Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

June 5th, 2008:

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.