Newton’s Prank


I’ll bet that if you have a mental image of Isaac Newton at all, it’s a pretty stern one: a guy forced to wear gentlemanly outfits of the late 17th century with that huge powdered wig that seems to be sarcasm, staring out with an expression that says “shut up, you idiot, I already know everything you could possibly say, and it’s all idiotic”, only written like they did back before anyone decided spelling words kind of the same-ish way most of the time. You don’t think of him as having a humorous side at all, or even cracking a smile. At best you’d think his only entertainment was judging other people to be far beneath him, but that’s one of those cases where history is overblowing his reputation. Why, once time, as Member of Parliament representing Cambridge at the Convention Parliament in 1689, which decided King James II had left the throne of England without pointing out how he left because of all those people pointing pointy spears at him, Newton once piped up to say that it was a little drafty and could you please close the window, you insufferable dunce.

But there’s more to him than that. Why, according to this book that got quoted in some other book that I actually read, Newton at least once played a really grand practical joke. And yeah, I know, you can put anything you want in one book, but I read in a totally different book about the same thing happening, without even quoting that first book, so this has got to be legitimate. While a student at the Grantham Grammar School in the 1650s, “he first made lanterns of paper crimpled, which used to go to school by, in winter mornings, with a candle, and tied them to the tails of the kites in a dark night, which at first affrighted the country people by thinking they were comets”, and if all that isn’t remarkable enough consider that my spell-checker has no objection to “affrighted” but doesn’t think “crimpled” is a word.

Apparently, his little stunt of faking a comet was very convincing in making other people think they were seeing comets, which got the folks around Grantham to wonder what calamity the comets were foretelling. I hope they’re not still waiting for the disaster, come to think of it. Probably they’re not; 350 years is a while to wait for the end of the world to be set off by a fake comet hung from a kite, but, get an idea in some people’s minds and it won’t get back out again either. Anyway, his getting people to see portents of doom is a really good response to a practical joke. The most response I ever get from a prank is some resigned sighing and people looking at their watches to see if they’ve acknowledged my existence enough and can now move on. I just bet Newton never had to deal with people rolling their eyes and smacking their lips while waiting for me to finish being amused by myself, but to be fair, he was the one with that whole idea of faking a comet with some kites and some paper crimpled. Also inventing physics. That’s pretty impressive too.

But if Newton was willing to play this one prank, one time, when he was a kid, obviously, he must’ve played a whole bunch of other pranks throughout his life. What other ones might there have been? I guess the obvious things he might have done were to spread rumors about how Wilhelm Leibniz plagiarized his recipe for Apple Moon Pie (“takke your Appells toe a most vy. grt. height above yr Moone Pie, and droppe them on the Moone Pie untill it being the Pie is affrightingly crimpled”), impose a confusing infinitesimals-based notation on calculus, or call Robert Hooke over to set his drinks on Hooke’s head. But I guess it’s more respectable that Newton might have played practical jokes that require some real props and lighting effects and such; think how you’d feel if you learned Newton was fond of Mad Libs or of telling lesser scientists “I got your nose, you pathetic ignoramus”. It takes imagination to make a comet, a lesson taken to heart by Newton’s I-guess-you-can-kind-of-call-him-a-friend Edmond Halley.

Robert Benchley: Mid-Winter Sports


[ In this piece, taken from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley writes of a problem largely in our past: the way there just isn’t sports news available this time of year. It’s a bit of an adjustment to think that there was a time not so far gone when there wasn’t sporting news worthy of the name for several months of the year. ]

These are melancholy days for the newspaper sporting-writers. The complaints are all in from old grads of Miami who feel that there weren’t enough Miami men on the All-American football team, and it is too early to begin writing about the baseball training camps. Once in a while some lady swimmer goes around a tank three hundred times, or the holder of the Class B squash championship “meets all-comers in court tilt,” but aside from that, the sporting world is buried with the nuts for the winter.

Since sporting-writers must live, why not introduce a few items of general interest into their columns, accounts of the numerous contests of speed and endurance which take place during the winter months in the homes of our citizenry? For instance:

The nightly races between Mr. and Mrs. Theodore M. Twamly, to see who can get into bed first, leaving the opening of the windows and putting out of the light for the loser, was won last night for the first time this winter by Mr. Twamly. Strategy entered largely into the victory, Mr. Twamly getting into bed with most of his clothes on.

An interesting exhibition of endurance was given by Martin W. Lasbert at his home last evening when he covered the distance between the cold-water tap in his bath-room to the bedside of his young daughter, Mertice, eighteen times in three hours, this being the number of her demands for water to drink. When interviewed after the eighteenth lap, Mr. Lasbert said: “I wouldn’t do it another time, not if the child were parching.” Shortly after that he made his nineteenth trip.

As was exclusively predicted in these columns yesterday and in accordance with all the dope, Chester H. Flerlie suffered his sixtieth consecutive defeat last evening at the hands of the American Radiator Company, the builders of his furnace. With all respect for Mr. Flerlie’s pluck in attempting, night after night, to dislodge clinkers caught in the grate, it must be admitted, even by his host of friends, that he might much better be engaged in some gainful occupation. The grate tackled by the doughty challenger last night was one of the fine-tooth comb variety (the “Non-Sifto” No. 114863), in which the clinker is caught by a patent clutch and held securely until the wrecking-crew arrives. At the end of the bout Mr. Flerlie was led away to his dressing room, suffering from lacerated hands and internal injuries. “I’m through,” was his only comment.

