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Daybook

Descriptions of what I did recently; what most people think of when they imagine a “diary entry.”

53 Years Side-By-Side

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Carol and I met 53 years ago today, in my church basement in Chicago. Our mutual friend Jackie Ropski introduced us (she was in my grade school class and went to Carol’s high school) and what I now call slow magic happened. We didn’t hurry. We were smart kids (Carol had been double-promoted past fourth grade) and we had the crucial intuition that love grows out of friendship. So we became fast friends, and then let the slow magic do its work at its own pace.

You who have been reading me for a long time know the story of hoiw we met. I won’t repeat it today. What matters is that the magic continues. The photo above was taken last Thursday, at a sizeable air B&B house we rented so Carol’s family could come down for a week and not try to cram eight adults and two little kids into our own quirky but hardly enormous abode. We had not all been together since the end of 2019. It was the first time I had met my nephew Matt’s younger daughter Kate, now almost two. His older daughter Molly is about to start school. Conscious of the passage of time, Carol’s sister Kathy hired a professional photographer to come out to the house and do a photo shoot. In groups, couples, alone, and all together, we took a collective snapshot of the family as it stands now in 2022.

A quick aside: The photographer was terrific.She is Teresa Thalaker, and Arizonans who need a photographer should consider her.

We splashed around in the pool, celebrated both our birthdays, ate maybe a little too well, played Scattergories, laughed a lot, watched Disney movies with our grand-nieces, and reveled in the magic of a family reunited after a period of our history that most of us, I suspect, would like to forget. I saw love at work everywhere around us, among us, and between us.

And that ol’ slow magic is still at work, as I know every morning that I open my eyes and see Carol beside me as though for the first time. We have never been closer, now 53 years on our way to forever, as I like to say. Thanks to Jackie, who helped strike that first spark between us that set the magic in motion, and all those who have since shared our journey with us, including those who have now moved on to God’s ineffable realms. Love works and love wins. Take our word for it. We’ve been there, are there now, and will always be.

The Other 70s

70 today. Yeah, hard to believe. When I was 17 (1969) I found it difficult to imagine being 48, which was the age I’d be when we ushered in a new millennium. Moon colonies? Sure! We’d come so far so fast. How could we not? Having experienced the much-remarked phenomenon of time going by faster the older you get, I remember thinking back in 2000 or so that I would be 70 before I knew it.

Now I know it.

I have only one complaint: I won’t be around to see what great things happen over the next fifty years. I’ve said several times that the best thing about being 12 is that you’re not 13 yet, and the really great thing about being 14 is that you’ve already been 13. 13 was not my favorite year. The good thing about being 70 is that everything from 13 up until today has allowed me to put 13 in perspective, which I did while I was getting dressed this morning. And now, having put it into perspective, I intend to quietly forget about it.

In my view, the best birthday present is…the present. Sure, I could do without social networking and people whose highest aspiration is to be outraged about something new every day before lunch. And I have gripes about Amazon, but Amazon has allowed me to get a lot of books into print at a reasonable cost, something that simply couldn’t be done before 2005 or so–and never as easily as now. Smartphones are so good that we chose not to have a landline when we moved back to Phoenix in 2015. I continue to boggle at the sorts of things one can look up on a smartphone, from local weather radar to where traffic is congested between where I am and where I want to go.

No matter how bad the politics is (and it’s pretty bad) I’ve been able to keep myself from giving it power over me. I don’t do tribalism. The closest I come to a tribe is my circle of friends, now broader and more diverse than it ever was back in the creaky old 20th Century. We survived Woodrow Wilson, easily the most evil President evah. We will survive the one we have now, and whoever comes after. Politics is not worth the ulcers and heart attacks that are its foremost products. I simply do not partake. If I look younger than I am, that’s certainly a contributing factor.

I live in a benign climate (ok, it was 107 today; let’s call it mostly benign) in a quirky but comfortable house, with the woman I have loved now for 52 years. I have 75 feet of wire and an engineered ground, plus a low-band rig I’ve been using since 1995. I have a biggish swimming pool, which helps take the edge off the mostly benign days that occur pretty regularly this time of year. (I don’t have to shovel heat. So there.) I’m hard-pressed to name five things I want and don’t (yet) have.

