Everything I Know About Some Plants


There’s nothing quite like wandering around a garden nursery looking at all the various tiny plants that I’m far too stupid to actually manage. Of course you can say that about many things: there isn’t anything quite like building a multi-use sports arena out of nothing but discarded satellite TV dishes, for instance, unless you count building several single-use sports arenas all close up against each other. But that shouldn’t be counted against the fun of wandering around all these little rows of plants nestled in tiny plastic pots and reading how relentlessly Anglo-Saxon a name they can get, and what sorts of folklore attach to them.

Many plants enjoy these blunt, old-fashioned names that speak of their folkloric origin or of something we were trying to keep secret. Putting the secret right there in the name of the plant doesn’t seem to have worked but bear in mind, before the rise of mass printing where were we going to put secrets instead?

Shunted Gutter-Berrys, also known as King Pym’s Chortles. These are found lining the roofs that other, lesser, plants build to shelter them from the elements and clumsy, plummeting chipmunks. They have become invasive in parts of the country (any country) with a chipmunk shortage, such as the space between eight and twelve feet above the ground and away from all trees or other structures. A post-Columbian Exchange plant, these were first identified by settlers in Connecticut who asked the Indians what they were, and didn’t recognize sarcasm when they heard it. Their flowering between the 30th of April and the 1st of May is considered a sign that your calendar-maker ripped you off.

Continue reading “Everything I Know About Some Plants”

In Retrospect


In retrospect, I should have realized sooner that the circumstances which lead to my struggling to climb a 200-foot-tall moving suit of armor so as to open a panel within its belly and retrieve from it the fresh manuscript I’d prepared and which was stored on three six-inch hamburger patties contained within was a dream. I feel awfully silly that I didn’t. Obviously, even as a new author, I’d be e-mailing the manuscript to a set of Wi-Fi enabled hamburgers. I don’t know what I was thinking of. Possibly dinner.

What The Rabbit and I Do


“Oh, you again,” said our pet rabbit, between little snuffling noises (his).

I nodded while opening his cage to drop a handful of hay on his head.

Between excited chews he said, “Look, what is it exactly you do around here?”

“I feed you,” I pointed out while rubbing his head. “I’d think that should make you at least a little happy to see me.”

“You’re not very reliable about it.”

“What do you mean? I’ve never seen you go twelve hours without being fed something.”

He sort of fluffed his head while shaking it out. “All that time before you started being here all the time, you barely fed me once.

I was so unable to dispute this I couldn’t even think what to say next.

“But what I mean is, what is it you do all that time you sit in the forbidden zone and don’t move? Why do you do that?”

“The dining room. Well, I … do … web stuff. For a company.”

He snuffed. “And this is something that needs doing.”

“Don’t get so huffy there. What do you suppose you do all day that needs doing?”

I,” he pronounced slowly, “eat all the hay. I don’t see you or the other one even trying to help with that.”

Suddenly I realized just how complicated was our relationship.

Fly The Little Skies


I had occasion to fly through Trenton’s airport, and don’t you go mocking the choices in my life that had me flying into Trenton on business now. It was the smallest airport I’d ever flown through, and that’s including airports that only exist in simulator games on my iPad. It was so cutely tiny I wanted to pick it up and carry it home with me, and it would fit, too, in my backpack. It was small enough that its official three-letter airport designation only had two letters. All the signs in it were sans serif because they couldn’t fit the words otherwise. It’s the first airport I’ve ever been in that’s half its own size. It’s a good thing I wanted an economy car from the car rental or the parking lot might have capsized.

I’m sincerely delighted with the airport.

Krazy Kat and what kind of Moon?


When I taked about a Krazy Kat strip which I liked, BunnyHugger mentioned liking another of the strip’s installments, recently rerun on DailyInk.com. I like that one too, and so let me share it also.

One of the delights in reading Krazy Kat like this, once a day, much like the original readers got it, is catching the artist, here George Herriman or his assistants, catching on to something and riffing around it, and getting to see the improvisation as it gets worked out. Herriman was apparently in a Moon mood, run at least from September through November 1943, and I’m curious to see how the theme works itself out. (There are also a couple of other Moon-themed strips I might run here.)

The experience is different from that of reading the comic strip in book collections, the way probably most Krazy Kat readers know the strip, probably because book collections for all their considerable virtues do encourage gulping down months worth of the strip at a sitting. Sipping allows you to realize that you’ve seen the same topic spread over different days, and to bind the remembrance of those days together.

History In The Making


I bet you didn’t realize this is an historic year, what with most of it still being in the future. But it doesn’t do to say this is “an futuric year”, as the particle just doesn’t fit there at all. It should be a long-lived neutral kaon instead. That’s the sort of kaon which lives for as much as fifty nanoseconds before it expires, at the hands of natural kaon predators such as the lesser Malagasy snarking W+ boson or to creeping deforestation. This reminds of us why it’s important for pop historians to keep informed on group theory and the value of gauge invariance.

