- Yes, I changed my mind and signed up for Twitter, after pondering somebody else using my name and creating a Fake Jeff Duntemann. (Thanks to Bob Fergert for prompting me to imagine the unimaginable–and I’m a good imaginer.) More on this a little later. I have yet to post anything due to lots of top-priority projects here, but I’ll get to it within the week.
- Dietary saturated fat is not related to plasma fatty acids. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much saturated fat you eat; your blood levels of fatty acids are controlled by other factors. What other factors? Care to guess? Are you reading this on Contrapositive Diary? Is the Pope from Argentina? Is the atomic weight of ytterbium 173.04? It’s the carbs. Wow. Whodathunkit? (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal, who was the first of several to put me on the scent.)
- There is actually a prize for the worst sex scene in literary fiction. It is not a coveted award, and I guess is seen as a sort of booby prize among literary writers. The WSJ recently posted a brief guide on how to avoid writing such scenes. (I avoid writing really bad sex scenes by not writing sex scenes at all. Works amazingly well.)
- Two people in my circles who don’t know one another have independently recommended Ting as a cell carrier. First impression: Sounds too good to be true, and sheesh, they were created by Tucows. (That said, Tucows is no longer what most of us grayhairs remember it being.) Any other opinions? Getting new phones and a new carrier is my next big tech research project.
- I’d also like to hear some early impressions of Lollipop, if anybody’s got it or is about to get it.
- Here’s something you don’t see every day; in fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it even once, ever: A square flat-panel monitor, with a 1920 X 1920 resolution. Assuming these survive their launch (not a sure thing by any means) I’d be sorely tempted. As the story says, “Enough of the ultra wideness already.”
- I wasn’t sure whether good technical books could be created as reflowable ebooks, but Yury Magda is doing it. He has five self-published Arduino-related titles now, and what I can see in the samples looks damned good. I’m going to buy a couple, less for the Arduino content as for how he does the layout. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for putting me on to this.)
- Gizmodo/Sploid has a very nice short item on the XB-70 Valkyrie, certainly the most beautiful and possibly the second-scariest military aircraft ever built. Do watch the video of how the second prototype crashed–and if you’re ever within striking distance of Dayton, don’t miss the other Valkyrie at the Air Force museum there. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Barðarbunga is emitting over twice as much sufur dioxide every day as all of Europe’s smokestacks put together, and the volcano is still hard at it. SO2 is well-known to be a powerful cooling factor in the atmosphere. Combine that with a quiet Sun, and nobody really knows what might happen.
- Best video illustration of how tumbler locks work that I’ve ever seen.
- For that special, short, hairy, ironic someone in your life: You can get a genuine Flying Nun-inspired Weta-made Bofur winter hat, shipped all the way from New Zealand. Not cheap and not sure if it’ll arrive before Christmas, but if this winter keeps going like it’s going, you’ll be all set to face dragons, ice ages, or both.
The last Sunday of April, 2001, Carol and I stopped at a Toyota dealership on the way home from church. We’d been thinking about a new car for some time. Our 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee was not all that old, but it was a lemon and had become increasingly unreliable. We’d been considering the 4Runner and wanted to test-drive one. So we pulled into the dealer lot, and swung back the big glass door leading into a uniqely American vision of Purgatory. Six hours later, we emerged with a new 4Runner, and a solemn promise to one another that we would never do that again.
We’ve kept that promise.
It wasn’t easy. Carol and I did our homework. We scoured the Web for reviews, asked our mechanic and our nephew Matt, who’s a car hobbyist, and generally kept our ears open. We knew what we needed: A full-size SUV to replace our almost 20-year-old Plymouth Voyager minivan. The Voyager was 2WD, and the winters here in Colorado have been getting colder, grayer, and snowier. Our local government is throwing that classic extortion tantrum of selectively witholding public services until we raise taxes on ourselves, in this case refusing to plow streets in well-off neighborhoods like ours. Voters here do not bully easily, and have given them the finger three times in a row now, which still leaves us the problem of winter driving in a 2WD minivan. Winter this year basically began on November 1, which we took to be a Sign. We needed to trade in the van for something with a tranfer case. We were not going to do it by enduring another six hours of franchise dealership kabuki.
