Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Daywander

Odd thoughts put down at once, in stream-of-consciousness fashion.

Birthdaywander

68 today. About this place in each decade there are a couple of years where it’s not immediately obvious to me which birthday I’m having. 2020 being what it is and will likely continue to be, I have had no trouble remembering that this is my 68th birthday.

A lot of this is the virus, which from the demographic stats clearly has a target on my forehead. (See this compendium of stats as of June 23.) My age bracket represents 21% of COVID-19 deaths, and COVID-19 represented 9.4% of total deaths from all causes in my age bracket between February 1 and June 17. Them’s bad odds, at least from where I sit. So we’re staying home, and the most human contact we’ve had in a couple of months is talking to the neighbors out in the middle of the street.

I have some bitches about the numbers. In a lot of places, anyone who dies with tested SARS-CoV-2 in their bodies is listed as dying of the virus, even if they died of cancer, alcohol poisoning, car accidents, or lots of other unrelated conditions. Granted, it’s often hard to tell what actually causes death. So although I’m willing to accept the huge numbers of newly identified cases (where a “case” is anyone who tests postive for the virus) the mortality numbers are almost certainly higher than they would be if people who caught the virus but died of something else were not counted.

Bit by bit the numbers improve, especially now that tests are easy to come by. An awful lot of young people are carrying the virus, but an awfuller lot of those are completely asymptomatic. Whether they’re contagious is still under heated discussion.

Catching the virus outdoors is unlikely. I’m not one of those who blame the protests for the rising number of cases in young people. Oh, I’m sure it helped raise the case numbers a little. But in watching the appalling videos of the riots, what I see is a lot of people in fast chaotic motion, outside, probably with a light breeze. What this means is that the spreaders are unlikely to be in close proximity to the same people for more than a few seconds. This is not what happens at choir practice, really.

A lot of the protesters were wearing masks. Forgive me for thinking that a lot of them weren’t worried about acquiring the virus half as much as a police record.

Oh–masks. Let’s talk about masks. What I’m seeing in recent weeks is a peculiar psychology of constant harping about masks that does two things:

1. It makes a certain number of otherwise reasonable people annoyed enough to refuse to wear masks in public.

2. It makes a larger number of reasonable but naive people feel that with a mask on, they’re invulnerable and cannot catch the virus. This is major magical thinking.

I wear a mask to keep peace in the valley, mostly. Getting yelled at by every uberkaren in the supermarket is not on my bucket list. Nonetheless, I am under no illusions that the masks will prevent me from either catching or spreading the disease. There is plenty of research showing that SARS-CoV-2 spreads in aerosol form. (That is, as free particles rather than inside mucus or saliva droplets.) The masks available to the public will not stop isolated virus particles drifting in the air. For that you need properly fitted N95 masks or better, and I’m among those who think that front-line health care personnel should get them before the rest of us.

Consider this article, by a skeptical MD with 36 years of clinical experience. He knows medical masks. Woodworking masks or cowboy bandanas are of zero effectiveness, and even surgical masks are not effective in filtering aerosols. The virus itself is 120 nm in size; basically, a tenth of a micron. Your workaday snotrag is not gonna stop that. Droplets, possibly–at least big ones. But let me ask you this: What happens when a droplet that was stopped by your bandana dries out? It seems to me (I’ve seen no research on this issue) that absent their droplets, individual viruses can be inhaled through the cloth, or blown out into the invironment again by exhaled air.

Especially here in Phoenix, where the humidity is often in single digits, those droplets will dry out fast. Maybe they’ll remain stuck to the cloth fibers. Maybe. Bet your life on it? Not me.

So, again, we’re staying home. I’m trying to work out how to get the ball rolling on my new novel The Molten Flesh. The first chapter is a flashback, to twelve years before The Cunning Blood takes place. We’re focusing on a different nanotech society this time: Protea, which is designed to optimize the human body. Sangruse 9 can do a little of that, but Protea literally rebuilds the interior structure of the body to make it much more resistant to trauma, radiation, cancer, infectious microorganisms and aging. It’s not as smart as Sangruse 9, nor as good with physical chemistry. Still, once you understand the full reality of what it can do, it’s a pretty scary item. And that’s the canonical Protea. In 2354, Protea was forked. A renegade Protea Society member breaks with the others and starts tweaking the device. The story emerges from that.

I’m trying to put together an action scene where renegade Ron Uhlein steals the 1Earth starship Vancouver. He succeeds (with Protea’s constant assistance) and in the process demonstrates to Sophia Gorganis that starships can be stolen. What she does with that knowledge is told in The Cunning Blood.

I need to catch up a little on Contra entries here. I have one partly written involving my All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything idea, and another about the COVID-19 coin shortage. Really. Remember: The universe is stranger than you can imagine…and I can imagine a lot.

Plaguewander

How serious is this lockdown thing? Well, I’ve won all 1600 boards on Mah Jong Titan. That includes all available premium board packs. If there were more I’d buy them. There aren’t. That doesn’t surprise me, given the work it must take to produce another 300 boards that only the occasional crazy like me will ever play.

