August 29, 2000:

Below is the eulogy I read at my mother's funeral this past Saturday. More than this I probably can't say. And on that note I wrap August for ContraPositive. More when I think of something worth relating.



1924 - 2000

I'm about to attempt perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done: Say goodbye to one of my parents for the last time. I had had surgery the day my father died, and at his funeral I was shot full of morphine and could barely think, much less stand and speak. This time the way is clear. I'll do my best, but if I have some trouble, bear with me. I only get this one shot.

Victoria Albina Pryes was born December 16, 1924, in the little town of Stanley, Wisconsin. She was the tenth and youngest child of poor Polish immigrant parents, and her early years were hard indeed. Two of her sisters died as children, and another died in childbirth as a young woman. They often lived in rickety farmhouses, sometimes with no glass in the windows. When she was 12 and bathing in a washtub in the middle of the kitchen floor, ball lightning came down the chimney and bounced all around her without hurting her—only one of the many great stories she told us through the years. Even a life in poverty is not without wonder.

She was a Catholic, and one of monumental faith. Without knowing the word, she was a mystic, and had visions of the God she believed in. After her first love paid the highest price for our freedom in World War II, she took it as a sign that she would never marry.

Then, after the War, she met this other guy: Not real tall, but strong, and funny, and kind. Not Polish, either—a scary thing in itself. But Frank loved her, and she loved him, and when he asked her to marry him, she was terrified…but she said yes.

The night before her wedding, she was so afraid that she cried, and she asked God what she should do. And in her dreams she saw a vision of Jesus in the guise of the Sacred Heart, and He said, Frank is a good man. Marry him.

She did. (I know of two people, at least, who are damned glad of that.)

They raised us well: Mother the cautious one, who worried, and father the confident one, who knew that everything would work out. Their love was the rock upon which we all stood, and it might have lasted for many more years. But when I was 16 and Gretchen only 12, our father was struck with cancer, and although he fought for ten years, at last it took him.

Mother was a nurse all her life, caring for her husband, for her children, and for total strangers. She did what she could for her Frank, but losing him broke her spirit, and she was never the same. Mother confided to my sister once that all she would ask of Heaven was to see God and have her husband back. Nothing else mattered in the slightest. There was faith and love in her declining years, but in truth not a great deal of hope.

I want to close with a strong statement—a very strong statement—but one that may not seem very strong without a little explanation. I want to draw on the work of my patron sort-of-a-saint, Lady Julian of Norwich, who was perhaps the original gonzo optimist. Even people who don't know her name have probably heard her signature affirmation: "All will be well. And all will be well. And all manner of thing will be well." Lady Julian is not a canonized saint because she dared to report a vision she had, of a mysterious Great Thing that God will do on the Last Day. On that day, the gates of hell will lie broken and open, and hell itself will be abandoned and empty, because the damned, the fallen angels, and even Satan himself will have repented and been redeemed.

"But my Lord," Julian protested in aghast of this vision, "that is impossible!"

"Maybe impossible for you," God replied. "But hey—I'm God. I can pull it off. Trust me."

This is a vision of a God so powerful that eternal punishment or even final extinction are beneath Him. Only total and infinite redemption will do. Julian's vision is of a God so patient that he will wait as long as it takes for Satan himself to say, "All right, Big Guy, you win. I give. Take me back?"

And it's a vision of a God so loving that He will.

The greatest gift my sister and I received from our parents was that strange melding of my mother's unbreakable faith and my father's irrepressible optimism. We take Julian's vision as our own, and we know in our very guts that she was right.

Now, I said all that just to say this: That the God Gretchen and I believe in has given our mother back to our father, so that they can heal one another in the ineffable light of the Beatific Vision. And so, for the first time in thirty-two years, after all that pain, and suffering, and death, and separation, and loneliness, all…

…is finally…


Mother, as you always told us as we left the house, we now tell you: Go with God.
August 28, 2000:

Oddly, I was also at the hospital when my father died, back in January 1978, but with a twist: I was across town having abdominal surgery. So I could not attend his wake, and was barely functional at his funeral, of which I remember little except being held up by the armpits while the VFW fired a 21-gun salute in his honor. So my mother's wake was truly a new experience. My aunt and godmother Kathleen Duntemann died last summer, but had expressly demanded not to have a wake, and so it was. Not since I lost my last grandparent in 1967 had I been to a wake that cut so close to the heart.

