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          Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

          Christmas in the French Alps

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          (Start the saga with yesterday’s entry, if you haven’t read it already.) Once the river cruise boat saw us down the gangplank, the six of us hopped a train in Basel, Switzerland and took off for Geneva: Carol and I, Kathy and Bob, and Alexis and Brian. One of my friends had told me before we left that the run between those two cities was flattish and not especially scenic.

          Well. There’s Nebraska flattish, and then there’s Switzerland flattish. Nebraska wins hands down. The land we crossed was rugged, and there were always mountains in the distance in one direction or another. It was a gorgeous ride, and our first look at rural Switzerland. I found myself thinking, if this is the flat part of Switzerland, what must the mountainous parts be like?

          We’ll check into that next trip. Matt met us in Geneva, and we stopped for a while at his house before piling into several cars and heading across the border into France. The drive took an hour, and it wasn’t long as the crow flies. Not being crows, we had to deal with endless doglegs on mountain roads. But late afternoon we found ourselves in Morzine, a ski town in the foothills of the French Alps. Morzine itself is at 1000 meters (3300 feet) above sea level, but that’s just the town. All the real action is uphill. From Morzine you can take a dozen ski lifts a good deal higher.

          For our second week in Europe we teamed up with several people in Carol’s extended family and rented an entire (small) ski chalet in Morzine. Everybody except for the old folks (like us) were skiers–and a couple of the old folks were too. Me, well, at 67 I’ve never broken a bone, and don’t intend to start now. You ski. We’ll watch.

          The chalet was comfortable, if chilly at times on the first floor. The common areas were bright and cozy, with a wood-burning fireplace and lots of chairs and sofas:

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          The dining room had huge windows overlooking the mountainsides. That is, when the weather was clear, we could see the mountainsides. Clear weather wasn’t the norm, so I took the shots when I could. This is the view from the dining room, on Christmas Day:

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          And this was the view (without any zoom) through a nearby window that was typical of most of the rest of the week:

          The ginormous dining table could easily seat 16, but we were only twelve plus a toddler. And the food, good lord, it was like nothing else we’ve ever had. Chef Michael prepared breakfast and dinner, and left fruit and fresh bread on the table for those who would still be in the chalet at lunchtime. This is a standard ski chalet practice, rooted in the assumption that skiers would not be coming back to the chalet for lunch. Carol and I bought ham, turkey, and cheese down in the town center for sandwiches.

          Below is Christmas Eve dinner. After the meal we watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a long-time family favorite. Most of us had brought Christmas Vacation-themed T-shirts, and some of us even dressed like the characters, especialy Grandma Wilma, Brian, and Alexis. (Carol bought the two of us T-shirts at our local thrift store. Mine was an XXL, but that’s what was there.)

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          It snowed most days, if not a lot. (And Morzine knew how to deal with it.) Christmas Day, however, was crystal clear and brilliantly sunny. The whole bunch of us decided to take the big cable gondola up the mountain to Avioraz, a sort of satellite town that catered almost solely to skiers. Those who ski, skied. The rest of us wandered around looking in shop windows. The streets of Avioraz were (deliberately) under a foot or so of hard-packed show, and could be skied as easily as walked.

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          Avioraz, as you might expect, consists mostly of ski chalets, ski shops, restaurants, and bars. We had lunch outside in bright sun–mercifully, there was no wind to speak of, so it was almost warm. Not long after lunch, while Carol and I were walking around (most of the gang had gone even further up the mountain on the ski lifts) I heard bells. And what should come around the corner but…a one-horse open sleigh! Egad, I’d been singing that song ever since I was a toddler, but until Christmas Day 2019 I had never actually seen a “one-horse open sleigh.” Maybe I just don’t get out enough.

          We did get out Christmas night, and went to church in Morzine. It was the first time I had ever heard Mass in French, though we had heard it in German when we last visited Europe in 2002.

          Sagely predicting that at least some of the week would suffer lousy weather, Matt brought a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Bob Ross mountains-and-trees painting. We dedicated a game table to it and got to work on the first day. We worked on it whenever there was nothing much else to do. I had never before attempted a puzzle that large (nor one with such vast expanses of blue) and didn’t contribute a great deal. Carol worked at it a lot, as did her sister Kathy. Brian’s wife Alexis had a near-magical touch with puzzles, and whatever time she spent on it greatly accelerated its assembly.

          It took us until the middle of the last night we spent at the chalet, but at some point the last piece clicked into place and it was finished.

          The skiers among us were gone a lot, but overall, we talked, laughed, drank good French wine, read, worked the puzzle, and entertained little Molly while her parents were out on the slopes. Molly’s parents, both her grandmothers, and her great-grandmother Wilma were all there, so Molly got plenty of attention. She’s starting to talk, and almost got the hang of “Uncle Jeff” during our week together.

          Our trip home was long but uneventful: We flew from Geneva to London Heathrow, then from London to Dallas, where we had to retrieve our suitcases and go through customs. Carol got the two of us TSA’s Global Entry certification earlier last year, and so customs was trivial. We re-checked our bags and hopped a flight from Dallas to Phoenix.

