Adventures In Modern Consuming


I want to feel excited. The last big shopping trip we did, we used up all the coupons left in our little plastic folder of coupons. All that remains in it are some receipts with the codes we got after telling companies’ web sites how the shopping experience was and a loyalty card for the carousel ride at the Freehold Raceway Mall food court in Freehold, New Jersey. Being able to use up all the coupons we had feels like we should have unlocked a new achievement, like, “Market-Driven Consumer Capitalism Temporarily Bested: Plus 1”. But deep down I know what it really means is we let an offer of 50 cents off two packs of Sargento cheese sticks expire without noticing it in the middle of May.

We forgot to buy shampoo.

Mathematics Comics and What Poets Know of the Moon


Over on my mathematics blog there’s another comic strips post. And I don’t mean to spoil things but there’s probably going to be another one on Tuesday. It’s been fairly busy over there this month.

The Moon, as a ninja, throws stars at a menacing cloud. The dog wonders if this is why poets call the moon 'a mysterious creature'. The raccoon explains 'poets know nothing! That's why they write poems!'
Gustavo Rodrigues’z Understanding Chaos for the 28th of June, 2015. You should be reading this comic strip.

And to give folks who stay resolutely here something to enjoy, please look at Gustavo Rodriguez’s Understanding Chaos. I’ve mentioned this before, but between the humor, the writing, the art, and the color palette this is a comic strip people should be paying attention to. I apologize to any poets who’re offended by the raccoon’s attitude.

Statistics Saturday: Count Of Words And Non-Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles


Count of Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles

Word Count
the 48
of 25
part 15
a 10
man 4
Q 4
time/time’s 2
command 3
Data/Data’s/Datas 3
matter 3
arrow 2
best 2
birthright 2
both 2
chain 2
child 2
descent 2
enemy 2
ensign/ensigns 2
eye 2
factor 2
first 2
gambit 2
ground 2
has 2
honor 2
in 2
life 2
mind/mind’s 2
one 2
redemption 2
unification 2
where 2
who 2
worlds 2
age 1
all 1
allegiance 1
always 1
among 1
and 1
angel 1
aquiel 1
arsenal 1
as 1
at 1
attached 1
avatar 1
battle 1
before 1
beholder 1
big 1
bloodlines 1
bonding 1
booby 1
Borg 1
bottle 1
bough 1
breaks 1
brothers 1
captain’s 1
cause 1
chances 1
chase 1
clues 1
code 1
coming 1
conspiracy 1
contact 1
contagion 1
conundrum 1
cost 1
crisis 1
dark 1
Darmok 1
Datalore 1
dauphin 1
day 1
dear 1
decks 1
defector 1
degree 1
déjà 1
devil’s 1
disaster 1
drumhead 1
due 1
duty 1
effect 1
elementary 1
emergence 1
emissary 1
encounter 1
end 1
Enterprise 1
ethics 1
evil 1
evolution 1
face 1
family 1
farpoint 1
father 1
fear 1
final 1
firstborn 1
fistful 1
force 1
frame 1
freedom 1
friend 1
future 1
galaxy’s 1
game 1
Genesis 1
glory 1
gone 1
good 1
goodbye 1
gray 1
half 1
have 1
haven 1
heart 1
heir 1
hero 1
hide 1
high 1
holiday 1
hollow 1
home 1
homeward 1
host 1
human 1
hunted 1
I 1
Icarus 1
identity 1
imaginary 1
imperfect 1
inheritance 1
inner 1
interface 1
journey’s 1
justice 1
ladder 1
last 1
lease 1
legacy 1
lessons 1
liaisons 1
light 1
living 1
lonely 1
long 1
loss 1
loud 1
lower 1
manhunt 1
masks 1
masterpiece 1
mate 1
me 1
measure 1
ménage 1
mine 1
mission 1
most 1
naked 1
nature 1
neutral 1
new 1
next 1
night 1
no 1
now 1
nth 1
offspring 1
Okona 1
outcast 1
outpost 1
outrageous 1
own 1
page 1
pals 1
parallels 1
Paris 1
peak 1
Pegasus 1
pen 1
people 1
perfect 1
performance 1
perspective 1
phantasms 1
phase 1
play 1
power 1
preemptive 1
price 1
pursuits 1
Qpid 1
quality 1
rascals 1
realm 1
relics 1
remember 1
reunion 1
rightful 1
Ro 1
rosa 1
Royale 1
samaritan 1
Sarek 1
schisms 1
schizoid 1
season 1
second 1
selection 1
self 1
shades 1
ship 1
short 1
silence 1
silicon 1
sins 1
skin 1
snare 1
society 1
soil 1
squared 1
starship 1
strike 1
sub 1
suddenly 1
survivors 1
suspicions 1
symbiosis 1
tapestry 1
terrors 1
theory 1
thine 1
things 1
timescape 1
tin 1
too 1
toys 1
transfigurations 1
trap 1
Troi 1
true 1
unnatural 1
up 1
us 1
vengeance 1
violations 1
watchers 1
watches 1
we’ll 1
when 1
whisper 1
worship 1
wounded 1
yesterday’s 1
zone 1

