Color Classics: A Car-Tune Portrait

A Car-Tune Portrait, a Fleischer Color Classic cartoon from June of 1937, takes a bit to get going. It starts with several of the key players in an orchestra, and the conductor, being drawn in by realistic hands, in a gimmick familiar to how Koko the Clown and other characters would be instantiated in the start of an Out of the Inkwell cartoon. Even the orchestra stage is drawn in in this way. The result is the cartoon takes nearly 90 seconds to have any action happen, and that action is the conductor apologizing that cartoon animals have a reputation for being uncultured and ridiculous and so here is some proper music.

The music is, of course, Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2, which you may better know as “Oh yeah, that classic piece they always play in cartoons.” I’m not sure just how this piece, of all the orchestral music out there, came to be the orchestral piece, although it’s a great choice for one. The music starts simple and builds to a frantic climax, one that almost begs to be matched to an action-packed finale. In this light, the slow build of the opening serves the pacing of the cartoon: the action at the end feels more frantic because of the sedate opening.

Walt Disney ran across Liszt’s comic potential in 1929, with the Mickey Mouse short The Opry House, which used it for a small segment of the whole. The Krazy Kat line of non-Krazy-Kat-like cartoons used it for 1931’s Bars and Stripes, which built most of the action, a war between Krazy and musical instruments, around the piece. A Car-Tune Portrait is still one of the earliest uses of the Hungarian Rhapsody, and interesting to me for being done before Friz Freleng’s Rhapsody in Rivets and William Hanna and Joe Barbera’s The Cat Concerto, which seem to have secured the composition’s place as one of the things that just sounds like a cartoon.

Facing the Fun Fact of it All

I have a Peanuts page-a-day calendar because otherwise I’d only be reading three different Peanuts strips online every day, and on the back of every page is a miscellaneous bit of stuff, like a word puzzle or a sudoku puzzle or a note about what the day’s an anniversary of, which would be kind of useful if I saw it before I tore the page off the next day. On the back of January 27 they had this:

Fun Fact

Corporate executives consider Tuesday the most productive day of the week. It’s the day to get down to business and start crossing off items on to-do lists.

Is this a “fun fact”? I’m not a fair judge of whether something is fun because I own multiple books which explain the history of containerized cargo, and I’ve been thinking seriously about picking up James Q Wilson’s Bureaucracy for recreational reading. I know that sounds like a joke, but I got interested in Wilson’s book because of some reading I was doing about Harry S Truman’s 1946-1949 director of the Bureau of the Budget, so you see why that all makes sense. You can tell me whether corporate productivity assessments are fun.

But is it a “fact”? People have a complicated relationship with facts. We like them, because we’re pretty sure knowledge is built out of them, but just how that building gets done is a mystery. You can check in the World Almanac and find out how many tons of steel the United States produced in 1945, if you were trying to look up when Arbor Day is and had some trouble with the index, but all that really tells you is how much steel the American Iron and Steel Institute was willing to admit was made back then. And really, all you learn is how much the World Almanac claims the American Iron and Steel Institute claims was made back then, and they’re pretty sure you aren’t going to go checking, what with Google being a much easier way to find out when Arbor Day is. Knowing what you do about American steel production rates in 1945 doesn’t give you any idea about why Arbor Day.

We want facts to be on our side, as we get ready to do cognitive battle with the world, but they’re not reliable allies. A fact can be pretty hard to dispute — that steel-production figure has got to be pretty sound if I could figure out where I left the World Almanac so I could look it up — but then it’s also too dull to enlist except on a game show; it’s got at most the power to make you go “huh” and move on. Facts that are about anything interesting are graded and qualified and have subtleties and need other facts to help them out. If we, say, want to know what made World War II happen and what we can do to prevent a recurrence we can’t really grab anything concrete and have to content ourselves to not calling that area “Prussia” anymore.

We want facts to speak for themselves, as long as they stick to our scripts. When we run across a treacherous fact that doesn’t seem to care if it supports us we could say something about how we might change our minds based on “this fact, if it’s true.” This should cause Mrs Furey to pop up from seventh-grade English class and berate our intellectual carelessness. If it isn’t true it isn’t a fact, by definition, which is a kind of fact used to divert an argument we might not win into an argument everybody will walk away from, losing and bitter. We can get away with the carelessness because it’s a big world and Mrs Furey might need years before she can get back to us.

