Capsule Dream Movie Reviews: Circle of Blue


Look, it’s really effective when that amusement park scenic-railroad ride dives under the surface and turns into an impossibly long trail leading Night Court‘s Dan Fielding into the discovery of the shadowy conspiracy and their fiendish machine that’s apparently setting up to destroy the world. It’s just that Circle of Blue as a title seems way off-point for a Muppet movie that as far as I can tell doesn’t even have any Muppets in it.

Clown Arrested After Hitting Man In Face With Pi


I’m not precisely sure whether this belongs more as a reblog on my mathematics or my humor blog but, what the heck. Austin Hodgens, the Modern Philosopher, brings to general attention news of Calculo, the Math-Loving Clown. It turns out that Maine is kind of a strange place when you get right down to it.

(I have to admit, I really can’t get into the fear of clowns that so many people report having, but I do have what I think a reasonable and proportionate fear of being smashed in the face with hard, sharp objects, which I think is really important to the goings-on here.)

Hodgens, I should point out, is an indefatigable writer with a long series of “news reports from Maine” which make the place out to sound like a strange, wondrous land of curious events, which is correct.

The Return of the Modern Philosopher

clownCalculo, The Math Loving Clown, was arrested and charged with assault after hitting a Milford man in the face with Pi.

The incident occurred at a child’s birthday party, and the victim, who asked to remain anonymous, was the father of a guest.

According to witnesses, Calculo had been entertaining the guests by making irrational numbers out of balloons, solving humorous math equations, and quizzing kids on the decimal values of fractions.

“Then it kinda went to hell in a hand basket wicked quick,” Tom Beecher, a parent of one of the guests, told this Modern Philosopher.  “The Math Clown asked everyone who loved Pi.  Of course, all the kids raised their hands.  Some of the parents did, too.”

What happened next will be a part of birthday party lore for centuries, and further fuel the world’s fear of both clowns and math.

“He reached into his bag of tricks…

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Checking In At The End Of The Internet


So my brother — not that one, the other brother — was explaining Swarm to me. Also that there’s a thing called Swarm, and that it’s what used to be Foursquare before Foursquare split itself into Foursquare and Swarm. Also, Foursquare split itself into Foursquare and Swarm. Foursquare I understood because my father would use it to check in almost daily at the Tip Tam Campground, a place he never set foot in, and I felt reassured knowing my father was pretending to be somewhere he wasn’t. But now apparently the one thing is two things, one for telling people you’re at the Tip Tam Campground when you’re not, and another for … I guess not telling people you were at the Tip Tam Campground. I don’t know. The more I hear about it, the more I’m looking to have myself declared legally cranky so I don’t have to have an opinion about it anymore.

Anyway, my point is, hi, Dad. Hope the Tip Tam Campground is OK, and I’ll call later to explain how to leave a comment here by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” link.

A Lot Of Math Comics


Over on my mathematics blog, a couple days ago, I had enough comic strips to talk about that there’s a fresh post of them. It’s just that between the big Friday-dated post and the usual video and then the Statistics Saturday thing I didn’t have the chance to mention them before.

So what I’m saying is, Comic Strip Master Command gave me a whole fresh bunch of comics and there’s another post of them that I didn’t get the chance to tell you about either. Sorry.

I’d like to offer a little more to talk about here for people who aren’t interested in mathematics-themed comic strips, but the fact is we’ve been dealing with a plumbing issue the past week. There’s two kinds of plumbing problems, and no, the division isn’t between “water won’t stop flowing” and “water won’t start flowing”, it’s between “annoying thing not big enough to call a plumber for” and “annoying thing you sit up waiting for the plumber to come over for”, and we’ve had the latter kind. Even though we’ve got it all fixed things we’re still trying to get household efficiency back up to about normal. You know how it is.

Felix the Cat Switches Witches


So I know it’s the time of year for Christmas In July, but I couldn’t think of any good and plausibly public domain cartoons with Christmas themes, so here’s a fair Halloween one instead. It’s Felix the Cat Switches Witches, a remarkably short (three and a half minutes) cartoon from 1927, originally silent (the version embedded here plays the song “Mysterious Mose” over it, which is familiar to me from the Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon of that name), and is pretty much a string of metamorphosis gags even before Felix finds the witch. There is a bit near the start featuring a black guy getting scared by Felix, but it’s not as bad as “1920s cartoon featuring black guy getting scared at Halloween” might make you fear.

Bunny Pirate Raccoons of the Delaware Bay


“Is it time yet?” our pet rabbit wanted to know. He was anxious, and I saw him getting ready to chew the wires of his pen to hurry me along.

“For … what?”

He grabbed his pen with his forepaws, which is fine, because that’s not so rattly. “To go outside! I’m all ready and set, let’s go!”

“You mean to play the raccoon?”

Here I have to explain. We put up a wildlife camera in the backyard, and it’s taken a month’s worth of photographs of us checking to see if the wildlife camera is taking photographs. We asked our rabbit if he’d go outside and hop around, so we could know whether the camera would photograph something like a raccoon.

He started to chew on the cage, “Yes! I’ve been doing a lot of research and I’m all set!”

“You really just have to exist. You’re already very good at that.”