The days are passing quickly. That’s nothing new. The real challenge is to summon the personal energy to accomplish things with the days that I have left. L-methyl folate wasn’t the solution, alas. I’m still looking. I’m reasonably healthy, trim, get my sleep, and am deeply loved. If I can’t consistently write a thousand words a day, well, I’ll write what I can and call it a win.

I look back across my 70 years, and remind myself that I know who I am and what I’m good at. All else will unfold as time and genetics permit.

Thanks to all of you for being my friends, and for the birthday wishes I haven’t entirely caught up on yet. As birthdays go, 70 is a good round number. 71 won’t be nearly as round, but every bit as welcome. Good luck to all and keep in touch!

Problems with SASM on Linux Mint

I’m scoping out a fourth edition of my book, Assembly Language Step by Step. I got wind of a simple FOSS utility that could be enormously useful in that effort: SASM (SimpleASM), which is an IDE created specifically for assembly-language work. It’s almost ideal for what I need: Simple, graphical, with a surprisingly sophisticated text editor and a graphical interface to GDB. It works with NASM, my assembler of choice. I want to use it as the example code IDE for the book. I installed it without effort on Windows, which is why I decided to use it. But I want to use it on Linux.

Alas, I’ve been unable to get it to install and run on Linux Mint 19 (Tara) using the Cinnamon desktop.

I’ve installed a lot of things on Linux Mint, all of them in the form of Debian packages. (.deb files.) I downloaded the SASM .deb file for Mint 19, and followed instructions found on the Web. There is a problem with dependencies that I just don’t understand.

I got it installed once but it wouldn’t run. I uninstalled it, and then it refused to reinstall.

Keep in mind that I am not a ‘leet Linux hacker. I’m a teacher, and most of what I teach is computing and programming for newcomers. The problem may be obvious to Linux experts but not to me. Most of the software I’ve installed on Mint came from repositories. SASM is a .deb download.

So. Does anybody else use it? If you’ve got Mint on a partition somewhere, could you try downloading it and installing it? I need to know if the problem is on my side of the screen or the other side.

Thanks in advance for any advice you might offer.

The Four-Color Problem

A year or so ago, a stray thought popped into my head as I crossed a large parking lot to get to one of the few remaining indoor malls in the Phoenix area. I stopped. I looked around. I looked around again. And damn, that stray thought was right:

Cars appear to be made almost entirely in four colors: black, white, silver, and red.

Up and down my row it was almost a physical law. I raised my gaze and did a 360. Ah–way over there, a flash of blue! On the opposite edge of the lot was something that looked brown. Or maybe it was just dirty.

There was no yellow. There was no green. Lord knows, there was no purple or pink. (Is Mary Kay still a thing?) It was black, white, silver, and red plus debris.

I first assumed it was a fluke. Or maybe selective vision. Carol and I have a silver car and a red car. Up and down our street it’s pretty much black and white. So there you have it: We notice what we’re used to noticing. But as days and then months passed, the pattern played true: black, white, silver, and red, with an occasional green or blue rounding error. It’s persisted to this day. When I see two blue cars at the same time it startles the hell out of me. And a few days ago I saw the first yellow vehicle I’d seen in over a month. It was a big honking pickup truck. (Could it be a custom, er, bespoke paint job?) Yes, I would be able to see that one coming.

Ok. You who know me know this: Stray thoughts enter my head so often my head might be considered a sort of thought pound. Most of them don’t stand up to close examination. This one has.

Time was, mall parking lots were rainbows. When I was growing up, our family owned cars in blue, various shades of green (including two-toned green), gold, and yellow. In fact, at one point we owned two bright yellow cars at the same time. For a little while, we had a two-toner in gray and maroon. And that was before I left home. Later on, red, white, and brown cars finally entered the Duntemann homestead. I do recall seeing a few purple cars back in the day, though not in front of our house. (As best I know I have never seen an orange car.)