That’s all right; only the old-fashioned try to change minds with facts anymore anyway. Now it’s all done with the right colored lighting, appropriate background music, and the vague scent of vanilla, which research into the psychology of decision-making shows will cause us to decide, never mind what we said before, we are going to buy whatever it is that’s in front of us, whether it’s a Snoopy doll, a footstool, a bowl of keychains, or a 2016 Toyota Something Limited Edition (pre-recalled for your convenience). At least that’s what the facts they report say and who are we to quibble?

If there’s a fact I am pretty sure about, it’s that the calendar company started putting this stuff on the back of their pages at the same time they stopped printing separate pages for Sundays. That’s fourteen percent of the year they’re hoping I won’t miss if they put in a sprinkling of fun facts. I bet they decided to do that on a Tuesday.

The Regrandest Gift of All

There’s a Sears near us, which isn’t that surprising. There are Sears stores near literally millions of people, left over from the days when they were the anchor stores to malls and serving to this day as spots where the restrooms aren’t too busy and the electronics sections have a different wash of sadness from what Radio Shack offers. But the one by us is a little unusual in that it hasn’t got a mall attached; it’s just free-standing in the midst of a sea of parking lot. A couple weeks back the Sears had put up a sign, declaring their “Regrand Opening”, surprising me with the news that they had been closed, apparently? Also that “Regrand” is a word? I was so curious about this I almost went to the store but I guess I had other stuff to do instead, somehow, and kept on driving home, past the Fish and Chips place that just took off the “Arthur Treacher’s” from the name and otherwise made no alterations to their sign or decor whatsoever, far as I can tell. The Sears still seems to be there, but the sign has gone away.

Momma demands I take back everything bad I ever said about Comic Sans

Over on my mathematics blog I had like a kerspillion comic strips to describe as having mathematics-related themes, so I got that taken care of. None of them involves really deep mathematical concepts, which is kind of a relief, although it does mean I was trying to find if there is anything interesting to say about punning “acute” and “a cute” angle. There isn’t. Sorry.

So let me chat a bit about the ongoing collapse of the very concept of artwork in comic strips. Mell Lazarus’s Momma I’ve mentioned before as shuffling its way toward madness, but lately it’s started intermittently running strips with computer-typeset letters. It’s always sad when a comic strip falls prey to this. The best-off strips are able to get typefaces based on the cartoonist’s lettering, and include some variants of each letter so that the result looks plausibly handwritten again. Lesser strips make do with more generic comic strip typefaces or, if all else fails, Comic Sans, which is not as bad as people make it out to be (admittedly, “Earth being swallowed by a black hole” is not as bad as people make Comic Sans out to be) but which is dull. Momma had fallen prey to Dread Helvetica several times, but here it’s fallen even farther into what I remember as Geneva, back in the early 90s when we thought PageMaker 4 was a pretty slick piece of newspaper-composition software. It’s stunning how a simple choice like typeface can make a wall of text a visually repulsive mass.

Momma reads off an awful lot of text presented in a horribly ugly way.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 25th of January, 2015.

But if you can hack your way through the visual terror you can at least appreciate the dialogue, written in the charming “Ransom note hastily translated into English” dialect, and as you let the syllables wash over you can hear the deranged omnipotent-terror computer of a 1950s movie or a lesser episode of Star Trek getting ready to demand you explain to it what logic there is in a “kiss”.

Margo pauses at a cafe which appears to be unenclosed and to have no counters, tables, seats, or menus, and orders breakfast.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 26th of January, 2015.

Meanwhile in Apartment 3-G the apparent ongoing war between artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock continues, since the text is really sure that Margo is at a Manhattan cafe, while the art seems pretty confident that she’s just whirling around on the sidewalk barking out breakfast orders at random passers-by who kind of look like everybody else in Apartment 3-G only made of slightly dumpier putty. Who is right? Not, I think, the random passer-by who seems to think that wanting to have a Grand Slam Breakfast constitutes a “healthy appetite”.

