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Daybook

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

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 that 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 all too 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.

The Raspberry Pi Pico…and a Tiny Plug-In Pi

Yesterday the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the Raspberry Pi Pico, at the boggling temporary low price of…$4US. It’s definitely a microcontroller on the order of an Arduino rather than the high-end 8GB RPi that might stand in for a complete desktop mobo. And that’s ok by me. The chip at its heart is new: the RP2040, a single-chip microcontroller designed to interface with mainstream Raspberry Pi boards, and lots of other things.

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Now, what caught my attention in the page linked above was the list of partner products made by other firms using the same RP2040 chip. Scroll down to the description of the SparkFun MicroMod RP2040 proccesor board. It’s still on preorder, but look close and see what’s there: an edge connector…on a board the size of a quarter! That’s not precisely what I was wishing for in my previous entry, but it’s certainly the right idea.

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As I understand it, SparkFun is turning the RPi-wearing-a-hat on its ear, into a hat-wearing-an-RPi. The M.2 interface used in the product is actually a standard developed some years back for use in connecting SSDs to tiny slots on mobos. I knew about M.2, but wouldn’t have assumed you could mount a CPU-add-in board using it. Well, shazam! Done deal.

The RP2040 chip is a little sparse for my tastes. I want something I can run FreePascal/Lazarus on, over a real OS. I don’t see anything in the M.2 spec that would prevent a much more powerful processor board talking to a device (like a keyboard, TV or monitor) across M.2. The big problem with building a high-end RPi into things is keeeping it cool. The Foundation is aware of this, and did a very good job in the $100US Raspberry Pi 400 Pi-in-a-keyboard. (This teardown and review is worth a look if you’re interested in the platform at all. The author of the teardown goosed the board to 2.147 GHz and it didn’t cook itself.)

I fully intend to get an RPi 400, though I’ve been waiting awhile to see if there will soon be an RPi 800 keyboard combo with an 8GB board instead of 4GB. Given the price, well hell, I might as well get the 4GB unit until an 8GB unit appears.

So consider my previous post overruled. It’s already been done. And I for one am going to watch this part of the RPi aftermarket very carefully!

Bringing the 10″ Scope Back to Life

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When I was 14, I took an opportunity and started out on a very large project: A friend of mine bought an Edmund Scientific mirror-making kit, decided he didn’t have the time to pursue it, and sold it to me. The kit included a 10″ Pyrex mirror blank, a plate glass tool blank, and all the abrasives needed to grind and polish it. I did most of the grinding in my basement, using a defunct round wringer washer as a grinding station. I followed the instructions in the kit, along with whatever I could find in the library, and though it took a couple of months, in time I had a Pyrex blank with a smooth curve, focusing at about 67 inches. My goal was 70, so I came pretty close, and in truth, 67″ would make for a shorter and somewhat lighter tube.

Now, grinding is only half the job. Polishing the ground mirror surface took sophisticated methods to gauge the accuracy of the curve, which has to be a parabola to focus items at infinity (like stars) to a sharp image. I decided I was over my head, and did the sensible thing: I enrolled in a class at the Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s lakefront, which took up most of the summer that I turned 15. They had an optical shop in the basement that included the required Focault tester, plus a superb teacher, Ken Wolf, who helped me get the polishing done and mirror curve accurate. They were also able to aluminize it, and by that fall, I had a 10″ F6.7 parabolic telescope mirror accurate to 1/25 wave, which was bogglingly accurate for a first shot by a 15-year-old.

The rest of the scope took another two years and change to complete. A friend’s father made me a tube out of sheet aluminum. I built a tube saddle out of scrap wood and hardware-store aluminum stock. I had no tools more sophisticated than my dad’s circular saw and saber saw. And that was for woodworking–for metal I did it all with a hacksaw and files. I had some help from my high school machine shop teacher, who dug up a piece of iron that he said was hull metal from a scrapped battleship. He cut it to size on the big bandsaw for me. I spent many study hall hours in his shop on one of the lathes, boring out 2″ pipe fittings and making numerous small parts. I owe Mr. Brinkmann a huge debt of gratitude. Without his help and the use of his machines, I could not have finished the scope.

