Fred Allen: People He Didn’t Expect To Meet


[ One of the soundest bits of comic advice I ever received, back as an undergraduate, from Ken Goldstein, fellow undergradute whose comic talents I admired was, “Funny names aren’t.” He added the reservation, “Unless you’re Groucho Marx.” I accepted this at the time, since the evidence seemed overwhelmingly on his side. But in those days I — and, I believe he — didn’t have such easy access to old-time radio, or I believe he’d have allowed that Fred Allen could provide funny names. His mock names have a wonderful-to-me crackle to them. I don’t know that he ever described his process for creating them — although he did often rely on the mixing of the highbrow and the low, as in “Socrates Mulligan”; or juxtaposing the fancy and the meek, as in “Delsarte Trundle”. Here’s another excerpt from Treadmill To Oblivion in which he talks about the hazards of such names. ]

People claiming that their names had been used in the news burlesques, and that they had been held up to ridicule, were always threatening to sue. To eliminate this annoyance we invented a set of names to use for comedy characters. Names like Tomtit McGee, Beau Bernstein, Falvey Nishball and hudreds of others. I thought we were safe coining these synthetic cognomens until one sumer up in Biddeford, maine, an old gentleman, a total stranger, stopped me on the street and said, “Mr. Allen, I heard my name on your program last winter. Who sent it in to you?” I said, “What is your name?” The old gentleman answered, “Sinbad Brittle.”

[ And while I’m here, I’d like to point out “synthetic cognomen” as a great combination of words, and a suitable name if you want something with a bit of a science fictional flair. ]

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Along With The Tooth


Good news! I guess. The dentist called and they found my mouth. It’s going to sound ridiculous, but after searching the place they realized it had been left under my beard the whole time. It’s good to have it back, I suppose, although I was warming up to the idea of a brand-new one in replacement. You know how that fantasy is. Still, this is a lot less work, and I was getting tired of trying to figure out the procedure for making a lost-mouth claim with the homeowner’s insurance and getting hung up on all the time. Plus now I can get back to chewing like I’m used to. Bonus: they gave me two of those adorable little bottles of mouthwash.

Fred Allen: Audience Participation


[ This is a bit from Fred Allen’s book Treadmill to Oblivion, a radio-business memoir which includes generous excerpts from scripts, and a lot of talk — including quite some sulking — about the struggles he had against, particularly, the advertising men who ultimately controlled his program. This is an excerpt from his discussion of the Average Man’s Round Table, a segment from the hourlong program he did for Texaco, partly about how the willingness of the average person had chained with the coming of radio. His complaint may strike you also as being a perennial; however, the phrasing of it is, I think, exquisite, particularly in the latter paragraph here, and shows off why Fred Allen with a good head of steam was such a well-regarded comic writer. You could teach a course in comic writing just from his selection of adjectives. ]

The coming of radio, and his access to the microphone, resulted in the average man’s discovery of his ego. In vaudeville, years before, a magician had his trouble coaxing a member of the audience up on the stage to witness the magician “sawing a woman in halves” or “impaling a small Hindu concealed in a wicker basket on the point of a blunt sword”. The magician spent many minutes pleading, and assuring that nobody would be ridiculed during his performance, before one lone person would overpower his modesty, mount the stage and stand terrified before the audience.

Today, the Man in the Street does his broadcast hiding in a doorway. He is afraid to show himself in public. The minute his microphone is sighted a motley throng is on him. Soiled matrons eager to divulge how they first met their husbands. Tottering old men outfrailing each other to get to the mike and explain how they became ancient. Gamy adolescents vying to flaunt their arrogance.

Vim, Vigor, and That Other Thing


I’m getting back into regular exercise. I don’t want to make people envious of my physique, but in the past few years I’ve got into the best shape of my life, not counting that year in elementary school when I was a regular heptagon. When I say the best shape of my life, I mean the best shape for me, though. I have the raw athletic prowess of a tower of buckets. Given a reasonable time to warm up and stretch, I can pretty nearly successfully tip over and plummet onto the floor. Next week I’m hoping to get to tipping and plummeting onto the floor while wearing weights.

Why I Should’ve Watched My Mouth


The trouble started when my dentist suggested a more convenient way to get my teeth cleaned. Convenience is pretty much the source of every trouble, if you take a generous enough view of “the source”. Here the proximate cause was that getting my teeth cleaned is a thing to do, while the modern efficient society requires that we be doing at least four or twelve things at once, and my willingness to just hang about and be there left him unnerved. What other things could I be doing that I wasn’t? I suggested I could also stare intently at the bird feeder which has been occupied by a squirrel for six years straight and which is bending over under the accumulated mass of squirrel, but he didn’t think that enough.

What he suggested was that I could have him pop my mouth out, leave it there for him to clean efficiently, and I could go off to the mall or to a movie or to poke onto the Internet where I could find a thing and make fun of it digitally. I was skeptical, but he pointed out that it’s much easier to clean the back teeth if there aren’t all that front cheek in the way and if he doesn’t have to go around my mouth, and I figured I wasn’t expecting to say much of anything that day anyway, so I agreed. Of course, I used a series of head-bobbings to indicate approval, lest he think I wasn’t taking him seriously.