Count of Non-Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles

Non-Word Count
2 8
1 7
& 1
11001001 1

Note: Two-part episode titles are based on the episode’s original appearance. For example, “Gambit, Part 1” and “Gambit, Part 2” increase the count for “gambit” by two. “Encounter at Farpoint” and “All Good Things”, airing initially as single, two-hour, episodes, increase the count for the words in their titles by only one.

Note: Episode 139 is titled Time Squared and the title is written that way on-screen. Many sources list it as Time2 and I admit I’d have sworn it was written that way when the episode first aired but you can’t argue with the screen captions even though Time2 is so obviously the title it should have had.

Note: One occurrence of “a” is actually “à”.

Note: You know, considering Troi was a central character for all seven years of the show and kept popping up in other Treks whether she belonged there or not it’s surprising we never learned anything about what her home planet of Betazed was like, other than they get married naked.

Grampy for Mayor!


Betty Boop’s Grampy — I’m not committed to the idea he must be her grandfather, nor that he isn’t — appeared in ten cartoons from 1935 to 1937. They follow a clear template. Grampy gets put into a position with some problem, even if it’s just boredom. He puts on his thinking cap and, after some false starts has a flashing light and declares “I’ve got it!” and does a silly dance. Then the rest of the cartoon is spot gags of his innovations.

How interesting you find the cartoons — well, how interesting you find the second or third cartoon you watch — depends on how interesting you find the settings. The template can be quite flexible. I’m a bit sad they never thought to put Grampy in a really weird setting, like underwater or in outer space or the like, because I can imagine the kinds of exotic jokes he could have produced.

The Candid Candidate, originally release the 27th of August, 1937, is a fair example of putting Grampy in a setting that gives more room to play. After Betty Boop’s short rally he’s elected mayor, and then has to go about fixing the city’s problems. I admit it takes time to get going. Citizens complaining in rhyme is amusing enough, but it isn’t what Grampy does best. I think the cartoon also shows what makes a Fleischer cartoon just that extra dose weirder. Anyone could imagine protecting a city from the rain by using a giant enough umbrella. Who would have thought of Grampy’s solution instead?

Also the cartoon amuses me because its Wikipedia article, as of this moment, describes the start in this way:

Betty Boop campaigns for Grampy for Mayor, and wins by one vote (despite the fact the town’s paper says it’s a landslide).

The sentence has everything wonderful about Wikipedia. The dry facts are basically correct, but the sentence has been edited to something grammatically dubious, and one of the jokes got earnestly explained. All it needs is a dubious citation and it’d be perfect.

Senior Physicist Sought!


I try to read the local alt-weekly, the City Pulse, every alt-week. I keep finding wonderful things in it. That’s not even counting how the architectural critic for the Eyesore Of The Week column is out of control. He’s taken to insulting fine enough houses that have too large a picture window next to the driveway.

