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Jim Kyle K5JKX 1931-2019

An old friend and a great talent has left us: Jim Kyle K5JKX, author of a fair number of books that go back a long way. I’m not certain how I know, but I’m pretty sure that he wrote his first book in 1952–the year I was born, and I’m not a young man. He started in the book trade early and worked it for most of his life. I never met him in the flesh, though we corresponded back into the 80s, if I recall correctly. He wrote books on radio and electronics (lots of them!) until there were personal computers, and then pivoted to personal computers. I have his Transistor Etched Circuit Projects from 1969, and until I had to shrink my library severely when we moved down from Colorado to a smaller house, I had others, including PC Interrupts (with Ralf Brown) which served me very well in the DOS era. I’m absolutely sure I have several more of his electronics and radio titles, though a lot of those are still in a box for lack of shelf space. I’m going to dig them out ASAP and take a good look through them.

His son Tony Kyle is also a good friend, and although I haven’t yet met him in the real world either, he isn’t far and I intend to do so while we’re both still here.

73’s Jim. You taught me a lot, long before you ever became my friend. Godspeed you on your journey to Eternal Light. –K7JPD.

Deja Vu’s Quantum Bit 2005-2019

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QBit has left us. I’ve commented on his long battle with lymphoma here several times. Ever since his diagnosis in June of 2018, he had ups and downs. The vet said we’d have him for two more months. We had him for fifteen. He fought it and saw his fourteenth birthday, but little by little the ups got lower and the lows got lower still. We thought it was all over six weeks ago, but he sprang back for reasons we can’t explain, galloping down the hall at dinnertime as though nothing were wrong. The last two weeks were a rollercoaster. He’d stop eating for a day, and then eat like a wolf for a few days, and then stop again. The various meds we gave him (Prednisone especially) gradually stopped working, and the lymph nodes in his neck swelled to the point where he was having trouble bending his head to drink water from the water bowl. Last night he started having a fever and chills, and now and then would stretch out his neck and make small sounds that certainly suggested pain. That’s when we decided it was finally over.

Our mobile vet and her assistant came by at 2:30 this afternoon. QBit was curled up in Carol’s lap while Dr. Peggy gave him a shot of sedative to relax him. That took maybe 30 seconds. While we waited for the sedative to take effect, I said my Prayer of Returning over him, with my hand atop his head:

From our Creator we took you;
To our Creator we return you;
That your life with us may glorify our Creator,
And in the hope that we may someday meet again.

Go with God, good and faithful companion!

I nodded to Dr. Peggy, and she gave him the final shot. With my hand under his chest, I felt his heartbeat grow fainter and slower, and finally stop. We had a few minutes alone with him, and allowed the rest of the Pack to sniff him. Then Dr. Peggy came back inside, bundled up his body in some towels, and he was gone.

I’ve written a lot about QBit here on Contra. How he would play catch with a tennis ball on the stairs in Colorado, catching it on the fly, carefully placing it on the edge of the top step, and then pushing it over gently with his nose so it would bounce down a few steps back into my hands. How he would play “dog soccer” with the rest of the Pack, bouncing a beach ball off his nose as many as four times before it hit the ground. (I’m going to try and post a video on Facebook or Twitter showing this happening.) He loved snow as a young dog, and bounded his exuberant way through the drifts as I walked down the block to the mailbox in Colorado.

As our first, he didn’t always have a pack, but once he got one he looked after it. QBit was always on patrol, going around the house looking in all the rooms for Carol and me and the rest of the Pack. He accepted a certain amount of horseplay, but he had his limits, as Dash the Great Pretender learned on a number of occasions. Dash has always wanted to be the pack alpha. Now that we’ve lost our alpha, it’ll be interesting to see how the pack order changes.

It will be a quieter, slightly emptier house.

So. Do dogs have an eternal destiny? Catholicism says little or nothing about the issue. The Book of Revelation (whatever else you may think of it) says a lot about God making all things new, a whole new Heaven and a whole new Earth. Does all that newness include dogs? And if it doesn’t, how can it be either Earth or Heaven?

