One-Stop Jabbing


I’ve been reading Jack Zipes’s translation of the Grimm Fairy Tales, and that’s been compellingly odd because so many of the stories just are. One I just finished was about three brothers who apprenticed themselves to various masters and came back to compete for their father’s affection and his house by showing what they could do.

The one who’d gone with a barber showed how he could lather up and shave the beard of a hare while it kept running, which I have to admit is pretty good. The blacksmith showed how he could re-shoe a galloping horse without breaking its stride, which is awfully impressive although it seems needlessly hard. The one who went with the fencing master showed how he could strike drops of rain so swiftly and so alertly that he could stay perfectly dry in the middle of a downpour, which I didn’t even know was something fencing masters trained for.

Anyway, the brothers stayed together, sharing their father’s house and prospering together their whole lives, and now I’m stuck on what was that? I understand the logic of a one-stop place for barbering and blacksmithing. That just makes good sense. But fencing? I would imagine most of the work for fencing masters involves jabbing people with swords and you can’t just arrange for most people who need jabbing to come by the old barber-blacksmithing shop, not most of the time.

Although maybe I’m just not understanding the partnership. Maybe the fencing brother gets a contract to jab someone, and his brothers send out offers of free haircuts or metalworking until the contracted victim accepts, and comes over, and that’s how it works.

No, wait, that won’t work, because advertising wasn’t invented until 1918, when John R Brinkley needed to sell the idea of implanting goat testicles into human bodies. (You can see why that idea needed some promotional push to get going, especially among the goats.) There must be something that I’m not understanding. That would be foreign exchange markets: when a bank says it’s buying, say, euros with dollars, doesn’t that just mean it’s switching its own database entry that says “dollars” on their account to “euros”? How is this even doing anything, much less affecting the world economy?

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Math Comics and Mind Melds


I’m not looking particularly to cause trouble, I should say, but Comic Strip Master Command decided everybody had to tell jokes about mathematics so my blog over that way has another article gathering them. Please consider reading, won’t you? It’s literally just one browser tab over to the left, at least the way I make it out.

In the meanwhile I was figuring to go back to hanging out and talking on this Star Trek forum that I mostly like, even if the technology talk sometimes gets a little fractious, and then I see someone started up a post asking people to list their favorite mind-melds, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be doing something else with my time. I should, but that seems like too much work, too.

Statistics Saturday: The States Of The United States In Order Of Their md5 Hashes


  1. Missouri
  2. Iowa
  3. Maryland
  4. North Carolina
  5. Mississippi
  6. Colorado
  7. Nebraska
  8. Alabama
  9. New Jersey
  10. California
  11. Louisiana
  12. Arizona
  13. Maine
  14. Minnesota
  15. Arkansas
  16. Idaho
  17. New Hampshire
  18. Ohio
  19. Wisconsin
  20. Illinois
  21. Utah
  22. Washington
  23. Kansas
  24. Massachusetts
  25. West Virginia
  26. Wyoming
  27. Texas
  28. New York
  29. New Mexico
  30. Michigan
  31. Nevada
  32. Oklahoma
  33. Kentucky
  34. Pennsylvania
  35. Tennessee
  36. Montana
  37. North Dakota
  38. Hawaii
  39. Rhode Island
  40. Delaware
  41. Indiana
  42. Virginia
  43. South Carolina
  44. Oregon
  45. Vermont
  46. Alaska
  47. Georgia
  48. Florida
  49. South Dakota
  50. Connecticut

The most surprising result of all this is it was quicker for me to type up a list of the state names and write the PHP code for finding all their md5 hashes than it was to do anything else I accomplished this week.

Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Buster Keaton in: The Garage


And now, let me close out what’s become an Arbuckle-and-Keaton month of videos with The Garage, the last of their collaborations. This one, from 1920, is set in a small-town gas station-slash-fire station, which I guess will happen in your smaller towns, especially on-screen. From that starting point it’s able naturally to combine jokes about demolishing cars in the process of cleaning them with jokes about things being on fire.

The TCM article on this movie claims that Keaton cited it as his favorite collaboration with Arbuckle. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. The film may be a string of gags loosely bound by some connective plot tissue but they’re good gags, timed well and paced well together.

My Fortune To Be Made: Grad Student Fantasy Camp


After thinking hard about my life, and talking with a bunch of former grad students, I’ve realized, pretty much the sweetest phase of life is being in grad school. Oh, there’s good stuff about being a real adult too, like owning a car that doesn’t need the alternator replaced every four months, and not having to explain to undergraduates that the course textbook is the one listed under “course textbook” on the syllabus, which is the thing on the class web site labelled “syllabus”, but most of the good stuff now was also good stuff then, and back then we didn’t have to pay off student loans. This is what inspires me to open a Grad Student Fantasy Camp.

Fantasy Camps are one of the two remaining growth sectors in the American economy, the other being podcasters doing complete rewatches of Star Trek. Fantasy Camps give a chance to do something great like pretend to be a baseball player or astronaut or Let’s Make A Deal host and then go home to add a bunch of new acquaintances that further diffuse the notion of “friend” on your Facebook. Here’s why and how Grad Student Fantasy Camp will work.