He stood up on his hind feet and looked up and raised his left forepaw, and cried, “Arr!”

“It’s threatening rain. I thought we’d wait for … what?”

“Avast ye mateys! Ready with the jibs! We’re off to the Egg Harbor!”

“That’s a pirate.”

He nodded. “I’ve been doing a lot of research for this part!”

“We asked you to play a raccoon. That’s completely different from being a pirate.” He looked at me impatiently. “I’m sorry to be the one who tells you this.”

He rolled his head back and sighed. “I’m playing a raccoon who plays a pirate.”

I lapsed into a dignified silence because I was unprepared to answer something like that.

“My raccoon character is named Berkeley Nishimori, and he’s long been fascinated with the history of piracy on the Atlantic seaboard.”

“You don’t need to have a character, though. You just need a body, and you’ve got one.”

“If I don’t have a character this’ll be lifeless. It’s having someone who wants things that makes for compelling scenes!” I looked toward the back window. “Drama or comedy, put in an obsessed character and you’re in good shape! Mister Brock, we’re off for the Egg Harbor!”

“But all I want is you to be there.”

“Now, Berkeley has gotten particularly interested in the mid-Atlantic coast, and he’s set up his pirate character as operating from the South River, as the Dutch termed the Delaware River, but obviously operating as far afield as possible.”

“… Really doesn’t come into play for hopping around the pond.”

“He reasons that the Delaware Bay area is a good one for operations since even though it’s less active than Boston, the divided authorities between the main of Pennsylvania, the Lower Counties, Maryland, and the reunited New Jerseys will make hiding from official inquiries easier.”

“I figure if you just look at the camera, and then look away from the camera … ”

“Now, Berkeley sets Davis — ”

“His pirate?”

“Yes, Davis, and I admit Berkeley hasn’t established whether Davis is his first or last name, but it seems one historically plausible enough either way, and he’s leaning towards working `Trent’ in there for obvious reasons, is aware that at this time New-Jersey itself was administered by the Governor of New-York, so that helps the administrative confusion, obviously.” No, I did not doubt that he was using the hyphens for the colony names.

“Maybe stand on your hind feet. I imagine raccoons in the wild do that too.”

“Now, Berkeley has figured that Davis isn’t a pirate for reasons of petty greed, of course. He reasons that Davis was driven to it to support his family, disgraced after being named as accomplices to the theft of the colonial treasure chest from the western capital of Burlington in 1714.”

“So all I mean is, you don’t need to have a recursive mass of character.”

“Obviously, I’m drawing on the 1768 theft of East Jersey’s funds from treasurer Stephen Skinner’s house for this. But Berkeley figures that setting his pirate in that era necessarily involves him in pre-revolutionary politics that he doesn’t want to explore just now, and while it wouldn’t require relocating the action to the North River — ”

“The Hudson. I know.”

“Well, it would bias the setting anyway. I should say I don’t think I’ve completely ruled out the other interpretation of this relocating, besides just making up an incident.”

“I really think you’re over-working the part — ”

“And that is, maybe Berkeley is just sloppy about character development. He might have made it up without realizing there was a strikingly similar scandal a half-century later.”

“You really don’t need a character.”

He sneezed at me, so I knew I was in trouble. “You know you’re terrible at improv? You haven’t given me a single `Yes, and’ all this time.”

“Hold on. First, not all life is improv” — he sneezed again, that little buzzing noise — “and second, you haven’t actually responded to my perfectly reasonable skepticism about you over-planning a little hop in the backyard, so how good at this are you?”

He didn’t sneeze at that, but his ears did droop.

“I need to establish,” he finally concluded, “whether Berkeley is deliberately moving the Skinner treasury theft to Burlington circa 1712 or whether he’s making it up. We can wait.”

I agreed, but said, “You’re getting caught in a research spiral. Carry on like this and you’ll build everything about your character and never play him,” while it started to drizzle outside.

How Things May Be


So the Internet of Things is supposed to be a thing, according to those who keep track of things. This thing will allow us to finally achieve the ancient dream of having our toasters send urgent text messages to our carbon monoxide detector until the toaster gets marked as a spam source and the carbon monoxide detector signs up for LinkedIn (“You have four degrees of connection to the breakfront in the dining room”). What I want to know is, if the Internet of Things finally becomes a thing, will that thing-ness of the Internet of Things itself get on the Internet? And if it does, who will it be sending urgent text messages to? We’re going to have to step up our game of ignoring messages on the Internet if we’re going to have not just Things, but also the Internet of Things, trying to communicate with us.

I’ve lost my point. There it is. If we have all these devices turning into computers and attacking the Internet without any need for interacting with us in particular, mightn’t some turn feral? Are we going to see groups of confused hardware desperately signalling one another, hoping to form their own little packs in the absence of a strong alpha release? At what point will the Internet be intolerably dangerous for human use because we’re crowded out by wild processes indifferent to human needs? I mean after 1999.