This morning’s winners in the Lymedale commuters’ contest for seats on the shady side of the car on the 8:28 were L.Y. Irman, Sydney M. Gissith, John F. Nothman and Louis Leque. All the other seats were won by commuters from Loose Valley, the next station above Lymedale. In trying to scramble up the car-steps in advance of lady passengers, Merton Steef had his right shin badly skinned and hit his jaw on the bottom step. Time was not called while his injuries were being looked after.

Before an enthusiastic and notable gathering, young Lester J. Dimmik, age three, put to rout his younger brother, Carl Withney Dimmik, Jr., age two, in their matutinal contest to see which can dispose of his Wheatena first. In the early stages of the match, it began to look as if the bantamweight would win in a walk, owing to his trick of throwing spoonfuls of the breakfast food over his shoulder and under the tray of his high-chair. The referees soon put a stop to this, however, and specified that the Wheatena must be placed in the mouth. This cramped Dimmick Junior’s form and it soon became impossible for him to locate his mouth at all. At this point, young Lester took the lead, which he maintained until he crossed the line an easy winner. As a reward he was relieved of the necessity of eating another dish of Wheatena.

Stephen L. Agnew was the lucky guest in the home of Orrin F. McNeal this week-end, beating out Lee Stable for first chance at the bath-tub on Sunday morning. Both contestants came out of their bed rooms at the same time, but Agnew’s room being nearer the bath-room, he made the distance down the hall in two seconds quicker time than his somewhat heavier opponent, and was further aided by the breaks of the game when Stable dropped his sponge half-way down the straightaway. Agnew’s time in the bath-room was 1 hr. and 25 minutes.

CW Music


Almost none of you have heard me sing, and that’s a good thing. While I’m tolerably able to follow along most of the generally accepted words of a song if they’re written out for me ahead of time and can begin and end such words at approximately the right times, I have pretty much the same control over my pitch that a coal-fired locomotive engine has over its position. My voice will pick a note that’s the designated note for the song, even if it doesn’t appear anywhere in the actual song or possibly in all of recorded Western Civilization-informed music including those horrible atonal experiments made by pressing Moog synthesizers under piles of stones until they confessed to witchcraft. It might vary a little around that note as the song moves through its normal melody, but it won’t get more than maybe two-thirds of the way to the flat version of whatever note I started from.

So what I do instead is to hum along to a song, which besides meaning I don’t have to actually get the words right, means I don’t have to go to the trouble of opening my mouth any. But I have the same thing where I have one designated note for each song, and stick to that. What comes out is a tolerably timed “Hmm HMMM hm HMM Hmmm, Hmm HMMM hm HMMMMM, Hmmm Hm-mmm-MMM-MMMMM hmm HMMMMM-hmm-HMMMMmmmMMMM” [*]. It’s quite the monotone spectacle.

Anyway, all this is a way of saying I was stunned to get a special musical achievement award from the American Radio Relay League, the people who bring you ham radio, for my work in translating music into Morse Code. I’m flattered and I’d like to thank everyone who had a part in letting me achieve this, as soon as I think who that could really be.

[*] Original lyrics by Sparks, 1975.

Keeping Busy


I know you’ve been busy. I’ve been busy. We’ve all been busy. The major pastime people have anymore is being too busy to do whatever it is they meant to do. But the question is what are you busy doing? Because there’s different classes of busy. If you’ve been busy because for some reason you had to bake a million billion kerjillion cupcakes that’s one thing. If you’ve been busy because you’ve had to run around to every corner of the known universe patching up cracks in the spacetime continuum threatening to destroy all creation that’s another. And if it is the latter, then I have to kind of gently ask if you’re really positive that you’ve got every single one of those cracks filled in, because while I’d like you to have some time to unwind I’m also pretty fond of all creation, even the parts that include bubbling pools of organic goo that are near pieces of rusting machinery I have to deal with for some reason, and not having all that destroyed is pretty important to me too. So, please, just evaluate a little what kind of busy it is you’ve been.

Charley Chase: Love, Loot and Crash


I’d like to put up another silent comedy for you today. From April 1915 here’s Love, Loot and Crash, starring Charley Chase as Harold, the suitor, and Josef Swickard as Peter Cushing’s Alternate Doctor Who. The short was one of Mack Sennett’s last Keystone pictures before he switched from Mutual to Triangle pictures for distribution, which is valuable information for you fans of motion picture distributors of the mid-1910s. It’s also got a lot of the essential elements of a Mack Sennett comedy: befuddled homeowners, appealing if slightly bland suitors, bumbling cops getting locked in the basement, ditch diggers having motorcycles jump over them, fruit vendors getting their wagons smashed, burglars dressing as servants, elopement, driverless cars running in loops on a pier, all that. The easily embedded YouTube version starts with a commercial, I’m afraid, but the archive.org one I can’t make easy to just show on WordPress.

A pre-fame Harold Lloyd has a small part in the picture. If you don’t look up what character he plays, you can use this as a test of the principle of Clark Kent’s disguise: his character isn’t wearing the glasses that Lloyd would become famous for.

Statistics Saturday


The figures don’t lie, so, let me do another statistics post. Here, the good reasons for something versus the number of bad reasons:

Thing Good Reasons For Bad Reasons For
There Being 360 Degrees In A Circle 6 4
Discount Mattress Sales 5 3
Cement Repair Kits 12 9 [*]
Gerunds 3 8
Indoor Leagues 2 0
Needlessly Complicated Rock Operas 18 [*] 3
Parades 9 4
Ironic Dentistry 2 3
Search Engine Terms 4 2
Silicon Dioxide [*] 42 2.2
In-Jokes 2 6

[*] Not counting the obvious.

