the keypresses. If the keys themselves are robust, no harm will come of it. The 1366 X 768 display isn’t retina-class, but it’s gorgeous and good enough. It’s got a 1.5 GHz Core i3 and 500 GB hard drive, which is more than sufficient for how we intend to use it.

Like all retail machines, the Yoga 2 is loaded with crapware, some of which I’ve never heard of and haven’t looked up yet, like the Maxthon Cloud Browser. Some of the crapware is crapware by virtue of being preinstalled; Evernote is a worthy item but I do not want it on the machines I buy. Ditto Zinio. Doubtless a lot of the other dozens of thingies cluttering up the display are there for Lenovo’s benefit and not ours; remember that crapware slots on consumer machines generate lots of money for their vendors through sales conversions, and Lenovo gets a cut.

My biggest problem is that I will eventually have to replace the MacAfee crapware with something that works. We standardize on Avast at our house, but getting rid of security suite crapware is notoriously difficult. Most people eventually just give up and pay for it. Not me.

I’m spending considerable time on the project not only because Carol needs a machine that works well, but also because I need a new laptop myself. A 13″ Yoga might do the job, assuming I can learn to love Windows 8, or at least hold hands with it. A big tablet would be useful for reading PDF-format technical ebooks. Now, having been set up the way Carol likes, it goes back in its box, the box gets wrapped, and it joins the pile under the Christmas tree. Much better that way than trying to figure out what’s crapware and what isn’t on Christmas morning.

Quick summary of what I’ve been reading:

  • The Call of Distant Mammoths, by Peter T Ward (Copernicus Books, 1997.) Why did the ice age mammals vanish? It wasn’t simply human predation or climate change. It was a combination of things, especially human predation and climate change. (Wow! The brilliance!) Cost me a buck plus shipping, and the gruel was thick enough so that I won’t claim the time spent on it was totally wasted. Still, not recommended.
  • Neanderthal Man, by Svante Paabo (Basic Books, 2014.) It seems like carping, but the book is mis-titled. It’s not about the Neanderthals themselves but rather the sequencing of their genome, which the author spearheaded. Paabo’s writing style is solid and amiable, and he does a good job explaining how DNA can be found in very old bones (with tremendous difficulty and peculiar luck) and how it was teased out over a period of almost twenty years. I must emphasize that if you have no grounding at all in gene sequencing, it will be a bit of a slog. However, if you pay attention, you will learn a lot. Highly recommended.
  • 1848: The Year of Revolution, by Mike Rapport (Basic Books, 2008.) My Duntemann ancestors arrived in the US in 1849 or 1850. We haven’t found the crossing records yet, but we have a strong hunch why they left: the European upheavals of 1848. Like WWI, 1848 doesn’t summarize well. The people rose up against their elites, who were in many cases so afraid they were facing Jacobin 2.0 that kings resigned, constitutions were given, and (alas) the roots of commoner suffering remained misunderstood and mostly uncorrected. Again, this may be a slog even if you have some grounding in European history. History doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes you just have to describe the squirming details of what will always remain chaos. Cautiously recommended.

The odd lots are piling up too. Will try to get some posted tomorrow.

Daywander

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Last Thursday was 45 years since the magical night I met Carol. The earth moved for both of us; we just didn’t know what it meant yet. I was walking into walls for weeks thereafter. Carol, being generally more sensible, was determined not to lose her head, but she could tell almost immediately that I was, well, different. How many other boys would set up a home-made 100-pound telescope in her driveway to show her the stars? As it happened, I won her with science, and she won me the same way. I’ve told the whole story here and won’t recap, except to say that my father was right: Love grows out of friendship. There really isn’t any other way to do it, unless you’re willing to settle (as so many seem to) for mere infatuation.

On July 31, 2019 it’ll be 50 years, and that is gonna be a party and a half.

_…_

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I jumped into e-readers fairly early, back in January 2007, with the original Sony PRS-500. It put me off e-ink for another seven years. I read a fair number of books with it, but the display only really excelled in direct sunlight. Since I read in a comfy chair under lamps that aren’t always as bright as I prefer, the gadget’s lack of contrast made me nuts. I soon went back to reading ebooks on IBM’s flawed but prescient X41 Tablet PC Convertible, which I used (generally for nothing else) until I bought a Nook Color at the beginning of 2012.

Fast forward to yesterday. (Now there’s a book title!) I came back from the mailbox at a dead run, with my new Kindle Paperwhite clutched tight in my right hand. Seven years is a long time in this business. I should have guessed that e-ink would improve. Optimistic as I am, I would have guessed short. The display is fantastic, in part due to seven years’ improvement in e-ink technology, and in part to the fact that the Paperwhite’s display is illuminated to keep it from depending completely on incident light. As with tablets and smartphones, you can actually read it under the covers in the dark. No flashlight required. (See above, which doesn’t do justice to the actual contrast between the two displays.)

