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Review: Junk Box Arduino

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Junk Box Arduino appeared earlier this summer from Jim Strickland, and I’ve been dipping into it gradually as time allows. In case you’re TL’DRing on me, I’ll give you the money quote: This is in fact the Assembly Language Step-By-Step of Arduino-based electronic tinkering. I’m a good test case: I’m passionate about electronics (some of you have seen my junkbox, which now fills one smallish garage and our repurposed tack house) and I have an Arduino board on my Heathkit ET-3200 logic breadboard box. Decades ago I did some modest embedded work with the RCA COSMAC CPU line, the most important of which was my robot, Cosmo Klein. Before that I did a lot of things with CMOS and TTL, using Don Lancaster’s books as guides.

Jim’s book is how you begin with Arduino if you have some grasp of computing (as most people do these days) but not electronics. And the book is the polar opposite of academic electronics texts with lots of equations but few photos and nothing at all in terms of bench smarts. The grit and grime of practical electronics is everywhere here: This is the first electonics book I’ve ever seen with warnings like jumper cables wear out. They do, and trying to troubleshoot a visually intact but electrically open jumper is a circle of Hell that I’ve visited more than once, in both digital and RF electronics.

Junk Box Arduino goes all the way down to the (literal) metal, and explains how to build an Arduino-compatible circuit right on a broadboard block. You don’t buy a Cestino board; Cestino (which is Italian for “recycle bin”) isn’t a board, but rather an original design from Jim that you wire up yourself out of loose parts, including an ATmega 1284P CPU chip and a 20 MHz can oscillator. Building the Cestino is in fact the first electronics lesson in the book, with Ohm’s Law looming large. The second lesson is building your own in-system programmer (ISP) so you can program the ATmega chip’s bootloader yourself. No, this isn’t a waste of time. Once you build your own ISP you will know how an ISP works, and teaching you how things work is Jim’s mission throughout the book.

The projects run from the simple and obvious (but still necessary) things like flashing an LED all the way up to highly sophisticated circuits like an ATA disk device reader, a Flash programmer, and even a Z80 CPU lashup that teaches how CPUs and memory work by letting the Cestino control the Z80 and allowing us to look at registers and memory while the Z80 executes slowly or pauses in its tracks. Along the way Jim explains assembly and machine language, object-oriented programming, transistor operation, serial communication, and much else.

Which leads to my only real complaint about the book, which has nothing to do with the writing and may be an old-guy thing: The type is fairly small and there is a great deal of material on the pages. This is really a 600-page book laid out in 400 pages, and I understand why with the sanguine clarity that comes of bloodying your own fingers (which I have) trying to get unit costs on books down.

Don’t let that stop you. The book is a helluva deal for $35 ($22 on Amazon.) It’s one of a bare handful of technical books that I wish I had published back when I was still a publisher. If you have any hopes of making an Arduino control anything electronic, this is a must-have. Highly recommended.

It’s Here: Learning Computer Architecture with Raspberry Pi

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I had just tossed a salmon filet on the barbie yesterday evening when the UPS man rang the doorbell. There it was: an author case of a book I signed in 2013, finished in early 2014, and have been waiting for ever since. I confess there were times I approached despair and thought the publisher might cancel it, but the concept had legs, and (more important than legs) Eben Upton was behind it.

It’s not all my own work. My co-authors include Ralph Roberts, Tim Mamtora, Ben Everard, and Eben himself. I wrote Chapters 2-7, which entailed about 100,000 words and 90 hand-drawn technical figures. (My chapters come to about 300 pages out of the book’s 507.) Eben wrote a few thousand additional words in my chapters on things that I don’t know well, like compiler internals. (I’m sure he contributed to other chapters too.)

The publisher hasn’t done an especially good job positioning the book, and it’s already being reviewed badly by people who thought it was something other than what it is. So let me position it for you.

Learning Computer Architecture with Raspberry Pi is an introduction to computer architecture for senior high students, and bright junior high students. It’s not a university-level treatment, though it might have application in community colleges. Like the Raspberry Pi itself, it was designed to be affordable to young people, and so it’s not 1,000 pages long. The cover price is $30 (exactly, no .95s or .99s!) and you can get it on Amazon for the inexpensive if peculiar sum of $18.07. It’s not a standalone manual for the board, nor programming the board, nor learning any given language or operating system. It’s about what all the pieces are, and how they work together.