I don't think Aunt Kathleen quite understood wakes. She thought they were painful for the living, but to the contrary: I had never felt so cared about as I did that evening, thronged with people I had not seen in years—sometimes many years—who had somehow heard the news and came, some across distances I would have considered prohibitive. Mrs. Schroeder, who had been den mother for Den 9 when I was a Cub Scout in the early 1960s, was there. My cousin Tony Pryes drove down all the way from Green Bay, and two of my father's cousins drove up from the very far southern suburbs. Most remarkably, the informal email network had managed to gather six members of the Fox Patrol, who had truly not all been in the same room since 1966, in honor of my poor mother, who had stolidly and tolerantly hosted the noisy bunch in our family room when I was in junior high.

Perhaps it would be different at the wake of a person who had died tragically young. But mother had had her threescore and ten plus change, and had spent those last few years wasting away from an obscure dementia related to Alzheimer's Disease. So in some sense it was a merciful release from pain, and there was a strange (if quiet) undercurrent of joy behind it. Perhaps more than anything else, my mother's wake reminded me that the people we love drop out of the game, one by one, and we should take pains to appreciate those we have while we have them.
August 27, 2000:
It's been a little ragged since last Monday, when my mother took a turn for the worst, and Gretchen and I bundled her off to the Emergency Room at Lutheran General Hospital here in Niles, Illinois. It was sheer chance that I was here in the Chicago area, but Tuesday morning she fell into a coma, and late Tuesday afternoon the nurse called us while we were home having supper to say that we should come back to the hospital. Gretchen was still at work, but Carol and I hustled over there. We were there for only minutes when it finally hit me that mother was no longer breathing. Carol gripped her wrist, shrunken almost to bones from the dementia syndrome, and I saw the tears welling up in my wife: Victoria Duntemann was gone. That's about all I can write this evening. I'll have to get this out in chunks, which won't perhaps be coherent or in the right order (all this happened days ago, but today is the first day I can think straight) so bear with me.
August 21, 2000:
Having fairly predictable trouble getting new files up to the new Web site here. You'd think we'd have this figured out by now, but there it is, a question hanging molten in the air since the days when I was passing plain text over 300 baud modems for Xerox in 1979: Why is it so damned hard to connect? I could flame for the rest of the night—but I could use some sleep. (And you won't read this until I figure it out!)
August 19, 2000:
Off to Chicago, for a couple of professional conferences, including (although maybe this isn't quite "professional") the World Science Fiction Convention. ContraPositive may be a little sparse for a bit, since my ability to upload HTML to this site from remote locations is untested and unproven. But I'll give it a shot.
August 18, 2000:
I'm looking for a utility that can read Outlook .pst personal folder files and export them in some other format, ideally as an ASCII comma-delimeted database. I have almost 20,000 messages in my .pst file, which has now grown to 165 megabytes in size. A body of data that large needs to be in a database, which is what I'm creating with Aardmarks—a generalized content database for bookmarks, mail, newsgroup postings, digital camera images, and so on. The database program also includes client code for the two major Internet non-Web mechanisms—mail and news—and organizes everything against a common hierarchy. I'm writing it because I need it badly, and once it's done I'll give it to everybody else too. In the meantime, anybody got some Delphi code that reads .pst files?
August 17, 2000:
The cover story of the same issue of Atlantic Monthly I mentioned yesterday (8/16/2000) is a must-read for anyone with more than a passing interest in the Napster online music controversy. Most particularly, pay attention to the author's description of how the economics of modern music publishing work. I'm a book publisher and an author, and because I'm in a "rights" business should therefore support the record companies—but no way, mon. Those people (the Big Five record labels) have hugely abused the concept of copyright, and basically steal the rights of the music that they publish, taking copyright and never giving it back, gathering money made by small bands and basically handing it to big bands that they choose (for generally arbitrary reasons) to promote, charging artists for things that book publishers absorb as part of the risk of doing business, and other things that are not only unethical but quite simply evil. What sympathy I might have had for the record industry (which has basically devolved to five immense companies plus impoverished debris) is just gone. My take on the big labels: Break 'em up. Let's revisit music copyright, and rebuild the music business so that the people who actually make the music make the money.
August 16, 2000:

I'm often lumped in with traditionalists and even conservatives (sometimes for no better reason than my thinking body piercings are ukky) but in truth I have very little use for the culture of the recent past. (I admire certain ancient cultures much the same way that I admire the beauty of Devonian dragonflies encased in amber, knowing that they couldn't even breathe the air if they were alive today.) The Fifties, much worshipped by cultural conservatives, particularly disgust me. About the best I can say for those years is that we weren't killing one another quite so much, but that's about where it ends. We were extremely good at hating back then, and particularly bad at loving—that is to say, loving unselfishly, and especially loving strangers.

The legendary civility of the Fifties was paper-thin, something that becomes quickly apparent to anyone who looks beyond the "Father Knows Best" cultural icons and reads the unsentimental biographies of the period. A good short example lies in the September 2000 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The writer, a man only two weeks younger than I, describes his early life as one of fourteen children. The article "Fourteen" describes a tepid marriage between two selfish people, who raised fourteen children but wouldn't even eat dinner in the same room with them—and whose mother disowned all of them in her will. Yes, such extreme situations were uncommon, but I recall "smelling" households like that as a child, when visiting friends. Once, in the basement of a mutual friend's house, we heard yelling up above, and Paul leaned over to me and whispered, "There is no love in this house." And he was right. There was responsibility, and civility, and the meeting of physical needs. But no love. Another time, at another friend's home, his mother saw us sorting our treasures gleaned from an afternoon sifting the sands at Foster Beach, among which I had found a sand-weathered fragment of someone's upper plate. "Jeff, throw that out!" she told me. "That might have been in a nigger's mouth!" Pondering telling a 13-year-old child such a thing these days gives me the chills, but such blatant racism made almost no one twitch back then.

Plenty of bad things came out of tumult of the Sixties, but what we did accomplish back then was break the back of parlor-acceptable hatreds, and of scurrilous assumptions that had stood for centuries: That women were the property of men, that dark-skinned people were at best inferior and at worse dangerous, that sex was something that women traded for a roof over their heads, that war could be waged by national powers for any reason or no reason at all. The problems we face now—especially that aching vacancy of the spirit that comes of the rootless worship of material goods—seem daunting, but until we undid the foulness behind the smiling faces of the Fifties, we had no way to see even which direction we were going. I find the generation of teens now coming of age—Generation Y?—tremendously reassuring. The few that shoot the guns make all the noise. But it's the ones who heal the wounds whom we should be watching, and when I watch them I know that we've turned some kind of a corner, and that the way is bright ahead.
August 15, 2000:

While the giants of instant messaging (IM) battle over whose protocols will become the industry standard, and (more significantly) whose IM servers will be open to communications with whose IM clients, an open source alternative hopes to trump everybody simply by being open...and therefore compatible with all clients and all servers.

This is Jabber, and the two sites you should read are and The .com site is the "user" site, which explains the Jabber concept and contains pointers to finished clients and servers. The .org site is for developers, and contains technical information on the Jabber protocols, as well as pointers to various open source projects related to the Jabber system. I'm please to point out that the very first Windows Jabber client was written, not in C++, but in Delphi. For details see The Jabber system is architected in layers, and no matter what IM protocols eventually hit critical mass, the Jabber system will be able to fold them in and use them.

I hope to build IM capabilities into my Aardmarks client program, and will probably borrow from the Winjab project. The Jabber system has better than average documentation for something like this, and if you're the least bit interested in the future of IM, you'd benefit from taking a look at it.
August 14, 2000:

Somebody asked me to put down my list of the ten most annoying pop songs in history. It sounds like one of those usual party game things, but when I sat down and meditated on the question, the list turned out interesting indeed. Here you go, worst first:

  • Feelings (Morris Albert)
  • I've Been to Paradise (But I've Never Been to Me) (Charlene)
  • My Sharona (The Knack)
  • I Enjoy Being a Girl (Flower Drum Song)
  • Watching Scotty Grow (Bobby Goldsboro)
  • I Am Woman (Helen Reddy)
  • Color My World (Chicago)
  • Louie, Louie (Kingsmen)
  • My Way (Frank Sinatra)
  • Honey (Bobby Goldsboro)

Poor Bobby Goldsboro, heh-heh. He had to work to get on this list twice, but work he did. They don't make 'em like "Honey" anymore—and thank the Big Guy Upstairs for that!