Amazon has the ebook thing figured out: Make the products good, cheap, and effortless to buy. I had the Paperwhite out of the box for probably three minutes before I went online (through Wi-Fi; my unit does not have cell network capability) and bought two books in less than thirty seconds: Chuck Ott’s new novel The Floor of the World , and the Dover collection Oscar Wilde’s Wit and Wisdom . I’ve been a Nook guy for a couple of years, but that may change. We’ll see, as I explore the Paperwhite over the next few weeks.

Why did I buy yet another ebook reader? The Nook Color is actually pretty damned good, and my Transformer Prime is even better, at least for sideloaded books. However, I’m about to begin formatting my back catalog as ebooks, and I need to be able to test Kindle books (especially the newish KF8 format) on a real Kindle.

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ESR recently posted a blog entry that won’t make him many friends in conventional SF publishing, but he’s on to something: We may be overstating the influence of tribal politics in the current SF culture wars. There is a huge difference between saying that characterization and literary writing are valuable, and insisting with rolled-back eyes that they’re all that matter. You know my perspective, at least on what defines SF: It’s the ideas. (Note the point that I make in the last comment; to that extent, I agree with ESR and did so a whole year before he made the point. I take my thiotimoline every morning, like all good hard SF writers should.)

Now, I am not taking up the character of Oscar Wilde in The Molten Flesh as a mere shortcut to literary acceptance. I have reasons, and I’m starting to think I need to explain those reasons fairly soon. Don’t worry; my intent is to stuff that yarn so full of ideas that they spill out onto the floor when you open it. It’s just what I do.

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Finally, if any of you have any impressions or tips on Google Hangouts, I’d like to hear them. I’m about to implement virtual meetings for the Front Range Bichon Frise Club, and Hangouts looks like my best bet so far. (Skype has been off the table for over three years.)

Daywander

This entry will be a hodgepodge, or as they say in some circles, a “hotch potch.” (I think it’s a Britishism; Colin Wilson used that spelling many times.) Stuff has been piling up in the Contra file. Carol and I have been slighting housework for these past six months, she laid up after surgery on both feet, and me writing what has doubtless been the most difficult half-a-book I’ve ever written. We’ve been cleaning up, putting away, and generally getting back to real life. Real life never tasted so delicious.

One reason is rum horchata. I’m not one for hard liquor, mostly, and generally drink wine. (Beer tastes far too bitter to me.) But Rumchata got me in a second. It’s a dessert cordial no stronger than wine, with the result that you can actually taste the other ingredients, like vanilla, cream, and cinnamon. Highly recommended.

People ask me periodically what I’ve been reading. After soaking my behind in computer science for the past six or eight months, I’ve been studiously avoiding technology books. That said, I do endorse Degunking Windows 7 by my former co-author Joli Ballew. I actually used it to learn some of the Win7 details that weren’t obvious from beating my head on the OS. I wish it were a Coriolis book, but alas, it’s not. That doesn’t mean it’s not terrific.

True to my random inborn curiosity about everything except sports and opera, I’ve developed an interest in the chalk figures of southern England. The next time we get over there (soon, I hope, though probably not until summer 2015) we’re going to catch the Long Man of Wilmington, the White Horse of Uffington, and that very well hung (40 feet!) Cerne Giant. Other chalk figures exist, many of them horses. Some can be seen from Google Earth. A reasonable and cheap intro is Lost Gods of Albion by Paul Newman. The book’s been remaindered, and you can get a new hardcover for $3. I wouldn’t pay full price for it, but it was worth the hour and change it took to read. My primary complaint? It needs more pictures of chalk figures, duhh.

Quick aside: While researching kite aerial photography with my found-in-the-bushes GoPro Hero2 sports camera, I came upon an impressive video of the White Horse of Westbury taken from a double bow kite (rokkaku). I have the cam, and loads of kites. All I need now is a chalk figure. (I suspect I could coerce my nieces into drawing one for me.)

Far more interesting than Lost Gods of Albion was Gogmagog by Thomas Lethbridge. I lucked into a copy of the 1957 hardcover fairly cheap, but availability is spotty and you may have to do some sniffing around. If you’re willing to believe him, Lethbridge did an interesting thing back in the 1950s: He took a 19th century report that a chalk giant existed on a hillside in Wandlebury (near Cambridge) and went looking for it. His technique was dogged but straightforward: For months on end, he wandered around the hillside with a half-inch metal bar ground to a point, shoving it into the ground and recording how far it went in before it struck hard chalk. His reasoning was that the outlines of a chalk figure would be dug into the chalk, and thus farther down than undisturbed chalk. In time he had literally tens of thousands of data points, and used them to assemble a startling image of two gods, a goddess, a chariot, and a peculiar horse of the same sort as the Uffington White Horse.

Not everybody was convinced. Even though Lethbridge was a trained archaeologist, his critics claimed that he was a victim of pareidolia, and simply seeing the patterns he wanted to see in his thousands of hillside holes. The real problem was that Lethbridge was a pendulum dowser, and a vocal one: He published several books on the subject, which make a lot of claims that aren’t easily corroborated. Lethbridge claims that most people can dowse, and hey, it’s an experiment that I could make, if I decided it was worth the time. (It probably isn’t.)