No more. So what happened? My guess is that car manufacturers are shaving costs by limiting available colors. They may keep one paint machine open for special-order colors, and I’ll bet they make customers pay big for the privilege. I don’t know anyone in the car industry or I’d just ask.

It doesn’t matter in any important way. But a little bit of weird urban beauty has passed out of this world. I wonder if I’m the only one who’s noticed.

Announcing Complete Sentences

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And now for something completely, totally, top-to-bottom (for me at least) different: I present Complete Sentences, a short novel about two very articulate high-IQ 12-year-olds. Not in space. Not in the future. Not on some other planet nor in some unlikely fantasy world. No hyperdrives. No monsters. No magic. Nossir. On Earth, our Earth, our timeline, in Wisconsin. In 1966.

I’m not even sure the term is still used, but when I was first making my name in SF, we called such fiction “mainstream.” In other words, a story about ordinary people in the here and (approximately) now, with no fantastic elements at all. Yes, I wrote mainstream fiction. I’ve done this only one other time in my increasingly long life, back when I was in college in 1972. I wrote a short story about two guys my age who were sweating bullets about the draft lottery during the thick of the Vietnam meatgrinder. My Modern American Literature prof loved it and told me I should try selling it. The story is grim. One guy pulls #244. He’s free. The other one pulls #6. He runs. Mainstream literature is full of stuff like that, which is why I now mostly avoid mainstream literature.

So what’s it about? Let me borrow the descriptive text I uploaded to Amazon with the book:

It’s late summer 1966. Family camping is the rage. Boomer kids are everywhere. Star Trek is brand-new. Smartphones and social media haven’t even been dreamt of yet. So summer crushes happen the old-fashioned way: young face to young face.

While scoping out sites for stargazing at Castle Rock Lake, 12-year-old Eric meets a girl from the next campsite over. Charlene and Eric are both gifted, highly articulate kids: Eric in math and science, Charlene in art and composition. He shows her the constellations in the ink-black Wisconsin night sky; she sketches him and writes him poems. An attraction neither has ever felt before soon blossoms between them. Eric’s sensible parents caution him that 12 is too young to fall in love, while Charlene’s parents barely speak to each other, let alone her. She aches for the love she sees in Eric’s family, and takes strength from the attention and kindness that Eric offers her.

For Charlene has a secret, one that cuts to the heart of who and what she is. When the conflict in her family threatens to end the campout early, she must explain that secret to Eric, and begs him to accept the vision she has of her own future. Facing the possibility that they may never see each other again, Eric and Charlene struggle to put words to the feelings that have arisen between them. They discover the answer in the language they both speak, and had spoken together all along: Complete sentences.

I’ll post a sample chapter tomorrow.

In the meantime, you all might reasonably ask, Why? For the same reason I wrote whacko humorous fantasy like Ten Gentle Opportunities and Dreamhealer: To prove that I could. Before I wrote Complete Sentences, I didn’t know that I could write mainstream fiction. Now I know. Before Kindle made self-publishing possible, I had to write what publishers wanted. I first tasted the forbidden fruit 25+ years ago, when Coriolis established a book publishing operation and I was the one who decided what to publish. Could I have sold The Delphi Programming Explorer to Wiley or Macmillan? That was a gonzo book. It was also the Coriolis book that sold the most copies and pulled in the most revenue for all of 1995. I (maybe barely) sold Assembly Language Step By Step (under its original title Assembly Language from Square One) to the late Scott, Foresman in 1990. That was just as gonzo, if not moreso. (My four-fingered Martians are standing up and cheering.) A guy once sent me an email telling me that that book saved him from flunking out of his computer science program. Yeah, that book is nuts. But I have independent evidence that it works, in the form of hundreds of fan letters. Not to mention the fact that it’s been in print now for 31 years.

These days I write what I do largely to push back personal boundaries–and sometimes try things I’ve been wanting to try for literally decades. I always wanted to write a love story where the nerd gets the girl in the end. It took awhile. Then there was Dreamhealer. I don’t call it a love story. But it contains one–in fact, two.