This is important. Today’s young people are digital natives, in that there were cheap desktop computers, lots of them, since before they were born. Kids who are interested in computers have studied and experimented with those parts of the computer that interest them. This is the sort of learning that trips up autodidacts, since it runs very deep in places, but is shot full of holes, some of them huge. The way to fill those holes is to take a survey course, and that’s precisely what this book is for. The course syllabus itself may not exist yet, but I have a hunch that a lot of educators in a lot of places are already hard at work on curricula using the book as the primary text.

People who have read my other books will recognize the approach I took in these chapters: Start at Square One, at the absolute beginning, and tell readers up front that they can skip a chapter if they discover early on that they’re already familiar with the material. Chapter 2 is titled “Recapping Computing,” which goes back to the idea of “a box that follows a plan,” and continues from there. Some people will skip that chapter. Many won’t. A few may be annoyed that it exists at all. (There’s no pleasing some people.) Once you get past Chapter 2, each chapter is much more focused, and covers a specific continent on the larger world of computing:

2: Recapping Computing

3: Electronic Memory

4: ARM Processors and Systems-on-a-Chip

5: Programming

6: Non-Volatile Storage

7: Networking

Chapters 8-12 were written by others, and provide a Raspberry-Pi specific slant on things, especially graphics and I/O. I had not seen those chapters until yesterday, so I can’t say a whole lot more about them just yet. A cursory glance suggests that you won’t be disappointed.

That’s pretty much the story. I had something additional in mind that I didn’t talk about while I was writing my chunk of the book back in 2013: homeschooling. I wanted the treatment to be so clear and comprehensible that parents could use the book in a homeschool environment. I think I succeeded, but I won’t know until I hear from a few homeschoolers. Sooner or later, that’ll happen.

I needed a book like this back in 1970, but of course, it didn’t exist. Computers themselves were mysterious, and the computer gatekeepers seemed to like it that way. Not me. Nothing should stand between people who want to learn and what they want to learn. Nothing. If my lifetime mission as a nonfiction writer could be stated in just a few words, that would be it. I loathe elitism, credentialism, and exclusive-club-ism. I learned stuff, I wrote books about it, and now you can learn it too. If you haven’t started learning about computers yet, well, this is a pretty good time to start. And forgive me for saying so, but this is a pretty good book to start with.

Go for it!

Rant: The Dragon Awards and the Convergence of Exiles

Forty years ago exactly, Carol and I were there in the throngs of MidAmericon I. The con was a celebration of Robert A. Heinlein and (by implication) all of hard SF. It was a tremendously popular con. The newly adult Baby Boomers were pouring into SF and conventions by the thousands. Many people began to fret that these enthusiastic new fans would swamp the longstanding traditions of fandom and turn fandom into something that fandom itself wouldn’t recognize.

Never one to let a supposed crisis go to waste, con chair Ken Keller had the concom raise prices to levels never seen before, finally $50 at the door without an advance registration. (This would be $211 in 2016 dollars.) Keller did something else: He tried to pitch the con as strictly for fans of capital-S capital-F Science Fiction, and stated pretty clearly that “fringefans” (that is, Trekkies and gamers and media fans generally) would find the con boring and should stay away. I don’t know Keller and I’m not sure how serious he was; it sounded like a publicity stunt even then. Lots of people made fun of him in the runup to the convention, myself included. I wrote several filk songs mocking MidAmericon, and one specifically mocking Keller.

At the time I thought it was just some guy throwing his weight around, and I doubt anybody gave much thought to the question: What if they really do go away? Heh. Guess what? In 1987, the first DragonCon was held. During the years since then, Worldcon attendance wobbled around a few thousand truefen, while DragonCon (and other media cons like ComiCon) absolutely exploded. At this writing, media cons routinely out-pull Worldcons by a factor of ten or more. (Sometimes a lot more.) By 2015, ComiCon San Diego had 167,000 people in attendance. Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, had…3,418. 2% of ComiCon.

Alas, across these past forty years, Worldcon has become a rounding error.

I’ve never been to a media con and I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but seeing reports from other authors, it’s become clear that media cons are not entirely superhero cosplay anymore, if they ever were to begin with. There are programming tracks on purely textual SF and fantasy, with author guests and signings, and all the stuff we used to enjoy doing at Worldcons.