You’d think the first thing to worry about after he popped my mouth out was how it’d leave my moustache just hanging there. You’d be right, but then I went and did something foolish. I pretty near always go for fast food right after a dentist’s visit, dating back to when my father always took us kids to White Castle after the dentist cleaned our teeth, because my father wanted to be sure we grew up appreciating the inherent absurdity of life. So I rode over to the Burger King where the cashier once complimented my accent and sought reassurance that I don’t think Michigan accents sound funny and proceeded through a series of grunts and pointing at menu placemats to convince the cashier that I was late for the breakfast service. There’s a happy ending, though, since they had the cheesey omelette wraps left over.

There was something like forty minutes left, so I went over to the mall where I found stuff and looked at it manually. That went about like you’d expect, although outside the gourmet popcorn place I realized I had to cough pretty badly, and the gourmet popcorn cashier would only do it if we rang it up as a sale of a small bag of bacon-guacamole glazed popcorn. I’m glad I didn’t eat any either.

I got back to the dentist’s a little bit early because I was sure I was running late, and that’s the only way I get anywhere on time. He had this apologetic look and had me read over a brochure on fire safety while he tried to edge out of the room. They had got a little busy too, what with it being the modern age, and realized they were none too sure where my mouth had got to. This was no joke; they even showed me all the cupboards and we checked even the annoying drawers you have to kneel on the floor to see, and it just wasn’t there.

They’re sorry, of course, and you might imagine they would be, but they were able to set me up with a loaner mouth in order that I could bite people who needed it. And meanwhile the dental insurance company is pretty sure that if my mouth goes two weeks without appearing they can swing to buy me a permanent replacement. There’ve been some great upgrades available the last couple of years — stuff with polymers that sounds so great because I used to read a lot of pop science books from the 60s when polymers sounded really great, sabre teeth, micro-lasers so I could read a compact disc just by licking it — and I have to say, at this point I’m kind of hoping they don’t find it. It’s a weird state to be in, isn’t it?

Selected From The Spring Catalog


Carpet seeds (Item A). These hardy indoor plants grow to a near-uniform quarter-inch height and reach from stem to stern glare. As such they are reasonably satisfying for use as carpeting, and bring the pleasures of a fresh-mown lawn to wandering down the hall forgetting what you got up for. Watering is not needed after the base layer has grown in; merely occasionally spill a cup of a caffeinated drink such as coffee, tea, or cola onto the blades. Now that you need to, you never will spill a cup again. To ensure the grounds are sufficiently fed we offer a special off-balance motor which randomly shakes a glass or cup (see item 4, omitted for completeness). Rumors about the lawn-carpet capturing small children or pets and dragging them off to photosynthetic lifestyles are misleading. $14.99 per square yard or better offer.

The Subjectiveness of Puns


I’ve been reading John Pollack’s The Pun Also Rises, which is a better book than the limp title implies. The book doesn’t quite live up to its subtitle about explaining “How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and made Wordplay More Than Some Antics”, and it inexplicably fails to mention the short story in which Isaac Asimov put forth a great theory about where jokes come from and why people groan at puns. Pollack also describes live pun contests, which sound like the sorts of pun cascades that mark the point at which I escape online comment threads. (I like puns, or at least don’t mind them, but every pun cascade is somehow the exact same cascade every time.) Well, it’s his fun.

But there’s a lot of punning going on, and talk about puns throughout their historical traces. One of them particularly delighted me so I thought I’d share it; it’s from the reign of King Charles II of England:

As the story goes, when the king was told that his jester, the playwright Charles Killigrew, could pun on any subject, he issued a challenge and commanded that Killigrew “make one on me”.

Instantly, Killigrew quipped that this was impossible, because “the king is no subject”.

I like it, certainly, and yet it still leaves the question whether this is actually a pun or just shifting between senses of a word.

I Never Was a Business-Minded Person


“We’ll need you for a conference call,” said the voice on the phone. This was a friendly voice, which made me think things were going well.

“All right … what are we going to be talking about?”

“We’re still figuring out the exact agenda, so just, stay loose, roll with it. We probably won’t need you really, we just want the insurance.”

I said thank you rather than work out whether to be insulted. “When is the call? When should I be there?”

“Oh, we’re working out the time. We’ll just call you when we’re ready.”

“Are you thinking it’ll be late morning? Early afternoon? Late afternoon?”

“Can’t really say. Just wait and we’ll be ready for you.”

“Is it going to be today?”

The voice sighed. “Don’t worry about trivialities. We We need you for the big-picture thinking, that insight you bring into our i-dotting and t-crossing.”

And this is why I spent the whole day sitting at the table, staring at my cell phone, wondering if I could dash off to the bathroom without getting caught.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Body Politic


There’s something exciting and liberating about digging into a sheet of paper and just drawing whatever comes to mind, particularly if there’s something else important to be done. But taking a picture of someone — there are over 14 people photographed on the Internet, you know — and trying to caricature them reveals something astounding about humanity and artwork. That revelation is: all caricatures manage to somehow resemble Richard Nixon.

