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February, 2012:

Media System Reassembly

Back Of TV - 500 Wide.jpg

This may be obvious for some, but for whom it isn’t, I want to call it out and describe it as extremely useful: If you ever have to dismantle a complicated audio/video system, take pictures of the cabling before you pull it all apart.

We bought a flat-screen TV and associated media components last year for the lower level, and a Geek Squad guy came out to assemble and test it for us. Now, I’m not a big media guy. I watch movies when I’m on the treadmill, and sometimes TV. I’ve spent my time learning other things. So when I had to empty out the carpeted areas of the lower level, I took one look at the ratsnest behind the electronics and dove for my digital camera. I took pictures of the cables behind the TV and each of the other components. Yesterday, when it was time to put everything back in place after a two-month hiatus (which is more than long enough to forget everything) I printed out five color copies of the pertinent photos, and had it all reratsnested and working inside of twenty minutes, with no false moves at all.

I recognize that it may be difficult to get a camera behind some systems. If you can, pivot each component out far enough to snap what’s plugged into it. If you can’t, well, maybe using longer cables would be a good idea.

Having fought with media messes like this on many occasions, I’m guessing that this technique saved me hours I would otherwise have wasted and never have again. Highly recommended.

Odd Lots

Bertrand Russell’s Liberal Decalogue

I was simply going to post a pointer to this item in the next Odd Lots, but I’d really like it to get more attention than it has. Bertrand Russell published the following list of ten precepts at the end of an article called “The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism” in the New York Times Magazine in 1951, and it was later published in Volume 3 of his autobiography. It meshes well with my upcoming entries on tribalism, which is indeed a species of group fanaticism. There’s no need to comment that “liberal” means something different in current discussion than it did in 1950. So does “conservative.” What the man was talking about is freedom, which is both more difficult and more valuable than waving a flag on the left or on the right. How free are you? Who owns you? Those are the questions you should ask yourself every morning before breakfast.

Note well that I am not a Bertrand Russell fanboy, and I do not endorse all or even most of his positions. However, I do endorse what he wrote below:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband of your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent on authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Packing the Deck

Deck After Windstorm - 02-23-2012.jpg

The Springs got hit by near-hurricanic winds last night, stronger than I’ve seen since the infamous New Year’s Day storm in 2004 that threw a piece of the back fence of our rental house through the window, and demolished a nearby house that was under construction. We don’t have a fence here, and the roof shingles are concrete, so as best I know the house itself took no hits. However, the wind howled all damned night with a fury that suggested 80-90 MPH sustained gusts. I have wanted a weather station here from time to time. This morning, I want one a lot more than I did yesterday.

We looked out on the back deck when we got up and found that our gas grill and all of our deck furniture had been tightly packed onto the south end of the deck. There was some snow, but it had been blown around and drifted so heavily that it was tough to tell just how much. (I’m guessing 2″.) What was there was wet and very dense, suggesting that we might have had 10″ or more this morning had the temps been ten or fifteen degrees colder during the night.

I’m still under spousal orders to stay in bed as much as possible, and probably will until this terrible cough goes away. (My chest has gone into it-hurts-to-breathe-too-much mode, suggesting that the cough will pass away sometime this afternoon. It had better.)

How much wind does it take to do that? Yikes! I’ve stopped thinking about a weather station and have started shopping. If you have any recommendations, I will enthusiastically hear them.

Dash Nails It. Twice.

L-R: Jeff Duntemann, Dash, Carol Duntemann, Jack

(Photo above courtesy Dr. Kathy Jordan.) We got back from Denver Monday night with a folder full of ribbons and, in the kennel in the back seat, a new Bichon Frise champion: Ch. Jimi’s Faster Than Light, better known to most of you as Dash. I also came back with a miserable headcold, so if this (rather late) entry is thin gruel, it’s because my head still feels like very thick gruel.

We’ve gone to the annual Rocky Mountain Cluster Dog Show now for several years. It’s the largest AKC event in the mountain west, and consists of four separate dog shows on four consecutive days. This makes it worthwhile for people to travel a fair distance to get there, since for each breed there are four chances to win. With more dogs entered, there are also more chances for the coveted “major win,” two of which are necessary for a dog to achieve championship. At smaller shows you can collect conformation points toward championship, but without those two major wins, that last step can’t happen. (Dog show rules are complex, and I can’t do them justice in a single blog entry.)