Dream World Tips: Brushes With Rock Fame


Have you ever had to put together one of those movies-in-the-park thing, where they set up a screen and a projector and sometime after the summer dusk sets in you show the kind of movie that attracts flocks of kids who take time out from their normal activities to run up to the projector and fiddle with the buttons? According to the crafty movies-in-the-park manager in my recent dream, that’s just fine. You have to set up an actual projector that handles the movie, and then put up a dummy right prominently in the middle where anybody can get at it. This one isn’t hooked up to anything, but if the film has any irregular things to it at all — like in the good old days of actual reels where there might be a momentary cut or something — it’s all right because the kids will figure their fiddling with the buttons caused the jump cut.

Apparently the crafty movies-in-the-park learned this trick from the years he spent organizing the shows for REO Speedwagon, who apparently couldn’t keep their hands off buttons either. This is almost certainly the closest brush with musical fame I’ve had in my own dreams, but I should point out that in the dreams of someone very close to me, I was doing pretty well with Russell Mael of Sparks.

Unintended Results: Books About Movie Musicals Edition


Stimulus:

Just Imagine was a million-dollar musical comedy set in the far future of 1980, with futuristic gadgets, a trip to Mars, and a Sleeper-like shlub waking from a fifty-year coma. Unfortunately, and not infrequent in 1930, the good ideas were mitigated by workaday routine, a wan score, and not quite enough wit. It starred a Swedish-dialect comic called El Brendel. Remember the name and tremble.

Footnote in the book Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter, Richard Barrios.

Response:

Seeing Just Imagine is the most important thing I can do this week and I must know everything there is to know about the work of Swedish-dialect comic El Brendel.

Math Comics, And, What The Heck, A Comic Strip Whose Existence I Can’t Explain


My mathematics blog had another roundup of comic strips, so do please go over and read that if you haven’t already. If you have read it, you’re welcome to read it again, but it won’t have changed all that much since you looked at it last time. Maybe there’ll be a couple more tiny icons of people who’ve clicked the “like” button, so if you’re a fan of tiny icons there’s that to look forward to.

Mom calls to keep a poorly-drawn woman informed of her apple purchase plans.
Donna A Lewis’s _Reply All_ comic for the 20th of July, 2014.

If not, then, let me fill out this post by bringing up Donna A Lewis’s Reply All, surely one of the most alleged comic strips to be in print today. And it is literally in print, like, running in newspapers. Comic strips have always valued writing over artwork — a comic strip with funny final panels will go farther than a bland strip with great artwork, however odd that might seem for a visual medium like comics — but here, well. I can see the humor, but it’s up against such a wall of bad artwork I just do not understand how this is more than just the comic strip that runs in the daily student newspaper because unspeakably terrible things get to run in the daily student newspaper. And Lewis gets two comics, with the panel-strip version Reply All Lite, which I just do not understand at all.

I don’t want to be cranky, and I don’t want to sound like I’m calling for Lewis’s head or anything. I have no reason to think she’s anything but a pleasant person with good friends and a useful day job (the only cartoonist who can afford to live just on the comic strip is Charles Schulz) and appealing hobbies and all. I just offer this for you to gape at and not understand.

Statistics Saturday: The American Films Of Alfred Hitchcock Ordered By How Many Words Wikipedia Uses To Describe The Plot


American Film of Alfred Hitchcock Words Used By Wikipedia To Describe The Plot
The Paradine Case (1947) 357
The Trouble with Harry (1955) 398
The Wrong Man (1956) 402
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) 439
Under Capricorn (1949) 503
Lifeboat (1944) 527
Family Plot (1976) 531
Suspicion (1941) 543
Marnie (1964) 566
Vertigo (1958) 583
I Confess (1953) 611
Psycho (1960) 662
Rope (1948) 663
Dial M for Murder (1954) 669
Strangers on a Train (1951) 671
Spellbound (1945) 690
Rebecca (1940) 695
Mr and Mrs Smith (1941) 702
Notorious (1946) 709
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) 714
To Catch A Thief (1955) 715
Saboteur (1942) 727
Strangers on a Train (1951) (US Version) 730
Rear Window (1954) 751
Foreign Correspondent (1940) 754
The Birds (1963) 760
North by Northwest (1959) 871
Torn Curtain (1966) 910
Topaz (1969) 988

Accurate as of the morning of July 19, 2014, because goodness knows the date of when I looked this up is going to be important to future researchers.

Felix the Cat: Astronomeous


I guess that I’m in a Felix the Cat mood this month, or at least it’s easy once you see one to see others popping up in YouTube. So let me play with that. For today here’s Astronomeous (that last syllable is supposed to suggest the sound a cat makes), from 1928, and it’s an extremely early sound cartoon. That is, the sound is just awful, but, please listen with sympathy: it’s kind of amazing there’s sound at all.

As ever, though, when you mix a silent- or near-silent-era cartoon with the heavens you’re in for a strange, surreal ride. Why shouldn’t the rings of Saturn be host to a bicycle race? Why not have a hammer monster of Mars? Why not punch a shooting star that’s terrorizing the king? Add to this mix some really quite good perspective shots — it’s not all characters moving in straight lines, camera left to camera right — and it’s a pretty sound six minutes, forty seconds.

