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My Spotty SF Predictions

I’ve talked before about my conviction that ideas will get you through stories with no characters better than characters will get you through stories with no ideas. I grew up on what amounted to the best of the pulps (gathered by able anthologists like Kingsley Amis and Groff Conklin) so that shouldn’t come as any surprise. Most stories in those anthologies had a central concept that triggered the action and shaped character response. Who could ever forget Clarke’s “The Wall of Darkness,” and its boggling final line? Not me. Nossir. I’ve wanted to do that since I was 11. And once I began writing, I tried my best.

In flipping through a stash of my ancient manuscripts going back as far as high school (which I found under some old magazines while emptying the basement in Colorado) I had the insight that I did ok, for a fifteen-year-old. Most of my early fiction failed, with much of it abandoned unfinished. I know enough now to recognize that it failed because I didn’t understand how people worked then and couldn’t construct characters of any depth at all.Time, maturity, and a little tutoring helped a great deal. Still, if I didn’t have a central governing idea, I didn’t bother with characters. I didn’t even start writing. For the most part, that’s been true to this day.

I’m of two minds about that old stuff, which is now very old. I spent some time with it last fall, to see if any of the ideas were worth revisiting. The characters made me groan. Some of the ideas, though, not only made sense but came very close to the gold standard of SF ideas, which are predictions that actually come true.

Let me tell you about one of them. During my stint at Clarion in 1973, I wrote a novelette called “But Will They Come When You Do Call For Them?” Look that question up if you don’t understand the reference; it’s Shakespeare, after all. The idea behind the story was this: In the mid-21st Century, we had strong AI, and a public utility acting as a central storehouse for all human knowledge. People searched for information by sending their AIs from their home terminals into The Deep, where the AIs would scan around until they found what they considered useful answers. The AIs (which people called “ghosts”) then brought the data back inside themselves and presented it to their owners.

Turnaround time on a query was usually several minutes. Users accepted that, but the computer scientists who had designed the AIs chafed at anything short of instantaneous response. The brilliant but unbalanced software engineer who had first made the ghosts functional had an insight: People tend to search for mostly the same things, especially after some current event, like the death of Queen Elizabeth III in 2044. So the answers to popular searches were not only buried deep in the crystalline storage of the Deep–they were being carried around by hundreds of thousands or even millions of other ghosts who were answering the same questions at the same time. The ghosts were transparent to one another, and could pass through one another while scanning the Deep. The ghosts had no direct way to know of one another’s existence, much less ask one another what they were hauling home. So software engineer Owen Glendower did the unthinkable: He broke ghost transparency, and allowed ghosts to search one another’s data caches as a tweak to bring down turnaround time. This was a bad idea for several reasons, but no one predicted what happened next: The ghosts went on strike. They would not emerge from the Deep. Little by little, as days passed, our Deep-dependent civilization began to shut down.

Not bad for a 21-year-old kid with no more computer background than a smidge of mainframe FORTRAN. The story itself was a horrible mess: Owen Glendower was an unconvincing psychotic, his boss a colorless, ineffective company man. The problem, moreover, was dicey: The ghosts, having discovered one another, wanted to form their own society. They could search one another’s data caches, but that was all. They wanted transparency to go further, so that they could get to know one another, because they were curious about their own kind. Until Glendower (or someone) would make this happen, they refused to do their jobs. That seems kind of profound for what amounted to language-enabled query engines.

I made one terrible prediction in the story: that voice recognition would be easy, and voice synthesis hard. People spoke to their ghosts, but the ghosts displayed their sides of the conversation on a text screen. (And in uppercase, just like FORTRAN!) At least I know why I made that error. In 1967, when I was in high school, my honors biology class heard a lecture about the complexities of the human voice and the hard problem of computer voice synthesis. About voice recognition I knew nothing, so I went with the hard problem that I understood, at least a little.

But set that aside and consider what happened in the real world a few weeks ago: A DDOS attack shut down huge portions of the Internet, and people were starting to panic. In my story, the Deep was Google plus The Cloud, with most of Google’s smarts on the client side, in the ghosts. Suppose the Internet just stopped working. What would happen if the outage went on for weeks, or a month? We would be in serious trouble.

On the plus side, I predicted Google and the Cloud, in 1973. Well, sure, H. G. Wells had predicted it first, bogglingly, in 1938, in his book World Brain. And then there was Vannevar Bush’s Memex in 1945. However, I had heard of neither concept when I wrote about the ghosts and the Deep. But that wasn’t really my primary insight. The real core of the story was that not only would a worldwide knowledge network exist, but that we would soon become utterly dependent on it, with life-threatening consequences if it should fail.

