Math Comics and A Baffling Yet Funny Comic Strip


Someone at Comic Strip Master Command decided that every comic in the world had to do mathematics-mentioning strips last week, so there’s yet another round of comics to review over there. None of these get into really sophisticated mathematics, although there is a take-the-derivative problem that would probably do quite well in shaking out the non-serious students from a Calculus I course.

After Beethoven finishes playing, the Clockwork Frenchman steps up to the piano.
Pab Sungenis’s _The New Adventures of Queen Victoria_ for the 28th of June, 2014.

So as not to leave readers uninterested in mathematics comics (aw, please give them a try, mathematics is fun when you don’t get graded on it) I’d like to mention Pab Sungenis’s clip-art comic The New Adventures of Queen Victoria, which on Saturday had what is maybe an archetypical example of what makes the comic strip itself. If it seems inscrutable that’s because you aren’t aware that the character coming to the piano in the last two panels is the Clockwork Frenchman, one of many recurring minor characters in the strip.

Now that the background is explained, is it funny? I think so, but I won’t tell you you’re wrong if you disagree, particularly if it’s on the reasonable grounds that if a joke has to be explained to be funny it isn’t funny. (There are also people who’ll hold it against the strip that it is a clip art comic, with almost no drawing. I respect this opinion and do think it’d be a funnier comic if the characters were drawn, not least because it would allow for a greater and probably clearer variety of compositions.)

New Adventures of Queen Victoria is a particularly challenging strip because it has a gaggle of characters, all of them with running gags, and it depends on pictures of long-deceased historical personages. If you somehow have trouble remembering what King George II’s wife looked like, or anything about what her relationships with her children were like, then, some strips are just going to leave you at sea until you read the comments and find someone who can fill in the background material. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It depends on a staggering number of historical obscurities, but it also plays fair. If you know who the players are and what they’re famous for, or for original characters like the Clockwork Frenchman just what their schtick is, the jokes follow quite directly.

Still, this is one of those rare instances where it’s worth reading the comments because then you have a chance of learning that that was a picture of William Thompson (Lord Kelvin, of temperature and refrigerator fame), and that almost nobody else knew that’s what he looked like either. (I don’t know that Kelvin or for that matter Caroline of Ansbach have ever appeared in the strip, but it seems likely they would.)

Statistics Saturday: Countries Which Have Sent Me A Prime Number Of Visitors This Past Quarter-Year


A quarter of a year (91 days) is not prime, but what can you do? Calendar reform hasn’t been a going concern since the 1930s.

Country Prime Number of Visitors
Argentina 2
Australia 17
Austria 5
Brazil 2
Chile 2
Colombia 3
Cyprus 2
Denmark 2
Finland 3
France 3
Greece 5
Indonesia 3
Italy 2
Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic 2
Malaysia 2
Malta 2

New Zealand 3
Pakistan 3
Romania 2
Russian Federation 2
Turkey 7

Somehow I had always imagined myself to have a more composite relationship with Malta and Malaysia. Australia feels about right.

Farmer Al Falfa: Magic Boots


For today I’d like to continue the Terry Toons theme that’s been going on around these parts with the 1922 short “Magic Boots”. This is another good example of the kind of loose and improvisational style that was so common in cartoons before sound. The action starts with some mice dancing, and turns to a bunch of cats, then cats at sea, then wearer-less boots marching around, and then before you know it things have reached Saturn and the Moon and … well, despite a weak ending that as far as I can tell isn’t set up at all, there’s steadily something interesting and weird going on. Do enjoy, please.

Writing To Be Read


It’s fair to say that writers are writing with the intention of being read. If it’s not then the umpires have been letting me get away with it for so long I could challenge a ruling to the contrary. But it’s not just being read at all that they want, it’s being perused, every word stared at and comprehended, ideally by a reader. But in the modern and endlessly distracted world the only things actually read in their entirety are the airline’s texts announcing flight cancellations and bitter arguments about the meaning of the word “peruse”, with side threads about “decimate” and “transpire”.

How can you get the desired sort of attention without starting your own grammar-quarrel-based airline? I’m not saying that isn’t a good idea, given that you could probably get a near-captive audience just over the question of what’s added by the flight attendant’s instructions saying people have to listen to these instructions “at this time”, but it’s a lot of work and it takes you away from the writing stuff. Also, if you pack a plane full of grammar-quarrel-oriented persons together you’re going to see the depths of human savagery and it’ll be over the number of spaces to put at the end of a sentence. The correct answer is “none before the punctuation mark and three afterwards”.