Who wants to attend Grad Student Fantasy Camp? Anyone who’s not satisfied with their academic career, which is everyone who went to grad school after 1992, when the last tenure-track position in their specialty was filled. Remember those teaching assistants dressed unconfidently and trying not to do the homework for you while explaining where you went wrong in recitation sections? They all spend this time of year sighing at the window while thinking of the days the biggest weights on their mind were when to maybe start studying for something called “quals”. They’ll pay nicely to feel like that for even a week.

And! The Grad Student theme lets us turn that into a brilliant pricing strategy. Whatever the actual cost is, we’ll say the price of the camp is, like, eight times that. But on “acceptance” to Grad Student Fantasy Camp the customer-student also gets tuition assistance, covering the cost of the first day in exchange for “work” as a TA. They’ll feel like they’re getting such a deal, whatever they actually pay.

The assistance offer gets “renewed” every day, up until the final day of camp when the student is notified the department has enjoyed your Grad Student experience as much as you have, but you should really be getting on with your thesis now. The student then defends a ritual thesis to an advisor, whom they pick on arbitrary grounds the third or fourth day, and three people the student never saw before or will see again, their committee.

The TA work will be grading “student assignments” themselves composed by a Markov chain generator so that there’s a limit to their madness. The grading is done in green pen, to make this legitimately challenging work, because humanity has never solved the problem of making a green pen that successfully writes.

Grad Student Fantasy Camp needs facilities, but by having it either in summer or over winter break we can rent out an actual college or university campus, or just count on not being noticed by the grad students teaching real summer courses. This way the Fantasy Camp gets the necessary buildings and a library that uses the Library of Congress Catalogue System For Crying Out Loud, What Is This Dewey Decimal Nonsense.

We’ll need faculty, to be advisors and committees, and to hold lectures that students can attend the first couple of days before they retreat to “work” on their “theses”. For them we hire adjuncts, who get not just pretty good per-hour pay but also the healing dignity of students who reflexively call them “Doctor” or “Professor” and wouldn’t dream of sending them e-mails addressing them by a contraction of their first names and filled with text-y abbreviations. Of course, to satisfy the students’ need to feel like they’re back in grad school, the faculty will have to seem older than even the students are, but that can be done by the faculty looking generally disapproving of things, and having every document on the class web site (proudly HTML 2.0 compliant) be a download in Rich Text Format.

For the social side of the experience, we’ll encourage students to hang out, reading the good bits of texts — not books, texts, maybe even volumes — from the GV, HS, PN, or maybe even the QC sections of the library while swapping stories about Electrical Engineering undergrads. After the second night our faculty starts inviting groups of students to bars around campus, sharing wild tales of intrigue in the University Senate and leading contests to see who can read without cracking up the longest from furious e-mails in which Brian Leiter threatens bloggers with defamation lawsuits. Around 2 am staff will remind students that there are perfectly good simulation or strategy games or text-based RP MOOs that aren’t going to play themselves. Of course we’ll have guitars at the ready just in case.

Graduation will be heartbreaking, but a sweet chance for a good department dinner at the brew pub where students and faculty promise to stay in touch. Maybe they even will a while, but — and here’s why Grad School Fantasy Camp will succeed — the tug back to campus will last, and bring the customer-students back, maybe several times a summer. I kind of want to go to it myself.

Interested? Please contact the admissions office, care of our confusing and unsearchable web site.

Why I Am Not Talking About Apartment 3-G


Over on my mathematics blog (sorry, LFFL) there’s been a fresh round of comic strips that I can talk about. I also found reason to talk about Robert Benchley, who so long ago provided the only productivity advice you’ll ever need. It’s just that good.

Meanwhile I would kind of like-ish to update you with what’s driving me crazy about Apartment 3-G but you kind of knew that already: it spent all summer of nothing but Tommie and Some Other Woman talking to each other about how they were going to talk to each other without actually doing it. Finally after months of nothing going on a guy that I guess they were both kind of attracted to, in that Apartment 3-G form of attraction where “the guy appears on camera several times in a row, I guess”, now the strip has turned to This Guy and Some Other Woman talking about they have something to talk about, which they seem set up to say to each other over and over without actually doing it. This has got to be some Andy Kaufman-esque attempt to see just how far they can go without readers rising up in rebellion, which is going to fail, because Darby Conley has put Get Fuzzy in unannounced and unexplained reruns since last November without driving himself off all the comics pages yet, and Brooke McEldowney of 9 Chickweed Lane went completely nuts sometime around 2008 and his comic is still going.

Meanwhile, On Deck Ten …


Riker's got this just *perfect* gaze of worry while looking out of camera frame.
While I’m not sure which episode this frame is from, that fact would not horrify the 15-year-old me, because when I was that old it hadn’t aired yet.

“Sooooo … the cybersecurity breach exposed everyone’s holodeck usage, you say?”

Modern Life As Seen Through The Prism Of Waiting For A Flu Shot At Rite-Aid


We were seated in the little waiting area. We had finished the booklet of this month’s health tips from the Rite-Aid wellness program. It tried to prove how kale has just fantastic health benefits by showing kale in smoothie form. This failed. On the little TV, CNN’s afternoon anchors explained how a guy climbed over the fence at the White House with just the right set of details that we couldn’t understand what was supposed to have happened. Next to us an elderly man with a bushy white moustache, wearing a suit possibly more expensive than all my clothes — including the suit I wore for my wedding — put together, clutched his newspaper and nodded vigorously at the business pages of the Detroit News.