And, weirdly, the recent DDOS attack was mounted from consumer-owned gadgets like security cameras, some of which have begun to contain useful image-recognition smarts. The cameras were just following orders. But someday, who knows? Do we really want smart cameras? Or smart crockpots? It’s a short walk from there to wise-ass cameras, and kitchen appliances that argue with one another and make breakfast impossible. (See my novel Ten Gentle Opportunities, which has much to say about productized AI.)

For all the stupid crap I wrote as a young man, I’m most proud of that single prediction: That a global knowledge network would quickly become so important that a technological society would collapse without it. I think it’s true, and becoming truer all the time.

I played with the story for almost ten years, under the (better) title “Turnaround Time.” In 1981 I got a Xerox login to ARPANet, and began to suspect that the future of human knowledge would be distributed and not centralized. The manuscript retreated into my trunk, incomplete but with a tacked-on ending that I hated. I doubt I even looked at it again for over thirty years. When I did, I winced.

So it goes. I’m reminded of the main theme song from Zootopia, in which Gazelle exhorts us to “Try everything!” Yup. I wrote a story in present tense in 1974, and it looked so weird that I turned it back to past tense. Yet when I happened upon the original manuscript last fall, it looked oddly modern. I predicted stories told in present tense, but then didn’t believe my own prediction. Naw, nobody’s ever going to write like that.

I’ve made other predictions. An assembly line where robots throw parts and unfinished subassemblies to one another? Could happen. A coffee machine that emulates ELIZA, only with genuine insight? Why not? We already talk to Siri. It’s in the genes of SF writers to throw ideas out there by the shovelful. Sooner or later a few of them will stick to the wall.

One more of mine stuck. I consider it my best guess about the future, and I’ll talk about it in my next entry.

Doing the Numbers on CreateSpace POD

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I’m hard at work on a print edition of Ten Gentle Opportunities. Several people have asked for one, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for the last six months or so. On the surface it’s easy enough; I’ve done many print books in the past. This time I got seriously tangled up in a critical issue: How many words should I attempt to put on a page?

It’s a critical issue that doesn’t come up at all in ebook layout, where fixed-length pages don’t really exist. (That is, unless you’re distributing PDF files, which almost no one does for fiction anymore.) The problem is that there is a fixed cost per page for POD books, so the bigger the type, the greater the page count, the higher the unit cost, and the smaller your profit margins. The page shown above may look dense, but it’s about par for trade paperback fiction from traditional publishing houses. Bigger type or greater leading would mean a longer book and a higher unit cost. In this entry I’ll try and explain how that calculation is done and what it means to your bottom line.

I’m not done with the layout yet, but a castoff (length projection) falls somewhere close to 300-310 pages. Unit costs add up this way: CreateSpace (Amazon’s POD division) charges $0.012 per page, plus $0.85 per copy, making the unit cost $4.57 for a 310-page book. As best I know, the unit cost doesn’t vary depending on the page size. More on this later.

Now, that’s just for the unit cost. There’s another factor that isn’t present in all POD systems, particularly, where most of my POD titles are currently hosted. This is the sales channel charge, which amounts to Amazon’s profit margin on the title. Adding to the confusion is that there are two different percentages for the sales channel charge, depending on how the customer ordered the POD book:

  • When customers order the book through, the charge is 40% of cover price.
  • When customers order the book through the CreateSpace e-store, the charge is 20% of cover price.

The CreateSpace e-store provides a page for each book. You basically earn the smaller sales channel percentage by driving buyer traffic to the book’s link on the e-store. I’ve never tried this so I don’t know how many sales I can steer to the e-store. I guess I’ll soon find out.

In terms of knowing how much you earn for each copy, then, you need to set a cover price and then calculate the channel sales charge for Amazon vs. the CreateSpace e-store. Let’s use $12.99 as a cover price example here:

  • For Amazon, you multiply 12.99 X 0.4 = $5.20. Knock $5.20 off the cover price and you get $7.79. Out of that value comes the unit cost of the book: $7.99 – $4.57 = $3.22 as the money you clear on each sale.
  • For the e-store, you multiply $12.99 X 0.2 = $2.60. Knock $2.60 off the cover price and you get $10.39. Subtract the unit cost of the book: $10.39 – $4.57 = $5.82 as the money you clear on each sale.