(Now, let's not even start talking about opera!)
August 13, 2000:
Stumbled upon an interesting "vertical" search engine, vertical along an unusual axis: It only indexes Adobe PDF documents. This is indeed useful, especially for electronics freaks like me, because these days nearly all electronic component manufacturers publish spec sheets in PDF format and post them on the Web. For example, if you want a set of characteristic curves for the IRF511 or the 2N7000 (as I did yesterday during some routine research) just dial up and enter a query that will take you right to the goods. First rate.
August 12, 2000:

Everybody's off placing the blame for our Age of Rage everywhere but where it belongs: Lack of sleep. I'm not kidding. A hundred fifty years ago, our ancestors got an average of ten hours of sleep a night, because candles and lamp oil (much of which came to us from rendered whales!) were expensive. The most economical thing to do when the sun went down was...sleep. These days, most people I know (especially those with children) say they get about six hours of sleep per night, often less. That's 40% less than what people got in the 1800s.

It's still not entirely clear what all sleep does for us, nor how every part of it works. (This is especially true for dreams, which fascinate me. We may in fact sleep so that our minds can dream undisturbed by reality.) But it is abundantly clear that sleep deprivation has its price, on health and sanity. Carol and I have succeeded in living balanced, happy lives and staying deeply in love all these years by getting between eight and nine hours of sleep per night, whatever it takes. Now and then we "catch up" and go for ten. Yes, it's a horrible waste of hours of my life that I will never have again—but I have lost enough sleep to know that the consequences of trying to reap those "wasted" hours are far worse.

It sounds ghoulish, but I would like to know if that poor psycho who broke down the cockpit door on a Southwest Airlines flight the other day and attacked the pilot—and then died on the spot of a heart attack—was severely sleep deprived. My guess is that he was.
August 11, 2000:

It's been a bad season for toasters. I'm ready to throw ours at the wall. It doesn't work now, and it didn't work when I bought it, which was only a year ago. No two batches are toasted to the same degree, irrespective of where you park the little darkness lever—hell, no two sides of a two-slice batch are toasted to the same degree. I miss the toaster my folks got for a wedding present in 1949. It was way cool deco and had little swirly loops on its sides (although almost everything else did in 1949, for that matter) and made a sharp little tick when it was ready to pop so you could put the paper down and get ready to grab the perfectly toasted Wonder Breads as they erupted out the top. It lasted for forty years, and we dumped it only after somebody knocked it off the counter and the bottom plate shattered, releasing most of a lifetime of near-toxic preservative-laden Wonder Bread crumbs into the ecosphere.

We just can't make toasters toast anymore, and I think I know why: Today's toasters are addicted to inappropriate technology. I don't need a microprocessor in my toaster. Stupid appliances take orders better, and don't feel the need to be creative. Viz: I was cruising a catalog yesterday hunting down a replacement and saw a toaster that imprints a cute panda bear face on the side of every toasted slice. This is supposed to make kids want to eat their toast, but I have my doubts. Food that looks at you is a bad idea. The best thing I can saw about going to a raw bar is that oysters don't have eyes.