          At the airport we ordered up a Lyft ride. The driver told us that airport management was pushing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft out of the airport, and that he would no longer be serving passengers after a whole raft of new fees and requirements are imposed later in January. The fees are being challenged in court, so the whole thing could collapse if the ruling goes against the city. I like Lyft and will miss it for airport trips, but technology has its way of getting past government interference. It’ll be interesting to see what ways eventually emerge.

          Overall it was a wonderful trip, both on the water and in the mountains. I got behind on a number of projects (not least being the final bits of my novel) but it was worth it. On the upside, we didn’t put up much in the line of decorations here in Phoenix, so there was less to put away on our return. Alas, one of the first things that happened was the noisy death of our built-in 1500-watt microwave oven. We ran down to Walmart and picked up a smaller 900-watt unit for…$65. That’ll do until the JennAir repairman can make it out here.

          In the meantime, we’re enjoying our (slightly chilly) Phoenix winter, and gradually getting over eight hours’ worth of jetlag. Happy new year to everyone here, and don’t believe the doomsayers: This is by far the best time in human history to be alive!

          Five Countries, No Waiting

          Ok. Some waiting. It’s tough to pinball your way around five European countries in two weeks without a little bit of butt-in-chair time. Then again, it allowed us to catch our breaths. We just got back and I’m still jetlagged. Longitude is a bitch. (I’m only now realizing that keto flu may also be involved. More on this in a future entry.)

          But the trip, wow: It was something else.

          We’d been planning this for a long time: a Christmas gathering of Carol’s close-in family in Europe, where our younger nephew Matt is working for a few years. Matt, his wife Justine, and their daughter live in Geneva, Switzerland, which is at the extreme southwestern corner of the country. Their townhome wouldn’t hold us all, so we pooled funds and rented a small ski chalet in Morzine, France, about an hour’s drive west. The chalet came with a caterer so that we could enjoy being together without worrying about where to buy food and how to cook it. All told, twelve adults and one little girl spent a week at the chalet.

          For us, however, the chalet was the endpoint. To celebrate fifty years together, Carol and I took a week’s river cruise down the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland. We’d been wanting to do a river cruise for years, and there’s no better excuse than to celebrate half a century of being in love. Carol and I flew to Amsterdam via London Heathrow. We were joined by Carol’s sister Kathy and her husband Bob, and our older nephew Brian and his wife Alexis.

          The cruise began in Amsterdam. The ship was the Amastella, from Ama Waterways. It’s 443 feet long and 38 feet wide. There were 140-odd people on the cruise. I never got a really good shot of the ship because it was so long; definitely follow the link to the company site for a photo. River cruise ship dimensions are constrained by the locks along the river. We traversed ten in a week, and the Amastella barely fit.

          We passed a lot of quaint little towns, most of which had their names painted on the river levees, as shown with Filsen, below:

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          This part of the Rhine is castle country, and there were castles anywhere there were hilltops. Some were ruins. Some looked rebuilt or at least thoroughly repaired. Many were a mix of ruins and more modern construction. I pondered that I might possibly enjoy living in the one below—but would not enjoy the heating bills.

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          Every day there was a stop, and we typically toured the local cathedral and the many Christmas markets. We attended a wine tasting in a wine cave in Rudesheim, which was the first time I had ever been in a wine cave. The wine itself was marginal (I much prefer reds to whites) but at least I was able to put certain recent news items in perspective. (No thanks, Phil.)

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          Also in Rudesheim was Siegfried’s Mechanical Instrument Museum. My pictures were not terrific, but Atlas Obscura has a very nice article on it, with excellent photos. Before conventional music recording, to have music people either had to play it themselves (or have other people play it) or have access to self-playing instruments. The player piano is the best known of these, and they were still being made circa 1960, when the family down the block from us bought one.

          An orchestrion is just that: not merely a player piano, but a whole player orchestra. The museum has several, including one that has and plays six violins, all mechanically. It’s done with a revolving circular horsehair bow. The violins are tilted against the bow when played. Drums, chimes, and other instruments are often present, and the overall effect, given that it’s all stored as holes in rolls of paper, is uncanny.

          The lighting in the museum was not the best, and the only reasonable photo I got was of the Weber Maesto, which was at heart a sort of player pipe organ. There’s a YouTube video of one in operation, and the quality of the music is startling.

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          In Speyer was something I had not heard about until just before the trip and did not expect: The Speyer Technical Museum. Even now it defies description: They have machines of all sorts on display, with an emphasis on vehicles and aircraft. (They do have some boats and two submarines–and 25 sewing machines. I counted.) You can walk through the bigger submarine, although if you’re the least claustrophobic, don’t. Bogglingly, they have an entire 747 mounted at an odd angle literally 75 feet in the air, and you can climb down a ladder into its baggage compartment. Not boggled yet? Although the stairs up to the 747 can be arduous, if you have a nose for thrills you can slide back down to the ground in a (long) stainless-steel playground tube. (My nose for thrills is notoriously absent. I took the stairs both ways.)