On Underwear Procurement Difficulties In The Era Of The Second World War


So I’ve been reading Maury Klein’s A Call To Arms, which is about how the United States managed to produce all the stuff needed to win World War II. It’s a great story, the kind you just don’t get from picking up on flipping through the mysterious boring numbers on the cable box until you find a documentary, where apparently World War II consisted of magician Jasper Maskelyne pulling pranks on Rommel in 1940, and then the landings at Normandy.

But really important were industry’s production numbers. For example, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company — before and after the war a leading maker of roller coaster train cars — astounded the world by converting to war needs and making 12,172, which it turned over to Archibald MacLeish, head of the Office of Facts and Figures, on the 14th of May, 1942. The 12,172 toured the nation to cheering crowds, though it came under increasing fire from Republican leaders as an attempt to force the New Deal down the throats of the public and destroy even the idea of ever having an economy, a job, or any nice things ever after. To bury the controversy, seven weeks before the midterm elections the 12,172 was sent as a fact-finding expedition to Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in China. I wonder how that expedition is going. You’d think it would have reported back by now.

But all this production couldn’t be done without some missteps and there’s one that apparently really happened that’s caught my imagination. From the chapter “Making Haste Slowly” — page 121 in the copy I have — is this:

Some of the army’s outmoded procurement efforts became a joke. One recent order called for $300,000 worth of 1917-type underwear that could not be made on 1940 machines.

And I have to trust that this happened because it’s got a citation number — 53 — and everything; Klein even figured in the back of the book to follow it up with “53. Time, December 23, 1940 (14-15), Newsweek, December 23, 1940, 31-33, 35”. If that isn’t proof the thing happened exactly as described, what is?

If that isn’t the most imagination-capturing item about the underwear of 1917 you’ve read in the past month I’m afraid you and I live in very different worlds. I mean, just think of it: what were they doing with underwear in 1917 that they could not make it anymore on the machines of 1940? That’s equivalent to saying there was underwear in 1991 that we’ve lost the ability to make today, and I can’t even think what that means. I could understand the other way around, with 1991 machinery unable to make 2014 underwear. Modern underwear includes astounding features of both technology — don’t think I’ve overlooked the USB plugs or the Bing search engine in my latest set of BVD’s — and comfort — such as the layer of plastic microbeads included just so they can leak into the water supply and finally finish choking off the fish population. But that’s the wrong way around, timewise, and besides in 1940 the Bing search engine was a spare New York Bell time-and-weather operator whose station was disconnected. If anyone had suggested linking her to men’s underwear there would have been a scandal and they’d have fired her three times over just for having anyone suggest it of her.

Clearly what we’re seeing is a side effect of the revolution in clothing after 1917, when people wore way too many things. Women’s clothing before World War I could require up to two weeks to put on or take off, and the underwear alone required the help of three friends and a horse or strong mule. Men’s clothing was less challenging, requiring at most ten days and a supportive goat, but it was still an era when people dressed more formally to ride a roller coaster than they do today when presenting their credentials as Ambassador to the Court of Saint James. But then came the 30s, when people couldn’t afford so many clothes, and besides there was the Summer of Nudity when guys who’d been watching Tarzan movies started walking out on the Jersey Shore beaches without even wearing shirts, which sounds hilarious until you realize that was Grandpop, and which you’re now going to look up and find out I didn’t even make up.

Anyway, I have to guess that what happened is underwear-makers forgot how complicated underwear could be, and this in 1940 caused the Army’s procurement division to get made fun of a little bit in Time and/or Newsweek. And for some reason the World War II channel on cable is always going on about Rommel at Tobruk and the landings in Normandy, leaving the Army’s underwear uncovered.

The Delivery Respiral


I just realized I never gave an update on that dolly my father-in-law was having delivered somehow. Sorry. It turns out that he did get it, but there was some kind of problem and he had to ship it back. I was all ready to delight in working out how you re-deliver a dolly and it turned out that he got into some kind of dispute with UPS or an equivalent group over whether the returned dolly needed to be packed in a box or not. He’d gotten assurances that it should be returned un-boxed, and the UPS store was none too sure about this, and I can only say I am so very sorry that I didn’t get to see this scene, though I’m not sorry that it wasn’t me having the dispute about boxed dollies, and I’m even less sorry that it wasn’t me next in line while all this was being sorted out.

The Right People Will Get Paperwork


I didn’t know it until it was pointed out to me (but isn’t that always the way?) but, according to according to Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan site mst3kinfo.com on the 14th of July, 1989, “Paperwork is filed with the state of Minnesota pertaining to the creation of a new corporation, Best Brains Inc”. That’s the corporation which would make Mystery Science Theater 3000. In its earliest days episodes were found by venture-traders sailing to the East Indies and making deals for nutmeg and Roger Corman movies, but an increased demand for ironically-viewable entertainment forced more reliable production methods.

It’s hard to say how exciting it was to have incorporation papers filed for Best Brains Inc, though it was between the ranges of a pretty good sale on battery-operated tea lights at Meijer’s and of the Apollo 14 moon landing. After the promising but disappointing start with Middlingly Decent Brains Inc, and then the apparent setback of Mediocre Brains Inc, followed by the steps up of Somewhat Improved Brains Inc and then Rather Good Brains Considering Inc, it was clear they had something good here. Wonder whatever happened to them.