In writing Complete Sentences, I drew on bits and pieces of my own history. (Just bits and pieces. It is pointedly not autobiographical.) When I was 12, I found myself longing for female company. Not love, nor, lord help us, sex. I didn’t know why, exactly, but alluvasudden I wanted girls to be my friends. I remember that feeling clearly. I didn’t know what to call it, and for the most part it was an annoyance, at least for the next couple of years. I now know what to call it.

Complete Sentences is not a love story, not in the usual sense of the word.

Or…maybe it is.

You tell me.

 

Review: The CopperFlo Pool Ionizer

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Everybody with a swimming pool knows that the price of the canonical 3″ chlorine tablets went through the roof over the past year. We can’t blame it on teh viris this time–an explosion and damage at the Louisiana plant that makes most of the tabs was the culprit. Supply is no longer a problem, but the price is still a lot higher than it was a year or two ago.

Enter the solar-powered pool ionizer. I had never heard of pool ionizers until a couple of weeks ago, while I was severely low-energy and just caroming around the Web looking for anything interesting. What I discovered was a whole new way to sanitize your pool. How they work is pretty simple: A small solar array provides a voltage across two metallic elements, a copper rod surrounded by a steel helix that has a silver coating. The voltage creates metallic cations. The cations kill bacteria and algae on contact.

The device is about a foot in diameter. The drawing below shows what’s inside:

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In truth, there’s not a lot of there there. The one I bought was from NoMoreGreen Technologies and is called CopperFlo. It was $179.98 on Amazon. It comes with a bottle of test strips to measure the ion concentration in the pool water, plus a little brush to scrape calcium scale off the copper electrode once in a while. No batteries, no moving parts.

I set it down on the surface of the pool, where it just drifts around. Any reasonable light on the solar array will generate some ions, and full Arizona sun will generate a lot of ions, hence the test strips. I let the chlorine tablets shrink down until there was only one tablet in one floater. The pool did not turn green. I’ve dealt with green pools a time or two, and I know that keeping the chlorine levels up is crucial. To me, seeing a sparkly clean pool with only one tab in a floater is borderline miraculous, especially when it’s still an Arizona summer and the water is between 86 and 88 degrees F. Supposedly you only need one sixth of the chlorine tabs to keep the water clean as you would absent the ionizer.

Besides the fact that in one summer it will save me enough in chlorine tablets to pay for itself, it’s a cool concept. It’s only been in the pool for twelve days. It’ll be interesting to see how it performs long-haul.

Announcing the Publication of Odd Lots

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It is with considerable pleasure (and a great deal of relief) that I announce the availability of my newest book, Odd Lots. It’s available in both ebook ($2.99) and trade paperback ($12.99) format.

I announced the project here last October. It’s taken a lot of time to put together in part because I had to OCR so much of it, and I hate OCRing. The other time-consuming element was trying to decide what-all should be in it. The bulk of what I’ve written on programming is now obsolete, and what isn’t obsolete is in published books that are already available. But my DDJ columns? DOS programming? Modula 2? Extinct. I suffered over those decisions more than I should have. I gave myself a 250-page topstop for the paperback. It came in at 235 pages, so I could have thrown in another Contra entry or two. At some point I simply had to say, “It’s done.”

What’s in it? Five topical sections:

  1. Essays, idea pieces, and editorials from PC Techniques/Visual Developer.
  2. Entries from Contrpositive Diary
  3. Parody (most of which came from the magazine)
  4. Memoir
  5. None of the above.

Part 1 contains pieces from the magazine that I felt had lasting interest, like “The All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything,” a few essays about the wearable computers I called Jiminies, “Pay Them Forward,” and “Hail the Millennium!”

Part 2 contains entries from Contra, again items I felt had lasting interest. I threw in my oddball series “50 Days’ Meditation on Writing,” which I posted on Facebook on fifty consecutive days way back in 2014.

Part 3 contains humor and parody, some of which was originally published in the magazine, and some in fanzines that now go back almost fifty years.

Part 4 contains excerpts from my memoirs, along with the very first written item I ever sold for money, which ran in 73 Magazine in December 1974. Some of that appeared here on Contra. A great deal of it is published in Odd Lots for the first time.

