They Did Round Up From The ’95 Cents’, I Know That

Powerball winning numbers and the current estimated jackpot of $301 Million.
I also wonder if they rounded up that ’57’ in the last regular number. I was only six digits off, anyway.

So, this estimated Powerball payoff. Is it really just a touch over three hundred million dollars, or did they round it up because $298 million would look like a dramatically chintzier prize?

And Then What Meets The Eye

You live in a nice, respectable, basically quiet neighborhood for years and then one day wake up to find the neighbors have got Constructicons.

It's an excavator sitting in the driveway of a nearby house.
Wikipedia’s entry on the Constructicons, from which I could work out that this would be Scavenger, contains the sentence “It is ironic that the suitably intelligent Constructicons should sacrifice their thinking ability in their combined form, but simple-mindedness is a common limitation of the assorted other first-generation combining Transformers, because Devastator’s thoughts and actions are limited to what his six components can agree upon at any given time.” While that sentence goes off the rails after about its eighteenth comma-separated clause, it does try seriously to speak of the ironies of the Transformers Generation 1 universe. That deserves our respect.

See where that “Everything Is Going To Be Alright” sign at the auto mechanic’s has got us?

Something’s Got To Be Done About Your Sequel

I had a disturbing kind of dream. I mean, the dream was thrilling enough. Near as I can make out, it was a modern remake of Back To The Future. It was pretty good in its way, more sarcastic than the original and more built on making a complicated time-travel plot instead of the character and charm and amused irony of the original, but still. If it hadn’t been a remake it would’ve been unquestionably a likable, though not lovable, movie.

Then I realized: why hasn’t there been a remake? And before you start giving me any excuses at all remember that they remade The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty two years ago and Footloose four years back. The only rational explanation for why the remake of Back To The Future hasn’t arrived yet? OK, it’s some stupidly complicated time-travel thing where they went back and released the remake in 1934. Shut up. I’m taking this explanation: they’ve made one in secret and they’re going to surprise us with a release of it on whatever the heck day the 2015 sequences in the second movie was.

Well. I know that’s unsettling. Sorry. If my dreams are right, though, South Park is about to do one of those surprisingly insightful episodes. In this one they explain the Crimean War. So that’s something to look forward to.

Statistics Saturday: The Years 1972 – 2015 Ordered By Length

  • 1. 1972
  • 2. 2012
  • 2. (tie) 2008
  • 2. (tie) 1992
  • 5. 2004
  • 5. (tie) 2000
  • 5. (tie) 1996
  • 5. (tie) 1988
  • 5. (tie) 1984
  • 5. (tie) 1980
  • 5. (tie) 1976
  • 12. 1973
  • 12. (tie) 1974
  • 12. (tie) 1975
  • 12. (tie) 1977
  • 12. (tie) 1978
  • 12. (tie) 1979
  • 12. (tie) 1981
  • 12. (tie) 1982
  • 12. (tie) 1983
  • 12. (tie) 1985
  • 12. (tie) 1987
  • 12. (tie) 1989
  • 12. (tie) 1990
  • 12. (tie) 1993
  • 12. (tie) 1994
  • 12. (tie) 1995
  • 12. (tie) 1997
  • 12. (tie) 1998
  • 12. (tie) 2005
  • 12. (tie) 2015*
  • 32. 1986
  • 32. (tie) 1991
  • 32. (tie) 1999
  • 32. (tie) 2001
  • 32. (tie) 2002
  • 32. (tie) 2003
  • 32. (tie) 2006
  • 32. (tie) 2007
  • 32. (tie) 2009
  • 32. (tie) 2010
  • 32. (tie) 2011
  • 32. (tie) 2013
  • 32. (tie) 2014

* Scheduled.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Medical Professionals May Be Brought In

And now to again explain to confused people what is going on in Apartment 3-G. After months of Margo wandering around in a confused and confusing daze, she’s been captured by the Just End The Story Already Fairies. These are blessed people who sometimes haul off and make a serial adventure stop by whatever method gets us out of a plot that might have been promising once but just isn’t working out. In this case the Just End The Story Already Fairies had available Margo’s dead fiancée Eric and Margo’s roommate Lu Ann.

Those aren’t powerful forces to Just End The Story Already with, but they’re making do. Margo was put back in The Apartment I Guess. And Tommie was brought back to examine her, despite Tommie’s declaration that she was quitting everything and leaving the apartment, her friends, her job, whatever it is she has. This might reflect Tommie deciding to postpone her new life in the face of Margo’s crisis. It might equally reflect that even Tommie can’t pay attention to whatever Tommie is going on about. Anyway, Tommie’s declared that Margo needs to get to the hospital. Despite Tommie saying this, this is correct, and by Friday they’ve whisked the action off to an indistinct set of backgrounds the narration box says is the hospital.

Given where this sagging mass of incidents was at the end of last week, this is a reasonable set of story developments. Unfortunately that draws the eye back to the decline in Frank Bolle’s artwork. Monday’s is the most unintentionally funny. The characteristically random arrangement of characters here makes it look like everyone is just watching a deranged Margo wandering around the room. It feels like a scene from a Mel Brooks spoof. Although, on reflection, I think the specific thing it’s reminding me of are the dousing scenes from the marginally competent 1958 movie The Thing That Couldn’t Die. I mean the ones the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew riffed by making revving engine noises.

Margo wanders aimlessly around the panels while Eric and Tommie determine she can't hear them or feel anything.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of September, 2015. Though she seems unable to see, hear, or feel anyone, there is no evidence that Margo has got any pinball skills.

So naturally the next day Tommie has, presumably, fetched her wireless, receiverless, and sensorless stethoscope. And they all teleport to the street, the better to listen to Margo’s heartbeat. And good grief. I’ve seen the occasional joke that maybe the syndicate is assembling panels out of clip art, or just pulling old stock images out of the library. It’s a hard line to disprove when this happens. I mean, at least wireless stethoscopes are a thing that exists. Draw the generic room backgrounds, or literally no background at all, and a circular dot on Margo’s chest and the art would have actually matched the story.

Tommie's teleported Margo to the streets of some tiny city in order to listen to her heartbeat, which is a natural and sensible thing to do.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 22nd of September, 2015. Fun activity challenge: in what direction is the car from the first panel facing? Or is it a building with an unstable foundation?

Where is this leading? Who knows. The elements of Tommie wanting to leave and Margo having some weird extended amnesiac event feel like the sort of thing the strip might do if it were handing off the production to a new writer, or artist, or both. But the strip’s had a couple of similar events in the past few years with nothing coming of them. A couple years ago a crazed boyfriend set off a bomb in the apartment, just before New Year’s; the excuse of the place needing remodeling would be a natural “new showrunner” point. And before that the women got makeovers as part of one of those you-dress-horribly TV shows on the minor cable channels. This defies part of the strip’s premise — that it’s three stylish, hip young women living in the City — but would have been a fair concession to the strip being pretty dowdy and old-fashioned anymore. But the makeovers didn’t figure into anything, and the new outfits and hairdos didn’t last anyway. I suspect that ultimately the Just End The Story Already Fairies will be content if Margo’s psychotic break is put in the past and we go on to … oh, I guess it’s Lu Ann’s turn for a meandering and confused storyline.

