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About Contra

Way back in 1998, I was the editor-in-chief of Visual Developer Magazine, which in turn had grown out of PC Techniques, a programmers’ magazine I had founded in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1990. Like nearly all magazines, we were advertising supported, and I had a very good ad sales rep. Lisa Marie Hafeli was constantly on the lookout for things that would make us stand out from the crowd of programmers’ magazines, and in the spring of 1998 she came up with a whopper: Create a sort of daily diary on the Web, to which I would add something every day. What she had in mind were capsule reviews, musings on the future of technology, things like that. I didn’t really get underway until June of that year, and I had a little trouble deciding what to say at first, but once I got underway I discovered that I loved it. It reminded me a little of a short newspaper column I had enjoyed as a teen in Chicago, written by (I believe) Sydney J. Harris. He would occasionally list “things I ran across while looking for something else,” which is basically what my Odd Lots entry category is.

Visual Developer Magazine folded in February, 2000. When VDM folded, so did VDM Diary. One of our former advertisers called me that spring and told me that although he missed the magazine, he missed VDM Diary even more. And in truth, I did too. Again, it took me awhile to get underway, but by July of 2000, I had recast VDM Diary as ContraPositive Diary. It no longer had any strict connection to my job (which had simply shifted to Coriolis Group Books after the magazine folded) so I felt freer to explore other subjects, and to treat them in a more personal manner. Contra’s first entry under its new name appeared in July 25, 2000, and has continued to the current day.

VDM Diary was not the first daily Web diary ever posted, but Lisa and I invented it independently long before the ghastly word “blog” was coined.


I have always been an optimist and a contrarian. I was going to call my new diary “The Contrarian Optimist,” but then I recalled the word “contrapositive,” which is a perfectly fine word from the field of logic. It has nothing to do with either contrarianism or optimism. That didn’t stop me from repurposing it, since the word (looked at as a word apart from its historical meaning) suggested both. Most people understand what an optimist is (rare as we are these days) but there is some confusion about contrarianism. Here’s how I understand the word as it applies to me.

Formats and Platforms

From 1998 through the end of 2008, Contra consisted of hand-edited static HTML pages. No Flash, no Javascript, just HTML. I tweaked the layout a couple of times as I achieved a little skill in that area, but it remained hand-edited until January 2009, when I moved it to the WordPress platform on its own domain. Since mid-2005 I have also maintained a mirror on LiveJournal, and the two instances of Contra now post together through a blogging utility. The saving in bit-fiddling over what I had to do before has been breathtaking.

Which is good: I remember times back in 2003 or so when the burden of manual editing grew so tiresome that I was ready to shut the whole thing down. I’m glad I didn’t, now that most people with any online presence at all anchor it in a blog. I almost got in too early, but having gotten in early and stuck with it, I’m not going away any time soon.