It’s all very well to say the universe is about 14 billion years old, but physics will pipe in to tell you that it isn’t that simple because apparently physics is worried people aren’t listening to it anymore. Yeah, they had some big successes with the atom bomb and with the moon landing but that’s all a long time ago. And they don’t just mean the obvious stuff, like if you wait around 22 billion years my declaration the universe is about 14 billion years old is going to look pretty hilariously wrong.
Here’s the thing: because of relativity there’s particles out there moving so fast that from their perspective it’s only been sixteen years since the universe was created, and so they’ve never known a world without the Beloit College Mindset List. More, there are some particles, moving even faster, which know the universe only to be eight years old. Such particles, of course, find it very hard to swerve in time.
The Universe: Where is it, how old is it, what has it been up to, and let’s just fill in who is it to round out the opening sentence here? These are undeniably fine questions, what with their existing and seeming to be the sorts of things there should be answers for, or to.
The first is the easiest. The Universe can be found all around you, explaining that sensation of something peeking over your shoulder while you try to go about existing. Don’t go looking back too suddenly as the Universe can be rather skittish — remember the old folk saying, the universe is more afraid of caterpillars than you are of varnish, which is why Enlightenment thinkers got the idea that everybody before them was an idiot — but if you check casually you should see signs of something. If you find only incontrovertible evidence that you’re actually a disembodied brain in a jar being fed electrical stimulations, don’t worry; you’re just having the same nightmare every butterfly is having.
Continue reading “Some Of The Big Picture”
You know, now that we have the whole idea of putting money in different denominations on the table, I realize there’s no need to reduce it to powers-of-two the way computer programmers think makes sense. Really any set of relatively prime numbers will do just fine in terms of being able to make amounts of money you really don’t need, because the charge at most convenience stores is $2.92 if you’re there at breakfast time, $11.25 if you’re there in the afternoon or evening picking up a few things, and at the fast food place is pretty much going to be $7.14 for lunch plus another $1.42 if you go back for a McFlurry after.
So since we’re completely free to choose, let me design a set of currency that comes in denominations of 3, 7, 11, 24, 31, and 55 dollars, with additional bills worth negative two, negative thirteen, and negative twenty-nine dollars to make the vending machines happy. That should fix things.
I had good reason to be in Best Buy during New Student Orientation Week but don’t ask me what it was. Whatever it was comes in second to what I found, a bunch of sheets listing the Technology Requirements for the various universities that students might be going to somewhere around here.
According to Best Buy, according to the various universities, students really ought to have some kind of laptop, because apparently they haven’t noticed students have merged with their iPhones to become a big mass of people with better things to do than notice there’s a professor trying to turn them into informed citizens. I’m delighted they recommend not just getting a laptop but also an operating system and one that’s compatible with Microsoft Office, the leading way to get documents which, on any system, can be read with random lines of XXXXX marks or weird glyphs wherever you’re supposed to sign your name.
Also recommended: anti-virus software, showing that they’re right on top of the big computer security news of 1996 there, and every one of the local universities recommends a laptop with “wireless capabilities”. I considered asking a clerk if they had any laptops without wireless capabilities but was worried that one, in the eagerness to please, would make a laptop wireless-uncapable by the normal expedient of putting it in a transporter pod so as to catastrophically merge its molecules with those of a cinder block.
I didn’t buy anything there.
You know, it’s just a convention that we (I’m talking here about the United States) put out money in denominations of one and five and ten and twenty dollars, plus some other highly fictional amounts like fifty or a hundred or even two dollars. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it in a more orderly fashion, by which is meant the way computer programmers would do it, which is in denominations of one, two, four, eight, sixteen, and so on. Then an ordinary transaction could be much more logically handled, like this:
“Hundred and forty dollars, all right … uh … here’s a 64-dollar bill, and … 140 minus 64 is … more than 64, right? Well, I guess I have a 32 here and that’s … 140 minus 32 is … wait, 32 and 64 is … something and then that away from 140 is … uh … I could swear I had a couple 8-dollar bills when I set out this morning and … uh … OK, 140 minus 64 has to be like 86 … 76, thanks, and then from that I take away 32 and … no, I put in 32 and … ”
All right, so we’d have a couple more people who finish buying things at the supermarket by curling up in a ball and weeping, but that’s why the rest of us have credit cards for crying out loud.