Part 5, well, some things don’t categorize well. Whatever didn’t fit in the first four categories ended up here. A couple are funny, including one that might be considered a parody of myself. The others might be classified as “inspirational,” depending on what inspires you.

The cover photo, some might remember, came out of a 2015 Contra entry called “Samples from the Box of No Return.” I think it qualifies as a collection of odd lots, just not written ones. It’s a shame I couldn’t photograph everything in the box, which has a lot more stuff in it than shown here.

Again, I assembled the book because I regularly get emails from people asking where they could find one or another editorial or idea piece from the magazine or Contra. I posted a few on my site. I don’t have word processor files for most of them, and had to OCR them. It’s almost a private publication for my fans, some of whom have been reading me since I launched Turbo Technix at Borland in 1987. I freely admit that some of it sounds like bragging. Hey, I really did predict Wikipedia in 1994, using technology we had in the early ’90s. Keep in mind that I wrote a great deal of that early material with a grin on my face. It was blue-sky stuff, satire, and primarily entertainment. I’ve never been one overly given to seriousness. Please read it with that in mind.

And I once again thank all my long-time readers for giving me a reason and a forum for writing interesting and funny stuff, and for (finally!) having a place to put it.

It’s done. Whew. Go get it! And if you think Odd Lots was odd, heh–just wait until you see my next publishing project. (Stay tuned.)

Aero’s 15th Birthday

Today is Aero’s 15th birthday. He was our first show dog, and became an AKC champion in 2010, under Carol Duntemann’s expert handling. The photos below are of Aero when we first got him in 2006, and from the 2009 Bichon Frise National Specialty show in St. Louis.

He’s still reasonably spry for a dog that old, though he doesn’t see very well and gets confused now and then. Given that he’s now 105 in dog years, I’m very happy he’s still with us and still running around.

We’ll be giving him his usual birthday “cake” of raw hamburger a little later today after supper. Everybody gets some–and sometimes I think it’s gone in nanoseconds. But however he wants to enjoy his birthday is fine by us. He’s been a terrific dog, loved the show ring, and brought us a great many ribbons. If he mostly sleeps in one of the (many) dog beds scattered around the house these days, that’s ok. He’s earned it.


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Birthdays and Horizons

69 today. That’s a good number, as it’s the same upside-down as rightside-up. The last one of those I passed through was 11, so it’s been awhile. (Ok, sure 1 and maybe 8, depending on the font.) Quick aside: 1961 also looked the same both ways, at least on pennies.

69 is the last year before one of what I call horizons rises to meet me: As a younger man, I thought of 70 as the horizon between ordinary people and…old people. So next year I’ll be a genuine, card-carrying Old Guy. Does this bother me?

Not on your life. Or mine.

Life is all about horizons. When I was in kindergarten, first grade was a horizon. When I was in grade school, high school and college were horizons. Marriage was a horizon, understanding it poorly as I did when I was six or seven. I remember wondering if you had to have a job before you could get married. I imagined living with a girl, and it was a…peculiar imagining, at 9 or 10. In truth, I could more easily imagine going to the Moon. I considered that a horizon as well; in fact, when I was a senior in high school, my lunch table vowed to meet on the Moon on New Year’s Eve 1999. It seemed so far away, in time as in space. We’d come so far so fast–how could it not happen?

Not every horizon comes when it’s called.

College, mon dieu. That horizon hit me in the face and damned near broke my nose. I got past it. I graduated, and got a job. That was a horizon. Leaving home was a horizon, one I avoided for far too long. I proposed to my best friend–one horizon–followed quickly by our wedding–another horizon.

Ordinary life can be deceptive. If you squint a little, you can avoid seeing any horizons. You get up, go to work, come home, have dinner, write/tinker/work 20 meters, then go to bed, confident that the same thing will happen tomorrow. Nonetheless, the horizons are there. My father’s death was a horizon, one I could see coming a long way off, and it shook me to the core. Scarcely a year later, one of my friends died. He was a fireman, and a wall fell on him while he was making sure everyone had gotten out alive. Seeing friends die is a horizon that few of us see coming, especially when we’re still in our twenties. It was scant comfort to remind myself that Bill Nixon was a hero. He was only the first. There have been many since then.