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          Above is an aerial view from the 747 platform. Inside is an incredible, jam-packed collection of damned near anything that moves. (Below.) Lotsa cars, planes, boats, trucks, locomotives, and military vehicles, including a halftrack motorcycle. Oh–and a merry-go-round.

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          A couple of snapshots can’t do it justice. If you’re ever anywhere near Speyer, do not miss it–and plan to spend a couple of hours, minimum.

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          The architecture was an attraction no matter where we went. The building below (in Freiburg) is one of the coolest structures we saw. Alas, the tour guide told us what it is now (it may be an ex-rathaus) but I’ve forgotten.

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          Among the cities we saw, Strasbourg (in France) was my personal favorite. Its cathedral is dazzling, especially its 3-story tall astronomical clock. I was unable to get decent pictures inside the Cathedral, but there’s an excellent article (with good photos) on Atlas Obscura. The clock shows planetary motions out to Saturn, phases of the Moon, sunrise and sunset times, and lots more, with all sorts of interesting mechanical gimmicks, including a mechanical rooster that crows, and a parade of the Apostles past the figure of Christ happening each day at solar noon in Strasbourg. And all this in a device built in 1843, with roots centuries before that.

          I’ll get to the Christmas markets shortly, but in front of the Freiburg Cathedral there is a longstanding farmer’s market selling locally grown produce of all sorts, practically every day. Squash, carrots, bell peppers, leeks as long as my arm, and parsnips you could kill a man with:

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          How all this produce survived to the end of December seems mysterious. I wonder how much can be had in late February? Greenhouses? If I’d known more German I would have asked.

          I haven’t been in Europe a lot, and never over Christmas, so the Christmas market phenomenon took me a little by surprise. In virtually every town we visited, there was a Christmas market, and we saw most of them. It’s like nothing I’ve seen here: substantial booths selling Christmas food, ornaments, wine (especially gluhwein, which is warm mulled wine; white or red, your choice) jewelry, and handicrafts. German potato pancakes (kartoffelpuffers) and many kinds of sausages were everywhere.

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          The handicrafts were generally winter clothing, including a booth that takes the cake for the most socks I have ever seen in a single 15 foot expanse, ever:

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          In the absense of an English translation of the little sign above, I might have thought they were selling gummi socks candy. But no: In German, “gummi” means “rubber,” and “Strumpfe ohne Gummi” means “socks without rubber.” I’m not sure why that’s a selling point, but he had two signs to make sure no one misunderstood.

          We didn’t buy much. I had brought plenty of socks, and whatever we bought we’d have to drag home in our suitcases, which were already plenty heavy.

          Frieburg was the last stop on the cruise, and the next day we docked at Basel, Switzerland, having visited Holland, Germany, and France. One final note: The food on the Amastella was superb, by far the best food on any cruise we’ve taken. The service was wonderful, the staterooms comfortable. I needn’t have worried about souvenirs; the three or four pounds I gained on the boat were more than enough.

          And that’s where I’ll stop for today, given how long this entry has turned out to be. Next entry: Christmas with family…in the French Alps!

          Flashback: Synchronicity and the Combinatorially Exploding Penny

          Heads-up: I’ve never done a Contra flashback before, but given my post yesterday about pennies, this seemed to be a good time to republish a Contra entry I wrote back in 2005. I could have posted a link, I guess, but I wanted as many people to see it as I could manage, as it is just the…damndest…thing. Fifteen-ish years later, I’ve not encountered synchronicity anything like this boggling. I may do flashbacks again with older entries that I consider significant, especially if I’m in the middle of a dry period time/energy wise. Oh, to be 50 again…


          penny1923.jpgSynchronicity (meaningful coincidences of preposterous unlikelihood) is something that doesn’t interest people very much until such a coincidence happens to them. I can point to three instances of synchonicity in my life: One marginal, one peculiar, and one that just floored me. The marginal one was the Exuberant Cross, which is an excellent example of seeing symbolism in the ordinary, though there is some peculiarity in seeing it the first morning I was living in Colorado. The peculiar one we’ll leave for another time. But then there’s the big one…

          Back in 1996 I went down the road aways from the office to get a sandwich. This was unusual to begin with; I usually ate lunch with Carol, but she wasn’t at work that day. I was in a bad mood, a little depressed from thinking too much about my father. As I’ve said too often here, he died young and in a gruesome fashion, and there was unfinished business between us. I was only beginning to work through the issues in the mid-1990s. Now and then I rage at his memory; most of the time I just miss him. I turned on the car radio and the oldies station was playing something obnoxious, so I hit the country button. After the concluding seconds of some cowboy song and a few seconds of DJ chatter, another song started up.