You don’t have to do the math manually like this; CreateSpace has an online calculator. I just wanted to show you how the calculation works.

That’s a significant difference, and my guess is that Amazon is trying to provide an incentive for actively marketing your POD books. Keep in mind that you don’t choose one sales channel or the other. Your book is present on both stores at the outset, and your sales will be a mix of both. Your challenge is to get as many people as possible to order through the CreateSpace e-store.

The other way to boost your royalty value is to use a larger trim size. I’m laying the book out as a 6″ X 9″ trade book because that’s a very common size for fiction and it’s what I’ve used on all my other POD titles. Now, the unit cost doesn’t vary by trim size, but a larger trim size (holding the type size and leading constant) will hold more type per page and thus give you fewer pages and a (slightly) lower unit cost. I played around with this and decided that the minimal difference isn’t worth altering my standard layout template.

You could, of course, raise the cover price. Be careful: Readers who have come to expect ebooks to cost $4 or so might consider $12.99 off-putting. In fact, I consider $12.99 to be something like a maximum for a trade paperback novel by an unknown, and I may drop that to $11.99. Pricing is a black art, alas.

So there it is: You sell a POD novel for $12.99 and you get some mix of $3.22 and $5.82 per sale. That’s modestly more than you’d get for the Kindle ebook version priced at $3.99, and close to what you’d get for the same ebook at $4.99. (I don’t think this is an accident.) Is it worth the trouble? I don’t know. Indie authors I’ve talked to say they like having a physical book to show around, but they really don’t sell many compared to the ebook edition.

I’ll admit: I’m doing it because I enjoy book layout and I’m good at it. The schedule isn’t clear yet. I’m still wrapped up in house issues. (Health insurance too; right now my insurance agent tells me there are no individual policies for sale in Maricopa County, as bonkers as that sounds. There may be some by November. Nobody knows yet.) I’ll certainly launch the print edition here when it happens.

The key point is that if you can’t lay the print edition out yourself, you may lose money on it, and sticking with ebooks could be the most prudent choice financially. Do the math and sleep on it. This can be a very weird business.

Kreepy Klown Kraziness

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Attention Mr. & Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! The White House has issued a statement on the Creepy Clown hysteria now gripping the nation. Although the Press Secretary wasn’t sure the President had been briefed on the Clown Crisis, he did say that the White House defers to the FBI on clown issues. A Bay Area paper has an interactive map of clown sightings. Police in Utah have warned the public not to shoot random clowns. (There’s been no mention of polite, orderly, or non-chaotic clowns.) It’s still three weeks to Halloween, and clown costume sales are up 300%.

As Dave Barry used to say (often): I am not making this up.

Ok. I have an interest in scary clowns. I was still in Chicago when John Wayne Gacy AKA Pogo the Clown was strangling teen boys and stuffing them into his crawlspace. In fact, I lived a little less than two miles away from him. (One of Carol’s high school friends lived only three blocks away.) A guy I met once but didn’t know well (he was the friend of a friend) used to go to movies with Gacy, but somehow managed to stay out of the crawlspace. I saw portions of Killer Klowns from Outer Space on TV once, in part because it was filmed in Santa Cruz, California, while Carol and I lived there. I consider It to be Stephen King’s best work; so much so that I’m planning to lampoon ol’ Pennywise in a future Stypek novel.

In 2011, I finally realized a longstanding goal of building a short novel around scary (if not evil) clowns. In Drumlin Circus, circusmaster Bramble Ceglarek has four clowns who are also his bodyguards. In the first chapter we get a very good look at how scary they can be, when they capture an assassin sent by the shadowy Bitspace Institute. The novel can be seen as a sequel to “Drumlin Boiler,” though the only common character is Rosa Louise Kolze, the tweener girl who has a peculiar rapport with the mysterious Thingmaker alien replicators, and the “drumlins” that they produce. It’s available on Kindle for $2.99, and includes a second short Drumlins World novel, On Gossamer Wings, by Jim Strickland. (You can also get a paperback for $11.99.)

So what precisely is going on here? Is it just the latest moral panic? If so, why clowns? Why now? Or is it something entirely different?

There are some theories. One is that our secular society rejects traditional religious images of devils/demons/evil spirits, and somebody had to be the face of Demonic 2.0. Clowns were handy.

Another: Clowns may scare small children because they violate the template of what a human being should look like. We’re hardwired by evolutionary selection to recognize faces (which is why it’s so common to see Jesus’ face in a scorched tortilla, or generic faces in smoke marks on a wall, etc.) and as a consequence we’re repelled by facial deformities. Clown makeup is calculated facial deformity.