How the Problem of Identity is Solved in the Early 21st Century


I imagine that, like most people, I find Twitter mostly recommends I follow the feeds of actors from sitcoms I don’t watch and of fictional squirrels. But now and then it turns up someone I do want to follow and sometimes that’s an organization. I saw one that sounded interesting and I checked their profile and recent tweets to make sure they were for real and not just somebody tweeting about how I should buy something I don’t want.

Since they seemed pretty soundly to exist I clicked to start following them. But then a couple hours later I got an e-mail saying they were thinking of following me back, but they wanted some proof that I was an actual person and not just tweeting about how they should buy something they don’t want. Never mind wondering who are they to ask if I’m someone when I already figured out if they’re someone: they wanted me to prove I was for real by clicking a link to a Captcha thingy.

So how do I know their link was to a legitimate Captcha service and not someone out to subvert the whole notion of identity with fake reports? So that’s why I checked their service’s contact information and sent them a simple arithmetic problem to determine whether they’re for real, and I went on with the satisfied air of a person who’s found more reasons not to answer his e-mail.

I was less satisfied when they sent someone over to whap me with a stick. This would seem to prove they really exist, though, except the guy they sent went to the wrong house, and I bet they were wondering why I was pointing at them and snickering.

Investment Advice As I Got It


“Your problem with money,” explained the advisor on the phone, “is that you aren’t doing the things that make it grow into more money.”

I granted this. “But I do make the effort. I give my money plenty of food, fresh water, let it winter over in the greenbackhouse … ”

“The problem is your investments. Have you figured out any that give you a better return than Mallo Cup redemption points? If I know you, probably not, because you keep losing the Mallo Cup cards after licking the mallow off them.”

This did sound like someone who knew me. “What should I be investing in, then?”

Continue reading “Investment Advice As I Got It”

Because I Felt Like Writing A Dopey Gag


“So, I couldn’t help noticing your horse there … ”

“Yeah, he gets a lot of attention.”

“Don’t see many horses that cluck.”

“He’s very sure he’s a chicken.”

“And you’d get him treated but … ”

“Yup. Need the eggs.”

“Figures. Now, me, I’ve got a chicken that thinks he’s a horse.”

“Going to take him to an animal psychiatrist?”

“Never. I like him thinking he’s a horse.”

“You need your chicken to pull stuff?”

“No, I just hate eggs.”

[ Thanks for indulging me. I’ll try to do better in the future. ]

Robert Benchley: From Nine To Five (Excerpt)


[ Among the many talents of Robert Benchley was his capturing of a very specific sort of fumbling monologue; he could spin out meticulously crafted strings of words falling against one another. This is a segment of “From Nine To Five”, reprinted in Of All Things,a surprisingly lengthy essay about business, in which he describes his problems dictating, and how his self-aware discomfort feeds back on itself. Comedic fumbling is a most precious skill; Benchley was great at it. Those who haven’t heard Benchley’s voice well enough to know his speaking style might do almost as well imagining Bob Newhart reading it. ]

“ Good morning, Miss Kettle. . . . Take a letter, please . . . to the Nipco Drop Forge and Tool Company, Schenectady . . . S-c-h-e-c — er— well, Schenectady; you know how to spell that, I guess, Miss Kettle, ha! ha! . . . Nipco Drop Forge and Tool Company, Schenectady, New York, . . . Gentlemen —– er (business of touching finger tips and looking at the ceiling meditatively) —– Your favor of the 17th inst. at hand, and in reply would state that –— er (I should have thought this letter out before beginning to dictate and decided just what it if that we desire to state in reply)–— and in reply would state that –— er . . . our Mr. Mellish reports that — er . . . where is that letter from Mr. Mellish, Miss Kettle? . . . The one about the castings. . . . Oh, never mind, I guess I can remember what he said. . . . Let’s sec, where were we? . . . Oh, yes, that our Mr. Mellish reports that he shaw the sipment — I mean saw the shipment —– what’s the matter with me? (this girl must think that I’m a perfect fool) . . . that he shaw the sipment in question on the platform of the station at Miller’s Falls, and that it –— er . . . ah . . . ooom . . . (I’ll have this girl asleep in her chair in a minute. I’ll bet that she goes and tells the other girls that she has just taken a letter from a man with the mind of an eight-year-old boy). . . . We could, therefore, comma, . . . what’s the matter? . . . Oh, I didn’t finish that other sentence, I guess. . . . Let’s see, how did it go? . . . Oh, yes . . . and that I, or rather it, was in good shape . . . er, cross that out, please (this girl is simply wasting her time here. I could spell this out with alphabet blocks quicker and let her copy it) . . . and that it was in excellent shape at that shape — . . . or rather, at that time . . . er . . . period. New paragraph.

