From The Dawn Of Beeps


Up to about a century ago nobody had ever heard a beep. That’s not a staggering thought. It’s more the sort of thing that catches you while you’re getting to bed and keeps you from avoiding the wall. But it’s the kind of sound the universe got along fine without for billions of years, and then suddenly it didn’t anymore.

Consider a great historical figure, like Queen Elizabeth I. She went her entire life, prison and everything, without hearing a beep. What sound did anyone make when they touched her nose? A perfect silence would be terrible. She’d certainly make a noise, probably something like “quit that”. But there’d be no beep. The whole act of nose-beeping was wasted for all of human history. Did they realize something was missing?

People dreamed of having flying machines before they existed, so they understood there was something that could exist but didn’t. But who thought of “beep” as a sound we could have but didn’t have as late as, oh, 1900? Royal nose-beeping would seem to encourage people to notice the awkwardness of not having a sound. But what sort of genius would work out it was a “beep” they needed?

Could there have been some early genius who realized that even though the technology to make a “beep” didn’t yet exist, it someday would? Google’s Ngram Viewer seems to tease the idea it might, by showing off books from before 1900 that have “beep” or “beeping” in them. But those could be mistakes. Take for example Volume 26 of the Proceedings of the Iowa State Horticultural Society. It looks momentarily like they’re talking about beeping, with text like this:

In the South District the Duchess shall be the standard as to hardiness and productiveness of tree, and size of fruit, while the quality must equal Grimes’s Golden and its beeping capacity the Willow.

You could argue that the Willow has no beeping capacity. This would imply the Iowa State Horticultural Society worried about trees that have beeping capacity of less than zero. But if anyone would know about the beeping capacity of the Willow or other trees it’s them. I don’t know what a negative beeping capacity would be; maybe it would quiet authorized beeps in the area? Certainly the Iowa State Horticultural Society would seem to know what it’s talking about. Look at how neatly on that very same page they divide Iowa into two districts:

1. The North District shall include the counties north of the north line of Linn county, or the county lines nearest thereto across the state.

2. The South District shall include the counties south of the above line.

That’s top-notch organization. These are clearly horticulturists with a strong understanding of north and south. But looking carefully at the page I feel pretty sure it says “its keeping capacity the Willow”. The character recognition software at Google just got mixed up. That’s at least as possible, but it leaves unanswered the question: capacity at keeping what? If Willows have a lot of keeping capacity then this could revolutionize the self-storage industry. At the least it’ll make them look prettier.

A lot of the Google Books results for “beeping” in early 19th century texts are that sort of character error. This can be fun, like the bit in the 1866 Bradshaw’s Handbook For Tourists In Great Britain and Ireland where it looks like it says “Market Beeping (the church is ancient)”. I’m tempted to make up fake subway signs that point the way to Market Beeping. There are also a lot of old medical gazettes that Google Books summarizes as making references to “beeping cough”. That’s a jolly amusing one until you smack into the wall feeling guilty over that. Then you write it down as an ailment robots get in a cloyingly comic science fiction adventure.

So we have to conclude that “beep” caught everyone by surprise. This implies there are other sounds that nobody’s ever thought of that the universe is about to find, after fourteen billion years doing without, that it needs. What are they? No one can say, because logic works that way. If you don’t get why that is, don’t worry, it’ll catch you while you’re going to bed sometime.


(Oh, yes, I forget to invite people to follow my page here. In the current theme it’s a green box on the left side of the panel. Or you can watch what I write on Twitter, which is mostly shorter than this and is sometimes just outrage at the movie that’s on. Thanks for the attention.)

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Obscene Writing At Silver Beach, Michigan


Written on the sidewalk in chalk: 'obsenity'.
Chalk graffiti on the sidewalk at Silver Beach, Saint Joseph, Michigan.

So, unknown chalk artist working the sidewalks at Silver Beach in Michigan. I like your comic stylings. It’s a good joke, efficiently delivered. But, first: this should have been pluralized. Well, I’m willing to yield on that, especially if you also wrote this somewhere else nearby. Reasonable people can disagree. Second, though: you meant to spell it “obscenity”. Still, good job, I have to say.

Among non-obscene things, Reading the Comics, July 29, 2015: Not Entirely Reruns Edition is the latest entry in my mathematics blog. If you like comic strips that mention mathematics or if you want to hear something about a guy named Pafnuty, please check over there. Most of the comics are not newly published for the first time this week, but then, if you haven’t read them before how would you know?

Also, hey, I just had my 19,000th page view! Yay!

Edit: Yeah, I called it ‘Silver Lake Beach’ to start. I don’t know why.

Robert Benchley: When Not In Rome, Why Do As The Romans Did?


Rome’s city council has decided to phase out the use of Roman numerals on street signs, official documents, identity cards, and the like. This is being done to standardize and simplify the numerical system in use. This brings a neat bit of timeliness to this Robert Benchley essay collected in Love Conquers All.

WHEN NOT IN ROME, WHY DO AS THE ROMANS DID?

There is a growing sentiment among sign painters that when a sign or notice is to be put up in a public place it should be written in characters that are at least legible, so that, to quote The Manchester Guardian (as every one seems to do) “He who runs may read.”

This does not strike one as being an unseemly pandering to popular favor. The supposition is that the sign is put there to be read, otherwise it would have been turned over to an inmate of the Odd Fellows Home to be engraved on the head of a pin. And what could be a more fair requirement than that it should be readable?

Advertising, with its billboard message of rustless screens and co-educational turkish-baths, has done much to further the good cause, and a glance through the files of newspapers of seventy-five years ago, when the big news story of the day was played up in diamond type easily deciphered in a strong light with the naked eye, shows that news printing has not, to use a slang phrase, stood still.

But in the midst of this uniform progress we find a stagnant spot. Surrounded by legends that are patent and easy to read and understand, we find the stone-cutter and the architect still putting up tablets and cornerstones, monuments and cornices, with dates disguised in Roman numerals. It is as if it were a game, in which they were saying, “The number we are thinking of is even; it begins with M; it has five digits and when they are spread out, end to end, they occupy three feet of space. You have until we count to one hundred to guess what it is.”

Roman numerals are all right for a rainy Sunday afternoon or to take a convalescent’s mind from his illness, but to put them in a public place, where the reader stands a good chance of being run over by a dray if he spends more than fifty seconds in their perusal, is not in keeping with the efficiency of the age. If for no other reason than the extra space they take, involving more marble, more of the cutter’s time and wear and tear on his instruments, not to mention the big overhead, you would think that Roman numerals would have been abolished long ago.