I’ve played Mah Jong for decades, and not just to kill time. For me it’s a sort of mental palate-cleanser: I play a board or two when I need to shift gears from one project to another. When I move from working on Dreamhealer to some construction project out in the shop, I play a board to stop me from thinking about Dreamhealer, or at least to pull me down from obsession territory. It does work. I’m not sure why, given that Bejeweled doesn’t provide the same benefit, nor do any of several other games I’ve tried. My theory: Mah Jong depends to a great extent on memory. Playing well requires remembering which tiles are where on the board. You’d think that that would be no big trick, given that the board is already laid out in plain view. Not so. A few tiles stand out from the crowd. Most do not. If a move uncovers a four of bamboo, you had better know if there’s a four of bamboo elsewhere on the board. The games I play, at least, are played against a clock. You don’t have a minute to scan the whole board to spot that four of bamboo over in the lower-right corner. Dead-time adds up, and each board has a time limit. To win the board, you have to empty it within that time limit.

The creative life is all about memory. This is true of fiction, especially the fiction that I write, which is heavy on ideas, foreshadowing, and gradual reveals. Getting away from fiction means remembering other things for awhile. And because Mah Jong is a shallow memory challenge, it takes little or no effect to push a board full of tiles out of the forefront of my mind when it’s time to turn to something else.

-…- -…-

Carol and I did some shopping at Wal-Mart today. I don’t know if this was their innovation, but aisles at Wal-Mart are now one-way. This makes it easier to stay away from other shoppers, though it can be a nuisance at times. I tend not to go shopping when I’m feeling impatient. Mercifully, I was not feeling impatient this morning.

-…- -…-

While at Wal-Mart, we looked at Polish sausage and other sausage products. I typically eat a bratwurst or some other similar sausage for lunch. There was a run on such things for awhile, and I was unable to find the Hillshire Farms smoked sausage that I’d been lunching on for some time. We saw them at Wal-Mart today. I picked up a pack, and scanned the list of ingredients. Yikes; they now put MSG in their smoked sausage products. I originally chose them because they did not include MSG. Johnsonville sausage products, on the other hand, have been nonstarters here for years, because all their sausages contain MSG. Well, since I was reading labels anyway, I picked up a package of Johnsonville smoked bratwursts and scanned its ingredients. No MSG! So I bought some.

It is a puzzlement. Given how many people react badly to MSG, I have to wonder why sausage companies insist on using it. Does a sausage really taste better with MSG than without? I can’t tell the difference and never have.

-…- -…-

Cutting Board Before-500 Wide.jpg

54 years ago, I took wood shop at Lane Tech in Chicago. We built a number of projects, but the only one that survives is the heavy oak cutting board. My mom used it while I stilled lived at home, and I took it with me when I moved out and married Carol. So it’s been in use for all 54 of those years. The board’s saggita is now half an inch, so we flipped it over and now cut on what was the bottom face.

Alas, the two outer oak layers on the board started peeling away from the rest a few years ago. Food was getting caught in the resultant cracks, and I was afraid I’d have to toss it out. Not so: A little careful work with my chop saw and some belt sander time yielded a narrower but now far more hygienic cutting board. This may not last, and the day may come when I can’t cut any more layers off the edges. Still, 54 years is a long time to be using an artifact that you built yourself with your own hands.

-…- -…-

My fellow hams don’t need me to tell them that the bands are dead right now. The very occasional sunspot is so small I often wonder if it’s dirt on some telescope’s lens. Propagation is lousy. Working Wisconsin was a delight. Working Seattle almost knocked me off my chair. But beyond the current sunspot dearth, what really annoys me is the noise level. I thought for a long time that this was caused by the crappy switching power supplies inside every LED bulb in the house, which would be all of them but two. (The two incandescents are grow lamps for Carol’s African violets.) So I did the experiment last week: I shut off every piece of electronics (including the AC) and every damned lightbulb in the house.

The noise level did not change at all.

I can’t shut off the security system and really don’t want to. But I’ve had security systems in every house we’ve lived in since 1990, and have never had noise levels like this. The houses here are widely spaced (this is the land of half- to one-acre lots) so I suspect I’m not hearing the neighbors’ stuff. All the more reason to buy a 12V battery pack and enable the Icom IC-729 to run on battery power. If the power ever goes out in our neighborhood, I’ll make a beeline for the shack, to see if the noise level drops. That won’t help me work Wisconsin once the power comes back on, but at least it’ll narrow down the culprit list a little.

-…- -…-

Dreamhealer is coming along. I’m still doing some edits, but in truth, I’m waiting for the artist to finish the cover. I was going to release it at LibertyCon in June, but there will be no LibertyCon this year. My deadline, being dead, no longer has much force.