[ Franklin Pierce Adams was a humorist who wrote a newspaper feature that, as best I can tell, has just plain vanished: the newspaper poem. He’s known, at least among baseball-history fans, for composing “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”, a ditty about the Chicago Cubs’ double-play-making machine of Tinkers and Evers and Chance, often credited with putting those three in the Baseball Hall of Fame together. Here’s a bit from the collection Tobogganing on Parnassus, a title which by itself shows his expectation that readers won’t be thrown by classical references or an erudite turn of phrase. I’m sympathetic; I like to think I skew to the higher brow, but I admit reading his stuff makes I’m glad I can run off to the Internet to look up what he’s talking about. It’s hard to fully believe that the typical reader of 1913 quite got all of it. This selection, at least, isn’t too obscure. ]
Unlearned I in ornithology —–
All I know about the birds
Is a bunch of etymology,
Just a lot of high-flown words.
Is the curlew an uxorial
Bird? The Latin name for crow?
Is the bulfinch grallatorial?
O’er my head no golden gloriole
Ever shall be proudly set
For my knowledge of the oriole,
Eagle, ibis, or egrette.
I know less about the tanager
And its hopes and fears and aims
Than a busy Broadway manager
Does of James.
But, despite my incapacity
On the birdies of the air,
I am not without sagacity,
Be it ne’er so small a share.
This I know, though ye be scorning at
What I know not, though ye mock,
Birdies wake me every morning at
I have posted this before, but since the deadline’s now only a week away I felt it worth repeating that The Robert Benchley Society’s 2013 Humor Writing Contest deadline is the August of 30th, or something around like that. I should probably check the rules over carefully before putting in my submission.
I have got a submission figured out, if you were worried, although I’m open to suggestions if you, the reader at wherever it is you are, have an essay I’ve written in mind as something particularly Benchleyesque and at least editable down to below 502 words. (At least in past years it was fine if the piece wasn’t new-composed for the contest, as long as it was original to the submitter, which is why I won’t be entering my essay about reading Benchley’s famous essay about quoting him.) And if you want to enter your own piece against me, well, I’m not going to say anything directly but you’ll be getting such a disapproving glare from our pet rabbit.
Superhero: Modulo the Modular Man
First Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 6, cover date March 1968 (sales date November 1967).
Final Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 4, cover date July 1975 (sales date March 1975).
This comic attempted to catch the excitement of the early space race by having its hero, Walter Canton, be an astronaut who gained the superpower of his hands popping off at will (his) as the result of an encounter with space witches. As Modulo the Modular Man he served as a competent entrant in the list of slapping-based superheroes. The attempt to draw young readers’ interest by each issue featuring faithfully rendered depictions of Project Mercury control rooms, testing laboratories, and space capsules was undercut by publisher Canton Instant Classics’ bad luck in timing, as the first issues of the series hit the shelves almost exactly four years after the final Project Mercury flight.
Continue reading “Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man”
I’ve got a bit of a hyperbole problem, so I need to point out beforehand that I’m not exaggerating.
I was looking at an old photograph showing me and one of my grandfathers (I know which one but you probably don’t much care). It can be hard figuring out who everyone quite is in old photographs, because many of my old photographs come from the 1970s and you know what we all looked like back then. But you can pick me out of any photograph by looking for the person who obviously doesn’t realize that the things he puts on are going to be the things other people see him wearing.
In this photograph, I’m wearing the kind of shirt I was fond of until about grad school, when I finally learned that I always look horrible in them. The shirt has a white base, and blue sleeves, and horizontal stripes of different colors across the body. I do not blame 1979; as noted, I always picked this sort of shirt until I realized I have to just wear a shirt of some solid color, and preferably, one of about three colors.
I must have picked this shirt out myself, because my parents have always been loving and supportive of me, even that time I picked out a Tampa Bay Buccaneers T-shirt to wear even though (a) we lived in New Jersey and (b) it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (c) from the 70s, when the Buccaneers, then with two wins and 850 losses each season, had the official colors of Traffic Cone Orange and Sadness. And yet this, non-Buccaneers, shirt contains no less than four distinct browns. Also I remember it being one of my favorite shirts, even more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shirt.
There is no defense; I just hope you will all be merciful and consider that I have to remember myself wearing this thing.
I should’ve known I’d get myself into trouble. I was hoping to pick up a little extra money because there’ve been all these unexpected expenses like food and those roller coaster seeds I’ve been trying to grow in the front yard. Anyway, I took a contract bit where I just have to work up a name for a newly-invented color, which I figured I could toss off in a moment, the way someone decided that “Cornflower” could be a color.