Oh, wait, by the Official WordPress Publication Date this is Sunday. Well, now I just look foolish.

Unbeknownst


I’m starting from the premise that you just can’t say “unbeknownst” anymore, not without sounding at least a little arch and like you’re making fun of the people who use words like “unbeknownst” without meaning to sound a little arch and like they’re making fun of (I’m sorry, I have to call this sentence off because of the recursion error). Anyway, if you’re not willing to give me that premise we’re just not going to get anywhere.

The thing is that “unbeknownst” was a perfectly good word, usable for all sorts of conditions when the beknownsting of things was aptly described as un-, and now it isn’t. At some point the comical uses of the word so overwhelmed the serious uses that the word had to be given up as part of the usable non-humorous vocabulary.

So that means there’s someone out there who was the last person to use “unbeknownst” without meaning it archly, and without expecting the audience to hear it a little archly, and given that arch uses of the word had to be on the rise then I wonder: was this last-serious-use of the word something the writer knew was going on, or was it unbeknownst to her? But if it was beknownst to her, doesn’t that keep it from being a legitimate use? Even a little bitty bit? Or did she refuse to think about that lest she lose the spot of last-legitimate-user to whoever used it just before she did?

To sum up, worrying about this nonsense is why I got like two hours of sleep last night.

Poising For Success


I don’t want to sound like one of those people who’s averse to making money by blogging. Actually, I think the idea is a pretty good one and if I can’t make money myself by blogging then I’d like to see it done by someone like me, keeping in mind as ever that there are few people who are more like me than I am myself. I know two of them.

Also I have to admit that I don’t know who these people are who are averse to making money by blogging, but apparently there’s a lot of them, since pretty much everybody who starts following my blog turns out to be writing about how other people can make money while blogging. I suppose everybody in the world has to know something that I don’t, even if it isn’t just what the back of my neck looks like, so what the heck. Maybe I need to figure out what’s needed to make money while blogging.

If I understand what I see properly, the most important thing is search engines. I had always thought search engines were these shadowy corporations in thrall to the surveillance state and working hard to divert queries like “who invented photocopiers” into investigations of “are sloths ticklish?” and DeviantArt pictures showing what the Signing of the Declaration of Independence would look like if everybody in it were Care Bears and “if sloths are ticklish how long does it take them to laugh?”. Maybe I’m not using it right, but the point is, I figured that if you were around, sooner or later a search engine would find you, and the search engine would get some money for it, and you would not.

But apparently that isn’t enough, and you have to get yourself optimized, so that a search engine has a chance of finding you. I think a search engine that can’t find me isn’t trying very hard. I stick around the house most of the time and don’t do a lot of travelling, and even if I’m somewhere unexpected I can be picked out as the person who clearly picked his own clothes without thinking about the fact that other people were going to have to see me dressed like that. If you can’t find me, surrounded by people who are wincing and not looking too directly at my shirt, then nothing I do to optimize is going to help. Of course, I’m not the one making money at this, so maybe Google is earning its vast profits by helping people to pretend they haven’t noticed me. I guess we all feel like that some days.

Another piece is that I have to give some way of classifying everybody into one of the major characters from The Wizard of Oz. I don’t doubt the benefits of classifying everybody, since I’ve been on the Internet long enough to know one of the most popular activities on it is protesting that you were put into the wrong group by some web site’s classification scheme and making sure all your friends know about it so they can be classified wrongly too. About the only thing people like better is taking dialect quizzes, because people love to think about how they’re the only ones who deploy the English language sensibly and everybody else is crazy, but classification pages give you more repeat readers because people have already heard about the soda/pop division and they’re getting kind of tired of “in line” versus “on line”.

What I don’t know is why it has to be The Wizard of Oz. I mean, I know the obvious, that we all think what it would be like to be the Tin Man visiting the Emerald City and have a huge circular feather duster rubbing the backs of our knees to a rich shine, but can that really be enough for everyone? I mean except for the people who’re looking to be grabbed by enraged apple trees. Maybe that’s the categorization I can use for my fortune: which Wizard of Oz characters figure everyone can be sorted into groups of Wizard of Oz characters based on what scenes and which ones don’t. Yes, I suppose that will do it.

After that I guess I have to make a whole bunch of tweets in which I say I wrote this thing, and if you don’t go looking at it enough to make me rich then I have to tweet it again. That’s going to be really hard. I hate making a spectacle like that.

Finley Peter Dunne: Drugs


[ Today I’d like to offer a bit from Finley Peter Dunne’s Mister Dooley Says, and a little bit about medicine. I know that Mister Dooley bits can be challenging to read, but, there’s several lines in here, including the close, that I think are worth the effort required. ]

“What ails ye?” asked Mr. Dooley of Mr. Hennessy, who looked dejected.

“I’m a sick man,” said Mr. Hennessy.

“Since th’ picnic?”

“Now that I come to think iv it, it did begin th’ day afther th’ picnic,” said Mr. Hennessy. “I’ve been to see Dock O’Leary. He give me this an’ these here pills an’ some powdhers besides. An’ d’ye know, though I haven’t taken anny iv thim yet, I feel betther already.”