Of course, they can be figured out if you’re good at that sort of thing. By working on your cuff and backs of envelopes, you can translate them in no time at all compared to the time taken by a cocoon to change into a butterfly, for instance. All you have to do is remember that “M” stands for either “millium,” meaning thousand, or for “million.” By referring to the context you can tell which is more probable. If, for example, it is a date, you can tell right away that it doesn’t mean “million,” for there isn’t any “million” in our dates. And there is one-seventh or eighth of your number deciphered already. Then “C,” of course, stands for “centum,” which you can translate by working backwards at it, taking such a word as “century” or “per cent,” and looking up what they come from, and there you have it! By this time it is hardly the middle of the afternoon, and all you have before you is a combination of X’s, I’s and an L, the latter standing for “Elevated Railway,” and “Licorice,” or, if you cross it with two little horizontal lines, it stands for the English pound, which is equivalent to about four dollars and eighty-odd cents in real money. Simple as sawing through a log.

But it takes time. That’s the big trouble with it. You can’t do the right thing by the office and go in for Roman numerals, too. And since most of the people who pass such inscriptions are dependent on their own earnings, why not cater to them a bit and let them in on the secret?

Probably the only reason that the people haven’t risen up and demanded a reform along these lines is because so few of them really give a hang what the inscription says. If the American Antiquarian Turn-Verein doesn’t care about stating in understandable figures the date on which the cornerstone of their building was laid, the average citizen is perfectly willing to let the matter drop right there.

But it would never do to revert to Roman numerals in, say, the arrangement of time-tables. How long would the commuter stand it if he had to mumble to himself for twenty minutes and use up the margins of his newspaper before he could figure out what was the next train after the 5:18? Or this, over the telephone between wife and husband:

“Hello, dear! I think I’ll come in town for lunch. What trains can I get?”

“Just a minute—I’ll look them up. Hold the wire…. Let’s see, here’s one at XII:LVIII, that’s twelve, and L is a thousand and V is five and three I’s are three; that makes 12:one thousand…. that can’t be right…. now XII certainly is twelve, and L … what does L stand for?… I say; what—does—L—stand—for?… Well, ask Heima…. What does she say?… Fifty?… Sure, that makes it come out all right…. 12:58…. What time is it now?… 1 o’clock?… Well, the next one leaves Oakam at I:XLIV…. that’s …” etc.

Batting averages and the standing of teams in the leagues are another department where the introduction of Roman numerals would be suicide for the political party in power at the time. For of all things that are essential to the day’s work of the voter, an early enlightenment in the matter of the home team’s standing and the numerical progress of the favorite batsman are of primary importance. This information has to be gleaned on the way to work in the morning, and, except for those who come in to work each day from North Philadelphia or the Croton Reservoir, it would be a physical impossibility to figure the tables out and get any of the day’s news besides.

CLVB BATTING RECORDS

Games At Bat Runs B.H. S.B. S.H. Aver.
Detroit CLII MMMMMXXCIX DCLIII MCCCXXXIII CLXVIII CC CCLXII
Chicago CLI MMMMCMXL DLXXI MCCXLVI CLXXIX CCXXI CCLII
Cleveland CLII MMMMCMXXXVII DCXIX MCCXXXI CL CCXXI CCXLIX
Boston CLI MMMMDCCCLXXIV DXXXIV MCXCI CXXXVI CCXXV CCXLV
New York CL MMMMCMLXXXVII DLIV MCCXXX CLXXV CLXV CXLVII
Washington CLIII MMMMCMXXVIII DV MCXC CLXIII CLXV CCXDI
St. Louis CLV MMMMMLXV DLXXIV MCCXXI CCVII CLXII CCXLI
Philadelphia CXLIX MMMMDCCCXXVI CCCCXVI MCXLIII CXLIII CLV CCXXXVII
YOU CAN’T DO RIGHT BY THE OFFICE AND GO IN FOR ROMAN NUMERALS TOO.

On matters such as these the proletariat would have protested the Roman numeral long ago. If they are willing to let its reactionary use on tablets and monuments stand it is because of their indifference to influences which do not directly affect their pocketbooks. But if it could be put up to them in a powerful cartoon, showing the Architect and the Stone-Cutter dressed in frock coats and silk hats, with their pockets full of money, stepping on the Common People so that he cannot see what is written on the tablet behind them, then perhaps the public would realize how they are being imposed on.

For that there is an organized movement among architects and stone-cutters to keep these things from the citizenry there can no longer be any doubt. It is not only a matter of the Roman numerals. How about the use of the “V” when “U” should be used? You will always see it in inscriptions. “SVMNER BVILDING” is one of the least offensive. Perhaps the excuse is that “V” is more adapted to stone-lettering. Then why not carry this principle out further? Why not use the letter H when S is meant? Or substitute K for B? If the idea is to deceive, and to make it easier for the stone-cutter, a pleasing effect could be got from the inscription, “Erected in 1897 by the Society of Arts and Grafts”, by making it read: “EKEATEW IZ MXIXLXIXLXXII LY THE XNLIEZY OF AEXA ZNL ELAFTX.” There you have letters that are all adapted to stone-cutting; they look well together, and they are, in toto, as intelligible as most inscriptions.


(I drew this from an online source. I haven’t had the energy to track down the original book and see whether that shouldn’t be the Society of Arts and Crafts instead, although I like the G construction. It might not be a joke Benchley meant to make, is all.)

Meanwhile, On Usenet


Yeah, I’m one of the nearly eighteen people still hanging around Usenet. One of the best hangouts is alt.fan.cecil-adams, where people who like Cecil Adams’s The Straight Dope information feature get together and never talk about Cecil Adams’s The Straight Dope information feature. It’s a neat spot, though, since it’s a gathering of people who were know-it-alls their entire lives. And the astounding thing is everybody basically gets along with everybody else, even though the natural enemy of the know-it-all is any other know-it-all. We just know that any other know-it-all is dead wrong and doesn’t even realize it, and this produces hard feelings as other people won’t concede that they’re wrong and I’m right. But for some reason in this group that dynamic doesn’t work. Nobody knows why.

Anyway. Subject lines in the group occasionally turn up beautiful little couplets and here’s some, just as they appeared on my news reader.

The Trouble with Normal
I have had about 10 showings of my house in 2 weeks

(That’s normal enough, I think, if you’re trying to sell the place.)

Too Honest?
The very definition of looney tunes:

(Kind of a cynical attitude there.)

Soap Dispensing
IRS courtesy

(Good to know they do give you soap. This next one seems like over-reacting, to me.)

What do you do with a leftover nuclear bunker?
Harper Lee’s Latest Opus

(And this next one has a poignant missed-connections thing going for it.)

Lost iPhone
seeking windows

I know this won’t be believed, since nobody believes in amusing found-comedy bits like this anymore, and they suspect entires have been edited to make them out better, but it’s what came up as I saw it. Anyway, if I were making them up I’d have tried for more gut-punchingly funny things instead of trifling grins like these.

A Comics Relief


It’s been nearly a week or so, so here’s some more mathematics comics. No pictures over there, so let me give you one here. This installment of Little Denny Mud was run as part of Peter Maresca’s Origins of the Sunday Comic feature at Gocomics.com recently.