That’s enough complaining. Over on the mathematics blog I talk about comic strips too, and since it’s been that sort of week, I talk about them a second time too. Please enjoy not all that ironically.

What Causes People To Sometimes Read About Canada

Let me address the first question about my checking out Christopher Moore’s Three Weeks In Quebec City: The Meeting That Made Canada from the library. No, every other book was not checked out. However, it’s true the book I really wanted, a 288-page book about rust, isn’t due back until mid-October. I concede people might think 262 pages about the 1864 conference which laid down the principles for the British North America Act of 1867 would be a little dry. They’re mistaken. It was very rainy the whole first week. (I haven’t gotten to the second week yet.) And, hey, the meeting had not one but two people named John Hamilton Gray attending. They won’t be confused because John Hamilton Gray was from a completely different part of Maritime Canada than was John Hamilton Gray.

But it’s got me thinking about my reading. The kind way to look at it is I’m broad-minded. If someone’s gone to the trouble of writing a book about the modern pasta technology it’s only decent I read it, right? But I know deep down I go in skeptically, figuring, how could there be a book’s worth of material about this? It turned out well. I got to see baffling pictures of extruded pasta under a microscope, and got to see hundreds of uses of the word “extrude”. Is it a boring topic? Maybe, but at least I only borrowed the book from the university library. I own two books about the history of containerized cargo and have a distinct preference for one of them. And I’m a little sad that neither the city nor the university library have enough books about the sociology of bureaucracy for my tastes.

Am I a boring person? I don’t think so. Of course I have an interest in not thinking so. If I didn’t think I was interesting how could I bear to be with someone who’s sure there’s a snappy 4X video game to be made out of time zones? My love does it, so it can’t be just me. Well, 3X anyway. The best X’s.

But then is anything actually boring? Stare directly at the boring and you’ll find fascination staring back at you. You ever notice those big plastic signs stuck in the ground outside decaying strip malls, that tell you where to find prepaid cell phones? Those were manufactured. Someone made them. So someone either grew up wanting to make those, or else the twists and turns of that person’s life turned “making those things” into the sensible thing to do. Either way that’s a story.

More, someone invented that. Humanity was fine without those things for tens of thousands of years, then suddenly we weren’t. It’s easy to imagine making the first; someone had an odd impulse to make a nylon-or-something sign that would plunge easily into the ground. It needs no explanation to say why someone did that once. People will try all kinds of odd things and most of them don’t amount to worse than an explanation to the clerk at the emergency room admissions. But society was ready to pick up this idea and run with it. How did we get to that point? Again, this boring thing is fascinating.

But we shouldn’t mistake being bored with not finding stuff interesting. Boredom is the state where anything, anything at all, is interesting enough to pay attention to. A clock trudging clockwise? A squirrel berating a flower pot? A TV show about the making of how-to-make-stuff TV shows? That tuft of fur the pet rabbit can’t quite blow off his nose? That’s all it takes to hold your interest when you’re bored.

And bored is the natural state anymore. We aren’t busy on cell phones all day long because it’s all that interesting. We’re there because we’re in a boring room anyway, or bored waiting for the interesting thing to get started. Someone you kind of know who’s a friend of someone you kind of used to know sends around a page of philosophy quotes married to pictures of otters? A list of human tragedies immortalized as restaurant offerings? The surprisingly late date when car license plate sizes were standardized? Movies watched by Jimmy Carter while he was president? That’s as good as organizing the federal government of Canada.

Doubt me? Here’s a 6500-word essay about the history of disposable coffee cup lids. You can insist you’re ignoring it. (It’s got some jumbled text that looks like sidebars were poorly merged into the main.) But if you do, you’ll know there’s stuff someone wrote about the different eras in disposable lid design that you haven’t seen yet. The world may be boring us, but that doesn’t mean we can ever really look away.

Investigatory Dream

Another night full of a strange dream. Part of it was about dealing with flooding in my parents’ basement that included waves with whitecaps huge enough Popeye was having trouble with them. Part of it was having to testify before a Congressional committee about how Fantasy Island‘s commissioned-LARP business model made more sense than learning the secret desires of the fabulously wealthy and blackmailing them. I wasn’t sure myself but speculated — clearly marking it as such — that the Fantasy Island project was partly in support of local theater programs. I’m not sure that it was, because the economics of it didn’t seem to make sense. But, I mean, the alternative is that Ricardo Montalban’s Mr Roarke was secretly one of the fae folk. Does that really make more sense than trying to work out the Fantasy Island project’s books? Yes, probably so. Everybody’s had that idea too. But for some reason you can’t just come out and say that in front of a Congressional Committee. A Joint Congressional Committee, maybe. Really, I wasn’t at my sharpest while dreaming.

Caption This: Starship Needed

Some of the crew of the starship Voyager wander around while the ship rests in the background.
This is the episode where they meet Amelia Earhart. That’s not my joke.

Voyager: “Hey! Hey guys! Guys? Are you going somewhere? Where are you going? Can I come with you where you’re going? I can come with you, right? Where are you gonna go? Is it to the pizza place? Mommy said I can come with you if you’re just going to pizza. If you’re going to the pizza place it’s okay if I come along, right? Because Mommy said I can cross at the lights now and there’s two lights to the pizza place, so you don’t even have to hold my hand or anything. If you wait a second I can come with you and I even have some money for the games. If you hold up I bet Mommy’ll give me money for my own pizza too, so there’s no reason I can’t come with you. I can come with you, right? Guys? Guys, can I come where you’re going? I can come where you’re going if you wait for me a second. Guys? Where are you going? Can I come? I can come if you let me. What’re you gonna do when you get there? Is it something I can do too? I bet I can do it wherever you’re going. Guys? Can I come? Guys? Guys? Hey?”

Is there a better caption? Possibly. For example, obviously, there’s one of the Voyager gang saying, “We should be all right as long as that starship doesn’t keep following us around”. Or maybe something else. Let me know, please.

Generally Updating Stuff

So. After an incident in which the spider crawled onto my love’s keys and we brought it, by way of a newspaper, over to the bushes, we haven’t seen webs across the door. However this morning there was a flyer stuffed in the door crack. The flyer invites us to Bible study. I trust it’s in earnest because the dates for the class are crossed out and different ones written in pen. I have no specific reason to think this the work of the same spider, but I also have no grounds to rule it out either.

The History of Socks has updated its essay, so that its alarming paragraph implying socks are not simple things is four paragraphs down. It now opens with the invitation to:

Consider the sock. Some overlook this mundane undergarment, but don’t let its unassuming nature fool you — the history of hosiery is anything but humble.

That’s dramatically better. It’s more inviting. It teases the idea that socks aren’t complicated anymore but it doesn’t threaten. We can get right to arguing about whether socks are an “undergarment” when you can just see them on a normally-dressed person. We can argue about that later, in some other context, and not with me.