It was going to be a big scope, and a much heavier one than the 8″ Newtonian I had built from a Sam Brown book the summer I turned 14. I turned my attention to building a base. There was a lot of scrap lumber in the crawlspace. I had the notion of building a cement form out of scrap lumber and pouring a solid triangular concrete shape 36″ on a side with bolts embedded in the top for the battleship-metal mount.

So I built me a cement form.

Whoops. Doing some math and library research showed me that the concrete base would weigh at least 400 pounds. Yes, I could make it–but once I made it, I had no idea how I would move it. So I was left with a scrap lumber cement form…

I.D.E.A!

FirstDateSketchTelescope - 325 Wide.jpgThe form was made entirely from 2″ dimensional lumber, from 2X4s to a scrap of 2X12. I could carry it around with only a little puffing. So I would use the cement form as the telescope base.

A lot more work and allowance money would go into the telescope before I finished it–more or less–in the fall of 1969. On an early date with a pretty 16-year-old girl I had met in church, I told her about the project and drew a picture of it on her little spiral notebook. (See left. She enjoyed talking about science. So did I. She married me in October 1976, and our flag still flies.)

I used that scope a lot, even though it was bulky and heavy and awkward to cart around. In 2000, I (finally!) poured a concrete base for it at our house at the north end of Scottsdale. (See below.) I bought a large plastic trash can to put over the scope to keep the weather off it, and enjoyed it tremendously. Well, we moved to Colorado in 2003. When I went behind the garage to fetch out the now-retired wood base, I discovered that the local termites had been feasting for a couple of years, and there was nothing much left.

I haven’t had the 10″ assembled since. And it’s now about damned time to get to work.

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I’ve spent a couple of weekends messing with it. Yesterday I bolted the aluminum tang to the base, and although there will be some refinements, what you see below is pretty much what you’ll see when it’s in service.

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The equatorial head is still workable, though tremendously heavy. I hope to build a new one out of aluminum. In the meantime, I see no reason why I can’t have it up and working by the time of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21. The two giant planets will appear just 6.1 arc-minutes apart, close enough to see in the same eyepiece field, and closer in the sky than they’ve been since 1623. A conjunction of this sort is said by some to be the Christmas Star that the Three Wise men followed to Bethlehem. Miss that? No way!

More on the 10″ scope project as it happens.

Now Available: Dreamhealer on Kindle and KU

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Some time last night after I hit the switch and the sack, Amazon approved my upload of Dreamhealer to the Kindle store and KU. So it’s ready to rock–go get it! I’ll have a trade paperback edition in a week or so, unless Amazon decides to arm-wrestle me over it, like they did with Firejammer.

Unlike most fiction these days, the cover is a from-scratch painting that represents a scene from the book itself. (It’s Larry healing a man’s falling nightmare–falling from 90,000 feet. See Chapter 1.)

This one was a long time coming. Part of it was starting a novel in the middle of a move that included renovating two houses 850 miles apart.I’m sure part of it was just starting a novel at age 64. Part of it was the…peculiar… nature of some of the background concepts. There is tension between witches and lightworkers. I worked some of that tension into the plot. I bought a whole book on the “etheric double” as understood by Theosophists. I read and reread a lot of material from the late Colin Wilson. Oh, and material about tiger moms, phantom pregnancies, Elk Grove Village, steampunk mechas, the bicameral mind theory of human evolution, and more. Way more. (I actually explored Elk Grove Village back in 2017 and chose the street where Larry the Dreamhealer lives.) Of course, I invented as much as I borrowed, especially regarding the Elemental Cycles of the Canidae and the quantum computational substrate underlying dreams. Researching the background is the fun part of creating a novel. The writing itself is butt-kicking hard work.

I was going to summarize the plot here, but there’s always the problem of spoilers. So I’ll be brief: Larry gets on the wrong side of what turns out to be the Architect of All Nightmares. He finds his true love, who has a thing for chainsaws. The spirit of Isambard Kingdom Brunel builds one helluva mecha. Dogs. Dogs everywhere. Talking dogs. Dogs who eat the creatures that create nightmares. Fights, more fights, a skeletal flying saucer, searching for calculus class, imaginary friends…hey, what more do you want? Whatever it is, it’s probably in there somewhere.