My hunch is this, though it gets me in trouble at times: God wastes nothing. Everything He created has a purpose, and everything He created will eventually find its way back to Him. We are all on the road to reunion with God, and (as I like to say) the road is on the road as well. We are making our stumbling way toward the Divine Presence with all creation bringing up the rear. I see no reason that as we walk that great road, dogs will not walk beside us. They are God’s creations no less than we are, and humanity would not be what it is, if dogs were not what they are.

Go with God indeed, my good and faithful companion!

Odd Lots

  • I regret to report that Robert Bruce Thompson has left us, at age 64, of heart problems. He’s best-known for his books PC Hardware in a Nutshell and Building the Perfect PC, but he’s also written several books on astronomy and telescopes that I much admire, as well as several books on home-lab chemistry. He was one of the best technical writers of his generation, and has been blogging as long as I have, which later this year will have been 20 years.
  • Apple will be releasing the source code for the Lisa OS this year. The machine came out in 1983 and didn’t sell well due to its $10,000 price tag. (That would be almost $25,000 today.) I’m interested because Lisa OS was written in…Pascal! I’ve heard rumors from the FreePascal community that a port to the Raspberry Pi is likely and might not even be especially difficult. Imagine the OS from a $25,000 machine running on a computer costing $35. I’d do that just to say I did.
  • I didn’t know anything about ArcaOS until a few days ago, but it’s basically a continuation of OS/2 Warp, based on Warp 4, MCP2. Legal, not free, but also not hideously expensive, and supported to boot. If you ever used OS/2 and liked it, take a look.
  • Back before we truly understood the dangers of nuclear radiation, scientists experimented with nuclear fission by moving neutron reflectors around a softball-sized core of PU-239 by hand, and recording the nuclear reaction’s strength from Geiger counter readings. This was called “tickling the dragon’s tail,” and when done clumsily, led to the death of several researchers and shortened the lives of others. Here’s a good summary.
  • The last house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright before his death in 1959 is in Phoenix, and it’s for sale. Got $3.25M in your wallet? You’re set! (Thanks to my own Carol for the link.)
  • Here’s an excellent long-form piece on Amazon Go, the online retail behemoth’s experiment in checkout-free B&M retailing. Take if off the shelf, toss it in your bag, and when you’re done shopping, just leave. You need an Amazon account and ideally a smartphone, but with that you’re in business. No word on when the concept will move beyond Seattle.
  • The Dark Crystal is coming back to movie theaters in February. That was a butt-kickin’ movie, and I will probably hand over the $14 ticket price without a great deal of grumbling. A really big screen is worth something!
  • IO9 mentioned some teasers for Cloverfield III. III? Was there a Cloverfield II? You guys never tell me anything!
  • A Canadian sniper team in the Middle East nailed an ISIS terrorist at 3,871 yards. This is about 1,000 yards farther than the previous record for a sniper kill. I have a lot of respect for marksmen (my father was one) and a sense of awe before the skill of snipers at this level.
  • Every time I crank up Waterfox, it asks me if I’d like it to be my default browser. Every damned time. Something appears to be redefining my default browser without my permission. This support page hasn’t been especially helpful. Haven’t cracked this one yet, but I’ll report here when I do.
  • Something the AGW crowd should keep in mind: If you say that any hot summer’s day means global warming, don’t be surprised if people unroll the syllogism and assume that any cold winter’s day means global cooling. Climate isn’t simple, and we know a lot less about it than we claim.

Wayne Green W2NSD, SK

It’s hard not to have an opinion about Wayne Green. Depending on whom you listen to, he was a visionary, a crank, delusional, eccentric, generous, lecherous, honest, optimistic, boundlessly energetic, or all of the above and maybe a few more. Someone wrote a bogglingly angry book once (I had it but have misplaced it) that spent its entire length trying to persuade us that he was a liar, a scoundrel, a thief, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of Byte Magazine. Anger that dense warps the fabric of truth. (Be careful with your anger. Let it get too dense and you will vanish into a black hole of lost credibility from which you may never emerge.) Don Lancaster put the lie to it without any trouble: When Don was writing for the extremely early Byte, Wayne was there, buying articles and signing checks.