Our first thought was to use the Costco car-buying program. This is a no-haggle arrangement whereby the dealers and Costco agree on a price for each model and option. You ask for the price, and if you want the car, you pay it. That sounded fine to us. We used their Web site and contacted the Costco liaison at the big local Dodge dealer. We told him we wanted a 2014 Dodge Durango with our list of must-have and nice-to-have features. The guy did his best (I think) but didn’t come up with much.
Part of that was the odd list of features we wanted. Some, like a lack of second-row captain’s chairs, clustered in the two lower trim styles. Others, like a power liftgate, clustered in the higher trim styles. The color we wanted (a golden beige they call Pearl) seemed not to exist. The whites and reds did exist, but swam in a sea of black. You can get second-degree burns off a black car in Scottsdale, where we may soon be spending winters. Black was thus a deal-killer. We found a couple of contenders ourselves in the central Dodge inventory listings. The cars were on the far side of Denver. I emailed the listings to the Costco rep at the local Dodge dealer, who then had trouble getting the remote dealership to cooperate.
In the meantime, our nephew Matt suggested that we look at used cars. He’d bought a used Jeep through TrueCar and was delighted with it. I’d heard about CarMax, and had driven past their local retail location a number of times. So Carol and I looked at their inventory online, found a couple of cars that weren’t too far from what we wanted, and figured we’d give their system a try.
CarMax is a car-lot no-haggle system for buying used cars. We emailed a request for a test drive, and one of their reps contacted us and set up an appointment. We went out there and we drove ourselves a Durango. The car was a 2013, and whereas it drove very well, it had 27,000 miles on it and a V8 hemi under the hood. Carol and I wanted a V6 with under 15,000 miles on it. The CarMax rep, Derek Scott, scanned around other CarMax locations and found a couple of possibilities, again, up in the Denver area. He offered to have the best of them brought down to Colorado Springs at no charge so we could try it here.
He did. It took only two days. We drove it, we liked it, he stated a price, appraised the Voyager for a trade-in, and gave us a final number. We arranged financing, then went back the next day to push papers, and finally drove it home. No kabuki. No pressure. Sure, I might have gotten it for a thousand bucks less somewhere else (maybe) after another week or two of enduring the franchise dealership hell-hole. We felt disinclined to put ourselves through that wringer again.
So now we have a 2014 Durango Limited with 12,000 miles on it. We like the tan interior for the same reason we wanted a tan exterior–less heat absorption. The vehicle didn’t have a tow package, but it met all of our other requirements. I can get a real Mopar tow package installed for about $750, which I will when things settle down a little. (Our next assignment: Get new phones and a new carrier. Uggh.)
About CarMax I have nothing but the best to say. Their people were terrific (especially Derek Scott) and showed no impatience with us whatsoever. They brought out a car from another store without charging us for it, and gave us about what I expected for a 19-year-old minivan trade-in. Highly recommended.
I wonder, at this point, how long the traditional franchise dealership model would last if it were not protected by state law. I settled for a used car instead of a new car in part because I wanted nothing to do with a dealership. Even when I tried to work with a dealership (via Costco) the other dealerships didn’t seem to want the business. We would have replaced the Voyager years ago if we could have stomached the thought of going new car shopping as the law requires us to do it. I don’t think that the dealers, the manufacturers, nor the government itself have any idea how much that dealership kabuki has lost the industry in new car sales. It’s another example of a brittle business model that will fail badly when it fails, because its proponents can’t get their heads around the way their world is going.
