Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

January 4th, 2009:

Missed Opportunities

Carol and I had lunch today at the Black Bear Cafe, and while working on my canonical half Carson Club (a ham-and-swiss with bacon; I tell ’em to hold the tomatoes) the muzak played “Down Under” by Men At Work. I recalled that, back in (presumably) 1982, when the song hit #1 here, I missed an opportunity to actually try Vegemite, famously mentioned in the song. We lived in Rochester, NY at the time, where I was writing data validation software for Xerox. At one of the Rochester Science Fact and Fiction Association potlucks, somebody had brought a jar of vegemite and put it out in a bowl for us to try. I looked at it with some interest, but Alice Insley (now Bentley) leaned over and said “Don’t. It’s awful.” (At least I think it was Alice, but sheesh, that was 27 years ago!)

So I passed on Vegemite, and it and I have not crossed paths at all in the ensuing years. Reading about the famous brown beer-yeast goop on Wikipedia made me ponder what other opportunities I have missed in my life. One was Microsoft stock: I told my broker to buy some when MS went public in 1986, and she didn’t, telling me later that she “couldn’t find any.” Bummer. (I’d be worth about $20M now if she had.) I passed on a very good job right out of college, working as a tech editor for an orthopedic surgery magazine associated with the Northwestern University medical school. It involved scrubbing up and observing surgeries right there in the operating room, and then documenting the procedures that they were developing at the time. The job paid $12.5K/year, which was a fortune for a liberal arts grad during the 1974 recession. I took a job performing surgeries on Xerox machines instead, for about 35% less money. Hey, I have a touchy stomach. Nothing like explosive vomiting in the operating room, eh? But I could have gotten into publishing eleven years sooner than I eventually did.

That’s about it. Keith and I talked vaguely about starting a magazine called Digital Camera Techniques back when digital cameras were still mighty exotic (I think 1995 or 1996) and decided not to. Shame. That might have been fun, but whether I could have masterminded two magazines simultaneously was a serious question. A digital camera mag was not a sure thing, either–one can be too far ahead of the curve as easily as too far behind it.

Life did not offer me a great many interesting opportunities, and those that it did offer I mostly took: Carol, Clarion, Ziff-Davis, Borland, and Keith’s famous interjection, “Hey, we could publish our own damned magazine!” I had a chance to resurrect Carl & Jerry, and I did. Mostly I was careful, and kept a low profile compared to some of my gonzo friends.

It’s a family tradition. In late 1951, when my father was about to graduate from engineering school, he was offered a job with an oil company in downtown Caracas, Venezuela. He wanted to go, but my mother was sure that Venezuela was nothing but steaming jungle. (She was a nurse; I suspect she was worried about malaria, etc.) I was born less than a year later. What would life have been like had I spent my first ten years in South America? I’d speak fluent Spanish now. I’d have seen the Magellanic Clouds. Beyond that, who knows? There are linear lives, and fractal lives. I have instinctively chosen a linear life. I’m good with that–but sometimes it makes ya wonder…