That said, Wayne Green said a lot of peculiar things about a lot of things both mundane and peculiar. He said he was richer than (as best we know) he actually was. He said he was sexy and available. (One out of two ain’t bad.) He was constantly bitching and moaning about the FCC, the ARRL, and lord knows what else. He bragged about affairs he had had with his editorial staff. He published articles about homebrew radio gear that simply couldn’t work, or were such peculiar lashups of pipe fittings, power tubes, trash cans, glue, staples, beer bottles and copper tubing that nobody wanted to try. (I say this with some affection. Many of those articles were by the late Bill Hoisington K1CLL, who admitted…gasp!…that VHF/UHF circuits could be cranky. The crankiness of those circuits led him to try a lot of things that looked dicey, but to me their craziness indicated a certain honesty about how cranky VHF/UHF electronics actually are. Which is, of course…cranky.) There is a long list of things that Wayne Green did here. How many are true is hard to say. Did he really pilot a nuclear attack sub? Scary notion, if you’ve read his editorials. The truth, I suspect, is that he was a legend in both senses of the term.

Wayne Green, whether he was crazy or not, remains one of my heroes, for this reason: He bought the first piece of writing I ever sold, but not the first I ever had published. I guess I need to clarify: When the article appeared in the December 1974 issue of 73 Magazine, it was not my first publication. I had sold “Our Lady of the Endless Sky” to Harry Harrison for Nova 4 about a month later, but Wayne, as was his wont, paid me immediately and then sat on “All the World’s a Junkbox” for over a year before getting it into print. (“Our Lady” was in my hands in September.) And then he changed the title, to the inane “Zillions of Parts for Nothing.” (See page 36 of that issue.) Was I annoyed? A little. But heck, you only sell your first article once.

I subscribed to 73 for a lot of years, and have most of a full run of the mag on my shelves. Wayne was an editor of CQ for years before 73 appeared. Both magazines were lively and entertaining under his watch. The tech ran hot and cold, as it did almost everywhere but QST, which had paid techs on staff to build things and make sure that they were a) buildable and b) worked. But boy, when the late George Ewing WA8WTE and I got together on 40M, as often as not Wayne’s latest editorial was tops on our rag-chew agenda. Wayne published books, too, including George Ewing’s Living on a Shoestring, which George called “my scrounge book” and I consider a marvelous technical memoir. For a little while Wayne published a magazine called Cold Fusion Journal, which may have been the best fit of an editor with his niche that we will ever see.

Wayne died a few days ago, on the 13th. He was 91. His brief article on Wikipedia indicated that he was ready and eager to go off adventuring in the afterlife, an attitude I much admire. We speculate about what happens to good people after death, and what happens to bad people. What, then, happens to crazy people? Does God try to “fix” them, or do they just go on being crazy? “Crazy” is a debatable term, of course, but it seems to me that if Wayne Green weren’t his very particular brand of crazy, he wouldn’t be Wayne Green anymore. And that, my friends, would be a tragedy, whether here or in the afterlife.


Pat Thurman K7KR, SK

I’m numb. This past Tuesday we lost Pat Thurman, K7KR. He had been struggling with multiple medical issues for a couple of months, and at some point they simply overwhelmed him. Flesh is fragile, even when the spirit is strong.

Like many people, Pat knew of me from my books and my magazine work, and when I announced in my DDJ column that Carol and I were moving to Arizona at the beginning of 1990, he sent me a note and told us to get in touch once we arrived. We did. Pat and his wife Sue became instant friends, and within a year, neighbors, out in the wild dirt-road country at the northern tip of Scottsdale.

Pat was a DXer and contester of formidable skill. While I watched in awe, he put up a 75′ winch-up tower with a highly engineered ground system and a couple of very large steerable beams. (I contented myself with a 200′ longwire and a 6M vertical.) His thunderous signal was heard around the world. His official DX count is 245 countries. (There are 340 right now.) Mine? 17.

We did a lot of offroading in the Tonto National Forest in his high-clearance Jimmy, and visited Sheep’s Bridge. On one of those early trips, Pat stopped the Jimmy for a tarantula in the road. We got out and gathered around the tarantula, which was the first (though it would not be the last) that I had seen in the wild. I wanted a picture, and for scale Pat tossed a quarter onto the road about a foot away from the spider. I worried that the quarter would scare it away. Not so: The tarantula pounced on the quarter so quickly we figured it just teleported. Then once it realized that quarters weren’t edible, it ambled slowly off into the brush.