It's a comic strip carved as a relief and then photographed.
Charles Beaty’s Little Denny Mud for the 247th of March, 1910, as printed in Peter Maresco’s Origins of the Sunday Comics feature the 26th of July, 2015.

As Maresca’s caption says, the strip was carved as a relief sculpture and photographed. It’s a strange and innovative idea. It wasn’t long-lasting, though. It ran from the 16th of January through the 8th of May, 1910. I can imagine the concept being artistically successful in a high-quality print magazine, or as something distributed on the web. But newspaper publication with the technology available in 1910? I guess it came through tolerably or we wouldn’t have the panels that look as good as they do. But it still seems like a neat concept done in the wrong medium. (The strip itself, well, that’s any comic strip from 1910 and if it weren’t for the medium I don’t know I’d have worked my way through the captions.)

The Stripper’s Guide offers some more information about Charles Beaty, including samples of his pre-1910 artwork. Beaty would produce a clay-portraits panel for Universal Press Syndicate. The earliest The Stripper’s Guide had was a January 1912 production of then-Governor Woodrow Wilson. Some other figures for the Great Men In Common Clay series include Orville Wright, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and Kris Kringle.

I tend to be impressed by the attempt at doing a comic strip in an unusual medium. Mo Willems’ Sketchbook is often photographs of stuff doodled on placemats. Terry Border’s Bent Objects is panel cartoons enacted in sculpture. But often that amounts to admiring the effort involved rather than the emotional appeal of the final product. Still, you can’t get a good artistic medium going without experiments and novelties and offbeat projects like this. I’m glad to know things like this exist.

Statistics Saturday: 2015 Saturdays versus Other Days, To Date


For the year 2015. As of the conclusion of the 25th of July, 2015.

Day Count
Sunday 29
Monday 29
Tuesday 29
Wednesday 29
Thursday 30
Friday 30
(Cumulative) 176
Saturday 30

Have to say, I can see most of these days catching up, but I expect Thursday to win in the end.

Rube and Mandy at Coney Island


I found this short movie, about Coney Island, fascinating. It’s Rube and Mandy at Coney Island. It was released by the Edison Manufacturing Company to theaters in August 1903, although I couldn’t say just when. Probably it doesn’t matter. For the era I would expect prints just threaded their ways through theaters, appearing at any particular location goodness knows when.

I don’t blame you if you skip through the video, though. It hasn’t got much of a story. It’s really most fascinating as a view of what stuff there was to see at Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park and Luna Park in the summer of 1903. Director Edward Porter was surely trying for a comic short about smalltown hicks overwhelmed by the amusements of the big city. Well, look at the first word of the title, and the horse-pushed carriage they use to get there. But after that, up to the final scenes of Rube and Mandy failing at the High Striker and getting befuddled by hot dogs, there’s not much to mark them as particularly out of it.

I can’t tell you anything about Rube or Mandy. I can’t find information about who performed them. The title makes it sound like there should be a series of “Rube and Mandy” shorts. I could imagine a string of shorts of them going to different places, but I don’t see evidence of that. Porter’s filmography does list a Rube and Fender also from 1903, and A Rube Couple At A County Fair for 1904 at least.

Edward Porter may strike you as a faintly familiar name. He was the director for The Great Train Robbery, plus about three hundred other short subjects you never heard of. That The Great Train Robbery also came out in 1903 makes it stand out to me that almost at the same time he directed this basically storyless short.

But maybe an amusement park short, especially a live-action one, is forced to be a bit storyless. In a cartoon the characters can hurtle from one attraction to another in a way that builds the storyline. Filming real people — especially on the low budget and short filming times available — keeps each attraction in its own separate universe. Add to that a lack of dialogue or interstitial title cards, as in this short, and there’s not much way to carry a story through the scenes.

So maybe the short is best appreciated as accidental documentary. (Porter would film an openly documentary short titled Coney Island in 1905. Yes, I am aware of the difficulties in calling anything filmed a documentary.) It shows off parts of the Steeplechase Park of the time, before the 1907 fire obliterated it. Legendarily, the morning after the fire Steeplechase Park owner George Tilyou — you may know him from that grinning Tilly face — put up a sign promising the park would be rebuilt, bigger and better, and charging ten cents admission to the smoldering ruin. The park was rebuilt, and lasted until 1964. Luna Park was newly opened, replacing Sea Lion Park. Luna Park would be destroyed by fire in 1944.

I think most remarkable about the amusements is how few of them are outrageous. They would fit into a modern park almost effortlessly. Well, the Monkey House would be right out — I hate to think what was done to keep the Monkey House performers from ripping the staff’s face off — and the other animal rides would be looked at with more skepticism. But Shoot-the-Chutes are still around. Rope bridges and helter skelters are more aimed at kids these days, but there’s no reason they couldn’t be set up for adults. It’s remarkable, I think, to look at people from a hundred and twelve years ago — literally from before the Wright Brothers’ famous first airplane flew — and see the same small things as we do today.

How I Overcame The Face In My Room


M J Wright was writing about the tendency of people to see patterns where there aren’t any. It’s put me in mind of something from back in my days as a teenage boy. I also spent my nights as a teenage boy, back then. It seemed the best use of my time. But you should bear in mind that as a teenage boy, I was nevertheless a teenage boy, so my judgement was bad. I don’t mean it was the kind of bad judgement that leads to stories which include non-metaphorical uses of the word “plummet”, or leave one barred from joining a military service or entering any Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips ever. My judgement was an ordinary, low-level sort of bad.

For example, I would spend hours typing in the programs listed in Compute!’s Gazette for the Commodore 64. See, back then a major draw for computer magazines was they’d give you the code for programs to do stuff like play versions of Arkanoid but with worse graphics and no sound. All you had to do was type in hundreds of two- or three-digit binary codes perfectly. Compute!’s Gazette was a really special magazine, because it insisted on putting an exclamation point just before the apostrophe s. I just know that offended copy editors, back when there were copy editors.

The work-to-play ratio got a lot better about a year after I got a Commodore 64 that was basically fine but some of the keys were wrong. That’s because I finally got a Datasette. This was a tape recorder optimized for use by the Commodore 64 by having a plug the right shape for it. So I could finally type in a program once and then re-use it sometime later. I know this doesn’t sound like much now, but remember the times. It was an era when the computer had sixteen colors, and three of them were grey.

Sometimes I’d even use them. Not necessarily. I once spent an evening typing in the code for the word processor SpeedScript 1.0, even though I had already typed in SpeedScript 3.2. Why would I do this? Well, I had the magazine with the code for SpeedScript 1.0 in it and it was just sitting there waiting for someone to type it in. And it wasn’t like my wrists could be expected to pick up a repetitive strain injury on their own. As I say, I was a teenaged boy.

