In Which Twitter Leaves Me Confused


I put some links to it in yesterday, but let me be less cryptic. I had another review of mathematically-themed comic strips over on my other blog, where I reached my 30,000th view over the past week. That’s thanks to Apartment 3-G spillover, which is neat since I don’t think I ever had reason to review a 3-G strip for its mathematical context.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share the Twitter Trending panel that I got on Thanksgiving night, after we’d eaten so very much and had the fire go out and our pet rabbit be let back out of his hutch into the living room to sulk about the indignity of it all.

Trending topics: MacysParade, Brett Favre, Wayne, #DayNightTest, #Thanksgiving, and way down the list, Andre 3000.
Remember back when everybody was talking about Wayne? Those were good days. People seemed to laugh more then.

So why did Macy’s think it worth paying money to tell me to watch a parade that was finished twelve hours before? Or did they get a really good deal trying to make me remember the parade 365 days, nine hours from then? And you thought I was going to forget there’s a Leap Day next year, didn’t you? Or does Twitter just think I’m so unimportant that advertising tweets need an extra 16 hours to get to me? Or was I just invited in to the top-secret Macy’s Day After Thanksgiving Parade? I remember that when I was seven, I thought there was also a Macy’s Christmas Day Parade and was confused nobody else seemed to know about it, but when I was seven I thought a lot of stupid things, most of them about how good Ruby/Spears cartoons were. So what I’d like to know is why was everybody tweeting about Brett Favre on Thursday? Why would he be working for Macy’s?

Statistics Saturday: 33 Numbers I Ran Across In The Comics Friday Which Were Not 1, 6, 10, Or The Date.


  1. 17
  2. 67
  3. 11
  4. 2.29
  5. 0.75
  6. 3
  7. 5
  8. 16
  9. 24
  10. 97
  11. 9
  12. 2
  13. 6
  14. 4.50
  15. 42
  16. 27
  17. 4
  18. 1,345,489,345
  19. 100
  20. 8
  21. 1/2
  22. 12
  23. 102
  24. 50
  25. 1/4
  26. 28
  27. 77
  28. 23242
  29. 111,111,111
  30. 12,345,678,987,654,321
  31. 40
  32. 20
  33. 19.60

Not counted: a reference to 100 percent in Richard Thompson’s Richard’s Poor Almanac because on review “100 percent” is another way of expressing “1”.

Nothing Is Happening In: Is Something A Thing?


So this past week in Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth, Mary and her darling little imprinted foundling Olivia talked with each other about how wonderful they are with each other and how other people can’t understand them. Um. Well, I guess that’s exactly the impression you get reading the comics. It looked like they did a lot of eating, although I guess that was just the same meal shown over a couple days. Hm.

Well. Ah. In Tony DePaul and Paul Ryan’s The Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks did that thing where a superhero walks around in his civilian guise while the real authorities try to figure out who tied up all the criminals. Then there was yet another weirdly over-specific Jungle Saying (“There are times when The Phantom leaves the jungle and walks the streets of the town like an ordinary man”? That’s nice and catchy, right up there with “On occasion The Phantom searches all over for his car keys and finds he left them in the refrigerator, in the vegetable bin, which is weird because they’re supposed to be either in the tea kettle or embedded in a stick of butter”.) Then he edged as far away from contact with his kids as he could … oh, that’s all what anyone would get from the strip anyway.

Well, Mark Trail didn’t literally punch the radiation poachers this week but … Bah. I give up. You can’t just pick out anything and snark on it. You have to have some attitude and some hope of building it into something better, even if it’s just writing your own story to make sense of it. I can’t turn Fridays into a review of this week’s baffling Compu-Toon panels. There’s not enough meat to them and the guy who draws them seems way too earnest. I’m doomed, I know it.

Walking Through Novel-Writing: November’s Last Step


Hi again, folks. I suppose this is the last of the walkthroughs here before National Novel Writing Month ends. I’d like to think people who’ve made it this far in NaNoWriMo without declaring “look, it’s just been busy, all right?” are going to stick around after November’s over. But I know better. Still, hope this’ll be a good sendoff. Let’s see, where had we left last time?

Oh, yeah, protagonists. I’ve left them with the default names so far. That’s not because I like the default names, I just haven’t figured a name that fits them more exactly. When I have one, I just — here, see, you right-click above either’s head and there’s the option for renaming them. There’s first, last, nickname, familiar name, alternate nickname, there you go. If you’re doing fantasy you might want to use the option about True Name that does magic stuff.