          I’d heard it before: It was Colin Raye’s “Love, Me”, an otherwise unremarkable country tearjerker thing about a boy whose grandma dies. Carol always turned the radio off when it came on. There are times when I can listen and times when I just punch another button. This time I listened, and boy, the song worked as designed. Read the lyrics; they’re clever. (Ignore the sappy formatting.) The first line is significant:

          “I read a note my grandma wrote, back in 1923…”

          I had failed out of engineering school while my father was dying, and I felt for many years like I had let him down, just like I did when I had failed to love baseball as a ten-year-old. He could not imagine how a writer could make a living, and I could not imagine how an engineer could smoke himself to death. As a young man, I often wanted to say, Don’t give up on me. And all my life it was a private point of honor for me not to let him down. (I didn’t.) So there were some connections there, in that stupid song.

          It wasn’t that far to the sandwich place. When I parked I mopped my eyes and turned the radio off in exasperation, feeling like it had suckered me in to an unnecessary sentimental tate. Shaking my head, I went into the shop and ordered my usual ham and swiss. The soda-and-sandwich lunch special came out to $4.99. I handed the guy a fiver. He dug in the drawer and pulled out a penny, which he slid across the counter to me. It looked pretty beat up, and when I picked it up I flipped it over and took a closer look.

          The date on the penny was 1923.

          Hoo-boy.

          So. What are the chances? I got one coin in change. I hadn’t seen a penny that old in change in probably twenty years. I didn’t listen to country music all that often. And it was maybe a five-minute ride to the sandwich place, during which that one song alone had begun and played to completion. How could all those things line up so perfectly, on a day when I was already depressed from ruminating about losing my father? A New Ager would say “It’s a Sign. He’s there. He knows you didn’t let him down.”

          A part of me wanted to think of it as a Sign. (Another little part still does.) On the other hand, I’m not a New Ager, and the incident forced me to think a little bit about about outrageous coincidences. Here are the major points that come out of the exercise:

          • In 45 years of living, a human being experiences an enormous number of identifiable things, from country songs to birds on the lawn to oddly shaped clouds and everything else that we notice during the 16-odd hours we’re awake every day.
          • Human beings are complex things, with a great many thoughts, memories, cravings, articles of faith, and emotional flashpoints.
          • Something in our mental machinery tries very hard to find meaning in everyday life.

          In rolling those three points together I come up with an interesting conclusion: It would be remarkable for someone to live 45 years and not run into a coincidence like that at least once. (My other two experiences of synchronicity are pikers by comparison.) In each life there is a combinatorial explosion of possible alignments of thoughts, feelings, and objective experiences so large as to be beyond expressing. Little alignments happen now and then. (“Just as I pulled into the packed parking lot, somebody was pulling out right in front of me!”) Every so often, an alignment happens that makes us shake our heads in wonder. (I’ll tell you about the “I love you” stone someday.) But sooner or later, everybody is going to run into a whopper.

          Keep your eyes open. You wouldn’t want to miss it!

          Two Penny Mysteries

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          I got another one today, just now when I ran up to McDonald’s to clear my head and grab a large coffee. With tax that’s $1.09. I gave the cashier lady a dollar and a dime. She gave me back a shiny new penny. Except…the penny was not new.

          It was 18 years old.

          I like pennies. Always have, and I’m not entirely sure why I should like pennies more than I like nickels or dimes. Color is part of it. Every other (common) coin is the same blah bare-metal not-steel, not silver color. A new penny is the color of bare copper wire, and copper wire and I go way back. Besides, I was born and raised in the land of Lincoln, whose face has now been on pennies for 110 years.

          I like pennies so much that I still pick them up when I see them on the blacktop in parking lots. This is a habit vanishing into history, judging by the emergence of a phenomenon I’ve only begun to see in the last few years. I’ve coined the term “parking-lot penny” for the battered specimen above on the right. I picked it up a month or so ago in the Fry’s parking lot. Making a penny look like that takes time and tires. That poor little thing has been ground into the Arizona dust for a long time, what might be years. Once it approached the color of the dusty blacktop it rested on, I doubt many people even noticed it, much less bent down to pick it up. Me, I’ll rescue a penny anywhere, in any shape.

          1977 penny-350 wide.kpg.jpgPennies don’t represent value much anymore. They’ve become accounting tokens. I think people now consider them a necessary nuisance; hence parking-lot pennies, of which I now have a dozen or so, gathered over the past year and (as it were) change.

          Let’s go back to the mystery of the shiny 2001 D specimen at the top of this entry. Getting a penny like that now and then is unremarkable. The mystery lies in the fact that I am seeing a great many pennies in change that go back 50 years or more. Some of those oldies still have significant mint luster. A week or so ago I got a 1977 D at Fry’s with a lot of mint luster for a penny that’s been kicking around for 42 years. See for yourself. A week before that I got a 1969 penny that was in excellent shape, if lacking mint luster. Pennies in the 70s are a lot commoner than they were ten years ago, when the 70s were ten years closer.

