On New Year’s Eve In The 24th Century …


Riker, Data, LaForge, and an unidentified other person stand amongst evidence of horseplay on the SS Tsiolkovsky.
Screen cap from “The Naked Now”, as served by TrekCore.com’s image galleries. If you don’t remember the episode, it’s the one that introduced “fully functional” to the description of Data’s abilities.

Riker: “It appears this crew has been in an all-out fight for their right to party.”

Mandrake Gets More So; Also, Math Comics


Last time I had a bunch of mathematics comics to show off I mentioned how Mandrake’s father was being depicted as seeing by his supernatural powers strange worlds where caterpillar-creatures listen to the radio over earphones headsets. I’ve got a fresh batch of mathematics comics to talk about over on that appropriate blog and so I want to point again at Mandrake, as run on the 24th of December this year, and just ask you the question:

Mandrake the Magician's father seems to see alien robots with a six-legged dog.
Fred Fredricks’ Mandrake the Magician rerun the 24th of December 2014: Mandrake’s father describes alien life.

Does that alien robot have dreadlocks?

It’s easy to ask why the alien robot has dreadlocks, although asking it answers the question. We’re almost forced to ask why any alien robots wouldn’t have dreadlocks. I think the bigger question is how does the alien robot have dreadlocks, but that’s only longer if you use certain variable-width typefaces which kern the ‘h’ and ‘y’ together a bit tightly. The real question is why the alien robot dog has six legs when the alien robots seem to have only four limbs, although I bet it’s one of those “why does Goofy walk on two legs while Pluto walks on four if they’re both dogs” kinds of questions.

Simply Having


If the Christmas season this year taught me one thing, it’s that the Christmas music channels on those oddball extremely high-numbered channels on the cable box have way more covers of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” than I thought. I bet if you piled them up there’s easily five versions of that song out there. I wouldn’t have imagined there were more than three, tops.

If the season taught me two things, it’s that “Wonderful Christmastime” cover thing and that I was wise to buy physically smaller cards to send out to people this year. I had much less space to write to everybody on my list and so I was able to finish much more quickly, and without ever running into a sentence that made it clear I’ve forgotten how to make a capital “G” in cursive. Next year I’m going to have to see if they have even smaller cards yet, maybe something the size of a Tic Tac wrapper, with a fox or a squirrel on the front because foxes and squirrels are on the front of every Christmas card suddenly, and I’ll be able to write heartfelt messages like, “Dea M, Hpe this yr, Lv, J” and I can be done with all the card-writing before I remember to dread it.

If the season taught me three things, it’s that count of “Wonderful Christmastime” covers thing, the smaller-card thing, and that while I can eat my body weight in cookies and artichoke dip in a mere thirty-two hours, that’s not something I should be bragging about so please don’t tell anyone you heard I could do it. But I totally can.

I don’t even want to think about what four things might have been.

Statistics Saturday: What I Should Be Thinking About Versus What I Am


Things I Should Be Thinking About Things I Am Thinking About
How can I keep that Visual Studio issue from happening again? That guy on TrekBBS is right: Spock was killed by the first guy to play Mr Roarke on Fantasy Island and Kirk was killed by the second guy to play Mr Roarke. (Remember they did that remake of Fantasy Island a couple years ago? No? Well, that’s fair enough. I didn’t see it either.) That’s kind of a neat coincidence.
What blog entries can I get ahead of on writing?
That whole field of mathematics I studied and want to do useful work in, that’d be nice to think about sometimes.
How could a saucepan just go missing from the stove and never appear again anywhere in the whole house?

Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl


Previously:


And to wrap up my tour of the 1960s King Features mass-produced Popeye cartoons, here’s one made by Larry Harmon Pictures, Crystal Ball Brawl. I concede it’s not a very good cartoon, although it does capture an aspect of the original comic strips pretty well: a triggering incident offers the chance for riches and the characters besides Popeye start scheming to use it. The scheming doesn’t get very far — only Wimpy and Bluto get in on the villainy — but it does at least evoke how in the comic strip pretty much all the humans except Popeye have huge swaths of rotten in them.

If the name “Larry Harmon” nags at your mind it’s because you’re just about to place him as Bozo The Clown. Larry Harmon Pictures, or Larry Harmon Studios, was formed to animate Bozo the Clown, and the studio did work for Popeye, like everyone did, as well as animation for Dick Tracy and Mister Magoo. I can’t find much more information about it; the studio didn’t last long. The animation, featuring a pretty static set of poses with long camera pans in place of motion and a soundtrack that wanders in indifferent parallel to the action, doesn’t really commend itself like the work of some of the studios here.

