Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Rant: Do You Like Kippling?

HR Binder - 500 Wide.jpg

I’ve been busy here, fighting entropy. (Yes, you can fight entropy. You just can’t win.) The fight’s even harder when you move from a largish house to a house that can (at best) hold about two-thirds the entropy. I’ve never done that before. Now I know why.

I used to have a 12′ X 12′ book wall with a rolling ladder. Book freaks can do the math in their heads; there were a lot of books on that wall. We did a very aggressive book purge before we shoveled the survivors into boxes, and we may have given away books enough to fill about a quarter of that wall. We had some empty space on the numerous other movable bookshelves around the house up north. No more. Empty space is just about gone.

And then, a week or so ago, we had the last of the storage containers delivered. It wasn’t large; just one of those “pod” things you see advertised. I knew it contained the bulk of my electronics and ham radio books and magazines. What I’d forgotten is that it also contained six or seven boxes of “ordinary” books on history, psychology, religion, and weirdness. So after I took a few days to empty the electronics and radio collection onto the two big particle board shelves I’d built specifically for that purpose (including shelves spaced for both the old and the new ham radio magazine trim sizes) I realized that I still had eight or ten boxes to deal with. (More on this later.)

Dealing with the radio stuff was tricky enough. I had bought the full run of Ham Radio back in the early 90s from a friend of an SK in Mesa. The mags were all neatly placed in those spring-rod magazine binders. It quickly occurred to me that the binders rougly doubled the space that a year’s magazines occupied on a shelf. (See the photo above.) It took half an hour of sitting tailor-style and yanking spring rods, but I reclaimed most of an entire shelf by dumping the binders.

That was easy, compared to the next decision: What to do with Wayne Green. He’s dead, as is 73, his iconic ham mag. There’s nothing quite like 73. I took it for many years, and bought the issues that predated my license at hamfests. I enjoyed reading it. Green was certifiable, but he wrote entertainingly, and did gonzo if tasteless things like publishing a rear view of a (male) streaker holding an HT on the cover, as well as any number of scantily-clad women, generally holding ham gear as fig leaves. Some of his technical articles were useful. A lot of the construction articles were sloppy, and some of the designs (pace Bill Hoisington K1CLL) were just, well, nuts. I built a 1-tube converter from 73 back in the mid 1970s. It actually worked, more or less. Most of the others smelled like trouble. I tried a couple of K1CLL’s VHF projects, both of which immediately cooked themselves in their own parasitics. The late George M. Ewing WA8WTE wrote ham-radio oriented fiction (often with SF & fantasy elements) for 73. It was a ginormous, engaging, and practically indescribable mess.

So. Keep or recycle? Tough call. Having just saved several shelf-feet of space by dumping the HR binders, I punted and piled ’em all back onto the shelf. After all, I have a soft spot in my head for Wayne Green, because in 1973 he bought the first piece of writing I ever sold for money. (He then sat on it for more than a year before publishing it.) So I’m conflicted.

Philip K. Dick coined a term for the sorts of things that accumulate in odd corners during a life of anything other than abject asceticism: kipple. 73, in a way, is kipple. So are malfunctioning (but fixable) gadgets, functional (but obsolete) gadgets, parts that roll under your workbench or fall behind shelves, and the peculiar things that lurk at the bottoms of cardboard boxes at hamfests marked “Whole box – $5.” Every time I’ve moved my workshop, I end up with a couple of boxes of stuff I’ve picked up off the floor or out of coffee cans and ratty, ripped-up cardboard boxes piled where piling was possible. I’ve always called them “hell boxes,” but kipple is what they are. Kipple, like wire coathangers, is said to breed when nobody’s looking. Having had a workshop of one sort or another since I was 13, one would get that impression.

My already-tight workshop here still has three substantial boxes of kipple for me to sort through. I’ll do that another time. For now I’m faced with a slightly different problem: Passing judgment on books that are obviously not kipple. How does one make decisions like that? I’ve spoken of this before, but have not solved the problem.