Continue reading “Finley Peter Dunne: Drugs”

The Mysteries of Modern Recording


So I’m trying to quite rationalize the existence of this Hanna-Barbera record that I picked up at the record show the other day. Did someone at Hanna-Barbera Master Command suddenly sit, bolt-upright, in bed one day and say, “Good heavens, it’s 1977! We have got to have Snagglepuss retell the story of The Wizard Of Oz!” And then someone sits bolt-upright next to him and says, “You’re right! And we better have Wilma Flintstone tell the story of Bambi!” And then someone else — this is getting to be a pretty wide bed, perhaps used for conference retreats — says, “This project is doomed to failure unless Augie Doggie and Doggy Daddy recount Pinocchio!” And then another person says, “What about Magilla Gorilla recounting Alice in Wonderland?” and gets shouted down because that last is just a ridiculous idea?

Improbable? Sure. But what’s the alternative? Someone racing down the hallway and bursting into the dark conference table where William Hanna and Joe Barbera sit around, fretting about how they could recapture the magic of The Banana Splits (“What if they’re roller-skating birds?”) and working out just how to make a movie about Kiss (“What if they have superpowers and are fighting evil robot Kiss duplicates created by a mad scientist trying to take over the world from the comfort of his amusement park?”), and crying out, “Do you know what Daws Butler and Jean Vander Pyl just did?” And they listen, horrified, and say, “Well, slap some Jonny Quest music under the Bambi and Pinocchio tracks and ship it as a record!” and hope that this will turn out well? Is that really more plausible?

These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Math Comics Without Equations


I’ve had the chance to gather another couple of mathematics-themed comics over on the mathematics-themed blog which doesn’t have a decent rendering of HTML’s <cite> tag, which bothers me to no end, although not quite enough to do anything about it. Sorry. There’s people who know what I’m going on about and they don’t care either.

If you weren’t looking for those, Working Daze has carried on its mock history into a Berkeley Breathed 1980s, and then into first a Baby Blues and then a Zits-ish 90s. I’m a bit surprised to see from the comments that this is going to run about another three weeks, and merge into the actual history of the comic strip.

Overheard At The Record Show Over At The Meeting Rooms In The Quality Inn


  • “There’s a lot fewer hipsters here than I expected. Maybe they haven’t discovered these shows yet?”
  • “These kids these days and their iPods … bah.”
  • “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much Air Supply.”
  • “Reagan.”
  • “Oh, man. Do you figure anyone ever actually listened to Journey or did they just stare at these album covers?”
  • “9/11.”
  • “Jeez, on this cover Slim Whitman looks like Will Ferrell pretending to be Slim Whitman.”
  • “New World Order.”
  • “Augie Doggie and Doggy Daddy telling the story of Pinocchio? I never even imagined Hanna-Barbera putting out a record like this.”
  • “It worked. They all got richer, didn’t they?”
  • “Well, maybe we’ve looked through enough. Isn’t that sushi buffet nearby?”

Giving The People What They Want


I’ve learned through sources that some of my best-liked posts are the ones where I just state my statistics for the month, with the countries listed and all of that stuff. So, well, who am I to argue with what’s successful? Here are some countries and some associated statistics.

Country Statistic
United States (America) 139,608
Canada 24,432
Denmark 1,305
Belize 139,608
Ecuador Quito
Carpatho-Ukrainian Republic 139,608
Free City of Krakow 1,164 (449)
Silicon Dioxide 42 J mol-1 K-1 standard molar entropy
Muonium 2.2 microseconds
The Long And Winding Road 3:38 (Lennon-McCartney)
United States (Reprise) 139,608

I hope you’ve enjoyed this data.

Snub Pollard: Sold At Auction


Today I’d like to offer another silent comedy, Snub Pollard’s 1924 Sold At Auction. If my research on this is correct, Snub Pollard came to star in this Hal Roach short when Harold Lloyd took some sick days. Also interesting to me, at least, is that it was directed by Charley Chase, another of the second tier of silent movie comedians; and James Finlayson also has a role, as camper and as homeowner. The version at archive.org includes a soundtrack, with “King For A Day” opening the action.

It starts off well, I think, with a winning baby-basket-at-the-doorstep introduction to Pollard, and has some of the great bits silent comedies offer. It also uses a really striking melting-film wipe to a flashback that I’m surprised I haven’t seen used more. The camping scene’s fun, and includes a bit of stop-motion animation of the kind that I love seeing in silent comedies, and there’s a wonderful runaway piano.

The Shrinking Mountain of New Zealand


I’d like to start out with a proof that I haven’t been to New Zealand. I feel like if I’m going to bring stuff like this to people’s attention I should have a ready alibi. Unfortunately, the fact is that I haven’t ever been to New Zealand — the closest I’ve ever been to New Zealand has been some emotional closeness with imaginary squirrels based out of there — and it is sadly impossible to prove a negative. At least, I think it’s impossible to prove a negative, although I don’t suppose I have seen that demonstrated. Well, it’s probably true enough.

What’s got me on this is that apparently New Zealand’s tallest mountain has come up about a hundred feet shorter than everyone thought it was. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I also don’t want the hassle of being suspected by New Zealand police or, worse, angry geologists. They’re people who are very skilled with rocks, and I’m very bad at flinching, so all I can do if they’re going to be riled up is not be the person they’re riled at. But according to a survey by the University of Otago in November 2013, Mount Cook, also called Aoraki, comes in at 3,724 meters tall, whereas it used to be figured at 3,754 meters tall, and they’re using the same old meters both cases so don’t go thinking that’s the problem.