Yeah, nobody ever spells out True Names in full, for the obvious reason. You don’t want an eleven-year-old reading the book to try ordering the character to appear. That just spoils the whole illusion that your magic scheme could be real and you don’t want to deal with a kid getting angry at you on social media. You never want to deal with anybody angry at you on social media, but against a kid? Mister Rogers could probably thread that successfully, but he’s been dead a long time. He lived back when tweets were sent by Morse Code to a back room of the local Post Office, where they were ignored.

Now, you see the option here of “no name”? Yeah, don’t use that. Nobody likes books where nobody has a name. The only time you can kind of get away with it is if you’re doing first-person. The logic of that works as long as nobody who’s standing behind your characters needs to get their attention. If you have characters who can sometimes not face each other then you’re stuck. No, it does not count if your character is a detective or spy and gets referred to by profession. Then, like, “Spy” or “Detective” or whatever is their name.

Yeah, there’s novelists who tell you withholding names gives characters a sense of universality. Or it conveys a sense of modern society’s detached atmospheres, or an unsettling air of unreality or whatever. Nobody likes it. You’ll never get to be the subject of a coherent book report if nobody’s got names. You won’t get to be anyway. But that’s no excuse to add another reason you won’t get to be to the ones already there.

Now — oh, good grief, now these guys are flashing back. That’s a mistake. They only just met earlier this story, though, and I don’t want it revealed they used to know each other. Couple fixes for this. First is in the flashback change the name of the secondary lead. Then I can make something out of how the primary lead keeps attracting the same kind of person into his life. You see where that builds a score on thematic resonances and cycles of life stuff. On some settings that also gives you points for deep background.

You can swap deep background points out for fan bonus content, though. Like, here, if I snip out this whole flashback? OK. I put in a line referring to it, and then dump the scene on my book’s web site as bonus content. This way readers can discover this and feel like they’re in on a secret. That’s how social-media networking works. You want to put something out so everybody thinks they’re in on something nobody knows about. An accident like this is perfect. It doesn’t even have to fit logically the rest of the book because it’s an alternate draft. If you do it right any scrap text you can’t use, you can use. It’s a great time for writing.

OK, I suppose that’s about everything important for this step. Before I let you go let me name the Comment of the Week. That goes to ClashOSymbols for his funny dissection of every author-reader interaction on the Internet, everywhere. He’s not getting any less wrong about second-person. But remember what I said about engaging with eleven-year-old readers? That’s explained in great detail under section 4.4. Enjoy and catch someone later, sometime. But when can’t I say that truly?


About The Author: are a couple of pillows, a John McPhee book he’s had to renew from the library already even though he hasn’t started reading it, and several glass vases he’s worried he’s going to knock over if he sits up or back even the teeny-tiniest bit differently from how he’s sat every single time in the past.

What To Call People Without Getting Them Necessarily Angry


My love and I were talking in the car about what to call people from various states, because our podcasts were out of fresh episodes. You know, like, “Michigander” for people from Michigan, or “Marylander only the emphasis sounds weird” for people from Maryland. We knew better than to try calling people from Massachusetts anything. And we’re pretty sure that we could call people from Maine “Mainers”, since they don’t see much reason to speak to us anyway.

Still, our shared interest in the old-fashioned hobby of remembering stuff failed us for a couple of states. For example, we can’t figure out a good term for people from Connecticut, although that doesn’t matter much since we couldn’t afford to even drive through the state, much less talk about anybody in it. New Hampshire, though, and Arkansas are giving us trouble and we’re just going to have to insist that people from those states move out in order that we don’t have to have a term to describe folks from that state. New Hampshire already has what seems like a perfectly functional backup in Vermont. Arkansas I don’t know so well. I’ll trust them to figure out where to go. They’ve probably got their section of the United States pretty well figured out, apart from the adjectives.

PS: I topped out at 957 page views, from 458 visitors, yesterday. I knew I should’ve logged out and hit refresh just 43 more times.

In Which I Am Discovered And Made Kind Of Famous-Ish


And so then this happened.

My readership hovers somewhere around 80 or so most days, and then suddenly jumps up to about 900 two days in a row, thanks to the AV Club.
A few weeks back I posted a graph about how my readership kept growing the more I wrote about Apartment 3-G and the less that happened in it. It’s less a funny-ha-ha and more a funny-yeah-that’s-true. I will never see numbers like this again, ever.