Ok. It took forty years, but media cons have now matured enough and broadened their focus enough to give birth to a new award that touches on most aspects of the creative fantastic, including textual SF and fantasy. The Dragon Awards were presented yesterday. The list of awards has been posted on the DragonCon site. The award is a popular-vote award rather than a juried award like the Nebulas. It’s a fan award, nominated by fans and voted on by fans. How many fans exactly has not yet been released, though I hope numbers will come out eventually.

What struck me as significant about the Dragon Awards is that there are seven different categories for textual novels: Best SF, Best Fantasy, Best YA, Best Military SFF, Best Alternate History, Best Apocalyptic, and Best Horror. (There are, as you might expect, Best Graphic Novel and Best Comic Book categories as well.) There are no awards for short fiction, no art awards, and no fan awards. I think one or two art awards would make sense, and with some luck we’ll have those someday. I’ll give them some time to get it right. This was the award’s first year, after all.

Even though I’m way behind in my reading because of the Big Move, several authors on the winners list are people I have read in the past and much like, including the late, great Terry Pratchett, Larry Correia, John C. Wright, and my friend Brian Niemeier. What these four authors have in common (perhaps with others like Nick Cole whom I’ve not yet read) is a knack for telling a damned fine yarn without getting mired in identity politics or self-conscious message pie. Furthermore, Brian Niemeier won the award as an indie, with his self-published second novel, Souldancer.

If the Dragons are any reflection of the shape of media fandom, one of my longstanding suspicions has been confirmed: Media fandom is absorbing traditional SFF fandom. Traditional fandom has become fussy, elitist, and ideologically uniform to the extent that there is active hostility toward anyone who doesn’t either salute the progressive left or stay fastidiously quiet. This was not always the case, and I used to count among my friends many on the left, some of them very frank Marxists. (Some are still my friends. Others have called me a fascist or some other damfool thing for my Puppy sympathies and are long off my roster.) We used to have lively discussions of various political issues at cons, and nobody went home mad. But that was the 70s. I had hair, and fandom was young, tolerant and diverse. It was a short time comin’, and it’s been a long time gone.

At MidAmericon II last week, the concom ejected Dave Truesdale of Tangent Online for making several panelists…uncomfortable. (Really. I am not making this up. It’s in the Code of Conduct.) I heard the audio of his schtick and read many descriptions of the panel itself. The schtick was funny. Yes, Dave was mocking political correctness, just as I was mocking Ken Keller back in 1976. Keller didn’t throw me out of the con; I’m pretty sure he was too mature for that sort of nonsense. MidAmericon II has a code of conduct so broad that it basically allowed the concom to throw out anybody they didn’t like. Suppose I had gone to a panel moderated by John Scalzi and he made me uncomfortable. Would they throw him out on my complaint?

Hang on. I’ll stop giggling in a minute or two…

Ok. There. Whew. [Blows nose. Is glad he wasn’t drinking Diet Mountain Dew.] The point I’ll close with is something we should have learned forty years ago: If you abuse and insult people, they will leave, and avoid you from then on. Back in 1976, MidAmericon I insulted media fans, and little by little, they left. More recently, SF’s Insider Alphas have been insulting people who dare question progressive orthodoxy in fantastic literature, and those people are leaving. I didn’t expect that the two groups of exiles would converge, but that’s what appears to be happening. A young, diverse (see Sarah Hoyt’s description linked to above) and ginormous fandom is coalescing outside the fandom I grew up with. It isn’t conservative in any identifiable way. People aren’t leaving fandom because it’s almost exclusively left-leaning. (I recall it leaning strongly left forty years ago.) They’re leaving because fandom is now intolerant of dissent, and because far too many in fandom demonize all opposition. That’s not the left wing I encountered during the Vietnam era in the ’70s and once identified with. That’s just tribalism in a fandom costume.

If media cons remain at 100,000 plus attendance levels, I’ll have some issues, because crowds that big make me twitchy. However, some interesting things are happening. The people who created Phoenix ComiCon have created a new, smaller, and more focused event called Phoenix Fan Fest. Its emphasis is on comic books, and on interaction between comics creators and their fans, with a mere 15,000 or so attendees. If the ComiCon creators can break out comic books into their own event, why not textual SFF? They could do it if they wanted to. Given the emergence of the Dragon Awards, my guess is that sooner or later, they will.