It’s a big show, and in fact dwarfs the Bichon Frise National Specialty, which we call Bichonicon and attend when it isn’t too far. This year the lousy economy reduced attendance from a typical 3,000 dogs to about 2,500–which is still a lot of dogs.

We already have a champ in the house: Aero became a champion in 2010. We’ve been working on Dash and Jack since then. Dash has been racking up points fairly regularly since we began showing him as a puppy. In fact, he’s been “singled out” now for some time, which means that he had more than the required fifteen conformation points, but lacked a second major win to become a champion.

The Rocky Mountain Cluster doesn’t always present an opportunity for Bichon Frise majors (which depends on the number of breed dogs entered) but this year it did, for both males and females. The Rocky Mountain Bichon Frise Club was there in force, with a bichon enclave roped off down in the lower-level cattle pens at the National Western Complex, near the junction of I-25 and I-70.

Ch. Jimi's Faster Than Light (Dash) on grooming tableCarol had been working on Dash’s coat for some time, having studied under long-time bichon groomers including Jimi Henton here in the Springs, and Lorrie Carlton of Belle Creek Bichons in Plymouth, Michigan. Dash certainly looked about as good as he ever has, and on Friday morning mostly needed fluffing up. Carol did a very good groom job on Jack as well, but Jack has special problems unrelated to his coat, which is superb. Jack is shy, and has a hard time keeping his tail up and over his back (as required by the breed standard) when in the midst of dog show pandemonium. We’re working on that, and in fact have made great progress since he came to us in 2009, but when he’s in the ring his tail drops.

Carol and I both “handle;” that is, we both usher a dog around the show ring. She typically handles Dash, and I typically handle Jack. On Friday the judge in our ring was the formidable Edd Bivin, an intense and cerebral dog expert who has been an AKC judge since 1961, and regularly chairs the Best In Show panel and provides commentary on the televised Eukanuba National Championship dog shows. (No pressure!) Dash, now two and a half, still has more than a touch of puppy in him, and did not behave as well as we had hoped. Nonetheless, when all the male bichons had marched around the ring for the final review, Edd Bivin pointed at him for the #1 position. Dash had beaten all (male) comers, and nailed his second major. He was a champ.

Dash didn’t win Best of Breed that day, an honor taken by Lindsay Van Keuren’s bitch Barbie. (Remember that “bitch” is a technical term in the dog realm, and simply means “female.”) Several people who watched him suggested that when he matures a little more (and stops squirming like a sixth grader) he will be unstoppable. Carol is considering going on with him to compete for the title of AKC Grand Champion, which is a much tougher climb.

We’ll see on that. As for the rest of the show, Dash squirmed his way out of winning on Saturday and Sunday, but again pulled down a major win on Monday, under veteran AKC judge Carl Gomes. So he now has three major wins and 23 points. Since he needs only two majors and fifteen points to be a champion, he has a comfortable margin. Jack looked great but just couldn’t keep his tail up, and will need some additional training. We all came home dog-tired and covered with dog hair, not to mention this peculiar brown dust that churns up in the cattle pens. (You can guess where that comes from, keeping in mind that these are not dog pens…)

By the next morning I had come down with a whomping headcold, which is still with me as I write. Doesn’t matter. Dash got his championship. The whole Pack got some chicken liver. Carol shared a couple of malted milk balls with me and then ordered me to bed. Dog shows are hard work, and a hairy business. Still, we had more fun than we’ve had in a good long while.