Starting my own company was a old dream of mine, and in 1989 it jumped up and said “Hi!” Horizons can be like that. Losing that company 12 years later was another horizon, one that almost ate me alive. Having my first book published was an even older horizon. I remember a dream in which I was holding my first book, without knowing what book it was. Sometimes horizons don’t tell you much about themselves until they’re already in your rear-view mirror.

Retirement was a very old horizon; I remember thinking as a teen that 2017–when I would turn 65–was an eternity away. Flying cars! Mars base! Heh. Today, well, 2017 seems almost quaint.

Horizons are firsts and onlies. You do them once and they change you, and then, sooner or later another one comes around the corner at a gallop.

Be ready.

The Trouble with Wikis

A week or so ago I bestirred myself and installed MediaWiki on my Web host. I’d been intending to do that for some time, but (as my friend Don put it) my life was ODTAA for a bit. Installing it was a snap. My provider has something called Installatron that did the job, no issues. The software, of course, is free and open-source.

I installed it in part to become more familiar with the MediaWiki system. As usual, when installing something new, I went up to Amazon and checked for books on MediaWiki.

Unless I missed something, there are five.

Plus a few more in French, German, and Japanese. Furthermore, those five books did not all get favorable reviews. The title I was most interested in is now 11 years old and way behind the current release of MediaWiki. (I ordered it anyway, along with O’Reilly’s MediaWiki: Wikipedia and Beyond, which is even older.)

My first question was: Why so few books about software this famous?

The answer came to me slowly: Almost nobody wants to create/maintain/populate their own wiki. MediaWiki is famous for one reason: Wikipedia. I’ve seen a number of other public wikis, including Fandom.com, Conservapedia, Everipedia, WikiHow, Wikispecies, and WikiTree. There is a list on Wikipedia that eyeballs at about 80. Let’s be generous and triple that to account for wikis that Wikipedia didn’t list, and for private wikis. So, say, 250. That’s not much of a market for books. Even 500 installs would not float a print book.

MediaWiki’s online presence has a feature for creating a downloadable PDF version of the MediaWiki documentation, but it’s currently disabled. Sheesh.

Having gone crosseyed reading about it online, my conclusion is that MediaWiki is a bit of a hot mess. That said, I should tell you all why I even bothered: I want to create a wiki for my fiction, and especially about the Gaeans Saga, which includes the Metaspace books and the Drumlins books. I’ve done a little wiki editing, and have a couple of decent books on my shelf about creating content on Wikipedia. The trick to creating content on wikis is having a group of content templates and knowing how to use them. If you look at the page source for any Wikipedia article, the problem becomes obvious: The stuff is crawling with templates, and for the most part they’re templates that don’t come with the generic MediaWiki install.

I discovered this by opening an edit window for Wikipedia’s article on the star mu Arae, which in my Metaspace books is the location of Earth’s first colony. I loaded the whole wad onto the clipboard and dropped it into a new page on my MediaWiki instance. A few of the templates were present on MediaWiki. Most were not, and the article incorporated dozens. I went back and lifted the source for 47 Tucanae. Same deal.

Now, Wikipedia content is available under Creative Commons. Grabbing the articles is easy and legal. I soon found after googling around for awhile that grabbing the templates, while legal, is not easy. Some templates are actually contained in libraries written in…Lua. I have some sympathies for Lua, which strongly resembles Pascal. It made me wonder, however, why a formatting template needs to make calls into a code library. As best I know, this is something specific to Wikipedia, and is not present in the generic MediaWiki.

I like the overall look of Wikipedia. People are used to it. I’d like to incorporate that design into my own instance of MediaWiki. I wouldn’t need all the templates, though some would be damned useful. That said, I see no reason why some sharp MediaWiki hacker couldn’t gin up an installer for all of Wikipedia’s templates, no matter how many there are. Maybe such a thing already exists, though I think that if it did, I would have found it by now.

There are other projects needing my attention, so I’m going to set this one aside for awhile. Obviously, if anybody reading this knows where to find an installable collection of Wikipedia’s templates, give a yell.