          I have a theory about this: Those anomalously old and good-looking pennies have not been kicking around. They’ve been in jars and milk bottles and other containers, some of them for a very long time. Alluva sudden, I’m seeing them several times a week. This takes me back a little to ordinary life in the 1960s and 1970s. Middle-class people often had a jar on the kitchen counter or, more commonly, on the dresser in the bedroom. People (men, mostly; men have pockets) would undress for the night, and if they had coins in their pants pockets, would toss them in a jar so they wouldn’t fall out when said pants were hung up in the closet. My parents didn’t do that, though I did, at least in high school. I had friends who did, and friends who had parents who did. It was not one of my (numerous) eccentricities. It was mainstream.

          The penny-jar thing worked this way: Back when phone calls were a dime and quarters could buy gum or bus fare, people would dig in the jar while getting dressed in the morning and and fish out a few nickels, dimes and quarters for the day’s minor expenses. For the most part, the pennies were left behind, and over time what began as a small-change jar became a penny jar, with maybe a few dimes buried in the middle somewhere.

          This habit slowly dwindled as coins lost value to inflation, but the penny jars remained somewhere, on the high shelf or in a bedroom dresser drawer. As Greatest Generationals (and now Boomers too) die, their children, while emptying out their parents’ houses to sell, lug the penny jar over to the bank or a grocery-store change machine and trade the pennies in for whatever they add up to, in somewhat more manageable form, like ten-dollar bills.

          The banks wrap them in rolls and return them to circulation. And as people get change at McDonald’s, they get pennies back that look brand-new and yet may be 50 or 60 years old. But who even looks at pennies these days?

          I do.

          When I got the shiny 2001 penny this morning, I wondered for a moment about whomever had saved it from getting dirty or scraped around by SUVs in a parking lot somewhere. Had they died? Or just decided that ten pounds of pennies was more than enough? Whoever and wherever you are, good luck and…penny for your thoughts?

          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.

          The Not-So-Fondly Farenheit Tuner

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          I’ve been slow to come up to speed on the radio front since we’ve moved here. Until March 2017 we were bouncing back and forth between Phoenix and Colorado Springs, furiously working on both houses, one to sell, and the other to live in. Given that I was trying to write a new novel during that time (and was now in my mid 60s) time was tight and personal energy scarce. But more to the point, I wanted to do it right. Most of the trouble I had with my station when we lived here in the 90s was a lousy ground system. A year or so ago I took the time and built a Bentonite ground with a water pipe down the full depth of the Bentonite to keep it wet, ideally with Epsom salts in solution. The ground rod is right next to the entry box through which all my cables go through the wall of the small garage where my station is.

          With the ground in place, I strung 75′ of #16 solid copper between one of my two big palm trees and the mast on the roof of the garage, where the TV antenna used to be. On the mast I mounted my venerable Icom AH-3 autotuner. I had to make an extension cable for the control line, which was only 16 feet long, but the cable path was close to 30. The antenna was finished and in place, in fact, a few weeks prior to getting the entry box mounted. Once I got the coax, ground, and control cables into the garage, I took a break (it was a hot job up there on the roof in the actinic Arizona sunlight) and came back after supper. Fired it up and everything worked like a champ. Worked a guy in Colorado, called it victory, read for an hour, and collapsed into bed. Didn’t get back to the station until the next day.

          So late morning I turned everything on, selected 20 meters, and pressed the Tuner button on the front panel of my IC-736.Tink! The rig’s meter needle slammed against the high peg. Whoa. Didn’t do that last night. I tightened all the cables, ran up the ladder to look at the mast setup, and tried again. NFG. I checked the cables for shorts, re-checked all the connections to the ground bus inside the garage, but no joy. I let it set and went back to my office to get some words in on Dreamhealer. That night after supper I went back out there and tried the tuner. Shazam! Everything worked! I didn’t hear much traffic, sunspots being what they weren’t, but the AH-3 tuned my longwire and the IC-736 was happy. I worked a couple of guys and heaved a sigh of relief.

          The next day I bopped back into the shack after an hour or two writing, and scanned the bands to see what was live. Heard very little on 20m. Switched to 40. Hit the Tune button. Tink!

          I was starting to see a pattern: Works at night. Craps out during the day. Hmm. I opened up the tuner and saw nothing obviously amiss. That said, I had bought the AH-3 in 1992, and it had spent the rest of the 1990s out in the sun, matching my 180′ longwire, lousy ground notwithstanding. It got plenty hot during the day, and I worked plenty of stations all day, irrespective of temperature. Alas, electronics don’t live forever.

          I did try a few things. I modified a cardboard moving box into a sunshield and placed it over the tuner so that the bottom of the box faced south and the flaps taped open. The AH-3 was thus shaded entirely but still open to the air. On a whim I put the sensor unit for our wireless thermometer inside the box with the tuner. With the carboard box in place, it worked for a little while longer–maybe another hour–after full sun hit the box. I did a lot of testing and temp recording over the next day and a half. Results: It worked until the air temp hit ~90F. Then, Tink!

          Hell, I’ve been a ham now for 46 years. I fix things. I used to fix things for a living, in fact. But at some point I realized that troubleshooting an intermittent 28-year-old tuner was becoming a bad use of my time. Icom had released a newer but compatible tuner ten or twelve years ago. I found a place online selling NOS AH-4s at a discount (Gigaparts in Las Vegas, if you’re interested) and ordered one.