One of this week’s wonderful things is in the classified ads. These are normally almost one-third of a page of shakily formatted ads. Some of them aren’t even for the newspaper itself. This week, literally next to the ad for Lawn Mowing Service (“Ask for Dave”) and the appeal to “Donate plasma and earn $$$!” (to earn three $ and a whole factorial is a special treat), was an ad for physicists. Here’s how it starts:

Physicist: The Michigan State University National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory seeks qualified candidates for the following full-time positions: Senior Physicist (East Lansing, MI).

Senior Physicists wanted! Act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager.
Job listing in the Lansing City Pulse from the 23rd of June, 2015. Say, you don’t suppose that in asking for someone to “Act as [ … ] Manager” they mean they don’t want an actual manager, just someone who can pretend convincingly, do you?

Sure, who isn’t seeking qualified candidates for the position of senior physicist? Well, besides the newspaper. They need an advertising sales representative and a route driver. And I know what you’re thinking. “You have a math blog, Nebushumor or whatever your actual name is [ it’s Joseph ], you should apply!” I’m flattered. Thank you. But the listing says they’re looking for someone with:

exp in the design, construction, system integration and commissioning of a hadron linear accelerator with a beam power of an order of 1 MW, including electromagnetic and mechanical designs of accelerating cavities, beam focusing elements and vacuum systems for use in an accelerator.

As a mathematician naturally I have exp all over the place. I would imagine sweeping it out periodically except — you know what? Just trust me that this was heading in the direction of a mathematics joke. Mathematics and some physics majors were already giggling in anticipation. Forgive them. Anyway, I’m weak on the mechanical design of beam focusing elements for use in an accelerator. Whenever they were the lecture topic I was staring out the window at the campus’s albino squirrel.

Yes, I’m excited by the invitation to “act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager responsible for the integrated design and commissioning, and coordination of construction of the driver linear accelerator segments 1, 2, and 3 technical systems”. I’m so excited I didn’t even notice they used the Oxford comma inconsistently compared to the one quoted above. It spruces up the back pages of the newspaper. That’s the neighborhood where they run an ad for themselves showing Dave boasting how he got fifteen calls in April from his classified ad for lawn mowing. I assume it’s Dave. They don’t actually say.

I have to wonder how many applications the advert is going to get, though. Sure, anyone might be qualified to “design, fabricate and install complex superconducting accelerators”. But how many of them happen to read the classifieds in the alt-weekly any given week? There’s only so many people going into the hipster bar and the bagel shop at any moment.

It’s possible they already have someone in mind and are only posting the advertisement for form’s sake. They do specify they need candidates with “a PhD in Physics or a closely related field + 5 years exp. as a Research Scientist or any related physics research position”. But that seems like a fair requirement for an aspiring FRIBLSA Manager. It’s so reasonable that I didn’t even notice they were inconsistent about including a dot after abbreviating “experience”.

But what if they don’t? What if this is the best idea they’ve got for finding FRIBLSA Management talent? Maybe they got plenty of applicants interested in research and integration of linac segments from the normal physics-job channels, but still felt something missing. Maybe all the CVs got to looking the same. And then the head of the FRIBLSA Management Search Committee threw up her hands and said, “We need new talent!” And someone looked up from checking whether the new Hideous Art Museum was named Eyesore of the Week and pointed out they had the classifieds section.

I’d love to know if it works. I’d love to see a picture of a physicist saying “I received 15 calls in June from my City Pulse Pulsified for senior physicists.” Wouldn’t you?

Also if you are a Senior Physicist and get this job because I mentioned it let me know since my placement fees are reasonable.