Unbared Soles


Continuing my thoughts about fashion, though, men’s dress socks are interesting, shut up, they are too, because as far as I can tell they’re the only articles of clothing men routinely buy that are deliberately meant to feel good when they’re put on. I don’t mean other stuff men wear is designed to feel bad, just that the skin feel isn’t considered. If a T-shirt had a couple poisoned metal spikes woven into the cloth, or a jacket happened to contain a spring-loaded bear trap, that’d be something guys would pretty much take it as that’s the sort of thing that’ll happen and you kind of like it when you get used to it. Not with dress socks; they just feel really good.

The trade-off dress socks have is they’re all very slightly different colors and they mutate between when you put them on and when you go out in public, so there’s never a risk of putting on a pair. Many’s the time I slipped on what looked to me like two black high-cut socks which, when I got into the sun, I found were one medium-length navy blue sock and one speckled trout who was angry but surprisingly reasonable given the circumstance. More reasonable than I’d be. It’s enough to drive a guy to tube socks.

Neither Loud nor Square. Maybe Square.


I don’t want to sound too much the Beau Brummel, but I’d like to point out that I now have the same shirt in four slightly different shades of blue. This is a big improvement on my old wardrobe, which had the same shirt in several different colors none of which seem to have been actually made by any shirt-making company on purpose (“Is that an off-grey?” “I think so”). I’m not really bad at dressing myself, in that I nearly always get the shirt and the pants on the correct body (mine), but selecting what to wear has been a problem. My Dearly Beloved has this very kind amused expression on noticing I’ve dressed myself, kind of the one you might give a Labrador retriever who’s just turned in a calculus final. Anyway, Brummel died penniless and insane and played cricket, so I’m ahead on those counts too.

How To Overcome Popularity


If you’ve followed my advice you’ve managed to become more likable all around, and good for that. But people don’t always know how to stop once they start doing a good thing. This is how approximately 16 percent of all our problems came about: we started out doing something good, such as walking a mile each day, and then kept doing it a little more, such as two miles, or three, and before long we were walking 185 miles each day and finding ourselves far out into the ocean before lunch. Similarly, if you’ve been too good at making yourself likable it’s possible you’re spending all your free time and two-thirds of your neighbors’ keeping up with the obligations of being liked, such as asking people how they are, appearing in Likability Day parades, or trying out hats. So here’s some ways to tamp down that excessive popularity.

Likability is made or broken in small talk. Consider when someone asks you how you’re doing: the temptation is to answer “fine” or “okay” or “somebody dropped my computer from a blimp” or “my tire pressure is low”. Any of them serve to make you look like an interesting, involved person. You must crush this at any moment. Respond by looking sheepishly around and checking that it’s actually you being asked about, and if the person insists, answer that they don’t really want to know. Before long, they will. Or won’t. You know what I mean.

It’s possible this won’t be enough, and people will persist in liking you. Then it’s important to start warning them that you are unlikable, and that people shouldn’t like you. Don’t let up on this. Keep sending out the message that people don’t like you, and eventually even the people who do will give up and go on to more likable people, such as people who won’t stop talking about how they hate that Flickr and Google Maps don’t make much sense in the web browser Lynx.

If someone still hasn’t given up talking to you, computers are a great subject to make yourself less likable. This isn’t about how you use them, exactly, but rather just start talking about how foolish people are to ever buy a new computer, for any circumstance, and keep pointing out that whatever old machine they might have is perfectly usable, if you’re willing to put up with Lynx. Be relentless, something like this:

FRIEND: So I’ll be going to Best Buy to test-drive a bunch of laptops this evening.

YOU: Why do that? Your old computer’s still as good as the day you bought it. Better, if you’ve been sensibly upgrading it and keeping it on a fiber-rich software diet.

FRIEND: It was made by Commodore.

YOU: Then it’s got classic-ish lines and a BASIC that in some ways isn’t perfectly horrible.

FRIEND: And the video chip broke so all it shows on the screen is noise.

YOU: Beautiful! You can set up a web server on that, and ssh in for all your computing needs.

FRIEND: It’s a Commodore 16.

YOU: That’s great, think of the novelty value! Everyone who thought those were only made as a prank will be proven wrong. You’ll be Internet Famous if you market it right.

FRIEND: And I already dropped it over a cliff.

YOU: That’ll make such an interesting blog entry about it.

FRIEND: From a blimp.

YOU: See, who’d do that with an iPad mini?

If people persist in liking you through computer talk, shift to grammar. Everyone has something that annoys them about some words: I don’t like the phrase “grow your business” and for absolutely no rational reason. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like I ought to have a business to grow. Find your own peeve, though, and carry on about that whenever you can. If you can’t think of something you care about, try complaining about the evolution of the word “decimate”. The only times “decimate” has been used to mean “destroy exactly one-tenth and not more or less” since 1732 has been in sentences composed by people complaining about the evolution of the word “decimate”, so it’s a well-established thing that people don’t want to hear about anymore.