I continue to have measurably better dance moves if I sit through the whole thing.

I Am Too Good To Call This A Shocking Discovery

It was just something I glanced at on the highway, since I was more busy driving than looking at thing on the side. But it was a banner announcing The Battery Show 2015: The Expo For Advanced Batteries. I must admit that doesn’t sound like a thrilling convention topic. It’s got to be less photogenic than a science fiction convention is, and have fewer chances for a good rousing fight than a panel on education reform would. But I suddenly very much wanted to go.

No luck, alas. The show ran the 15th through the 17th, so I just missed a chance to “launch new products, make new contacts and maintain existing relationships” in a global battery industry-related context. And I know this sounds like some of the purest snark to be found outside people asking what the heck is wrong with the characters in the comic strip Luann. But, honest. The web site says “The Battery Show is America’s biggest free-to-attend exhibition for advanced batteries”, which has to make whoever’s in third place feel crummy. And I’d really like to have seen what takes up three days’ worth of convention space.

Well, the web site offers the Latest News, including headlines like “Thermotron Battery Chambers with Added Safety” — your choice what the verb there is! — and “Targray Announces Electrodeposited Nickel Foil For Lithium Ion…” and there’s no bad way that sentence can end. I hope I remember this for next September and get to see what Thermotron and Targray are up to by then.

Statistics Saturday: The Effect Apartment 3-G Has On My Readership

The less stuff happens, the more words I use to write about it, and then *even more* eagerly people read me about it.
There must be some optimal balance between stuff-happening and me-explaining-nothing’s-happening.

The evidence is plain. I should use even more words to describe how much nothing is going on there.

Incidentally, some anonymous soul at the Comics Curmudgeon has gone through the last several months of Apartment 3-G and transcribed the dialogue, so that it can all be read at once, without interruption and in as nearly natural a voice as one could hope for. That’s not meant to be snarky. Serial-story dialogue has to sound a bit stilted and redundant. Readers have to be reminded what the status had been, and new readers have to be inclued to the setting, and there’s not much room for that. This is a constriction of the medium. Someone adapting the story to, say, YouTube video would need to rewrite the dialogue so the endless reintroduction of scenes doesn’t happen.

Anyway. Here is the Apartment 3-G Transcription Project for the 15th of June to the 15th of July. Then is the 16th of July through the 15th of August, and finally to date, the 17th of August through the 18th of September. This omits the Sunday strips, which are repeats of the week before’s action. (Of the serial strips only Spider-Man [ and Dick Tracy which I originally forgot about somehow ] really advances the action on Sundays. The Phantom runs an independent, alternate, story on Sundays. Mark Trail uses Sunday strips for animal-information panels independent of the weekday storyline. Alley Oop uses most of Sunday to recap the previous week’s action, but advances it some in the last panel, which is itself repeated the following Monday.)

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Maybe Things Are Getting Done Not Happening

OK, on my mathematics blog there’s a couple of comic strip review posts. They’re called the Back To School Edition and the Back To School Edition, Part II, because there’s just so many that came up about as school (United States schedule) got really going again.

But I know what folks are really looking for, and that’s any idea of what the heck is going on with Apartment 3-G lately. I insist that nothing is happening because I’ve been following this closely, maybe too closely, and believe me, it’s not going on.

Lu Ann tries to thank Eric, who says he's never been so frightened in his life. Lu Ann confirms that Eric loves Margo.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 16th of September, 2015. I’m fairly sure Eric doesn’t mean to be frightened by Lu Ann’s thanks.

However, it does appear that Margo’s aimless, unfocused wandering through random outdoor stock shots might be at an end. Formerly dead fiancée Eric has gone off and found Margo, and stayed in the two-shot with her until Lu Ann could appear. Then Margo got to disappear, allegedly into the apartment, although we don’t actually see that. Lu Ann and Eric reappear on the street, either because they figure that’s the best place to watch a severely delusional person who’s been wandering aimlessly for months, or because the backgrounds really are being randomly assigned. Tommie gets summoned, as if her presence could help anything, even though the last time we saw her she was talking about quitting everything and leaving forever.

An hour later, after no answer from Tommie, Tommie enters. She wants to know how long Margo has been 'white as a sheet'.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 18th of September, 2015. I’m honestly a touch amazed the strip focused on Tommie entering rather than showing us every minute of waiting around for an hour.

What does it signify? I don’t know. It’s structurally very similar to 2014’s chasm of Apartment 3-G meaninglessness, when Tommie and a guest star spent literally and without exaggeration six weeks telling each other they had to talk without actually talking. During that sequence the designated boyfriend-ish character disappeared to “confront some ghosts” of his past. That might’ve been interesting to see, although we didn’t. He just reappeared after being gone a couple of months and declared things were over.

Both the 2014 and 2015 story voids started out with some potential. 2014 saw a burnt-out Tommie trying to rescue the world’s most nightmarish deer, and stumbling across a crusty-yet-endearing etc upstate veterinarian and the soap opera of his past life. 2015 set up Margo furious and confused by her father and the woman she always thought was the maid but was actually her mother getting married, and falling under sway of a psychic, and wanting to do something about the woman she thinks is scamming her biological mother.

These are potential-rich setups. But they played out with summers of nothing. The parts just shuffled around without advancing for months, and then abruptly stopped. 2014’s crusty-yet-endearing vet came back saying all was well and Tommie went back to work. 2015, apparently, was about putting Margo in a hallucinatory fugue until she got rescued by the first characters to pop into the author’s mind. I would not be surprised if by early October all of this has been dropped and we’ve gone on to some other storyline.

I can’t believe the stories were meant to look like this. The long stretches of random piece-shuffling and the abrupt conclusion make it look like the author (Shulock) had no idea how to advance the stories, but had them planned to last until September. And then forgot when it was close to September and had to rush to wrap up things. Every serial story author does some piece-shuffling and some conclusion-rushing. But this is two major storylines in two years that collapsed.

Recently the Manchester (New Hampshire) Union-Leader dropped the strip, on the grounds that nothing was happening and nothing was going to happen. I can’t fault their reasoning. But I don’t want the story strips to die out. I admit I didn’t care about them as a kid. And in adulthood I’ve seen most of them in a senescent state. But there’s no reason they can’t be good, and I want them to be.

An Open Letter To The Spider Building Its Web Across Our Side Door

Dear Spider,

I apologize for not addressing you by name, but we have yet to be properly introduced. I confess that after all this time passing through your ever-rebuilt web I don’t know how to get a proper introduction. We seem to move in different social circles. Perhaps some of the squirrels should know, but I admit I don’t know most of their real names either. We’ve just assigned them names for our convenience, based on their personalities or the ways they physically resemble Sir Patrick Stewart. In any case I trust that you are a spider and that you will understand my not knowing your name reflects only that I am ignorant, and ignorant of how to correct my ignorance.