Pat and Sue were early and eager beta readers for The Cunning Blood, and the inspiration for my Filer Fitzgerald character came from a character in one of Sue’s shows that promoted reading for grade schoolers. It was for that same show that I built The Head of R&D, as I mentioned here some time back. We ate a lot of dinners together, drank a lot of Dornfelder, laughed a great deal, and talked about all kinds of things.

If I can point to any single force that hauled me out of the spiritual mailaise I’d been in for twenty years back in the early 1990s, it was Pat and Sue, and their aptly named parish, Our Lady of Joy. My childhood religion was grim, Hell-centric, and focused on self-denial well beyond what I would call “a healthy discipline.” We originally attended the Sunday night “teen mass” with Pat because Pat and Sue had twin teen sons, and Sue was in the music group. I was astonished: The music they played and sang was downright exuberant: “Send Down the Fire,” “The Canticle of the Turning,” “One Is,” and many more. It made me wonder if there were more to Catholicism than a celebration of human and divine suffering. Our Lady of Joy allowed me to imagine a Catholic tradition that celebrates the physical world, and a God who will not settle for partial victories. Pat and Sue didn’t follow us to Old Catholicism, but without their influence, Carol and I would never have known the journey was even possible.

The older I get, the more I’m certain that friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit. Alas, the older I get, the more I see my friends leaving this world for other realms. I’m 61 now, and I know enough math to understand that that’s just how things work. Does friendship even have a point, if death can end it so easily?

But…maybe it does, because…maybe it doesn’t. If you get my drift.


Delores Ostruska 1924-2013

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Carol’s mom has left us. She died quietly this past Saturday after a long illness, at a nursing facility near her Crystal Lake, Illinois home. Her daughter Kathy was by her bedside, and her two grandsons Brian and Matthew had visited her earlier that day. She was 88.

Most people in our time are lucky to have two loving parents. Somehow, incredibly, I had four. I met Delores on August 2, 1969, when I came by their house to pick up Carol for our first date. I was 17, a little scruffy, and undoubtedly, well, odd. No matter. Delores smiled and welcomed me, a welcome that never faded. Carol’s dad was a slightly harder sell, but I won his esteem by treating his daughter with respect and kindness. When I bought a lathe in 1977 he stabled it in his basement, and over time he taught me what he knew about its use, which (considering that he could grind a carbide die to a ten thousandth of an inch accuracy) was pretty much everything.

On many Sundays Delores prepared family dinners for which her sisters Marie and Bernice and her Aunt Marie and Uncle John drove up from the South Side. Pork roast, salad, vegetables, bread, dessert; a huge spread brought to the table hot and perfect in all ways. I had a place at that table, as later on Kathy’s boyfriend/fiance/husband Bob did as well. It was decades before I knew the term for the feeling that hovered all about us in Delores’ dining room, but when I found it, many things fell into place. It was unconditional love.

I had had that from my own parents, of course. And even my own father was a bit of a hard sell, since I bore little resemblance to the rowdy boy that he himself had been and expected his own son to be. All the more remarkable that Delores and Steve embraced me almost immediately as one of their own.

Delores was a child of Polish-American heritage, youngest daughter of a large family, who was born and grew up on the Near South Side of Chicago. She belonged to a group of very close teen girlfriends who called themselves The Comets. They were capable and confident girls, journeying around the city for fun, and even slept on the sand of Chicago’s 31st Street Beach. She quietly rejected the dour Polish pessimism of her own parish church, and far preferred the exuberant Catholic culture of an Irish parish a few blocks away. She believed all her life in an infinitely loving God and the goodness of all His creation. When I began struggling with my own life of faith at the dawn of middle age, it was her example that helped bring me to the unbounded and unshakable Catholic optimism that I hold today.

Delores worked at the US Treasury in downtown Chicago, where she helped trace lost and stolen US Savings Bonds. During WWII she met and in 1947 married Steve Ostruska, one of her brother Charlie’s Navy shipmates. After Carol was born the family moved to Niles, Illinois, where Delores lived for over forty years before moving in with her daughter Kathy in Crystal Lake.