At that point, the schism becomes complete: 5% of fandom will remain grumpy and exclusionary. The other 95% will just get together–in events both large and, well, less large–and have fun in one another’s company.

That’s not a wish. That’s a prophecy.

Another Worldcon, Another Bonfire

So another Worldcon is now history, and people immediately began asking me what I thought. When Kansas City won the 2016 bid as MidAmericon II a few years ago, I’d had some hopes of attending. Then we decided to move to Phoenix, and our near-term lifestyle choices narrowed radically. Next year the con is in Finland, which would be a cool trip, but…well…no.

So all I know is what I’ve heard. And most of what I’ve heard about is, once again, focused on the Hugo Awards. Here’s the official summary. I wasn’t particularly surprised by any of it. Each of the three major factions won a little and lost a little. It’s a complicated business, and I’ve written several popular entries on the subject. If you’re coming to the Puppies Saga for the first time, you should probably read what I’ve written in the past:

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 1

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 2

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 3

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 4

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 5

Rant: Sad Puppies vs. Anti-Puppies, as the Kilostreisands Pile Up

Rant: You Can’t Shame a Puppy

Sad Puppies Summary and Wrapup

Rant: The Lasting Legacy of the Sad Puppies

Most of what I’ve linked to above applies to 2016, even though I wrote it all last year, and what I wrote focused on Sad Puppies 3. There was a Sad Puppies 4 campaign this year, coordinated by Kate Paulk, Sarah A. Hoyt, and Amanda S. Green. I wrote about that earlier this year, when the 2016 nominations appeared:

Sad Puppies 4 and the Doomsday Slate

As you can see from the marvelous SP4 logo from Lee “Artraccoon” Madison, the SP4 motto was “The Embiggening.” The goal was to bring still more people to Worldcon and the Hugo Awards process, as a means of fighting the worsening numeric irrelevance of the con and the awards. The other, more subtle goal of SP4 was to combat the ideological monoculture of Hugo-nominated fiction, art, and media, by nominating works and people outside the narrow boundaries of what’s acceptable to the ideological progressives in SFF.

Mike Glyer did a very good comparison of the final ballot against the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies lists back in April. Vox Day got 64 of his 81 recommendations on the final ballot, which I found nothing short of astonishing, especially considering some “poison pill” items like Chuck Tingle’s “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” and an episode of My Little Pony. Sad Puppies didn’t do quite as well, placing only 36 out of 80 recommendations on the final ballot.

A sidenote: I do not use the term “SJW” (social justice warrior) for a couple of reasons, which I’ll explain here on Contra at some point. Basically, it’s about accuracy and the objective meanings of words.

So what happened at MidAmericon II? These are the major items:

  • Sad Puppies 4 brought a significant number of new memberships to Worldcon. Attendance figures have not been released at this writing, but 4,032 valid nomination ballots were cast, and 3,130 valid voting ballots. That’s about twice last year’s numbers. Obviously, not all of those additional people were Sad Puppies supporters, but many of them were certainly APs (Anti-Puppies) who might not have joined except to counter the Puppies threat.
  • Virtually all of the winners were people and works favored by the Worldcon Elite and their loyal followers.
  • Vox Day continued his efforts to get the Worldcon community to destroy its own Hugo Awards by voting the doomsday slate of No Award over anybody recommended by either the Sad Puppies or the Rabid Puppies, or anything published by Vox Day’s publishing company, Castalia House. In the process, they gave him a fortune in absolutely free publicity, which he promptly used to build Castalia’s readership. I don’t know Vox and certainly don’t agree with all his positions, but I marvel at the hammerlock he has on his opponents’ attention. They. Just. Can’t. Get. Enough. Vox. Day.
  • MidAmericon II utterly soiled itself by expelling Tangent Online‘s Dave Truesdale from the con because he made several members of the Worldcon Elite…uncomfortable. Rob Kroese wrote up an excellent summary of that little disaster earlier today, and I won’t attempt to summarize here. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn Reynolds says. Even Moshe Feder, definitely of SFF’s left wing, thinks that Truesdale did nothing even close to warrant expulsion from the con. As with Vox Day, Dave Truesdale got a fortune in free publicity. MidAmericon II basically lit a bonfire and threw itself into the flames.
  • The con venue made hotel room parties almost impossible, and so the much-anticipated Sad Puppies party had to be held sub rosa. I hope this isn’t a trend in con venues. Much of what we used to go for in the 70s and 80s were the room parties.