So if we’re all agreed that I’m not to blame for shrinking any mountains anywhere near New Zealand, and if we’re not then I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to have a civil conversation and must face the prospect that we’ll learn how well we can flinch from rocks, we can get to wondering where the mountain height went. I guess the first thing to check is if maybe they shrank the typeface they’re using to label the thing “Mount Cook, also called Aoraki”. Maybe someone figured instead of mixed case it should be put up on the mountain in small caps instead, and that makes the whole name just run out too long and they had to make the letters less tall to compensate. You might ask how this could possibly make a difference; I say, don’t underestimate typeface enthusiasts. They’ve got to have been looking at that “r” in Aoraki and thinking how magnificent it would look in capitals, even small capitals. There are some lovely things to be done with a “k” as well, if it’s balanced right. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped a “W” into the name, regardless of what it does to the ordering of New Zealand mountain heights.

And apparently it hasn’t done anything about New Zealand mountain height orderings, if I understand right. The second-tallest mountain, Mount Second Tallest Mountain Or Something, is still second-tallest and doesn’t seem to be gaining any. This, of course, rules out a couple possibilities for how Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, might have shrunk. Apparently people weren’t swiping height from the first to boost other mountains that anybody’s caught, for example. I guess we can rule out that everyone’s just standing a little bit taller so the mountains appear to be shorter, since that would affect all the other mountains just as much and we’d be seeing widespread reports of New Zealanders discovering stuff they forgot was on top of the refrigerator.

Of course, wouldn’t it be something if someone were swiping height from Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, and were turning it into extra width or depth of other mountains by the simple process of rotating it in three-dimensional space? Has anyone done a careful measurement of just how fat the mountains of New Zealand are lately? If they haven’t, can we be positive this isn’t what’s going on? And before you go chuckling that of course the people responsible for mountain checking would notice and report on any mountain fatness before announcing the mysterious loss of height, consider that these same mountain-checkers didn’t notice exactly when their tallest mountain went and shrunk some. There’s obviously plenty of chances for mischief.

It just struck me I shouldn’t say the mountain has come up a hundred feet shorter. I should probably do something about that.

S J Perelman: Counter-Revolution


[ The Peace of Breda was the 1667 conclusion of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and produced the legal settlement by which the English crown secured (Western) ownership of Delaware while the Dutch government obtained security in its claims on the nutmeg-producing island of Run, in the Banda Isles. S J Perelman is noted for writing a couple of pretty funny movies. This all appeared in The Best Of S J Perelman. ]

The other night a forty-five-year-old friend of mine, after ingesting equal portions of Greek fire and artillery punch, set out to prove that he could walk across a parquet flooring on his hands while balancing a vase on his head. As a consequence, about eleven o’clock the following morning he was being trepanned at the Harkness Pavilion and I was purchasing a bottle of Major’s Cement. I had reassembled the shards and was about to uncork the cement bottle when the bold yellow leaflet in which it was wrapped caught my eye. To predict that this small
circular will eventually outrank Magna Carta and the Peace of Breda in historical significance may seem audacious. Yet even the most frivolous cannot escape its implications, for in a single decisive stroke it alters the entire status of the consumer.

From its opening sentence, the document was marked by a note of brooding, reminiscent of a manifesto:

If we could make the cement in liquid form and transparent, and at the same time as strong and as proof against moisture as it is now, we would be glad to do so. But this cannot be done.

Continue reading “S J Perelman: Counter-Revolution”

Approved


I don’t object per se to corporations spending their money foolishly. A corporation spending money on something pointless and useless is one that isn’t spending money figuring out morally outrageous they can be before they start getting protestors from the respectable classes of society or figuring out how little service they can actually provide before too many customers end their transactions with the use of cudgels.

So, every credit card company in the world has concluded they need to spend their time sending me applications for their cards. That’s foolish on their parts, since I’ve got as many credit cards as I need, plus an extra one to use in case of emergency, plus one that I could use if I felt like digging behind the nightstand where it fell and it’s just too hard to get back there. That would be fine by itself but now they’ve stepped up the sending, to the point that over seven-quarters of the mail every day is appeals to me to get more credit cards.

I’ve done the obvious with the offers; when there were too many to throw out, I used them to build a new breakfast nook, and then a little nook on the side of the nook that I guess could be used for English muffins, and then a little nook on the side of the nook on the side of the nook (I’m seeing those little jam packets from diners in its future), but that obviously can’t go on forever. I don’t even eat English muffins more than like once a year. I’ve got to get this stopped. Things are too nook-heavy as they are.

Harold Lloyd: A Sammy In Siberia


I realized I’ve got a shocking lack of Harold Lloyd video in my little humor blog here, so let me correct that by referring you loyal readers to the 1919 Hal Roach-directed short A Sammy In Siberia, which is surely one of the few American comedies set against the backdrop of the Allied invasion of Siberia in 1918. Archive.org has the video in reasonably archival form, though YouTube again has the form easier to embed in a WordPress site. Don’t read the comments [*].

I admit it’s the setting that’s making me choose this one. The short doesn’t really show Lloyd (or Roach) at his best, despite a couple nicely done stunts and fast action. But when do you see any kind of pop cultural representation of the Siberian Intervention? And I wonder also where Hal Roach filmed this, since there’s a good bit of what looks like stuff filmed outdoors in the snow. (On the other hand, the establishing shot of the cabin with the mountains in the background looks like a set to me.) Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database don’t seem to have much about this film. That’s often a danger with silents, though, to get distracted by looking at the stuff that isn’t the actors.