Odd Lots

An Informal Theory of Tribalism, Part 1: Background

I’m much of the way through an excellent book: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, whose previous works on my shelves here include How The Mind Works, The Language Instinct, and The Blank Slate. The book’s dual mission is to demonstrate with hard research and reliable numbers that violence in human societies has declined and continues to decline, and perhaps to explain why. So far I’m persuaded by the first element of its mission. The second, well, I’m not as sure–but I’m also not finished with the book. However, I’ve read enough to recommend it, assuming you don’t mind long, dense books that require focus and an open mind to get through. The Better Angels of Our Nature provides solid backing to the impression Colin Wilson gives in his 1984 tome A Criminal History of Mankind: that the past was a bogglingly cruel and violent place, not only in certain parts of the Earth and in certain societies, but everywhere. Today, by contrast, we live in the safest and most peaceful era in human history. The improvement has not been linear, but graphed over centuries (and not merely years or decades) it’s been steady. This is counterintuitive if anything is. Still, the citations Pinker presents are beyond my ability as an amateur historian to challenge. Much of his thesis involves things I’ve not read of in detail before. Pinker’s description of the widespread practice of infanticide in our past is especially chilling. I may recognize the evolutionary logic for some of it, but the repugnance nearly all of us feel when contemplating the idea reflects how far we’ve come.

In short, we are not fallen angels. We are risen apes.

I’ve had a suspicion for quite a few years that the root cause of human cruelty and violence is tribalism. Pinker’s book provides more evidence that I was right. He cites a number of causes of violence, but most of them are either the consequences of tribalism, or tribalism outright. Furthermore, tribalism is something primal, something we inherited from the killer primate ancestors we share with creatures like gorillas and chimpanzees, who are enthusiastic and highly calculated murderers of their own kind. We see it in our own historic records as far back as they go, and also in the societies of aboriginal peoples who have avoided contact with modern societies until recent times. (Jared Diamond has written much about his experiences with recently contacted tribes in the new Guinea highlands; see The Third Chimpanzee for a sample.)

It’s easy for those of us in the Intellectual Elite to cluck and roll our eyes at any suggestion that tribalism is still with us. Don’t. What we’ve made great progress suppressing are warfare and murder, mostly by sheer dint of will enforced via societal pressures against fountains of violence like polygamy (polygyny, more precisely) and honor cultures. We’re still having trouble with deeper evils like idealism, but idealism is not a consequence of tribalism. (It certainly takes advantage of tribalism, as Marxism did with great success in the past hundred-odd years. Let’s not confuse the horse with the rider, even if both need shooting.) Tribalism is very much with us, and whereas it causes less murder than it used to, it still shapes our thought and our societies in ways that should give us pause. It generates hatred like nothing else out there, and enslaves even the brightest of us.

The quickest way to find evidence is to read the comments sections of forums covering anything less technical than the alignment of IF strips. Everyone knows what flamers and trolls are. They’ve been around since there were online forums. I saw them in my bang-path days in the early 80s. Anonymity amplifies the temptations to flame and troll; see the very brilliant take that Penny Arcade has on the topic. I was a little surprised to see how much the psychology of flaming and trolling is rooted in tribalism. As with a lot of insights, once I knew what to look for I saw it everywhere. I’ve actually engaged the trolls here and there, to see how they react to certain kinds of provocation. (If you ever stumble across any otherwise uncharacteristic or inexplicable posts of mine online, it’s almost certainly me poking a troll with a stick and taking notes.) I now think I know enough to summarize my research and toss out an informal theory of tribalism, especially as it applies to our online world.

The series here will not be contiguous. It’s a difficult thing to write about, and I have other topics on my do-it list, most of them more fun if less provocative than this. I do want to ask that you put on your Cloaks of Heroic Courtesy before you click the Comment link. I always welcome thoughtful and polite discussion. However, if you insist on flaming or trolling, I have a perfect opportunity to tap my pointer on our virtual blackboard and use you as an example: “Kids, here’s still more evidence supporting my theory. Let me explain what’s going on in this comment…” Be the student. Don’t be the lesson.

Next: What tribalism is.

Dare I Believe It?

I remember a sunny Monday morning in early June, 1974. Classes had ended at DePaul University the previous Friday, and I would graduate the following Saturday. Since entering kindergarten in September 1957, I had been going to school from September to June, and repeating the cycle again the following September. It was literally the only life I knew. School for nine months, vacation for three months. Lather, rinse, repeat. But wait, I thought–not only do I not have to go to school today, I never have to go to school again.

Dare I believe it? I was done.