If that doesn’t work, keep trying. Remember, any time you make a social interaction into an endurance contest you have already overcome likability, and congratulations on your victory.

The Weather Makers


So this morning as I got up it was 72 degrees Fahrenheit and blizzarding, which is when I’d had enough of that. Yesterday it was -15 and there was a hot, muggy rain falling; the day before it was the upper-40s with scattered asteroids, and just before that it was the mid-20s with interminable reports on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. I’m loathe to do anything mechanical around the house but I did go around back, unplug the weather, wait ten seconds, and then plug it back in while holding down the option-flower-P-R keys to reset the PRAM. That usually fixes these problems, but now it’s in the high 60s and there’s a zephyr in the breakfast nook pointing at me, laughing, and scattering Golden Grahams on the floor. I think we’re going to have to get a whole new weather and start from scratch.

This Day In History: 1805


April 17, 1805: Napoleon Bonaparte proposes the building of a stone-arch bridge around the entire world, which his subordinates acclaim as a bold and most challenging accomplishment beyond the dreams of everyone. Napoleon announces that to make the project more practical it will be built as a ring just a couple feet away from the North Pole, vastly farther north than anyone has ever been or imagined it possible to be, and his subordinates admire his vision and daring. He then announces that since the Earth is round you can draw an axis anywhere and make a loop around any spot, so they should just build it in the suburbs of Paris, and his subordinates start to wonder if he’s just putting them on. Napoleon grins inscrutably, and his subordinates are honestly relieved to hear the British are attacking again.


Also, I’ve added an embedded YouTube video link to my bit yesterday about Harold Lloyd’s Number, Please? so the movie should be easier to watch.

Harold Lloyd’s _Number, Please_?


I like silent movies. They’re interesting on many grounds, not least that it’s an art form which appeared in a rough, primitive form, grew to astounding sophistication within a generation, and then vanished, apart from a few novelty acts, in a half-decade, even though the legacy of this genre is still perfectly with us. I particularly like silent comedies, but I’ll try nearly anything.

Number, Please? is a 1920 Harold Lloyd picture, with Lloyd racing Roy Brooks (Lloyd’s personal assistant) to the mother of Mildred Davis’s character, looking for parental consent to a hot air balloon ride. It’s all quite funny, not least because any stunts you see are really done, with a shocking minimum of tricks done by camera or editing.

As often happens with silent comedies, especially short ones like this, the characters don’t have actual names — just “The Boy” for Lloyd, “The Girl” for Davis, and “The Rival” for Brooks — although it wouldn’t do much besides slow down the intertitles a bit if they were given particular names.

Much of the action is at the amusement piers in Venice Beach, California, or as people looking at the early scenes of Lloyd riding the back of a roller coaster call it, “Coney Island”.

I wanted to have the video embedded, since that’s so much more sensible than not, but there seems to be some problem with embedding stuff from archive.org at WordPress blogs that doesn’t actually work if I follow the directions to make it work. I’m sorry about that.

So I Guess That’s The World Saved And Stuff


Even though I couldn’t have expected the problem of this ever-increasing wave of people singing “Eye of the Tiger” I did do something about trying to stop or at least contain it. Given the edition of Rock Band on hand the only thing to do was try Starship’s “We Built This City”, trusting that its higher pitches and really catchy refrain would have a chance of catching up to Survivor’s song and maybe disrupting it. What I didn’t remember, though, is there’s this weird little stretch in the middle where the song goes over to a traffic report or something for the imaginary radio station and that just kills its momentum.

But fortunately the “Eye of the Tiger” wave got disrupted before it could get past the mid-Michigan/Detroit/northwest-Ohio triangle, because — and I didn’t realize this either — at any moment approximately 18 percent of people aged 35 to 49 are humming A-Ha’s “Take On Me”. This breaks up the “Eye of the Tiger” momentum in just the same way mangrove swamps absorb tidal waves, so, great job everyone. It’s really not my fault.

The Lockhorns Confuses Me


Something about this Friday’s installment of Bunny Hoest and John Reiner’s The Lockhorns fascinates me and I thought I’d spend a couple words working out just why. You can see it here, or from its original source on dailyink.com at least through the April 11, 2014.

It’s simply Loretta insulting Leroy, because he’s asleep and she thought of something with the word “sleeper” in it. And I understand the attempted joke so, at least, the objective is nominally met: Hoest and Reiner said something intended to be funny, and this reader saw it and recognized it as such an attempt. Good so far. Yet …

Where are they? From the bag of popcorn in Leroy’s hand and the unused seats folding up, the implication is they’re at a movie theater. All right. Why are there two windows in the walls? And is that a door or … what … in the back? But if they’re not at a movie theater, then where are they? Why would Leroy have a bag of popcorn and why would the seats pop up?