I can’t say much about the car just yet. I’m still trying to program its multitude of options. (The Durango’s 626-page owner’s manual has to be special-ordered in print form and is not shipped with the vehicle.) It’s big, shiny, and so far works perfectly. I guess that’s more than enough for the time being.
On more than one occasion, a reader has emailed me to ask why he or she couldn’t see me on Twitter. My answer might have seemed inconceivable to them: I’m not on it. I never have been. I’ve researched it and thought about it and waffled about it almost since there was a Twitter. I still haven’t gone there. And at this point, I’m unlikely to.
One reason has always been that I don’t think in 140-character text bites. I’m a careful and methodical writer on both the fiction and nonfiction side, and being methodical (not to mention fair) requires more than 25 words, or five words and a hotlink. I’ve recently experimented with what I call nanoarticles on Facebook. I’m currently on Day 13 of a 50-entry meditation on writing over there, with individual entries running from 40-100 words or so. I’m still not sure it’s useful.
I like epigrams, and I’ve written a few. I’ve gotten hundreds of Twitter posts and retweets of my statement: “A good tool improves the way you work. A great tool improves the way you think.” A few have liked “If you see a pinata, remember that somewhere close by is a blindfolded person swinging a stick.” I’ve gotten some pushback on “Self-esteem is confidence without calibration.” (This leads me to believe it may be truer than I thought.) It might be in the family; my father said, “Kick ass. Just don’t miss.” I guess I’m good enough at epigrams to post them publicly, and Twitter is epigram-sized. That said, I don’t think I want to be known primarily for my epigrams. On Twitter, you pretty much have four choices:
- Forwarded links.
Note that novels, technical books, and long-form journalism are not on the list. I already do Odd Lots here on Contra. One cannot retweet without tweeting.
So then there’s Number Four.
“Shouting” is the short form. It’s almost always indignant shouting, self-righteous shouting, or outright hateful shouting. The basic Twitter mechanism is a sort of amplifier, and once the person doing the shouting gets above a certain level of popularity, a runaway feedback mechanism ensues. Boom! (Squeal?) We have a mob. And far oftener than you might think, we have a lynch mob.
It struck me a few months ago: Almost all the current Internet wars are Twitter wars. Gamergate could not have happened without Twitter. Neither could Donglegate. Mobs require the sort of immediate feedback that only immediate presence provides. Twitter is as close as you come online to immediate presence.
Twitter wars would be mere popcorn fodder (low comedy, actually) and easy to tune out if there weren’t real-world consequences. There are. Adria Richards eavesdropped on two dorks making dumb jokes at a conference, took photos without permission, and tweeted them. One of the two dorks was fired from his job, as (a little later) was Adria herself. People have objected angrily to a Twitter lynch mob’s reducing Rosetta mission scientist Matt Taylor to tearful apology over his dopey Hawaiian shirt. I have a suspicion that he had no choice but to apologize. It’s not easy getting a probe to a comet, and it wasn’t easy for Dr. Taylor to be part of the team. Had he not made obeisance to the lynch mob, he might well have lost his job, and in fact his entire career. Employers can be cowardly in this fashion without much cost to themselves: There are always 400 people waiting to fill the void that you make when your company shows you the door.
We have a phenomenon here related to what I call “comment harpies.” There is a psychology that feeds on outrage and hate. Comment harpies are this psychology’s manifestion in blog comment sections. On Twitter, the psychology is amplified way past absurdity, and becomes an online lynch mob. It’s so easy to join in: Are you an umbrage vampire? A recreational hater? Choose your hashtag and join the mob!
I don’t associate with such people, and I don’t want my participation on the Twitter system to be seen as validating what might well be the Internet’s most efficient hate machine. Whether Twitter would be good for my writing career is still an open question, and while Twitter leaves an ugly smell in my nostrils, I rarely say never. Attention amplifiers are very good things, if they can be controlled, and somehow prevented from melting down or blowing up in your face. This happens; there is an SF writer I once respected who has frittered away much of his reputation on laughably rabid Twitter attacks. This may be a calculated strategy: Is he deliberately trading the broad but shallow support of his casual readership for the slobbering adulation of a Twitter mob? If so, he may not be as smart as he looks.