And yet … look at that action and at the credited artists, particularly Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer. They would, after the closing of Larry Harmon pictures, create Filmation, which brought to the screen a lot of cartoons with pretty static animation, long camera pans, and a wandering and endlessly repeated soundtrack. Charitably, that seems to be because they rarely had the time or budget to do cartoons well: when given the chance, as on Star Trek or Fat Albert or Flash Gordon they created things that were quite solid, at least for television cartoons of the era. So this little cartoon is part of a thread that brings us to He-Man, if nothing else.

Why This Mouse Situation Doesn’t Need Controlling


We got a flyer offering to solve our mouse problem, and I think it’s gone and misfired in a couple ways. First, it starts by saying, “It’s cold outside. It’s warm in your house. The mice want in.” When you lay out the mice’s case like that, it’s hard to say they’re wrong. It’s one thing to be annoyed at mice if they’re up to mischievous purposes, sneaking in to place long-distance telephone calls or to hypnotize the dog, but if all they want is not to be cold, well, haven’t the mice got a point? We don’t even have a dog.

The next thing is they include a picture of an absolutely adorable mouse standing up and wearing a little Santa Claus hat. How could you turn away a mouse that just wants to be warm, but is so interested in impressing on you that she’s not a savage and is eager to participate in decorations for the holiday? Just look at the picture of the flyer, if I’m not too lazy to put it up. If I am too lazy then just imagine an absolutely adorable mouse sitting up and wearing a little Santa Claus hat.

The mouse is adorably wearing a little Santa cap, and the text points out it's cold outside, warm inside, and that mice want in.
Apparently I was not quite lazy enough. I apologize for the inconvenience.

If you told your co-workers that your house was infested with mice that put on little Santa hats they’d tell you how lucky you are to have such a precious breed of mouse prowling around. They’d be envious and people would come from miles around to see, like if you were one of those crazy houses that puts up enough lights to redirect commercial traffic, only with much less setup and take-down time needed since all you have to do is launder the mice’s caps, and that’s probably only a small load in the washing machine. And I’m not promising that the Santa-hat-wearing mice would sing adorably squeaky renditions of Christmas carols, but I think it’s plausible. Just ask.

That is, if you can find a mouse like this one, because I’m not actually sure that is a mouse. I can’t be too sure in saying that isn’t an actual domestic-type mouse of the kind that sneaks into your house and decorates and probably writes letters to Santa about you, because roughly forty percent of all the species in the world are labelled “mouse” or “rat” with some set of qualifiers, like the “grasshopper mouse” or the “lesser Wolfson’s braying mouse bat” or the “middling brown-spotted Scandinavian tactical assault mouse”, and it’s entirely possible this is one of those species. But it’s also entirely possible that some species of giraffe are identified as, oh, “long-necked tiled plains mouse” too, so all I’m getting at is that I’m not sure this is the kind of mouse you get trying to sneak into houses around here. I’m almost positive if giraffes were trying to sneak into houses I’d have noticed something, what with my bedroom being on the second floor, so I’d be able to look them in the eye.

I wanted to get that cleared up but it’s hard asking people about mice when you’re on the Internet since everybody you know will hear “mouse” and warn you that you’re going to get the hanta virus, which causes you to feel perfectly normal for up to three years after seeing or thinking about a mouse and then suddenly you explode and dissipate into a fine, peppermint-scented mist. I got warnings just for touching the picture of a mouse on the flyer, and one guy I know from Binghamton (he’s in Seattle now) came over to wrestle it out of my hand, until he realized that meant he had to touch it.

So I figured the best way to get the species of the adorable critter straightened out was to go to the mouse colony out in the garage, where we don’t mind them being at all, and ask them. Unfortunately they’re in a bit of a snit because most of them set up shop in the wood pile, and I took some in for a fire the other day. Don’t worry, we have a fireplace, and every winter we keep meaning to use it to build a lovely fire and then forget to do until it’s April, but we’re still early enough in the season we haven’t remembered to forget it yet. When I took some wood off their nesting spot they complained “This is totally bogus, man” and scurried off growling about how they’ve been paying rent. They’re still upset, so I can’t say much on that front except that apparently in the slang of garage mice it’s still maybe 1992 at the latest? Go figure.

Anyway, they didn’t seem to be dressing for the holiday.

Stickering Around


I don’t know about you but for me the Christmas run-up isn’t really started right until I’ve spent a couple hours trying to peel the price sticker off the back of books. This is impossible to do, because those stickers adhere to the book cover by means of a polymerized black hole and they’ll weld in place, and the binding is the most powerful right over the book’s price. You can kind of scrape off the bookstore’s name and the sku number and department information, and kind of scrape off enough of the sticker so as to make it a little tricky to read the price, but mostly you leave the book looking like the cover was victim of a focused tactical assault by a team of miniature badgers.