Stipulating that they’re at a movie theater, what’s going on that Loretta thinks to tell a stranger that Leroy would have to be in a sleeper cell to be a spy at all? Are they watching a spy movie? The trailers for a spy movie? Did the strangers say something that would connect the stuff on-screen to Leroy’s nodding off? What logical precursor keeps Loretta from spouting a fairly weird non sequitur?

Also, is anyone enjoying the supposed movie? It’s a lot of faces of resignation and a grim determination to see this miserable night through to the end. Can that be what they meant? But why that?

Ultimately, I think if it weren’t for the windows I’d never have noticed this panel enough to have questions about it.

It’s Not My Fault Except For Starting It


OK, we were just playing Rock Band and we got around to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” because Survivors’ “Eye of the Tiger”, and we were doing all right. Only when we started singing some of the other people in the room started singing along, and that’s fine and I don’t think we were getting Music angry at us for doing it. And then some people out in the hall heard and started in, from the top of the lyrics ecause that’s just easier for everyone converned, isn’t it? And then some people farther down from that started in and, well, anyway, the mass of people singing “Eye of the Tiger” is expected to reach Ann Arbor within the hour, and it if it can get past security at Detroit International Airport it might hit the whole country by the time you read this.

Anyway, it’s not my fault because how were we supposed to know anyone would join in? And it could have been worse because it could have been Queen’s “We are the Champions”, which would make Ann Arbor just feel terrible this week. I scored 88 percent on the Super Easy mode and was scolded as an energy hoarder, whatever that means.

What’s Interesting About Numbers?


Numbers have been used for things for thousands of years, longer if we count stopping for lunch. But surely the greatest breakthrough was when people started to use numbers for numbers, instead of the other way around. So let’s take a chance to review some interesting and quirky facts about various numbers and avoid the people who make a big fuss about the difference between numbers and numerals.

-20. This the so-called “ambiguous point”, as for negative numbers less than this, it’s clear that “becoming bigger” means a more negative number; while for numbers greater than this, “becoming bigger” might mean becoming more negative or more positive depending on just how quarrelsome the person you’re trying to speak with is being.

-8. According to most historians of mathematics, this is the number which should properly be 0 so as to make the number line work wholly sensibly.

-4. This is of historic importance as -4 was the first expansion number ever to appear in the playoffs, and (three years later) was the first to win. This set off a “gold rush” as people sought easy success in other negative numbers and while the field has proved useful this pioneering number, as so often happens, saw its fortunes dwindle. In 1964 a statewide reorganization merged it with negative 5 and negative pi, but the need to establish a regional snow-clearing plan means that its administrative organization is equivalent to being a separate number in all but legal name.

0.78. Packing fraction for pretty much everything.

1.000000 … 00003. This is the smallest number that’s still larger than 1.

6. This is the average number of days the typical American will lose, per year, to chanting the drum parts of the theme from George of the Jungle. Of course, while you’re busy chanting it the day doesn’t seem lost at all; if anything, it seems to be picking up quite nicely and actually going into the lyrics feels like a mild step down.

4.587. This is a phony number slipped in as a copyright trap by the Hammond World Atlas Corporation. The four was based on a real number (seven), but the digits past the decimal are believed to have been selected by Caleb Stillson Hammond as the sort of whimsy for which he was so well known. It slipped into the regular number line following a famous yet confusing court ruling which determined that whatever Lieutenant Columbo’s first name was, it wasn’t “Lucius”.

8. This is a most popular base for numbers among people who are fans of base eight, such as those who are programming computers in the 1960s. Some adherents insist we should move to base eight, on the grounds of they have reasons, but they overlook the increased property taxes which combined with moving expenses make the prospect wholly uneconomical. Just nod vacantly and scuttle off to some important business, possibly in base five.

16. This is a fascinating number as it records the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully write the song “On Top Of Spaghetti”.

17.113. The most seventeen-est of numbers, according to a survey of leading mathematics departments who were kidding. There’s just no appreciation for good sarcasm anymore.

18. And this is the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully record “On Top Of Spaghetti”.

138. This is the smallest number (by avoirdupois weight) to never be used for anything except appearances in lists of numbers with some interesting or uninteresting property to them.

311. This is the number most convincingly prime-like of all the numbers people can’t be bothered to quite figure out whether is prime or not. 313 is a pretty good one too except that one really feels like it ought to be divisible by 17. We keep checking it to make sure it hasn’t changed its mind.

\sqrt{\imath}. This is a popular number among people who think they’re being puckishly whimsical about algebra or who have stumbled across the mathematical equivalent of “how do I know I’m not just dreaming I’m awake?” The answer is that if you were just dreaming you were awake, you would know whether the blue you see is the same hue as the red other people see. See also: Boltzmann brains.

\sqrt{j - k}. The scariest quaternion in the world.