My favorite spam comment of the week

I love the melody of this spam-produced comment and thought you might too.

Wow, this paragraph is fastidious, my sister is analyzing these things, therefore I am going to let know her.

I’m flattered to think I could get a fastidious paragraph going. I only regret that it could not also be lugubrious. I’m not sure what lugubrious means (I don’t think it means anything) but I’ve loved the word ever since getting it as a vocabulary word in English class.

Statistics Saturday: How Many Things It Takes To Make A Hundred Of Things

Thing How Many It Takes To Have A “Hundred” Of That Thing
Bowstaves, oars, and staves for hogsheads, as well as other certain types of pieces of wood 120
Canvas and linen cloth 120
Cod, Ling (which turns out to be cod), and Haberdine (which is also cod) 124
Dried fish that’s somehow not just cod? 160
Drinking glasses 100, mercifully
Eggs 120
Fish, not excluding herring 120
Onions, Garlic 225
Pins, Nails 120
Sheep or lambs, in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire 106

Reference:, from the Index to Units and Systems of Units page, which is just absorbing every minute of my time anymore because there’s things like a “stathmos” that’s equal to “about five parasangs”, which clears up things if you’re in Ancient Greece and taking units from the Persians when they aren’t looking.

Color Classics: Dancing On The Moon

I’d had a little theme going of Popeye in Outer Space, and I wanted to continue it, but I couldn’t find any other Popeye In Space cartoons. I thought about carrying on with Popeye alone and after finding an episode of Popeye and Sons on YouTube — actually a compilation of what I guess was all the episodes released on DVD — I just couldn’t do it. Even the promise of the Sea Hag appearing couldn’t keep me from losing interest.

So let me go with Space instead, and the 1935 Fleischer Brothers Color Classic Dancing On The Moon. The Color Classics were, basically, the Fleischer Brothers’ version of Silly Symphonies, cartoons with typically one-shot characters that animate a song or two, so do be warned: the song from this cartoon is going to haunt your dreams. (I like it anyway.) And the Color Classics are, well, in color, using first Cinecolor, then two-strip Technicolor, and finally (once Disney’s exclusive contract on the process expired) three-strip Technicolor. This one is in two-strip Technicolor, so it looks a little more red-and-green than the equivalent in three-strip would have, but the setting is designed to not need so much blue.

The most striking bit of it, though, is implicit in that notice at the start of the cartoon: “Patent Pending for Special Processes Used in this Production”. That’s almost certainly the development of the Stereoptical process. This is partly a kind of multi-plane camera that allows animation cells to be at different focus depths, and to move with an appropriate parallax, conveying depth. The Fleischers took that a step farther, though, and built neat little sets, up to six feet deep, for the characters to move within. Sometimes the sets themselves contained moving components, such as the spaceship in this short.

They relied on this trick a lot in their late 30s cartoons, and for good reason: it worked every single time. It added a bit of three-dimensionality to the cartoons and used that third dimension the way I think it works best, to add depth behind the screen. And they had a knack for creating real sets that look like cartoons. In some cartoons they’d realize they could have the animated figure disappear behind some of the setting, making the world that much more tangible.

Mixing cartoon and live-action elements feels modern — it’s hard sometimes to realize it was ever done before Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or at least before Mary Poppins, but it was strikingly common not just in the late 30s with the Stereoptical camera and miniature sets, but especially in the silent era. The Fleischer Koko the Clown cartoons depended on Koko and the animator (Max Fleischer) interacting, and Disney had a series based on the human Alice being in a cartoon land. There is just something about a cartoon character that inspires trying to touch it.

My Appropriately-Sized Rhode Island Terror

I just knew going in that describing the size of Rhode Island in terms of football fields was going to be a popular one, because it just had that certain xkcd-ish nerdly panache to it, by combining geodesy, sports, and things that other things get compared to a lot even if you don’t really know or care much about the things. So I was happy about all that.