Still, it’s all worth it to make it a tiny bit harder for the recipient to know what the price of the book is, as long as the recipient has never actually looked at books and noticed that the price is given in somewhere between twelve and eighty-four places on the cover. But it’s the thought that counts, and if you know what the thought is, please let me know because I’d kind of like to stop doing all this but I don’t dare.

Groovy Caterpillar Aliens, Plus Math Comics


I didn’t read Mandrake the Magician in the 90s. For one, I still got most of my comics in the newspaper back then, and newspapers don’t run a lot of story strips because they’re pretty awful. Plus Mandrake’s pop cultural moment kind of came and went … I’m guessing sometime during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration? I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention to it until recent years when it got easy to see online every comic strip that is still running, like The Katzenjammer Kids Somehow, and Mandrake is among them.

Or it was, anyway. Last year in the midst of a meandering story the cartoonist had to stop, I believe it was due to health issues, and they reran cartoons from the 90s while King Features decided it didn’t really need to replace him after all. Since then they’ve stuck with mid-90s reruns and I get to see what I missed.

And for the most part it’s been really, embracingly, nutty, in that way a long-running legacy strip that no grownups are watching will get. The previous story — and I need to emphasize that I am not exaggerating or fibbing or intentionally misrepresenting the tale, just reporting what I remember the narrative being — featured Mandrake being abducted 50,000 years into the future, by the Lords of Earth. These Lords were three women, who’d divided the government of post-nuclear-war, paved-over Earth into three departments (Potholes, Time, and Other), brought him to a crystal-glazed replica of his 20th-century home and showed him domed undersea replicas of major cities. They also introduced him to robot duplicates of his friends (who, back in the 20th century, did a quick search of all Earth and couldn’t find him, so were stuck for ideas) and arch-nemesis, until he had enough of this and spanked them, which they found thrillingly novel so they sent him home. And that was it. That was the story.

Mandrake's father envisions alien centipedes grooving out on radio earphones.
Fred Fredricks’s Mandrake the Magician rerun the 23rd of December, 2014.

The current one is that Mandrake’s impossibly old father has come out of the Tibetan Or Whatever Mountains to poke around society, and that’s been mostly a tale of how he got past the customs guy by using his superlative powers of illusion. The past week he’s got into talking about he uses cosmic powers to travel the, er, cosmos, and I am wholly and unironically charmed by the “life unlike our own” shown in today’s strip, the long centipedes wearing the uncomfortable radio-equipped headphones we all used back in 1978. I don’t know where this is going — nowhere, is my guess — but at least it’s delightful along the way.


Of course the meandering and weird flights of fancy in story strips isn’t all I read comics for. I also read them to see what mathematical topics are discussed, and I found a bunch of them, so those are gathered up over on my mathematics blog and if you’d read them over there I’d be appreciative.

Robert Benchley: A Christmas Spectacle


Did you miss Robert Benchley in “The Reluctant Dragon” on Turner Classic Movies last night? Possibly. Whether or not you did, please, enjoy this bit from Love Conquers All about the Christmas shows the kids put on.

A CHRISTMAS SPECTACLE

For Use in Christmas Eve Entertainments in the Vestry

At the opening of the entertainment the Superintendent will step into the footlights, recover his balance apologetically, and say:

“Boys and girls of the Intermediate Department, parents and friends: I suppose you all know why we are here tonight. (At this point the audience will titter apprehensively). Mrs. Drury and her class of little girls have been working very hard to make this entertainment a success, and I am sure that everyone here to-night is going to have what I overheard one of my boys the other day calling `some good time.’ (Indulgent laughter from the little boys). And may I add before the curtain goes up that immediately after the entertainment we want you all to file out into the Christian Endeavor room, where there will be a Christmas tree, `with all the fixin’s,’ as the boys say.” (Shrill whistling from the little boys and immoderate applause from everyone).

There will then be a wait of twenty-five minutes, while sounds of hammering and dropping may be heard from behind the curtains. The Boys’ Club orchestra will render the “Poet and Peasant Overture” four times in succession, each time differently.

At last one side of the curtains will be drawn back; the other will catch on something and have to be released by hand; someone will whisper loudly, “Put out the lights,” following which the entire house will be plunged into darkness. Amid catcalls from the little boys, the footlights will at last go on, disclosing:

The windows in the rear of the vestry rather ineffectively concealed by a group of small fir trees on standards, one of which has already fallen over, leaving exposed a corner of the map of Palestine and the list of gold-star classes for November. In the center of the stage is a larger tree, undecorated, while at the extreme left, invisible to everyone in the audience except those sitting at the extreme right, is an imitation fireplace, leaning against the wall.

Twenty-five seconds too early little Flora Rochester will prance out from the wings, uttering the first shrill notes of a song, and will have to be grabbed by eager hands and pulled back. Twenty-four seconds later the piano will begin “The Return of the Reindeer” with a powerful accent on the first note of each bar, and Flora Rochester, Lillian McNulty, Gertrude Hamingham and Martha Wrist will swirl on, dressed in white, and advance heavily into the footlights, which will go out.