-…- -…-

Arizona is opening up. Carol’s going to her hairdresser to get her hair done on Tuesday for the first time in quite awhile. The next time I need a haircut (I know, I know, during the next Ice Age) I’ll be doing the same thing. We’re being careful, but we’re no longer cowering at home. I’m watching Arizona stats for a number of reasons, the main one being that we’re already most of the way to a long hot summer. Viruses in the Sun die in seconds. No data on how long they last in triple-digit air out of direct sunlight, but I suspect it shortens their viable stage by a lot. Viral load is, as best we can tell, a factor. So we don’t go to concerts or political rallies. (Actually, I have never gone to a political rally. Viruses are not the reason.) We used to go to sit-down restaurants maybe once a month. We have carryout service accounts now and know how to use them. Total Wine is open, as are most other stores that we frequent. My motto remains what it is and has always been:

All will be well. And all will be well. And every damfool thing in the universe will be well!

Monthwander

1943D Lincoln Cent - 500 Wide.jpg

The old pennies continue to arrive in my hand, at both McDonald’s drive-through and the Fry’s supermarket across the parking lot. Just yesterday I got a 40-year-old penny in change from my $1.09 coffee, again with plenty of mint luster. And about a week ago, something wonderful ker-chunged out of the Fry’s autocashier machine, after I fed it a twenty for some groceries. It was a 77-year-old penny, and one-of-a-kind for US coins: It was struck in steel in 1943, because in 1943 American bronze was going elsewhere, primarily into shell casings.

Although it certainly looks its age, the penny was clearly not a parking-lot penny. It had some dirt and oxide on it but none of the pits and scratches that parking-lot service will impress on a coin. Even when I was a kid they were curiousities. Ever so rarely we’d get one in change, and when we did we put them in our penny jars. I don’t think I’ve seen one in the wild since 1965 or so.

Now, if you remember, take a look at the pennies you get in change. I’d be curious to see how widespread this phenomenon is.

And the next time we get one of those little glass bottles of heavy cream, I think I’m going to start a penny bottle, with nothing but 20+ year old pennies in it.

_…_ _…_

In my spam bin a few days ago I found an email pitch for…wait for it…a Monkees fan convention. I will readily admit that I was a big Monkees fan when I was 14. The band recorded some good material, with the caveat that not all of it was used in the TV show, like their wonderful cover of the Mann/Weil song “Shades of Gray.” But a Monkees convention? Their show went off the air 52 years ago. Half of the Monkees are (alas) dead. Who’s the demographic? Sixtysomething Boomers? The con is real. If it were in the Southwest I might even be talked into attending, just to see who else shows up. (It’s in Connecticut.) It’s funny how I remember the TV show as being hilarious. Carol and I watched a few episodes on Netflex a couple of years ago. It had its moments, but I would not describe it as anything better than whimsical. Of course our standards for humor have gone up. That’s what standards do.

_…_ _…_

Summer weather in Scottsdale ended pretty abruptly last fall, skipped autumn entirely, and went right to winter. Of course, for us that means daily highs in the 50s and 60s, and nightly lows in the 40s. This year, we were dipping into the 30s in November. Carol’s had to cover some of her plants with old towels and pillowcases to protect them from radiative freezing, and that was even before the winter solstice. It’s been a mighty chilly year in a lot of places, including some you don’t generally associate with cold weather, like Saudi Arabia. You will not see anything mentioned in the MSM. Of course it’s weather. But line up enough weather in a row, and you get something else, heh.

We don’t get three dog nights here. (That’s a big part of why we’re here.) But we’ve been having some two-dog nights lately, even though there are six dog beds in the great room alone:

Two Dog Night - 500 Wide.jpg

_…_ _…_

Once again, a reminder: Those links and (very) short bits I used to do here as “Odd Lots” I’m now doing on Twitter. I have 512 followers, and that’s more people than those who read Contra regularly. You can find me on Twitter at @JeffDuntemann. I’ll probably be doing more of these “wander” items here, plus longer form essays as they occur to me.

Monthwander

Haven’t posted here in awhile, and in truth I have no viable excuses. I’ve been out of energy a lot, which concerns me, though I suspect it’s probably just being 66. Part of it is the depression of knowing that QBit, now 14, is dying of lymphoma. Well, the mobile vet came by today and told us that she can’t feel his swollen lymph nodes anymore. QBit was diagnosed last June, and a (different) vet told us he’d be gone in two months. Ten months after his diagnosis, he’s still playing dog soccer and still galloping down the main hall when he’s on his way to a meal. He’s mostly deaf and doesn’t see real well, but he can smell a jerky treat on the other side of the house. Part of our success may be do to a product called Apocaps, which encourage apoptosis (i.e., suicide) of cancer cells. Bio isn’t my field and I don’t know how it works, but it appears to work as designed. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than doggie chemo and doesn’t make him uncomfortable. It’s bought us months with him that I suspect we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And no, it’s not a cure. There will be an end, but the end is not in sight.

Most of the energy deficit, I suspect, comes from the energy expense of trying to keep things straight on our megamonstrous pool, deck, and patio remodel. We have a design. There are blueprints. Subcontractors, however, can be slippery. We’ve caught them in a couple of booboos before anything irreversible was done. Every time one of the subcontractors comes out, we watch them like hawks, and gently make sure that the crew knows we’re watching. If I see something that doesn’t align with the blueprint, I go out with my copy and start asking questions. This general approach works very well, though it’s time and energy-intensive.