          The AH-4 is a little over half the size of the AH-3. I still had to make a custom control cable, but with that done it works like a champ, even in the noonday sun. Granted, it’s not summer here anymore. We’ll see how it performs next June. But in the meantime, I have 75 feet of wire working against a good ground. A guy can do a lot with that alone.

          I do intend to get a vertical for the higher bands. The longwire will remain for 40, 80, and 160. (The AH-4 tunes the wire easily on 160. The AH-3 had trouble sometimes, even during the night.) My (not yet purchased) vertical will be ground-mounted close to the ground rod. If I need a few radials I’ll throw them in. At that point the antenna farm will be mostly complete. I have a VHF discone but I also want a 6-meter vertical somewhere, and there’s more thinking to be done about what goes where.

          My other ham radio project is still incomplete: An uninterruptible 12V power supply system to run my IC-729 mobile HF rig and shack lighting. With AC power, the panel will draw on a 30A 12V supply I built back in the 1990s. If mains power drops, power will automatically switch to a battery supply of some sort. Near-term, probably gel cells trickle-charged off mains power. Ultimately I want to put a couple of panels up on the roof and buy a husky lithium-ion pack like those sold by Goal Zero. More on that as it happens. It’s the first time I’ve ever used Anderson PowerPole connectors, about which I have mixed feelings. But like everything else in electronics, the journey is the education, and the results are the reward. This time it’s been slow coming together, but better slow than never.

          More as it happens.

          Deja Vu’s Quantum Bit 2005-2019

          QbitOnCouchCropped-500 Wide.jpg

          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!

          I Wish I Could Pay for Software

          Actually, I do pay for software, but not as often as I used to–and the reason is peculiar. This has been especially true since I started using Android on my Samsung Note 4 phone, and more recently, a Galaxy Tab S3.

          Now, I still pay for commercial Windows software, like the brand new Affinity Publisher, which might be enough of a competitor to InDesign for me to dump InDesign and be rid of Adobe’s regular copy-protection tantrums. Android apps are a whole ‘nother universe, and in recent years, many of the apps I’ve tried are free–with ads. Used to be, you could choose between having ads displayed, or paying for the app. I’m seeing more and more apps that simply display ads, without any option for me paying to remove the ads. I found this puzzling. Why turn down user money?

          I’m sure I’m not be the first to suggest this, but I have a theory: There’s cash flow in ads. But before I unpack that, some history. Back in the ’90s, software was evolving furiously, often to keep pace with Windows. So we eagerly forked over money every couple of years, sometimes considerable money, for new major releases of Office, WordPerfect, Lotus, and the other bit-behemoths of that era. I’m pretty sure upgrades were a huge part of those firms’ revenues.

          Today, not so much. I used Office 2000 from 1999 until 2012. That’s when I bought Office 2007 so I could work on a collaborative book project for which Office 2007 was the minimum requirement. Why did I use Office 2000 for 13 years? It did what I needed it to do, and I was good at it. A friend of mine still uses Office 97, for the same reasons: It does whatever he needs to do (which is nothing exotic) and he knows it inside and out. So Microsoft got his money 22 years ago, and nothing since.

          That’s not unethical. Carol and I still use things we got as wedding gifts 43 years ago. The Realistic stereo I bought in 1976 is still our main stereo. On the other hand, firms that used to rely on two- or three-year upgrade cycles are finding that people are using software they’ve had for eight or ten years or more. The big companies’ solution was Software as a Service; i.e., the subscription model. You pay for the software every year, and if you stop paying, they disable it the next time the software phones home to check if you’re a deadbeat or not.

          To be charitable: Screw that. My primary objection to SAAS is that the skills I’ve developed on Office (or other packages like InDesign) belong to me. Disable the software I’ve paid for, and you’re basically stealing my skillset. So I’ll have nothing to do with SAAS, and may well use Office 2007 for the rest of my life.

          As I expected, pay-once packages like Affinity Publisher are popping up to compete with SAAS products like InDesign. I already have the Atlantis word processor, which actually has features that Word 2007 does not. If I need a more ramcharged spreadsheet, they’re out there. But…why? I like what I have, and currently, what I have is plenty good.

          So. Back to Android. Most Android apps are now ad-supported. A few years ago, I bought a few games and some oddments for five-ish bucks each. I’m sure a lot of other Android users did the same thing. But once the vendors get your five bucks, that’s all they ever get. I have some sympathy: They provide updates, which are worth something. I’ve bought InDesign four different times, and Atlantis twice. But even with a user base as large as Android, five bucks doesn’t go very far. Worse, it makes for very unreliable cash flow. The ad business model helps here. What happens is that the vendors of ad-supported software get an ongoing dribble of money from advertisers. The dribble from any single instance of a product is small. Put together fifty or a hundred thousand of those dribbles, though, and you’re talking real money. Better still, pauses in that multitude of dribbles average out into a reasonably predictable cash flow stream.

