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June, 2022:

Odd Lots

  • I hurt my back and had to cancel a trip to Chicago to see family, and then to Chattanooga for Libertycon, which is the only con I go to anymore. Now, two weeks before my 70th birthday, I have to remind myself that, weight training or no weight training, lifting and carrying heavy things can be a hazard to your health.
  • Health, yeah. New medical research from South Australia shows a causal relationship between low vitamin D levels and dementia. Vitamin D has a number of benefits, most of which have been known for years. Carol and I have an ace in the hole: We’re in Arizona, where cloudy days are rare, so we get a lot more sunlight than we used to. And we take a 5000 IU supplement every morning, mostly because we’re not kids anymore, and D synthesis declines with age, sunshine or no sunshine. Bottom line: Don’t be D-ficient.
  • I dunno, but it sure looks like all the recent Corvettes we’ve seen here around town look like a car that some giant foot stepped on. Not to be outdone by Chevy, Cadillac is fielding the same profile. We giggle every time they go by.
  • I’ve never heard of “foot pool” before, but it looks like a lot of fun. Most of the activity I see mentioned online are from the UK.
  • Bet you never wanted to read the history of canned wine, eh? Well, here it is. I clearly remember drinking a can of white zinfandel among friends circa 1971. Nothing about it seemed odd to me then, as I had yet to encounter conventional wine culture.
  • New research suggests that THE MOST HIDEOUSLY DANGEROUS DEADLY DRUG IN THE ENTIRE COSMOS DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT has anticancer properties. More research is planned, if the poor researchers are ever allowed to lay hands on the stuff.
  • Can we literally throw things into orbit? A startup named SpinLaunch has built a small-scale proof-of-concept launching machine, and has managed to throw a 9-foot payload up as high as 30,000 feet. Fuel, water, atmosphere, clothes? Though the article does not state an acceleration in g’s, it’s gotta be intense, and way beyond what living material can stand. But for provisioning space stations it could be just the thing. Good luck, guys.
  • Wow. I didn’t know this: Big dust clouds near the center of our galaxy taste like…raspberries. Oh, and they smell like rum. Alas, it’s just the ethyl formate talking.
  • A new research paper out of the New England Journal of Medicine has found that in a small trial of a new drug called dostarlimab, with a cohort of 18 colorectal cancer patients, the remission rate was…100%. Dostalimab is a monoclonal antibody originally intended to treat endometrial cancer. Researchers think it may be a much more general cancer treatment, and new studies are planned.
  • And here’s another: A study conducted at the University of Toronto showed that toddlers who grew up with dogs (but not cats) appear to have some protection against Crohn’s Disease. The article doesn’t say that having a cat nullifies the protection, only that growing up with cats has no similar effects.
  • Finally, Amazon must have thought I was Geoffrey Chaucer. Or that the man was WAYYYYY ahead of his time. (Read the page closely.)

Is Substack Special?

Sometime very early this year, probably January, a reader asked me in an email what I thought of Substack, and if Contra would be better off there. She likes my work, and told me she “binged” on my old entries. At the time, I’d heard of Substack but never looked at it. Over the last couple of days I googled on the site, went there, and learned a great deal about it.

The answer is no. I’ll be 70 in three weeks, and I don’t have the stamina to try to blog for money. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been sorely tempted. No more. I have my loyal readers, and I don’t need the money that badly. But…but…if I were on Substack, I’d be famous!

No. Anybody can be on Substack. If I were already famous, I might try it. But I’m not. (I do have a certain fame. It’s five miles deep and three inches wide.)

Basically, Substack is Kindle for newsletters. And newsletters in this context are long-form blog entries. You can charge readers a subscription fee, minimum $5/month, or any dollar amount greater than that. (Newsletters can also be free if you prefer.) Readers can then read your entries on the Web, or on the iPhone app. (They’ve been a thing since 2017, and they don’t yet have an Android app? That’s just, well, stupid. They say they’re working on one. Sheesh, I hope so!)

Substack has thousands of newsletters, and as of the end of 2021, over a million paid subscribers. The top 10 writers in aggregate make $20M per year. That’s better money than I’ve ever made doing anything. But if you look at who the top ten writers are, it becomes painfully obvious: All of them were famous working in other venues long before Substack ever existed.

I’ve read Andrew Sullivan sporadically for a lot of years. I read him on the late suck.com back in the ’90s and lots of other places since. He’s the #5 writer on Substack. He’s interesting, funny, and doesn’t bend the knee to partisan bitchlords demanding unquestioning allegiance. I haven’t subscribed yet, but I may. He’s damned good.

Other writers I’ve heard of and read elsewhere include Bari Weiss, Matthew Iglesias, Matt Taibbi, and Glenn Greenwald. (Greenwald is #1 on Substack.) A chap I know, Tom Knighton, has three different Substack newsletters. (You’re not limited to one.) I’m sure other people out on the edges of my circles have Substack newsletters. (Have one? Let me know!) However, I’m guessing that there’s an 80/20 rule on Substack (or maybe a 90/10 rule) stating that 20% of the writers make 80% of the money. That’s the rule in a lot of business models, Kindle included.

That may just be the way the universe works. You have to build a platform, as the agents put it. In other words, you have to promote yourself, especially if you don’t already have a pre-existing reputation and thousands of cheering fans. As some of my self-published author friends on Kindle have learned, you sometimes have to do so much promoting that you don’t have the time (or the energy) to write new material.

So I won’t be there. I’m having too much fun on 20M and writing new SF. What, then, do I think? No question: It’s worth it, if you’re young and energetic and can write interesting text on a definable topic on a regular basis that at least a few people might pay $5 a month for. I have one concern about Substack’s viability: They do not currently discriminate against conservative writers, or centrist writers who don’t care for progressive dudgeon. Apparently a number of progressive writers have ditched Substack because–the horror!–Substack doesn’t censor conservative viewpoints.

Not yet. If they ever start, it’ll be the end of them. In the meantime, you have your choice of a very broad spectrum of very good writers. A lot of the posts are free, and you can sample any author you want. I’m budgeting myself four paid subscriptions, not because it’s expensive, but because there are only so many hours in a day.

Go take a look. I was moderately impressed.