Case in point: When I was eight and my sister was four, my mom worked PMs three days a week, and on those days the old man would make supper. He would often bring home whole smoked chubs. He taught me how to parse mine, and would cut up my sister's for her. I took great delight in parking the severed fish heads on the edge of my plate (often on a foundation of macaroni and cheese) so that they were looking right at her. She would scream, and the old man would swear, reach out one thumb and spin my plate so that they were looking at me instead. Once he spun it so fast that the fish heads flew off by centrifugal force and landed in my lap, except for one that the dog caught on the fly. I didn't see my sister laugh that hard again until the first season of Seinfeld.
August 10, 2000:

Hey, I was right about Everything. (Read the August 9 entry before you read this one.) I'm a very good pastiche artist (meaning I can imitate a literary style after reading enough of it) and I wrote a short humorous node on Everything about people who scribble in the margins of dollar bills. It was wry, it was brief, it was slightly snotty, but it was very much in the spirit of most eveything on Everything. Bingo! In addition to 8 votes it got "cooled" (meaning that one of the Powers had decided that it was worthy of the special Cool award) and picked up five extra points plus a permanent slot in the Cool Archive. (And this for an Old Bald Guy.) I now have 22 XPs of the 50 required to ascend to Level 2. By contrast, my short factual entry on the Algonquin Round Table got no votes, nor did my short-short SF story "Stormy vs. the Tornadoes", which, while humorous, is not particularly cool. (I posted that after spotting a node in which somebody commented that tornadoes seem to have a particular taste for mobile home parks. Yup, heh-heh.) I may try a few more things, but I'm definitely getting the picture. Encouragingly, a separate node I wrote that suggested a balancing award for Objectivity (in addition to the existing award for Coolness) received 6 votes.

It would be a lot of fun to attempt a system like this with a different set of parameters. The basic mechanism (turning content creation into a kind of role-playing computer game) is fascinating, and worth some additional study.
August 9, 2000:

I stumbled upon an interesting Web site yesterday, and I've been poking at it. The site is Everything ( and it almost defies description. Its original intent is remarkably like my very ancient concept for the "Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything" that I described in PC Techniques before the Web was more than a few months old, and before I ever saw it. Everything is something like the Web in miniature, a hypertext matrix of text (no images) all inside a single server: Users create "nodes", which are short writeups hyperlinked to other nodes within the server. Its founders wanted people to capture their knowledge and link it to other knowldge, and some of that is certainly going on. But the noise level is high, and a huge number of nodes are adolescent crudity, self-referential insider chatter, or simple nonsense.

Apart from its notion of "soft links," which is a peculiarly intriguing feature I don't have room to describe here (maybe later in the month if things get dull), what's interesting about Everything is its system for peer review of nodes. Once you've posted at least 25 nodes and have had your nodes voted on favorably by enough of the old timers, you become an old timer with the power to vote on nodes penned by others. As you accumlate XPs (experience points) you ascend through twelve levels like dans in karate, from Initiate through things like Scribe and Crafter, to PseudoGodhead. The higher you get, the more votes you can cast per day, and the more you can influence the quality and shape of the system.

This is a very cool concept. Getting experience points is tough, and takes awhile. I accumulated seven XPs in my first two days, after having spent a couple of hours writing and linking four items. I've got a few more ideas I'll probably post tomorrow, but in truth, if you're even going to get to Level 2, you're going to have to spend a huge amount of time and effort on the system.

So why is there so much nonsense on Everything? Having spent some hours cruising through the matrix (which someone on Everything insightfully described as "like flying through the human collective unconscious") I can only conclude that that's what its members enjoy, and what they want. Everything is not an encyclopedia. It's a community, and a pretty tight one, at that. Nodes get points more for being cool than for being useful, so what you get is a lot of cool and a lot less useful. I don't begrudge them that, and I confess I enjoyed the diversion, but it's not an encyclopedia. Still, one could build a Virtual Encyclopedia on that model. Everything (in the generic sense) depends on how you incent your content creators. You get what you give points for.
August 7, 2000:

I got my equatorial mount castings back from the foundry, and now I have to machine one of them. (I had two cast so I would have a spare. Never did this before.) Photo of the raw casting is at left.

These are big chunks of aluminum, nicely cast via an automated sand foundry specializing in nonferrous metals. My first task will be to center drill them so that I can spin them on my lathe. That involves some nontrivial center finding. After that, I have to figure out how to sneak a tool bit ino a very tight spot, where the center of the casting's disk portion touches the dead center in the tailstock. More on the weekend, when I can cool down the garage on cheaper juice and have at it.
August 6, 2000:

Several news articles (including one in InfoWorld) have confirmed the grumbles I've heard and provide an extremely potent reason not to buy HP computers: The OS recovery CDs are limited in unacceptable ways. They are keyed to various parts of the hardware; if something eats your hard drive and you're forced to physically replace it, you may not be able to reinstall the OS from the CD. And if you have to change the motherboard, you could similarly out of luck. The details depend on what machine and what OS you have. This really surprises and disturbs me, as I swear by HP printers and scanners. Dell doesn't pull such tricks, nor Compaq—at least they didn't the last time I acquired machines from those companies. (I currently favor Dell.)