Anyway. I had a small television set with rabbit-ear antennas in my bedroom. I hung aluminum foil on the ends of the ears to improve the reception a tiny bit. Mostly I wanted the thrill of having rabbit-ear antennas with panes of aluminum foil on the ends. I thought that made it more rabbit-ear antenna-y. Remember, teenaged boy.

One night I noticed that, through the light from outside, one of the sheets of foil had a clear human face in it. I realize I know what face, too: it was pretty obviously Destro, from G.I.Joe. And this annoyed me because I knew if I tried to draw a face it wouldn’t be anywhere near so well-formed as that. I never tried drawing Destro much. I did, some, in making my own awful comics. I had wanted to point out ways that minor procedural changes would have allowed many of Cobra’s evil schemes succeed. But I figured out drawing comics was easier if I just drew landscapes, word balloons, and explosions. The people could be skipped. And eventually I figured out that I had no responsibility for correcting Cobra’s blunders.

Still, this aluminium-foil Destro was there every night, teasing me. All my powers and slight concentration couldn’t do a face nearly as realistic or as expressive as this thing created by breezes and fiddling with the antenna. It wasn’t all I thought about in bed, but it was something to nag at me every night.

So finally one day I crumpled up the foil and flattened it out again. This eliminated the face for good, and I can draw a better Destro that that, I assume. I think this was the right thing to do, but remember, I was that teenaged boy.

I know what this has you all wondering. Of course I never typed in SpeedScript 2.0, because that was only offered as a special bonus to people who bought the Compute!’s Gazette Disk. So far as I know there was never anything for the public to type in.

Robert Benchley: How To Sell Goods


In this piece from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley shares solid, practical advice he got from reading a book. It’s still solid advice nearly a century on. For the record I’m the kind of customer who tries to hide behind the endcaps and will flee to another store if an employee asks if I need any help finding anything, which slows me down those times when I do need help finding something. However, if I’m really determined to buy something, any old thing will do and I can find something most anyplace to buy. iPod case? $100 Grand candy bar? Soccer ball pressure gauge? Differently-colored underwear? They’re all somethings. They’ll do.

HOW TO SELL GOODS

The Retail Merchants’ Association ought to buy up all the copies of Elements of Retail Salesmanship, by Paul Westley Ivey (Macmillan), and not let a single one get into the hands of a customer, for once the buying public reads what is written there the game is up. It tells all about how to sell goods to people, how to appeal to their weaknesses, how to exert subtle influences which will win them over in spite of themselves. Houdini might as well issue a pamphlet giving in detail his methods of escape as for the merchants of this country to let this book remain in circulation.

The art of salesmanship is founded, according to Mr. Ivey, on, first, a thorough knowledge of the goods which are to be sold, and second, a knowledge of the customer. By knowing the customer you know what line of argument will most appeal to him. There are several lines in popular use. First is the appeal to the instinct of self-preservation—i.e., social self-preservation. The customer is made to feel that in order to preserve her social standing she must buy the article in question. “She must be made to feel what a disparaged social self would mean to her mental comfort.”

It is reassuring to know that it is a recognized ruse on the part of the salesman to intimate that unless you buy a particular article you will have to totter through life branded as the arch-piker. I have always taken this attitude of the clerks perfectly seriously. In fact, I have worried quite a bit about it.

In the store where I am allowed to buy my clothes it is quite the thing among the salesmen to see which one of them can degrade me most. They intimate that, while they have no legal means of refusing to sell their goods to me, it really would be much more in keeping with things if I were to take the few pennies that I have at my disposal and run around the corner to some little haberdashery for my shirts and ties. Every time I come out from that store I feel like Ethel Barrymore in Déclassée. Much worse, in fact, for I haven’t any good looks to fall back upon.

Robert Benchley standing meekly before the sales clerk.
They intimate that I had better take my few pennies and run `round the corner to some little haberdashery. Illustration by Gluyas Williams.

But now that I know the clerks are simply acting all that scorn in an attempt to appeal to my instinct for the preservation of my social self, I can face them without flinching. When that pompous old boy with the sandy mustache who has always looked upon me as a member of the degenerate Juke family tries to tell me that if I don’t take the five-dollar cravat he won’t be responsible for the way in which decent people will receive me when I go out on the street, I will reach across the counter and playfully pull his own necktie out from his waistcoat and scream, “I know you, you old rascal! You got that stuff from page 68 of Elements of Retail Salesmanship (Macmillan).”

Other traits which a salesperson may appeal to in the customer are: Vanity, parental pride, greed, imitation, curiosity and selfishness. One really gets in touch with a lot of nice people in this work and can bring out the very best that is in them.

Customers are divided into groups indicative of temperament. There is first the Impulsive or Nervous Customer. She is easily recognized because she walks into the store in “a quick, sometimes jerky manner. Her eyes are keen-looking; her expression is intense, oftentimes appearing strained.” She must be approached promptly, according to the book, and what she desires must be quickly ascertained. Since these are the rules for selling to people who enter the store in this manner, it might be well, no matter how lethargic you may be by nature, to assume the appearance of the Impulsive or Nervous Customer as soon as you enter the store, adopting a quick, even jerky manner and making your eyes as keen-looking as possible, with an intense expression, oftentimes appearing strained. Then the clerk will size you up as type No. 1 and will approach you promptly. After she has quickly filled your order you may drop the impulsive pose and assume your natural, slow manner again, whereupon the clerk will doubtless be highly amused at having been so cleverly fooled into giving quick service.

The opposite type is known as the Deliberate Customer. She walks slowly and in a dignified manner. Her facial expression is calm and poised. “Gestures are uncommon, but if existing tend to be slow and inconspicuous.” She can wait.

Then there is the Vacillating or Indecisive Customer, the Confident or Decisive Customer (this one should be treated with subtle flattery and agreement with all her views), The Talkative or Friendly Customer, and the Silent or Indifferent one. All these have their little weaknesses, and the perfect salesperson will learn to know these and play to them.

There seems to be only one thing left for the customer to do in order to meet this concerted attack upon his personality. That is, to hire some expert like Mr. Ivey to study the different types of sales men and women and formulate methods of meeting their offensive. Thus, if I am of the type designated as the Vacillating or Indecisive Customer, I ought to know what to do when confronted by a salesman of the Aristocratic, Scornful type, so that I may not be bulldozed into buying something I do not want.

If I could only find such a book of instructions I would go tomorrow and order a black cotton engineer’s shirt from that sandy-mustached salesman and bawl him out if he raised his eyebrows. But not having the book, I shall go in and, without a murmur, buy a $3 silk shirt for $18 and slink out feeling that if I had been any kind of sport at all I would also have bought that cork helmet in the showcase.

Again On The Turbolifts


O'Brien, Troi, and Data standing in a turbolift. Actually it's their bodies being manipulated by aliens but you really can't go fourteen days without your body being manipulated by aliens in the Trek universe.
From the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Power Play”, one of several episodes in which Troi beats up Worf.