[ Also, for the non-bots following me, and who like mathematics stuff, I do keep up a mathematics-focused blog, with less efforts on my part to be generally silly. ]

Time Saved


Now that the clocks around here all know which one’s the least important we can finally advance the microwave clock to Daylight Saving Time. It’s a harsh policy, a little heartless, but it’s the easiest way to make sure the clocks keep urging one another to greater productivity. The best time with this was a couple years ago when I had clocks on all four walls in the living room, and they were able to keep each other encouraged. Some of them got working so hard they’d fit up to 26 hours of time into every day and everything past the first 24 hours is, of course, pure profit.

Changing Neighborhoods


I didn’t think it had been that rainy or windy a week, but now the house across the street and up kind of a little bit — I want to call it cat-corner but that sounds precious — went and lifted a mast and unfurled some sails. I thought this was just foolishness, but sure enough, they cast off and have been making their way north. This is really impressive since they have to tack to do it, and watching the place lurch side to side through the street is impressive. They’re waiting for the chance to turn onto the more major street now — they’ve had someone flicking a light on and off in the kitchen window — and I’m curious whether they’re going to try making it to the river or if they’re hoping the Interstate is flooded.

Suddenly I Realize I’m Seeing It Everywhere


You know what you just don’t encounter on the Internet? Fan art of the Invisible Man. Unless, of course, you never see anything but fan art of the Invisible Man. Psychologists were thinking of adding “how much Invisible Man fan art do you think is out there?” to personality tests as an optimism-versus-pessimism thing, but it’d really only be useful for people who are in Invisible Man fandom, and that fan community is very quiet, almost invisible, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Robert Benchley: The Score In The Stands


I like baseball and won’t argue with people whining that it’s a slow sport because they mostly go in determined to find something to disapprove of and there’s no reasoning from that starting point. (I’ll grant it’s horribly served by television, though.) Robert Benchely, I’m delighted to remember, had a bit about the opening week of baseball in Love Conquers All that looks at the action in a game. I think the fifth inning the high point of this match.


The opening week of the baseball season brought out few surprises. The line-up in the grandstands was practically the same as when the season closed last Fall, most of the fans busying themselves before the first game started by picking old 1921 seat checks and October peanut crumbs out of the pockets of their light-weight overcoats.

Old-timers on the two teams recognized the familiar faces in the bleachers and were quick to give them a welcoming cheer. The game by innings as it was conducted by the spectators is as follows:

FIRST INNING: Scanlon, sitting in the first-base bleachers, yelled to Ruth to lead off with a homer. Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Liebman and O’Rourke, in the south stand, engaged in a bitter controversy over Peckingpaugh’s last-season batting average. NO RUNS.

SECOND INNING: Scanlon yelled to Bodie to to whang out a double. Turtelot said that Bodie couldn’t do it. Scanlon said “Oh, is that so?” Turtelot said “Yes, that’s so and whad’ yer know about that?” Bodie whanged out a double and Scanlon’s collar came undone and he lost his derby. Stevens announced that this made Bodie’s batting average 1000 for the season so far. Joslin laughed.

THIRD INNING: Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Zinnzer yelled to Mays to watch out for a fast one. Steinway yelled to Mays to watch out for a slow one. Mays fanned. O’Rourke called out and asked Brazill how all the little brazil-nuts were. Levy turned to O’Rourke and said he’d brazil-nut him. O’Rourke said “Eah? When do you start doing it?” Levy said: “Right now.” O’Rourke said: “All right, come on. I’m waiting.” Levy said: “Eah?” O’Rourke said: “Well, why don’t you come, you big haddock?” Levy said he’d wait for O’Rourke outside where there weren’t any ladies. NO RUNS.

FOURTH INNING: Scanlon called out to Ruth to knock a homer, Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Scanlon yelled: “Atta-boy, Babe, whad’ I tell yer!” when Ruth got a single.

FIFTH INNING: Mrs. Whitebait asked Mr. Whitebait how you marked a home-run on the score-card. Mr. Whitebait said: “Why do you have to know? No one has knocked a home-run.” Mrs. Whitebait said that Babe Ruth ran home in the last inning. “Yes, I know,” said Mr. Whitebait, “but it wasn’t a home-run.” Mrs. W. asked him with some asperity just why it wasn’t a home-run, if a man ran home, especially if it was Babe Ruth. Mr. W. said: “I’ll tell you later. I want to watch the game.” Mrs. Whitebait began to cry a little. Mr. Whitebait groaned and snatched the card away from her and marked a home-run for Ruth in the fourth inning.

SIXTH INNING: Thurston called out to Hasty not to let them fool him. Wicker said that where Hasty got fooled in the first place was when he let them tell him he could play baseball. Unknown man said that he was “too Hasty,” and laughed very hard. Thurston said that Hasty was a better pitcher than Mays, when he was in form. Unknown man said “Eah?” and laughed very hard again. Wicker asked how many times in seven years Hasty was in form and Thurston replied: “Often enough for you.” Unknown man said that what Hasty needed was some hasty-pudding, and laughed so hard that his friend had to take him out.

Thibbets sharpened his pencil.

SEVENTH INNING: Libby called “Everybody up!” as if he had just originated the idea, and seemed proudly pleased when everyone stood up. Taussig threw money to the boy for a bag of peanuts who tossed the bag to Levy who kept it. Taussig to boy to Levy.