Questions Inspired By Great Science Fiction Covers of the Past


So, over in the world of DeviantArt, the Peterpulp account has been posting various cleaned-up images of old magazine and book covers. A couple days ago he posted this cover, to Brian Aldiss’s Bow Down To Nul, which I never heard of before either though I’ve heard of Brian Aldiss. Naturally it raises questions, to follow.

Seriously, isn't that Lyndon Johnson fighting off an alien by using a fish?
Peterpulp (of DeviantArt)’s posting of the cover to _Bow Down To Nul_, by Brian W Aldiss.

So:

  1. Is that Lyndon Johnson in the spacesuit there?
  2. Is Lyndon Johnson trying to stab the alien monstrosity by using a fish?
  3. Why?

I suppose the last is the easiest to answer, though. Obviously Lyndon Johnson’s plan is to offend the alien by making it think that he’s not taking the invasion the least bit seriously. The alien will stew over this and feel so offended it’ll go off and invade Vulcan or Endor or someone who’ll try to fight back with something that’s a serious weapon instead. I bet it ends up commiserating with an alien that quit an invasion when the resistance met it with yarn and bags of raked leaves.

The Case Of The Misplaced Plaque


I’ve been meaning to bring this to people’s attention but keep finding other things taking up my time instead. Robert S Birchard of the “Comedy Fast and Furious” blog found an obelisk erected by Ralph Edwards’s You Bet Your Life to commemorate the Mack Sennett Keystone Studios. The plaque commemorates the “birthplace of motion picture comedy”, which may be a touch overstating things but is still fair enough since if you think of a silent (American, at least) comedy film you’re probably thinking of something touched by Sennett. But the obelisk and the plaque were endangered, and, there’s more to the story, and I think you’ll enjoy learning it.

comedyfastandfurious

Image

THIS IS THE BIRTHPLACE
OF
MOTION PICTURE COMEDY
HERE THE GENIUS OF MACK SENNETT
TOOK ROOT AND GREW TO LAUGHTER
HEARD AROUND THE WORLD. HERE
MOVIE HISTORY WAS MADE – HERE
STARS WERE BORN – HERE
REIGNED AND STILL REIGNS
“THE KING OF COMEDY”
MACK SENNETT
PRESENTED BY
R. L. McKEE, PRES.
NATIONAL VAN LINES, INC.
ON
“THIS IS YOUR LIFE”
MARCH 10, 1954

So, reads the copy on the misplaced plaque.  In 1954 National Van Lines erected the Mack Sennett Studio plaque on an imposing obelisk at 1845 Glendale Boulevard–which was indeed originally a studio location–but NOT the location of the Mack Sennett Studio.  1845 was the site of the Selig Polyscope studio, the first permanent studio established in Los Angeles in 1909.  Mack Sennett Keystone Film Company studio had actually been located a block away and across the street at 1712 Glendale Boulevard!  (Ralph Edwards and “This Is…

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Statistics Saturday: Subjects I Go To The Library Looking For A Book About Versus Subjects Of Books I Come Out With


Subject I Go In Looking For A Book About Subject Of Book I Come Out With
Amusement Parks Madame Blavatsky
The Taiping Rebellion Muzak’s Contributions to World War II
Niagara Falls Containerized Cargo
The Gemini Program The History of the Accordion
Oxygen Alexander von Humboldt
The Oort Cloud Comic Strips
Science Fiction, Criticism The Cherry Sisters
The Cherry Sisters Lawns
Dictionaries Languages for Extraterrestrial Squirrels
The Great Migration Public Swimming Pools
The Customs Wall of India Wood
Magnetism The Grand Canyon

PS: You would be shocked to know how much of this is not joking.

Felix the Cat: Trifles with Time


For today’s video offering let me go back to Felix the Cat, a 1925 short from the Pat Sullivan Studios. It’s a fairly tightly-plotted story in which Felix becomes disgusted with the way cats are treated in the modern day and bugs Father Time to send him back to sometime better for his species, like, the Stone Age. This doesn’t go quite as well as Felix might have hoped, especially considering that the previous year he had been in The Bone Age and might have known what he was getting into. Still, this cartoon has got a pretty good storyline, a fair number of good jokes and one really disturbing bit of the kinds of thing you could do in animation where it didn’t hurt so much.

The Future Will Really Arrive When We Don’t Have To Do Odds And Evens Anymore


So if you’re like me you got around to thinking about rock-paper-scissors, because you saw somebody wearing a Big Bang Theory-inspired T-shirt reading rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock and were trying to remember how the rules to that went, only to remember that while you kind of respect The Big Bang Theory for getting its nerd jokes accurate you also feel a kind of vague dissatisfaction whenever the show comes on, or up, the kind that inspires you to take the broom out and start a sweeping project that might reach as many as four houses up the street before the energy burns out. I might be over-generalizing from my experience.