What happened is The Onion AV Club respects its duty to the parts of popular culture that aren’t really popular or part of the culture anymore. So it discussed the end of Apartment 3-G. Under the “Great Job, Internet” column they published an essay aptly titled “Comics bloggers say goodbye to Apartment 3-G”. And I got mentioned in it twice. As a result there’s been a rush of people reading my description of “disjointed and unfollowable” plots. As I write this the day (the 24th of November) isn’t quite over. But it seems plausible I might see a thousand page views for the day alone. That’s on top of 873 for the day before. Goodness knows what the next day will bring. I suppose fewer. It’d be odd if people were even more interested in what The AV Club says about what some other blogger says about a comic strip they weren’t following another day later.

I didn’t just get a stray link, though. I even got to be the second block-quoted text. I’m between commentary from The Lovely Ladies Of Apartment 3-G commentary blog and The Comics Reporter‘s essay on the conclusion. I am delighted to be quoted, especially since it’s as “Another blog, meanwhile”. Perhaps my name is just a little too implausible for the AV Club’s readers. I know most people trying to read my name are stumped by what to make of it. The “Nebus” part, I mean. Most folks know what to make of “Joseph”. They make “Joe” of it.

'Another blog, meanwhile, used the death of Apartment 3-G to speculate on the future of newspaper comics in general. After all, when one comic strip is canceled, that provides an opportunity to other strips to hoping to take its spot in hundreds of newspapers.' And then it quotes my 'so who won?' essay about 'not the soap opera strips'.
The Onion AV Club sees me fit to mention, kind of, as another blog, meanwhile, discussing the end of Apartment 3-G.

I know that when someone on the Internet says “I am delighted by” something, it normally means “I am not delighted by” that thing. But when I say “I am delighted by”, I don’t mean anything so complicated as “I am not delighted by”. I mean, simply, “I am delighted by”. The baffling of people by my name is only part of it. What also has me truly delighted is that the AV Club’s article was written by Joe Blevins. I know that guy.

Well, kind of know him. He and I were both participants, back in the 90s, on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. Usenet groups were kind of like web forums, except that you could read them using any software you like and they didn’t have ads crowding out your web browser and making them crash. And you could follow threads and sub-threads with ease. So you see why they couldn’t compete with the modern Internet experience. But he and I were both active members in the MiSTing community.

I’ve posted a couple MiSTings here. They’re the fan fiction version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, taking Usenet posts or bad fan fiction or whatnot and making fun of it. We’d post these to rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc, which was for Mystery Science Theater 3000-related activity. This included fan fiction. I haven’t seen Blevins in ratmm, as we abbreviated a phrase that already included four abbreviations, in ages. But then who has?

So this makes things a tiny bit different. This isn’t just any old writer coming across my name and having no idea what to make of it. This is a guy with whom I collaborated in making fun of Marrissa Picard stories not knowing what to make of my name. The name “Marrissa Picard” may mean nothing to you. This is because your life has gone right in some important ways. Trust me on this. Point is, after experiences like that, I would expect my name to get recognized even after a decade.

So is Joe Blevins snubbing me? I can’t imagine why he would, unless he’s still upset about losing to me in the Web Site Number Nine MiSTing Awards for 2002, category Best Single Riff. Back then I won a devastating victory with a line in “Jaded Views”. That was a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic about two characters who were kind of like the authors, only they were badgers and didn’t realize they made themselves out to be terrible people. I’ll own up, I don’t think my winning riff was the best one published that year, let alone the best one I’d written.

I’m not saying that “Just because they’re trapped in a desperate struggle for survival against a crushing worldwide war machine doesn’t mean they can’t maintain a very active theater community” isn’t a funny line. I just think that even in that same MiSTing, I did better with the credit “Based on a sneeze by Harlan Ellison”. I’m just passing on what the voters for MST3K fan fiction awards thought at the time. Other folks may have done beter, and Blevins may have even been one of them. While I was delighted to have a fanfic award long ago, it’s not as though I’ve spent four days a week gloating about beating him out about it. For goodness sake, there’s my award for writing that sketch in which Tom Servo gets all huffy and thoroughly debunks the theory that Casper the Friendly Ghost is the afterlife fate of Richie Rich. I’m much prouder of that.

I hope he’s not snubbing me. I’m certainly not snubbing him. I am delighted by all this. And I’m delighted to learn that a decade-plus after we last had contact he’s gone on to being a freelance writer for a leading pop culture web site. He’s always been a funny guy and I hope he’s doing well enough to support his writing habit.