Finally, finally, the pharmacy guy came out and explained, “I’m sorry. I forgot to give you an update on what’s happening. I ran your card through and your insurance company said I was doing it the wrong way. So I tried it the new way and they wouldn’t take your card. Then I tried the old way again and it went through, so we’ll be ready for you in a couple of minutes.”

We got vaccinated in just a couple of minutes, paid by the insurance company. Now it’s just a matter of waiting about two weeks, when I’ll finally be able with a clear conscience to sneeze on anybody I want.

Five Nights At Game Informer


Maybe you’ve heard about Five Nights At Freddy’s. I’m dimly aware of it myself. It’s a new horror game that’s based on everyone’s inherent love of being freaked out by Chuck-E-Cheeses, and apparently it’s sufficiently horrifying that my love has had nightmares about the game without ever having played it, inspired just by reading an article about how it isn’t a real horror game because all it does is scare you a lot. (I feel like I didn’t understand the thesis quite right.)

Anyway. This month’s Game Informer magazine just arrived, and it’s titled “The Horror Issue”, featuring your classic cover of Black Thing With A Couple Less Black But Still Pretty Dark Spots In It That I Guess Is The Monster From Aliens in it. Naturally we checked to see if they had anything about Five Nights At Freddy’s.

They don’t. Apparently, Game Informer‘s Horror Issue went to press just in time to miss this year’s big striking horror game that people can’t stop talking about. That’s got to be the Game Informer‘s editors’ worst nightmare, hasn’t it?

So, well played, Five Nights company, well played.

Statistics Saturday: Things Found While Cleaning Up After The Yard Sale


The squirrel was marked for $3.50 o/b/o; it eventually went for $3.25 along with a couple of ironic potholders.
The squirrel eventually went for $3.25 along with a couple of ironic potholders.

Bonus recreational puzzle: Identify when I figured out a tolerable way to do lettering while drawing on my iPad.

Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Buster Keaton in: The Butcher Boy


It’s a common refrain about silent movies that they’re often fascinating just because they’re accidental documentaries. 1917’s The Butcher Boy, here, is one of them because it showcases a model of store that’s basically extinct in the United States: the general store in which all the merchandise is kept safely tucked away from the customers’ hands, thank you, and for that matter the person who gets what you want off the shelves isn’t necessarily the same person who wraps up your packages, and may well have nothing to do with the person who takes your money and counts your change (if you didn’t just put it on your account).

Since the model of the self-service market took over — it really got going in the 1920s — it’s hard to quite believe this used to be normal. It almost seems designed exclusively to stuff movie scenes full of comic actors, standing at the edge of an abundant supply of missiles, with hapless customers standing in the middle ready to get hit by accident when the grand battle inevitably starts. I’m honestly a touch disappointed when the action moves from the store to a women’s boarding house; as energetically paced and frantic as the action gets at that point, it seems like they’re giving up on a fantastic setting. (Were they worried 25 minutes was too long to spend in one location?)

Anyway, here’s another “Fatty” Arbuckle film, featuring also Buster Keaton’s screen debut, which makes clear pretty quickly why he was going to be a movie star. Archive.org has a copy of it with French intertitles, and played a little faster than the version on YouTube. (Converting film speeds from silent movie days to modern speeds is a bit arbitrary.)


In a coincidental bit of business, Steve McGarry’s TrivQuiz biographical comic strip/quiz panel features Ben Turpin, who you may remember in collages of silent movie stars as “oh yeah, that guy”. Funny fellow. Besides a touch of information about the actor, the panel also includes a couple trivia questions related to silent movie stars which should probably make you feel better for being able to answer.

Found While Attempting To Clean Out My Wallet


Ocean County Library Card. I haven’t lived in Ocean County, New Jersey, for 27 months. Even my parents don’t live there anymore. It’s nearly a thousand miles away and while I do sometimes return to it the chance I will be seized with an urgent need to borrow a book while in the area and couldn’t just use the Rutgers library instead seems pretty small. Verdict: Yes, needs to be kept.

Loyalty Card, Subway chain, New York Yankees design style. Acquired in April of 2012 again in Ocean County, New Jersey. Yankees pattern might arouse a low-level grumbling from the people who could, theoretically, spit in my egg-and-cheese flatbread sandwich if I took my eyes off them and they were particularly devoted fans of the Detroit Tigers or such other teams that aren’t the Yankees. Loyalty points never redeemed. The last time I attempted to use it was in Trenton while trying to buy some cookies in early 2013, which resulted in the discovery that the Trenton-area Subway didn’t respect the loyalty cards of the Ocean County-area Subway shops. This also implies that if I did try using it in mid-Michigan I might just get slugged. Verdict: set it on the dresser underneath where I keep my wallet so it’ll be on hand whenever I might go out and possibly need it.

MTA subway card. Goodness knows when I’m going to find myself in Manhattan or Brooklyn or maybe some other borough if New York City still has them anymore and I might need to get to the Port Authority and I’m certainly not going to go buying another card when my old one still has easily $7.35 on it. Verdict: Definitely keep. Maybe get another just in case.