But, and I know this is ridiculous: I was deeply worried about whether I would get this right. I knew that by giving stuff that could be not obviously wrong numbers I was potentially arousing the powerful Worldwide Nerdly Precision League. This is a shadowy group, communicating primarily by means of pun cascades and posts that convert things — any old things: speeds, fuel economies, lists of Vice-Presidents of the United States with their pets — into stupid measurements like “furlongs per fortnight” all the while trying to troll others into correcting mistakes they pretend to make. Rouse them and they will hound you past death, trying to pin down whether you meant the London firkin or some other non-London yet nevertheless English firkin, such as the Bristol firkin, and they will not accept that you could care less, an expression that they’ll also debate with you.

So in my quest to get the measurement of Rhode Island right I discovered there are no two sources on the entire Internet that agree about how big Rhode Island is. A lot of them just round it off to the nearest ten miles, even though that risks rounding the state down to a slender twig blown about in the strong wind. Some of them give up altogether: Wikipedia just describes Rhode Island as being “larger than three elephants standing end to end, but not much. Not those elephants, a different three elephants”. Finally I gave up and found the United States Coast Guard’s Geographic Information Services depository and got a map of Rhode Island that if the Coast Guard is fine with I can live with. I trust the Coast Guard to keep track of Rhode Island even though it’d save them a lot of craggly little corners if they lopped off the whole island and went with those pretty straight borders on the east of Connecticut and south of Massachusetts instead. I guess that might risk their running a cutter or whatever they have into Quonset but the people of Quonset have dealt with worse. I imagine. They’ve done a lot of stuff, what with making huts and not being Woonsocket, I guess.

But this set off a new problem because the best GIS software I could find was QGIS, which is open source. Open source software is different from professional software because, when you want to get a piece of professional software, you download it and then run it. With open source software, you download it, and then discover that to run it you have to download something else. When you download that something else and try to run it, you find out you have to download some other thing. That other thing you can download, but to actually run it you have to resolve some package dependency issue. You Google for that and discover one StackOverflow page with somebody describing what sounds like your problem, except that when you describe your problem there’s antecedents and verbs and the sentences parse. It seems close enough, though, so you follow what you think is the best answer, as it’s the one in which all the sentences parse even though the paragraphs don’t, and the settings it describes aren’t exactly in your version of the software but some things described with imperfect synonyms are, even if none of them are under the described menu options, which are different anyway, that the StackOverflow answer says. This works, except that every time you start the program it pops up an alert box containing nothing but an exclamation point and three buttons marked “OK”, “Dismiss”, and “Cancel”, all of which do the same thing if you click them twice, which is to go away and let you use the program, except every now and then the software switches the typeface over to I’m going to guess Korean and you have to delete the preferences and start over. But it’s worth it because if you complain about it someone tells you to pitch in and help fix the problem instead of just complaining.

It was easiest to measure the lengths not at all because while you can turn on a grid to make measurements of stuff in QGIS, it’s open-source software, so while you can do pretty much anything, there’s no guessing how except that it won’t be anything like you learned from any other program you ever used, ever. But when I found how — it required three sherpas and a gyrocompass — it was easiest to measure the state in kilometers and I was going to accept that, because I could convert the size of a football field into meters and just do the stupid division like that. I finished all that and scheduled the article to be posted and went off to play pinball all day.

Except. Right about when the post was scheduled to appear I thought: did I convert “120 yards into meters”, or did I screw up and enter “120 feet into meters” instead? Did I make Rhode Island three times as big as it should be? Or worse did I somehow make it one-third its rightful size? I did my best to struggle on with making a shiny ball bounce against a diverse set of things a lot of times, but I kept thinking of how I’d get home to face dozens of comments from the New England Chapter of the Worldwide Nerdly Precision League, and I’d have to flee my home and move to some other country where they don’t play American football. And not a small country either, something that would take dozens of thousands — literally, scores of great grosses — of football fields cricket pitches to cross. I swear, I spent hours thinking I might just be an idiot for having come up with numbers like “1772” or “1999” or even “788”. At least the “4940” I was pretty sure about.

Anyway, mercifully, I got back home and checked my notes and it looks like I was wrong about being mistaken, and I had not messed up calculating this bit of nonsense. So there’s that. You’re welcome, all.