Unfortunately the best way to make sure you do get read is to accept modern reading habits and adapt your writing to them. People love having finished reading stuff, but not so much the actual reading, because that takes too long. If you write for the rapid and skimming way people expect to read, they’ll read the whole important parts of the thing, at least until they catch on that everybody’s started to write that way. Then they’ll change their reading habits so they don’t have to read stuff, and we can find out what they’re doing instead and shift once more. In this way the language evolves.

The first thing is brevity. Your writing has to seem brief. I know if you write you look with admiration at those late 18th century writers who could compose single sentences that go on for twenty pages, and that read like particularly contentious sub-lease agreements between parties that don’t trust one another, or anyone else, and aren’t so fond of themselves, and so produce these awesome sentences with hundreds of comma- and hyphen-linked clauses, fighting for sun and water in a rain-forest of references, with antecedents and dependent clauses sprawled all over the text, until one can either read the entire thing in one big lump or admit defeat and wake in the middle of the night following unsettled dreams of being back in seventh grade English class and having to diagram sentences, and there’s no way of telling what the sentence began to be about by the time you finish it anyway. Stop that. Everyone hates it. The ideal sentence these days has between six and ten words, and some of those words should be hard-to-resist “eye candy” type words such as iris caramel or “macula taffy” put in quote marks or italics so they don’t look too intimidating.

Paragraph length is at least as important, though not as important as riboflavin in your diet. Everyone knows that the first or the last sentences in paragraphs are the key ones establishing the point, and the rest are just filler added to make the commercial breaks come at the right times. You can’t fight that influence, unfortunately, but you can write so that the stuff you’re actually interested in is the start and end of the paragraph. The rest can just be you indulging yourself, prattling on about whatever you want. You could even put a second writing project hidden inside the first, where it’ll be noticed by literature majors, in case any read you. They’ll write up nice articles about your subtle genius if you do, which would make you feel better if you read literature journals. So size your paragraphs to friendly, appropriate lengths.

We all know that adverbs are pretty useless. Where you write an adverb the reader knows to take it as “make whatever adjective or verb is nearby even more so, unless in context it should be less so”, so you don’t have to bother writing them. Just include a note about what the context should be in a commentary track, because people love seeing commentary tracks about how the thing was written even more than they appreciate the writing, except the people who never listen to the commentary tracks.

Italics. Stuff in italics usually doesn’t matter either, but it makes the text look thoughtful, so include some of that, but don’t bother putting your real content in there. This is a good spot to use, say, your Next Generation/Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic that’s been haunting a series of hard drives since 1997, since now you can get it published without anyone reading it and curling up in a whimpering ball of prose aversion. The same is true for block quotes, which are necessary for nonfiction works but, again, aren’t worth reading. The only reason to put stuff in block quotes is so you can show how someone else said the same thing you’re saying, or so you can point out how dumb they were to say that, so you can just go on to saying what you wanted to say or to making fun of them.

Bullet lists are a good way to make your text look like a PowerPoint slide, which is good for making sure all the text on them is read because the audience would be desperate for something to do while the presenter reads every … single … word on the slide, if they didn’t have their phones out to look at anything else on the Internet instead. Also if you use bullet points your readers are going to expect you to provide them with a presenter who reads every … single … word off the slide. Use bullet lists with caution.

  • Oh, footnotes. Footnotes are a great place for stuff you want to be read because people know they mean you’re showing how the thing you originally wrote was misleading if you let it stand on its own, so it’s like getting to see the author self-snarking, which is always fun. Except for readers who figure if it mattered you’d put it in the text. So you’re on your own here [4]. Me, I can’t resist footnotes and would read a whole book of them, except I’ve read books where it’s all in the footnotes and they weren’t worth it.

If you’re appearing in a real printed book instead of electronically for some reason probably involving ransom demands, you should know that readers are aware the middle of the page is usually boring stuff they don’t need to read either. This requires some attention be paid to the layout of your book but, again, put the real content near the top and bottom of pages and lay on those scenes of Counsellor Troi and Knuckles the Echidna quarreling for the middle. Make sure your editor knows what you’re doing so they don’t let the publisher switch things over to, say, 14 point and screw up all the formatting. Modern professional writing software should let you interweave the real text and the filler without much hassle on your part, but it doesn’t.

It probably strikes you that this means that whatever it is you really want to write is going to be sprawled out over a lot more pages than it would have, say, thirty years ago. That’s all right, because the huge size of the writing convinces readers they’re getting good value for their time, and especially good value if they’re buying books, which is why everything’s too bulky and discursive to actually read anymore.

If you find these tips of use, please let me know in an e-mail I promise to skim at least and might someday respond to. That’s a different discussion.


[4] Sorry I can’t give you useful advice on this one. Maybe we should’ve gone with the grammar-quarrel-based airline instead.