[*] It’s funny because back then you could stereotype Russians as big fat guys in silly hats the way you can’t anymore since political correctness destroyed humor? Seriously, guy, you want to put that thought out on the Internet where people can read it?

Yet What Else Could They Call It?


I’m delighted by the banner for the Tri-Town News, one of those free weekly papers that just kind of shows up without anybody seeming to have anything to do with it, for a patch of Ocean County, New Jersey. Their official web site has an outdated version of the banner, but over on their inevitable Facebook page is the list of towns it considers its domain: Farmingdale, Howell, Jackson, Lakewood, and Plumsted.

And doesn’t your day, too, feel a little brighter now?

Marvels of Science Fiction


I really like there’s this streak of science fiction stories where the protagonist can be dropped down on some planet, discover that the tippity top ultra super duper secret organization he works for went and stopped being organized while he was in transit, and so he sets out and by page 188 has overthrown the local government and set himself up in charge of the liberation of society from whatever the organization was sending him out over for. (I think there should be some more prepositions at the end there; please season to taste.) This is all starting without any contacts, no money, and no possessions but the clothes he’s wearing and maybe a return ticket good for being stuffed into a sack of space-rocket mail and pitched overboard somewhere near another planet. And here I can’t figure out how to network my way into a couple days of consulting on stuff, even though the competent people in my family can barely send out a snarky tweet without getting an offer for a two-week cross-country trip and four-star hotel lodging in exchange for a ten-minute talk. I just marvel at it.

The tippety top ultra super duper secret organizations are pretty lucky their trained secret agent protagonists spend most of their time taking over the space colonies instead of taking over tippety top ultra super duper secret organizations, come to think of it.

Your Recommended Oatmeal


I was getting tea at the Quick-Chek convenience store and noticed a sign showing Quaker Oats’s “Recommended” method for preparing instant oatmeal. Their formula, and I’m sorry I didn’t have my camera so I could get this down exactly and be escorted out by the clerks, had three steps: first, put a packet of instant oatmeal powder in the bowl; second, add up to a half cup of hot water into the bowl; and finally, stir. Those with long memories will remember this is one step more than was required to set up the original late-90s Snoopy-helmet-style iMacs.

I see what they’re doing by listing this as just their “recommendation”, though. They imply they are open to other concepts in instant oatmeal preparation. Perhaps they even mean it, but I have doubts. Can I be sure that, if I were to soak my oatmeal with three-fifths of a cup of hot water some alert Quaker Oats representative among the Quick-Chek staff wouldn’t race over and slap the bowl out of my hands, crying, “You mad fool!” and shake her head, mournfully? Of course not. Or if I refused to stir it, trusting instead that the inevitable entropic heat-death of the universe would, someday, eventually make itself felt in a bowl of uniformly mushy, cold oatmeal? Would they take some action against me, especially if it isn’t a 24-hour convenience store? I feel certain they’d never let me get away with skipping out on the bowl. Maybe they’d let me go with not putting the oatmeal powder in, but I bet they’d gossip about me.

So I’m tempted. Maybe someday when I’m just about to leave town for months and they won’t be able to follow me.

What Prairie Dogs Do During Their Comeback


BBC News tells me — and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging; the truth is it’ll tell anyone who asks, although you have to know to ask, and I didn’t precisely ask so much as be around when it happened to mention — that animal researchers discovered prairie dogs can do The Wave. Even more than that, it turns out they do do it. I mean, prairie dogs might be capable of all sorts of things, like tennis or spackling drywall or calculating the libration of the Moon or doing itty-bitty pole vaults, but that doesn’t mean they get around to any of them, what with their busy schedules. Yet Robert Senkiw with the University of Manitoba, who is a qualified prairie dog research scientist, has videos of prairie dogs doing just that.

Now isn’t that wonderful? We keep discovering all sorts of new things about animals ever since the breakthrough 1995 decision that animal researchers were allowed to actually look at what animals did when they weren’t being bothered, and here it turns out at least some of them are doing The Wave.

You know, it just struck me what kind of chaos might be wrought if some unqualified prairie dog researchers were on the scene. “Look at that,” one might say, “They’re doing The Wave! No, no, this isn’t like last week when I said they were doing itty-bitty pole vaults. Yes, I know, I was totally misunderstanding their actions because I didn’t realize they were building bamboo scaffolding. Well, yes, if someone had told me I might have guessed at the time but, look, they’re doing The Wave right now! See? Well, not now, they finished. I don’t know, maybe they saw some really good soccer play. Well, why wouldn’t prairie dogs be as interested in soccer as any other rodent is? Well, my capybara friends say they are too soccer fans.” And it turns out he was staring at some nutrias all the time instead.

If they aren’t soccer fans, though, that leaves the question what they’re doing The Wave for. I don’t really know what prairie dogs think about most spectator sports, although I’d guess if they were gathered in any kind of stadium as an audience that would’ve been mentioned in the news. On the other hand, the article was filed under Science and maybe over in the Sport section there’s an article about science-y types crowding around the playing fields not being even a little interested when there’s a hat trick or an octopus thrown on the field or whatever it is people do at soccer matches when they’re prairie dogs. I checked and in mere moments was being asked to confirm my purchase of a Nautical Origami Kit. I probably clicked something wrong.