I’m not sure what more could be said, since I wasn’t there. Worldcon continued to make more enemies. John Scalzi smugly insists that the Puppies should all go home, a sentiment tweeted emphatically by the enigmatic Brianna Wu, who says that SF is her home, and not your (the Puppies) home. Howzat again? I was published and a member of SWFA before she was even born. Sheesh.

Scalzi has said more than once (and he isn’t alone) that Worldcon management should have the power to toss out any Hugo ballots that show evidence of slatework. Oh my, what could possibly go wrong? In essence, he and many others want the Hugos to become a juried award, with their people and only their people on the jury. He wants Sad Puppies supporters to leave the SFF fan community, perhaps not realizing that a great many of them already have, taking their money, their energy, and their insights with them. The great irony of the Worldcon progressive wing calling for more diversity is that diversity of worldview is quickly vanishing from Worldcon. It’s all progressive, all the time, all the way down.

To them that sounds like victory. To me and many others, it sounds like a bonfire.

Sad Puppies 4 and the Doomsday Slate

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Earlier today I sensed a great disturbance in the Internet, as though millions of heads had suddenly exploded in anguish. Oh, wait–today was Hugo Nominations day! So I took a quick look around, and…

…the Puppies had done it again.

I would try to analyze the numbers here, but the folks over at Chaos Horizon have already done it for us. Check back there over the next few days; I suspect a lot more analysis is coming.

My first insight: Only novels get any respect in the SFF universe these days. 3,695 people nominated in the Best Novel category. The next category down only got 2,904 nominations (Dramatic Presentation, Long Form) with ever-slimmer pickins’ after that. Barely a thousand people nominated for the Best Fan Artist category.

The really good news is that there were 4,032 nominating ballots cast, roughly twice what Sasquan got last year. It’s impossible to tell where those new people came from, but whatever their provenance, I’ll bet MidAmericon II isn’t complaining about all that delicious money. That was the idea, after all: The subtitle of Sad Puppies 4 is “The Embiggening.” I was not alone last year in suggesting that the only thing really wrong with the Hugo Awards is that almost nobody participates. 4,000 ballots sound like a lot, but when you consider that 100,000+ people routinely attend events like DragonCon and ComiCon, the Hugos start to look like a rounding error. If 25,000 people registered for Worldcon, and 20,000 nominated, there wouldn’t be enough logs in the Western Hemisphere to roll any single faction to victory.

By my counts (starting with a nice tally on Breitbart) only ten nominees out of a total of eighty were not on one of the Puppy ballots. 70 of 80 is 87%. Obviously, a lot of those 87% were just really good people and works that probably would have been on the ballot anyway. However, one must consider finalists like the TV cartoon show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and (egad) “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle. The works are real, and not hoaxes (though I had to check on Chuck Tingle to be sure) but the nominations sound to me like shows of force.

Which brings us to the Big Ugly: Which Puppy list was the most influential? Another count from the Breitbart results tells me that 61 out of the 80 nominees were on the Rabid Puppies list. 76%. 36 out of the 80 (45%) were on the Sad Puppies list. I grinned to see that, as much as the Puppies claim to loathe Mike Glyer and his fanzine File 770, both are on the final ballot–and both were on the Puppies lists. Anybody with an IQ greater than 17 knows what’s up with that: Last year’s tactic of voting against anything on the Puppy lists will be…complicated…in 2016.

What the anti-Puppies seem to be saying is that they’ll kiss off 2016 and bide their time, confident that E Pluribus Hugo will be added to Worldcon rules next year, and the Puppies will henceforth be out of luck. I’m not going to explain EPH here, though I’m willing to give the new rules a fair chance, knowing that they will be analyzed to death by people way better at number crunching than I. (I doubt I’m alone in thinking that changing the rules after you get your butt whipped sounds, well, weak-king-ish.)