From The Dream Game Show


It was a thrilling-looking game show starting up in that dream. You could tell just from the introduction of the contestants. One was the returning champion, of course, and one was from a place I had lived. Seeing someone from somewhere you know is always thrilling for absolutely no good reason. And the final contestant was the collective of world-famous architecture by the renowned Hugo Gropius. And I’m sorry that I woke up at that point and couldn’t get the dream back because I was eager to see if it would figure into gameplay at all that there was no such renowned architect. I’d love to know whether it was actually the work of Walter Gropius or of Hugo Grotius. Certainly Gropius’s work would be a formidable contestant in any general-trivia quiz show. Meanwhile, Grotius’s work was more about establishing the foundations of international law and for freedom of the seas, but no body of architectural work of any note I’m aware of. Maybe I can catch the reveal in reruns.

After The Storms


We had some terrible storms in Michigan yesterday. It was serious stuff. But we got off easily. Yes, we had over 26 feet of rain in two and a quarter hours. I had been outside during the afternoon, during the lighter part, and needed a five-minute shower to dry off. And we got those flashes of lightning that just linger, leaving a glow in the sky that lasts for … well, the longest I made out at lasting for twelve minutes. I’m sure that’s normal. We had to spend most of the day today picking up the sidewalk and squeezing out the water, which is, again, a really petty chore to have given the weather. The biggest surprise was that our goldfish pond had got washed five feet down river. Second-biggest is that our goldfish think they’ve had enough water for a while now, thanks. It was a night. A lot of people had it much worse.

In Which I Am An Awful Person


There was this guy at the bowling alley with a couple kids, the kind you see at bowling alleys, the ones that are nearly three-quarters as tall as the pins. They had the bumpers up because a kid that small has no chance of a ball rolling all the way down the lane without it falling in the gutter. A kid that small has only a sixty percent chance of the ball rolling all the way down the lane. But this kid took the ball and heaved it from the front line, and it dribbled sideways, not even making it as far as the bumpers, and it dropped in the gutter. And, dear reader, I laughed. I am ashamed, but in my defense, this actually happened. Please forgive me.

A Funky Discovery


OK, first, I want to alert people to some of my mathematics blog entries. These are the comic strip roundups, and I get to talk a bit about what makes them mathematical and, sometimes, even what makes them funny. There was one back on Tuesday, yes, but it was a busy week and I had another installment on Saturday which I padded out to appear on Sunday too. Though there were more strips than I expected so this split was kind of legitimate after all.


Now, in other news, I’d been quivering with impotent fanboy rage over the past week’s run of Funky Winkerbean, by Tom Batiuk. As you might have noted if you read any comics blog ever, the strip has long been a soap operatic parade of misery and doom, interrupted by confusing “time warps” where the characters suddenly get ten years older and more decrepit while their backstories make slightly less sense. Though since the last time warp Batiuk has been going on a slightly different tack: instead of every character suffering personal injury and professional humiliation, they’re instead being given exactly what they might dream of, only to have it shrivel up and die in their hands. It’s an exciting bathetic direction to take.

Why doesn't Les write something about Lisa? You know Lisa, the only topic of conversation that Les even has!
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 20th of June, 2015. Yes, everyone else wants to punch Les too.

This brings us to the past week, in which Boy Lisa — the kid who appears in ever-receding shade in the above strip — finishes illustrating the graphic novel Les whipped up as a belated first and second anniversary present for his wife Cayla last year. And, yes, he forgot his first anniversary. This is because Les is obsessed with his dead first wife Lisa, who died, in-strip, eighteen to twenty years ago. And yet Lisa is ever foremost in his thoughts. He wrote a successful book about how she got breast cancer and died. He does a charity run every autumn. When he was put in charge of the high school reunion he made sure the memorial wall to Lisa was adequate, but failed to actually book a venue to host it. He chats with her ghost on a surprisingly regular basis. He was somehow around when a made-for-TV adaptation of his book collapsed just as he was angst-ridden over how they were disrespecting her story. He says more to and about her than he does to his actual present wife, a woman whom I hope has more to live for than the attention and affection of her defectively-eyebrowed husband.

And the strip has given Les the terrible, ingenious idea to have Les write some more about Lisa. (Here’s how they met: they had a class together. Later, she left the school because she was pregnant, but Les ran into her.)