Every summer while the girls were small the family vacationed along the lakes near Hayward, Wisconsin, where Steve fished for walleye and city girl Delores learned to love the outdoors. The photo at the head of this entry is from a vacation that she and Steve took to Clam Lake in July 1948. It’s not fair to picture her as an elderly woman when she has already broken the bonds of this Earth and risen triumphantly into the arms of the God she so strongly believed in. I prefer to recall her as the beautiful, vigorous person she was most of her life. In truth, all the time I knew her she glowed wth the quiet, invincible light of unconditional love, and if there’s anything closer than that to the ineffable light of God, I don’t expect to see it in this world.

Odd Lots

  • My old friend and fellow early GTer Rod Smith has posted a great many excellent pictures he took at Chicon 7, including a book signing that I attended.
  • My mother’s cat Fuzzbucket died yesterday, at 16 years and change. He outlived my poor mother by twelve years, and while skittish as a kitten eventually warmed to me. I’ve never had a cat (for obvious reasons, of which I have four right now) but of all the cats I’ve never had, Fuzzbucket was my favorite. He kept his own LiveJournal page, and the final entry brought a tear to my eye.
  • For those who couldn’t attend Chicon and were cut off from viewing the Hugo Awards by an idiotic copyright protection bot, you’ve got another chance: The award ceremony will be re-streamed tomorrow night, September 9, at 7 PM central time.
  • This morning’s Gazette had an ad for hearing aids, which bragged of their product having 16 million transistors. This is easier than it used to be, since all those transistors are in one container. Now, does anybody remember the days when ads bragged of radios containing six transistors?
  • And while we grayhairs and nohairs are recalling transistor counts in the high single digits, does anybody remember the early Sixties scandal (reported in Popular Electronics, I think) in which Japanese manufacturers would solder additional transistors into simple superhet boards and short the leads together, just so they could advertise the box as a “ten-transistor” radio?
  • Nice piece from Ars Technica on the deep history of the spaceplane.
  • Bill Cherepy sent a link to a marvelous steampunk tennis ball launcher, used for getting pull-strings for antennas (and as often as not, the antennas themselves) into high or otherwise inaccessible places. Gadgets like this (albeit not in steampunk dress) have been around for a long time, and I posted a link to this one (courtesy Jim Strickland) back in March.
  • Also from Bill (and several others in the past few days) comes word of a promising if slightly Quixotic attempt to preserve orphaned SF and fantasy. Here’s the main site. At least they’re offering money to authors and estates; most other preservation efforts (of pulp mags and old vinyl, particularly) are pirate projects most visible on Usenet.
  • That said, there are projects that limit themselves to out-of-copyright pulps, like this one. One problem, of course, is knowing when a pulp (or anything else from the 1923-1963 era) is out of copyright. Copyright ambiguity only hurts the idea of copyright. We need to codify copyright and require registration, at least for printed works. I’m not as concerned about copyright’s time period, as long as the owners of a copyright are known. As I’ve said here before, I’m apprehensive about competing with hundreds of thousands of now-orphaned books and stories.
  • I don’t eat much sugar anymore, but egad, there are now candy-corn flavored Oreos.

Harry Harrison, Gentleman Atheist, RIP

65,000 words. This is still hard. But I am damned well going to make it work.

One reason I will make it work is a man who left this world today for other worlds, not that he was any stranger to other worlds. Harry Harrison is one of those guys who isn’t appreciated as much as he deserves, for reasons that escape me. Most people know of him for Slippery Jim Di Griz and little else. We forget that his story Make Room! Make Room! inspired Soylent Green. Almost nobody knows that he wrote the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip in the 50s and 60s. (I didn’t know it until I read his obituary.) And I’m amazed that more people haven’t read what I consider just about his best work, The Daleth Effect. And what I do consider his best work may not be everybody’s choice, but too bad: The Technicolor Time Machine beats all.

When I was fresh out of the Clarion SF workshop in 1973, I cleaned up a Clarion story of mine and sent it to him. He bought it for $195, and when it appeared in his anthology Nova 4 the next year, I was (finally!) a published SF writer.