O’Brien: Personal log. I’ll give them just three more hours and then I’m going to pick a floor.


(Why is everyone on the turbolifts all of a sudden? Why don’t they ever take the stairs, it’s healthier? I don’t know, I don’t take the stairs either if I have the choice. Let me know if you have any better ideas.)

The ‘Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G’ Update


I would just like to assure anyone wondering what’s happened in Apartment 3-G since the last update about how nothing is happening in it, that nothing has continued to happen. I confess it is starting to look like the story might be digging out of its extremely deep ruts into implying something happening. Specifically, this past week Margo did not meet any strange, haunting, phantom-like faces to chase off. Margo did warn Gabby, her until-recently-unsuspected biological mother that the place she had been planning to use for the wedding, Stonewell, had suddenly jumped considerably in price.

How she could have known this I don’t know, because as far as I can tell there haven’t been any moments when she could have learned this. But then Margo and Gabby did teleport mid-conversation from the middle of whatever smalltown American city Henry lives in, back in 1947, into every interior in Apartment 3-G ever anymore. So I can’t rule out their having psychic powers letting them learn these things.

Margo warns Gabby that the Stonewell property, where she hopes to marry, has gone up in price from fifty thousand to a quarter million. (Stonewell is in England so this might be dollars or might be pounds. Gabby's fiancee --- Margo's father --- is absurdly rich.)
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 19th of July, 2015.


Margo has an idea: 'I'm going to make Diane Device disappear!' Gabby does not understand this clearly stated plan to murder Diane.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 20th of July, 2015.

Anyway, the characters are obviously deciding to take up recreational murder, or possibly stage magic, so that’s very reminiscent of being something-ish, without anything actually happening. In the meantime, I had another bunch of mathematics comics to review over on my other blog. There’s some silly pirate jokes in there. You’d probably enjoy.

Improved Supervillainy


Live everyone in my generational cohort I got to thinking about that supervillains do wrong. I mean besides doing evil. It’s struck me the ransom scheme, threatening to blow up the world or some beloved piece of it such as the area where the filmmakers live, is fundamentally flawed. People will fight back against the threat of death.

What supervillains should do for ransom schemes is come up with a plausible threat by which they would embarrass the population. They could demand thousands of billions of dollars a day and get it. And even if a superhero stepped up offering to save the day, municipal authorities would hold him back because think of the consequences if he fails.

And then I wonder what I’m doing that I work out the flaws in supervillain ransom schemes. Well, that’s just the world we live in anymore, I guess. So, should it be “supervillainy” or “supervillainwry”?

Popeye is the King of the Mardi Gras


I want to do some more amusement park/boardwalk shorts for July. I’m not aiming exclusively at cartoons, but they do offer some great examples of amusement park action. Probably that’s because they can actually be as wildly out of control as amusement park cartoons like to present themselves as being. (Of course, a cartoon is a thoroughly controlled medium. A real actor can ad-lib a facial expression or a bit of movement that even the best cartoon can’t. Freedom and control are weirdly entwined concepts.)

The Popeye cartoon King of the Mardi Gras was released the 27th of September, 1935. Really, what is the better time to watch a cartoon with Mardi Gras in the title and its catchy recurring song than six months after Mardi Gras? Or, for that matter, to watch a cartoon that says it’s happening at Coney Island than a month after the end of summer? I’m not sure they understood calendars back then.

Anyway. It’s a black-and-white Popeye cartoon, so you know already it’s almost certainly worth the watching. Wikipedia asserts this to be the first time Popeye’s voiced by Jack Mercer. Mercer would be the default voice for Popeye until 1980. There’d be a few substitutions, mostly while Mercer was in the Army. But whether Fleischer Studios, Famous Studios, King Features Syndicate, or Hanna-Barbera, Mercer would be the default voice. Even in this first appearance he’s got the voice down. The performance doesn’t have to change much to be right.

The plot’s got a nice natural build, with Bluto and Popeye taking turns out-doing one another’s stunts. It gives Bluto maybe the best line, too, the wail of everyone who’s tried to make a living as an artist on the Internet: “Don’t anyone want to see a man choked to death — free?”

Since the cartoon dates to 1935, the Fleischers make use of some live-action backgrounds, for a wonderful three-dimensional rendering of the amusement park. It’s gorgeous. And it’s almost a touchstone for roller coaster history, too.

At about the 40-second mark there’s a view of a roller coaster with a loop. That’s a curious choice. There were no loops on roller coasters in the 1930s. There were a handful of roller coasters that did loops made before about 1910, most of them with names like “Flip Flap Railway” or “Loop the Loop”. But these weren’t terribly successful. They didn’t carry many passengers per hour, and they weren’t very good rides, by accounts. These Loop the Loops were built before the innovation of “upstop wheels”. Those are the sets of wheels that clamp roller coaster cars to the top and bottom of the tracks. That keeps the car secured tightly to the track. Without those, though, a Flip Flap car would have to stick to the track by going so fast it couldn’t possibly drop off the loop. The result is the ride has to be not much except one small, tight, neck-breaking loop. So after a few seasons of this, the rides quietly disappeared before World War I.

In the 1970s new roller coasters, mostly using steel tracks, would make loops that could be more graceful, and less painful. As a result loops have almost become the default element of a roller coaster ride after the first drop. Sometimes before.

In the climax, Bluto runs off with Olive to a ride billed as a “Thrill Ride Scenic Railway”. “Scenic Railway” is indeed an old name for roller coasters. This normally connotes a ride that’s slower and less thrilling, but that takes one past tableaus of, well, scenery. There are few of those left, especially with scenery still intact. The only one the Roller Coaster Database lists as still operating is The Great Scenic Railway in Luna Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. There’s another at the recently-reopened Dreamland in Margate, Kent, United Kingdom, but it’s not yet opened. That’s a real pity, as that roller coaster dates to before automatic braking. A railroad brakeman has to ride with the car and slow it at the right moment. Imagine!

At about 7:26 there’s a fun sequence on the Scenic Railway where the track rolls a bit side to side, one side of the track going higher than the other. That’s a fun ride element known as “trick track”. It was popular in the 1920s, but faded out of use after that. The only roller coaster I’m aware of that still has any is the Shivering Timbers ride at Michigan’s Adventure, in Muskegon, Michigan. I don’t see why it’s gone extinct. It’s a fun and seemingly easy way to add excitement to what would otherwise be a straight block of track.

Just before that is a moment of the roller coaster going in a bow-tie loop. I don’t know if there were any early roller coaster that did that. There are modern examples of this, such as Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. I am curious whether the animators were building on stuff they might have ridden, or remembered hearing about, or were just imagining what might someday make a thrilling ride.

The Scenic Railway, besides its fun for an amusement park buff, is also an artistic triumph. The wooden roller coaster requires drawing a lot of track structure, in perspective, and moving quite rapidly. The Fleischers don’t skimp on that. I like to believe the work that’s gone into that makes the action funnier. But I admit I’m also amazed they didn’t build models of a railway and use pictures of that for the foreground railroad. That would have to have looked at least as impressive.