But what I was thinking particularly about it is there’s a robot out there that’s able to reliably win rock-paper-scissors contests. And I mean really, seriously win, beating even champion rock-paper-scissors players, the kind of people who insist they’re champion roshambo players because when they tell people they’re champion rock-paper-scissors players they get all kinds of snarky resistance. “Oh yeah,” they hear, “and I knew a guy in college who was one of the world’s top coin-flippers.” “Shut up,” they answer, and start to explain the details of human psychology and discerning choice patterns which lend themselves to long-term strategic insights, and the conversation soon passes the “nuh-uh” phase and turns into a brawl. By using a more obscure word everyone enjoys a more peaceful existence, as it’s easier to get along than admit you don’t know what someone is talking about, and when you think about it this explains about twenty-two percent of all human interactions.

The idea that a robot can now reliably beat humans at rock-paper-scissors suggests there’s been a real breakthrough in getting robots to fritter away time. Someday humans might be able to let robots do all manner of minor and marginally useful selection tasks, like one-potato-two or settling shotgun disputes ahead of a trip to PathMark, or maybe checking if PathMark is still a thing that exists and replacing it with, I don’t know, A & P if it doesn’t.

Then we might see robots finally come to their potential of saving us from the minor tasks that, if we really thought about them, we’d realize we don’t need to do. They might sneer for us at the satellite TV descriptions of shows on the channels we don’t watch, or maybe take over the whole of playing hopscotch. The savings in excessively minor time-consuming tasks would compare favorably to the time which would be saved if you never accidentally put your socks on inside-out ever again.

At least, that’s the promise you might think this all has if you don’t know how the rock-paper-scissors robot works. The reason it can beat anyone is it watches the human’s hand, and it can tell the difference between the first fractions of a second of throwing rock, or paper, or scissors, and then picks what it throws. In short, it succeeds by cheating. I’m not sure “cheating robot” is really that big a breakthrough in robot technology. The artificial intelligences behind Civilization games have been cheating for years because there’s no way the Aztecs build Michelangelo’s Cathedral right from under me, and the only thing you’d gain by putting a robot in to cheat at Civilization is you could punch it.

But that overlooks the interesting part, which is that a robot can now figure out in fractions of a second which of three ways you might extend fingers. Surely in time the computer will be able to figure out dozens, maybe hundreds of potential hand signs, each linked to some desirable behavior like “turn up the music” or “change the channel to something more sneer-worthy” or “order an appliance to send information over the Internet”, and they’ll be able to follow those directions before you even finish making the hand sign. By 2025 we could see the average home become a haven of quiet as everyone sits on top of their hands in the middle of an empty room, feeling too nervous to even twitch, because last time they sneezed and ineptly covered their mouth, then tried to shake it off, they ordered services from three online companies and sent a panic alert to the Coast Guard, and they don’t dare start that trouble again. Thus, as ever, does rock-paper-scissors bring life to a Ballardian nightmare. Can’t wait.

But What If I Can’t Stop Watching?


I use dental picks, as dental picks, because shut up I am not old and I like the smile that truthfully saying — and showing — that I’ve been picking grit out from between my teeth brings to my dentist’s face when I see him for this decade’s appointment. But I only just noticed that my bag of dental picks invites me not just to follow them on Facebook and Twitter but also to see their YouTube channel.

I like to think that I’m a curious fellow, by which I mean I’m open to learning about things other people would write off as dull and discover they’re deeply fascinating once you start thinking about them, by which I mean without any sarcasm or exaggeration that I own multiple popular histories of the containerized cargo industry and I would be willing to buy more. And I can imagine making an informational video about dental picks.

What I can’t imagine is making a whole series of informational videos about dental picks. After about halfway through the second I’d be reduced to standing there humming and maybe pointing out how any guinea pigs you have around the house could use them as slingshots, or how you could put a piece of wax paper across the prongs and give them to squirrels to use for lacrosse. They’re surely not going to be publishing that.

So now I’m doomed again: I’m curious to know how many different things of substance they could possibly have to say about dental picks, but, what if I find it all really interesting and just have to watch more?

Also I’m wondering how many tweets they could have about dental picks. This just makes it worse.

From The Technology Centers That Brought You Towels


I don’t want to alarm anyone but I have seen on the labels of a towel at a Holiday Inn the notice that it was part of the Holiday Inn Bath Collection, Patent Pending. There’s at minimum two things to wonder about in that fact. The first is that the Holiday Inn corporation believes it has somehow made an advancement in the technology of towels sufficient to be considered for a patent. The other is that apparently I am content to read the towel labels at a Holiday Inn. I have no excuse for this behavior. I’m sorry to have to make you all aware of it.

What would a towel technological innovation even be, though? I’m trying to picture it as I understand all technological developments by picturing how it would be explained in a little pop-up window in Sid Meier’s Civilization II, and it seems like towels have to fit in somewhere after “Mysticism” but before “Robotics”. But then we in the real world already have robots and Holiday Inn is putting forth more towel developments. So it’s not a perfect understanding, I guess, but it’s what I have.