As I make it out by the way Rhode Island is about 86.4 kilometers east-to-west, about 97.5 kilometers north-to-south, and about 247 meters top to bottom because nobody’s told me about any part of the state that’s dry land but below sea level, so if you want to figure out what that is in terms of Canadian football fields or cricket pitches or pinball table sizes good luck.

An Impostor’s Dream

So apparently in my dream-world life, I’ve been a staff writer for Conan O’Brien for about five years now and despite that it occurred to me during some kind of special event show that I couldn’t remember having ever had anything I’d written turn up on air, ever. Which is a bit humbling, but what was really bad was during the taping of the show I realized I didn’t even know who I’d give a comedy sketch to, if I ever wrote one, if I ever wanted to see it maybe get on the air, which it wouldn’t. So that’s a bit humbling.

Anyway, I was mulling over whether I had any kind of job that meant anything in the dream-world, when I got caught up in one of those conversations which will not end with the guy playing the Conan show’s newly-minted midwestern-mayor character Roberto Boblo (his primary gimmick being an obsession with what he insists is a gold bar, but which is obviously a plastic hairbrush spray-painted kind-of-gold-ish), who refused to break character as he tried to shake me out of my funk. The upshot of this is that while wandering away from the taping I got hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar area of the Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey.

I think this offers lessons useful for all of us.

National Cheese, Penguins

According to Missy Meyers’s comic feature panel Holiday Doodles the 20th of January was both “Penguin Awareness Day” and “National Cheese Lovers Day”. I had no idea, indicating the need for Penguin Awareness Day awareness campaigns, but I spent at least the later part of the day ready to notice any penguins that happened to be hanging around mid-Michigan. I didn’t notice any. I may not have the adequate holiday spirit.

Cheese, now, I’m always ready to be aware of, since it’s one of the things I feel good about eating. (Other things on the list: pretty much everything except octopus. I’ve tried octopus — and squid — repeatedly and haven’t liked it any time, and since it ends badly for me and worse for the octopus I’m done with eating them, and I imagine they’re even happier to be done with being eaten by me.) I don’t know what “National Cheese” tastes like, but I’m going to go ahead and imagine that it’s “kind of like cheddar”.

Why This Has Been Such A Happy Day

I clarified to someone who wasn’t sure exactly what kind of early bicycle was under discussion by explaining that a velocipede was the one made with “one giant wheel and one attack dinosaur”. And people corrected me, rather than leave me unable to tell the penny-farthing bicycle apart from the one that’s got attack dinosaurs. I am so delighted.

Math Comics, and the Tree’s End

Once again over on my mathematics blog is a bundle of comic strips that talk about mathematical themes. I use about 1600 words to describe them, although in fairness, some of those words I used several times over, such as “stuff” and “start” and even some words that don’t begin with “st”. Also there’s this neat bit about how you can find where north is by drawing a clock. Honest.

If you’re not interested particularly in how The Lockhorns insult one another, that’s all right. You might be glad to know at least that our pet rabbit did get his chance at the Christmas tree before the adventure of getting rid of it developed.

Our pet rabbit, partly standing --- paw resting on his exercise pen's frame --- while he nibbles at a tree branch.
I’m pretty sure our pet rabbit is not actually doing “talk to the paw cause the mouth is eating Christmas tree” but I can’t swear it isn’t in his mind.

Statistics Saturday: The Size of Rhode Island in terms of Football Fields

“Length” is here taken to be longitudinal, east-west, distance; “Width” that to be latitudinal, north-south, distance. “Height” is that normal thing.

The dimensions of Rhode Island as measured by an (American) football field, with the long dimension (120 yards) running east-to-west:

Dimension Football Fields
Length 1772
Width 888
Height 4940

The dimensions of Rhode Island as measured by an (American) football field, with the long dimension (120 yards) running north-to-south:

Dimension Football Fields
Length 788
Width 1999
Height 4940
A map of Rhode Island, with a grid spaced to roughly the proportions of a football field superimposed on it.
Rhode Island (yellow) against a grid of football fields (not to scale).

  1. Yes, I’m including Block Island.
  2. I’m including the end zones.
  3. Football field artificial grass is apparently 5 cm tall, so I’m supposing that to be the standard height of the grass on the field.
  4. Only land points of Rhode Island are being included, thus, the westernmost extent is at Napatree Point.
  5. If there’s any part of Rhode Island that’s below sea level I don’t know it.

