Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Odd Lots

  • Don Lancaster has released a free PDF of his classic RTL Cookbook . No catch. Just go get it.
  • One serious problem with legalizing marijuana, for medical use or otherwise, is that there is no one “marijuana.” Like breeds of dogs, weed comes in a multitude of varieties, with various strengths and compositions and effects on human beings. You simply can’t predict what will happen to you when you take it, which isn’t what I like to see in medical therapies–or, for that matter, recreational activities.
  • This is good, but not for the reasons you might think: If Macmillan is consigning much of its backlist to a POD agreement with Ingram/Lightning Source, the line between “conventional” publishers and POD publishers begins to get blurry indeed. That’s good, as discrimination against POD titles by reviewers and other gatekeepers in the publishing and retailing businesses has been very discouraging. Mainstreaming POD has got to happen at some point, and the gatekeepers will have to–gasp!–evaluate titles on their own merits. (But that’s…work!)
  • Those who think cellular phones were the first mobile phone technology are almost forty years off, as this excellent detailed history of mobile (car) telephony shows. This stuff was huge (as in takes up much of your trunk), hot (as in temperature), and fiendishly expensive, but over a million people were using it in 1964. Love those early-60s control heads!
  • I just heard that a lost and never-performed composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams has been discovered in the Cambridge University Library, and will soon be performed for the very first time. He’s my all-time favorite composer, and it’s delightful to think that there’s still something he’s written that I have never heard. (Thanks to Scott Knitter for the link.)
  • We got missed (barely) by a 35-foot asteroid yesterday, but I’m guessing that there are plenty more where that came from. And does 35 feet qualify one as an asteroid? I would think they had to be bigger than that. I would call it “modestly scary space debris.”
  • Maybe you have to have been an electronics geek for 47 years (like me) to appreciate the humor, but this made me laugh. Hard.


  1. Carrington Dixon says:

    It seems that we have more interests in common than I had thought. RVW is one of my favorite composers, too.

    As you like (at least some) classic al composers, I am surprised that your article on the Lyke Wake Dirge mentions Pentangle but not Benjamin Britten, whose setting was my first encounter with the poem.

    1. I know of Britten and have some of his music here, and while I’ve heard of his arrangement of the tune, I’ve never heard it. Let me see if Amazon has it among their 99c MP3s and I’ll buy it. Yes, it deserves to be in my article, and will update it soonest.

      I like a lot of classical composers, including most of the Great Russians and nearly all of the English Romantics. I prefer music with strong melodic lines; too much subtlety or atonality and I start getting restless. Classic settings of folk tunes are among my favorites–it’s not for nothing that the folk have been humming them for hundreds of years.

      My top three are probably RVW, Gustav Holst, and Percy Grainger.

      1. Carrington Dixon says:

        Amazon has it for 99c. It’s the fifth part of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. You will probably have to look for Britten Serenade to find.

        1. Just bought it…though I confess I’m a little disappointed in the melody, which bears little or no resemblance to the Pentangle version. Very dramatic in an operatic way, but lacking in the quiet spiritual intensity of the other version. Great Halloween music, though!

          1. Carrington Dixon says:

            Yeah. I listened to the free bit of Pentangle’s version and they couldn’t be much more different. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, there are two melodies commonly associated with the LWD; Britten uses one and Pentangle uses the other.

            I’ve been listening to the Britten recording since it was new, and I’m imprinted. I can even understand Peter Pears pronunciation, which is usually considered an accomplishment.

            Amazon has downloads of various versions of LWD by everybody from Igor Stravinsky to Buffy Sainte-Marie. There’s something there for everybody, and something to offend everybody, too.

            (Among classical versions, the one by Vagn Holmboe sounds less operatic and more spiritual; though, I’m not even sure what language is setting in. (Holmboe is Danish.)

  2. It’s a mistake to conflate POD, a production technology, with a specific type of publisher. To the extent that POD titles are discriminated against, it’s because most of them are actually self-published books. There are exceptions, but the quality of most self-published books is so bad that it’s not worth sorting through the chaff to find those rare kernels of good stuff.

    The reason why so few people even consider buying self-published books is that there is no gatekeeper. When a real publisher publishes a book, they’re investing many thousands of dollars to get it into print and into the bookstores, a gamble that they obviously make only if they think the book is a good one. When a self-publisher publishes a book, that independent evaluation is absent. (Of course, even traditional publishers are publishing books that wouldn’t have formerly made the grade. Sometimes I think they don’t even use copy editors any more.)

    If traditional publishers begin using POD for new material rather than just backlist stuff, I think it’s safe to assume that even more bad books will end up being published. There’s nothing magical about the publishers’ gatekeeper function. If it no longer costs a lot of money to publish a new title, you can bet at least some of the publishers will shift to throw-it-up-there-and-see-what-sticks-to-the-wall. This is not good news for competent authors.

    The real kicker from the authors’ point of view is that traditionally rights reverted to the author when a book went out of print. With POD, is that book ever out of print? The publishers will argue that it’s not, and therefore the rights will never revert to authors.

    1. You might be surprised how little expertise conventional print publishers being to bear on the evaluation of book proposals and series proposals. This is one major reason why publishing is in such bad shape right now, and why certain presses (O’Reilly comes to mind) field so many more hits, and waste so much less money on bad titles, than other and often far larger presses: They spend money on high-quality gatekeepers.