One of the other issues is just getting the work done. Lots was supposed to be done this week. So far, nothing has–and it’s Friday. The waterline tile for the pool was put in last Saturday, though the contractor didn’t finish the job. That was a week ago. The new pool deck and sidewalk to the back door was poured three or four weeks ago, and coated with the “cool deck” material a week ago Wednesday. It’s gorgeous. They did a terrific job. Which is good: The old 1974-vintage deck was hot 70s pink, and badly coated with tan paint of some kind. The paint was flaking off, exposing the original hot pink deck. There were cracks all over, and some of the corners were just coming out in chunks.

Much of the work involving the pool was filling in the deep end. They had to chip off all the plaster, and then brought in 44 tons of roadbed material to take the depth from 9 1/2 feet up to 5. The fill was tamped thoroughly with a jumping jack machine. Then they laid down some rebar, (see below) and used gunite to create a new floor for the deep end that (roughly) aligned with the depth of the shallow end. All that is done now.

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It looked horrendous for a long time, especially since a week or more would sometimes go by without any work being done at all. Once the concrete for the deck was poured, it began to look like a swimming pool again, especially after the waterline tile went in.

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The new deck is wider for a reason: The older, narrow deck took some corners without a lot of room to maneauver, and all of the Pack except for QBit have missed a turn and gone into the drink. We’ve always been there to haul them out (they’re never in the yard without us, and have a fenced run to potty in) but wet Bichons have to be dried carefully or their hair will turn to felt. So we try to avoid having them get wet. (They’re good with that.)

The pool still looks gnarly and will until the plasterers show up. That was supposed to be Wednesday. No deal. So we’ll continue to wait. It’s certainly a lot less gnarly than it was:

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The other part of the project was extending our 10′ X 29′ roofed patio another 12 feet into the yard, with a new Alumawood shade structure over the extension, plus a new built-in barbecue grill. The entire 29′ X 32′ patio has travertine pavers now. The block-and-stucco barbecue shell is done. It will have a matching travertine top, and will be plumbed into the house’s natural gas main.

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The two posts in the photo are the two corner supports of the Alumawood shade structure. It’s going to be beautiful when it’s done. We’re probably a month out still before the last details are put to bed. Summer is icumen in; it was a very pleasant 72 today, but we’ve already had a few 95-ish days and lots of 80s. I do wish they’d pick up the pace a little.

I’ve also spent a lot of energy on Dreamhealer, my work-in-progress. The novel was getting long. Decisions had to be made: By the time a novel is 3/4 done, the protagonist’s Dark Moment should have already occurred. I was at 78,000 words and realized that Larry’s crisis was another 10,000 words off. I was forced to go back and carve out a whole character arc. It made sense once I realized that young teen James Jefferson Lane Jr. and his little sister Vickie were fun but didn’t help the novel move toward its conclusion. Cutting 8,000 words out of a novel always hurts. The pain was alleviated a little when I realized that I could flesh out Jimmy Jeff’s arc and make it a complete side-story, tied in with the novel but not an integral part of it. It’s also another SKU that I can sell for 99c on Kindle.

Dreamhealer is currently at 73,000 words, and closing in on Larry’s Dark Moment. The first draft completion date is supposed to be May 20. I am not a fast writer, granting that my finished first drafts need a lot less polishing than most people’s. I know how the novel ends, but am still a little fuzzy on how to get there from here. I vividly remember sitting in my chair in front of The Cunning Blood without a clue as to what should happen next. Then I started tapping keys. Apres moi, le scene. Do that enough, and you finish the novel. That doesn’t mean the process doesn’t get a little nerve-wracking in spots.

What energy remains I have spent exploring Minds.com and trying to figure out how EOS works. There’s something called Everipedia that works over EOS. It sounds a lot more like my 1994 All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything essay than Wikipedia. It’s distributed, based on blockchain tech, and has a process for becoming an editor that I still haven’t entirely figured out. The whole thing is gnarly as hell, but if that’s the future, I’d better stick a finger in and see what knowledge I can lick off. If it’s not the future, well, I’ll at least have been forced to figure out blockchain.

So bear with me. Lots going on here. Chronic fatigue may simply come from attempting too much, especially now in my midlate 60s. Things progress. We’ll see.

The End of Owgust

My father had a saying. (Actually, he had a lot of sayings, most of which you’ve long since heard.) This one I’m pretty sure he got from his mother, my grandmother, whom I heard use it a number of times: “The end of Owgust.” (If it came from Sade Prendergast Duntemann, it could well be an Irish thing; I don’t know.) It just means we’re coming to the end of something generally good, like summer vacation, which in truth used to last until the end of Owgust, but now often ends barely after Owgust even begins.

Here in Arizona, the end of Owgust is seen by many as a feature rather than a bug, since by a lot of Arizona people’s reckonings, Owgust begins in May and lasts until mid-September. By Labor day, most people would like to see nightly lows in the 70s again, so we can open our windows at night.