Popeye: Close Encounters of the Third Spinach


I’d wanted to continue my little thread of Popeye-In-Space cartoons, but couldn’t think of another Famous Studios or, better, Fleischer Studios cartoon where he went into space. But then I remembered Famous, Fleischer, and even King Features weren’t all the animators of Popeye.

From 1978 to 1983 Popeye was a Saturday morning cartoon, as the All-New Popeye Hour and then The Popeye and Olive Show (a half-hour). In my youth I trusted that this was just as the world should be: of course they were regularly making new Popeye cartoons. In hindsight I realize this was part of Popeye‘s recessional from pop culture; after this (and of course the Robert Altman movie), there just wasn’t much left. A series called Popeye and Son was made in the late 80s, but I never saw an episode, and only ever encountered it as a video CD in Singapore. The comic strip was very briefly controversial when Bobby London did a string of abortion-touching jokes that would have been a dull week in Doonesbury, and since then despite occasional noble or crazy attempts to bring it back, the franchise has been mostly something for comic strip collectors or T-shirts you get at the boardwalk.

I haven’t seen episodes of the show since, well, eating Popeye’s fried chicken while in Singapore — the Popeye’s in the airport was regularly showing episodes on the TV, so the kids had something to watch — or the early 80s and so none came to mind, but an episode guide identified one that had to be space-related, and thus, I went looking for “Close Encounters Of The Third Spinach”. The only version I could find of it is dubbed into Finnish because, of course. Why not? I’m including it anyway because I think there’s enough to watch in the animation itself that it’s not distracting to have to guess at what the characters are saying to one another.

As the title implies — and why not “Close Encounters Of The Spinach Kind”, anyway? — this cartoon is a parody of Star Wars. I still think that’s neat, though; in the past 35 years the parody or homage or imitation of Star Wars has practically become a genre in itself, and seeing how it was done before most of those parodies were is enlightening — for example, while the trash compactor scene makes the cut, there’s nothing even remotely near the trench run. I can’t imagine a cartoon making that decision about what to do and what not to today.

I also like the casting: Poopdeck Pappy makes a sensible Obi-Wan, and Wimpy in the Han Solo role is a good joke. Because of the dubbing I am not sure who’s cast as the robot. The obvious candidates would be Swee’pea and Eugene the Jeep, and while Eugene makes the more logical choice for the kind of magical otherworldly creature that the robot has to be, he’s not really one to deliver dialogue. On the other hand, that also makes Eugene an even more natural R2.

As for the animation, well, the character designs are good enough, and many of the settings, particularly the Bluto/Death Star, are amusing. But the animation is the routine circa-1980 Hanna-Barbera staging, competently done without ever really excelling. It’s not a disaster, but it is coasting on one’s built-up love for Popeye (and, I guess, Star Wars) for its appeal. Popeye In Space should be more inspired.

The Mid-Winter Fashion

To explain why I discovered only at the end of the day Monday that I was wearing a shirt inside-out I need to give some context. I don’t think I need to explain the wearing of shirts, as that’s been popular nearly my whole adult life, and Monday has been almost perfectly assimilated into American culture since its invention in 1964 as a way to ease the transition from Sunday to Tuesday.

Now, it’s wintertime. It hasn’t been as cruel a winter as last year, but last year’s was exceptionally cruel, frequently using the power of social media to ridicule individuals and harass them in what had been safe social areas. This winter has been much nicer, but it has still been getting cold, and the weather’s been getting bad. My love pointed out there isn’t any such thing as bad weather, only people badly dressed for the weather. I answered this by asking what about when the weather is minus two degrees Fahrenheit, and a heavy, wet snow is coming down so hard you’re on the verge of whiteouts, and it’s about ninety minutes after sunset. My love went “hrm” to this, and I added that you were stuck with a flat tire more than an hour away from home, on a frontage road outside the abandoned scrap metal recycling center, and your cell phone, which you never use and you charge all the time, is out of battery, as it always is, and none of these additions are properly the weather per se but they do help set the scene. My love walked away to ask our pet rabbit if he wanted a raisin, which he does.