Loyalty Card, Panera Bread. With my track record of buying stuff from Panera Bread sometimes four, maybe even six times per year it would be foolish to give this up. I’ve surely worked my way nearly to getting a free small coffee or whatever is going on. Verdict: Move to the little plastic-covered pouch up front where it’s more accessible than even my driver’s license.

Little Metal Tab Containing A Combination Lock’s Default Code. Verdict: absolutely keep, for the overwhelming sentimental value.

Movie Ticket Stubs. Granted the risk is small that a genially cranky police officer from a pulp series of detective fiction, under the belief that I am a world-renowned jewel thief who’s only pretending to go straight even though I keep solving miscellaneous non-jewel-related crimes for him, will demand to know my alibi for the late afternoon of the 14th of August this year, but if he does then I can suavely pull out the receipt showing I bought tickets to see the Rifftrax version of Godzilla, and thus come under greater suspicion because why would I be able to answer where I was and what I was doing unless I were covering up my participation in the Tubbsworth National Bank heist, anyway? Similarly for the times I saw Frozen, Star Trek Into Darkness and Lincoln. Verdict: talk with my old pal Alan the fence who’s working the pawn shop down on the waterfront and get myself kidnapped by the actual bank robbers who’re figuring to put an end to my meddling, and Jeanette, give me three hours and telephone the Inspector to report I just left for the laundry just opposite the bank.

Discover Card. Originally put in the wallet just in case I find myself at the Great Adventure theme park, where the card offers a discount on buying expensive but tolerable pizza and soda, and to draw the pleading attention of the Discover Card Corporation, which really wants me to use it for stuff and things, like, you know? Verdict: Leave in the little cubby-hole on the nightstand and try to plug my ears at night so the desperation of the card, wanting so much to be used for something, anything, doesn’t deprive me of sleep.

Curiously Sandy Grit of Some Kind. Possibly sand, possibly dust, possibly unused coffee grounds, possibly industrial-grade diamond chips. Verdict: attempt to clean out, only to find it’s impossible to clean this kind of wallet.

Meanwhile, In Space …


Scott and Spock inside the Jeffries tube; Kirk somewhere far below.
I’m not actually sure which episode of Star Trek this is from, which would have brought intense shame to the 16-year-old me.

“What do you mean Engineering is voting to secede from the Enterprise?!”

“Furthermore, Captain, Mister Scott has requested that I inform you that he is no longer speaking to you.”

“Is this about stealing lines again? Because I keep explaining, I’m only thinking of the best interests of the show, that’s why!”

How’s This For A Science Fiction Story?


OK, so the protagonist volunteers to try out the diagnosed-with-multiple-controllable-conditions scientists’ new evolution-accelerating treatments. After several preliminary sessions seem to do little he finds that in subtle but key ways he’s been altered to a more perfect specimen for a human-like species in our environment, including:

  • The tissues within his knees regenerate their soft, padded material for several further decades, indicating he might reach his mid-90s before his knees start to ache.
  • His body produces virtually no cholesterol anymore, so that what he consumes in his ordinary diet is sufficient for membrane fluidity in his body’s cells and restoring his nervous system’s myelin sheathing, without the risk of building unwanted amounts in his blood vessels.
  • Now his skin produces so much vitamin D that despite living in mid-Michigan it’s no longer necessary to consider taking supplements during the long winter, although if he moved to a less cloudy area he might be at mildly increased risk of hypervitaminosis D.
  • There’s a slight notch in his thigh so that when he flies coach he can plug the earphone into the seat speaker plug without it digging into his leg.
  • He shows virtually no signs of repetitive strain injury while typing anymore.

What do you think? Can I build this into a six-volume mega-book series ready for movie franchising?

Other Things You Might Read Besides This


The Robert Benchley Society’s got its 2014 Humor Prize Competition entries collected, available for the reading, with all entries anonymized. I’ve got an entry in there (I won’t tell you which), which is actually a complete rewrite of one of the longer-form Friday pieces that I’d recently posted. (The Friday pieces aim for being 700 to 800 words, while the contest wanted no more than 500 words, and just trimming it down wasn’t going to work.) I like to think the piece got rather better in the complete rewrite, which does carry some implications for the stuff I post around here, but I’m trying not to think about that too much.

Meanwhile, in mathematics (hi and sorry, LFFL!), over on that blog I’ve gotten another thousand words or so together to say about comic strips that mentioned mathematics in one way or other. They were mostly the one way this time, but, there were a lot of them. I hope you enjoy.

Creatures Of The Night


Among the stuff dug out of the attic and basement for the yard sale has been a couple of Furby dolls, which turn out to almost kind-of work for the most part. With the new batteries put in it turns out at least one of them will suddenly pop its eyes open and start muttering chipper things in Furbish, the sing-songy language created by JRR Tolkein, and then keep at it a couple minutes until it gets bored and goes back to sleep for hours and hours.

This made us realize: when the thing was put up in the attic years ago, with batteries in, it was probably doing the same thing, waiting for a random moment and then popping open its servo-controlled eyes and wiggling its slightly lopsided ears and demanding attention in one of several dozen phonemes, and then falling back into a silent wait that might end without warning.