The base issue is this: How do you know what you’re going to have to look up or quote in a year, two years, or five years? How do you even know what you’re going to be interested in? How can you tell where the rabbit hole leads before you dive in? One thing leads to way more than another.

I’ve long since gotten rid of all my DOS books, as well as my Windows 2000 books. I made a special effort to get rid of obsolete books that were thick. Other categories are tougher to figure. Are books on weirdness even necessary? Well, hey, I’m a writer, and fiction is made out of nonfiction, even if the nonfiction is nonsense. Besides, how can I make fun of things like zombies and vampires if I don’t know anything about zombies and vampires?

One solution is to buy a few more shelves for the Closet Factory buildouts in our three walk-in closets. I’ll probably do that. Another is to look critically at the usefulness and/or quality of the books I still have. That would also be a good strategy, if it wouldn’t take such a huge chunk out of however many years I have left.

So I suspect there will be boxes of books here and there around our house, hidden wherever hiding is possible. As I abandon certain tracks of thought (how can there be trains without tracks?) the boxes may shrink. They will do so slowly.

There was a joke once, long ago when I was an undergrad English major:

Q: Hey, do you like Kipling?
A: I dunno, I’ve never kippled.

Well, I have. I’ve been doing it for almost two years now. It hasn’t gotten any easier. And truth be told, I don’t like kippling at all.


  1. Bob says:

    It looks like you have a middling serious “hoarding” problem. I put that in quotes because it is a poor label but it has become accepted. I think everyone has it to some level. My problem is less than yours if only because my house is only about 1000 sq. ft. so I had to face my limits a long time ago. My family has it bad to the point where they get around their house on little cat trails through about 4 feet high piles of ‘valuable stuff’ and clutter.

    I think there are better ways to honor the memory of your editor friends than by keeping copies of their magazines. Perhaps set up a small display with some covers of the magazine and other mementos? If their magazines are not available on the internet, you might scan them but you probably cannot put them online due to copyright restrictions. Has google books scanned them?

    1. TRX says:

      I always figured if it was organized, it wasn’t “hoarding.”

  2. Amy says:

    I’ve used the term “kipple” myself, and it was from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The character who mentioned the definition of the word also mentioned the First Law of Kipple: “Kipple drives out nonkipple.” Kind of like Gresham’s Law about bad money driving out good.

    The character of my kipple has changed over time, certainly…now, intermingled with the books, papers, cables, and components are things like dresses, makeup containers, jewelry parts, catalogs, and copies of Glamour magazine. And the cat. 🙂

    1. PKD was trying to bring the notion of entropy out of the realm of abstract physics and into the real world. The problem with the concept is that it’s context-dependent: Whether someone considers something (potential kipple) useful or useless depends heavily on the someone. I keep metal and plastic scraps and pill bottles and such precisely because I build things, and kipple to others can become useful raw materials to me.

      Here’s a typical example: I made a Geiger counter wand out of two pill bottles with a particular sort of 2-way cap that I really like, and fortunately have a number of:

      The kipple issue didn’t become an issue until Carol and I stopped buying bigger and bigger houses. Our Colorado house was #8 and the largest house we’d ever lived in. #9 is only 2/3 the size, so alluva sudden…crunch!

      I have ratty logo shirts from my long-defunct publishing company that are too ragged to wear, and yet I can’t quite bring myself to throw them away. Do that enough, and well, yes…kipple!

  3. Tony Kyle says:

    Check with Jim Kyle. He is a master at Black Hole management. I’ve seen it in action when a hot water tank burst twice on him before we left the area. His one bedroom closet took up the dining room, the eating area of the kitchen and another office. I think there were things in the living room too.

    When it was time to pack it all in, everything fit. Not one item was lost or left out.

    1. Jim obviously has a superpower I call tessellation–and I recognize it because I have it too. I can pack more junk into less space than almost anyone else alive.

      Age helps too. Being 64 means I can be a little more discriminating about what I acquire, since I know that I’m not going to be doing any mountain climbing, nor taking flying lessons, and that helps. But making efficient use of space is something I just excel at.