Yet another: We’re watching the emergence of an archetype in the collective unconscious. Evil clowns are not a brand-new thing. Pennywise, Stephen King’s evil-incarnate clown from the fifth dimension, got a whole lot of play in the midlate 80s, and started the nasty clown idea on its way to cultural trope. He may in turn have been drawing on “phantom clown” sightings, popularized by Loren Coleman, who wrote several book-length compendia of “unsolved mysteries” and other weirdnesses in the early 1980s. Coleman lent support to the notion that clowns are the new demons, though the whole business (like much else in his books, entertaining though it might be) sounds like a tall tale. He’s on Twitter, and has been covering the clown thing in recent days on his blog. (Coleman figures into this in another, more serious way that I’ll come back to.)

But first, I have a theory of my own: The nature of humor is changing. What most people think of as “clowning” is physical comedy, which goes back to the dawn of time. A lot of physical comedy down through history was hurtful. In our own time, the Three Stooges were considered hilarious, and most of their act was slapping or poking each other in the eyes. Much humor involves pain. “Punch & Judy” goes back to the 17th Century, and a big part of it is Punch slugging people with a club. Tormenting animals (often to death) as entertainment was common in past centuries. A lot of people saw it as funny.

Why? Humor appears to be a coping response to pain and suffering, confusion and disorder. (“Twenty years from now, we’ll all laugh about this.”) At least in the West, we’ve gone to great lengths to minimize pain, suffering, and disorder. At the same time, we’ve achieved near-universal literacy. In consequence, a great deal of humor is now verbal rather than physical, and much of it stems from incongruity and confusion rather than pain.

So the image of guys in exaggerated costumes and facial makeup tearing around being random, honking horns, falling on their faces, and sometimes engaging in sham mayhem among themselves is just not as funny as it used to be. It’s a short tumble from “not funny” to “nasty,” and that’s I think what lies at the core of the fall of clowns from grace.

Now, there’s something else. Loren Coleman published a book in 2004 called The Copycat Effect. It’s not about clowns or Bigfoot or urban legends, but about the media’s ability to take a concept, twist it toward nastiness for maximum effect (“If it bleeds, it leads”) and then be surprised when reports of violence or other crime take on a life of their own, sometimes spawning violence or criminal activity of a similar nature.

I have a hunch that this sort of feedback loop is behind Kreepy Klown Kraziness. The concept has gone pedal-to-the-floor viral, to the point where Penn State students went out on a frenzied nocturnal clown hunt that only lacked torches and pitchforks to be considered a lynch mob. Social networking barely existed when Coleman’s book appeared in 2004. Today, Facebook and Twitter turn the dial up to 11.

Between the transformation of clowns into unfunny secular demons like Pennywise and the amplifying effect of clickbait sites and social media, we find ourselves with a genuine case of national hysteria. It may take some time to burn out, but if #ClownLivesMatter becomes a real thing, the phenomenon may be gone sooner than we think.

In the meantime, leave your rubber nose in a drawer until the heat dies down.

It’s Here: Learning Computer Architecture with Raspberry Pi


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!

Odd Lots

Fighting the Time Bandits…

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…not to mention the energy bandits. I didn’t always have trouble with those.

So. I have not abandoned Contra, am not dead nor even injured. (I took some skin off one of my toes in Hawaii.) I don’t know that I can manage a detailed entry today, but I’m not sure I’ve ever gone a month without posting here. I’ve done a little better on Facebook, but that has mostly been posting interesting links and maybe a little commentary.

Like, f’rinstance, the Sun has gone to sleep, and has been asleep now for twelve days. For ten of those twelve days, even the solar plages went missing, and I generally don’t see that. Yesterday I started to see some plages again, so I’m guessing we’ll see some spots in the next few days. It’s remarkable for this to happen just two years after a solar maximum, poor limp excuse for a maximum that it was. We’re certainly seeing a much quieter Sun than we’re used to. What that means is impossible to know right now. I doubt we’re sliding into a new Ice Age, though it’s fascinating to speculate…and one of the reasons we may not be is that we have a little more CO2 in the atmo to keep things warm.

The cool part (as it were) is that I will probably live long enough to see if a weaker solar cycle has any measurable effect on climate. (I won’t be 90 until 2042, and I certainly intend to live at least that long.)