So, now we can finally explain why the bats in our attic were having nightmares all those years. Good to know.

Statistics Saturday: Robert Benchley Book Titles, By Length


As this is the final weekend to prepare submissions to the Robert Benchley Society’s 2014 Humor Contest, I offer some data about the great humorist’s writings.

  1. Of All Things
    (1921)
  2. Pluck And Luck
    (1925)
  3. The Early Worm
    (1927)
  4. Inside Benchley
    (1942)
  5. Love Conquers All
    (1922)
  6. Benchley–Or Else
    (1947)
  7. After 1903 – What?
    (1938)
  8. The “Reel” Benchley
    (1950)
  9. Benchley Beside Himself
    (1943)
  10. Chips off the Old Benchley
    (1949)
  11. My Ten Years in a Quandary, and How They Grew
    (1936)
  12. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, or David Copperfield
    (1928)
  13. No Poems, Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways
    (1932)
  14. Benchley at the Theatre: Dramatic Criticism, 1920-1940
    (1985)
  15. From Bed to Worse, or Comforting Thoughts about the Bison
    (1934)
  16. The Treasurer’s Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing
    (1930)
  17. The Athletic Benchley-105 Exercises from The Detroit Athletic Club News
    (2010)
  18. Robert Benchley’s Wayward Press: The Complete Collection of His the New Yorker Columns Written as Guy Fawkes
    (2008)

Titles published after 1945 were posthumous. Titles published before 1889 are prehumous. Titles not listed can very well fend for themselves.

Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St John in: The Bell Boy


Well, why not carry on the Arbuckle-Keaton-St John theme, then? For today here’s their 1918 half-hour film The Bell Boy, featuring “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton as bellboys (and Al St John as the desk clerk), puttering around in gags set at a small-town hotel and then, as I believe every silent-era movie set in a hotel does, getting to foiling a robbery.

This movie has one of those moments that was just enlightening to me under a “how they used to do things”, as there’s a horse-drawn trolley and while I know I’d read about trolleys and railroad trains that used animals I somehow hadn’t really visualized them in the way that a couple seconds of this film allowed me to do.

How The Pinball Machines Broke Down


This is, to the best of my ability to reconstruct, how the various pinball machines broke down during what proved to be Demolition Derby Night at the league.

  1. TOTAN. I would like to begin my defense by saying that I was acting properly with respect to normal operational use of this pinball machine. To wit, I was aiming at stuff and hitting the flippers and all that, while the machine wasn’t giving the correct response of very many points. One may speculate that the machine was just coming off a bad night, perhaps after quarreling with an old friend or getting bad news about its car’s brakes. But we must dismiss that hypothesis because it was certainly giving plenty of points to the other people playing in the group with me. Anyway when the left flipper stopped flipping, up, down, or sideways, that was that for Tales of the Arabian Nights.
  2. IJ. While it is true that I was not doing a lot better on Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure, I can’t take any blame for this machine going down because it was the league’s champion player, a kind of supernatural entity manifested whenever sufficiently many machines are brought together in the spirit of fair competition and $2.00 Pabst Blue Ribbon Night, who broke this one. During the “Well of Souls” mode, a portion of the game in which an estimated eighty balls are launched simultaneously on the playing field and you’re left to deal with that, at least one ball showed a previously unsuspected ability to stop being so-called “solid” matter and become some kind of Bose-Einstein Condensate, passing through the thick rubber bands and getting stuck inside that little triangular kicker that’s right above the flippers. I don’t want to seem ungrateful because seeing a ball stuck in such a freak position is a kind of privilege, but this does mean he’s taken the league’s crown for “balls stuck in freak positions”, which I had previously held by getting a ball stuck on the parapets of the castle on Medieval Madness.
  3. G: HS II. I’m completely innocent and uninvolved in this one because we were upstairs glaring at, oh, I’m going to guess The Simpsons Pinball Party, which was only broken in that it’s kind of a lousy game. But while we were there, Getaway: High Speed II‘s ball plunger suffered from a sudden onset of “impostor syndrome”, my age cohort’s great neurosis, and felt so ridiculous at the idea that it was expected to launch pinballs out onto the playing field that it couldn’t do that anymore and just hummed nervously. The curious side-effect of this was making its impostor syndrome no longer a syndrome, because it was right to believe it wasn’t up to the job it was doing.
  4. CQD. Old British telegraphic and wireless Morse Code distress signal, superseded in 1906 by SOS. Not in fact a pinball machine, although the way things were going that night, it was the best game of the lot and I came in eleventh. Passengers were unloaded onto the Aquitania and the ship ultimately towed to Halifax.
  5. FT. So I had this terrible first ball that drained instantly, which at least brought up the “fed up with briiIIIiick!” sound clip from the Father Ted pinball machine, and the second ball was no good either, and when I heard the “what do you say to an extra ball?” sound clip I was ready to swallow my pride at take the pity-award extra ball, and then someone who wasn’t even in the league came over and pointed out nobody ever made a Father Ted pinball machine and we had to scrap all the scores for that too, which is a shame because I’m almost positive I could have got Rabbit Rock Festival Multiball and that would have changed everything.
  6. WtCJ. My continuing insistance that there was too a pinball named Welcome to Cactus Jack’s, about an Old West saloon where cactuses polka dance, drains my credibility every time I bring the subject up and encourages speculation that my time in grad school was one of hallucinogens and eigenfunctions. I insist this is only partially true.