The tea lighter side


I wanted to point folks over to A Labor Of Like again, this time because after last week’s big humor piece about tea lights as a non-toy, they went and found the rules for a game of tea lights, so you can go and enjoy that.

That feels like a bit of a skimpy day of writing to me so I felt like I should offer something, like, words of general wisdom about how to make life better. Unfortunately all I’ve really got right now is that you’ll feel a little bit better if you replace the used coffee filter in the drip maker with a fresh one now rather than later. I can’t explain why, but going to make some coffee and finding that there’s already a fresh filter in there instead of moist, cold grounds feels pretty good, even if it means you just deal with the filter when there’s no coffee-related business going on. It’s not much, but it’s there for you to do what you like with. Probably get coffee set a tiny bit sooner.

A Labor of Like

The tea lighter side

Recently, in the blog Joseph Nebus’s Sense of Humor, the redoubtable (from the French redoubtable, “able to be doubted more than once”) Joseph Nebus expressed curiosity about how tea lights could be used as toys.

This concept got stuck in my head like an intellectual earworm (one of those songs you can’t get out of your head).

So I searched Far and Wide (Disclaimer: Mostly Wide. It takes too long to get to Far, especially with rush hour traffic.) until I found a battered, dusty copy of the game Tea Lights from back in the Good Old Days (later than “Yore”, but before “When I Was Your Age”). The instructions are reprinted below, with grateful acknowledgement to the game’s inventors, poet John Milton and Gen. Omar Bradley.

Tea Lights
A Game for 2 to 4000 Players of All Ages (except 31-year olds)

Contents

  • 4000 or more tea lights

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Taxing the Meter


Reuters reports — well, Reuters reports a lot of things, especially if you let them go on — but here, Reuters reports that Finland’s tax agency has decided to try encouraging businesses to file their tax documentation electronically by writing poems of encouragement. An example, as they translate it:

Pencil and eraser,
No longer a racer.
Electronic is in — a clear win!
Come and experience,
Drop your resilience!

I think this is the most prominent example of governmental tax poetry since Britain’s “People’s Budget” of 1909/10, which imposed fresh limericks on the upper classes but freed verse for villagers who lived in a city at least a year and a day. Could be an exciting time for fiduciary dactyls.

S J Perelman: Avocado, or the Future of Eating


I’d like to present another item from the inimitable S J Perelman, whose writing here, as it often does, starts from a simple enough premise of being all curmudgeonly about getting lunch and then goes off in strange directions. I don’t know when the article was first published but I have to imagine it dates to the early 20s. Perelman, famously, wrote scripts for several of the Marx Brothers movies and it’s quite easy (for me, anyway) to imagine Groucho, particularly, reeling off some of the linguistic flights here. So here’s something from The Best Of S J Perelman; enjoy, please.

AVOCADO,
OR THE FUTURE OF EATING

(Note found in an empty stomach off Santa Barbara)

One day not long ago in Los Angeles I found myself, banderillas in hand, facing the horns of a dilemma. I had gone into a Corn Exchange bank to exchange some corn and had fallen into conversation with the manager. He was very affable and insisted I inspect the assets of the branch, which included, among other things, the teeth Bryant Washburn had used in his film career. Issuing into the hot sunlight of the street, I was dismayed to find that it was time for lunch, and since I had forgotten to bring along a bag of pemmican, I would have to eat in Los Angeles –— a fairly exact definition of the term “the kiss of death”. I looked around me. On my left I could obtain a duplexburger and a Giant Malted Milk Too Thick For a Straw; on my right the feature was barbecued pork fritters and orangeade. Unnerved, I stopped a passing street Arab and courteously inquired where I might find a cheap but clean eating house. Phil the Fiddler (for it was he) directed my steps to a pharmacy bearing the legend “Best Drug Stores, Inc.” Merely for the record, I dined off an avocado sandwich on whole wheat and a lime rickey, and flunked my basal-metabolism test later that afternoon. I don’t pretend to blame the management for my physical shortcomings; all I want them to do is laugh off their menu, a copy of which I seem to have before me.

In general, “Soda Fountain Suggestions” (Best Drug Stores, Inc.) is an attractively printed job in two colors (three if you count the gravy), and though it can hardly hope to rival the success of Gone with the Wind, I suppose there is an audience which will welcome it. The salads and three-decker sandwiches are treated with a certain gaiety and quaint charm which recall Alice of Old Vincennes. The banana splits and hot-and-cold Ovaltines are handled with a glib humor in the text, which is more than I can say for the way they are handled behind the fountain. The day I was there, a simply appalling oath escaped the lips of one of the dispensers when he dropped some fudge on his shoe. The authors have included a very disarming foreword short enough to quote in its entirety: “It is our earnest desire to fulfill the name that we have chosen for our chain, THE BEST. We can only accomplish this by serving you best. Any criticisms or suggestions will be appreciated by the management.” Only a churl would decline so graceful a gambit. Messieurs, en garde!