Go get it. Have fun. Write a review. Tell your friends. And…thanks.

Hamsterin’

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Well. The Great Toiler Paper Famine of 2020 may be subsiding. We got a package of six rolls (one package only!) this morning, and we should have enough now for a couple of weeks.

We have the stores to thank for that. Both Fry’s and Safeway are now limiting quantities on hoardables and even non-hoardables like milk. One per household is the general rule. We know that Fry’s usually gets a truck on Monday nights, so we were there first thing in the morning. Like many other grocers across the country, Fry’s reserves the first hour for people over 60. We got there at 5:50, and there was already a considerable line. At 6 AM sharp, they opened the doors, and everybody made for the toilet paper aisle at a dead run. And lo and behold: Piles and piles of toilet paper! And paper towels. And baby wipes. And rubbing alcohol.

Alas, no bratwurst. What, they’re hoarding bratwursts now?

So we got our one package of TP and one package of paper towels. Carol got a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and a few other things before we ran through Mickey D’s drive-thru for breakfast. All in all, a good and useful morning.

Oh–and at 5:45 AM when we backed out of the garage, I remembered that this morning is Mercury’s maximum elongation, so we jumped out of the Durango and searched for that most-difficult planet. Even at max elongation, the little snot is unholy hard to spot, but spot it we did. (It helps to have few trees and no two-story houses in our neighborhood.) Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn were in a tight little group much higher in the southeast.

The lockdown here in Arizona has been cordial and mostly voluntary. Local government is not harrassing people who walk for exercise. My barber shop closed last Thursday, but others are still open, so if I get a little too pointy-haired, I have options. The Jewish Community Center is closed, so we’re not doing our usual weight training every Monday. I’m going to buy an 18-pound ketttlebell if I can find a store still selling 18-pound kettlebells. You can do a lot with an 18-pound kettlebell. We had to cancel our writers’ workshop because restaurants can’t provide indoor or patio seating. We meet in a biggish sandwich place, so we’re out of luck. We’re trying to figure out a reliable teleconferencing system for the interim.

We no longer go to Costco. That’s a shame, since I like their frozen blueberries, but with conventional grocery stores limiting quantities to stop hoarding, all the hamsterin’ is now being done at Costco. People line up around the block to get in and buy truckloads of TP and cart-sized bricks of plastic bottled water. I’ve seen photos. It’s surreal.

We’ve learned the secret: Go to small stores. I don’t mean convenience stores. I mean specialty stores, like the little Polish/Russian grocery down in Mesa. We bought six bags of their excellent hand-made pierogies a few days ago. They had a lot of other stuff I couldn’t quite identify, since I don’t read Polish, much less Russian. But nobody was hoarding pierogi.

Our days are heating up. It’s still snowing in Colorado Springs, but in Phoenix our daily highs are beginning to creep up into the 80s. We’re about to engage in an interesting experiment: Warmer temps slow down most viruses. There’s a debate raging about whether or not that’s true of COVID-19, but we’re going to find out. Arizona is not a virus hot zone by any means, with only 326 cases and 3 deaths. (New York has 26,000+ cases and 271 deaths.) Is it the warmer temps, or just good clean livin’? Nobody knows…yet.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is that UV light can kill viruses, and we lead the nation in the production of UV light. In fact, when we get a package from Amazon, I put on gloves and take it out to the backyard, and set it down on the pool deck. I turn it a couple of times to make sure all surfaces get a dose, but if 15 minutes of Arizona sun can cause sunburn, it will damned well kill viruses.

So here we are. I read books, or write them. I program. I tinker in my workshop. I throw the ball around the yard for the dogs. I cook. And I wash my hands. Hoo-boy, do I wash my hands. So life goes on. Don’t let the panicmongers mong you any panic. We don’t know how bad COVID-19 will ultimately be, but it will almost certainly not be as bad as the media are insisting. I see a lot of people on Twitter trying to stir up panic, and they sure sound and act like paid operatives. If you catch them with a question they can’t answer, they vanish. If you ask them for their credentials, they vanish. Do whatever you can to discredit such screamers. And carry on. This too will pass, perhaps sooner than we think.