I applaud your ambition in building this web across the side door. To snag either me or my love would be a tremendous accomplishment for you, and I understand the reasoning. With either — oh, let’s dream big, and say both — of us, it’s easy to suppose, your food needs would be met for ages. (I wrote “meat” there first, but erased it, because the pun is beneath me. You’ll notice I’m telling you about it, though. What must this say of me?)

This sort of great ambition is behind many of the world’s spider’s greatest accomplishments. It’s the sort of drive that led spiders to launch their first expeditions to the Moon. So it hurts that while I credit you for the bigness of your dream I feel I have to bring up the flaws. Well, remember what happened after the first spiders did land on the Moon. There was that horrified “yeep” and frantic hand-waving, and twitching about by the Moon. This did the spider no good, and it’s part of why the Ranger 3 space probe missed the Moon entirely and crashed into a Wawa co-op parking lot in Millville, New Jersey. There it was taken to be a piece of “Googie” architecture and put on trial for heresy. While it was eventually cleared of monophysitism we can’t say the same about the spider. We have no idea what became of the spider and that’s got to be a warning sign.

I say this without meaning to be cruel, but, your web really is not going to catch either of us. I know you’ve been fed a lot of stories about how spider silk is incredibly strong stuff and they might make space elevators out of it. That’s an incomplete story; it’s strong under tension and as we walk in and out of the house we’re not putting your silk under tension. We’re putting it under … some … other kind of … look, the thing is they can’t make space elevators either, so trying to catch us in the doorway isn’t going to happen. We use the door too much and you can’t put up enough web to catch us in-between uses. All you can do is get web into our mouths and while that’s not stuff we want to be licking — again, no offense, it’s just not our thing — that only slows us down a little bit. It’s not getting us even a tiny bit captured.

I want you to know I’m supporting you in your spider-ness. So here’s something you could easily catch and eat. We’ve been having a problem with bugs getting into our bedroom. We think they’re called shield bugs. They’re big, about the size of a volleyball, slow-moving and pretty stupid by all evidence. They keep bonking into solid objects and operating local governments in Texas. They don’t seem interested enough in people, but we’re getting tired of catching and taking upward of forty of them out of the bedroom every night. Apparently nothing much eats them; why don’t you come upstairs and be the first in the neighborhood? They’re both big and very stupid; you could probably catch some just by announcing loudly that they were caught, and you’d have all the meals you wanted easily. I don’t mean to insult you by suggesting you should eat very stupid things. But I do think a full belly makes it easy to forgive slights. If you did something about the shield bugs you’d be better off, we’d be better off, and we’ll not say anything about the shield bugs.

I would have sent a closed letter but I don’t think this can wait until you’ve sealed the door all the way up. Trusting you will take all this advice in the helpful spirit it is intended, I remain,

That guy who keeps walking through your web like four times a day,

— Joseph

Lesson Learned From The Dream About Moving My Parents Out Of Their Old Home

Oh, it may have been one of those slightly frantic dreams, re-creating the experience of my parents moving out of their home, with all that running up and down the long corridors and that weird state of affairs where stuff needs to get done but somehow none of it can be done right now. You know the way things get.

Anyway, my mother had the right comment to sum it up. She’d explained to the guy in the gift shop that while there really was a lot of merchandise — and there was; the gift shop area of the house was easily thirty feet by thirty feet with counters and shelves filling the area — none of it was ever quite interesting enough to buy and take home, to the room outside. So it is. I know the gift shop in my current non-dream home is terribly under-stocked. I can’t blame the staff for the low sales volume. Has anyone had better luck with their homes’ gift shops?

Robot Motherhood Update

So we’ve got this worrisome story courtesy Reuters: Robot mother builds and improves its own children. According to Matthew Stock’s report, researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Having Never, Ever Seen A God-Awful Movie developed a robot that builds its own “child” robots, tests them out, and improves the next design.

So far the MommaBot merely “constructs a design using between one and five plastic cubes that are stuck together using glue”. This isn’t too alarming, although I note my mother sent me to make stuff by sticking together styrofoam balls on toothpicks. These would immediately fall apart again, thus ending any peril from styrofoam-ball-robot technology. Glue is an obvious game-changer.

I suppose the saving grace is that since this is British researchers working on it, the immediate goal of all this robot-building-robot experimentation will be a robot that can build its own model railroad. Then on to a robot that can look at its own model railroad while telling everyone no, they may not play with it because they’ll disrupt the timetable. Eventually we’ll need almost no people to fret about model railroads at all, although who knows what we’ll do instead.

In Which I Learn A Tiny Little Bit About Soviet Children’s Cinema Of The 1930s

I was reading Karl Schlögel’s Moscow, 1937, which is of course about life in New York City in the exciting Great Fire year of 1835, and ran across this mention about children’s movies:

In 1937 a number of adventure films also reached the screen — the adventures of Mascha and her dog Pushka in the film Adventures In The Air (1937), Adventures of Petrushka and What An Absent-Minded Guy after Samuil Marshak (1937 and 1938) — and finally Kornei Chukovskii’s Dr Aibolit, a classic of children’s literature that has captured several generations of children and that came to the screen in 1939.

I am delighted by the title What An Absent-Minded Guy. I don’t know what’s in it. I probably never will. But in my mind it’s the genial and low-stress amusements of a softly drifting guy in a slightly-too-busy world. And it’s part of a series including titles such as Did Someone Leave The Stove On? and Should It Smell Like That? and Yes, But Dave Is Just Like That and the controversial What An Absent-Minded Guy To Get Married. If I’m wrong, I don’t mind at all. I’m already satisfied.

What’s Snuffy Smith’s Name?

So you kind of vaguely remember Snuffy Smith, the star of the comic strip Barney Google. I only just wondered: is ‘Snuffy’ his proper name? Or is it a nickname? If ‘Snuffy’ is a nickname then what’s his given name? Snufftopher? Snylvester? Mephisnuffales? Snarf? Snuffocles? Chrisnuffter? Oh, he probably got some name in that World War II-era movie where Snuffy Smith was drafted and his moonshine turned out to be rocket fuel or some such nonsense, but that’s hardly canonical naming. And it was probably something hi-lariously goofy like “Vivian Lester Cholmondeley Reginald Ho-ho-kus Fortescue Smith” then anyway. I mean his actual name.

Statistics Saturday: Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be Soliloquy, In Order

(Punctuation omitted because, come on, how do you alphabetize a question mark? I’m not a miracle worker, although I did figure out how a grep expression to strip most of the punctuation marks in only six tries.)

a a a a a action after a-
gainst all all and and and and and and and
And And And And And arms arrows awry
ay bare be be be Be bear bear bear bod-
kin bourn But by by calamity cast coil
come conscience consummation contumely
country cowards currents death death delay
despised Devoutly die die does dread dream
dreams end end enterprise fair fardels flesh
fly For For fortune from give great grunt have
have he heartache heir himself his hue ills
in in in insolence is is Is know
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man’s may merit might mind moment more mor-
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of of of of of of of of of of
of of of off office Ophelia
opposing oppressor’s or Or ori-
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pause perchance pitch proud puzzles question qui-
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sea shocks shuffled sicklied sins sleep sleep sleep
sleep sleep slings so Soft something spurns suffer
sweat take takes th’ Th’ Than that that that that
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the the the the the the the The The The
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thought thousand thus Thus thy time ’tis ‘Tis to
to to to to to to to to to To
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Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: What Was That Something That Happened In Apartment 3-G?