Specifically, gentlemen, my criticism concerns that cocky little summary of yours at the bottom of the menu. “BEST Soda Fountains” you proclaim flatly, “are BEST because: the ice creams contain no `fillers’ (starch, albumen, etc.); the syrups are made from cane sugar and real fruits; the coffee is a special blend made the modern Silex way with a specially filtered water,” and so forth. Lest some of the younger boys in the troop think the millennium has come to the City of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, what are the facts?

In the first place, you needn’t think you can woo me with any such tinsel as “the ice creams contain no `fillers’ (starch, albumen, etc.).” One thing I’ll have in my ice cream or it’s no dice –— and that’s fillers. I don’t even insist on ice cream as long as I can stuff myself with fillers. You heap my plate with albumen and starch (any kind, even laundry starch) and stand clear. Call me a piggy if you want to, but I just can’t get enough of that starch.

Quite honestly, your statement that the syrups “are made from cane sugar and real fruits” surprised me. If that’s a boast, I must say it’s a pretty hollow one. It might interest you to know that back in 1917 the Allied High Command specified beet sugar and false fruits in all syrups purchased by its commissary department. Didn’t know that, did you? Probably too busy evading the draft at the time. Well, you just ask any biochemist his recommendation on sugars, as I did recently; you’ll get the same terse answer: beet sugar and false fruits. I have this cousin of mine who is a perfect wiz at chemistry –— really astonishing marks for a boy of nineteen in high school –— and no matter what you ask him, he’ll give you the same answer: beet sugar and false fruits. Frankly, the family’s getting a little worried about it; they have to keep Benny chained to a ring in the floor most of the time.

Furthermore, it’s useless to try to creep into my heart with any blandishments like “the coffee is a special blend made the modern Silex way with a specially filtered water.” Filtering Los Angeles water robs it of its many nourishing ingredients, not the least of which is chow mein. It is an interesting fact, known to anybody who has ever been interned in that city or its suburbs, that the water possesses a rich content of subgum almond chow mein, Cantonese style, and one or two cases have even been reported where traces of peanut candy and lichee nuts were found. The assertion of a friend of mine that he once saw an Irish houseboy come out of a water faucet, of course, must be regarded as apocryphal. The Irish are a wiry little people, but they are not as wiry as all that. Nor are they ready as yet for the self-government which my distinguished opponents, the gentlemen of the affirmative, claim they should have. And so, honorable judges and ladies and gentlemen, we of the negative conclude that the Irish should not be given their independence because (1) we need them for a coaling station, (2) there is a high percentage of illiteracy, and (3) if we do, Ireland will soon be snatching up Guam -—- or “chewing Guam,” so to speak. I thank you.

Math Comics and a Non-Baffling Compu-Toon


Once again over on my mathematics blog there’ve been enough comics mentioning mathematics topics to bundle them all together. They don’t get into any too abstract territory this time around.

Murphy is attempting to discard his rabbit-ear antennae and there's recycling and there's … I don't really know.
Charles Boyce’s baffling _Compu-Toon_ for the 8th of June, 2014.

To give you folks not interested in mathematics comics something to read in the meantime, here’s a baffling Compu-Toon from two weeks ago that apparently thinks … I really don’t know what about rabbit-ear antennas. I can’t help you there. But rather than give Boyce a bad reputation let me also offer this past Sunday’s, which is a perfectly recognizable and successfully executed spot of whimsy, and the only mysterious thing about it is why the guy’s T-shirt has the International No Symbol over a hand grenade on a cartoon-bomb fuse. I mean, I understand wanting no hand-grenade bombs, but are they a big enough problem to warrant T-shirt prominence?

A water-proof feature for a phone: a cute little umbrella.
Charles Boyce’s non-baffling _Compu-Toon_ for the 22nd of June, 2014.