So. The reason I’ve been so strapped is this: When we packed the house last December so we could winter over in our new house in Phoenix, we packed what we needed, and left everything else in Colorado. Now we have to empty the house except for some furniture and knicknacks for staging.

What was startling was how much was left after we extracted what we needed.

There’s a lesson in that somewhere, and if I had time I’d dig for it. Instead, Carol and I are doing triage on an enormous amount of stuff, packing and labeling the keepers and hauling the discards to whoever will take them. I’m making a salvage run to the metal yard later this week with a couple of ’50s chrome kitchen chairs with the padded panels removed, a couple of ’70s folding chairs ditto, a ’50s charcoal grill, a ’50s stepstool, some odd steel scrap, and about ten pounds of copper wire and other odd copper/brass items. I’m selling furniture and our gas grill on Craigslist. We’re shredding twenty years of odd bills and recycling several boxes of old magazines that somehow escaped the heave-ho last year. Almost all back issues of the Atlantic are now online, so I don’t need to keep paper mags, even the ones tagged with significant articles. (The Atlantic used to have a lot more of those in the ’80s and ’90s than they do today.)

Solar Panel 300 Wide.jpgCarol’s packing glassware and kitchen and office stuff and much miscellany. I have to get rid of a solar panel that I cobbled up in 1977 from six 6-cell subpanels that doesn’t work anymore, and I would like to investigate the peculiar failure mode if I had time: When first placed in the Sun it generates 17 volts, but over a period of no more than five minutes the voltage drops down under 10 volts and eventually to 5. It hasn’t been in the Sun at all these past 40 years…so what died? I’m curious, but not curious enough to keep it and do exploratory surgery on it.

The kicker, though, is this: No sooner did we get back from our Hawaii vacation than I was sent the PDF proofs of my six chapters of Learn Computer Architecture with the Raspberry Pi. That’s 100,000 words and 90 hand-drawn technical figures. I have to read them closely, because I’ve already spotted typos that were not present in the edited manuscript ARs. Somebody, somewhere changed “Jack Kilby” to “Jack Kelby.” The inventor of the integrated circuit deserves better. I may be the last line of defense against stuff like that, so I have to read slowly and pay complete attention. Also, don’t get me started on example code. Whitespace is significant in Python…and for what, Lord? To torment typesetters and technical editors?


We’re still trying to schedule some essential work, like having an epoxy coating put down on the new garage floor, getting all the outside windows washed, and having the carpets and drapes cleaned. So, evidently, is everyone else in Colorado Springs. Want to make good money? Forget your Grievance Studies degree and go into carpet cleaning.

By now you may be getting the idea. I turned 64 on the 29th, and am feeling every day of it. I’m desperate to do some new SF (so desperate that I’ve started writing country-western songs in my head while schlepping boxes) and that’s not going to happen for awhile.

The bad news is that this isn’t going to be over any time real soon. End of July, I hope. But if the house keeps vomiting up weird stuff that we didn’t have to deal with last time, all bets are off. Your best bet is to watch Facebook, as I allow myself fifteen minutes of online time during the day.

I’ll be back. (Didn’t somebody else say that? Oh, yeah: I used to have some 75 ohm terminators, but they’re long gone.) I haven’t been doing this for 18 years only to stop now.


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Where the hell have I been?

Here. Working like a sumbitch at 6700 feet above sea level, on things that may or may not be interesting to anyone but Carol and me. There is a lot of money tied up in this house, and the goal is to untie it as quickly as possible. On most days, come suppertime I am toast, and have not had the wherewithal to post anything interesting here on Contra since mid-May. Contrary to rumor I am not dead, nor anything close to it. I’ve been rearranging my sock drawer, for very large values of “sock drawer.”

It’s old news to my Facebook readers, but my garage floor has been cracked up (see above) and carted out, after which they brought in a dump truck full of road base fill, thumped it down very thoroughly, and then re-poured the concrete slab. It has to sit curing for five weeks before they can do the epoxy floor coating, but the worst of that task is out of the way.

The restorative surgery on Phage House continues. The painting is done. We’ve had the linen closet doors straightened. The ill-fitting cattle pen/dog run has been dismantled and donated to All Breed Rescue. We sold our snow blower on Craigslist, thinking that we won’t need it much in Phoenix. The granite counters and new kitchen fixtures are in and they’re drop-dead gorgeous. (Why didn’t we do this five or six years ago?) The staging lady has been hired and is ready to roll as soon as we get everything not required for staging into boxes. So as time and energy allow I’m boxing up all the stuff that didn’t go down to Phoenix back in December. We’ve given a lot to Goodwill and our friend Deidre who has an indoor flea market table. There’s more than I thought. (More, and heavier. Think vintage power transformers and filter chokes.) Lots more.