It shook me to the core.

I remembered that feeling last night, after the burly young men packed all the scraps and fuzz and staples and things out the front door and roared off in their Ford van. I looked around at our lower level. Slab. Plumbing. Tile. Paint. Carpeting. Linoleum. It’s all there, functional and gorgeous. Things that had been breaking or leaking or cockeyed (or just plain plug-ugly) for several years were now as they should be. We were done.

Wow. This project was starting to feel like a way of life. I will confess that by June of 1974 I was getting tired of going to school. I was tired of getting ready. I wanted to dive in and get some things done, which I did. (Two weeks later I got a job at Lafayette Radio fixing burned-out stereos, portable radios that somebody’s kid had thrown up in, CBs that some dork had hooked to a TV antenna, etc.) I am long past ready to have my workshop and exercise room back, and a guest room for nephew Matt and his lady Justine to stay in when they visit next month.

Ok. I admit that it’s really not quite sincerely done. We now have a beautiful, empty lower level. There is one more job for burly young men to do: drag all the furniture out of the furnace room, the unfinished bedroom, and the odd corners of my workshop and put it back where it belongs. I guess I then have to unpack 1,000 books and re-shelve them.

No biggie. That’s just rearranging things I already have. The hard stuff, the stuff that had to be chosen, matched, paid for, delivered, and glued to the floor or slobbered on the walls, that’s all done.

Which is simply to say that it’s a big hearty Deo gratias and the dawn of the first day of the rest of our lives. Oh, and note to self: Our next house will not be on the side of a mountain.

Odd Lots

  • For the several people who asked: The odor-free carpet pad that we used in carpeting the lower level here is called Napa Carpet Cushion, from Leggett & Platt.
  • Apart from N&P’s Fallen Angels, Bob Tucker’s Ice and Iron, and possibly Mackelworth’s Tiltangle, what other SF novels involve an ice age on Earth in the near(ish) future? I have a concept that capitalizes on all my recent paleoclimate research, and I’d like to see if it’s already been done.
  • Whoops, found a list just before posting this. I clearly have some reading to do, assuming I can find any of these items. What are your personal favorites?
  • Today’s sunspot number is very close to zero. I haven’t seen sunspot activity this low in some time, and here we are supposedly barreling into the Cycle 24 maximum. The sunspot number is going in the wrong direction. 6M DX is evidently not in my immediate future.
  • Joe Flamini and Jack Smith are both pretty sure that the mysterious Comco gizmo I presented in my February 6, 2012 entry is an early remote control unit for commercial and public service radio systems, allowing control of a transmitter or repeater through leased phone lines. More on this in a future entry.
  • Having read briefly about hydraulic analog computing in a magazine decades ago, I built hydraulic calculators and computers into the technological background for my novel The Cunning Blood. Turns out the Russians did it on a pretty large scale back in the years running up to WWII. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
  • From the You-Probably-Couldn’t-Do-That-Today Department: The flipside of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s 1963 hit kid/Christmas 45 “The Marvelous Toy” was “The Bonny Streets of Fyve-I-O, about a colonel who shoots one of his own captains for insubordination.
  • Tucows (does anybody even remember Tucows?) is launching a contract-free mobile service using Sprint’s network. The rates are interesting, and favor people who want smartphones but just don’t use them much, and data little or not at all.
  • The Maker Shed has a $99 Geiger counter kit that allows logging of pulses through a serial port, and detects both beta and gamma radiation.
  • A little gruesome maybe, but it’s real: When we lived in California in the late ’80s, there were reports of sneakers washing up on Santa Cruz area beaches…with human feet still inside them. At the time we assumed drug violence, but there’s a less scurrilous if no less ghastly explanation for a phenomenon that’s still happening. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Mmmph. Military combat aircraft should be able to fly in more air than we’re used to, no? Sweden had this problem recently. (I’m guessing that Saab has it too, now.) Thanks to Aki Peltonen for the link.
  • The name of my company, Copperwood Media, LLC, was inspired by a set of traces on an old PCB that just happened to look (a little) like a tree. I had an artist draw me a better copper tree for the logo, way back in 2000. Now Rich Rostrom sends a link to the odd tradition in some parts of the UK of hammering coins into cracks in trees until the notion of “copperwood” takes on a whole new meaning.
  • Some very nice steampunk watches and jewelry. “Chronambulator” is a great word, whether or not you’ve got a steampunk gizmo to hang it on. Note also the level-reading absinthe hip-flask. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.)