I don’t want people to think I haven’t been tracking the atomized remnants of plot from Margaret Shulock and Frank Bolle’s Apartment 3-G of late. I’m watching. The most understandable thing is that Bolle’s name has reappeared on many of the strips, and his initials are in some of the others.

Since the last time I checked in on the nothing going on, Margo has apparently gotten hungry. This is fair enough since she’s been wandering aimlessly around a fence and a building with windows ever since breakfast back in January. She ran into some woman that I thought was the waitress back in January but apparently isn’t. Non-waitress agreed to get her a roll with butter in exchange for all the money in her bag. I’m ashamed they’re playing in to hacky jokes about New York City’s cost of living.

A woman offers Margo 'a nice roll with butter' in exchange for all her money, which Margo can't believe.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 4th of September, 2015. I note that in neither the daily strips nor the Sunday recap was Margo’s name ever given to the woman who’s charging her all her money for a nice roll with butter. Yes, I don’t need to see every single bit of normal interaction but since the setup was that Margo was wandering confused and befuddled and apparently unaware of her surroundings — she was starving and across the street from DINER with a bag of money and couldn’t work this out — it would be nice to know whether she even knows who she is.

Eric, Margo’s formerly dead fiancée who’s been wandering around seeing her without telling her who he is, suddenly sits upright next to his bed. The bedside is decorated with a travel alarm, a nuclear power cooling tower-shaped coffee mug sitting on an Art Deco riser of some kind, and a large ellipsoidal end-table hump. He chants a little from yoga, tells his brother Tim to go home, and then finds Margo!

No, I don’t know how he found her, other than that the strip has two outdoor locations anymore, “fence” and “diner”. Maybe he got lucky. Maybe the strip just threw background elements at random together until two named characters were accidentally on-panel at once. I don’t know.

Margo's dead fiancee Eric finds her and she doesn't know who he is or whether he knows her.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 10th of September, 2015. No, you did not miss anything. I promise.

There is an interesting and surely accidental dramatic symmetry here. Margo’s long wanderings started with her determination to bring down the fake psychic interloping in her mother’s wedding. And now apparently Eric has been drawn to her by luckily-timed and accurate psychic vibes. I don’t imagine that’s deliberate, because nothing about this storyline suggests any kind of planning or thought or really anything at all. Why would Eric hover around but not identify himself to Margo all summer long, and then suddenly decide to do it now? Why has Margo been wandering around? Why has she gotten suddenly amnesiac and befuddled? What basis has she got for thinking theres “as much [ money ] as you need” in her bag? Where did the woman buying Margo’s life with a buttered roll disappear to? And … what about Naomi?

I have no answers. I don’t believe anyone has. The problem is not you reading it. I must admit it’s a nice change that for at least this while the problem is more the writing than the artwork. The artwork is still shoddy but I don’t think it’s the source of confusion the past few weeks.

With that hopefully all cleared up, please consider my humor blog, where I had comics up for review on the 5th and then another essay just for comics on the 6th and I probably could’ve put one up today if I had really felt like it. Thank you.

Peeking In On The ThunderCats

I can’t tell you why I was looking up ThunderCats episodes, not without being ashamed. But there was a time when I was like thirteen when the show was really extremely kind-of important-ish to me and I wouldn’t miss an episode. It was a good show for not missing an episode. It centered centering on a small band of cat-people refugees on a planet the show could never quite decide was or wasn’t Earth. They’d have adventures in seeing whose voice actor could most awkwardly place the stresses in their line readings. Also there was the episode which made it clear the ThunderCats, and galactic society at large, had lost the technology of “soap”. This suffices to explain why they never went to restaurants. There’s no way Galaxy County’s Board of Health would allow anyone to prepare food under those conditions. It makes me wonder where people go to have awkward parties after business hours with co-workers.

I don’t remember anymore why I stopped watching the show. I don’t think I lost interest in the basic premise. I mean, it’s cat-people refugees who manage to talk the local cyborg teddy bears into building an impractically large cat-shaped fortress for them. That’s the sort of thing everybody wants to see. And they go on to build a high-speed tank and, later, a spaceship. These are things to admire. If I were one of a half-dozen refugees of humanity thrown onto an alien planet I’d be hard-pressed to finish building a vacuum-based pasta extrusion machine. These guys would extrude one without even calling on the guy whose legs are rotary drills that I’m pretty sure I didn’t just imagine. I must have just got busy what with progressing in age to like fifteen and being very busy keeping everybody out of my room.

I kind of knew they kept making the show even after I stopped watching. I should have written to tell them they didn’t need to bother. Maybe they would’ve anyway; they had got the hang of making these episodes. I seem to have wandered off from the show sometime in its second season. They finished out that season and made two more after that. They kept adding new characters, and new toys, and at one point they even gave the characters a whole new planet to putter around in. Two whole planets seems like a lot for a dozen cat-people to share, but I understand the logic. Planets were popular back then. You maybe remember how for Christmas 1986 people were lining up for days in the hopes Toys R Us would have even a measly Kuiper Belt Object on the shelves.

“Shoo! Get Out!” Toys R Us store managers, dressed as giraffes, would say as they came in to face a line of shoppers in the morning. “We’re selling Amigas this year, if Commodore can ship any that aren’t on fire!” But they wouldn’t listen. It would be madness to ignore that sort of demand. So everybody just bought a Teddy Ruxpin, and tried to make that cyborg teddy bear build them an impractically large cat-shaped fortress, and lost it (the teddy bear).

One of the episodes I never saw has its start, says the overwritten-yet-uncommunicative Wikipedia episode guide, when “Vultureman escapes from exile by hijacking a bookmobile”. And now I have a new favorite episode summary for anything. I assume Vultureman snuck into the Exiles Bookmobile by disguising himself as a 75-cent pocket book of crossword puzzles. If he didn’t, I don’t want to know.

It can be heartbreaking to go back to the dumb stuff you loved as a kid. They’re the crushes of youth. They’re best left as the occasional mysterious smile until you’re remote enough. When the shaky animation, the many stock shots, and the nearly fourteen bars of background music are about you instead of the show then you can watch. But bear in mind, the episode guide says there’s one where annoying nephew Snarfer gets Mexican takeout from the cyborg teddy bears.

That bookmobile episode was written by Matthew Malach. The Internet Movie Database credits him for writing the 1993 or possibly 1996 cartoon Stone Protectors. This was a series about how buff troll dolls use magic alien crystals to become a competent rock band and, um, samurai wrestlers or something. This might not sound like much, but many of its episodes did get released on videotape. I hope it brings someone joy to know that.