Still, the right way to deal with weather like that is layering, which we start doing around November and let up on around March. The principle of layering is simple: you can stay somewhat less cold by, whenever you find an article of clothing, putting it on. Whenever you find an article of clothing. So just strolling around the house I’ll put on underwear, sure, and long underwear, and here’s a t-shirt by the bed, and a regular shirt that was on the dresser, and a dress shirt that was in the bedroom closet, and the soccer shirt from that one time I played soccer in tenth grade, and the novelty “2010” eyeglasses because eyeballs get cold too and what the heck New Year’s Eve might roll around again, and go downstairs and put on the blanket we put over the couch for guests because that’s kind of a dress shirt for furniture, and then put on the reclining chair, and that’s all before I’ve even got to the closet where we keep the jackets.

If it’s done right, by about mid-February you’re basically a gigantic elliptical bundle of flesh and cloth, and it’s not all that cold as you step outside, trip over your six pairs of shoes, and go tumbling down the road. People from warmer climates may believe that mid-Michigan in the upcoming weeks will be a field of spinning balls of population bouncing off one another until they roll into a snowy creek, all the layers keeping folks from freezing to death until the currents can sweep them into the Grand River. This is absurd. Given the plowed streets, people are much more likely to roll down to the strip mall and into the nearest Michael’s, where they bounce into the folks waiting in the line where, even though there’s four registers open and nobody has more than maybe three things to buy and everybody’s paying cash, the line never advances any. The disruption is appreciated since it gives customers the chance to give up on their plans to buy decorative boxes and plastic flowers and run off to the Petco next door and stare at heaps of sleeping ferrets instead.

You might think this makes laundry terrible, since there’s so many clothes to wash if you got them all taken off at once. And it’s true that the laundry loads are bigger than summer, but you don’t have to wash all the layers at once. The two great sources of dirtiness, in clothing, are the outside world, and only the outermost layer of clothing ever touches that, and the body, and only the innermost layer touches that. Everything else is just touching other clothes so you can let them slide a while or, if you’re wearing enough layers, let the accumulated fabric pressure crush any dirt that might somehow get through into little bitty lint diamonds, which are good for industrial lint needs.

Anyway, so this all gets back to how I discovered I wore a shirt inside-out on Monday: it was underneath that thing I wear that isn’t a hoodie, I guess, but that I call one because I don’t know what else to call it, and I didn’t discover this until I was getting ready for bed by taking off the outer eighteen layers. I feel kind of silly about it, but, I understand how this sort of thing happens and nobody else noticed.


I got an e-mail that purported to be from my credit card company, warning me of suspicious-looking charges on my card. But an e-mail saying to click this link if the charges look suspicious? I suspected it, of course. The phone number to call didn’t match the number on the back of my card for reporting suspicious activity, either.

So what could I do? I told the credit card company that it looked like someone was sending out phishing mails and they might want to take whatever ineffective steps against that there are to take.

And a couple hours later they wrote back saying that they had gotten what looked like an e-mail from me claiming there was suspicious e-mail activity from them, and they were suspicious, so they wanted to verify whether I was actually sending out letters like that.

I feel like there ought to be some way to break this standoff but also that I’ll never live long enough to know what it is.

Also the ‘Paleo Diet Treats’ Better Just Be ‘A Stick Covered In Honey’

The magazine at the checkout counter showed off a woman with the headline, “She Lost 172 Pounds On The HAPPINESS DIET”. The idea’s caught my mind, certainly.

I picture the happiness diet consisting of sitting down to a sensible breakfast of cottage cheese and melba toast, because I formed my impression of dieting in 1978 and haven’t really advanced any since, and then checking a little journal to see whether one can have that giggle after all. At lunch, besides a half-sandwich of tuna on crumbly little unappealing diet bread and that awful substance sold as diet mayonnaise in 1983 that had the consistency of motor oil and tasted like vinegar and tinfoil, one reviews whether it’s probably safe to read what Letterman’s Top Ten List was last night. Finally for dinner one splurges by watching a supercut of Carl Sagan saying million, billion, trillion, or even quadrillion on Cosmos and letting its rhythms kind of amuse. At night, sprinkle a bit of trying to remember whether one read Herb and Jamaal today, and think about that good chortle being saved for the weekend, and maybe — if things are going well — about taking in a Sunday brunch of looking at pictures of rescued baby kangaroos in footy pajamas hopping around licking things, and let the pounds just melt away.