This can’t all be coincidence, right? The ironic reading of Funky Winkerbean is one of the Internet’s largest growth industries — you’re part of it right now — and he’s just decided to give up and write for that readership, hasn’t he?

Statistics Saturday: What Father’s Day Cards Talk About Versus What I Need Them To Say


What Father's Day cards talk about: sports, beer, 'You Kids Drive Me Krazy!', outdoor grills, tools, flatulence. What I need: 'I had an emotion, but it's all right, I think it'll pass'.
I guess there’s also cars and money.

Not researched: cards for your siblings who’re now fathers; cards for pet owners who present themselves as parents. Also not depicted: how comically inept Father’s Day Cards fathers are, as opposed to any real-world fathers I’ve known.

Admittedly, I tend to run a little bit stoic.

Meeting Betty Boop’s Grampy, Maybe


Popular cartoon characters attract relatives. It’s mandatory. Donald Duck has his nephews, Mickey Mouse a gaggle of orphans that cling to him. Popeye got nephews and a father, and in the comic strips even his grandmother. Betty Boop also picked up some relatives. The best-known of them is Grampy.

At least, I assume Grampy is Betty Boop’s grandfather. It’s not actually said. While she calls him Grampy, so does everybody else. On the other hand, there’s only one cartoon in which he appears without Betty Boop, and he’s typically present to solve Betty’s problems or to entertain her. Apparently Betty Boop’s official license-minders consider him her grandfather, so I guess that’s as definitive a word as we can expect. This isn’t the only mystery of Grampy’s nature. It’s not known who is voice actor was. Jack Mercer — the voice of Popeye and many other characters from the studio — is most often listed as Grampy’s actor, but I’m not sure that sounds right to my ear. But there’s no known contemporary documentation of who it was, just post facto attempts to place the voice.

Betty Boop And Grampy, released the 16th of August, 1935, sets the pattern for Grampy cartoons. We see Grampy, and he sets up an array of Rube Goldberg contraptions, that we get to see come to life. It’s a simple form, and it’s charming. Grampy cartoons tend to be a string of spot gags, free of tension or drama, just a steady sequence of amusements until some big contraption gets shown off. His is a world of fake-outs and sight gags, and if you find using an umbrella skeleton to slice a cake amusing you’re in good stead.

The cartoon is from 1935, and the artwork is continuing to improve amazingly. Most of the backgrounds are wonderfully precise but fluid drawings with watercolor washes, just beautiful to look at. And the Fleischers show off one of their tricks as Betty walks down the street. They had worked out a camera rigging to place animation cels in front of real, model backgrounds that could move with the camera, for uncanny realism. The sets are made to look cartoony, so that the whole project has an animated-universe existence unlike anything before the era of computer-animated cartoons.

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered


A while back I talked about the backstory Python Anghelo designed for the pinball machine Popeye Saves The Earth. I hesitate to call the backstory “crazypants”. I don’t want to wear out a good term by overuse. Also “crazypants” is inadequate to describe it. “Crazypants, crazyshirt, crazysocks and crazyshoes, crazyblazer, crazysheltered from the crazybuckets of crazyrain by a craizywaistcoat and crazyumbrella” gets more at it. Somehow Anghelo, most famous for Joust, had a strange vision for Popeye. Joust you’ll remember as the “medieval knights in space using ostriches to bludgeon pterodactyls” game.

The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?

Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.

Cute picture of Popeye, Bluto, and a number of animals looking concerned or indifferent on a ship, with the Earth and Moon in the background.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I do not know how Popeye (right) accidentally sailed to translunar space.

But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.

Animals bunched up on a space-going ship. At the back of the ship Bluto is being whalloped by various animals including a monkey.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. Far right, Bluto is whacked by a monkey.

There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.

Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.

And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?

Fun play field art of animals in comic action, mostly. Lion- and tiger-men playing shuffleboard with turtles, an iguana sprawled out over the 'Special' score light, that sort of thing.
Playfield detail on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I’m not sure the penguin in the center at the bottom is doing a fan dance with a tablecloth but cannot rule it out.

The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.