All things considered it was a pretty rough night.

The Secret Of The Moon Sphinx


It's a sphinx! On the moon! And it's shooting lasers out of its eyes! At our spaceship! … Whoops.
Secrets Of The Moon Sphynx, as uploaded to DeviantArt by PeterPulp.

Apparently, the Secret of the Moon Sphinx is that it’s a bit of a jerk, really. Also, I understand the Ancient Egyptians were busy being Ancient Egyptians and building astounding stuff for thousands of years, but it seems like if they were building sphinxes on the moon to laser-eye spaceships they were kind of losing focus on their really important projects, like land-surveying and the Sothic Cycle and the Hittites. Of course, I do some things that the Ancient Egyptians would probably consider outside my real focus, so who am I to tell them they were wasting their time? At least they got a laser-eye sphinx up on the moon, while all I can do is look at those astronauts and think they’re monkeys in spacesuits until I look again and see once more that it’s just the things on their heads giving me that impression.

Ahead Of The Yard Sale


So my love looked over my list of reasons I was not putting a book into the yard sale, and asked if they were all true reasons. I admitted that no, actually, some of them were made up.

“The one about inspiring a fanfic was real wasn’t it?” Actually, no, there aren’t any books that got me to actually commit to writing fanfic so that’s technically speaking a pure joke.

“You made up the one about the Family Ties book though?” Well, no, that’s real and true: I have a book that’s an original adventure based on the beloved-yet-not-actually-watched-anymore series Family Ties.

“Why do you have a book based on Family Ties?” Why would you not buy a book based on Family Ties if you saw one in the used book store?

“Well, you might have bought it back when it would make sense to buy a Family Ties book.” When would it ever make sense to buy an original novel based on Family Ties? Even when the series was on the air it’d still be a novel based on Family Ties.

“Hold on. You have an ironic book collection?” Well, not if the yard sale succeeds.

Make an offer. You can only get books like this by trying.

Later That Same Afternoon …


Over on my mathematics blog, there’ve been a bunch of comic strips worth mentioning over there, and I like to think that’s worth mentioning over here, if you don’t think that’s me talking about myself too much.

If you do, well, I understand, but remember my exasperation at how Apartment 3-G just turned into two randomly-arranged heads talking about how they couldn’t talk about what they were going to talk about? And this had been going on with no exaggeration since chasing some green-shirted … woman that also looks like one of those forgotten signers of the Declaration of Independence … away with their hideous deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare, back on the 13th of July?

Well. I certainly don’t want to suggest something exciting happening after 59 days, since it is Apartment 3-G and everything, but the strip for the 9th of September kind of suggests that maybe sometime in the next week or two we might see a third person of some kind. Maybe.

There’s no sign of the strip actually having anything happen, and the most logical person to be turning up is someone who rode off back in June to “face his demons”, which I would have thought kind of interesting-ish to see, and apparently we didn’t. There’s also no sign of the strip getting back to the apartment, which we haven’t seen since, if I’m reading the featureless background correctly, the 11th of May, which is 122 days ago. But at least it’s suggesting that something might someday happen to someone, and we might hear about it from someone on-screen. Maybe.

And Featuring TV’s Frank As The Spirit Of Competition or Fair Play or Maybe Soccer


OK, so this is kind of a strange one, but if the dream world is any guide to go on there’s some big stuff going on. The first is soccer, which apparently is due for one of those big mega-spectacular events that makes people talk about how it’s just about to catch on in the United States, as if it were Doctor Who or health care or something. But this time it seemed to be working, as there was this enormous, sprawling hotel stuffed full of convention-goers getting into every aspect of soccer, from roleplay through cosplay through wait my spell checker has “cosplay” but not “roleplay” in its dictionary? Weeeeeeird.

Meanwhile my father had some kind of role going around the many, many bathrooms and renovating them, which was doing extremely well and extremely quickly, often removing the fixtures in the time between your entering the room and your getting to the fixtures. He’d lay down those really lavish carpets you see in bathrooms of people that make you wonder how they clean them, too, which I hope the hotel wanted. Anyway, he’d also rearrange the fixtures so well that they’d be completely unfindable. This might have been a warning by my subconscious that I shouldn’t have had that last can of Fresca before bed.

Still, the convention was coming to its end, and was giving way to people gathering all a-quiver with excitement for the Bablyon 5 marathon due to start any minute now. As TV stations gathered in anticipation but found it took longer than they predicted, so they cut away to criticizing the plan at the White House ballpark to drum up interest in pinball by lining up a string of machines along the third base line and letting folks play for free. “The place is way too hot and muggy,” critics said, and proved this by pointing to an abandoned lot in Queens.