The third book in my recent readings is The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism by Herbert Thurston, a Jesuit priest who spent a good part of his life collecting reports of peculiarly Catholic weirdnesses (stigmata, levitation, inedia, odor of sanctity, etc.) and presenting them in a manner similar to that of Charles Fort, if better written. Most of the articles were originally published in obscure theology journals, but were collected in 1952 in a volume that I’ve never seen for less than $100. Last year it was finally reprinted by White Crow Books and can be had for $18. I’m not sure what one can say about reports of people who have not eaten for forty years. Mysticism is a weird business, but physics is physics. The book is entertaining, and it’s given me some ideas for stories, particularly since I have a spiritually butt-kicking psychic little old Polish lady as a major chartacter in Old Catholics. (Vampires are just so 2007.)

If three books doesn’t seem like much, consider my habit of going back to books I’ve read and liked, and flipping through them to see what notations I’ve made in the margins. We all make them; when was the last time you deliberately went back to read and reconsider them? I’ve been dipping into Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind, and Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, and arguing with my own marginal notes. One can learn things arguing with oneself, and I’ve been known to change my mind based on things I scribbled in other people’s book’s ten or twelve years ago. (Before that I was too young to have anything like informed opinions.)

For example, I’ve gone back to calling it “global warming.” Climate is always changing, and the assumption that we know all the forces propelling those changes is just wrong–and in tribalist hands, willfully dishonest. Carbon dioxide has exactly one climate trick in its bag: It warms the atmosphere. That’s it. If the discussion is about carbon dioxide, it’s about global warming. Why climate changes is still so poorly understood (and so polluted by political hatred) that we may be decades before we even know what the major forcings are. In the meantime, I want predictions. If your model gives you climate data out fifty years, it will give you data out five. Publish those predictions. And if they prove wrong, be one of those people who really do #*%^*ing love science and admit it. Being wrong is how science works. Being political is how science dies.

I have a long-delayed electronics project back on the bench: Lee Hart’s CDP1802 Membership Card. I started it last summer, and set it aside when the Raspberry Pi gig turned up. It’s basically a COSMAC Elf in an Altoids tin. I had an Elf almost forty years ago. I programmed it in binary because that’s all there was in 1976. And y’know? I can still do it: F8 FF A2. F8 47 A5…

Some things really are eternal.

Daywander

As the temperature slides back down below zero (F) here, the supper dishes are done, and I lean back to savor the memory of home-made stuffed peppers, and for dessert a good sharp Stilton cheese chased with Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. It was very close to a carb-free meal, consisting of some 85% ground beef with a little rice to thin it out, mixed with salsa and scooped generously into some very Christmas-y red and green pepper halves. Oh, I’ll maybe have a little egg nog later on, the season being what it is.

What the season actually is, is early. I’m not used to below-zero temps two weeks before winter begins. It certainly hasn’t happened in the ten years we’ve lived here. I get screamed at every time I suggest that we may be entering a cooling spell on the Third Rock, but from all I’ve seen in the stats it sure looks that way. At some point my strongly suspected Neanderthal genetics may come in handy.

Carol’s still scooting around the house on her knee walker. She’s improving day by day but there’s still some pain that her surgeon will have to consider when we go back next week. I hung a little canvas pack on the knee walker so she can carry things around. My father brought the pack home from WWII, and it sat in a box in my mother’s attic until we sold her house in 1996. It then sat in a box in my sister’s garage for another ten years, until we unpacked it and I took it home. I have no idea what sort of pack it is, and if you recognize it (see above) give a shout. Now, the other mystery: How could something that old and neglected not smell? It doesn’t. It’s clean and looks almost unused. Whatever my father did with it back in the day, it’s become useful again. He would be pleased if he knew. Someday I hope to tell him.

I turned in a ginormous chaper today for The Book I Still Can’t Tell You About. I’m well over half finished with the gig, and certainly hope the next chapter won’t cast off to 55 book pages all by its lonesome. It’s certainly something to do while waiting for a quick trip outdoors to cease being a near-death experience.

Michael Covington mentioned to me that Lowes is now selling Meccano parts in those marvelous little bins of odd bits in the hardware aisle. I got up there a few days ago to take a look, and it’s true: A company called The Hillman Group provides little bags of zinc-plated steel girders, plates, and brackets, all with the Meccano standard 1/2″ hole spacing, the holes sized to clear an 8-32 bolt. They’re expensive compared to haunting eBay for beat-to-hell and incomplete modern Erector sets, but the parts can be damned handy. Here’s an Arduino-powered cat teaser built from some servos and Hillman parts.

Tomorrow I dive into Chapter 5. Should be easier, as it’s about programming, not hardware. Now, can we ditch this absurd obsession with curly brackets? What part of BEGIN and END don’t you all understand?