Koala on the edge of the ship, staring down. I may be reading a sense of despair into its expression that the artist didn't intend.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. The koala contemplates the complicated ways of fate while sitting at the prow of a space-going ship.

So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.

Some Stuff To Look At


Over on my mathematics blog, yes, I looked at comic strips again. No equations, I promise.

Otherwise I’d like to bring people’s attention to Comics Kingdom, the web site for King Features Syndicate. They have a great selection of vintage comic strips, mostly soap-opera and story comics. And they’ve just added Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre, or as every person in the world knows it, Popeye. My love and I are a bit Popeye-mad and this is a chance to read him as he was introduced to the world, one strip a day.

Castor Oyl and Bernice the Whiffle Hen are haunted by a mysterious, shrouded figure.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre (Popeye) for the 1st of January, 1919. Popeye is a few weeks from being introduced and taking over.

The reruns are beginning from about three weeks before Popeye makes his debut. This does join the story — centered around the magical Whiffle Hen, Bernice — several months into its run. Some folks on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips have complained about that. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though. Segar is good about explaining the story to those joining it in progress. And the strip pre-Popeye is competent but a bit dull; Popeye explodes across it and takes over by about his third sentence. Better to get to the good stuff sooner.

The Cards


I like my father-in-law. I don’t think that’s a weird quirk of my personality. So I want to send him a decent Father’s Day card. He does a lot for us as a couple, much of it related to worrying about our light fixtures, and he deserves some note for that.

So I’d like to know why greeting card companies don’t have Father’s Day cards for father-in-laws. There’s some for couples sending a joint card. But greeting card companies, the people who put in every supermarket card rack cards for a 90th birthday, for someone returning to work after being away somewhere, and cards from the cat to its “dad” don’t figure an individual might have his own relationship with his father-in-law.

I’m exaggerating. Of course I am. Just this week I got back from the Hallmark store that seems to be closing or renovating or something, we guess, because they haven’t got so much stuff in there anymore and what is there is 40 percent off except the cards. They had three Father-in-Law Father’s Day cards. Well, two of them were the same design, except that one was smaller than the other. I suppose that’s for people who want to express how they feel the same way they did about their father-in-law last year, only not so biggishly.

All I need is a good-quality photo of a cute dog or a squirrel doing something amusing that isn’t tied to a bad double-entendre. Is that too much for greeting card companies to make? Yes, by far.

Awake In The Nick Of Time


I’d like to point out I realized it was just a school stress dream. It had that classic form where I remembered in the midst of helping somebody or other move somewhere or other that the professor said we didn’t have to turn anything in by any particular time. That’s plausible enough for grad school, since the only actual requirement of grad school is “eventually, you have to leave”. It’s the best. But in the dream I realized I had started thinking maybe the second week of class that I could do this stuff later, and now it was way later, and then I realized that of course I was just having a dream, luckily moments before the City Fathers — the giant vacuum-tube supercomputers running the space-travelling New York City in James Blish’s classic science fiction Cities In Flight series of novels — ordered my summary execution. Fortunately, imaginary computers have little power over people in dreams. Also classic science fiction mostly means “it’s probably better if you don’t go back and re-read it while paying attention”.

Back To The Enterprise


Everybody's just kind of standing around their Space Pool Mini-Table.
This is from the Enterprise episode Breaking The Ice, in which the ship has ventured dozens of light-years beyond human space so everybody can romp on a comet. Yes, there’s snowman-building included and I’m not even making that up.

It’s not until you look back on a TV show like a decade later that you realize: “so, in the 22nd century we’re going to spend a lot of time reenacting Wings’s Back To The Egg album, then?”


That’s just a passing thought, so, here’s some others. My mathematics blog had another roundup of comic strips that seemed enough on point for it. It also includes links to a grammar strip and to a general teaching strip. I hope you like.