Anyway with all the soccer-convention people bringing their whole families in there were skeptics, naturally. Frank Conniff was there to help, naturally, in an elaborate and heartfelt if confusing sketch showing the consequences of people not believing in soccer which gave to a doubting child joy at the idea of soccer, or maybe sporting events, or conventions, or whatever it was the sketch was exactly about. And I think to my final dreaming days I’ll remember him, in white gowns and waving a statue, smiling to the kid saying “Thank you, Spirit of Competition … or … Fair Play … or … Soccer” and his answering, “Yeah, just, whatever, kid.” And turning with a twinkle in his eye to head towards the elevator.

I don’t know what exactly it means, and of course I can’t speak for Frank Conniff, but I think he would likely agree that sports, Babylon 5, my father, hotels, and bathrooms are all things which exist.

Buster Keaton, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Al St John Made History


Last week after posting the Arbuckle-Keaton film Coney Island, I got a tweet from Erika Scream, a fan of old movies, Sherlock Holmes, Michael Jackson, and presumably other things.

Scream has put together a four-minute sequence of stunts done by Keaton, Arbuckle, and Al St John, set to Michael Jackson’s “History”, and dedicated it to “the best silent movie actors”. The standard of “best” is a pretty high one, but it’s fair to say Keaton is on pretty much anyone’s short list of best silent movie actors (and absolutely best silent movie comic actors), and Arbuckle is a strong contender.

Scream puts together a case by cutting some of the astounding action scenes. I admit I’m a bit torn on this. The physical stunts of silent comedy-era films is their most obviously appealing feature: they’re amazing and they have that soundness which comes from knowing that, while there may have been padding and the stuff that shatters may have been designed to shatter, it was still the actual actors actually doing this, with a stunning minimum of camera tricks or visual effects. But these jokes were also done as part of a storyline, something with, in the best films, a natural flow and rhythm and a point within the context of the films and a greatest-stunts feature like this naturally loses that. (It also loses the intertitles, and those are often strikingly witty.) On the other hand, it does get to the punch lines without all the setup, which I admit could often take unnecessarily long, given how the language of cinema’s developed and taught people how to watch movies.

Overall, I enjoyed the video, and I’d expect you to as well.

When Swords Dance And Porridge Explodes


Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies keeps being a source of just wonderful incidents and I had to share some more with you because you’ll just see at that. This one is drawn from the 1645 chapbook Strange And Fearful News From Plaisto In The Parish Of Westham, Plaisto being a totally real place and not the result of someone being challenged to say where it took place and bluffing, desperately, “Place … uh … to” and feeling bad for getting stuck with that answer. According to the Strange and Fearful News for one month Paul Fox, silk weaver, “a man of an honest life and conversation” suffered from a haunted house. I don’t know where his conversation enters into things.

The first problem was that a sword started dancing around the house. Fox handled by locking it up. I suppose if I saw a sword dancing around my house I’d try locking it out of the house altogether, but that strategy didn’t really work with a pretty determined mouse that kept getting into the kitchen last year. It didn’t work so well for Fox, though, because the sword came through the door and continued to dance.

The sword got joined by a cane, that hopped around the sword, and here I’m stumped. I can imagine putting an enchanted sword to some practical use, if it could refrain from dancing some. After all, 1645 was before documents had begun to protect themselves by warning not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them, so if you got, say, a phone bill you could chop it into tiny bits because it was obviously a scam, it being the mid-17th century and all. But a sword with a cane just seems one long dancing inanimate object too many to use. Maybe we aren’t getting the whole story. Maybe the sword, despite love of dance, was getting up in years and needed the cane for support. Or maybe the cane feared for its safety in the rough community of 1645 Plaisto.

But the sword and cane settled down — I bet they were friends and got into chatting about old times — and Fox seemed fine with all this until he started hearing a hollow voice banging on the door and demanding, “I must dwell here”. Told it could just go off and dwell somewhere else, it came back the next day and smashed his windows by hurling bricks, canes, oyster shells, pieces of bread, and “other things” at the house. I suspect the spirit didn’t quite know what it was doing. Breaking windows by using bricks is efficient enough, but, oyster shells? That’s a hard way to break a window, and pieces of bread? Was the spirit unable to find wads of kitten fur to throw instead? Or maybe bread meant something different back then, and throwing a “piece of bread” was slang for throwing a Roundhead or a Member of Parliament or something. Also, whose side was the dancing cane on?

Possibly the cane danced this one out, since a boulder weighing “half a hundred weight”, which if I know anything about English measures means it could weigh anything except fifty pounds, jumped out of the garden where it’d been content to all appearances for decades and tumbled up the stairs into the middle of the room. Fox had someone take it back out into the yard, but it just came right back up the stairs again. I assume the rock had just had enough with all the cane-dancing and bread-throwing and decided to pick a fight with scissors.

Fox stuck it out a while, suggesting you could just haunt a silk-weaver’s house for weeks before he’d get impatient with it. Or maybe he figured dancing swords were more interesting than the other pastimes of 1640s England, such as dying of plague or accusing people of being Anabaptists. But there’s limits to anyone’s patience, and his was reached sometime after a pot of porridge got splattered around the room and the spirits started pulling his family’s hair and knocking their heads. He eventually moved to a new house, where the spirit followed, and he moved back to the first place, figuring, I guess, why not?