Scanlon yelled to Ruth to come through with a homer. Ruth knocked a single and Scanlon yelled “Atta-boy, Babe! All-er way ’round! All-er way round, Babe!” Mrs. Whitebait asked Mr. Whitebait which were the Clevelands. Mr. Whitebait said very quietly that the Clevelands weren’t playing to-day, just New York and Philadelphia and that only two teams could play the game at the same time, that perhaps next year they would have it so that Cleveland and Philadelphia could both play New York at once but the rules would have to be changed first. Mrs. Whitebait said that he didn’t have to be so nasty about is. Mr. W. said My God, who’s being nasty? Mrs. W. said that the only reason she came up with him anyway to see the Giants play was because then she knew that he wasn’t off with a lot of bootleggers. Mr. W. said that it wasn’t the Giants but the Yankees that she was watching and where did she get that bootlegger stuff. Mrs. W. said never mind where she got it. NO RUNS.

EIGHTH INNING: Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Litner got up and went home. Scanlon yelled to Ruth to end up the game with a homer. Ruth singled. Scanlon yelled “Atta-Babe!” and went home.

NINTH INNING: Stevens began figuring up the players’ batting averages for the season thus far. Wicker called over to Thurston and asked him how Mr. Hasty was now. Thurston said “That’s all right how he is.” Mrs. Whitebait said that she intended to go to her sister’s for dinner and that Mr. Whitebait could do as he liked. Mr. Whitebait told her to bet that he would do just that. Thibbets broke his pencil.

Score: New York 11. Philadelphia 1.

Not Because They Were Eaten, That Would Be Silly


Why look at unimportant questions? Because it’s possible the reasons they’re unimportant might be important. So here are some.

  1. Why aren’t artichokes? Artichokes are, so the question is pointless.
  2. Are you enjoying sofa work? This question is irrelevant to everyone who is not furniture, and the task of being furniture has been almost completely automated thanks to the modern steam-powered couch. It thus lacks the general application or consequences needed to be important.
  3. Why aren’t there people with purple or green skin? The only role served by purple- or green-skinned people is to allow persons to insist they aren’t racist because of how eagerly they would hire or even, if absolutely unavoidable, befriend people who are like the people they don’t hire or befriend except for not existing. This role is sad and depressing, so we rule it out as an important question because we don’t like being saddened and depressed by questions.
  4. With hamsters upon the rock-rimmed ride? This isn’t even a question at all, despite a valiant effort to give it the shape of one. Thus, it can’t possibly be an important question. It’s barely even a sentence, although that alliterative r stuff at the end makes it enough fun to bother looking at.

Why Programmers Sometimes Punch Computers


So. The project would be really great if it were to make use of the slick, speedy capabilities of GeoPackage. GeoPackage 1 is beautifully documented, with slick interactive demonstrations of every nook and cranny of the system. It depends on OtherPack version 3, produced by a different programming group. OtherPack version 3 is no longer distributed because OtherPack 4 is so very much better. GeoPackage 1 can’t work with OtherPack 4, but, GeoPackage 2, which is lurching towards alpha release, does. GeoPackage 2 doesn’t have any documentation but there are many points it has in common with GeoPackage 1 and it even has a dozen demonstration pages showing how neat it’ll be if it ever finishes working. Oh, but, GeoPackage 2 actually only works with OtherPack 4.0 and 4.1. The OtherPack group just got OtherPack 4.2 released and GeoPackage is sadly incompatible with the new release, although this isn’t worth mentioning anywhere except on a desperate-plea-for-help web site where the original question is accused of being “terribly vague”.

See previous comments about the need to roar indistinctly at the computer.

Cheaper by the Elevens, Maybe


Like most people I find that I’m short on time to do all the things that I really need to have got done beforehand. At least I assume I’m like most people that way. I know I never hear people wandering around saying, “oh, if only I didn’t have so very much time then I’d finally be able to get around to learning Latin or figuring out how to paint historical markers” since they fixed the water supply. Anyway, I can’t be bothered worrying about solutions for what everybody has to do; my concern has to be figuring out what it is I’m doing, and why I’m doing it, and what historical marker has to be painted in Latin today. The goal, then, has to be getting more efficient.

One of the first points to being more efficient is finding ways to consolidate lots of little actions. You see, it takes some time to start doing anything, what with deciding whether to do it, whether it ought to be done, how it ought to be done, whether it’s worth filing paperwork for, and noticing the time to get it done has long since passed, and then getting around to doing it in a manner just late and awkward enough you feel guilty about having to do it again. If you want to do the thing a couple times over there’s all that setup and possibly clean-up work afterwards. If you don’t do the thing in separate blocks, you save considerably on the setup time.

For example, it’s generally polite to at least make eye contact with someone, but even an introvert like me might interact with people — cashiers, sales clerks assuring me they can find what I want even when I don’t want anything, people in the hallways who don’t actually live here but seem pretty confident about themselves — dozens of times a day. Far better, then, to simply make all the eye contact of the day at once, with whoever the first person I see is, and then don’t dare look at any other person until nightfall. Not only does this save preparation and recovery time but before long people aren’t expecting me to make eye contact with them at all and point out that I may stay home instead.