Statistics Saturday: My Use Of The Term ‘Crazypants’ Versus Time


Recent peaks: discussing the crazypants art teacher in the comic strip _Luann_, finally reading a plot summary of 1979's film _The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh_, and making this chart.
Until recently I just assumed The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh was one of those 1970s magic-animal-saving-stuff movies. It turns out it’s more a crazypants disco basketball movie.

You know how it is you just sometimes realize you’re using a word way more than normal? This happened to me recently.

If you’ve got any notable uses of the word “crazypants” or are curious about my other word uses let me know!

Not charted: the crazypants Immanuel Kant quote that kind of set off this whole recent crazypants phrasing.

When Rabbits And Flappers Perform Dentistry


Remakes have always been with us. Famously, the only version of The Wizard of Oz anyone cares about is at least the fifth filmed version of L Frank Baum’s classic, and nowhere near the last. The only version of The Maltese Falcon anyone watches is the third made between 1929 and 1939. Partly that’s because a good idea is worth doing again, certainly at least until it’s done well. Partly that’s because movies are kind of disposable. Oh, a movie will last as long as the film, or the file, lasts, and you can experience it as long as it lasts. But as a commercial prospect, a movie comes into being, is watched a while, and then is forgotten. A remake gives it a new season in the popular culture. Cartoons get remade a lot, probably because the same reasons that make it sensible to remake a movie apply even more to cartoon shorts.

I wanted to write about the Betty Boop short Ha! Ha! Ha, released the 2nd of March, 1934, because it’s listed as the last theatrical appearance of Koko the Clown. Koko was, at least in a few shorts, Betty Boop’s second boyfriend, although he was more often just a friend of hers. And he was the star of the Fleischer’s cartoons from the 1920s, including many of their oddest features. He was also star of a 1960s string of Out Of The Inkwell cartoons.

Ha! Ha! Ha! gets described as a remake of the 1924 Koko the Clown short The Cure. I think that’s overstating things. There are some pieces the shorts have in common. The framing is that of the Out Of The Inkwell cartoons: producer Max Fleischer draws a character out of the inkwell, and the cartoon characters interact a bit with the real world. Then they try extracting a tooth and eventually cartoon laughing-gas escapes into the real world, to produce some amazing and disturbing real-world animation. But I don’t think that’s enough to call one a remake of the other.

The Betty Boop cartoon is the more professional of the two, I must admit. It’s better drawn and the story holds together better. The line of action from the cartoon paper, to the office, to the city makes more sense. And it’s remarkably funny considering the last quarter of the short is just one joke — something new encounters laughing gas, and starts laughing — repeated over and over.

But The Cure might be better. Some of this is that I’m charmed by how the short features a rabbit as Koko’s partner. But I also like the way the story doesn’t quite hang together. It’s got a more dreamlike, loopy quality, and more of an improvised feel. And while the Betty Boop version has some magnificent images as laughing gas escapes to the world — the gravestones, particularly, are the sort of image that will last in the mind — I think the earlier version has better jokes all around. And the interactions between the live action and the animated figures are more ambitious and thus more fun.

After Our Rabbit’s Holiday


“So you’ve been a bit of a terror, by reports,” I said to our pet rabbit. He was looking at the open pet carrier, and considering whether to punch it.

“They were desperate times,” he finally pronounced.

“They were times at your vacation cottage.” This would be my love’s parents’ house. They watch our pet rabbit when we have to be away more than a day. Our pet rabbit can’t be left unattended that long, because he’ll run up long-distance telephone calls. The funny thing is they’re not even calls that would make sense, like ordering stacks of particularly tasty hay. It’s like he just gets carried away with the fun of dialing. In many ways our pet rabbit is a little kid, except that he doesn’t give us colds or tell us complicated and rambling stories about what happened in school.

“There were dogs chasing me!”

“I know those dogs. They’re four years older than the letter `W’.”

“So they’ve had time to practice their fiendish ways!”