Anyway, what they want is a word for the shade of orange you get when someone built a community college in like 1971 and put bright orange carpeting all over the walls, because that was something that seemed normal in 1971, and then it’s still somehow up there in 2013. Sure, you know the color I mean from that description, but what are we supposed to do if we need to describe that quickly? Worse, what are people doing with that color that they need it described in a word?
I should’ve taken a temp job making JSON do that thing where you get error messages from your web browser instead.
[ Unrelated: WordPress tells me I’ve now got 250 people following this blog. Thanks kindly to each of you, and I hope that you’re enjoying the occasional glance around these parts. Please feel free to introduce yourselves to one another as there’s a fine student lounge with an indescribable orange-carpeted wall available. ]
Our pet rabbit denies it, but somebody must have ordered this box of deluxe hay that somehow got shipped to us. I didn’t even know there was deluxe hay, but this stuff’s supposedly infused with a papaya flavor. I’m taking this on the rabbit’s word. He swears he didn’t order it, and I’m pretty positive neither did I. But as everyone my age remembers from those public service advertisements (where an Eskimo gets one of those old-fashioned electric fans in the mail, the ones they used in black-and-white movies and attach ribbons to so people could tell they were fans and not oversized microphones, and thanks the camera), if you get something in the mail you didn’t order, you don’t have to return it, which is good because I’m pretty sure our rabbit would attack me if I tried returning it.
Funny thing is this box of hay came packed in a much bigger box, about twice the volume, with styrofoam peanuts all around, so it didn’t get damaged in transit somehow.
I could swear some of the squirrels were watching as we took delivery, though, and I’m wondering about that now.
It’s not got quite so large a fan base — well, I post less, because it’s harder work — but I do keep up a mathematics blog where among other things I review comic strips that have touched on mathematical themes. I’ve just put up a fresh summary of this past month’s, and if you’d care for pointers to a bunch of comic strips and some mention of what they’re talking about, please visit.
I should warn you that this includes a lot of comic strips that you probably didn’t know existed, because somehow I keep finding comics like Rabbits Against Magic or On A Claire Day that nobody else has ever heard of or read. At least people have heard of Mutt and Jeff, although they stopped reading it back in the Coolidge administration, and maybe remember hearing about Wee Pals. It’s a talent I somehow have.
(Note: Not a complete list.)
- The head.
- The neck.
- The … uh … widdershins?
- I think there’s stifles or something?
- The anterior whelk?
- The … Tralfamadorian … infandibulator I want to say? Infindibulator? Something like that.
- The retroactive … er … carporeal … uh … thingy?
- The parts that’ll step on you.
- The parts that’ll bite you.
If you aren’t caught by surprise by your trip somewhere you’ll want to prepare, since preparation turns the stress of time spent away from home when you might discover you forgot something essential (the most commonly forgotten things are wristwatches, the ability to produce the neurotransmitter-hydrolizing serine protease acetylcholinesterase, and credit cards), into a week of worrying that you are going to forget something you need and then discovering you forgot something else while you brought enough toothpaste to crush a small army of cavities. Here’s things you need:
Outfits: 1 outfit for each day of travel, plus one just in case, plus one in case you decide to be non-nude when you set out. Add another outfit for every other day in case it turns out to be more than 20 degrees (forty Imperial meters) cooler than you expect it to be. Add one more outfit for every three days in case it turns out to e more than 25 degrees (two ha’pennies) warmer than you hoped it was going to be. Throw in another two outfits to cover the case of the weather being more average than you anticipate, and another three outfits in case you don’t see the pie fight soon enough.
Continue reading “What To Pack”
Just because your undergrad school has a two-person dorm room mysteriously available does not mean that you personally would be the person to best solve the mysterious emptiness by moving into it with a guy you knew later in the 90s, particularly if you were kind of savoring the idea of having it to yourself. Just tell the guy that the other mysteriously open dorm room is at least as good and this way you’ll both have dorm room to yourselves. Also, that guy interviewing you for the student newspaper despite being, like, two or three decades too old for it is only humoring you in asking for details of your plan to install a modest roller coaster on the engineering campus by where the A and H buses first stop (near the mathematics building), so don’t be fooled by his enthusiasm, even if he had no idea it was going to be so popular a proposal.