Carol and I tend to get a little tired of our four-month long Owgust as the end approaches, and we were planning to drive up to Colorado to spend some time with friends and see what air in the 60 degree range feels like again.

Not this year.

Our poor QBit was diagnosed with lymphoma a couple of months ago, and we can see his steady decline. We don’t know how long we’ll have him, but it’s unlikely to be more than another month or two. We didn’t want to subject him to an 850-mile road trip, so we stayed home and spent more time in the pool. Lymphoma was what took out our very first bichon, the famous Mr. Byte, in 1995, and is evidently the commonest cancer in dogs. We gave Mr. Byte doggie chemo, but it only bought us a few additional months with him, and made him pretty sick at times. We’re not going to do that again.

So if I’ve been a little short on manic enthusiasm lately, that’s most of the problem.

Other things are going pretty well. Little by little I’ve been getting used to the nasal pillows mask for my APAP machine, which is reporting AHI values generally less than 1, and here and there actually 0. I’m using the great free program Sleepyhead, which displays graphs of your AHI, whatever events it had to handle, mask pressure and leaks, and much more. If you use a recording C/A/BiPAP machine with a compatible SD card format, check it out. It’s told me a number of interesting things, like the fact that events cluster at the end of the night for some reason, and that I record more events when I sleep on my left side than on my right. Highly recommended.

I had some time to play around with my dirt-cheap HP dc7900 Ultra-Slim PC, and liked it so much I ordered another one. The first one was cheap at $37 (I had to provide a hard drive and Win7) but when I went out and looked again on eBay, I found a complete system, including a 64-bit dc7900 with a hard drive and Windows 7, plus power supply, keyboard, mouse, monitor stand, and a 19″ HP flat-panel monitor. The price? $65. For the woiks. Ok, I had to pay another $25 shipping, but that means I got a complete system dropped on my porch for $90. (Stock photo above, but that’s exactly how it looks, granted that the cables aren’t shown.)

dc7900 speaker 300 wide.jpgThe HP monitor stand is nice, certainly nicer than Dell’s. The dc7900 did not come with an internal speaker, but given the size of the speaker (my first machine has one) I doubt it’s good for much more than beeps. And if I ever want one, I can get a NOS unit on eBay for $5. (The Dell speakers for their USFF lines had built-in audio amps and much better fidelity.)

The system will replace an older Dell machine that Carol has been using for some time, with a slower processor and a maddeningly intermittent front panel that prevents her from plugging thumb drives into the front of the box. The machines are roughly the same size, but the Dell electronics have been twitchy, and the combo monitor stand horrendous. The old machine has external speakers, so the HP’s near-microscopic squeakplate won’t be an issue. The HP is newer, and the Dell cost me three times as much when I bought it five years ago.

Overall, a huge win!

Finally, seeing listings on eBay for sales lots of literally hundreds of used “cube machines” like the dc7900, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s the end of Owgust for the ordinary, non-gamer desktop PC industry. You don’t need a lot of crunch power for word processing, spreadsheets, local databases, or (most of) the Web. Even with only 4GB installed, I streamed a whole movie on the first dc7900 without a glitch. So these machines are perfectly usable for ordinary people doing ordinary computer-y things. You can spend $500+ for a desktop box at Best Buy…or you can get the whole damned system from eBay for $90, delivered. They’re not new. But they’re clean, small, and rugged. Parts are available on eBay, from the crappy little microspeaker up to whole motherboards–though at these prices, I consider the machines disposable and won’t be replacing any misbehaving mobos.

A lot of desktops are being replaced by laptops, which is really where the action is these days, as well as the high prices manufacturers prefer to get. If you’re going to stick with a boring desktop PC, you might as well get one used for 75% (or more) off retail. I’ve got a big hulking custom Core I5-2400 quad, which I’ve used since 2012, and it’s still more than fast enough for my needs. Furthermore, it’s in a Thermaltake V9 Blacx case with SATA sockets on the top panel for backup drives. Damned useful. I could get a faster mobo for it, but…why?

This all reminds me of a Contra entry I posted back in 2009, about how with cars (and silverware) lasting a lot longer than in years past, we need to manufacture fewer cars and less silverware to avoid saturating the market. The same goes for PCs. As each wave of compact cubicle machines comes off depreciation and heads for eBay, the price of a perfectly usable desktop machine goes down. Even if the $65 deal I got last week was unusual, it won’t be for long. Keep your eyes open.

Water vs. Electrons

I’ve been refining a heuristic for most of my adult life: Electrons scream in terror at my approach (I used to think this was just audio feedback) but water spits in my face.