My Favorite Fonzie


I don’t go in to record shows looking for ironic and dubious purchases. But last weekend I did find the album Fonzie Favorites. It’s dated 1976. The more my love and I looked at it the more I knew I had to have the album even though that would make me feel kind of bad. But everything about the product just keeps giving.

Back cover of a stand able album. It includes some stock pictures of the Fonz and of the graffiti wall at Arnold's.
Cover to the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites that, on close examination, turns out to be the back cover to the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites.

For example, how to explain the weird perforation in the cover? This is because that was the back cover. The perforation was so that you could fold out a cardboard leg. It’s like those desktop picture frames that fall over backwards. Then you could be forever stared at by the smiling face of Henry Winkler. He’s dressed in a leather jacket with a superimposed “SIT ON IT” button. I admit having few clear memories of 1976, but I believe this to be representative of the era.

Fonzie baring his teeth while a 'SIT ON IT' button's been superimposed on his jacket.
Front cover for the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites. The face of Henry Winkler potentially staring at you. Forever.

The back cover promises “NO!!! The Fonz has not taken to singing on this album.” This makes sense because who would buy a Fonzie album to listen to Fonzie singing? It’s not like he’s Kojak or something. What they have is “BETTER!!! He has chosen favorite 50’s records to share with you.” It appears the Fonz is careless about the difference between a record and a song from a record. I bet he throws the word “album” around with reckless abandon. But these thoughts didn’t preoccupy me at the record show. I was busy looking at the graffiti wall and the big lips. They’re identified as “Wiscosin Cheese”. The graffiti artist spelled “Wisconsin” with nearly 89 percent accuracy. I guess that’s from the actual TV show set, but I never noticed before. A dollar is a fair price for that sort of revelation.

The grey ellipsoid on the back cover promises, “The last selection on this album is an `impressionist track’ containing the expressions Aaaaay, Cool, Nerd, Sit on It! Listen & learn to use Fonzie’s favorite phrases perfectly!” I know what you’re all thinking: how can this be the “last selection” on the album if it comes at the end of Side One? I like to think that the publisher, the Ahed Music corporation of Cheektowaga, New York, would answer by pointing behind you and noting, “SPIDER!”, then running away. Or, “SPIDER!!!”, based on their cover copy.

The “Impressionist Track” is much of the theme from Happy Days. At random intervals someone impersonating Fonzie says “Aaaaay” or “Sit on it” or “Cool”. This Dadaist performance of theme-song tune and mistimed bursts of Fonzie Words is shorter than I would have imagined, yet somehow not also a show on Adult Swim. You might wonder why anyone might need a record to figure out what it sounds like to say “Nerd”. But remember, the album is from 1976. Back then the only way to record stuff off TV was to take a Polaroid picture of the screen, and that’s useless for voice acting. You could buy a Photonovel. But that would just be cartoon word balloons plastered over stills from the most boring episode the TV show ever made. This is almost useless in working out the right inflections for saying “Cool”.

And yet the album keeps giving. “The Fonzarelli Slide” is the Happy Days/Welcome Back, Kotter crossover you’d never admit to writing, since you couldn’t work out a sensible way for Fonzie to have any meaningful interaction with the Sweathogs. He’d be like thirty years older than them. Yes, yes, Mork from Ork might travel back from his own show to Happy Days again. And he might decide to bring the Fonz forward in time. And even bring along Laverne and Shirley for some reason. But then why wouldn’t Horshack wonder about the Orkian? Why bother questioning whether the Fonz might be making a power play for leadership of the Sweathogs? Alternatively, should we take the Happy Days time-travel-based cartoon to be a canonical part of the Garry-Marshall-verse now? I’m sorry, but you did read this paragraph. You have some responsibility for it being in your head.

Put aside the practicalities of a Happy Days/Welcome Back, Kotter crossover if you dare. Because not a word on the cover suggests any Welcome Back, Kotter connection. This implies at some point in 1976 at the Ahed Music corporation of Cheektowaga, New York was a conversation like this:

“How’s that Happy Days record thing going?”

“Great! Tom had a killer idea, and we’re doing a track with the Welcome Back, Kotter characters too!”

“Oh, great idea. The girls love their John Travolta impersonators. Are we gonna put a sticker about ‘Special bonus Welcome Back Kotter appearance’ on it?”

“No, I figure we just let it surprise people.”

“That’s perfect, considering it’s 1976! Hey, want to check out the Herschell Carousel Factory over in North Tonawanda?”

“Oh, no, we’re at least a decade too soon to appreciate the art and craftsmanship of American carousel-makers. But let’s do that in 1988 sometime!

The back cover says the album was “TV & Radio Advertised”. This implies they worried someone would look it over but ponder. “It’s 1976, and I want to buy a Fonz-selected set of 50’s records or albums or songs or something! This record looks promising — but what if it wasn’t advertised on TV or radio?”. And they made sure this, at least, wouldn’t make consumers walk away.

Putting aside the ironic appeal. Somehow. It’s a good set of Favorite 50s Songs and I clung to that to justify buying this. The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown”, Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash”, The Five Satins’ “In The Still Of The Night”, these are all songs you can listen to with a clear conscience. Well, not these specific songs, because the record is kind of warped and only the innermost, most ironic, tracks will play. But if we gently crushed this record flat it would be worth the dollar, even if we never heard Happy Days music interspersed with “Sit on it!” again.

Another Day On The Starship Voyager


Captain Janeway looks horrified at Lieutenant Paris, and does not look at Commander Chakotay, because who would given the choice?
Scene from “Twisted”, that Star Trek: Voyager with the space-time anomaly. The one inside the ship. In the second season. In the early part of the second season. Where they keep finding themselves on the holodeck. One of them, anyway.

Another day in the Delta Quadrant, another horrifying fact about Neelix’s anatomy that Captain Janeway can’t un-learn.


Have I captioned this wrong? Let me know what it should have been instead. Or let’s just grump about how everybody calls him Geordi, instead of LaForge or by his rank or position or anything.

Finley Peter Dunne explains High Finance


While I imagine many people are interested in How To Understand International Finance these days, I thought I’d step back to the turn of the 20th century and Finley Peter Dunne’s Mister Dooley, who in Mr Dooley’s Philosophy explains high finance. And yes, I understand, the dialect writing makes it harder to read. It’s worth it.

Mister Dooley on: HIGH FINANCE

“I THINK,” said Mr. Dooley, “I’ll go down to th’ stock yards an’ buy a dhrove iv Steel an’ Wire stock.”

“Where wud ye keep it?” asked the unsuspecting Hennessy.