Stipulating that there is an afterlife in which all persons who ever lived are able to meet one another and speak as they like, then, and let’s not consider the sorts of scheduling problems that presents one you really think about it (sure, there are probably only dozens of people today who’d like to talk to 19th century superclown Dan Rice, but when you multiply a dozen people by the over thirty years left until the end of time, that’s a lot of demands on his time, plus he was more popular back in the day), I’d kind of like to be there when someone tracks down Blackbeard and tells him that by the early 21st century, his name is plastered all over stuff like kiddie roller coasters at Great Adventure or some pretty fun miniature golf courses that include randomly selected facts about pirates alongside that agonizing one where the hole is in the middle of this little hill and you just can not possibly get it in without overshooting. I think the confused and awkward silence to follow could be among the greatest confused and awkward silences of all time.
I don’t mean to turn this entirely over to a “you should like Krazy Kat sort of blog,” particularly since it definitely isn’t for everyone. But some of them are accessible even without getting into the strip’s odd rhythms and pace, so here’s another to enjoy.
Continue reading “And One More Krazy Kat”
If you’ve been stuck trying to improve the way you draw things, and/or people, and/or how you caricature Richard Nixon and found yourself stuck, have you considered giving a try at drawing guinea pigs? They make good practice if you’re having trouble on the details of shapes, because guinea pigs really don’t so much have shapes. They’re more sort of there and have fur all right, and maybe a bit of general nervousness about how you seem to be expecting them to do something, but as result you really can’t go wrong with them. If that fails, you might try drawing some invisible characters, if you don’t think that’s too likely to get you caught by ghosts.
I want to offer another bit from Observations By Mr. Dooley, this one a bit about the astounding progress in machinery that the late 19th century had brought, and the basic attitude feels to me pretty evergreen.
Mr. Dooley was reading from a paper.
“‘We live,’ he says, ‘in an age iv wondhers. Niver befure in th’ histhry iv th’ wurruld has such progress been made.’
Continue reading “Finley Peter Dunne: Machinery”
So I was eavesdropping on that troupe of squirrels doing improv in the backyard when I noticed there was this chipmunk, dressed in a bow tie of all things, looking up at me and grinning in this way that just screams “sunflower seeds”. I tried to just sort of smile and shuffle off without committing to anything, but he started talking about how great it was that this gang had a venue in which to perform now, and how they were looking ready for great things, and how somebody really sharp with a modest investment could see them rocket out of the sticks and into at least regional importance.
I tried not to look offended that my backyard — mine, mind you — was being called the sticks, and I didn’t explain that all the giggling from the pond was not because it’d been installed as a laugh track (“it’s wonderfully awkward, laughing at all the wrong beats, it really throws the performances into this whole new area, and challenges the audience” which what?) but because we’d put fish in it.
Still, I made my getaway as quickly as I could. I know when somebody’s warming up to hitting me for cash.
8th 4th Street Meeting Parking Deck
The county-famous Meeting Parking Deck is designed for anyone with a need to have a meeting today. Gate attendants are constantly keeping track of which spaces are free and which people have not yet met anyone, and a roving pack of feral docents guides visitors into teams where they can hold meetings or — using the cylindrical tower at the north-east corner of the structure — even start to facilitate networking or some such rot. This parking deck leads the way in the whole Lesser Pompous Lakes Area as being the fourth-largest small-business incubating parking deck and counts dozens of small-business success stories to its credit by stealing the mail from the Lastman’s Glurge Small Business Development Center and Discount Candle Emporium. Maximum parking fee of $18.50 per day which can be waived with proof that you know someone who died of boredom during a Total Quality Management seminar.
Continue reading “A Guide to Some Municipal Parking Garages”
Some of the many customs of the goldfish:
- Grabbing a flake of food in the mouth and waddling around shaking it out to show off to everyone until everyone explains that they aren’t all that impressed by grabbing flakes of food, until you find out it’s rock candy.
- Calling up Glenn Beck just to make fun of him. (Not unique to the goldfish community.)
- Tri-dimensional do-si-dos. Or do-si-does. It includes some argument about what the plural of do-si-do is, anyway.
- Writing new lyrics to classic Paul McCartney songs and proclaiming them far better than what he produced for, say, “Freedom”.
- Explaining these freaky games they had of SimCity 2000 where they built the whole city without any roads or rails or this one time on Civilization II where they conquered the entire world, several continents worth, without ever building a ship because some city on a neighboring continent overthrew its rulers and joined their empire and they bought their way into world domination that way until everybody else in the pond loses patience.