      The real problem, as in many industries, is that mainstream publishers are trying to do the same job with cheaper and generally less experienced people. They don’t do much training, because training is expensive. They steal people from other publishers when they can (Coriolis lost a lot of good people to bigger presses) and use new grads when there’s nobody to be stolen. The key isn’t copy editors but acquisitions editors, who were at one time the most experienced and valuable editors (the term as applied to them is a bit of a misnomer) in the stable. They were expected to know the field and were often promoted to the title after fifteen or twenty years in dev edit or copy edit. They are supposed to be the front-line gatekeepers, but without experience and a certain gut-sense for a topic or genre they’re signing for, they try to do things “by spreadsheet” or some sort of formula, and the result is more bad books getting into the catalog. One reason Coriolis did as well as we did is that Keith and I handled a lot of the acquisitions, and we personally trained our acquisitions staff, even when we’d become a middling house with 100+ people on staff and 130+ new titles per year.

      My point in the post is that once publishers no longer have to spend as much on print and inventory management costs, they will have to develop some sort of smarts allowing books to be judged on their merits–otherwise their line will drown in the torrent of terrible books put out at little publisher risk by a multitude of tiny and cheap houses that are now kept down by the capital costs of the business as it’s done today. My hope is that they will take what they no longer spend on printing and inventory management and invest it in editors who know the topic or genre. Were I doing the publishing thing today, I would look for an experienced agent who’s burning out on the hustle aspect of agenting (it’s not an easy business and very uncertain money) and would like a reliable job doing more or less the same thing. Agents know more about book quality than any new grad, even a new grad from frakking Harvard.

      Even without POD, there are increasingly common contract tricks that make no book ever really “out of print” and thus in many cases rights do not revert, ever. Publishers do this in case an author goes somewhere else and scores a hit–they can then bring the original title out of limbo and reprint it without renegotiating the contract. Big names like you and me may be able to duck that kind of sleaze, but many authors trying to break in have no choice. (One guy told me, “Your first novel is a gift to the publisher.)

  3. Lee Hart says:

    RTL cookbook? Where would you find any RTL to cook with? 🙂

    The mobile phone link was dead. But I already know mobile phones go back a long way. A good friend in high school had one in his VW in 1969 (and that was on a high school student’s income).

    As a ham, I had a few early tube mobile phones that I converted for ham use. The oldest was a Motorola “coffin case” radio from about 1950, with a dynamotor power supply and octal tubes. Indeed, that one had a great steampunkish handset, complete with rotary dial.

    1. My local junkshop (OEM Parts) has buckets full of the stuff. Of course, there’s no reason to use it if you have CMOS, but it’s interesting that Don’s turned it loose. It was the first book I ever bought on IC technology and so it had an influence on me out of scale to its pertinence today.

    2. Tom R. says:

      I still have a few RTL flat-Pack chips in the junk box! They were the first IC’s I got my hands on to play with.

      It has been about 38 years ago and the memory may be rusty, but I seem to remember seeing RTL chips in some of the early sensors we dropped in Laos and Vietnam. I worked more on the software side of things over there, but I did get permission to take one sensor apart after we managed to by pass the destruct device, and I think I remember seeing some RTL parts in there. I was MUCH younger and more foolish back then too.

      1. I never built anything with RTL but Don’s book on it taught me a lot. My first projects were with TTL, and I dumped that as soon as CMOS got cheap enough for basement tinkerers. Put enough TTL chips in a project and you needed an arc welder supply to feed them; CMOS pretty much ended that problem.

    3. The mobile phone history page was working when I checked it just now. It was linked from Gizmodo I think (which was where I saw it) and I wonder if he had a little trouble handling the sudden traffic.

    4. Jeff Rice says:

      Since RTL chips were made of just a few NPNs and resistors, Don’s book is still a good source for cooking up discrete circuits (for those who enjoy that sort of retro thing). With el cheapo bipolars at less than a nickel in quantity, and resistors less than a penny, a discrete version of a quad gate RTL chip would run under half a buck — much less in real terms than the chip price during RTL’s heyday.

      Using discretes, I expect I’ll try cooking up some of the non-logic circuits in the book, such as monostables and op-amps (an op-amp with 3 transistors … can that really work???). Thanks for the link, Jeff, and thanks to Don for the release.

    5. CharlesWT says:

      [A]s Majority Leader, he was thrilled to be the first legislator in Washington with a car phone. When Everett Dirksen, Republican Minority Leader and a friendly rival, also acquired one, he telephoned Johnson’s limo to say that he was calling from his new car phone. “Can you hold on a minute, Ev?” Johnson asked. “My other phone is ringing.”

  4. Mike Bentley says:

    I was just looking at my copy of the Lancaster book. Good to know its in PDF!

  5. I don’t know that I’ll ever do another book. The landscape is changing so much. Advances are way down, and unit sales are worse.

    If I do do another book, though, it’ll definitely be for O’Reilly. I swore off working for other publishers after many bad experiences. The traditional publishers were bad enough, but what really turned me was my experience doing several modules for an on-line training company. The contract said they’d pay me 15% of the list price for each module they distributed. Then they came back and said that they were giving away or discounting some modules as promotions, so they’d instead pay me 15% on actual gross receipts. Okay, that could be abused in many ways, but it wasn’t totally unreasonable, particularly for a start-up that was still exploring different marketing methods. But what they actually ended up paying me was 15% of net, and that was with them deciding what “net” was. Never again have I done a book or other major project for anyone other than O’Reilly. O’Reilly is honest.

  6. Rich Rostrom says:

    What do you think of RVW’s contemporary, Frederick Delius?

    Old style mobile phose… Ever see the 1963 movie The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner as Texas oil hustler Henry Tyroon? Who of course has a mobile phone in his car.

    (The movie was based on a novel of the same name by George Goodman – later to become famous as “Adam Smith” with The Money Game.)

    1. Had to look up Delius: I wasn’t sure I had him pegged until I looked at the list of his works, some of which I recognized. I know I don’t have any of his music on CD (or perhaps only “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring”) but he certainly sounds worthy of a second listen.

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