“I’ll put it out on th’ vacant lot,” said Mr. Dooley, “an’ lave it grow fat by atin’ ol’ bur-rd cages an’ tin cans. I’ll milk it hard, an’ whin ’tis dhry I’ll dispose iv it to th’ widdies an’ orphans iv th’ Sixth Ward that need household pets. Be hivins, if they give me half a chanst, I’ll be as gr-reat a fi-nanceer as anny man in Wall sthreet.

“Th’ reason I’m so confident iv th’ value iv Steel an’ Wire stock, Hinnissy, is they’re goin’ to hur-rl th’ chairman iv th’ comity into jail. That’s what th’ pa-apers calls a ray iv hope in th’ clouds iv dipression that’ve covered th’ market so long. `Tis always a bull argymint. `Snowplows common was up two pints this mornin’ on th’ rumor that th’ prisidint was undher ar-rest.’ `They was a gr-reat bulge in Lobster preferred caused be th’ report that instead iv declarin’ a dividend iv three hundhred per cint. th’ comp’ny was preparin’ to imprison th’ boord iv directors.’ `We sthrongly ricommind th’ purchase iv Con and Founder. This comp’ny is in ixcillint condition since th’ hangin’ iv th’ comity on reorganization.’

“What’s th’ la-ad been doin’, Hinnissy? He’s been lettin’ his frinds in on th’ groun’ flure — an’ dhroppin’ thim into th’ cellar. Ye know Cassidy, over in th’ Fifth, him that was in th’ ligislachure? Well, sir, he was a gr-reat frind iv this man. They met down in Springfield whin th’ la-ad had some thing he wanted to get through that wud protect th’ widdies an’ orphans iv th’ counthry again their own avarice, an’ he must’ve handed Cassidy a good argymint, f’r Cassidy voted f’r th’ bill, though threatened with lynchin’ be stockholders iv th’ rival comp’ny. He come back here so covered with dimons that wan night whin he was standin’ on th’ rollin’ mill dock, th’ captain iv th’ Eliza Brown mistook his shirt front f’r th’ bridge lights an’ steered into a soap facthry on th’ lee or gas-house shore.

“Th’ man made a sthrong impression on Cassidy. ‘Twas : `As me frind Jawn says,’ or `I’ll ask Jawn about that,’ or `I’m goin’ downtown to-day to find out what Jawn advises.’ He used to play a dollar on th’ horses or sivin-up f’r th’ dhrinks, but afther he met Jawn he wanted me to put in a tick er, an’ he wud set in here figurin’ with a piece iv chalk on how high Wire’d go if hoopskirts come into fashion again. `Give me a dhrop iv whisky,’ he says, ` f’r I’m inthrested in Distillers,’ he says, `an’ I’d like to give it a shove,’ he says. `How’s Gas?’ he says. `A little weak, to-day,’ says I. `’Twill be sthronger,’ he says. `If it ain’t,’ says I, `I’ll take out th’ meter an’ connect th’ pipe with th’ ventilator. I might as well bur-rn th’ wind free as buy it,’ I says.

“A couple iv weeks ago he see Jawn an’ they had a long talk about it. `Cassidy,’ says Jawn, `ye’ve been a good frind iv mine,’ he says, an’ I’d do annything in the wurruld t’r ye, no matther what it cost ye,’ he says. `If ye need a little money to tide over th’ har-rd times till th’ ligislachure meets again buy’ — an’ he whispered in Cassidy’s ear. `But,’ he says, `don’t tell annywan. ‘Tis a good thing, but I want to keep it bottled up,’ he says.

“Thin Jawn took th’ thrain an’ begun confidin’ his secret to a few select frinds. He give it to th’ conductor on th’ thrain, an’ th’ porther, an’ th’ can dy butcher; he handed it to a switchman that got on th’ platform at South Bend, an’ he stopped off at Detroit long enough to tell about it to the deepo’ policeman. He had a sign painted with th’ tip on it an’ hung it out th’ window, an’ he found a man that carrid a thrombone in a band goin’ over to Buffalo, an’ he had him set th’ good thing to music an’ play it through th’ thrain. Whin he got to New York he stopped at the Waldorf Asthoria, an’ while th’ barber was powdhrin’ his face with groun’ dimons Jawn tol’ him to take th’ money he was goin’ to buy a policy ticket with an’ get in on th’ good thing. He tol’ th’ bootblack, th’ waiter, th’ man at th’ news-stand, th’ clerk behind th’ desk, an’ th’ bartinder in his humble abode. He got up a stereopticon show with pitchers iv a widow-an-orphan befure an’ afther wirin’, an’ he put an advertisement in all th’ pa-apers tellin’ how his stock wud make weak men sthrong. He had th’ tip sarved hot in all th’ resthrants in Wall sthreet, an’ told it confidintially to an open-air meetin’ in Madison Square. `They’se nawthin,’ he says, `that does a tip so much good as to give it circulation,’ he says.’ I think, be this time,’ he says, `all me frinds knows how to proceed, but — Great Hivins!’ he says. `What have I done? Whin all the poor people go to get th’ stock they won’t be anny f’r thim. I can not lave thim thus in th’ lurch. Me reputation as a gintleman an’ a fi-nanceer is at stake,’ he says. `Rather than see these brave people starvin’ at th’ dure f’r a morsel iv common or preferred, I’ll — I’ll sell thim me own stock,’ he says. An’ he done it. He done it, Hinnissy, with unfalthrin’ courage an’ a clear eye. He sold thim his stock, an’ so’s they might get what was left at a raysonable price, he wrote a confidintial note to th’ pa-apers tellin’ thim th’ stock wasn’t worth thirty cints a cord, an’ now, be hivins, they’re talkin’ iv puttin’ him in a common jail or pinitinchry pre ferred. Th’ ingratichood iv man.”

“But what about Cassidy?” Mr. Hennessy asked.

“Oh,” said Mr. Dooley, “he was in here las’ night. `How’s our old frind Jawn?’ says I. He said nawthin’. `Have ye seen ye’er collidge chum iv late?’ says I. `Don’t mintion that ma-an’s name,’ says he. `To think iv what I’ve done f’r him,’ he says, `an’ him to throw me down,’ he says. `Did ye play th’ tip?’ says I. `I did,’ says he. `How did ye come out?’ says I. `I haven’t a cint lift but me renommynation f’r th’ ligislachure,’ says he. `Well,’ says I, `Cassidy,’ I says, `ye’ve been up again what th’ pa-apers call hawt finance,’ I says. `What th’ divvle’s that?’ says he. `Well,’ says I, `it ain’t burglary, an’ it ain’t obtainin’ money be false pretinses, an’ it ain’t manslaughter,’ I says. `It’s what ye might call a judicious seliction fr’m th’ best features iv thim ar-rts,’ I says. `T’was too sthrong f’r me,’ he says. `It was,’ says I. `Ye’re about up to simple thransom climbin’, Cassidy,’ I says.”