I strive to always be smarter than I look. The smart path may be to avoid Twitter entirely. Time will tell. In the meantime, watching the Twitter lynch mobs at work has put new steel up my back. If some jackass umbrage vampire ever calls me some sort of ist or phobe, I will reply: “No, I’m not. Now back off.”
I might be thinking worse of them inside my head, but…civility matters. And civility is the exception on Twitter.
- I’d like all-year-round DST for this simple reason: By November 1, it’s generally too dark to grill on my back deck, even as early as 5PM. And as early as we are said to eat, I don’t want to have to pull the steaks off the grill by 5.
- I’m not entirely sure what this is. It’s about Neanderthals. It’s worth reading. (Thanks to the many who sent me the link, starting with Bruce Baker.)
- The story’s a year old now, but still excellent long-form journalism: How Merck developed suvorexant, the designed-from-scratch next-gen sleeping pill approved this past August for sale starting January 1, as Belsomna.
- Solar cycles have been growing weaker since Cycle 19, which was the strongest cycle in recorded history. (As the late George Ewing used to say, you could work Madagascar on half a watt into a bent paperclip.) Here’s a nice graphic showing the marked decrease in strength from Cycle 21 through the current Cycle 24. If solar cycle strength correlates to climate (suspected but not proven) my retirement will be cold and 6 meters dead.
- There’s now a Raspberry Pi A+ board, which surprised a lot of people, including me. Eben Upton explains the product. I’m getting a B+, actually.
- Here’s a piece on the most popular pocket radio…in American prisons. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- I write a lot about AI, but I’m not entirely sure I believe in it, because we know so little about how the brain works that we can’t model it. This may be an unsolvable problem.
- From the Words-I-Had-Forgotten-Until-Somebody-Reminded-Me Department: Muggletonianism, a very peculiar Christian sect dating back to 1551, which taught (or didn’t teach–evangelism was not on their menu) that God is between five and six feet tall. They were among the English Dissenters, in there with the Grindletonians and the Diggers. If ever I were to call something Dadaist Christianity, this would be it. And I love their name. (Thanks to reminder Pete Albrecht.)
- I missed it when this item was first-run: The titanic Saturn V F-1 engine has been reverse-engineered, and it or something based on it could fly again…assuming we remember how to make it. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for the link.)
- I wouldn’t have predicted this: After being an online tech magazine for 20 years, CNET is going to launch…a print magazine. God love ’em and good luck–they’ll need it. I miss magazines, but I can’t imagine a new gadget book could get much traction today.
- It’s called the Hipster Effect: If everybody tries to look different, everybody ends up looking the same. At the heart of it is the fact that nobody wants to be the only one who doesn’t adopt a fad. (Throughout most of my life, that nobody would in fact be me.)
- Orthorexia nervosa (obsessive concern with clean or healthy diets, to the point of insanity) is about to get a formal definition, which might allow it to join the gazillion other mental health disorders in the DSM. I eat sugar now and then. I eat a lot of fat, because research tells me that humans evolved on fat. I have some fruit, and all the vegetables I can choke past my gag reflex, which, granted, isn’t a lot. More to the point, I know that this is a statistical exercise, not a holiness code, and I can thank my essential sanity for that.
Carol and I were away for three weeks, of which two and change were spent in Scottsdale, where we lived from 1990-2003. Rumors are circulating that we’re moving back there, which (like so much else) is complicated. It may be getting warmer somewhere in the world, but here in the US, winters are getting worse. By mid-November our nightly lows here in Colorado will probably be in single digits, and we’ve seen one scary forecast of nightly lows below zero–five weeks before winter actually begins.
