Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

June, 2008:

Fire Drill! (Update)

Update: Carol and Aero went back to Jimi Henton's house (she's the local bichon groomer/breeder) and I have this huge pile of stuff by the garage door. However, I just learned that the police reopened Farthing, which is one of the two paths into this area from outside. Broadmoor Bluffs is still closed. I'm not seeing helicopters circling anymore (I can't see the fire site from here) and I'm guessing that they're getting a handle on it. Remarkably, TV news has been almost no help. Nobody wants to interrupt the damfool soap operas.

I can be out the door with QBit and the big pile in the back of the 4Runner in less than ten minutes. In the meantime, I'm sitting in the livingroom with the TV on, reading Mark Kurlansky's Salt. I'll post an all-clear here when it's all clear.

Fire Drill!

Damn. Like, inc(damn). There is a wildfire a little less than a mile south and east of us, on the lower slopes of Cheyenne Mountain. The cops have sealed off all the roads into our neighborhood and won't let Carol get back home here. I'm gathering papers and stuff, and will be tossing whole computers in the back of the Voyager in case I have to run.

They're working on it, and if it weren't for the strong wind I'd say it wouldn't be too much of a challenge. But either way, it's a fire drill. With real fire.

Contra Is Ten Years Old

I know I'm older than dirt. What still boggles me a little to think on is that I'm older than…blogging. Yes indeedy: Ten years ago today, I wrote the first entry for something I called VDM Diary. (VDM, of course, being Visual Developer Magazine, which I owned and edited until we shut it down in early 2000.) I had no idea what I was doing, and certainly had no idea that what I was doing would soon become a global phenomenon that would put whole newspapers in their graves and change the shape of information dissemination.

It's amusing to go scanning around the Web to read the heated arguments about who invented blogging. I'll pull an Al Gore here and say that I did. So did a number of other people. It's not like it's rocket science to take a literary form that goes back to at least 1660 and put it…on a Web server. Oh, the genius!

Actually, I'm even more like Al Gore in that I didn't invent blogging—I just like to say that I did. In truth, Lisa Marie Hafeli did, and she simply pestered me into implementing it. Lisa was my ad sales rep at VDM, and she wanted me to figure out how to get more product mentions associated with the magazine, so that she could get a little more credit with developer tools companies. We only had so many pages for reviews and news releases, but…how about talking about products online? How about just writing a little something every day or two about a product?

I remember her bringing up the idea at the beginning of 1998, and I thought about it for months before giving it a try. I had never kept a paper diary, though I wrote a lot of email and posted on forums, so I was used to writing in short pithy snippets. I was leery of pandering to advertisers, so I tried hard to avoid the appearance of just doing VDM Diary to work in product mentions. It was by intention that I sprinkled in little weirdnesses like the FBI's database of UFO sightings (June 17, 1998) and odd observations from my own work in technology, like how Word 97 irritatingly autoconverted the sequence “:)” to a smiley icon. I did the product mentions, but they didn't seem to make much difference in our ad sales efforts. So I branched out, adding personal observations on my own life, and by the middle of 1999 I was thoroughly hooked. Alas, that was about the time that VDM began imploding, and I was depressed for a solid year after Coriolis shuttered the magazine. (Coriolis itself didn't last much longer.) But even though I no longer had a magazine, by the middle of 2000 I re-established a Web diary on my own domain ( and have been doing it ever since.

ContraPositive is not the oldest blog still posting regularly. I think Lileks' Daily Bleat (which goes back to early 1997) has that honor, though if you know of any older ones still posting, please send a pointer. Bob Thompson's Daynotes Journal started up less than two weeks after Contra did, and is still going strong. Jerry Pournelle has been doing something with regular postings on his Web site for a very long time, but it's not organized like a diary, and very hard to figure out where everything is and how long it's been there. (This doesn't mean it's not worth reading.)