A Short But Pleasant Ride


Tucked into my Twitter feed was this bit from Spinger Mathematics. Springer publishes a lot of fine mathematics books, in both a line of yellow-covered texts and a line of blue-covered ones. The yellow ones are better, because mine had a yellow cover.

I grant that’s probably not very interesting to you. What interested me is that it appeared with the little “View Translation” icon in the upper right corner. “New! Mathematical Oncology 2013 by Alberto d’Onofrio & Alberto Gandolfi http://bit.ly/1FOQlSA ” was translated by Twitter as … “New! Mathematical Oncology 2013 by Alberto d’Onofrio & Alberto Gandolfi
http://bit.ly/1FOQlSA ”. I probably should have seen that coming, but I was glad to try it out too.

Meanwhile over on my mathematics blog there’s been another roundup of comic strips, including a couple that come from the studios of Johnny Hart. There’ll be another roundup this week, barring a real surprise. I’ll let you know.

What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G


Prepended the 11th of November, 2015: Hi, many folks who’ve found this page while looking for information about Apartment 3-G. I do update what’s known about the strip under the category tag of Apartment 3-G, so you can always find the latest by following this link.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be much more latest to report. The comic strip has, reportedly, been cancelled, and the last new strip is to appear the weekend of the 21st-22nd. Rumor is that vintage (rerun) strips will be appearing at least on the Comics Kingdom web site after that. Whether they’ll be distributed to newspapers that want reruns of a soap opera strip I don’t know. Whether they will finish off the current story before ending … I don’t know, but I am skeptical they even could. I’m sorry not to have better information.


I have noticed the recent surge in people searching for Apartment 3-G information. I’ve written about the comic strip a couple of times, because it’s been going through a stage of fantastic quantities of nothing happening lately. But it’s been getting worse, or at least more baffling. Yes, worse than the stretch where artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock spent without exaggeration six weeks of nothing but shots of two people talking about how they had to talk with no relief or any actual subject in mind except for the world’s most hideously deformed kangaroo-deer-night terror.

So to answer the question of what’s going on in Apartment 3-G as sincerely and honestly as I can: nothing comprehensible. No. Not anything.

Margo exists in the least diner-iest diner you have ever seen. It just looks like a generic apartment with no hints of tables or chairs or food or customers or anything.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 1st of February, 2015.

The overarching plot as it stumbled into the year, back around February or so, was that Margo’s father and the woman she’d always thought was the maid but was in fact her biological mother were finally getting married. Margo had been hired to organize their wedding, but was emotionally confused and furious that her biological mother had been taking advice from some kind of psychic who’s warning about evil at their (planned? considered?) wedding location. That takes us to about February.

Margo demands to know who some guy who doesn't answer her is. She wonders why this keeps happening.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of February, 2015.

Margo sees a stranger? He says, 'Am I a stranger or an old friend? Or maybe just a ghost in the fog.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 4th of July, 2015.
Yes, this was published over four months after the previous strip and it reiterates the same tiny plot point.

Since then, Margo has been wandering around what are allegedly spots in alleged Manhattan, shouting at people that I guess we’re supposed to conclude are her friends. Meanwhile, she’s being haunted by people who seem to know her, but that she doesn’t recognize. Some of them she drives away; some of them just vanish on their own. These haunting people don’t look like the same person, but given the shakiness of Apartment 3-G lately it’s not possible to say whether that’s intentionally unclear. I suspect that these are meant to be the ghosts of boyfriends or male entanglements of the past. However, none of that has been established on-screen, and nobody who’s read the strip has popped up with any identifications of, oh, “the guy haunting her in April was her fiancee from the 1984-86 story they were talking about that one Golden Girls episode”.

A strange face asks Margo if she wants to know his name. She replies, 'That's a heck to the no!'. This is one of the more wonderful things I've seen this year.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 7th of July, 2015.

A man on the street asks Margo if she's all right. She declares, 'This is Manhattan --- you're not supposed to care about people.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 8th of July, 2015.

And about two weeks ago Lu Ann declared that she was fed up with everything, and she was quitting the gallery and selling her third-share in Apartment 3-G’s building. Also she worked at a gallery, and owned a third-share in Apartment 3-G’s building. The only reason that’s been given for this is that she wants to get out of Manhattan and see the big time. This seems to be correlated to a Mister Clean cosplayer named Mike Downey apologizing I guess for something he maybe did at some point, but how has not been said.

Lu Ann forgives a Mister Clean cosplayed and then hasn't talked to Margo lately.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 7th of June, 2015.

No, none of what motivates any of this has been clarified. Believe me. I have been reading the strip daily, and I have gone back reading it weeks and months at a time to see if it connects more clearly when you look at a block of story at once. There is no story here. There are a couple of plot points — Margo is distressed by her parents’ wedding, Margo is haunted by familiar but unidentifiable figures, Lu Ann wants to change her life — but they exist in island universes, separated from one another and receding ever-faster. And after nothing happened between February and June, then the third of those plot points was dropped into this shapeless melange. You are not missing something, dear confused reader.

Lu Ann explains she's selling out of Apartment 3-G because 'there is a big world out there, and I want to see it all!'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 28th of June, 2015.

I know it’s always easy to make fun of the story strips, since they usually don’t do story well and they’re never funny on purpose. But something seriously bad has happend with Apartment 3-G the past several years. What plotting and narrative the strip used to have has evaporated, and the artwork has collapsed. The only thing I can compare it to is the last years of Dick Locher’s run on Dick Tracy. At that point all narrative collapsed. What few things happened were repeated over and over, as far as you could make out from the artwork. Without exaggeration it was possible to take a week’s worth of panels, scramble them, and read exactly as coherent a story.

That’s fine for some ironic thrills, for a while. Truly incompetent storytelling carries this exciting, outsider-art appeal. But it’s an unhealthy diet. It’s especially so for syndicated newspaper comic strips, an already sickly relative of the pop culture; and it’s extremely dangerous for the syndicated story strip, which might be the most endangered part of the newspaper.

I would like to think there’s hope. After a seemingly endless mess of nothing Dick Locher retired from Dick Tracy. The new team — Joe Staton and Mike Curtis — brought to it fresh artwork and exciting plots carried out with energy and direction. While the strip is flawed (there’s a lot of fanboyish determination to reference and cross-reference everything, and plots have rarely required Dick Tracy to do actual detective work), it’s recovered to being a good story strip again. While I wish no harm to Margaret Shulock or Frank Bolle, I do hope the strip can regenerate. It would be terrible if this is the long sad prelude to cancellation.

Statistics Saturday: My Readership, July 1st through 10th, In Alphabetical Order


  1. 41 (July 10)
  2. 30 (July 3)
  3. 39 (July 9)
  4. 37 (July 1)
  5. 37 (July 6)
  6. 28 (July 4)
  7. 25 (July 7)
  8. 21 (July 5)
  9. 27 (July 2)
  10. 23 (July 8)

This means something, but I don’t know what.