Another task that can be done all at once is making incomprehensible, animal-like roars at the computer because it has these bizarre ideas of how it ought to behave or thinks it’s important to interrupt my workflow to warn you there are too many icons on your desktop, or that it can’t shut down and restart because it’s too busy shutting down. If I roar at it right now for all the time in the next year I’d spend dealing with the computer’s obsession regarding unused desktop icons it’ll take over two hours solid, but your time after that my days will be my own and people will scuttle quickly past my workspace.

A similarly-spirited approach I’m not good enough to do is to make a single motion do the work of two. For example, suppose you need to eat, but you also have to wash your car, and on top of that there’s that tree in the backyard needing to be reshingled. If you can attach your Fish McDippers to a hammer, and have your meal out by the tree, swinging your arm broadly with each dab of tartar sauce so as to also hammer a nail in place that still won’t do anything for your car, but let me know if any inspiration strikes you.

If you’re really into clipboards and stopwatches a more sophisticated approach is to carefully study the motions you make while doing a thing, in the hopes of dividing them into even tinier motions, until eventually your task is divided into such tiny enough pieces of motion that they evaporate. The result is a considerable savings in time as there’s no longer anything you actually do. Sadly, thermodynamic principles require that you so subdivide and document the motions that you can’t achieve any real savings, but you can be satisfied that what was formerly fourteen motions might be shrunk down to six motions, with an extra eight abstaining and two voting “present, but not sure that a `therblig’ is a thing”. They’re wise beyond my years.

Publicity Break


If I may have a moment from finding that every possible WordPress theme is almost but not quite satisfying to my eye — in fact, each just manages to have something that turns an otherwise decent-looking appearance into unpleasantness, like finding a tolerable-looking pair of shoes, only they’re an awful color, and there’s a pebble in them, and they’re made of antimatter so when you try setting them on there’s a terrible explosion, and the laces broke anyway — there’s a couple of links I ought to share in the interest of publicizing, er, me.

The most important are the links for Oh, Sandy: An Anthology Of Humor For A Serious Purpose, edited by Lynn Beighley, Peter Barlow, Andrea Donio, and A J Fader. This is a collection of short essays written after the need to do something useful after the Superstorm. I have an essay in there about my strange feelings from watching a catastrophe strike home and not being able to quite find out what was happening, or to do anything even if I did. It’s available also through CreateSpace.

Less portently, a Paper.li “newspaper” titled The Lighter Side Of Life Part 2 aggregated one of my daily short entries for its edition of the 31st of March. I’m flattered and mystified by how that one made the cut. They have a daily collection of things and there’s a fair chance that you’ll find something else there that’s amusing.

Fleeting Popularities


Well, that was a wasted afternoon. I was looking through the used DVD section in the store and they had 1999’s The Mod Squad under Popular Movies. The staff must get asked about it a lot because they told me to go ahead and put it where I thought it fit. Two ours later I was almost satisfied to just slip it into the Wii Games section, wrapped inside the cover for Nerf N-Strike Elite, but I did feel like that might have been cheating. Finally I went to the candy shelves, arranged it on top of some bags of microwave popcorn and underneath a carton of Milk Duds, asked the lead cashier to unlock the bathroom for me, and snuck out while she was walking through Horror. I just know this will come back to haunt me.

And Now I’m All Wet


Well, that shows me. After another angry phone call I actually went out and checked the back yard and what do you know? I peeked under the blanket of light snow and the pond in our backyard had got out. I don’t know how long it’s been doing this but when I do track down where it’s gotten I’m going to have to have a serious talk with it, and I don’t know how to do that. I’ll take advice, if you have any.

Georges Melies: Going to Bed under Difficulties


The film pioneer Georges Méliès is credited for many things, most prominently, for making astounding films by the simple use of stopping the camera and changing what was on set, and for creating illusions that are still rather jaw-dropping just by exposing the film twice. He’d do this, incredibly, with a hand-cranked camera and simply turned the film back the correct number of cranks before filming the second round of whatever the stunt was. And you can’t even start writing anything about space travel in popular culture without referring to his 1902 A Trip To The Moon.

What he doesn’t get much credit for, despite the awe and wonder and dreamlike enchantment so many of his films inspire, is being funny, so I want to share a two-minute-long short from 1900: Déshabillage Impossible, or, Going To Bed With Difficulties. The premise is simple: the traveller wants to undress for bed. It’s quite simple, and funny in a way that doesn’t show a hundred-plus years of age.

Méliès did pretty much the same film again in 1900 — I believe later in the film, based on the Star Film numbers — to similarly good effect, although I don’t think it’s quite as good. Still, that take, Le Réveil D’un Monsieur Pressé or if you prefer How He Missed His Train, is also fun and only a minute long, so it isn’t asking much of you.