The problem is this: The Puppies may not dominate the ballot in years to come, but one particular slate just might. Nothing in EPH makes the No Award slate difficult to use. (As I suggested earlier, having several anti-Puppy favorites on the Puppy lists will indeed make it a little tricky.) Last year the anti-Puppies encouraged their followers to vote a slate of one–No Award–against any category dominated by the Puppies. It worked: Five categories were reduced to irrelevance via the No Award slate. I suspect it’s going to happen again this year.

What happens in the wake of EPH? Well, c’mon. Do you honestly think Vox Day won’t use No Award too? He’s said straight out that he intends to burn down the Hugo Awards. Last year the APs pretty much did it for him, but if he can get his recs into three quarters of the slots, he can burn down as many categories as he wants via No Award. This isn’t the place to get into all the usual fistfights about Vox and where he gets his power and why we all need to condemn him. (That’s been done to death.) This is the place to realize that what one side can do, the other side can too.

It’s a mess, eh? Well, I have an audacious suggestion: Change the Hugo rules again so that No Award is outlawed. If EPH works as designed, the APs won’t need No Award. And if No Award is outlawed, somebody like Vox can’t use it.

No Award is The Doomsday Slate. Unless it’s outlawed, people on one side or another will use it until there’s nothing left of the Hugo Awards. Think hard now: Is that really what you want?

Odd Lots

The Duntemann Ensmallening Continues

As I lugged box after box from our furnace room up All Those Stairs (people who have been to our Colorado house known of which I speak) it wasn’t just the boxes that were heavy. These were boxes of computer books and magazines, and all of them went into our recycle can for next week’s pickup. With each tip of a box into the recycle can, my heart grew heavier. These were not somebody else’s DOS programming books. Uh-uh. These were copies of Degunking Windows, Degunking Your PC, Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses, Jeff Duntemann’s Drive-By Wi-Fi Guide, and Assembly Language Step By Step, 2E (2000).

Lots of them.

When an author writes a book, the publisher typically sends him one or more boxes of books without charge. I’ve been a published tech book author since mid-1985. Do the math. Ok, sure, I no longer have box quantities of Complete Turbo Pascal. However, I do have the printed manuscript for Complete Turbo Pascal 2E (1986) in a monsteroso 3-ring binder. (See above.) The damned thing is 4″ thick. That book was work. And if I recall (I no longer have it) the printed manuscript for Borland Pascal 7 From Square One was in two binders, each 3″ thick. I also found the original submission manuscript for Pascal from Square One with Pascal/MT+, from mid-1984. That manuscript was sold, but the publisher prevailed upon me to rewrite it for another Pascal compiler whose name you’d know. (Alas, they changed the title on me. But they’re dead, and I’m still alive, so I win. And there will be a Lazarus from Square One someday.) Do I keep these manuscripts? I still have the word processor files on disk, though I’m not entirely sure about the Pascal/MT+ ones. It’s another ten or twelve pounds of paper, and I freely admit I haven’t looked at either binder since we moved to Colorado in 2003. So I guess they have to go.

How heavy can your heart get before it collapses into a black (red?) hole?

I know a lot of you have been through one or more ensmallenings of your own, because you’ve told me. A couple of you have offered me your complete runs of PC Techniques/VDM. I already have five or six copies of all sixty issues. I’m keeping a full set. The others will feed the can as soon as I catch my breath enough to lug them up the stairs. (I’m not writing this entry because I have time on my hands…)

A lot of other odd stuff has come to light: My original Rio MP3 player, year unknown. A box of 3.5″ floppies. My father’s medium-format Graflex camera. My own trusty but now useless Nikon film SLR. What’s to become of it? The Rio is scrap, as is Carol’s final-generation APS film camera. My SLR is probably not worth much anymore. About my dad’s Graflex I have no idea. I’ll probably keep them both for the time being. A great deal of other stuff is going out on the curb. The concrete people are replacing the garage slab on May 4, and the garage has to be dead-empty by then. What needs to be kept from the garage collection has to come down to the furnace room, which means gobloads of other stuff must exit the furnace room first, and forever.

Man, this is work. And work at 6600 feet, at that.

You’ve heard me say this before, though I’ve forgotten who said it originally: Not everything from your past belongs in your future. Keep everything that reminds you of your past, and you end up turning into a museum that only you ever enter…

…if you ever actually do.

Time’s up. Another load or six needs to go up the stairs. They say it gets easier after the first twenty loads. I guess I’ll find out.