Smelling (Or Not Smelling) Victory


As I posted on Facebook last night:

My family room now has a floor
And some fancy new tile by the door;
Though it took sixty days
We both knew patience pays–
Now it’s all that we’d hoped for and more!

Yesterday was Floor Coverings Day here. The poem doesn’t quite capture it. All of the lower level areas that were once carpeted were re-carpeted, and that includes two good-sized bedrooms, the hall, the big stairs, and our 20′ X 20′ family room. The total carpeted area is just under 900 square feet. Much of our original carpeting was pulled up or otherwise destroyed when we had the lower-level slab mudjacked back in December. The rest was torn up and carried out yesterday morning, along with a great deal of carpet padding, some tack strips that had gotten in the way of construction, and assorted trash that sure seemed like it came out of nowhere.

It took a little over seven hours, but the new padding was laid and then the carpet put down atop it. The stairs represented a great deal of fussy work, as was getting things cut just so for the closet insets and odd corners. We think it’s gorgeous. It’s much better carpet than what the contractor put down when we built the house in 2003. It matches the wood trim a lot better, and with some top-of-the-line padding underneath it, you feel like you’re walking on a firm mattress.

So we smell victory on the remodeling front. Things aren’t completely done. The roll vinyl for what we call the Harry Potter Closet (a huge-ish volume under the main stairs) was back ordered, and we may not get it laid until next week. But once that’s in, the construction is basically done. After that, I hire movers to put the furniture back where it was, and then start emptying 1,000-odd books out of boxes onto the shelves.

Why did it take so long? We smelled vectory when we didn’t smell it, basically. As anyone who’s worked with carpet should know, not smelling carpet and (especially) carpet padding is nontrivial. Our lower level stank of carpet pad plasticizers for a couple of years, and plasticizers are one of Carol’s migraine triggers. We looked at countless carpet samples, and the first thing we did when we laid hands on any sample was sniff it. If it stank of solvents or anything else, interview over.

This was a problem with carpeting. Our eventual choice was pure nylon and doesn’t smell enough to be an issue. The problem was a great deal worse with carpet padding. A lot of padding is made of chopped-up scrap padding salvaged from subdivision-scale construction, and to make it all stick together, well, they use solvents. Even what might appear to be new padding is plastic foam, and plastic is just polymers in solvent. They stink.

This was our major issue, and we said so. A number of carpet vendors did not take us at all seriously. I had to be a major hard-ass, which is against nature for me and requires practice. I got lots of practice: “This pad smells.” All padding smells. “This pad smells too much.” Padding that doesn’t smell is more expensive. “Brings us samples of what you have that smells less.” We have to order the samples. “Then order them.” It’ll take two weeks. “Good-bye.”

We shopped for almost a month. The pad we chose is some sort of unobtanium pseudo memory foam that looks like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s purple, sheesh, and has a gray-lavendar impermeable film on both sides. It’s also a far better insulator than most carpet pad, and given that it’s basically sitting on a slab of concrete resting on the Colorado soil, that did matter. At the carpet store, we held it up to our noses, and when we realized that we couldn’t tell whether it was the pad that we smelled or just the general reek floating around in the store, we knew that we’d found it. We took a sample with us, and when we got it home we realized it didn’t smell at all. I don’t know how they did that.

Don’t care. Sold! It was interesting that the stink-free is warranteed for longer than the carpet itself. That was fine; dogs are hard on carpeting. Hell, ordinary life is hard on carpeting. If in another ten years the carpet starts looking sorry, we’ll have it pulled up and get new carpeting. That pad, now, well. It stays.

So. Slab is where it’s supposed to be. Paint’s done. Tile’s done. Plumbing repairs done. Carpet’s done. Victory is one small roll of back-ordered vinyl flooring away. I can almost smell it.