It’s truly weird looking back across the 40 years that I’ve owned houses. Carol and I are now on our eighth house. At every turn, water was our adversary:

  • At our house in Chicago, we had ice dams in our gutters that caused significant interior leaks and paint damage, during that nasty winter of ’78-79. Also, I put a pipe wrench on a plugged fitting in the basement to replace it…and the fitting crushed into rust, forcing me to call a plumber to finish the job.
  • At our house in Rochester NY, we had water come up through cracks in the basement floor after every bad rain, and again when the snow melted in the spring. The upstairs shower drain leaked down onto the kitchen ceiling once, requiring some significant repair.
  • At our house in Baltimore, a weird combination hot water heater/furnace gave us relatively cool hot water, and not a lot of heat for the house. We only lived there for 23 months; sooner or later I suspect we’d have experienced much worse.
  • At our house in California, the World Series Earthquake in 1989 rocked our hot water heater against its pipes, breaking one of them and flooding the laundry room with hot water. The quake also opened the cabinets across from the hot water heater and dumped several cans of paint on the flooded floor. One can opened up, giving us a laundry room full of hot watery latex paint.
  • At our first house in Scottsdale, a chimney pipe installed upside down funnelled rain water into our bedroom ceiling, causing the wallboard to soften and collapse. Also, the water pressure there was so high that it broke the main water feed to the house, creating a sinkhole.
  • At our second house in Scottsdale, the water pipes under the slab were leaking, and our first monthly water bill was for 30,000 gallons that leaked into the dirt before we even moved into the house.
  • At our house in Colorado Springs, the drain run from the air conditioner plugged up, slowly leaking many gallons of condensate under the downstairs great room carpeting, forcing us to replace all the carpeting on that level. Earlier, after a bad rain the poorly compacted soil under our sidewalk settled, reducing the sidewalk to heaving slabs of rubble. The same thing happened (more slowly) to our driveway.
  • At our new house here in Phoenix, we have already had leaks from the water softener (which I simply bypassed) the reverse osmosis unit (which I replaced) and the continuous icemaker, which I junked. We have a kegerator that I’ve (mercifully) never tried. Mopping up water is bad enough. Mopping up beer–no thanks.

Which brings us to the current day. Yesterday morning Carol woke up to find that her side of the waterbed mattress cover was wet. QBit was sleeping at the corner of the bed, and since he’s about to turn 13, we thought he might have let go during the night. But no–this moisture smelled of plasticizers, not pee. After stripping the bed, we found a small puncture, a slit maybe 1/8″ long, oozing water. It may have been oozing water for a long time. Because it was a puncture, it wasn’t covered under the waterbed’s warranty. The bed is barely two years old. The puncture was on the side of the mattress, not the top, so it’s hard to blame on the dogs, or us, or in fact anything, beyond a sense that water really doesn’t like us.

We’ve had waterbeds for almost 35 years now. We’ve never had one fail. So I shrugged and attached a hose to siphon the remaining water out of the waveless mattress. The siphon got most of the water out. However, a waveless mattress has these fiber batts in it to damp water oscillation. The batts don’t let go of their water easily. A siphon won’t do it. What remains in the waterbed frame is a plastic bag full of saturated fiber batts, the whole California King-sized thing weighing so much that I can’t get it out of the frame to dump it.

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I will have a husky water pump tomorrow morning. Assuming that the pump does suck, I’ll be rid of the mattress by noon. Since the waterbed will soon be empty, we’re going to replace the cheap-ass carpeting in the master bedroom with super-duper pet-stain resistant berber. So there was a hint of silver lining inside that watery cloud.

And we will be ordering a 70s-style “full motion” waterbed mattress, without any damfool foam batting inside it. We had those for years before waveless mattresses were invented. They had their costs (rock’n’roll) and their benefits (guess!) but once the mattresses were empty, I could lift them with one hand.

Water remains my adversary, but I learn fast, and only make mistakes like that once.

The Other Fry’s

Sure, you’ve got Amazon Prime. (I do too.) But I have something that (most of) you don’t have: Fry’s Electronics. It’s a 12-mile drive from here, so I can’t just dash over anytime I want, like I can to Artie’s Ace Hardware. However, I realized after stopping in after a 15-year hiatus the other day that I need to go there more often.

Fry’s is hard to describe. It’s a double-big box store, done up in Aztec decor to look something like a pyramidal temple. It’s the ultimate nerd supply house, and has everything you might expect: motherboards, memory sticks, power supplies, cases, monitors, hard drives, Flash drives, software, and so on. Want to build your own desktop? It’s all there. However, Fry’s is remarkable for going even deeper into the wild country of the word “electronics,” right down to resistors and capacitors, soldering stations, shrink tubing and wire in any color you could name, and aluminum chassis. Good lord, they even have panel meters. Tools, wow: multitesters of every sort, needle-nose pliers, dykes (sorry; I still call them that), Dremels, Internet cable connector crimpers, and on for page upon page.

It gets a little nuts after that: toys, kites, CDs, DVDs, candy, all kinds of snacks, light bulbs, night lights, swamp coolers, refrigerators, camping gear, CB radios (!!), and fifteen varieties of fidget spinner. There was a display of something I truly don’t understand: body shapers (which is I think the generic term for things like Spanx) printed to look like bluejeans. Yes, I know, there are plenty of women nerds…but underwear in a resistor shop?

Crazy world.