Statistics Saturday: What’s Being Talked About On The New-Trek Movies Forum


Topic How Much Is About This
When are they going to make a new reboot already? 7.8%
Shouldn’t somebody go back in time and un-explode Vulcan? 5.8%
What are you calling a reboot? 7.1%
Just making fun of the New Klingons 12.5%
So is Data’s head still in San Francisco? 2.9%
Somebody joking about how engineering now looks like it’s a brewery and then finding out they actually did use a brewery for the set 10.2%
Kirk isn’t getting punched enough for the way he acts 7.6%
What is the precise definition of a “reboot” anyway? 2.0%
The starships they all so big, so so big 7.1%
Yeah, well, you’re a reboot 7.3%
Why couldn’t they cast somebody non-white as Ricardo Montalban? 10.7%
What, so whites can’t play Ricardo Montalban anymore? 11.8%
Does Chekov have siblings in the new timeline? 7.0%
Those aliens Kirk saves at the start of Into Darkness? So what happened to them in the original timeline where Kirk probably wasn’t in charge of the Enterprise yet and they probably weren’t anywhere near when the planet was going to explode? Hey, maybe I should go ask.

Kiko the Kangaroo: On The Scent; and, what the heck some Georges Melies too


To continue poking the depths of Terrytoons and their not-necessarily-forgotten characters, here’s a curious 1936 entry starring Kiko the Kangaroo, On The Scent. Unfortunately the only video I can find of it is this experiment in converting a projected film to YouTube, so it’s only got the sound of the projector rattling as its audio (I admit that sound gives me a warm nostalgic feel), and I’m pretty sure the film is being run at about half the correct speed, which is just crushing to the pacing. Be sympathetic; you too might someday be a kangaroo taunted by skunks on a blimp gliding to the North Pole.

Still, it’s the only cartoon I’m aware of that’s explicitly set (at the opening) in Lakehurst, New Jersey. This seems like a weirdly specifically unnecessary detail until you remember (or learn) that Lakehurst was where the United States Navy set up its main facilities for handling airships in that roughly fifteen years between deciding that airships were an interesting idea worth exploring and concluding that the problem with airships is they keep crashing in huge, hugely public catastrophes. Doing a blimp cartoon and starting it in Lakehurst would be much like doing a space cartoon and starting the action in Cape Canaveral.

I feel the need to point out that an airship expedition to the North Pole was seriously considered in the 1920s and 1930s. I would imagine that talk of that partly inspired the cartoon, but I don’t know that. The Navy’s airship expedition never got particularly close to being launched, which is probably for the best; I can’t imagine the project not ending in tragedy.

The plot puts me in mind of Georges Méliès’s 1912 The Conquest of the Pole, his last important film before his film studio’s bankruptcy. That’s not so short a film — it’s about a half-hour long — but it’s got much of the charm of going on a fantastic voyage as A Voyage To The Moon combined with a mass of incidental extra parties and nationalist and political jokes current to a century ago. On The Scent is a lesser cartoon, sure, but it does feature the title card “Those cats made a lobster out of me!”, which is just where you expect a cartoon about a kangaroo taking an airship out of Lakehurst to go. Enjoy!

Playing Without Fire


We got a bundle of those battery-operated LED tea lights, the kind that look like candles without those problems of open fire and wax and smoke and stuff. We were going to get just a couple, but we couldn’t find just a couple of battery-powered tea lights because the Meijer we were in is renovating so that nobody can find anything anymore. I walked along the aisles, sinking further into the helpless despair that comes from finding magazines on display next to men’s shirts or houseplants scrunched up a little too close to the mouthwash aisle. Maybe I was overreacting, but I sure felt at parts like I was going to have to survive by eating my own shoes and drinking rainwater out of a fountain drinks cup scavenged from the parking lot. Maybe I need to go to a different Meijer’s until the renovations are done.

It turns out over by the regular candles they had the imitation candles, which we probably should have guessed. I didn’t see them right away, so guessed maybe they’re in housewares, or maybe by the lamps, or maybe a little farther out, and I think I was going to give automobile parts a try on the grounds I had nothing to lose, when my love found them. And we kept finding packs of more tea lights in each bunch. Tea lights turn out to be very economical when you buy in quantities of over four thousand at a time, and we’re now very set, lighting-wise, for both our decorative and for our teeny tiny localized power failure needs.

They’re bilingual tea lights, so as to let us pretend they’re Sans Flamme brand lights, unless they actually are called that and the bilingual directions and warning label is a coincidence. Among the warnings, printed in English and in French, is: “This is not a toy”. The warning comes out a good deal more merry in French: “Cet article n’est pas un jouet”. This makes it sound like the thing battery tea lights aren’t is some kind of jest, or an obscure sport from the Old Country, or maybe one of those long early medieval poems about French kings killing Angevins. It depends what a “jouet” is. Between middle and high school I took four years of French classes. I’m helpless to do more than agree that household articles are owned by relatives.