Bob and Ray Get Wally Ballou’s Report on the World’s Fair, Early

So if Bob and Ray are known to someone who’s not a fan of old-time radio or of a previous generation’s comedians, it’s probably for one of these things: one of them (Bob) being father to Chris Elliot; the Slow Talkers of America; or Wally Ballou. Wally Ballou was I think their most reliable “field correspondent” bringing interviews. His first and most obvious running gag was that his cues were always mistimed. He’d almost always lose the first few syllables of “This is Wally Ballou, reporting from — ” and if that sounds like a slender thread on which to hang a recurring character, well, watch the noon news anchor throw to whoever’s in the field. Sixty years later the timing is still off.

Wally Ballou would interview as diligently as possible the people who occupy the Bob and Ray world. They’re all daft. It’s often not the obvious, clownishly goofy; it’s often just people with an odd idea that gets rigorously investigated. The hopefully-embedded link above, “591119 Wally Ballou on the Coming World’s Fair” if you just download the link, features Wally Ballou interviewing the guy who took the Perisphere home after the 1939 World’s Fair, and who had hopes for it to reappear in 1964. A slight premise? Perhaps. Talented people can build a lot on a slight premise.

Wally Ballou casts a long comic shadow. Bob Newhart has described how his career-defining telephone calls were written, essentially, as spec scripts for Wally Ballou. That was a revelation that floored me. I believe it; once you’ve studied the rhythms of both a Newhart telephone sketch and a Wally Ballou interview it’s hard to believe you ever didn’t notice that. But it also puts lie to the claim that Bob Newhart’s phone interviews were hilarious because the audience could imagine the absurd things he was hearing back. Bob Newhart’s phone interviews were hilarious because they found hilarious things to be about. Wally Ballou has both sides of the conversation and that doesn’t hurt either.

Jim Scancarelli, artist and writer for the comic strip Gasoline Alley — still running! — is among other things an old-time radio fan. Any sales clerk is likely to turn out to be Frank Nelson’s character from The Jack Benny Program. And when he needs a reporter for a scene Molly Ballew (sic) or her sister Polly Ballew are reliably called in to host. Their other sister Hulla Ballew has also appeared, as a newspaper journalist. For some reason Scancarelli has made it surprisingly insistent that these are Wally’s sisters. I would have thought making them his daughters, or even grand-daughters, less taxing on the timeline. After all, one of the defining traits of Gasoline Alley was that it progressed in more or less real time.

TV journalist Polly Ballew notes she's the sister of Molly and Wally Ballew (sic).
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley from the 2nd of August, 2010. One of the times she was introduced she or Molly specifically name-checked Bob and Ray. I haven’t been able to find that one.

Also I’m delighted that one of the running sketches, the Bob and Ray Trophy Train, takes the train in to Lansing, Michigan. And not just for a visit; the train, bringing souvenirs of Bob and Ray’s life on a goodwill tour to the areas outside CBS Studios, is said to be wintering over in Lansing. Well, I could walk to the train station where that would have been. (It’s a restaurant now.) Maybe it would have wintered at some other spot. Should ask the local comedy troupes if there’s a plaque marking the spot.

Bob and Ray also name-check radio station WJIM, which back then must have been the CBS affiliate. It’s still running, although as one of those News-Talk format stations that do so much to wear out one’s interest in news. WJIM was, Wikipedia claims, named after license owner Harold Gross’s son. It claims also that legend says Gross won the license, Lansing’s first commercial radio license, in a card game. That all delights me.

Bob and Ray: They Went To Venus, You Know

A lot of life is hanging out without anything particular going on. That’s generally omitted in dramas, of course. Just hanging out might establish the tone of normality before the Crisis comes in and disrupts things. Even comedies don’t much depict “nothing particular going on”; even genial hangout comedy usually gets some possibly slender activity going on. If nothing really is going on, you’re either watching Waiting For Godot or in the parts of a paranoia-suspense thriller where “nothing to talk about” becomes sinister.

One of the running Bob and Ray characters was Lawrence Fechtenberg, Interstellar Officer Candidate. Here you know the genre of show they’re spoofing. What might startle is how precisely they parody the tone and the production of the radio version of space-cadet and space-captain programs. (I’m still stunned by one show that briefly stranded the cast on Saturn, the solar system’s junkyard world.) Science fiction, or space opera, or similar shows are even less prone to showing the “nothing particular going on” than regular shows are. Futurama has a few episodes like that, but mostly even they had stories to get to.

Lawrence Fechtenberg, though, he had a lot of time fumbling around without getting to anything particular. If the tension created by mixing the signals of high drama and the fact of incredible slightness amuses you, then his holding forth on the topic of “what the food was like on Venus” will just keep getting more maddeningly funny.
I’m attempting again to embed it, but if that doesn’t work, just download the MP3 file. This is tagged as “600330LawrenceFechtenbergInterstellar” on

That’s the center piece, yes, though not the whole of this 15-minute show. Most of the last five minutes is spend attempting to get a report from Washington. Like many Bob and Ray pieces, the central observation here is that it’s really hard to do anything quite exactly right. We all fumble about at our jobs, whether radio journalists or space navy officer candidates or meteorologists. These are universal moments that few people pay attention to.

Bob and Ray at the Grand Motel

Top Secret is a pretty good movie. Solidly fun, stuffed full of jokes, and breezy and silly in a way that seems to be lost to modern grand spoof movies. What probably keeps it from being one of the great spoof movies is that it’s impossible to answer the question: so what exactly is being spoofed? It’s a close parody of something that never existed, the … Elvis World War II espionage thriller? That doesn’t matter much. Maybe its genius comes from pulling together spoofs of a couple of genres and finding that they harmonize. Maybe its genius comes from just taking a goofy idea and spoofing it so relentlessly that we don’t care if there was ever an original.

A weird idea? Sure. But after all, how many people spoof silent movie melodramas by depicting women tied to railroad tracks, even though that never happened except in silent movie spoofs of melodramas? Something can have all the hallmarks of a spoof without actually being a parody of anything in particular.

And this brings me to the Bob And Ray Present The CBS Radio Network for the 14th of July, 1950. The episode is tagged as “The Grand Motel”, for the central sketch in it. It gives off the vibes of parodying some particular old-time radio soap opera but heck if I can say what. The most specific I can get is to One Man’s Family, but that’s just because I’ve heard a lot of that soap and it features a lot of cranky old man at its center. I’m attempting, again, to embed it, but if that doesn’t work the above link should let you download it. And if that doesn’t work you can try this collection of Bob and Ray episodes, looking for the one tagged “590714TheGrandMotel”.

To the extent this is spoofing anything particular, it’s soap operas, of course. There used to be a lot of them. Many were surprisingly short, fifteen-minute installments mostly of people recapping where they were and advancing the story a little bit. Many blurred the line between drama and comedy, as we’d see it now. The Grand Motel feels just slightly outside what might be plausible for a real soap. It’s played with a ruthless integrity to its internal logic and the Bob and Ray sketch comedy motif of the world just not quite fitting together smoothly. Everyone in their sketch worlds is just a little bit out of place. If that amuses you at all, then the sketch will keep getting funnier.