So we would certainly like to have a place in Phoenix metro, where we could spend as many months as Colorado weather is inhuman. Can’t happen for awhile still, for a number of reasons, but we came away from our trip with a much clearer picture of what we’d like. More on this as happens.
We did manage to see a few of our old friends. Carol and I had dinner with my Coriolis co-founder Keith Weiskamp and his wife Cynthia, whom we haven’t seen since the early-mid oughts. Keith has his own glass studio, with furnace, and produces art glass for local galleries. I had breakfast with the gang from the New Church of Phoenix like I did regularly fifteen years ago. (Many thanks to Vic Odhner for pulling the group together.) The Arizona Book Publishing Association (for which I served as president in 1999 and 2000) no longer exists, but Gwen Henson arranged a small group dinner for ABPA veterans at the Bluewater Grill in Phoenix, including Alan Korwin, Rob Rosenwald, Bill and Amanda Fessler, and others whom I hadn’t yet met but came out to visit anyway. We saw Jan Marvin and Sue Thurman and realized how much we had both missed the whole bunch.
The weather was more September than October, with temps hitting the low 90s until the day before we left. Imagine slopping around in the pool until November 1. I’m thinking with a decent solar heater we could keep a smallish pool swimmable year-round or pretty damned close to it.
I didn’t do a lot of online stuff during the trip because my laptop was crashing and sending the cursor all over the place and generally being unusable. Multiple scans have shown that it isn’t malware, so I guess something just started growing mold somewhere in Windows’ eleventh sub-basement. I suppose I could reinstall Win7, but this may be an opportunity to buy a new slab and learn Windows 8. Still shopping.
As we are for a number of other things. Our phones are three years old and also getting cranky. I’m looking closely at the Galaxy Note 4, and wondering when (if ever) we’ll see Lollipop for it. My current phone (a Droid X2) is stuck at Gingerbread. Android’s come a long way since then. The Note 4 has (of all things) a heart-rate monitor, which I tried at Best Buy and found that it actually works, though it’s fussy about how you position a finger over the sensor. And that display! 515 ppi is boggling, and higher res than Apple’s Retina display. I’d consider the Nexus 6 if there actually were a Nexus 6. And even if it shows up next week, there’s always that old saw about pioneers getting arrows.
We need a new car to replace our 19 1/2 year old Plymouth Voyager. I’d go shopping if our last dealer experience (in April of 2001) hadn’t been so unutterly horrible. Doesn’t Detroit understand that being dogpiled under half a dozen greasy salesmen doesn’t inspire love and kisses? Clearly, the franchise dealer model still exists only because the dealers have bought laws locking out competing models, like Tesla’s. This is what I call a brittle business model. When it fails, it will fail very badly.
I broke my 2001-era titanium frames a few days ago, and now need to find a usable replacement. Larger frames are coming back, so maybe humanity’s long hipster romance with teeny tiny glasses is over. I won’t ask to go back to what I wore in the 80s, which gave my cheeks 20-20 vision. I’d settle for, well, something the size of what I had until Wednesday.
I had the crazy notion while driving through western New Mexico that I should incorporate the Voynich Manuscript into my Neanderthals novel, The Gathering Ice. In the story, it’s a secret plan, written in the Neanderthal language, for ending a looming ice age. The Neanderthals are ace genetic engineers, and have been for a hundred thousand years. They created soccer-ball sized GMO grapefruit that grow in Montana. They created something else, too, that got a little out of hand. You can get some nice Voynich Manuscript fonts online, and I’m tempted to write some encrypted Neanderthal text for the book and see if anyone can figure it out.
I also got an insight about the recent election that I haven’t seen elsewhere, and I’m trying to decide whether to write up here. I probably will, even though I ration my coverage of politics for obvious reasons. Politics isn’t show business for ugly people, as Jay Leno said. Politics is hate in an evening gown.
There’s your clue. You’ll read it when I write it.