Meanwhile, I am already reaping lasting benefits of an extra 1500 or so page views in two days. I’ve already had literally more than one new person subscribe by e-mail to new humor blog posts. And the readership boost hasn’t been as pronounced over on my mathematics blog, but it has been detectable. And isn’t “detectable” all that anyone on the Internet wants to be? Yes. Yes it is.

Robert Benchley: American Anniversaries


We haven’t heard from Robert Benchley in a while, have we? Here’s a piece from Love Conquers All, from the section that consists of book reviews. Benchley found in books of facts almost exactly the same thrill that I find in them. The reference to the Treaty of Breda makes it possible to say confidently that this essay was first printed in 1920. The student of post-Great-War America might have figured that out from the gently pointed social commentary near the essay’s end. A fascinating thing about the Treaty of Breda which Benchley doesn’t mention is that since it was to end the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which included fighting all over the world in a time when communications were slow and clumsy, it specified different dates on which the hostilities would officially end for different parts of the world.

AMERICAN ANNIVERSARIES

MR PHILIP R DILLON has compiled and published in his American Anniversaries a book for men who do things. For every day in the year there is a record of something which has been accomplished in American history. For instance, under January 1 we find that the parcel-post system was inaugurated in the United States in 1913, while January 2 is given as the anniversary of the battle of Murfreesboro (or Stone’s River, as you prefer). The whole book is like that; just one surprise after another.

What, for instance, do you suppose that Saturday marked the completion of? . . . Presuming that no one has answered correctly, I will disclose (after consulting Mr Dillon’s book) that July 31 marked the completion of the 253d year since the signing of the Treaty of Breda. But what, you may say — and doubtless are saying at this very minute — what has the Treaty of Breda (which everyone knows was signed in Holland by representatives of England, France, Holland and Denmark) got to do with American history? And right there is where Mr Dillon and I would have you. In the Treaty of Breda, Acadia (or Nova Scotia) was given to France and New York and New Jersey were confirmed to England. So, you see, inhabitants of New York and New Jersey (and, after all, who isn’t?) should have especial cause for celebrating July 31 as Breda Day, for if it hadn’t been for that treaty we might have belonged to Poland and been mixed up in all the mess that is now going on over there.

I must confess that I turned to the date of the anniversary of my own birth with no little expectation. Of course I am not so very well known except among the tradespeople in my town, but I should be willing to enter myself in a popularity contest with the Treaty of Breda. But evidently there is a conspiracy of silence directed against me on the part of the makers of anniversary books and calendars. While no mention was made of my having been born on September 15, considerable space was given to recording the fact that on that date in 1840 a patent for a knitting machine was issued to the inventor, who was none other than Isaac Wixan Lamb of Salem, Massachusetts.

Now I would be the last one to belittle the importance of knitting or the invention of a knitting machine. I know some very nice people who knit a great deal. But really, when it comes to anniversaries I don’t see where Isaac Wixon Lamb gets off to crash in ahead of me or a great many other people that I could name. And it doesn’t help any, either, to find that James Fenimore Cooper and William Howard Taft are both mentioned as having been born on that day or that the chief basic patent for gasoline automobiles in America was issued in 1895 to George B Selden. It certainly was a big day for patents. But one realizes more than ever after reading this section that you have to have a big name to get into an anniversary book. The average citizen has no show at all.

In spite of these rather obvious omissions, Mr Dillon’s book is both valuable and readable. Especially in those events which occurred early in the country’s history is there material for comparison with the happenings of the present day, events which will some day be incorporated in a similar book compiled by some energetic successor of Mr Dillon.

For instance, under October 27, 1659, we find that William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were banished from New Hampshire on the charge of being Quakers and were later executed for returning to the colony. Imagine!

And on December 8, 1837, Wendell Phillips delivered his first abolition speech at Boston in Faneuil Hall, as a result of which he got himself known around Boston as an undesirable citizen, a dangerous radical and a revolutionary trouble-maker. It hardly seems possible now, does it?

And on July 4, 1776 — but there, why rub it in?

Nothing Has Happened In Apartment 3-G: So Who Wins?


With the final demise of Apartment 3-G in not just artistic but also actual production terms, the natural question is: who wins? That is, who gets the spot suddenly opened up in about three hundred newspapers?

Let me take this second paragraph to point out the most recent Reading The Comics post over on my mathematics blog. Thank you.