By the time the pamphlet was written, Fox was still having trouble with house-haunting, but everyone was confident it wasn’t witchcraft. I don’t know what became of him or his house; maybe he came to appreciate having a bread-throwing ghost around. Hard to say.

How Do We Know It’s The Future?


Dr Crusher and Counsellor Troi exercise in the hallway while wearing leotards backwards.
From the Next Generation episode ‘The Price’, which is not technically the same episode as ‘The Host’, although you wouldn’t know it from just looking at the screen caps at TrekCore. Also for some reason they’re just exercising in the middle of the hallway, like it’s some kind of aerobic flash mob or something.

It is the 24th century … a time when women wear their leotards backwards for some reason.

When Philosophers Roamed The English Countryside


So I’ve been reading Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies, about the chapbook and pamphlet reporting of paranormal or supernatural events during the era of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, because why would you not read a book like that? I want to share one of its reports, from 1647’s The Most Strange And Wonderfull Apparition of Blood in a Pool at Garreton.

Apparently, for four days the pond water in the town of Garreton in Leicestershire grew ever-darker, turning, some thought, to blood; cattle would no longer drink from it, though fish from the pond tasted fine. And then, the pamphlet-writer reported, “philosophers” were called in.

I know, I know, I know what the original author meant by philosophers. And yet I can’t help figuring the decision to bring philosophers in went something like this:

John Thwapper: “The water hath turned to blood! Quick, summon a philosopher!”

Jake A-Plummet (whose family got the name for an ancestor renowned for his ability to fall): “Kantian or Neoplatonist?”

Jack O’Wort: (looking up from his meal of blood-water fish) “We … we need the cattle to drink the water, so that’s a utility. Best summon a utilitarian, eh?”

Mary Chortle: “We need the water to change. Obviously there’ll be no help for us save from a Pre-Socratic.” And when everyone around her just looks confused, she scowls at what a lot of idiots are in her town and cries out, “Thales of Miletus, ye fools!”

And I realize you’re probably not laughing at that, but somewhere I’ve made a philosophy major giggle, so this is all worth it.

Anyway, the book doesn’t say what the philosopher was able to do about it, but the pamphlet-writer concluded — with some grumbling that philosophers distracted from the wonderfullness of the event, so apparently only after they got involved did the water turning to blood kind of suck? — that the real thing to be learned from this apparition was that the English Civil War caused a lot of people to die, and more of his countrymen needed to understand this, which suggests he figured a lot of the English people had somehow missed the War. Maybe they thought it was some unusually fertile year for frogs or something.

Mathematics Comics and Some Star Trek Business, with Turtles


Over on my mathematics blog there’s a fresh group of mathematics comics reviewed and judged wanting in mathematical content. If that doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, I’ve also got the review of that blog’s statistics for last month, in case you like seeing countries listed, which is one of the more popular things I do around these parts.

Meanwhile I’m busy working out just the right riposte for a thread on this Star Trek forum that started out with someone asking why the timecops the shows have didn’t go fix the time-travelling Romulan idiot that created the alternate timeline of the new, popular, movies, and someone suggested that the department which did that maybe was only created around the time of the Original Star Trek, which the New Movie timeline hasn’t reached yet, and that with the timeline being corrupted by time-travelling Romulan idiots so far back in their past they might’ve figured their new timeline was meant to be just as much as the old history was. Anyway, I figure there’s some really good snark to be delivered here about the Department of Teleological Investigations in the 23rd century and I just need to frame it right, so I’m kind of sitting here waiting for someone to tackle me, wrestle the computer out of my hands, drag me out to the pond and rub turtles across my face until I come to my senses. Can’t wait!

Statistics Saturday on Labor Day: Humor Blogging In August 2014


So on to my monthly examination of whether anyone actually read my little humor blog here anytime recently. The good news is people seem to have: WordPress’s statistics in fact say I had my greatest number yet of unique visitors this past month, 369 of them, up from July’s then-record of 332. The total number of page views declined very slightly, to 682 from July’s record 704, and this suggests the number of views per visitor collapsed very modestly from 2.12 down to 1.85, but I’m comfortable with that. I reached viewer number 7,864 by the end of the month, and 7,865 just after the start of the next.

I had a nice, broad-based popularity this past month, with a remarkable-to-me 27 posts getting ten or more views, so it isn’t like people just find the one, probably Turbo-based, page and ignore the rest of what I have to write. That’s comforting. August 2014’s most popular posts around here were apparently:

From all the nations of the world the United States sent me the most readers in August (514). The United Kingdom nearly doubled its readership (57, up from 32), and Australia came in at 30 which is again some kind of increase though I admit I don’t know how many. And Spain popped in with ten readers which I didn’t see coming. A single reader each came from Germany, Moldova, Qatar, Sweden, and Uruguay. Germany was the only single-reader country last month. India, which went from one reader in May and June, to three in July, was up to six in August. This is a pretty good trend, though I’m still doing rather better per-capita in Singapore (three).

And, so, what search terms bring people around here? It hasn’t been the kind of month to inspire much poetry but among the search terms have een:

  • robert benchley
  • koko clown end of world
  • turbo the film facts kids (also) what was an interesting fact about turbo the movie
  • 2038 dave barry
  • joan randall barefoot captain future

I don’t understand that last one either.