Interestingly, I've been told by a couple of people that what I do is not really a blog, and is actually more like a daily newspaper column. There's something to that. When I was a kid, I used to admire writers like Jack Mabley and Bert Bacharach (not his composer/musician son Burt) who wrote daily columns in the local newspapers. (Jack Mabley wrote a blog for a time when he was 90, until he passed away in 2006.) The energy that sustains Contra comes from a conviction learned from far better writers than I (like Gene Wolfe) that no matter what else they might do, writers should write something coherent every day. I usually manage that, though understand that I write on a lot of different projects, of which Contra is only one. Doing it daily isn't difficult. Being coherent, now, well…

In the last year or so, I've been doing fewer Contra posts and longer ones, and gathering shorter items (usually focusing on links) up into regular Odd Lots posts. I'm trying not to split my concentration too many ways on any given day (context changes are costly!) and if I'm working intensely on something like Degunking Essentials or Old Catholics, I tend not to work on Contra that same day. I have bookmark and email folders for items to address later on, and periodically go through it, deleting or archiving items once I've covered them here. The system works, and I'll use it until I think of something better.

As I've said here in a number of contexts, writing benefits the writer as well as the reader. It's good practice, it's discipline, it dissipates tension, and it's one way to stay current in the world. Having something coherent to say requires that you live an attentive life and remain curious about many different things, and the best way to learn something yourself is to explain it to someone else. Contra works for me. I hope it works for you. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Fantasy? Or Science Fiction?

“Hilary? Hey, John McCain here. How's it going? Yes. Understood. I read the news. Look, I'll get to the point: Do you still want to be President? I think I can help get you there. It's unorthodox, but hear me out.

“Your party is in trouble. Once the media decided to anoint Obama as our next President, they turned on you, and split the Democrats wide-open. My numbers people tell me that about a quarter of your supporters would rather vote Republican than vote for Obama. They may not actually do that; they may just stay home. But if Barack thinks he's just going to walk off with the election, he's greener than he looks.

“My party, on the other hand, is just about dead. The corpse is still twitching, but the neocons killed it a long time ago. The Democrats are split two ways. The Republicans are split ten ways. Ok, I won't lay it all out; I respect your research staff. This is not new news. Over here we're all having a bitch of a time trying to decide what the party stands for, and the party leaders don't even like me. They're keeping their mouths shut; they don't want to do what your party's doing to itself. They wanted Rudy Giuliani, and they expected me to lose gracefully and go away. I lose gracefully—when I lose. But they're gritting their teeth when they say they support me. Behind the scenes they've said a lot of the same things about me that your party bosses are saying about you. I'll admit to you privately that I'm pretty angry about that.

“But set that side for now. We both have this other problem: There are a lot of people who are disgusted with the whole business. It's not fair to say that they're in the middle, between you and me, between Republicans and Democrats. They're outside the graph. They're tired of the posturing and the tribalism and the personality cults. They know the country's in trouble, and they want it fixed. They're tired of the War, they're afraid for their jobs, they're afraid of getting cancer and losing everything they own before dying in agony. Global warming isn't on their radar. Neither is gay marriage. Those are fringe issues. It's about the economy. It's always about the economy. Bill had that dead right.

“There's a window here: Remake the Republican Party out of the rubble, put some solutions on the table, and try to find a way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to piss a lot of my party people off, but I'm going to tell them to hit the road. I'm going to turn the whole thing inside out. I'm going to let the tax cuts expire. I'm going to propose another approach to universal health care. It may take a couple of years, but I intend to end the War.

“No, I don't blame you. I don't expect anybody to believe me, which is why I'm not telling anybody. But that's what I'm going to do. Look: I'm 71. I'm in decent health but I get tired sometimes. I have this one last chance to do something completely audacious, which is to break the gridlock and get this country back on track. Otherwise, I keep the status quo and go quietly into that good night, probably before the end of my second term. I do not intend to be another William Henry Harrison.