But now the warning’s given me a challenge. Is there a way to use tea lights as a toy? The obvious way is to use them next time we play Monopoly, letting them take the place of traditional tokens like the thimble, the dog, the pawn that immigrated from the Sorry board before that was lost, and the tiny Rubik’s Cube earring that broke off its mount long ago but, hey, tiny Rubik’s Cube you can use as a Monopoly token. Tea lights would fit right in, because then when we got tired of the game we could turn them on and declare that the game was ended by arsonists.

Except! I can’t call a board game token a “toy” and neither can you. I may not have a perfect conceptual theory of what a toy is, but I’m fairly sure that if you imagine getting it for your eighth birthday, and realize your response would have been an age-weary groan, then it isn’t a toy. It’s some kind of socks or perhaps a decent set of trousers. And there’s no using tea lights for socks, battery-operated or not; any decent pair of socks is powered by the feeling of discomfort you get after they’re soaked through by an unexpected puddle. An indecent pair of socks is made whole again by darning, a process people were able to do until the early days of television when you had to be careful about your language.

I grant this all sounds like the tea light subject is getting away from me. But the point is I’ve got plenty of battery-powered tea lights, and I’m interested in ways in which they could be used as toys. I think it’s because I’d like assurance that the prohibition on their use as toys isn’t just because the manufacturers are opposed to fun but because they’re worried of the consequences of a toy-tea-light-based explosion or the like. So, this is why I haven’t had the time to do any of my real work lately.

The Modern Moral Crisis


So it started a normal enough morning, checking my social media to see what everybody on my Friends lists is upset about that I never heard of before while the e-mail gets around to loading. Before I could even form an opinion about whatever the Twitter-storm was (I still don’t know, because I’m one of those people so far back I still write e-mail with a hyphen) was the e-mail: if I didn’t send money to the below address soon, they’d have someone come in and redesign all my usual web sites.

I don’t want to give in to a protection racket, but, it’s a credible threat. There are so many weenie fonts and watery-pastel color choices with excessive whitespace that they could use to make sure I can’t find anything anymore, and I just know the next redesign is going to involve replacing all the nouns out there with blobby, circuit-board-style squiggles inside rounded squares because of the modern fad against having things like “words” look like real things such as “words”. Can I take the chance?

As good as 777,000 misses


I’d just wanted to point folks over again to A Labor of Like, who’s got a nice piece about the discovery of yet another asteroid that isn’t going to strike the Earth and end life as we know it. I don’t want to sound disappointed about the not-ending-life-on-Earth. Mostly I appreciate the proposed standard for measuring the potential impact of asteroids in terms of their cheesecake equivalents and imagine you might too.

A Labor of Like

As good as 777,000 misses

In subjunctive astronomy news, scientists are warning that some kind of dot nobody can see would probably cause problems if it hit the Earth, which it won’t.

Asteroid 2014 HQ124 — the HQ stands for “Hardly Qualifies” — will be a mere 777,000 miles away at its closest approach to our planet.  That’s just over 10,500 times the distance from Providence, RI to Hartford, CT; a close shave by Rhode Island standards.

Astronomers have nicknamed the asteroid “The Beast” because of its blue fur and oversized hands and feet.

Observers assure the public that there is no chance of a collision with either Hartford or Providence, but they do say this fly-by illustrates that it’s a slow news day in Tampa.  “This one would definitely be catastrophic if it hit the earth, which it won’t,” according to Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories.

Since the asteroid is invisible, astronomers could not…

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Comics for your Bafflement


I was a little out of sorts last week (we picked some up — with white chocolate coatings — in a candy shop outside Nevada, Ohio) so missed posting announcements that I had a bunch of mathematics comics with some explanations posted over on the mathematics blog. Two of the actual comics are included because they’re King Features strips and I’m just not positive that the links to those comics are going to be good indefinitely for people who aren’t subscribed.

And then yesterday I had another bunch of these comics, because apparently Comic Strip Master Command ordered everybody to use their mathematics jokes before summer break.

'Fred can't figure out how is online postings were able to jump back toward the board' for some reason.
Charles Boyce’s baffling Compu-Toon for the 15th of June, 2014.

Since I’m aware many people find mathematics talk confusing or intimidating, let me offer for your amusement here Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon from this Sunday, so that you can look at it and wonder what it’s even supposed to mean.

Theme Park Flashing from the Dream World


So, if my dreams are a reliable guide to anything, apparently, the Great Adventure amusement park in central New Jersey has been having a problem with flash mobs of people wearing those Scream-style melting-ghostface masks and bright orange academic robes gathering and breaking into Busby Berkeley-style dance numbers, and park security is almost laughably unable to do anything about it. The Daily Show has been weirdly hard on them for not being effecting in slowing down this bit of whimsical excess.