If I’m wrong about this in any particular I don’t want to know.

Imported Tea. Also, Comics.

It’s easy to forget that comic strips that’ve been around since the Battle of Manzikert, puttering on without anyone really liking them, earned their spot by being funny in the ancient past. That’s why I’m glad that Comics Kingdom, particularly, has a rich page of vintage strips so that I can see that Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois really was … well, hilarious is a bit strong, but at least it was reliably funny in that Mid-50s Sitcom Moderne fashion, back in the 1950s. And the vintage strips allow for the rediscovery of aspects that the strip has dropped, like the number of boardroom jokes at the company where Hi works, or the fear of the god-like computer making decisions for the company. Some recurring gags got dropped because you just don’t do jokes like that anymore, and I’m thinking here of the Chinese Laundry. Chinese Laundry gags were discontinued sometime about 1970, when Racist Joke Command discovered there were a number of people from non-white countries who drive taxis and ordered a switch to joking about that instead.

And then there’s something like this one rerun last Thursday (originally run the 12th of July, 1957), which delights me in many ways. There’s the faint 50s Whitebread Xenophobia, particularly, at the idea of those scary exotic weird moon-man foods like imported tea or bagels or pizza or eggs Benedictus. (Is there anything weirder than running across a late-50s or early-60s punchline that depends on the idea that “eating pizza” is inherently a funny thing to do? Yes: it’s people freaking out at the “long-haired” Beatles of 1964, when they had individual hair follicles reaching out as much as three-quarters of an inch from their scalps.) I should be sympathetic: the 1950s in America were a time when suitable nutrition was believed to be pasty white things boiled into uniform shapeless mush, as seen on the plates of comic strip characters ever since. But she’s scared of tea.

And then there’s also the idea of being dependent on the recipe for a tea. I concede it’s possible for there to be tea that requires special preparation. But I also insist that if you go with “put it in boiling water; after a couple minutes, remove, if that’s what you like. Then put in sugar and milk if you like that” you’re going to be able to make a fairly palatable tea regardless of how finely imported it is. It’s maybe not as safe as making macaroni and cheese from a box, but, it’s still not something risky like making powdered oatmeal.

I guess what I’m saying is, if there is a Peak Hi And Lois this might well be it.

Lois buys some 'imported tea' despite her fear that 'those foreign things require special recipes' sometimes.
Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois for the 12th of July, 1957. Possibly the most Hi and Lois-iest Hi and Lois to be found.

Meanwhile, while I was busy last week, my mathematics blog had two comic strip roundup post: the First Of The Year Edition, first, and then the second one, in which I give my best guess about what Berkeley Breathed thought was Jon Bon Jovi’s shorts size in 1989. If you missed the comics roundup, but read Bloom County obsessively back when everybody did, then you already know which strips I’m talking about in there. Also, I fiddled with the WordPress theme over there, from one I was just a little bit dissatisfied with to a new one that I’m dissatisfied with in different ways, which is always exciting.

2014 in review

I know that it’s late to be sharing a “WordPress annual fireworks” post, but I have good reason to be so late: I was late. Well, and I didn’t want to break up the Ian Shoales Week set of things last week, and I try to post a big original thing on Thursday evening my time, and a Statistics Saturday bit of nonsense on Saturday evening my time, and a video of some kind on Fridays, so this is really the first chance, which is why I’m late: I was late. Anyway, here’s the movie and stuff they made for it.

I’m delighted that I was able to keep up to my goal of posting something daily, so that I have a “longest streak” of 365 posting days. Despite that there’s a single “best day”, Wednesday, with 53 posts on Wednesdays, which is about as well-organized as you could hope for from the Gregorian calendar what with its familiar and well-explained flaws. Anyway, I’ll be back with another one of these after 2015 ends, sometime in early 2016 or extremely late 2014. They used the Sydney Opera House as a reference point for my readership size.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,600 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.