Also, yes, look for surprise special guest Pat Boone. He’s there with advice for teenagers.

Bob and Ray Week: Guess The Name Of This

If you want to be a comic performer, broadly speaking, there are two paths to take. You can be Groucho Marx or an accountant. The Groucho Marx approach has obvious advantages: you go out looking funny and anybody paying the slightest attention knows you are trying to be funny. The audience is readied to laugh. The accountant is tougher: you go out looking utterly unexceptional and trust that, maybe, the audience will notice you’re being ridiculous. The accountant style is more likely to go over people’s heads. The audience might not understand they’re expected to find this funny. But it’s also the kind that gets critical acclaim. And discovering something that’s accountant-style funny is wonderful; it feels like being let in on a secret.

(Yes, I’m aware that Groucho Marx hated the greasepaint-mustache, looking-to-be-funny look he wore. He felt going out looking deliberately funny encouraged audiences to be skeptical, and would rather have gone out looking like an accountant. But by the time he could have cast off the vaudeville look, he was too famous for it to ditch it entirely.)

So this brings me to Bob and Ray. Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding were mostly radio comics, with some television and other ventures. I want to say the best way to describe what they did was that they did SCTV, but for radio. I trust that SCTV is a recognizable reference around these parts. However, what’s got me doing a Bob and Ray Week is that I discovered a friend had not the faintest idea what I was talking about when I referred to them.

So here’s a sample. In 1959 and 1960 they performed Bob and Ray Present the CBS Radio Network many installments of which survive thanks to the magic that lets old-time radio survive. This one is from the 12th of October, 1959; it’s tagged “Guess The Name Of This”.

It is theoretically possible that I have this embedded below. However,’s “embed” feature is really badly screwed up, and its help page is utter gibberish. I recommend that if you want to see something explained in a way that explains nothing to anybody. It may be easiest to just download the MP3 and play that in your preferred MP3 player than deal with this mess. In any case it’s file number 77 in this collection, titled “591012 Guess The Name Of This”.

Anyway, this is a fun episode to try out. I think it conveys well the Bob and Ray spirit in which you might, if you’re not listening, not even notice something ridiculous is going on. We get some lovely predictions for the future, and a Name That Tune-style contest that goes subtly awry. The sense of subverted normality is strong here. It won’t be for everyone, but for the people it is for, it’s perfect. Also the episode is only twelve minutes long, so it’s easy to try out. (Most episodes of this particular series are fifteen minutes; I’m not sure why this one is short.)

Statistics Saturday: States of the United States Alphabetized By Capital

Isn’t it a little bit surprising there aren’t two states with capital cities the same name? Like, why couldn’t Kentucky have put its capitol in Jackson? Doesn’t “Jackson, Kentucky” make at least as much sense as “Frankfort, Kentucky”? And wouldn’t it just be great if the capital of Washington were Lincoln? Why not “Dover, Oregon”? “Albany, Montana” is no more absurd than Billings. I think some of these states could make do to share capital city names. If we picked some state — let’s say Colorado — and declared that its capital was named Providence, and we called it that long enough and consistently enough, eventually we’d be right. Especially if we edited Wikipedia. City names aren’t carved in stone, except for in concrete highway overpasses. We have the power to make them anything we want. We need to use this power for good, is what I mean, and I propose that making some states tied in this ordering is a good.

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

Explaining Vincent Price

A couple of weeks ago I got momentarily confused between Vincent Price and Prince. This was all my fault and not at all Price’s, nor Prince’s. I wasn’t reading carefully enough. But it revealed to me that there was some link between Vincent Price, Saint Louis, and roller coasters. Who knew?

A Labor of Like knows, and came out of a relatively quiet period of blogging to explain the story. I’m glad to know more than I did before, and I hope you will too. The story’s pretty densely packed; I hope you all enjoy.

It doesn’t actually explain the roller coasters thing technically speaking.

In The Aftermath Of 80s Night

I’m going ahead and guessing you want to know how the 80s Night came out. For me it was more dignified than the actual 1980s. It involved less weeping and much less Destro on my part. I was never in the running for the 80s Costume Contest. I did dress pretty much as I did in the actual 1980s, what with finding a shirt and a pair of pants that fit and wearing them around the correct limbs and segments of my torso. The contest was won by a women who came in a sweater so blue and puffy that it broke through previous cognitive barriers to find new yet somehow vintage colors of blue and textures of puffiness. It challenged well-known conceptual theories of blue puffiness. Everyone was outclassed, but I was outclassed the most.

Besides the costume contest there was music. If it weren’t for the music the night would just be people wearing unfashionable clothing, staring at each other, and wondering if the hipster bar wasn’t supposed to be closed that day anyway. It was and for some reason it wasn’t.

Still, running alongside the music was dancing. My love was happy to dance. I was willing to go along but am at rather a disadvantage. My love has learned such sophisticated dancing skills as “how” and “when to”. I’m still working on the part of dancing where I don’t look as though I’ve been pulled out of bed, stripped to my underwear, and shoved out onto an unfamiliar podium to give the State of the Union address. It is strong but faces great challenges if we are to remain great.

There was probably some point when I should have learned dancing. I guess when I was a teen and going to parties. Here I have to plead higher priorities. When I was in high school it was most important that I spend every Friday and Saturday night watching The Wrath of Khan. And, you know, while I was doing all that the movie didn’t change one bit. It would go on not changing for like fifteen years after that, when I was busy with other stuff and they released DVDs. I did as much as I could. I had similar results on Saturday and Sunday nights with The Search For Spock.

But my heroic sacrifice means I’m stuck for what to do when dancing. I understand that I should be moving my body, both wholly and in parts. Some part of me understands, for example, I should do something that coordinates with the movements of my love, who’s dancing in front of me. The obvious thing is to do what my love is doing. This could be in mirror — my love moves left, so I do too — or in rotation — my love moves left, so I move right. This leads me to think about the kinds of symmetry operations that are valid in dancing partners. How do they vary with dancing quartets, or trios, or arbitrary large groups of people dancing around a circle? Are they necessarily discrete symmetries or are continuous ones allowed too? This is what happens to people you let grow up into mathematics majors. By the time I’ve worked it out the DJ has finished with the Pet Shop Boys for the night.

But I’ll carry on trying anyway because I want to be a good sport. My basic move is what I learned from doing the step aerobics move on WiiFit. I don’t want to unnecessarily brag about my abilities there, but in two and a half years of daily exercise on that I got “perfect” scores on their two-and-a-half minute step aerobics literally more than four times.

None of this should imply that I raise my hands, by the way. I grant it’s theoretically possible to raise my hands above the level of my pockets while dancing. I don’t believe the rewards could be worth the risk. If I raised a hand how would I know someone wouldn’t try to shake it, or hand me the leash for a pack of werewolves harnessed together as sled dogs, or try to high-five me, or something? No, I’ll just be over here, shuffling at the steady beat of WiiFit Step Aerobics whatever the song’s beat is, circling around my love until I get dizzy and fall down. It’s what I can do well.