Why was I there? I’ve noticed over the past year that the Mozilla codebase has grown ever more memory-hungry. Waterfox has taken to gagging with just six or seven tabs open. I’ve been meaning to add more RAM to my quadcore for some time, on general principles. It started out as an XP machine, and so had a scant 4 GB since I bought it. Now I had an excuse. Windows 7 Pro 64-bit can manage 192 GB of RAM, so throwing 16 GB at it is no big deal. But since I dropped those sticks into the quad, I haven’t heard the least little feep out of Waterfox.

Excellent prices, overwhelming selection, and people in the aisles who know what they’re talking about. Still another expression of the boggling richness of Phoenix’s retail sector. Fry’s Electronics is legally unrelated to Fry’s supermarkets, but was created by the sons of the man who founded the supermarket chain. If you’re ever in town for some reason, make sure you go over there. If you do, call me and I’ll come along.

Buy some hot pink shrink tubing. Dare ya!

Monthwander

Wow. We’re almost out of July, and until today I’ve posted only one entry here this whole month. I won’t make excuses. Ok, a few: I was traveling the first week of the month, and came back only to have extensive oral surgery a couple of days later. I had two teeth pulled, two bone grafts done on the sockets, and implant posts placed where two of my other teeth had previously gone missing, one of them in the early 1990s. I was on heavy-duty painkillers for a couple of days, during which time I mostly read books that didn’t require a lot of brain cells. Writing was just not on the menu.

Nor was eating. For the first five or six days I subsisted on Glucerna, cottage cheese, and scrambled eggs. Eating was unpleasant. I lost five pounds. Eating is still tricky (and not entirely pleasant) because I have gaps (with stitches) on both sides of my mouth, so chewing on just one side isn’t an option. Chewing with my front teeth works to some extent, although I feel like a hamster when I do it. I haven’t eaten this much cottage cheese since, well, never.

This has made me grouchy. I wrote a rant for Contra here a few days ago that was so grouchy I’m still not entirely sure I’m going to post it. Let me think on that a little.

I began to suspect I was coming back to life when I got another thousand words down on Dreamhealer. It was supposed to be a short novel. True to my pattern, it’s getting more complex all the time, and I seriously doubt I’ll be able to pull it off in 50,000 words. I’ve already got 16,000 words down, and am just now getting out of second gear.

Dreamhealer is a very recent idea, and I haven’t said a lot about it. Here’s the elevator pitch:

A lucid dreamer discovers he can enter and heal the nightmares of others, and declares war on the mysterious creatures living in the collective unconscious that create nightmares and then feast on the terror that they invoke.

My back-cover hook is this:

Meet Larry. He’s your worst nightmare’s worst nightmare.

It’s a bit of a departure for me. It’s got nerds, PDP-8s, dogs, romance, programmable thought-forms, and some very weird dream footage. Oh, and something else: Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameral psychology. I mentioned this in my May 10, 2017 entry about berserk Marian apparitions. Back in May I hadn’t re-read Jaynes’ book yet, and a lot of what I’ve done in the last two weeks has been devouring as much of Jaynes’ thought as I can manage. His book has hands-down the longest title of any in my library: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He’s not a dazzling writer, and given my generally foul mood, I managed to slog through no more than a chapter a day. There is an interesting (and far better written) gloss on Jaynes’ theory in the book The Dark Side of God by Douglas Lockhart, which I reread after finishing Jaynes. Quite honestly, I don’t recommend the book on its own merits, but Lockhart had some useful insights on bicameral thought and the origins of religion.

One of my friends asked me the other day: “Whyinhell aren’t you writing the sequel to The Cunning Blood?” Good question, especially since I got the idea for The Cunning Blood (and the whole Gaeans Saga, including the Drumlins stories) almost exactly twenty years ago, in mid-July 1997. The easy answer is that I’ve never written a sequel and am not entirely sure how to go about it. I’ve got some characters (including an AI Oscar Wilde) some tech gimmicks, a few action scenes, but no plot to speak of. I do have a prolog for the story, which I published here some time back.

Honestly, guys, when I finish Dreamhealer, I’m going to finally take a good run at The Molten Flesh. Really. Cross my heart and hope to have more damned teeth pulled, which right about now strikes me as worse than dying.

Tripwander

Colorado Springs blizzard 04-2017

How do you spell “relief?” O..N..E….H..O..U..S..E.

Yes indeedy. Carol and I now own only one house, and we live in it. We bought our Arizona house in the summer of 2015, and since then have been bouncing back and forth, getting this house livable, which was more work than we expected (especially since it’s only two-thirds the size of our Colorado house) and getting the other house cleaned up, placed on the market, and sold.

It’s done, sold, closed, nailed, finis.

We are not real estate people. We are homebodies. And when you have two homes, it gets awkward remembering which home is real home, and which home is a burden that you worry too much about. For us, the home you worry about is the home you’re not in, and when you have two homes there’s always one that you’re not in.

I go on at some length about this because having two houses was making us nuts. So when we finally (after the house was most of a year on the market) got and accepted an offer, the potential relief was palpable. I say “potential,” because we couldn’t just FedEx papers around, as we had done a time or two in the past. Our Colorado house still contained some furniture and other oddments that had to be either gotten rid of or brought back. So we loaded the Pack in the hold, roared north, and got to work.