“They don’t have fiendish ways. They’re barely up to falling down anymore.” He sneezed, because somehow our pet rabbit sneezes, and then turned that into a snort. “They haven’t even been growling at me because they can’t work up the energy for that anymore.” And this is true. When I first started visiting my love’s parents, the dogs would take turns barking furiously at me, because they were afraid that if they didn’t, I might go on existing. Eventually they would settle down, only for one or the other to suddenly realize that I was still a thing that existed, so they had to go through it all over again. Since then, sadly, the dogs have gotten more frail. They’ll wander up to me and mutter a half-articulated hwurmf. I tell them that’s very good barking and then they collapse on the floor where they are. I’d pat their heads if that didn’t seem like taunting.

Our rabbit put his paws together and shoved on the front of his carrier, a traditional rabbit way of expressing the concept “I want this shoved over there a little”. It works better on hay and towels and light vegetables. I picked him up by his hind legs and shoved him in the carrier, a traditional rabbit-keeper way of expressing the concept “if you won’t go in I’ll just put you in”. He turned around and punched the carrier’s bars.

Finally he said, “I can scare dogs away.”

“You can scare those dogs away. They’re very timid dogs.”

“I didn’t even have to bite and the bigger one ran away!” The dogs are the same size, but perhaps there are rabbit ways of classifying dogs I don’t understand.

“That dog’s been scared away by clouds. You’re not saying you’re just as ferocious as a cloud, are you?”

“Bring me a cloud and I’ll see who scares who!”

“You’re figuring to make a cloud quiver its knees? What has got into you?”

“I had to spend forever fending off dogs!”

It struck me: the “larger” dog came up to the edge of our rabbit’s pen before running away, while the “smaller” one was too afraid of the interloper to get that close. By “running” I mean “kind of shambling about in a way that isn’t technically falling over most of the time”.

“Luckily,” he said, “I know what to do with dogs.”

“You know what to do with those dogs. You’re an expert at existing.”

“I spent my whole life getting ready to exist!”

Our pet rabbit, partly standing --- paw resting on his exercise pen's frame --- while he nibbles at a tree branch.
Our pet rabbit, existing, with panache.

“You could be in trouble if you had to face other dogs, you know.”

He almost stopped wriggling his nose a moment. “What other dogs?”

“You know there’s more than two dogs in the world.”

“No, I heard them both.”

“Did you ever notice the dogs going over to the window and barking like crazy, then stopping and hiding from the window?”

He nodded, which is the sort of thing that involves a lot of ear-flapping. “When they forgot where I was!”

“No, that’s when they saw there was another dog walking past, outside. They stopped when the other dog noticed them.”

He pushed the carrier door with one paw, letting his fingers melt through the bars. “So there are … 98 dogs in the world?”

“More than that, even. Some dogs they didn’t notice.” I figured it not worth mentioning some of the dogs were walked past the house several times, mostly on different days.

He sniffed. “More than 98 dogs seems like too many. Let’s get home.”

I don’t agree with him on the dog count, but getting home was what I hoped for too.

Statistical Insight


WordPress has been busy redesigning things. Web sites do that, whenever they hear enough people remarking, “I understand where everything is and it works about like I expect.” Among the redesigns this month they changed the statistics page so you can’t find the old, designed, statistics page. They’ve also added a new little tab called “Insights” that means you get to click another time to see your grand total number of page views. Also among the Insights is a visual record of Posting Activity. For example, for this little humor blog, we have this:

Tiny, vertically-aligned calendars with mostly the correct record of one post per day. 26 dates in the past year have the wrong count.
WordPress’s visual representation of posting activity here for the past year. Light blue is ‘one post on this day’; dark blue is ‘two posts’; light grey is ‘no posts’. Actual posting activity has been one post per day, up to the present day.

Now, if there’s anything this blog maintains, it’s “one post a day, thank you”. So there’s 26 outbursts of posting activity that it’s recorded wrong here. The lesson, surely, is: stop worrying about your WordPress statistics already, because even if they told you anything, they’re the wrong things, so what they would have to say doesn’t make any difference. Well played, WordPress Redesigning Things Master Command. That is indeed an insight worth having. I’d like to track how many insights that is you’ve offered, but the count of them keeps coming out wrong.