This is a very stupid move irrespective of whether it's a Microsoft tactic or an HP tactic. If people buy a machine and can't reinstall the OS from the "legit" copy after a meltdown, they will feel no compuction about stealing a copy somewhere. Why promote piracy of your own products? And it'll be a cold day in hell before I buy an HP desktop without a backup copy of the OS that won't stick its tongue out at me.

Microsoft needs some serious competition. Keep an eye on HelixCode. ( My hunch is that they will be the source of the long-awaited Linux desktop breakthrough. And HP—shame on you! Find out who's behind that decision and fire their butts bigtime. The tech community expects better of you than that.
August 5, 2000:

I happened upon a Napster clone the other day that is unremarkable except for its iconic theme. The program is IMesh ( and the iconic theme is...ladybugs. When the client is connected to the server through your Net connection, a red ladybug appears in your taskbar tray. When an instant message comes in, it jumps up on its hind legs and says, "hi." When the server breaks the connection, the ladybug in the tray rolls over on its back, turns a sickly yellow, and kicks its little legs in the air. When one of your contacts (equivalent to people on a Napster hotlist) is "away" and not accepting instant messages, there are z's over that contact's ladybug icon, indicating that it's "asleep."

Maybe I'm easily amused, but damn, I love this business!
August 4, 2000:

Here's a protocol for testing whether past-life regression is real or not: Separately engage the services of four or five regression therapists without telling them that anything special's going on. Furthermore, tell them not to discuss the results of the regression sessions with you, but instead record them carefully and seal them after each session. (This may give it away--but what the heck, it's a necessary part of the scientific method.) Then go to each of them and have them regress you through at least five lives. When it's all over, open and correlate the "lives" described. The five lives should be recorded in the same order, and they should be recognizably the same lives across all five therapists. Unless they are, I'd find it hard to believe that such past life regressions are in fact real experiences, and not something as simple as exercises of the unconscious imagination. A New Age friend of mine tells that that's not how it works: Instead of experiencing lives sequentially during regression, we dip into them randomly. One final check then: As best we can determine, the lives recorded must not overlap in time. Can one soul live in two bodies at once? I wouldn't think so.

Now, this is a pretty obvious test, and as far as I can see nobody's ever done it. Why not? If I were a hypnotic subject (I've tried and can't be put under for some reason) I would do it like a shot. My guess is that all parties involved are way too afraid it would discredit the doctrine of reincarnation, which I find pretty ridiculous.
August 3, 2000:
I still tinker with electronics when time allows, and recently I bought a selection of surface mount devices (SMDs) just to see what they were like to handle. These are minuscule electronic parts without wire leads, designed to be soldered in place by robotic arms, directly to the circuit board. It's scary how small the damned things are. And the physics puzzles me as well: How do you make a .01 ceramic capacitor the size of a flake of dandruff? (Literally about one millimeter by two.) It's unclear how to solder them without holding them down, and it's impossible to hold them down without some sort of needle probe hinged from above. Will have to work on that. Will report back later.
August 2, 2000:
Flew back from a speaking gig in Denver today, and it was disconcerting to see this brown layer of smoky haze at about 25,000 feet. Half of the West is on fire, and the smoke is everywhere above us. The skies here in Phoenix, usually so clear, have an obscuring haze that has been with us for a couple of weeks now. I have my big 10" F6.7 Newtonian scope in working order again, but it was depressing to strap it into its cradle and see almost nothing. Drought conditions here are severe; small animals are eating everything that's still alive. The local squirrels, in fact, are biting off the silk blossoms from a pot of artificial flowers on the patio shelf and stuffing them into their cheek pouches. There must be easier ways to get some fiber in your diet...