First discovery: It’s illegal to sell used beds in Colorado, and (for all I know) most other places. It was either find friends who could use a nice wireless cal-king Sleep Number bed, or trash it. Luck was with us: We had friends who were moving to a larger house, with a spare bedroom in need of equipment. Pulling the thing apart was interesting; I took photos at every stage and put them on a thumb drive, so that David and Terry would have some chance of putting it back together again. (They did.)

Second discovery: Large houses are subject to crannyism, which means that they have so many places that you forget some of those places are not yet empty. We made a couple of unplanned trips to Goodwill, and when the time came to fill a U-Haul trailer for the trip home, we found it much fuller than we had planned. How did we manage to miss a beach bag full of snorkels and flippers when we packed the place? How? How? And two suitcases plus a duffel? Kites? 8′ lengths of aluminum strap? An entire Craftsman tool chest? What about about our 1975 Encyclopedia Britannica?

That was a close one: The buyers wanted it. Whew.

The good Stickley furniture all sold for real money. The old and so-so furniture went to the Rescued Hearts thrift store. The ratty stuff went out on the curb. (A lot of Aleve went down the hatch from all that shlepping.) A few odd items (including my 1937 Zenith cathedral radio) went to friends. It was a great deal of work for a couple of sixtysomethings who mostly wanted it to be over so they could go home and jump in their pool.

Oh, and then Colorado Springs gave us a going-away present: an April blizzard. Close to a foot of very dense, wet snow fell one night at our rental house, and the cracks and bumps we heard circa 0300 were branches breaking loose of the large trees everywhere in the neighborhood and thumping down on roofs. The fact that it was 30 degrees that night was an underappreciated blessing: Another ten or fifteen degrees colder and we would have been up to our necks. The city made itself abundantly clear: Don’t let the snow shovels hit you on the way out.

Not to worry, Colorado Springs.

We stayed a few extra days for the Tarry-All dog show in Denver, where we were grooming a blinding-white dog in a roofed but otherwise open cattle pen with floors made of gritty brown stuff that may or may not have been dirt. The second day we were coping with 50 MPH wind gusts, and ran into several mini-haboobs on the way home.

The drive from the Springs back to Phoenix was uneventful, beyond the feeling of the wind trying to turn your high-profile trailer on its side. Carol is as good as company gets, and the dogs had enough sense to chill out in their kennels and not make me any crazier than I already was.

We’re still unpacking boxes and trying to figure out where everything goes. However, I think it’s significant that when I took my blood pressure today, it was lower than I had seen it in years. The back of my head finally allowed itself to relax, and for good reason:

There is now only one Home, and we are in it. All the rest will fall into place.

Daywander

Drilling U-Channel - 500 Wide.jpg

There’s been an unexpected irruption of normalcy here, while we sail upon the whine-dark seas of modern American life. (I’ve been wanting to use the word “irruption” here, correctly, for some time.) What this means is that I’ve been able to do some of what I want to do, and not merely what my do-it list tells me I have to do. It won’t last, but while it does I’m going to make the most of it.

A number of people have suggested that I write a few short novels to get the size of my list up a little. I wrote Drumlin Circus (53,000 words) in only six weeks, after all. But as I recall, those were very full weeks. So a month or so ago I got an idea for a new short novel, and I’m glad to say I now have 6,300 words down on it; figure 12% or so. It’s whimsical, and whether or not it’s fantasy depends heavily on whether you believe that the collective unconscious is real or not. I’d like to bring it in at between 50,000 and 60,000 words, so don’t expect all-new built-from-scratch universes a la The Cunning Blood. However, I do promise a trademark Jeff Duntemann mayhem-filled action climax.

And a dream repairman. I mean that: A guy who drops into your nightmares and hands you your pants while he gives you directions to calculus class. People who have nightmares love him. The nightmares, well, not so much.

My old writer friend Jim Strickland and I are going to attempt something interesting to keep our productivity up: a chapter challenge. Starting February 1, we’re going to dare each other to get a certain amount of story down in a week, and then exchange that’s week’s worth of story for some quick critique. He’s working on the sequel to Brass & Steel: Inferno and needs a gentle noodge. I need one too, though sometimes what I really need is a two-boot noodge right in the glutes. Neither of us has ever done anything quite like this before. I’ll post reports here as things happen.

Even the do-it list has yielded some things that are actually fun, including a bit of metalwork to make an aluminum grating for my particle board shelves to rest on out in the pool shed (against the several times a year when a hard rain gets under the door and soaks the floor) and mounting some Elfa hardware on the opposite shed wall.

Drilling three 8′ pieces of U-channel for the grate took a little finesse in my slightly cramped workshop. The drill press is where it is (close to the center of the space) for a reason. (See the photo at the top of this entry.) The next major project (as time allows) is getting a solid ground for my station and antennas. I have an 8′ ground rod. I need some bentonite, and a post hole digger. After that, le RF deluge…