For what it’s worth, the article says that the scientists have a theory that prairie dogs are doing this so as not to get eaten, which I have to rate as a pretty good motive. The current thinking is that they occasionally hop up and yip and set off a Wave because there are potential predators around. This is a change from the older thinking, when they were believed to hop up and set off a Wave because there were no potential predators around. I wonder if sometimes the prairie dogs don’t just hop up like that simply to mess around, but that seems so immature.

Since the news article comes from a British source, instead of the Wave it’s called the Mexican Wave, which was named after Mexico but before vaguely remembered celebrity child Suri Cruise. I’m not sure what the adjective Mexican adds to the proceedings, unless it turns out that in Britain there are all sorts of other Waves, like, say, an Eritrean Wave where a row of spectators all lean forward and then sit back again before getting up, or a Bolivian Wave where people in turn cough, nervous, at how the people next to them seem to be coming down with something.

I think the best part of it is, knowing we have prairie dogs to work for us, the pressure is off the humans in the community to do The Wave.

The Perfect Crime


I’ve figured out the perfect crime for me to commit. It’s counterfeiting two-dollar (United States) bills and spending them (in the United States). Any cashier questioning the bills would go asking around and get told by some smug know-it-all legal tender pedant — there’s at least one in every store’s work shift — that there are so two-dollar bills, and while they’re rare they’re legitimate currency and you should feel stupid for not taking them, and maybe they’ll even point out those urban legends about Taco Bell giving you stuff (Taco Bell food) for free just to not bother them with two-dollar bills or how the mall’s cops laugh at people who think two-dollar bills are fakes. I don’t care about getting free Taco Bell food, but the principle is a good one.

Why this is really perfect is it’s perfect pedantry snipe bait: anyone ready to get all smug about knowing there are so two-dollar bills is going to be so busy showing how proud he is to accept them that he won’t suspect they’re fake. And if he does accept them and find they’re fake, he won’t tell anyone because it would be too humiliating to have his smug self-assurance of knowing that two-dollar bills are for real destroyed by turning them over to people who know that these two-dollar bills are not. By then, I’m long out of the store and have got my free books about Taco Bell.

Oh, except it wouldn’t work, because I’m a know-it-all legal tender pedant and so I know that I’d be unable to resist going back to the store and telling the legal tender pedant just how I put it over on him. And then he’d either turn me in or demand to be cut in on the scheme because it’s so good. So the whole thing is a failure. Now I can’t do anything with the idea. Too bad.

Robert Benchley: The Most Popular Book Of The Month


[ In Of All Things, Robert Benchley includes a review of the phone book in a mode of deliberate misunderstanding that’s at least still current. Benchley though goes on at greater length with deeper thought than most people writing this sort of piece do, which is one of the things which made Robert Benchley turn out to be Robert Benchley, and includes one of his less-common but still popular pithy quotes. As he predicted elsewhere, though, the quote gets better if you take more than the single sentence from its paragraph. I confess also not being sure just what’s meant by “clb bdg stbls”. ]

New York City (including all Boroughs) Telephone Directory— N. Y. Telephone Co., N. Y. 1920. 8vo. 1208 pp.

IN picking up this new edition of a popular favorite, the reviewer finds himself confronted by a nice problem in literary ethics. The reader must guess what it is.

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know. This feeling is made poignant, to the point of becoming an obsession, by a careful reading of the present volume.

We are herein presented to some five hundred thousand characters, each one deftly drawn in a line or two of agate type, each one standing out from the rest in bold relief. It is hard to tell which one is the most lovable. In one mood we should say W. S. Custard of Minnieford Ave. In another, more susceptible frame of mind, we should stand by the character who opens the book and who first introduces us into this Kingdom of Make-Believe— Mr. V. Aagaard, the old “Impt. & Expt.” How one seems to see hinm, impting and expting all the hot summer day through, year in and year out, always beading the list, but always modest and unassuming, always with a kindly word and a smile for passers-by on Broadway!

Continue reading “Robert Benchley: The Most Popular Book Of The Month”

Why It Is Known As Frontier Airlines


Apparently, the name is meant literally: the check-in desks have never known the touch of human civilization, there are wild packs of coyotes running on the baggage carousels and running a thriving illicit taxi service, and if you do insist on getting an agent you need to hew one yourself out of wood, using an axe, and primitive colorations you make from combining kerosene seeping from the ground with such lead or cadmium or other poisonous metals as you are able to scrounge from some manner of ore.

There might someday be a day I laugh about this, possibly when the time comes for them to cancel my flight next week.

The Big Failure


I’m so very glad I’m not a power company spokesperson. I know if I were put into a meeting like that I’d be desperately hoping the matter could be solved in five minutes. “It’s been over a week since the storm, we should have our power back,” the tired and weary people would complain, and I’d say, “You’re absolutely right”, and then I’d be looking nervously at the door while people yelled at me for hours about how they should have electricity, even though I had agreed all I know how to agree, at least until someone mercifully came around and turned the lights out and said the power had failed. I’d be a lot more comfortable out in the field, pointing at cables and asking if I could do something to help with that one, and the actually trained electricians would say no, and maybe with that one instead, and the actually trained electricians would say no, and I start pointing to another one and they say no, and I start to suggest and then they send me to deal with justifiably angered residents. That’s probably how I would get stuck being the spokesperson in the first place.