A Grand Ride North, and a New Grand Champion

Dash Jeff Carol Tarryall 2016-cropped-500w.jpg

We’re back in Colorado Springs, and sooner than we thought, too. A day came early last week when we realized that we had pretty much gotten everything done that we expected to while wintering over. Furthermore, there was a big dog show in Denver on April 9-10. Dash’s coat was in pretty good shape. The weather forecast looked marvelous throughout the West. (Sorry about the East Coast, guys.) So we looked at each other, nodded, and started throwing things into the Durango.

It’s 835 miles, all of it Interstate, and we’ve done it many times by now. We did well enough to stop for an afternoon in Albuquerque, to visit with a friend of ours who has Dash’s brother, Charlie. As we had all four of the Pack with us, and Sherry has two Bichons of her own (both boys) it turned into a backyard Bichon party very quickly. There was much running around and squirting-of-things, which is all any (male) Bichon would ask of a party. Everybody slept really well that night, not least of whom were the two of us.

We got into the Springs Thursday night, turned on the water, and got a decent night’s sleep. We dropped everybody but Dash off at Gramdma Jimi’s the next morning, and headed up to Denver for the show. Most of our Bichon Club friends were there, and nine Bichons were entered. Dash won Best of Breed for the Owner Handled category both days. This meant that he would represent the breed in the Group competition. As its name implies, the Non-Sporting Group is a kind of none-of-the-above category containing breeds including the Poodle, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, Keeshond, and others that aren’t good fits in any of the other groups. I’ve often wondered why the Dalmatian isn’t in the Working Group, and why the Boston Terrier–sheesh–isn’t in the Terrier Group. Doubtless there are historical issues, all of which have long been forgotten.

No matter. Dash looked about as good as he ever does, thanks to a foot bath and a great deal of fussing by Carol. On Saturday he took Third Place in the Non-Sporting Group for owner/handled dogs, and on Sunday he took Second Place, ditto. We took home two very fancy ribbons, and–more important–a large number of points. Dash won 45 owner-handled points at the show, which gives him 225 owner-handled points overall. This makes him the #2 owner-handled Bichon in the country right now. Given that the #1 Bichon has only 350 owner-handled points, it’s actually a contest. (The photo above is by Patrina Walters Odette, and used with permission. Thanks, Patrina!)

But more than that, the additional points make Dash a Grand Champion. Championships in dog showing are a little like dans in karate: There is an ascending hierarchy of championships, based on an entirely different tally of Grand Championship points. Dash made Champion a couple of years ago. The Phoenix Project slowed us down; there wasn’t a lot of showing going on in 2015. However, Dash has done so well in the few shows we’ve entered that he accumulated 25 Grand Championship points and took Grand Champion this past weekend. The next step is Bronze Grand Championship, which requires 100 Grand Championship Points. This is four times what Dash has now, but we may give it a shot. Beyond that are Silver Grand Championship (200 points), Gold Grand Championship (400 points) and Platinum Grand Championship (800 points.) Whew. That’s a whole lotta brushing, on both Dash’s and Carol’s ends of the brush. Let’s see how life unfolds for the next couple of years.

And unfolding it is. We now have the task of getting the Colorado house ready to sell. This means sifting, sorting, selling and/or giving away a lot of stuff, and shipping the rest down to Phoenix. It was necessary (if maybe a little unnerving) to dump two boxes of my books into the recycle bin. I have a couple of pristine copies of Degunking Your PC and Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses…do I need a whole publisher’s box of both? It’s going to be harder with my assembly book and my Wi-Fi book, but downsizing means…cutting down the size of your stuff. As people who have been here know, we have a lot of stuff.

So the downsizing continues. More as it happens. Anybody want some plywood?

Odd Lots

Guest Post by Brian Niemeier: Announcing Souldancer

Before I turn today’s entry over to Brian, a few words of explanation: In the wake of the Sad Puppies explosion almost exactly a year ago, my career as a writer changed. When 2015 opened, I was still locked in a state of existential paralysis, trying to decide if it was worth hammering on tradpub doors trying to get a (lousy, all-benefit-to-the-publisher) contract for Ten Gentle Opportunities and whatever works I might produce going forward. And I wasn’t writing very much at all. Moving to Arizona was time-consuming and didn’t help, but every time I tried to get a new writing project underway, I failed. I didn’t say much about it here. Why bitch online? You folks don’t need that. I started to get depressed again. Been there. Faced that abyss in 2002 for reasons you all know. Climbed out again. I’m not going back.