There will then be an interlude while Mr. Neff, the sexton, adjusts the connection, during which the four little girls stand undecided whether to brave it out or cry. As a compromise they giggle and are herded back into the wings by Mrs. Drury, amid applause. When the lights go on again, the applause becomes deafening, and as Mr. Neff walks triumphantly away, the little boys in the audience will whistle: “There she goes, there she goes, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes!”

“The Return of the Reindeer” will be started again and the show-girls will reappear, this time more gingerly and somewhat dispirited. They will, however, sing the following, to the music of the “Ballet Pizzicato” from “Sylvia”:

“We greet you, we greet you,
On this Christmas Eve so fine.
We greet you, we greet you.
And wish you a good time.”

They will then turn toward the tree and Flora Rochester will advance, hanging a silver star on one of the branches, meanwhile reciting a verse, the only distinguishable words of which are: “I am Faith so strong and pure —– ”

At the conclusion of her recitation, the star will fall off.

Lillian McNulty will then step forward and hang her star on a branch, reading her lines in clear tones:

“And I am Hope, a virtue great,
My gift to Christmas now I make,
That children and grown-ups may hope today
That tomorrow will be a merry Christmas Day.”

The hanging of the third star will be consummated by Gertrude Hamingham, who will get as far as “Sweet Charity I bring to place upon the tree —– ” at which point the strain will become too great and she will forget the remainder. After several frantic glances toward the wings, from which Mrs. Drury is sending out whispered messages to the effect that the next line begins, “My message bright —– ” Gertrude will disappear, crying softly.

After the morale of the cast has been in some measure restored by the pianist, who, with great presence of mind, plays a few bars of “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?” to cover up Gertrude’s exit, Martha Wrist will unleash a rope of silver tinsel from the foot of the tree, and, stringing it over the boughs as she skips around in a circle, will say, with great assurance:

“ ‘ Round and Wound the tree I go,
Through the holly and the snow
Bringing love and Christmas cheer
Through the happy year to come.”

At this point there will be a great commotion and jangling of sleigh-bells off-stage, and Mr. Creamer, rather poorly disguised as Santa Claus, will emerge from the opening in the imitation fireplace. A great popular demonstration for Mr. Creamer will follow. He will then advance to the footlights, and, rubbing his pillow and ducking his knees to denote joviality, will say thickly through his false beard:

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A lot of bad little boys and girls who aren’t going to get any Christmas presents this year? (Nervous laughter from the little boys and girls). Let me see, let me see! I have a note here from Dr. Whidden. Let’s see what it says. (Reads from a paper on which there is obviously nothing written). `If you and the young people of the Intermediate Department will come into the Christian Endeavor room, I think we may have a little surprise for you. . . ‘ Well, well, well! What do you suppose it can be? (Cries of “I know, I know!” from sophisticated ones in the audience). Maybe it is a bottle of castor-oil! (Raucous jeers from the little boys and elaborately simulated disgust on the part of the little girls.) Well, anyway, suppose we go out and see? Now if Miss Liftnagle will oblige us with a little march on the piano, we will all form in single file —– ”

At this point there will ensue a stampede toward the Christian Endeavor room, in which chairs will be broken, decorations demolished, and the protesting Mr. Creamer badly hurt.

This will bring to a close the first part of the entertainment.

The Tangle At Meijer’s


I stand at the brink of the Home Decorations aisles at Meijer’s. Amongst the printed posters, ready for hanging in no home I have ever seen, is this holiday imperative: “Don’t Get Your Tinsel In A Tangle”. I stare at it. I try parsing the instruction. I can tolerate a reasonable level of twee; I’ve read some of the later Wizard of Oz books for crying out loud. But I try imagining the person who sees this and figures it’s exactly what he needs to Christmas up his home a little. I get lost, wondering if I can be even the same species as such a person. I start to have that sensation of feeling lost and bewildered and kind of like when I’m in Best Buy with a $5 gift certificate that’s expiring next week and there isn’t a single thing even remotely tempting to buy, even including USB plugs to connect to strange and obscure mini or micro USB devices.

Finally an associate comes over, and gently guides me to the Pet Care section, where I’ll be some other associate’s responsibility, and I can try to work myself back to normality by comparing the English and Spanish instructions on small-animal bedding material.

Statistics Saturday: How Much I Think About Getting Address Labels


There's sharp peaks in the Christmas-card-writing season and the thank-you-card-writing seasons.
A chart of how much I think about getting address labels versus time. I never get address labels. I should. I interact with businesses that seem like they’d be ones to give out address labels. I don’t know what happens to them.