- Talking about the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode “The Giant Spider Invastion”, with everybody in it explaining the guy who says “You been hittin’ the BOOZE again” also played the Klingon judge in Star Trek VI like any of them don’t remember it.
Here’s a bit from Finley Peter Dunne — Mister Dooley — in Observations By Mr. Dooley. It amuses me, besides its basic funniness, for spoofing the Sherlock Holmes stories right about when they were still being written. I can’t find just when this particular essay was composed, but the book was published in 1902 or possibly 1903.
Dorsey an’ Dugan are havin’ throuble,” said Mr. Hennessy.
“What about?” asked Mr. Dooley.
“Dorsey,” said Mr. Hennessy, “says Dugan stole his dog. They had a party at Dorsey’s an’ Dorsey heerd a noise in th’ back yard an’ wint out an’ see Dugan makin’ off with his bull tarryer.”
“Ye say he see him do it?”
“Yis, he see him do it.”
“Well,” said Mr. Dooley, “‘twud baffle th’ injinooty iv a Sherlock Holmes.”
“Who’s Sherlock Holmes?”
Continue reading “Finley Peter Dunne: “Sherlock Holmes””
Third Ward candidate David Floche comes from a self-described innovative and job-creating background, taking credit for franchising the operations of that guy on the city buses who keeps staring at the poster on the wall behind the driver’s head, like he’s trying to drive eye-lasers through the poor driver. His licensees can be found on all buses running to and from the Two Corners Intersection Mall.
Floche supports the merger of Pompous Lakes with San Luis Obispo, California, a move he expects will catch them “completely off guard”, and believes our city, or possibly theirs, will better serve the public by instituting a policy of visiting everyone to remind them of what they forgot at the supermarket last visit. Anticipating success in both election and implementing this policy he has asked for suggestions of what that forgotten thing might be, as all he can think of is “candles”.
This, now, this just made me smile. It’s “The Daily Extra” that’s on the back of my page-a-day Peanuts calendar, a feature they include so as to distract people from how they don’t have Sundays as separate days anymore even though the “page-a-day” calendar is implicitly one (1) page for one (1) day, of which Sundays (S) are one (1). Anyway, from the back of the 3/4th of August calendar for the year 2013:
Unique Gift Idea
Do you have a unique gift idea, but you can’t find the item locally? There’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to find it on the Internet. Have a friend help you search the Web if Internet shopping is outside your comfort zone.
That’s outstanding advice and I figure to put it into practice just as soon as I’m in 1998.
Monday, August 5, 9:30 pm. The Lesser Pompous Lakes Office of the Comptroller invites all residents in and around the municipal area to take part in the fourth-ever Streetlight Counting Day. A half-hour after sunset please step outside, identify any and all streetlights in your area, and whether they’re working, and report back to the Office of the Comptroller. Asked if residents should decorate their streetlights or dance around them or maybe do a thing with flowers or papier-mâché the Comptroller-General said, “Yeah, sure, whatever, just send in the counts.” We can’t wait!
Often it’s hard to get started; I know I barely manage to start anything for the first time, myself. Often it’s going to require a jump start. The easiest way to get a jump start is to have a kangaroo do the jumping, as they’re experts in jumping and, in the cartoons, looking really dashing while wearing vests and maybe a pair of glasses. Of course, it’s hard to find kangaroos outside Australia this time of year, as they’re busy registering for fall classes. Thus we can return to the cartoons and rely on mice. Mice are smaller than kangaroos, according to most of my references, so they’re going to need to practice jumping over smaller things and work their way up. So you’ll need to explain to the mouse you have doing your jumping for you, that he or she will have to start by jumping over a squirrel. If challenged, point out that it would be reasonably easy for a kangaroo to jump over a lazy fox, and just as a mouse is smaller than a kangaroo, so a squirrel is smaller than a fox, and then show the mouse that the card in its hand was the eight of diamonds.
“You’re making an awful noise,” our pet rabbit said, in his most scolding of tones.
I stopped swinging the rubber mallet and let go of the putty knife. “Yes, I know, but it’s for a good reason.”
He poked his nose between his cage mesh, almost close enough to nibble at the knife’s handle. “I don’t think you understand. It’s you and you’re doing that thing where you make noise.”
“I’m sorry, but there isn’t another way I’m going to get this window open.”
“Windows don’t open,” he said, and crossed his paws together. “Hasn’t anyone ever explained that to you?”
Continue reading “In Which Our Rabbit Explains Windows To Me”