Still, you’d imagine the park would catch people sneaking in ghost masks and academic garb at the entry gate when they put your phones through metal detectors and stuff like that, not to mention the carts they use for the pinwheel portions of the dance. This does suggest that it’s got to be partly an inside job, someone working for the park bringing in costumes and equipment through the employee gate unobserved. Except surely they’d be watching for people with wheelbarrows full of masks and orange robes after the first couple times this happened, right?

The implication is that this is all a put-on by Great Adventure and that the park is deliberately acting as if this is all a spontaneous ongoing affair so as to make themselves look looser and less corporate. I have to credit Dream World Six Flags for being crafty but kind of underhanded if that really is what they’re doing. If they are, then I don’t want to know.

Statistics Saturday: Frequency of Various Stress Dreams


Stress Dream Average Time Between
Public Nudity 3 weeks
Can’t Even Begin To Understand How Hotel Shower Fixture Works 5 months
Public Speaking 5 weeks
Changing Work 4 weeks
Public Noticing You 7 weeks
Back In School 25 Days
Public Anything, Really 2 weeks
Moving 11 months
Traffic About As Bad As It Is At Rush Hour, Only It’s Not Rush Hour 65 days
Application You Never Heard Of Before Gets Permission To Update, Family Staggers From Ruins 200 days
Performance Under Review By Mysterious Figure From Childhood 50 days
Can’t Make People Move Out Of The Way Already 4 months
Have To Race Naked To Pants Department Of Elementary School In Order To Impress Colleague At Major Outreach Event In Order To Secure Promising New Position In Reading, England, And You Keep Finding The Shelves With Books And Stuff Instead Of Pants Maybe three times in your life but good luck being functional at all the next day
Car Won’t Start 6 weeks
Car Is Somehow Also A Naked Duck 14 months

Farmer Al Falfa: Mouse’s Bride


A mouse scares off some cats by beating up his elephant-shaped scooter. A fish demands a drink of water from the annoyed Farmer Al Falfa. An ostrich or maybe a penguin (I guess a duck is plausible enough?) pops out of trap doors and walks through rooms. The Farmer berates his maid, a mouse, to get back to work cleaning. The mice take to courting. It’s all, really, a peculiar bunch of events, even though the storyline always seems to be making sense at the moment. It’s only in the aggregate you wonder, “the heck did I just watch?”

The Farmer Al Falfa series of cartoons — sometimes called “Farmer Gray”, as the YouTube link’s title does — started in 1915 for Paul Terry. Terry and Terrytoons are known for creating Mighty Mouse, and Heckle and Jeckle, and, truth be told, that’s about it. You can find some people who remember Deputy Dawg (which I watched altogether too much of in my youth) and I’ve heard good things about The Mighty Heroes but dunno about them myself. The studio never had the strongest characters or plots or gags, but, they delivered on time, and sometimes hit pretty solidly.

And a grizzly, cantankerous person isn’t a bad start for a cartoon character, and he’d have a fairly long life. Wikipedia notes he was the person being annoyed by Heckle and Jeckle in their first couple cartoons. I didn’t suspect at the time that I was watching a thirty-year-old cartoon star.

Our Pet Rabbit Is Proud


“I have a stick.”

I nodded to our pet rabbit. “Stick-wise, that is indeed a thing you have.” The phrasing seemed to confuse him; he shook his front half out and set down the chew stick again.

“It’s my stick and I have it,” he said, “And I can do anything I want with it.”

“I know. For instance, you can chew it.” This stopped him in the middle of chewing on it, so, that’s how I knew this conversation was going to go. “Or not, if you don’t want to,” and that should have him completely flummoxed.

“You know why you don’t have a stick?” My thought was that I could in some sense be said to have every stick on the property, including as a subset the sticks that our rabbit has. But is that the same conceptual theory of having that he was working with at the moment, and if it’s not, is it compatible enough for us to have a meaningful conversation? This is the kind of thing that goes through my mind whenever, say, the waitress asks which kind of bread I’d like for my toast, which is why I’m always running about four minutes behind the conversation. Here, for example, our rabbit answered, “Because I have it!”

“I know you have the stick. I gave you the stick.”

“As well you might!”

“In fact, I gave you all those sticks,” pointing at a partially-tied-together bunch of chew sticks, most of which were scattered around his front paw, and a couple of which were rolling out of his pen, and one of which he was taking turns holding in his mouth and putting down to lecture me about.

He nodded and said, “I chewed the twine off them!”

“And we were glad to see you do that. It proved to us that you’re not a fascist.” And here I have to point out that while I exaggerate certain aspects of my conversations with our pet rabbit for dramatic effect, the “not a fascist” joke is one that my love and I actually did observe while watching him chew the bundle of sticks loose, which shows you what kinds of jokes we have flying around the house.