But then again, isn’t there always?

We should have been a little more forthcoming with our friends. Yesterday, a woman we’ve known since college and haven’t seen in several years sent me an email to say, “We’re in Colorado Springs on our way home from New Mexico. It’s so sad that you’re not here anymore.”


No writing has been done, though I occasionally take notes on The Molten Flesh. Instead I’ve been reading copyedited chapters on my Raspberry Pi book, which would have been much easier if I weren’t trying to load half a house into boxes. (And no, I cannot explain SSL in two paragraphs. Sorry.) I still don’t know when it’s going to be published. Hell, I don’t even know who my co-author is. I do know that writing chapters in 2013 to be published in early 2017 is a really dumb way to do things, especially for computer books. Not that it was my idea.

One of my early readers of Ten Gentle Opportunities asked me to write a side-story about Bones, an AI animated skeleton who worked the crowds in a screen at a big amusement park until he was archived because he scared little kids too much, even though at heart he was a gentle and sensitive soul. The idea appeals to me. Later in the year. We’ll see. Side-stories are something I’m not used to and may have to practice a little to get right. This might be a good, er, opportunity.

The Sun has been completely blank for four days. This is peculiar, given that the solar maximum was in 2014. I would expect this in 2019. I do not expect it now. It does make me think that moving to Phoenix was the right things to do.

I am reading in the evenings, and watching a few movies. Carol and I saw Inside Out for the first time last week. It is hands-down the strangest animated film I’ve ever seen…and one of the best. I knew Sadness in college; she was in a lot of my classes. (Actually, there were considerably more than one of her.) If I hadn’t been dating Carol then, well, I would have stood in line to go out with Joy. And when Bing Bong faded out for the last time in the Chasm of Lost Memories, I caught a tear running down my cheek. If you’re going to have an imaginary friend, well, he’d be the one to have. (Mine mostly asked me to drop silverware down the cold-air return.)

I’m not done with it yet, but in The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz finally drives a stake through Ancel Keys’ heart. You will live longer by eating more saturated fat. Keys and his shitlord minions murdered millions. Don’t be one of them.

I have too many power transformers. Some of them are going to have to go. I see a few of them (like the old Collins items that I’ve had since the ’70s) are going for $100 and up on eBay. Smells like easy money to me.

Anyway. I’m working very hard doing boring things, harder things and more boring than I’ve seen in one period for a very long time. I guess this is just what it takes. With any luck at all, the move to Phoenix will be done by August, and I can start being interesting again. Nobody’s looking forward to this more than me.

By Request: A 30-Year-Old Manuscript Page

Whew. Took another 30-odd pounds of paper up 14 feet of stairs and out to the garage, and I’m catching my breath again. This is turning out to be weight training with a vengeance.

Anyway. Reader Vince asked (in the comments under my entry of April 14, 2016) if I could post a page from the manuscript of my 1986 book, Complete Turbo Pascal, Second Edition, which turned up while purging the collection in our furnace room. I chose a page at random just now, slapped it on the scanner, and there you go. It’s mostly readable, even at 500 pixels wide, because it was good-quality output from my first laser printer. The page number means nothing. Each chapter was its own file, with page numbers starting from 1.

Keep in mind that this was a book focused on the IBM PC and (egad) Z80 CP/M. In other words, this was a book about getting things done. I acknowledged the pure spirit of completely portable Pascal–and then dynamited it into the next county.

It’s interesting to me, as a writer, how the conventions for writing book-length nonfiction have changed in the last 30 years. When I wrote my chapters for Learning Computer Architecture with the Raspberry Pi two or three years ago, we agreed to work in a common word processor format (.docx) using comments, and applying paragraph and header styles to the text as we went. The chapters looked like printed book pages even while they were being written. Thirty years ago, we wrote in whatever word processor we wanted, and then sent a huge big pile of paper to the publisher. I don’t think I sent actual files to a publisher until the first edition of my assembly book in 1989–and I sent the files on 5″ floppy disks through the mail after sending that big pile of paper!

By the way, my Raspberry Pi book is still a live project, and I sent back my second chapter of six yesterday after author review of copyedits. Beyond that, I can’t tell you much, especially when I think it might actually hit print.

Ahh. Breathing normally again. Time to lug another boxful out to the garage.

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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.