The Sign: The Business: The Something


The banner flying at the strip mall proclaimed that Accent Customer Relationship Partners was “Now Hiring!” This sounds exciting, since looking at the name and the logo and the strip mall I have not the faintest idea what they do. They could be marketeers. They could be the people who tell you how your call is very important to the corporation you’ve called which is why the corporation isn’t answering it. They could be a series of foreign-language instruction videos. What I realize is that the words can be rearranged in any order as long as you leave only the last one pluralized:

  • Customer Relationship Partner Accents
  • Partner Accent Relationship Customers
  • Customer Partner Accent Relationships
  • Relationship Accent Partner Customers
  • Customer Partner Accent Relationships
  • Partner Relationship Customer Accents

My love interrupted my glee at this by pointing out that “Accent Customer: Relationship Partners” is obviously no name for a shadowy organization that probably does something you really wish people weren’t paid to do. My love is right, of course, but now I know that Accent Customer: Relationship Partners is just the title to use for my next series of business slashfic.

Math Comics and You Know What Else?


Once more my mathematics blog has gotten enough comic strips to talk about that I’m talking about it over here so you can go read my talking about it there. Does that seem fair to you?

Attached to these kinds of posts lately I’ve put up a bunch of comics to point out how Compu-Toon doesn’t make sense, or maybe some other comic strip does. I don’t want you to think I’m turning into one of the estimated every blogger in existence in reading the comics and complaining about them, though, so I offer you instead some space here in which you may consider the meaning of comic strips and what their significance in the modern information economy is. Please let me know if you turn up something interesting. Here goes:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Anything come up?)

Statistics Saturday: The Most Rage-Inducing Things You Can Say To A Fan Of Something


  1. “I never heard of that. Is it any good?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Obviously you have heard of it or you wouldn’t be talking to a fan of it, so you’re a fibber and if there’s one thing we can’t take on the Internet it’s deadpan humor, but fibbers are also trouble.
  2. “I loved the movie they made based on that!”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Nobody’s made a lovable movie based on anything since 1989’s The Dream Team was made based on the idea that Stephen Furst and James Remar should spend some time in a movie together.
  3. “Oh yeah. I loved whenever that guy turned up on Science Theater Mystery 2000.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Get the title right at least. It’s Science Theater Mystery 4000.
  4. “You know one-seventh of all the people to serve two full terms as Vice-President of the United States were Richard Nixon?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    There isn’t any context in which this isn’t a weird thing to say. Even gatherings of fans of the Vice-Presidency swapping trivia about the Vice-Presidency is the wrong place for it. Just avoid bringing it up.
  5. “Does it have a web site?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    What is this, 1997, when Star Trek first appeared on the Internet? There are whole web sites devoted to nothing but things that don’t have web sites. You sound like you’re trying to make a badly programmed robot’s head explode.
  6. “I know it, I just don’t like it.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Yet you are presumably allowed to vote, and possess rutabagas, and give your own opinion about how gigantic a kangaroo you would have to be to be satisfied with your gigantic kangaroo nature, and throw around trivia about the Vice-Presidency.
  7. “I remember that thing. It looked pretty good but I just never got into it for some reason.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Well, obviously. Anyway, there’s really nothing you can do to sufficiently apologize for saying something like that. It’s probably best if after this you end the friendship, possibly by moving to a new city, in a different country, on another continent.

Farmer Al Falfa and Kiko the Kangaroo: The Prize Package


And you know, what the heck, let’s keep going with the Terry Toons cartoons. Here’s one that brings together Farmer Al Falfa and the other silent or near-silent star, Kiko the Kangaroo, and what’s probably as close to an origin story as Kiko can get. It’s a fairly strongly plotted cartoon for the era, and I am curious whether the people at Paul Terry’s studio knew they were introducing a kangaroo that’d be good for a number of cartoons. The Terry Toons wiki, which of course exists, says Terry Toons introduced the cartoon after drawing inspiration from Mickey’s Kangaroo, a success over at Disney. Apparently only ten Kiko cartoons were made, over the course of two years, and she doesn’t seem to have been adapted into TV shows or comic books, but was merchandised for a while.

If all that isn’t fascinating enough, below should be an embedding of the same cartoon only converted at the wrong speed, allowing you to run an experiment regarding just how the timing of a joke affects the comic value of it.

Things I Don’t Understand About Another Ancient Greek


My dear love was looking up information about the ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton for good reasons that I’m sure existed. The interest in Milo was pretty casual up to the point of discovering that he was affiliated in some way with Pythagoras of Samos, the Pythagoras famous for siding with squares and making people laugh over his bean issues, assuming he and his followers had any particular bean issues and people didn’t just make that up so people would laugh about the Pythagoreans. You probably have problems like that too. Famous figures of Ancient Greece usually have hilarious stories attached to them, but when they intersect with Pythagoras — whom you’ll remember as a man who allegedly claimed to have a golden thigh and the ability to write on the Moon — the crazy-funny level just leaps up and usually off the charts and lands in a beanfield where it dies of embarrassment.

For example: it’s apparently argued whether Milo had anything to do with the famous Pythagoras of Samos, because he might have just been associated with another Pythagoras of Samos who happened to be an athletic trainer. See, Milo was a seven-time Olympic athlete, so he’d have good reason to bother with athletic-type people. This is assuming that Pythagoras of Samos the Athletic Trainer wasn’t also Pythagoras of Samos the Loopy Philosopher/Mathematician/Cult Leader.