“We are, comma, therefore, comma, unable to . . . hello, Mr. Watterly, be right with you in half a second. . . . I’ll finish this later, Miss Kettle . . .
thank you.”

Courtesy Question


Q. I hope you might settle an etiquette question about holding open doors. One need hold the door only five to ten seconds before leaving without being thought rude, according to my pet ferret’s favorite yawn. This feels too short a time to me, as I have been holding open the door at a Wawa convenience store in Zilwaukee, Michigan, while waiting for this couple to decide whether they’re going in or not, since April of 1958. How long should I wait?

A. There are no Wawa stores in Michigan, not until 2019 when one pokes in, confused and looking for the bathroom. If you are certain of your current state, and who is, then we would have to say you should wait six more years at minimum.

Closed Cut


Since I was out of practice with lawn-mowing, yeah, there were problems. The worst was having no idea where to plug the electrical cord in. This was silly on my part since it turns out we have a steam-powered house, but how do you know that before you find out? I worked around it, though, since out in the garage I found what I needed. Now the front lawn’s nice and neatly trimmed, although I admit I wasn’t very careful about wiping all the shaving cream off the rose bushes. I hope it isn’t going to need lotion; that stuff can be tricky. Worse, the lawn was talking some about getting a goatee, which is far beyond what I’m able to trim into it. I hope that proves to be a fad, like when the lawn was so going to take up pewter sculpting.

Close Cut Things


I haven’t had to mow a lawn in a long time. For some of that time I was a grad student, and the administration gets all tense when grad students are allowed near sharp objects. They’d rather we stick to harmless stuff like grading essays about the symbolism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was in grad school for math; I still don’t know why I was grading Uncle Tom’s Cabin essays. They were very protective about their lawns, which they buried in concrete back in the 70’s. Then I was in Singapore, where the lawns weren’t my concern, and they have special equipment anywhere where people go around with vacuum cleaners to suck the grass up to the correct height. You can see where you don’t want that falling into average civilian hands, ever since that accident in Choa Chu Kang (old town) where someone left the machine unattended for a couple hours and they got grass talks up to 8.5 miles high, menacing navigation and making Malaysia think Singapore was trying to pick a fight.

Not Quite Digital Swearing


One interesting thing about word origins is how they’re always opposite of how the word is used by any sensible person today, but I don’t want to mention that, so please ignore it. What I was thinking of was minced oaths, which is what you get when you out with a swear, chop it up into fine bits, mix it with blackberries and enough sugar to bury a parking garage and bake it into a pie. These are traditionally softer and less offensive than the original swearing stuff, but no less usable as a thing to say, and they have interesting origins behind them.

Consider “Gadzooks”, for example. This is a corruption of the original, “God’s Zunes,” which reflect the deity’s strong belief in the Zune. “I mean, Microsoft has more money than me,” He was quoted as saying. “How could they not sell an MP3 player, for my sake?” At press time, God was saying he felt very confident about the new line of Blackberry thingies.

When Animals Were Cooler


If there’s anything we learn from the study of past animals, it’s that animals in the past were a lot cooler than the ones we have today. I don’t want to dismiss the general coolness of modern animals, since so many of them know where I live and have heard that I’m made of meat (not wholly: parts of me are made of vanadium, and parts of me are an after-market add-on stereo that never worked right, which is why I never hear people’s names when they’re given to me and must instead rely on checking their name tags), but the general rule is, the farther in the past you go, the cooler they were.

Take sloths, for example. Today the average sloth is a pleasant enough creature, sweet-looking and not bothersome in its ways. But back before the recent Ice Age, there were sloths with amazing features: giant ones, for example, ones the size of minivans. And this was a time when minivans were gigantic, with accommodations for up to forty people, or forty-four if they were feeling alliterative and had clean outfits on, with side-impact airbags and well over 150 cupholders. The modern sloth of today, meanwhile, is extremely vulnerable to rolling over at highway speeds, and has only the two cupholders, and if you try taking your cup without the sloth’s being ready for you they get all bitey. You would have to signal them appropriately, using the telegraph, because they like the old-time feel of that.

Continue reading “When Animals Were Cooler”

A Word From Our Pet Rabbit


“Look, big guy,” said our pet rabbit while I was feeding him — while I was feeding him, mind you — “it’s been fun having you around and I like the bit where you hide a sprig of parsley in the cage’s mesh, but isn’t it about time you were going back?”

“Going back where?” I had a bit of a feeling what the rabbit might mean. Also that he might not have caught my name yet.