The story was “Our Lady of the Endless Sky,” now in my collection Cold Hands and Other Stories. It’s about a slightly clueless Roman Catholic priest who manages to be sent as the Catholic chaplain to a church constructed on the Moon. When an industrial accident destroys one of the lunar base’s hydroponic gardens, a new garden is built under the transparent dome of the church. Father Bernberger is heartbroken. He’s lost his church…or has he?

It was a decent story for something written by a 21-year-old kid who was “young for his age.” But far more remarkable than that was the fact that Harry Harrison bought it at all. You see, Harry was an atheist, and said so as often as it took for people to get the message. So why would he buy a story about religion?

The one time I met him, at the SFWA reception at one of the late 70s Worldcons, I thanked him for buying the story, and asked him exactly that. (All the SMOFs had told me about him being hostile to religion.) He laughed and said, “It wasn’t about religion. It was about a man who had faith.”

He told me to keep writing. I did.

Now, I’ve taken a lot of kidding and scolding and eye-rolling down the years for being such a naif as to go to church every Sunday and even (egad) pray. I’ve seen a lot of desperately mean-spirited condemnation not only of religious nutters (as though there have never been atheist nutters) but also of the quietly religious people who tend the sick and feed the poor without making any attempt to convert them, nor saying anything more about it.

None of that from Harry Harrison, at least not that I’ve ever seen. He was a gentleman atheist who gave me a push by publishing my story about a church and a priest, even though it went against the grain of his personal philosophy. He shook my hand and told me to keep going. He wrote good, engaging yarns that made me gasp and made me laugh, yarns that I freely admit to imitating. He is one reason (though not the sole reason) that I will not condemn atheism as my species of Catholicism is sometimes condemned.

Godspeed, good friend, however you may understand the wish.

Odd Lots

  • Happy Thanksgiving Day to all who celebrate it–and to those who don’t, well, this guy is still thankful that the world is big enough for both of us. In terms of Thanksgiving Day meditations, I’ll simply offer the one I wrote in 2008. I may not ever do better than that.
  • From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday File: seedbox, a remote and generally headless system on a high-bandwidth Internet connection, used exclusively to seed torrents in defiance of ISP speed-throttling of BitTorrent users.
  • Also pertinent to yesterday’s entry: Penguin Books got into a snit of lender’s remorse, and basically shut down access to its titles previously available to public library patrons through Amazon’s Kindle lending program. Apparently the DRM wasn’t DRM-y enough, and Penguin (through the Overdrive technology) locked its titles out. Precisely what the technical issues are is still unclear, but I’m researching it.
  • We have lost Anne McCaffrey, at age 85. She died of a stroke at her home in Ireland on November 21. She was the first woman to earn a Hugo or a Nebula award, and did a great deal to drag SF out of the locker room to which the pulps had led it.
  • Having recently become an Android user (via my Droid X2) I have now begun to dream of SparkFun’s Electric Sheep.
  • Debsnews now has a wine channel. It’s one way to focus in on specific short videos (example: WalMart’s new $3 wine line) without having to spend a third of your life parked in front of a TV.
  • Anybody who’s tried to spread a Ziplock bag with one hand while pouring leftover spaghetti sauce into it with the other may appreciate this gadget. Everybody else, move along.
  • Many people are sending me links to stories about canned goods containing greater than acceptable levels of BPA. This is not new news. However, I didn’t know about it until yesterday, right after opening a can of Spam.
  • Maybe the new Spam Singles packaging is the answer. No can!
  • Carol met Colonel Sanders at the Mayo Clinic back in 1975, and the guy does get around. You can now see him from space. This is not photoshopped, but the real deal. It’s been there since 2006, and consists of 87,000 colored tile “pixels.” (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Make describes a steam-powered bristlebot. Somehow this reminds me of those little scrubbing-bubble guys on the TV commercials.
  • There may be another reason (quite apart from battery life) to turn your smartphone’s power off every night. (Thanks to Pamela Boulais for the link.)
  • If you’ve never gone up to the Car Talk Web site and looked at the staff credits page, you’re missing out on people you haven’t seen since your study hall attendance-sheet days. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)

Odd Lots