A year later, I have four books on KDP and KU, and they’re making money. I’m not talking about a buck here and a quarter there. Think hundreds of dollars most months. Not riches…but would I have made more in tradpub? Not likely. So I tossed tradpub overboard, and for the first time in my 42 years as a published author, I control my writing career completely.

What happened? Sad Puppies. In researching the phenomenon I found people who were facing the same problems I was. They were writing adventure stories in the old style, and getting sneered at. They dared question the elites who dominate tradpub and con-oriented fandom, and were called every name in the book. I reached out to them, and they pulled me in the door, handed me a drink, and made me one of the gang. I was called a moral coward at one point for daring to embrace the Puppy culture, but by then I just laughed. I had already won that argument. I had new friends, and they had my back.

One of those friends is Brian Niemeier, a new author whose path into indie publishing has been very much the same as mine. His debut novel intrigued me: Nethereal is a seamless blend of space fiction and a sort of theological fantasy that admits to a deeper strangeness in the universe than most are willing to accept. No spoilers here, but I will caution that people with an instinctive dislike of fantasy may not care for it. Radical materialists will probably loathe it. Their loss. In truth, I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. I’m now reading it a second time and will review it here as time allows.

So on that note, I’ll turn it over to Brian, who has a few words about his new novel. I bought it an hour ago and (obviously) haven’t read it yet, but I have this sneaking hunch that I’m not going to be disappointed.


SDcover-small-2.jpgAnnouncing Souldancer, Soul Cycle Book II by Brian Niemeier

First things first: thanks to Jeff Duntemann for lending me his platform. The higher elevation lets my voice carry farther. [Ed: About a mile less high than it used to be!] He’s given me a few digital inches to announce the release of Souldancer, the sequel to my debut space opera-horror novel Nethereal.

My indie publishing journey has felt like riding a spaceship at relativistic speeds. The past months have seemed like days, and in that time I’ve gone from an obscure SFF writer with a couple of short story publications to an obscure SFF writer with enough reader loyalty to get my first book into the Sad Puppies 4 top ten.

I’m quite sure that my readers wouldn’t have had Nethereal to suggest if I’d stuck with my initial plan of riding the tradpub rejection carousel. I can now focus on writing, and it took less time to release a second book than the big publishers often take to do initial edits. It’s a crazy time to be alive in a lot of ways (read the news much?) but it’s also the best time in recorded history to be a writer.

If you’ve got a story to tell and the discipline to tell it in prose fit for public consumption, you can be an author. You don’t need the Manhattan crowd. The only people you need are readers. If your primary motivation for writing fiction is anything other than pleasing your readers, you really don’t understand writing.

Yes, the money is thin. It’s a long game. Hardly any authors ever got rich, even back before publisher advances began imploding. Self-published millionaires are likewise extreme outliers, but the data show that indie allows more authors than ever to at least earn a decent living. Not only are NY publishers no longer the boss; they never were the boss, and it’s not surprising that readers are flocking to authors who understand that publishing sovereignty rightfully belongs to those same readers.

And so to my new book Souldancer. It’s a true sequel to Nethereal; not the second part of a single story split into two halves [Ed: Or three halves?] like certain Hollywood adaptations of popular YA books that I will not name. The action picks up a generation after the first book’s ending, and we immediately get to see the changes that resulted from the prior story’s climax.

As Jeff said of Nethereal, it’s almost impossible to say much more about Book 2 without spoilers. I can say that Souldancer features stronger romance and horror elements than its predecessor-and yes, it’s scarier than a book that’s largely set in Hell.

I appreciate the chance to launch Souldancer here, because my own SF sensibilities could justly be described as contrarian. Fans of Nethereal (including Jeff) have told me that, for all of its nods to classic SF, gaming, and anime tropes, they’ve never read anything quite like it.

You can buy the eBook right now from Amazon. For those with more old school tastes, the trade paperback edition will be available soon on Amazon CreateSpace.

Thanks again to Jeff, and as always, to the readers who make indiepub possible. We’re all in this together, and the fun is only beginning!