He shook his head out some and distinctly sniffed. “I don’t know that. Wherever it is you came from. A bit of you is fine but you’ve been hanging around this house forever now and I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds you wearing out the welcome.”

This would have been a good chance to rub my eyes except that probably would have got rabbit food pellets in them. “No, no, this is my home. I married into it.”

“Didn’t ask me about that.”

“Well, it’s done and I don’t figure on leaving again.”

He snorted once more and said, “We’ll just have to have a talk about this when the other one gets home.”

I didn’t say anything, as I was pretty sure how the other one would think about me having to leave. The rabbit did try pushing on my ankles, I believe to knock me over, but there’s about a one in six or seven chance of my falling over by accident anyway so I can’t say his efforts were demonstrably more successful than chance dictates.

Comics I Like: Krazy Kat


I wanted to bring to people’s attention the Krazy Kat comic strip of the 15th of November, 1943, which was rerun among DailyInk.com’s “Vintage” comic strips on the 15th of May. It’s a fine example of the sort of logical paradoxes that tickle me, at least.

George Herriman’s Krazy Kat is often cited by comics connoisseurs as the greatest of all the greats. I think that’s overrating it, because it is often a pretty cryptic comic strip. The fundamental gag that the strip kept coming back to is Ignatz Mouse throwing a brick at Krazy Kat, who interprets this as an act of love, and getting arrested by Officer Pupp, who longs to protect Krazy. The permutations of how the brick-throwing is set up and done and responded to were thoroughly explored over the strip’s decades. By 1943 these had been done so many times the strip’s readers — and there were few of them; it never really caught on with the mass audience, though Harriman’s boss (William Randolph Hearst) loved it — that these points would often be done in shorthand, a brick tossed off, as it were, in the sidelines and the inevitable pattern alluded to. That’s bound to happen in any long-running story franchise, but it makes the strip harder for a newcomer to approach. Mark Leiknes’s Cow and Boy has a similar problem, as I see it: there are many running gags, summoned without warning for the day’s punch line, and a new reader is justifiably lost trying to understand what’s supposed to be funny, at least until some time is put into the reading.

Still, this Krazy Kat is emphatically not cryptic. It’s even one that could be drawn and run in the comics pages today without seeming to come from another era. It’s just amusing.

Thriving In The Modern, Annoying, Economy


Of course, when we talk about ways to screw up the company by diversifying, we have to remember that there’s a lot of different rules if you want to be in an entertainment industry. There, you have to diversify, because it’s more profitable per hour to run around suburban streets with your eyes closed and mouth open and wait for fifty-dollar bills to land upon your tongue than it is to wait for people to pay you for being entertaining. You need to start spinoff products like T-shirts and posters, and iPhone apps, and one-of-a-kind experience events like coming over and watching The Price Is Right with your audience even before they ask. If someday your fans can say, “Oh, yeah, I knew that band back when it was a utopian commune in upstate New York manufacturing kitchen appliances,” then you’re doing something right, which I hope is stoves.

Uncertain Investments


I’ve been trying for a while to do that thing where your money turns into piles of bigger money, without using counterfeiting, so I have to look at investments where someone else does the counterfeiting for me. But I’m skeptical about this new one e-mailed me. The prospectus says they’re going to make self-hopping socks, so that you don’t have to go about manually making your socks fly up off the floor anymore, thereby freeing up large parts of the day for other chores, such as towel-waving. Besides the automatic socks they figure to sell conversion kits so people can adapt their earlier footwear to the new standards. They estimate growth over the first three years at “eleventy kerspillion percent” and are listed on the Camden, New Jersey, Stock Exchange, under “bouillon (soup)”. And yet I don’t know; something about it feels too good to be true. Still, it’s only a couple bucks to get started, or I can trade them a pair of worn-out sandals or some packets of Arby’s horsey sauce. I like that sense of scrappiness in a startup.

Whatever happened to Coleco


A big part in the history of any business is when it figures to diversity, because that’s where everything gets really screwed up. The case example of this is Coleco, which started out making stuff for doing things with leather, and concluded that to be really successful it needed shoe-makers to be able to be able to install in-ground swimming pools, always a sign of moving upscale in the neighborhood. But to be able to support the new in-ground pool ventures it had to move into making video games so that people would have blinky, button-y things to occupy themselves with while beside the pool. This forced the company into the line of making computer hardware since without the hardware the video games were just, in those days, illegally copied discs accompanied by magazined that insisted you needed to know BASIC for some reason. This forced another diversification as Coleco needed its employees to be properly outfitted for clean-room operations, and to be properly outfitted they needed sharp shoes. This forced them right back into the business of making tools for leather workers. The company vanished in a recursive loop in 1987 and was never heard from again.