          I dislike ads, especially animated ads, double-especially force-you-to-watch ads, and triple-especially ads with audio. I’ve been suspicious of ads ever since Forbes served up malware through ads on its Web site–after demanding that readers disable their ad blockers. This is still a problem on Android to a great extent, though the mechanisms are complex and far from obvious.

          There’s not much to be done about ads on Android apps. The money from selling ads is too good, compared to getting five bucks once and nothing ever again. I avoid malware primarily by installing all updates to the OS and downloading only well-known brand-name apps, and only through the Play store. That’s all anybody can do.

          It’s an odd thing to think, but I think it often: Sigh. I miss the days when software actually cost money.

          Fifty Years of Love and Friendship

          HA Cruise March 2018--500 Wide.jpg

          What does it take to love a person for fifty years? Now that I’ve done it, maybe I can provide some insights.

          Most of you who’ve been reading Contra for any length of time know the story: I met Carol at a Teen Club event in our church basement on July 31, 1969. I asked her out to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, but since it wasn’t playing anywhere convenient anymore, we settled on Yellow Submarine. No matter. We clicked, and date followed upon date and months became years. I asked her to marry me in July 1975. We married in October 1976. And here we are, fifty years on from that fateful night, having lived in six states, every bit as much in love as ever, and then some. We’ve learned a few things about relationships along the way. Let me throw out some of the most important ones:

          1. It helps to want the same things.

          This is part luck and part persistence. I had three (and maybe four, depending on your definitions) failed relationships before I met Carol, and they all failed because the girls involved didn’t want the same things I did. Fersure, a good part of that is just being young, and in truth (in my case, at least) dating worked as designed. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted when I was 17. My hunch was that I wanted a friend who would become a girlfriend and then a best friend. My father told me this when I was 15: “If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll marry your best friend.” I wasn’t thinking about marriage by any means, but I wanted the same sort of warm friendship my parents had. When I met Carol I hit the jackpot: She wanted a friend who would be good company and good conversation. We were both interested in science, although she leaned toward biology and I leaned toward astronomy and electronics. We had a lot to talk about, and our relationship was founded on fascinating conversation. When I remember our early years, that’s what I most clearly recall.

          2. Allow yourself to be changed.

          This is easier at 17 than at 27 or 37, fersure. Over our early years, Carol gently pulled me away from my borderline manic eccentricity. I helped her get past her shyness. She taught me to dance. (More or less; lacking a strong sence of rhythm, I’ve never been good at it.) In countless ways we adapted to one another, on the one hand looking past each other’s quirks, and on the other minimizing our quirks so that over time there was less to look past.

          3. Give each other time and room to grow.

          This is the other half of allowing yourself to be changed: giving your loved one time and space to integrate those changes. Not being posessive is part of this. We both dated other people here and there for the first few years we knew one another. We were smart enough to understand that love is not the same as infatuation. We allowed our physical relationship to grow at its own pace. Social relationships with other people illuminated what we already had, and helped us put the forces that bear on a relationship into perspective.

          4. Learn apology and forgiveness.

          We had arguments here and there, and it’s telling that I now barely remember what most of them were about. We learned to ask forgiveness, and we learned to forgive. Our skills in conversation here helped a great deal: Being able to talk from the heart helps to heal hearts that are aching.

          5. Want, offer, and appreciate committment.

          Finally, commit to one another. Love powers committment; committment shapes love. It took a number of years for us to become absolutely certain that we both wanted a lifetime committment. It should take that long, because infatuation has to burn out, and the relationship has to have time to grow strong enough to last a lifetime. I grant that this is a hard thing to gauge without previous experience. Sometimes relationships fail, and those who value love at all will learn from their failed relationships. Although I know a lot of people in successful second marriages, I know very few in third or fourth marriages. Divorce is a hard lesson.

          Ours didn’t fail. In fact, it has succeeded beyond our wildest imaginings. We wanted warmth, and found it in one another. When we were old enough to harness the fire that emerges from the primal differences between boy and girl, that fire happened. When we understood what lifetime promises actually meant, we made those promises.

          And here we are. Fifty years. Yes, we were lucky, but hard work is the best luck amplifier going. Friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit. We built a lifetime on that cornerstone.

          And we are by no means done yet!

          The first picture ever taken of Jeff & Carol together: Labor day 1969

          Above: The first photo ever taken of us together, Labor Day 1969.

          Grundig Blaupunkt Luger Frug

          The other day I was thinking back to what written material I had found the funniest in my life. A lot of it was Dave Barry, some Hitchiker’s Guide, some Keith Laumer, some Gene Shepherd, some Terry Pratchett, a crazy little ancient item called The Silly Book by Stoo Hamble, and then–words of fire appeared unbidden in my head:

          Grundig blaupunkt luger frug
          Watusi snarf wazoo
          Nixon dirksen nasahist
          Rebozo bugaloo

          OMG! Unbeknownst to me, I had memorized a part of Bored of the Rings. And this is a good time to take up the topic of humor in fantasy and SF, since Bored of the Rings is now fifty years old.