But as Olympic athletes go, Milo was apparently one of them, with a win in boys’ wrestling and then five men’s wrestling titles. Apparently he was beaten at his seventh Olympics by a young wrestler who’d developed a style of “arm’s length” wrestling. My love and I aren’t sure exactly what that style is. It makes it sound like he was beaten by slap-fighting. I’m not surprised he didn’t return to the games after being beaten by that; I wouldn’t blame him if he died of embarrassment. But maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe he was bested by an opponent who stood at arm’s length and held out his arms and kept pointing out “I’m not touching you” until Milo stormed off in disgust. Again, I wouldn’t fault him for not returning with something to foil this tactic, like, telling his opponent’s moms on them.

But being unable to believe the slapping and not-touching in the Olympics was the least of his accomplishments. Apparently he was a military leader who convinced the Crotoniates to lead an army to defend the Sybarites against Telys, tyrant of Sybaris. Now to be fair, by which I mean dismissive, that’s just the sort of thing you did in those days. You just weren’t part of Ancient Greek society unless you were setting up a tyrant or overthrowing a tyrant. And it was important to cities, too. Not getting the occasional tyrant to be overthrown marked a city as the seriously hick part of the Peloponnese, the way you today might look askance at a metro region that can’t even get an Arena Football team. Some up-and-coming cities would rent out a battlefield and set up themselves while overthrowing them and put themselves on the map that way.

But not everyone did this work in style; according to Didorus, and if you can’t trust him who can you trust, said he lead the Crotonites into battle while draped in a lion’s skin, wielding a club in a Hercules-like manner, and wearing his Olympic crowns. The lion skin I don’t wonder about, but: his crowns? All five of them? How? I know they weren’t, like, the crowns the Queen of Britain wears — remember, Pythagoras of Samos and the ancient Greeks lived literally more than three centuries before Queen Elizabeth II — and were more kind of wreaths of flowers of the kind you wear when you’re a charming bride. But that’s still, five. Put five crowns of anything on your head and you’re going to have them flying off all the time, unless you keep one hand clinging to your scalp so as to maintain some semblance of balance. It’s got to throw off his club-wielding. This is the price for not being able to pick just one crown.

Of course, who says he wore them all on his head? Maybe he put one on his head, and one on each arm, and one around each thigh? That would be quite practical as long as he didn’t have to share a tight seat, such as on a roller coaster, with someone. But why would he? Chairs wouldn’t be invented for dozens of years until after his death, the date of which is not actually known.

According to further legend, he died when he attempted to split a tree down the middle with his bare hands, which got stuck, which sounds like a worse way to die than just “of embarrassment following an Olympic slap-fighting loss”. But apparently while his hands were stuck he was set upon by wolves, who ate him, which raises a further question: what, he couldn’t tear some wolves limb-from-limb using just his feet? There is a painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvée (1743 – 1807) which purports to show Milo at his wolf-induced death, arguably fighting off the wolves with his feet, although it really looks to me more like he’s working on advanced belly rubs. I have to point out that there’s little evidence Suvée ever met Milo and none that he interviewed any of the wolves involved.

There’s much more to the legend of Milo of Croton, of course, and I may come back to it, but for now I think it fair to say: Ancient Greece. Like, what the heck, guys? You know?

What’s Happening In Town


Now and then I read the actual local newspaper listings of upcoming events, usually a couple days after the weekly paper’s come out so that I can see what I might have wanted to go to if it hadn’t already happened. One that really appeared was a nature lecture: “Learn about mosquitoes.” And that was the entire description of the event.

I don’t envy the people organizing this. Selling mosquito knowledge is going to be an uphill struggle because once you get past advanced swatting techniques folks don’t want to hear it. Yes, yes, fascinating evolutionary heritage key part web of life blah blah, swat. But to have only three words to convince people to come? Maybe they’d be better off pitching it as a chance to learn about some more popular animal and then reveal it’s actually mosquitoes to a surprise audience. “Puppies kiss you” would probably get a better if swiftly angered and turning-to-biteyness turnout.

How Our Pet Rabbit Celebrated His Birthday


“Happy birthday,” I told him.

He was staring at some sheets of paper in his pen and just grunted a little. Or maybe he sneezed, because he sneezes a lot and it sounds like the buzzing of the restraint bars on an old-fashioned roller coaster.

“Um … and many more?”

He got up on all fours and hopped to the edge of the pen. Then he stood up on his hind legs, using the pen to brace his forelegs, looked at me, and rolled his head to the side while yawning, and sticking his tongue out. He left his tongue sticking out — the shape of rabbit mouths means this comes out from one side, and tilted — dropped back to the ground, ran back to his paper, and flopped over on his side, exposing his bright white belly in a flurry of adorability.

“What was that?” I had to know.

He pulled his tongue back in. “Homework.”

“You have homework?”

“Internet course in advanced cute.” I tried to peek at his paper, but it was printed out in rabbit, but I had some idea now why we keep running out of printer paper too soon.

“You’re taking cute classes?”

“I take my responsibilities around here seriously.” And he licked a paw, to groom the side of his head, while flopped out like that, and reaching for the end of his ears.

“Excellent work,” I admitted. “Good luck.”

He splayed his front paw’s fingers out and licked between them. “Thanks!”