“I admire your guts and your persistence. I respect your positions, even the ones I don't hold. I think I can win this November. But with you as my VP, I don't think we can lose.

“Hilary? Hilary? You there? Yes, I'm serious. And I'll make you this promise: Run with me in 2008, and I will choose not to run in 2012. We don't have to say anything now. I'll be 75, and that's too old to do it again. The public will accept that.

“Hold on. You do not have to actually be a Republican. You simply have to pretend to be one for a year or two, until we completely re-create the Republican party somewhere in the center. My research indicates that many more Americans want consensus than ideological polarization. We may have to upset a few noisy people at the extremes who like to think that they're more important than they are. I'll cover the right if you'll cover the left. But I promise you, when we're through with it, it will be an utterly different party.

“Barack's young, and his people worship him. He'll try again in 2012. Still, I don't think there's a slate in the universe that could win against Clinton/Rice.

“Are you in? You don't have to tell me right this…

“Wow. Good. So let's do it. You've waited long enough. I've waited too long. It's time. It's just damned time.”

Odd Lots

  • Carol and I were at the Longmont Dog Show over the weekend, and Aero got another two blue ribbons, though that was in the Open Dog category and didn't yield him any points. I actually “handled” (took around the show ring) another dog owned by Aero's breeder Jimi Henton. Showing Jackie (Jimi's Hit the Jackpot) was fun, especially since Jackie is the biggest, heaviest, strongest bichon any of us has ever seen (23 pounds, all of it muscle!) and there's nothing the least bit fussy about him.
  • The Make blog aggregated an item on making your own railcarts and railbkes. I've often thought that this might be fun (it's certainly nothing new) but the snag is that when railroads abandon a run of track, they typically tear up the rails for scrap almost immediately. The mere presence of iron suggests that trains come through, if only occasionally, and that would make me nervous. I have been looking for but have not yet found an index of track sections where trains are known not to run.
  • In the certifiable Brain Sludge category of Web content falls Topher's Breakfast Cereal Character Guide, which lists (and in most cases shows images of) all the characters hawking cereal on boxes and commercials that you've ever heard of, and I suspect more than a few that you haven't. The list also includes purely fictional cereals like Calvin's Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, and Admiral Crunch and Archduke Chocula from Futureama. Early versions of the Rice Crispies Elves are interesting—and I never knew that Tony the Tiger had a spouse. All here.
  • Speaking of cereal, this article confirms my grocery-store math: House brands cost as much as 40% less than largely indistinguishable name brands. If you're spending more for gas, at least spend less on Rice Chex. The only type of cereal where house brands taste distinctly different to me are oat toruses, or whateverthehell you call them in the generic—Cheerios clones. The house brands are not necessary bad (in fact, the Trader Joe's house brand oat toruses are distinctly better) but it's odd that all the chex and the flakes can't be told apart but Cheerios brooks no imitation. By the way, most house brand cereals are made by Ralston Foods. Here's their list. Of interest to geometers are Crispy Hexagons. What, no Crispy Dodecahedrons?
  • And to round out the discussion of nostaligic carbs, I regret to inform all who may care that Dressel's Cakes are really and truly gone forever. Their distinctive frozen whipped-cream chocolate cake was a Chicago standard for 75 years, coming from their plant at 66th and Ashland Avenues, but the firm was bought by a French company a few years ago and dismantled for reasons unclear. (I'm glad I can still get Green River!)
  • Mike Reith sent a pointer to goosh, a purely textual interface to Google that works a lot like the Unix shell. Could this be useful to the vision-impaired?
  • There are no visible sunspots right now, and according to several items I've read, there have been none for some weeks, and very few for months, all the way back into the middle of last year. Ham radio guys (like me) track sunspot activity closely because it affects shortwave radio propagation. Here's a sample. It's probably too early to worry, but long-term sunspot minima have been very bad juju in the past.