Again, Science Makes It Harder


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.

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Some Of The Big Picture


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”

Worse, What If They’re Not Talking About Me?


You can talk about Twitter and Facebook and somehow getting into arguments with people about the remake of V that they made like — two years ago was it? Is that still running? Did it ever run? — and for that matter the guy building the model spaceship in the break room But for my boss’s money the best way to lose productivity at work is to receive a brief e-mail addressed to everyone reminding all of the need to be understanding of one another in these difficult times. I might stay up for weeks wondering if they’re talking about me.

Rethinking Money (Again)


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.

Your Technology Requirements Of Next Week, Today


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 Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care


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 P Adams: Ornithology


[ 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?
       I dunno.

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
       Four o’clock.

Robert Benchley Society Contest: One-Week Notice


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.

Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man


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”

What I Notice In Every Old Picture Of Me


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 Guess I Need Some Colorful Help


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. ]

What the hay?


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.

Over on the Other Blog: Comic Strips!


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.

Some Parts Of The Horse Or The Carburetor


(Let’s try this again.)

  • The head.
  • The neck.
  • The mounting base.
  • The posterior whelk?
  • The idle speed adjusting crackscrew.
  • The mounting base. (If you forgot the first.)
  • The parts that’ll step on you.
  • The parts that’ll bite you.
  • The parts that flames come out of.
  • The idle mixture adjusting screw. (Now this seems like they’re just putting in screws for the fun of it. I must have something wrong.)

Some Parts Of The Horse


(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.

What To Pack


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”

More Warnings from the Dreams


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.

Pondering Blackbeard


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.

And One More Krazy Kat


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”

Improving How You Draw


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.