          I see in the book’s Amazon reviews that a lot of people thought it was hilarious when they were 12, and it falls flat now. Quite a few others had no idea why the book was supposed to be funny to begin with. Yes, it was funnier fifty years ago, granted. It was published when I was 16, in 1969. I was quite a Tolkien devotee by that time (I first read the trilogy in 1967) and not only did I think it was funny, I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever read.

          I still have the 50-year-old MMPB. And I’m reading it, falling to pieces though it may be. Yes, it’s still funny. But I have the unfair advantage of an excellent memory for trivia. The problem with the book’s humor is that a lot of the things they’re making fun of no longer exist.

          The four lines quoted above are what is written on the parody version of the One Ring. Every single word is real, and every single word meant something to most people in 1969. Fifty years later, I’d wager that all but the legendary Nixon have simply been forgotten.

          The whole book gallops along that way: one 1969 cultural reference after another, interspersed with really obvious substitution parody and frat-boy crudities. I still enjoy it, but in a slightly guilty way that rubs my nose in the fact that I’m now 67. The best parts are in fact the original poetry and songs, which were parodies of style more than actual poems and songs. Another example, excerpted from a longer work that still makes me giggle:

          Fearful were the chicken dwarves,
          But mickle crafty too.
          King Yellobac, their skins to save
          The elves he tried to woo.

          Sing: Twist-a-cap, reynoldswrap, gardol and duz
          The elves he tried to woo.

          Youngsters might be excused for being puzzled, even though they can look up all that crap on Google. The kicker is that they didn’t live the context, and in certain types of humor, context is everything. Broadcast TV ruled the world in 1969. There was (almost) no cable, and certainly nothing like our streaming services. The whole thing was supported by ads for minor products like toothpaste, not just luxury sedans and expensive pharmaceuticals. Ads seen several times an hour tend to stick in your head. So even if you never even once bought the products, you damned well knew what Gardol and Duz were. (I believe Reynolds Wrap is still a thing, though you don’t see TV commercials for it anymore.)

          There are lots of ways to get a laugh. For simply exaggerating Tolkienesque imagery into absurdity and beyond, there’s little to match this longish paragraph, which comes at the climax of the story:

          Black flags were raised in the black towers, and the gate opened like an angry maw to upchuck its evil spew. Out poured an army the likes of which was never seen. Forth from the gate burst a hundred thousand rabid narcs swinging bicycle chains and tire irons, followed by drooling divisions of pop-eyed changelings, deranged zombies, and distempered werewolves. At their shoulders marched eight score heavily armored griffins, three thousand goose-stepping mummies, and a column of abominable snowmen on motorized bobsleds; at their flanks tramped six companies of slavering ghouls, eighty parched vampires in white tie, and the Phantom of the Opera. Above them the sky was blackened by the dark shapes of vicious pelicans, houseflies the size of two-car garages, and Rodan the Flying Monster. Through the portals streamed more foes of various forms and descriptions, including a six-legged diplodocus, the Loch Ness Monster, King Kong, Godzilla, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Beast with One Million Eyes, the Brain from Planet Arous, three different subphyla of giant insects, the Thing, It, She, Them, and the Blob. The great tumult of their charge could have waked the dead, were they not already bringing up the rear.

          Admit it: That’s funny, though it’s not a species of funny people do much anymore. In the book the authors dip into every humorous mechanism ever invented, right down to breaking the fourth wall, as was one character’s habit almost every time he appeared:

          “We cannot stay here,” said Arrowroot.

          “No,” agreed Bromosel, looking across the gray surface of the page to the thick half of the book still in the reader’s right hand. “We have a long way to go.”

          This brand of humor is almost dead, which is a shame. Depending on my mood, I variously blame the Flynn Effect, more people going to college, political correctness (where nothing is ever funny) and a remarkably sour zeitgeist, considering that the economy is in better shape than it’s been since, well, Bored of the Rings was first published.

          In truth, I think the core problem is that there is no longer a single culture in the US. Social networking (and networking generally) has allowed us to find our own culture among the dozens on offer somewhere or another online–and if we don’t find one to our liking, we just invent one. We all once knew what Gardol was. Today, hell, there are liberal and conservative grocery stores, and forty shelf-feet at Safeway dedicated to different balsamic vinegar SKUs.

          Basically, when a hundred different cultures exist side by side, nothing will be funny to all of them because nothing is common to all of them. So cultural references are fraught. I’ve actually had to explain some of the gags in Ten Gentle Opportunities to its purchasers and while writing it I consciously avoided having the humor too closely tied to any one culture or era. Sure, I included a veiled reference to Flintstone Vitamins, which are themselves a cultural reference to a cartoon show that ended in freaking 1966. And “sweets baked by elves.” I’m sure we all know what that refers to. Don’t we? Don’t we?

          Maybe we do now. In fifty years, we won’t. By then, people will have as much trouble with any and all 2019 humor as people today are having with Bored of the Rings. I’m certainly sure of one thing: A thousand years from now, J. R. R. Tolkien will be having the last laugh.

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