Life in the Time of Quarantine

“Social distancing,” heh. It’s basicallly what Carol and I consider ordinary life. We’re retired, we’re home a lot, and don’t have the energy to cope with huge events like concerts, parades, political rallies, and so on. We don’t go to bars. Ok, my writers’ group used to meet in a sports bar, but then they repurposed their party room and we had to move to a sandwich shop across the street. (Yelp now reports that the sports bar has closed.) But that weekly writers’ group–with at most ten or eleven other people, usually fewer–is most of the social anything that I do these days.

So we’re doing our part by basically keeping on keeping on. I’m working on different techniques to avoid using my hands as much in public places. If I’m going through a door that simply pushes open, I push with my shoulder. When I take a drink from a water fountain, I press the bar with my elbow. (This is easier than it might seem, if you’ve never tried it.) After I wash my hands in a men’s room, I dry my hands on a paper towel and then grip the door handle through the towel. If my nose itches, I scratch it against my upper arm. I’m going to use Michael Covington’s technique to keep rubbing alcohol with me while I’m out in public: Fill one of those little eyeglass-cleaner solution push-spray bottles with ordinary drugstore isopropyl alcohol. Squirt a little on your palm, rub it around for a few seconds, and it dries without stickyness. You can buy little belt-holsters for pepper-spray cans, and I suspect an alcohol spray bottle might behave a little better if it’s alone in a holster than in my pocket wrestling with my car keys and pocket change.

Although the locusts are still out there, the stores are starting to get wise by placing limits on purchases of certain popular items, like toilet paper, paper towels, eggs, bread, milk, etc. Fry’s set this up over the weekend. We went to Safeway yesterday and whereas there are still a lot of empty shelves, there weren’t as many locusts and their carts weren’t especially full. (We haven’t braved Costco yet.) My guess is that everybody who intended to fill their chest freezers has already filled them. We bought two packages of boneless pork chops, some dental floss and a tube of Pepsodent. The supply chain is still out there, and once people realize that civil order isn’t going to collapse, they may return to their accustomed shopping habits.

Then again, there’s another possible explanation for hoarding, which occurred to me once I began hearing about municipalities shutting down restaurants, bars, libraries, concert halls, movie theaters, and so on. People may be afraid of government-enforced quarantine. This is happening in other countries, especially Italy. How far the feds could take it here is an interesting question. I don’t see federal involvement as a likely option, especially now that the decisions are being made at the local level. Rumors have it that Phoenix will shut down restaurants here in a day or two. If it happens, it happens. We go out to eat on average once a month anyway.

Nobody’s suggesting that we shut down grocery stores, nor prevent people from shopping for groceries and prescriptions.

The real issue with shutting down “non-essential” businesses, of course, is that businesses without customers will go under. I don’t know what the solution to that is. Restaurants that do drive-through and carry-out will get a lot better at it, and restaurants that don’t do it will learn how in a big hurry. Government isn’t always behind such things; just yesterday McDonald’s announced that it would close seating areas in all company-owned restaurants. What bars are going to do is far less clear. I’m all for flattening the pandemic curve. What I don’t think is a good idea is flattening the economy.

Another question occurred to me last night: To what extent can a CPAP machine sub for a medical ventilator? The adaptive kind (like mine) may be less useful than the ones where you dial in the inches of pressure you want, and that’s how much the machine pumps. (There may be a setting on APAP machines for fixed pressure, and I’ll investigate that later today.)

So we’re kicking the beachball around in the backyard for the dogs to chase, reading, writing, working on the garden, pulling weeds, and so on. Life continues. I’m less worried about the virus itself than about government screwups that make things worse. Government is incompetent because there are no penalties for incompetence. If the penalty for screwing things up were a jail term or a $100,000 fine, I’ll bet that government would work a lot better.

It is to dream, alas.