Popeye: Swee’Pea Soup


Previously:


OK, this is an odd one. It features King Blozo, another character who’d been in the Popeye comics since the 1930s but who’d somehow not gotten an appearance in the theatrical shorts, as well as O G Wotasnozzle in a surprisingly villainous role. King Blozo rules Spinachovia with a semi-competent, perpetually worried, often faltering hand. (Indeed, King Features’s current comic strip offering is a rerun of a story in which Blozo loses his rule to a homemade computer.) About all that eased Blozo’s worry in the comic strips was getting American comic strips delivered to him, although Popeye could help by telling jokes or, when he got around to it, straightening out Blozo’s ridiculous issues.

So the premise of this cartoon, Blozo losing control of the country when the population finds it thinks Swee’pea is just too cute, is really not far off something that might happen in the original source. The cartoon beginning in media res is a striking one; it starts the action off with some energy and vitality that pretty well mask how the cartoon takes three minutes before anything really, properly speaking, happens, and how it really only has the two scenes. I don’t know why Wotasnozzle is so villainous in this one, though; he was well-intentioned if impish in the comic strip and the 1960s cartoons in which he sends Popeye through time are … well, he’s a jerk to do it, but that’s a different kind of thing from trying to cook Swee’Pea. (Seriously, how is this even supposed to work? Go back to making Sappo’s wife a young woman again so he thinks he’s cheating on her with her, O G.)

You might guess the animators behind this from the drawing style and the pacing, although I spotted it by listening to the sound effects, especially of the shattered vase. It’s the same sound used for some shattered objects in the Tom and Jerry cartoons made in the early 60s by Gene Deitch for William L Snyder’s Rembrandt Films. We saw Deitch directing some of those 1960s Krazy Kat shorts, too.

While the cartoon’s pretty good at steadily presenting funny pictures, I don’t think Rembrandt Films manages to be as good at that as Gerald Ray Studios were. Individual shots are surprisingly long (though they do pan side to side quite a bit), and they don’t try to be silly as still frames. Of course, it is animated and if you watch with the sound off, you get to a funny part soon enough. That’s pretty satisfying.

Is That Enough?


I got to thinking about how whenever you pile together Christmas songs that people hate Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is invariably near the top of the heap. Often the only things listed as more annoying are novelty songs about how annoying Christmas is what with its agenda of hearth and home and security and generosity. But even if you do hate it, you know what the song is, which is a pretty impressive standing for Christmas songs written after 1965 by anyone but Rankin/Bass staff writers. Think of all the Christmas songs written in the past three decades that you can’t remember: you can’t, because I cleverly framed the debate by the rhetorical method of being a dirty cheater. Ha ha! But those new songs are still out there, waiting on the Modern Christmas music channels, keeping you away from the songs you have any chance of recognizing.

What I wonder is how Paul McCartney feels about writing nearly the last important addition to the Christmas song canon even though people only mention it to chant “no” in time with every synthesized note. Does, like, Ray Davis ever pop in to his place and say something like, “Oi! Good job stuffing the wireless full of your learning the buttons on your new Casio,” and then punch a wall because he heard Roger Daltrey had once leaned against it? And then Paul answers, “I know, lad, but we were on deadline so published before I had enough lines that were just pleasant syllables like ‘ding dong ding dong’ or ‘wo wo wo wo’ or what.” And then producer Trevor Horn waves a hand and emits some complicated sound, because he comes from the North of England, where the people have no language and communicate instead by a melodic series of intonations occasionally marked by the loan-words “howay” or “dou’t”. What he means is hey, he’s not responsible for the writing of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, but that definitely postdates “Wonderful Christmastime” and people like listening to it enough to complain that yes, technically speaking, many people in Africa have a good idea when Christmas is but that’s missing the whole point of the song. They concede because it’s too hard to carry on the debate.

Still, I feel like there’s a problem with how hard it is getting a good new Christmas song going. I don’t think it’s a major problem, like crumbling infrastructure or the way my car needs some weird mutant cable to connect to an iPod, especially since there’s a vast reserve of forgotten Christmas songs from the 40s and 50s we can turn to if we need something different, but it’s a problem yet. Some of it I think is we’ve lost universal references; for example, it used to be most everyone could have, or plausibly have, snow on Christmas. But the population’s been moving to warmer territories ever since technology made it possible to ignore the Arizona state legislature behaving like that, and now the only thing songwriters can be confident will happen around Christmas is that people will be complaining about Christmas songs.

We don’t write songs that contain stories anymore, which might be a problem, since a lot of great Christmas songs are narrative ones, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and I hear rumors there’s a third or fourth and maybe even a fifth. When I say “we” I mean “people who aren’t me”, for reasons that make sense when you consider my contributions to music mostly cause other people shake their heads sadly and pat me, assuring me that things will get better.