      All best to Jim, by the way, who was a published writer before I was even born, and a man whose superpowers (of which writing is yet another) I highly respect.

      1. TRX says:

        My wife and I used to do motorcycle tours. We had a tank bag and a small tail tack for luggage, limiting us to two bags not much larger than a lunchbox, as she couldn’t swing her leg over a larger tailbox bag, nor could I steer with a larger tank bag.

        She could pack a week’s worth of clothes and toiletries in those. If you unzipped one, it was like watching a Jiffy Pop in fast forward. More than simple compression was obviously involved; I wondered if she was managing to open a hole into a pocket dimension somewhere…

        That’s when I started simply mailing my stuff ahead and mailing it back home when I left.

      2. Stickmaker says:

        It’s not that hard. You just pack stuff so the spins match. (Where have I heard that… 🙂

  4. TRX says:

    I mutilated about 40 linear feet of magazines by razoring out the good stuff, putting it in binders, and making indexes so I could find them again. A while back I realized that while they were fun to look through, the binders weren’t something I used often. Disc space was getting cheap, so I scanned all and updated the index. It’s nowhere near as convenient, but now the effective space is zero.

    Preparing for the move in to the Little House, a whole lot of nonfiction has had to go, and I’ve had to be fairly ruthless about it. I finally realized that even some of the rare things can be re-bought if I absolutely, positively need to see them again. Things that were precious pre-internet or in the dialup era are much easier to find and acquire if needed. I boxed up most of a pickup load and gave it to a friend who is having a temporary financial setback; he’s selling them on eBay.

    Most of the fiction – two living-room walls’ worth – is going, a box at a time, to my optometrist, whose reading preferences are quite similar to my own. I’m keeping a small shelf full of favorites; the rest all go.

  5. Bruce Barr says:

    Jeff, Long-time reader & fan. I know it isn’t the same, but this might help:
    Seriously, I owe you more than I do Wayne. Loved his editorials, even bought them when he published them separately.
    Learned so much from your mags. I also found your editorials very entertaining and informative. One of them in the early ’90s is why I can say:

    73 de AB0YO
    aka MrGadgets in KC

    1. It isn’t the same, true, and I’m still conflicted about 73, especially now that I see that most of it is online, for free. Parts of me wonder, Well, how long will that last. And I do confess a fondness for the simple pleasures of curling up in a huge comfortable chair (which I have) and spending hours flipping through paper.

      I’m honored that I was able to provide something that did you some good. That was, at the bottom of it all, the whole point of the whole venture. I miss it terribly, but if there were still money in magazines I’d still be in magazines, making money.

      1. TRX says:

        > still making money

        At one time authors and poets could make worthwhile money doing readings. That pretty much faded when audio recording became a thing, though I can’t show that there was a connection.

        When audio recording got cheap enough, though, that was the end of the studio musicians who played live music for radio and TV broadcasts.

        There have been a few attempts at internet magazines, but it’s hard to get people to pay for internet-based “content.”

  6. TRX says:

    > how long will that last

    When I saw runs of old science fiction magazines on, I spent a few evenings downloading them, “just in case.”

  7. Tom Roderick says:

    The first (and so far only) bit of writing that I have ever sold was in the March 1978 issue of 73. I looked it up on the web site above and realized that I wrote that shortly after I got out of the Air Force and was still job hunting and living at my parents house. I still own the house, but not for long since I reached an agreement to sell yesterday! I have been cleaning it out for a month and there is more kipple than I realized including large collections of 73, Byte, QST and National Geographic. Also found a BC-348 receiver I used in the 1960’s. Didn’t know what had happened to it since my parents moved into that house while I was away in service. Jeff, I can more than empathize with the problems of STUFF!

  8. Stickmaker says:

    The problem with my kipple (thank you for that word) is that I have inherited stuff from six different relatives. There are useless things I have from others which I’d feel even worse about tossing than I would for my own useless stuff.

    I’d love to unpack the tubs and boxes in my basement to sort through, if only to find stuff I’m missing. However, I’d have to buy (or maybe rent) a larger house to have enough room for the sorting!

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