Other December 2013 Numbers


I should take a moment to look at my actual statistics for December 2013. The raw numbers are a little disheartening: the total number of views dropped from 357 to 301, and the number of unique visitors dropped from 188 to 168. Even the number of views per visitor dropped, from 1.90 to 1.79. This is even though I feel like I’m doing a better job at the writing, that is, producing bits that are more clearly my own voice and more amusing to me. I need to work on the problem of finding people who’re likely to enjoy the kinds of things I write. If you know where to find some, please, let me know.

The most popular articles for … well, I can’t figure how to get the numbers for exactly December 2013, but for the 30 days ending today, were:

The top countries for that same 30-day period in terms of sending me readers were, as usual, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Canada. Sending me a single reader each were: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey. Repeat single-visitor countries from last time are Austria, Spain, and Turkey, so at least I’m steadily marginally popular.

Because I Watched The Rose Bowl On Tivo, Is Why


So that’s why I only learned last night that one of the things the announcers mentioned was that the Rose Bowl had, somehow, managed to sell out its stadium. I realize they have to talk for a lot of time and they aren’t going to be able to say only winning things. But I’m pretty sure if they ever failed to sell out the Rose Bowl then everyone involved in football would look at one another and shrug, saying without words, “Well, we gave football a good try, but obviously, it isn’t working. Let’s go home” and then they’d try out ultimate frisbee or competitive goose-mocking or something. Possibly everyone involved in sports might give it up as something we had just lost the knack for.

Really, though. I mean, even for the famous 1975 Rose Bowl, when tickets were a mere $2.50 but attendees had to bring in their outline for a concept prog rock album and had to go back and do it again until it met Peter Gabriel’s personal approval for being “needlessly complicated and off-putting”, they were able to sell all the seats and produce a lovely three-album set about groundhogs being liberated from a dystopian computer overlord in a retelling of the myth of Glaucus and Scylla through the metaphor of kites. It was nominated for two Grammies, but lost.

I Dance Horribly


I don’t believe the trouble is my inability to dance like nobody’s watching. I have heard that advice a good deal and when I dance I find I can live up to it because anyone who would watch soon turns away and in some cases curls up into a ball and weeps. I suppose someone really determined might watch me and judge, in a way that would be harsh, but they would surely give up judging and just feel generally sad if they tried. I can accept doing things that make onlookers feel sad and a little embarrassed for me, as everyone who’s seen the way I dress myself has noticed.

Now it isn’t that I’m not up for trying to dance either. I’ll give it my level best, but that’s terrible. For example, I can see that other people have mastered these dance moves where one sometimes raises one’s hands above one’s head. I’ll give that a try and it comes out all wrong: I can maybe get my hands up to about the level of my belt, or when I realize that I’m doing this all wrong and I have to go higher, up to about belly button level. People raising their arms correctly, over their heads or so, might even straighten their arms out so as to look festive and give a sense of whole bodies in interesting movement. I can kind of straighten out my elbows, but that puts my hands back down again, and often enough into my pockets.

And it isn’t true that I have no sense of rhythm, although goodness knows people wonder about that. I am very well aware that there is a rhythm to the music, and I hear it in the music and see it in the ways that people move. It’s just that my body has these natural modes of swinging for my arms and legs and it so happens these are the patterns you’d get if you were to pick me up by the shoulders and drop me from a great height, possibly onto a trampoline, possibly onto a sheet of blacktop because you’re annoyed that every dance step I have looks kind of like the warm-up exercises we had to do at the start of gym class in ninth grade, which is where I learned them.

It’s not that I’m incapable of breaking out of this. Thanks to the WiiFit I got to be very good at some step aerobic moves, and with the aid of several pieces of consumer electronics I can pretty well do moves where I step forward and then step back again, a lot, and sometimes throw things for a little loop by stepping to the side and the back again quickly. In some of the advanced modes I even raise a foot without taking a further step and then quickly put my foot back down lest I kick something, such as the Wii. It just takes me about the length of my entire time on the dance floor to realize that if I’m nowhere near the rhythm of everybody on the floor then I should do something about that, such as try.

It’s not clear to me whether this has any effect on the people around. I would like it if sometime there were actually more people on the dance floor when I left it than when I started, but maybe that’s just coincidence. A weird coincidence that turns up every time I try to dance. Heck, maybe it is my fault. Maybe people see me out there, wobbling sideways a little bit, hands kind of waving around my hips as if I were trying not to get caught rolling imaginary cookie dough, and then they realize I’m there in cargo pants and snow boots and a hoodie because I’m a little chilly, and they don’t want to have to witness this suffering. It would explain how often people go up to my dear spouse and say “You’re so brave” or “I admire your patience” or “Is there some foundation we could maybe donate to?” or just hug us and squeeze our hands.

To sum up, I have the dance moves of a Muppet suffering from a knee injury.

The Calendar Issue


You know, thinking about it, I can’t figure how monthly calendars are even supposed to work. “I don’t know what day it is, so let me look at a grid of up to 31 days that it might conceivably be. Oh, that helps!” If we advanced this scheme about, say, long division we’d never buy it. “286 divided by 13? Oh, it’s something between 15 and 45 — of course! 22!”

And yet it does work, and I know it works because I’ll put up monthly calendars, sometimes, and not cross off dates as they’ve arrived and I can still work out what day it is from looking at all these options. That can’t happen, so I guess I have to conclude that I don’t exist, which could explain a lot of frustrating interactions I have with the Internet service provider.