There are plenty of Christmas Song mood pieces, like “Winter Wonderland” or and here I want to mention “Silver Bells” but my love hates that song so let’s just move on to the rest of the list, and our songwriters certainly know how to write that these days. For example, Walk The Moon has done very well with an anthemic song about the house falling apart, and OK Go is similarly successful with the idea that there’ll be a morning coming. If they joined forces they could surely paint a picture of how when the house arrives, morning will fall apart. This is good but it isn’t very Christmas-y so maybe I just figured out what the problem was. Sorry for the bother of working this out in public.

And Yet I Remain Suspicious


I’m given to understand that my alma mater, Rutgers, got a bowl invitation this year and that they’re accepting it. I don’t figure on watching it, because, again, I went to Rutgers, so I can’t make myself care how they do in football, and I also don’t believe they belong in the Big Ten playing against serious football programs or this year’s Wolverines either.

The information I have is that they’re playing in something called the Quick Lane Bowl, which I never heard of either. So while I really don’t care whether they win or lose against … I guess it’s North Carolina … I do feel that the players on both sides should check very carefully and make sure that this “Quick Lane Bowl” isn’t actually some manner of trap laid by extraterrestrials who’re hoping to scoop up a representative sample of college athletes with a phony bowl invitation. I don’t think it’s likely, you understand, I just think it’s worth doing more than seeing whether the “Quick Lane Bowl” has an entry on Wikipedia before concluding that it’s a thing that really exists.

Little Nemo in Mathmagicland


Gocomics.com recently starting running Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, that early-20th-century comic that gives you that image of a kid in pajamas racing a bunch of giant green kangaroos in space, and that you don’t really see much else of. There’s fair reason for that; the strip is over a century old, for one, and it’s plodding in the way comic strips from before the Great Depression tended to be, and the comic strip’s real appeal is in its powerful graphic design, best appreciated by seeing the strips in large form. And Gocomics.com happily offers that: you can zoom the strip in to a pretty good 1400 by 1824 pixels, big enough to really read.

Nemo approaches Slumberland's castle, passing a series of strange animals and giant bugs and such, before waking up.
Little Nemo in Slumberland for the 10th of June, 1906, rerun on Gocomics.com on the 14th of December, 2014. Nemo approaches the Slumberland castle, of course, without getting in.

So here’s the strip they reran on December 14, showing Nemo trying to get into the palace in Slumberland, something it’s taking an awfully long time to get around to because stuff keeps turning up. And it’s cute. And then look at the last panel, where — as in every Little Nemo strip (comic strips in that era were apparently required to pick a joke and use it every single installment) — Nemo wakes up, which is part of why it takes him so long to get anywhere in slumberland.

'You'll have to give that boy another dose of turpentine and sugar. Listen to him, he can't sleep. He eats too much candy, dear.'
The final panel for the Little Nemo in Slumberland strip of the 10th of June, 1906: one of Nemo’s guardians feels the kid needs ‘another dose of turpentine and sugar’ to sleep.

“You’ll have to fetch that boy another dose of turpentine and sugar”?!

I realize this strip is from 1906, back when society’s major concern was that childhood mortality wasn’t sufficiently high as to keep weaklings from reaching adulthood, and that it wouldn’t be until 1915 that President Wilson would push through legislation approving the existence of childhood, as a concept, for up to eight hours per week. But, still, turpentine and sugar? Nemo can be a bit annoying, mostly because he takes stuff so passively (although a couple strips back when he was a giant he saved a guy who’d been menacing him, which is likable), but I don’t think he deserves drinking turpentine till he passes out.

Well, if you’re all satisfied with that, my mathematics blog reviews another bunch of comic strips that mention mathematics themes, and don’t you worry: I do some actual calculus in it. If you read, you’ll learn how to evaluate \int_{0}^{\infty} e^{\pi} + \sin^2\left(x\right)dx and it may surprise you to learn just how easy it is.


Oh, also, I could really use some help having a reaction to Nancy today. Thank you.

A Heavenly Autocomplete


In my normal job I do computer programming stuff, so I spend a lot of time annoyed with computer programming stuff. Here’s a secret about being a professional computer programmer, though: when stuff doesn’t work you can type it into a search engine. And search engine autocompletes are great because they so often guess what you wanted to know before you even finish the question, adding that little touch of existential despair to looking up where it is that great music sting from the old CBS Special Presentation teaser came from, because now you know you’re not even in the first 25,000 people to wonder about that today.

Anyway, for the computer programming stuff, I’ve been busy since Wednesday trying to find a sufficiently large cudgel to bash in Visual Studio 2013, which is a program that lets you make other programs as long as you can make it behave. Since it’s not behaving, I went to DuckDuckGo because yeah, I’m that guy, and tried to get a hint about the trouble’s source.