He scrunched forward, looking kind of like a sack full of rabbit flowing forward under the tides, pushing his front paws onto the sticks, which was adorable. It struck me he’s been doing a lot of adorable stuff lately, more so than usual.

“This is about the mouse, isn’t it?”

He jerked his head up and back. “You think?”

“Are you worried we kept that mouse in here?”

“Why were you keeping a mouse right on top of my cage?”

“He wouldn’t fit underneath you.” The mouse we had found wandering around the dining room, at the height of winter, and we caught him and put him in a cage because we weren’t so cold-hearted as to release him to the wild while it was still too cold for molecular motion out there.

“He smelled.”

“Male mice can’t help how they smell,” I said. “Biology dictates that they use an atrocious body wash so that female mice know they’re engaged in important male activities.”

He barked, somehow, which might just be his way of snorting. “He made that wheel squeak all the time.

“You can’t blame the mouse for following his biological imperatives of running on a wheel, smelling bad, and hoisting things.”

He flopped over on his side, which is again, adorable, and said, “Mice follow too many gender-normative stereotypes.” I allowed that. But I reminded him, we let the mouse go several weeks ago, and he hasn’t been back. “And I’m better than a mouse.”

I had a hunch. “Are you worried we were going to get a mouse to replace you?”

“No mouse could replace me! Not ten mice mousing together could replace me!”

“I’d guess not. We’d never think of replacing you.”

He rolled up onto all fours and cried, “Ah-ha!” So I gulped. “If you never thought of it then how come you just asked if I thought you were thinking of it?”

There might be no way out of this. “Well. We once got to talking about what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen” — he frowned a little less, which is how rabbits smile — “and we agreed the sudden and irrevocable failure of the electromagnetic force would be the worst. But having to replace you with anything would be one of the four or five worst things.” He actually came in third, but, I didn’t want to swell his head too much after comparing favorably to the complete dissolution of the laws of physics.

He looked satisfied, and announced, “I have a stick,” and picked his chew stick up again.

Seedy Updates


So I took the plunge and got a bag of wordseed. Took delivery today, and I should’ve expected. You expect a 20-pound bag of things to have a certain bulk, but this was way smaller and so much more trouble to deal with. You know the densest matter in the universe is neutronium with twenty boxes full of books that need to be moved upstairs? It’s about like that. They had to deliver it on a dolly that was itself carried on another dolly.

Anyway, I prepared a bed like the instructions recommend — a stockpile of books that are far too precious for me to ever get rid of even though I never read them and try not to touch them — and scattered the seed fairly uniformly, leaving only a decent set of margins. I’m skeptical what’ll come up, but, we’ll see.

Baffling Compu-Toon Of The Week


I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you’ve never heard of the comic strip Compu-Toon, by Charles Boyce, because it’s one of those comic strips that somehow I’ve come to read and that other people can’t believe exists. Those people are correct. It’s a panel comic strip, the sort that gives you a picture and a caption and together they yield some sufficiently joke-like construct for the newspapers to run. I don’t know if any newspapers run this. I don’t even know who’s supposed to run it. Let me show you a couple so you can see why I’m just … confused.

`You would think this Dove soap looking logo for Twitter would prevent me from getting nasty text messages like this one' for some reason.
Charles Boyce’s baffling Compu-Toon comic strip for the 3rd of June, 2014.

There’s the Compu-Toon for the third of June: “You would think this Dove soap looking logo for Twitter would prevent me from getting nasty text messages like this one.” Part of me wants to edit that caption so that it has any kind of flow. Part of me wants to say, “You would? Why?” And another part of me wonders, “The Twitter logo looks like Dove soap? Or Dove soap’s logo? Really?” The overall effect is one of confusion and vague disquiet.

`Passwords are not just waiting around for you to call them up' for some reason.
Charles Boyce’s baffling Compu-Toon for the 4th of June, 2014.

And then the next day. “Passwords are not just waiting around for you to call them up.” I can’t dispute that, since all the passwords I know are just sitting quietly in the back of the room for me to forget them, and to find the notes that I left for myself don’t mean anything (“Amex: Tweedlioop no ? $”), but that’s got nothing to do with passwords’ social life. What does a “password party in chat room 214” even mean?

Overall, I’m pretty sure the target audience for this comic is: you know that aunt you have who’s not on the Google herself but knows other people like it, and who sometimes sends e-mails consisting of 128 kilobytes of forwarding headers? Now we have something to send her back and say, “Thanks for the mail; did you see this? Hope you like it”. Which is a valuable service, certainly. And, of course, I’m hooked.