Statistics August! How The Humor Blog Did

So, blog readership for August. It was off a tiny bit, with 1,115 views from 639 visitors in August. In July were 1,126 views from 669 visitors. I’d say the view numbers are tied; the visitors numbers, down not much. Either way is considerably up from June’s 739 views and 380 viewers. I still suspect there’s missing page counts but these are the numbers we have to live with until the next revision of whatever system does the view-counting.

August did see me reach my 20,000 page view here, as well as my 10,000th visitor. September starts with 20,211 viewers and 10,161 visitors, and 603 total WordPress followers. As near as I can tell the 20,000th recorded viewer came the 26th of August, just before midnight. The 10,000th visitor came sometime the 25th.

The count of ‘likes’ continues to dwindle, down to 331 in August from 349 in July and 365 in June. The number of comments was way down, to 44 in August from July’s 76 and June’s 59. I think I need to write more open and inviting humor pieces.

The greatest number of readers this month came from the United States for a change; there were something we’ll call 886 of them. From Canada were 40, Australia 32, and the United Kingdom 30. India sent two, which seems disappointingly few. July I had eighteen.

My single-reader countries this month were Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Egypt, Greece, Maldives, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Ukraine. That’s a lot, but to be fair, only Belgium is a repeat from last month. I’m very slowly amusing the world very slightly.

And what was popular this month? Well, in July I discovered something I did trying to riff on a stupid bit of clickbait turned out to be riotously popular. In August I decided to try reproducing the experiment. It … wasn’t so riotously popular. The “What We Found In The New 2015 Penny” was August’s most popular post: it came in at over 230 views. That’s on top of the 325 it got in July. It’s already in double-digits for September.

My attempt at duplicating this? “What Warren Buffett Is Warning America About”? That was successful, sure, with 53 views in August. But that’s clearly of much less interest. Maybe clickbait-baiting isn’t the thing for me. Or maybe I picked a bad example. I’m honestly not sure it’s ethical to write something that’s popular because of a particularly disreputable form of advertising.

Anyway. The other top five articles were various posts about the nothing going on in Apartment 3-G. I don’t feel bad about having so many page views for that because I do think I’m helping people who are honestly trying to understand what’s happened with Apartment 3-G. The various Apartment 3-G posts, all told, drew in at least 138 page views in August. For the sake of not boring people with a comic strip that isn’t doing anything, I’ve just listed one representative Apartment 3-G explanation in the top-five summary.

  1. Statistics Saturday: What We Found In The New 2015 Penny
  2. Statistics Saturday: What Warren Buffett Is Warning Americans About
  3. Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G Update: Did Something Happen In Apartment 3-G?
  4. Why I Am Not Learning About The History of Socks
  5. Statistics Saturday: How Many Good Episodes Of Star Trek: The Next Generation I Figured There Were Versus Time

What search terms brought people here in August? Mostly, stuff about the 2015 penny. Some, Warren Buffett. And Apartment 3-G. Well, Fonzie’s favorite album came up, at least. Also month in alphabetical order which is one of those silly little things I like. Still, people really want to know why nothing is going on in Apartment 3-G.

The August Scraps

Here’s some stuff I cut out of, or otherwise couldn’t use, in posts in August. Please feel free to use any you like. Some of them are pretty sketchy, having never got out of a first draft, so you’ll probably want to clean them up first.

  • you maybe think my reading is eclectic to which I say “I didn’t notice that book about competitive fox-hurtling and other obscure sports before”
  • lemniscate orchestra
  • synonymicon for crying out loud now stop asking
  • three things that won’t
  • Well, (16 instances)
  • if there’s anything I have to hurry up and say
  • had no idea Bronies could happen in real life and not just the Internet
  • if we can’t use apostrophes correctly we just shouldn’t have them at all
  • very (38 times)
  • not to be an unnecessary haiku pedant
  • of course (28 pairs)
  • but it’s ridiculous to think the Enterprise could survive being licked by feral koi
  • woken by bunny sneezes
  • partially motorized CSV files (3 times, including two from work e-mails)
  • learning to forgive people who answer “what’s up” with “the ceiling” or “the sky” depending on whether they’re outside or inside
  • are all questions I cannot answer (4 instances)

Bon appétit! (2 instances)

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G Update: What Is Happening To Apartment 3-G?

OK, it’s been another week of nothing going on in Frank Bolle and Margaret Sholock’s Apartment 3-G. Let me recap for the sake of people searching desperately for any hint of what’s going on. After finding his plan of “wandering around Manhattan occasionally running in to Margo but not telling her who he is or why he’s there” somehow failed to make a connection with Margo, Eric Mills has gone to Apartment 3-G. There, Margo’s roommate Tommie was telling Lu Ann she had been set free. I assume this means that Tommie intends to go out in the fields and frolic. Within days Tommie will be dead, having been attacked and eaten by butterflies.

Eric explains that he is Eric and is not dead, raising protests of “but you died five years ago”. Lu Ann takes this news better than I imagined, because her head does not explode in a shower of electrical sparks at this paradox while she begs, “Norman, co-ordinate”. She instead agrees that Eric couldn’t have expected Margo to know her because she’s been wandering in a delusional funk through Manhattan for 28 weeks now. In the Sunday recap all this is explained again, although instead of taking place in Apartment 3-G the action takes place again on the streets of the backdrop from your high school’s junior year production of Our Town. Except for the final panel because of course.

Eric Mills explains he is not dead, while Tommie and Lu Ann teleport around one another. He's interested in helping Margo, but not so interested as to actually say anything meaningful to her.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 30th of August, 2015. Seriously, what are the backgrounds even supposed to mean there?

Now. As soap opera strips go this is a fair bit of development. Characters find out stuff they didn’t know at the start of the week. It’s no Mary Worth, where Professor Ian, in his guise as Pomposity Lad, managed to in three weeks turn sucking up to his boss into a marriage-threatening crisis. But it’s something.

But the most eye-catching thing is that the artwork has gotten appreciably worse. It’s been bad for a while now, yes. But it’s fallen in another step the past week. Backgrounds have been randomly assigned collections of objects all year, but now they’ve started vanishing altogether. And the characters have begun looking much more sketchy and unfocused. It almost looks like we might be seeing Bolle’s pencil art, without inking and cleanup. But the static poses and arbitrary arrangement of characters, not to mention the random selections of backgrounds when they’re remembered, mean this doesn’t convey energy or vitality, the virtues of unlinked and un-cleaned artwork. It looks more worrying. Is Frank Bolle all right? And past that, is King Features interested in running an Apartment 3-G that’s at least a competent comic strip? I have no answers.

What can I say without a sense of Batiukian despair? Well, on my mathematics blog, there’s comic strips talked about there in which some things happen. In my favorite, someone gets pies thrown at him repeatedly. That is a thing that happens and that is illustrated by Tom Toles.

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