My text: 'visual studio 2013 error list not showing other'; autocomplete: 'others god's love'
By the way, I still haven’t got my problem fixed.

I admit, somehow, I had failed to consider that the problem might be that Visual Studio 2013 didn’t feel the touch of God’s love. And now I have to wonder if my problems getting the hang of Objective C have been theological in origin.

Not The Usual Rankin/Bass Ponderings


I was watching the Rankin/Bass Frosty The Snowman and one scene in the middle struck me. It was Frosty, who’s basically a large mass of white, talking with the rabbit Hocus-Pocus, who’s another mass of white, while standing in the snow-covered forest, again another mass of white, underneath a white cloudy sky. And this was originally shown on American TV in 1969, when the majority of people had black-and-white TV sets, and I remember black-and-white sets because they received about two parts picture to three parts fluffy static.

So this is the weekend I realized that nobody actually saw anything from Frosty the Snowman until about its 1983 airing.

Statistics Saturday: Your Christmas Songs Schedule


Day Song Status
December 14 Complaining about “Santa Baby”.
December 15 That friend who tells you every Halloween how Frankenstein isn’t properly the name of the creature decides everyone has to know if you don’t sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” so it’s suicidally depressing you’re doing it wrong, again.
December 16 Sole annual appearance of “Chrissy, The Christmas Mouse” on any of the twelve Christmas music channels available to you. You miss it.
December 17 “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” makes people think about Bill Cosby, feel even worse.
December 18 Attempt at making a news-media satirical song out of “Walking In A Winter Wonderland” gets as far as “In The Meadow We Can Build A Newsman, And Pretend That He Is Aaron Brown” before running out of creative inspiration and being abandoned until next year, when it doesn’t get any father, again.
December 19 Complaining about “Wonderful Christmastime”.
December 20 That same friend gets on about how nobody remembers Walt Kelly’s “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie” except Gasoline Alley and who reads Gasoline Alley anymore except him and even he doesn’t like it exactly.
December 21 Complaining that “My Favorite Things” is not at all a Christmas song and shouldn’t even be on this list.
December 22 Boy is Mitch Mitchell slamming you to the ground and shoving merriness down your throat.
December 23 “All I Want For Christmas” reminds you of Spike Jones, but not why that friend keeps going on about his genius.
December 24 Realize there’s this lick in “Do They Know It’s Christmas” that sounds like they’re welcoming Christmas to the Pleasuredome.
December 25 “Silent Night” way overproduced.
December 26 Everyone remembers melody of “Good King Wenceslas”, not anything else about it, including words or why anyone would sing it, but you somehow spell it correctly while trying to look it up.
December 27 Hey, did they play the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” at all this year?

Popeye: The Last Resort


Previously:


I seem to have fallen into a theme of sampling the Popeye cartoons made in the early 60s from each of the various studios that King Featured hired to produce several zillion cartoons over the course of twenty minutes. Today’s, “The Last Resort”, was animated by Gerald Ray Studios, and I’d like to tell you something about them.

I barely can. The Internet seems to have overlooked Gerald Ray Studios in its entirety; the only references I can find to it are pages mentioning the 1960s cartoon. Fred M Grandinetti’s Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History offers that Gerald Ray had worked with Jay Ward — of Bullwinkle fame — on Crusader Rabbit and directed several Fractured Fairy Tales, and went on to form a Mexico City animation studio. You probably would have guessed these facts just from watching the cartoon, though.

If you weren’t sure there was a lot of Bullwinkle DNA in this studio then I recommend you try watching this cartoon with the sound off, because doing that makes clear how funny it is to watch. One of the guiding ideas behind Jay Ward’s style was that they may not be able to animate the scenes lushly, but, any given picture could be a funny one, and even if all you could animate in a scene was one character’s mouth moving you can at least switch between several different scenes showing the characters in different poses. It’s a simple trick, but it pays off well: the brevity of any given shot and the switching between shots fools the eye into thinking there’s more animation going on than there actually is.

And, as with Bullwinkle, the pictures are funny even when they don’t need to be, and sometimes in complicated ways: it would be enough of a joke that the Sea Hag is counterfeiting three-dollar bills. We didn’t strictly need to see one of them, but if we are going to, it’s funny that a three-dollar bill should have Benedict Arnold on it. And it’s funny enough that a three-dollar bill should show Benedict Arnold, but it’s funny on top of that that he’s shown hanging. It’s the sort of incidental detail that makes a tight budget work for you.

The cartoon’s also interesting in that it features the Sea Hag and Toar. Both were characters introduced to the comic strip in the 30s and, strangely, neither appeared in the Fleischer cartoons. They also didn’t appear in the Famous Studios cartoons, but the Famous Studios cartoons gradually forgot about all the Popeye-universe characters besides Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and two of Popeye’s nephews. Poopdeck Pappy, Eugene the Jeep, the Goons, and the other two nephews just faded out; if nothing else we can thank the 60s cartoons for bringing them back around.

I can’t think of a good reason the Fleischer Studios, particularly, didn’t use the Sea Hag. She makes a wonderfully compelling antagonist to Popeye, smart in the ways Bluto really can’t be and with the added plot complication that Popeye feels he can’t hit her. Come to think of it, that might be the problem, since that would make it harder to end a short on a big action climax unless the plotting was stronger, and of all the things Fleischer Studios did well, plotting was not among them.

Toar’s late appearance in animation is easier to understand. E C Segar introduced him in the comic strip as a prehistoric brute who, thanks to drinking from a magic pool, enjoys eternal youth. He started as a villain, but pretty soon fell in line as one of Popeye’s loyal supporters because Popeye is made of awesome. (A lot of his antagonists in the strip followed that character trajectory.) Having him introduced as the Sea Hag’s lackey is authentic to how he was introduced in the comic strip. And it’s easy to understand why he wouldn’t be introduced to the cartoons before the Sea Hag was: if he isn’t the real villain’s lackey, then there isn’t much plot role he can serve that Bluto can’t do at least as well. (Toar’s even voiced by Jackson Beck, Bluto’s voice.)

Gerald Ray Studios only made ten of the 1960s Popeye cartoons, which is a shame. The Bullwinkle-style limited animation serves the characters well.

A State Of Constant Change


I want to talk about something I think we’ve lost, but I don’t want to sound like I’ve come down with a case of being old and cranky so I’m going to start off with what I like about the change. And it’s about change, like how there’s varying patterns now in pennies and nickels and the whole State Quarters series. Although at this point it isn’t really State Quarters anymore. They’ve moved on to pictures of National Parks Plus Other Park-y Things because they couldn’t think of national parks that are in some of the states out there. And then there were State Quarters for places that aren’t states, like the District of Columbia, Guam, New York City, Munchkinland, and Paris. But I don’t know how to group all this into a single name so I’m going to call them State Quarters and if someone wants to tell me that Arches National Park isn’t a State, they can come up where I can credibly threaten to poke them in the eye.

Anyway the State Quarters and other stuff project has been fun because it’s encouraged my tendencies towards coin-collecting. I don’t have any good reason to collect coins, except that they are shiny things that can be put into piles of things, and when you look at it that way it’s a wonder anyone does anything besides coin-collecting. The habit offers the obvious benefit that whenever I get change in any transaction, for fifteen years now, I’ve had to examine every single coin, adding a quick touch of suspicion and wondering whether I’ve got enough Commodore Perry Victory Memorial coins. (This is a surprisingly tricky question: I’ve been to Lake Erie, and there’s Commodore Perry Victory Memorials every 46 feet of shoreline, at least on the United States side of things. I haven’t been to the Canada side of the lake but imagine they’ve got a couple Throat-Clearing Followed By Explanations Starting, “You Have To Understand” Monuments along the Ontario shore.)

And eventually all this coin-collecting will really pay off when someday, presumably, I will die. Then whatever poor soul is tasked with the job of cleaning out my junk will get to bring stacks of coins into the coin shop, bringing a moment of sadness to anyone in the strip mall who catches sight of them, and learn that all these carefully collected State Quarters can be turned into a whole $22.50 in cash. It should be $25.00 — Philadelphia and Detroit mints, of course — but the coin shop charges a premium for counting out 100 quarters, after all, and they’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be ‘Denver’ mint anyway.

Now, I don’t want to get too cranky about the way things used to be, but I don’t see how kids growing up can appreciate how weird it is that they keep changing quarters five times a year. I grew up when coins were done the correct way, in that they were almost all the same except now and then you got a Bicentennial Quarter. It was stable. Oh, there was a bit of excitement when they changed the penny from being copper to being a copper-painted lump of high-fructose corn syrup in 1982, but the only kind of exciting penny was the one that was stuck as if glued to the tile right beside the toilet and was turning horribly green and who knew what kind of horrible things might befall the person who touched it but it was a whole penny and if you had that and 124 more of those you might buy a paperback collection of Hagar the Horrible strips next bookmobile day.

Today even the penny isn’t perfectly stable, and you can’t do the trick of offering to flip a penny and pick ‘the side showing Lincoln’s face’ because you can’t count on the tails side being the Lincoln Memorial and having a teeny tiny little Lincoln face inside there. You never could, but if you were the kind of kid who dreamed of someday being in an Encyclopedia Brown story you were sure you could pull that fast one on somebody, eventually, someday, and even that promise is lost. Encouraging these piles of coins to last after you die is great, but think of what we’re giving up.