I should point out, I don’t know how many newspapers Apartment 3-G was running in at the end. I say “about three hundred” because whenever a comic strip’s circulation is mentioned it’s usually given as “about three hundred”. “About three hundred newspapers” is the comic strip circulation figure equivalent of “has a girlfriend in Canada”. It’s possible enough, and disproving it would take more work than anyone cares to invest.

Margo walks across an empty city, reflecting how she has been told everything, and would give 'anything' to see Eric again but that won't happen. 'My parents are getting married today! So smile, Margo, and move on.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of November, 2015. The daily comic strip ends as it has spent most of the past year, with Margo wandering around the wide-open spaces of Manhattan, talking to nobody at all, while two of the 3-G ladies aren’t involved. Tommie, last we heard, wanted to sell out her share of the comic strip. Lu Ann we haven’t heard from in a while. I imagine Lu Ann has curled up in Margo’s sock drawer to sleep until she comes back. Also, I’m not positive, but I believe that in the second panel we see the reflection of Count Weirdly’s time machine from Slylock Fox.

Certainly not winning are the soap opera strips. As a genre they’re dead, probably squeezed the same way soap operas proper are dying (in the United States). Kids don’t grow up reading them, and adults have better things to do than follow the soaps. I don’t know when the last new syndicated soap opera strip to launch was. The closest might be Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, which is an action-adventure strip, but a humorous, self-spoofing one. That means the main story would be serviceable for an action-adventure strip, but every panel includes a joke about how stupid the Kardashians are or something like that, and when the villain reveals his plan he owns up that this is a kinda dumb thing to do. It’s a fun strip, one of Thompson’s nearly six dozen good daily strips that he’s producing, but it’s not a soap. And I’m not positive it appears in any newspapers.

I would expect Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann and Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean to make the most gains from the spaces available, actually. Both strips have moved into the semi-serialized format that’s the closest the market will support to a soap-opera strip. In this format — I think of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury as the defining example of it — there are a couple of story lines going on, and each week will advance one of the stories. But nearly each daily strip will contain a punch line, or an attempted punch line, so the strip doesn’t quite abandon the joke-a-day format.

(This isn’t to suggest that humor strips with story lines are a modern development. Walt Kelly’s Pogo mastered the form, and strips like E C Segar’s Thimble Theater/Popeye were certainly doing that. But they would have typically one story going at a time, and focus on that for as long as conditions warranted. I think the markers of the semi-serialized format are that there are multiple story lines going on for the various characters, that one of them will be picked up for any given Monday-to-Saturday sequence, that the following week is likely to follow a completely different thread, and that the full week will be devoted to a single thread. Funky Winkerbean, for example, has so committed to this that its snark community gets confused when the strip does six days of unconnected gag-a-day jokes without an overarching topic.)

Martin and Gabby recap how they've fired fake psychic Diane. Margo explains how she's not planning to marry Greg. But she'd love to see Eric, who has gone back to being dead, 'so that won't happen. So smile, Margo, and move on.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 22nd of November, 2015. I honestly didn’t think there was going to be a last Sunday installment. While the strip couldn’t arrange for a reunion of all the important human characters, it did bring in all the background knickknacks of the past two years in for one last appearance. No, I have no idea what the deal is in the last panel with the dog. I also don’t know why they have a crock-pot sitting on top of the dresser there either. And as traditional, the weekly recap consists of the stuff that happened the past week in the daily strips, only with different backgrounds.

You may protest that Luann and Funky Winkerbean are already successful, commercially if not artistically. (There is a lot to snark about the plotting in both comic strips.) And yes, they’re probably doing about as well as syndicated comic strips not drawn by Charles Schulz half a century ago can hope to do. But success and acclaim tend to attract success and acclaim. That newspaper editors have heard of them makes it easier to pick them up, in newspapers that haven’t picked them up already. This may be cosmically unjust, but it is an unjust trait every human field has.

If King Features Syndicate were really on the ball, they would be pushing some of their semi-serial comics, such as Norm Feuti’s Retail, heavily. But then if King Features Syndicate were on the ball, some editor would have stepped in on Apartment 3-G sometime the past two years. (There is a rumor that Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock had strips, or at least scripts, prepared through to January 2016. If true, this would explain why the last few weeks of the strip so ineptly wrapped up events. I would be fascinated to see these strips and learn if they were pulled because they somehow managed to be even worse, or if the syndicate just decided to cut its losses finally.)

I have seen reports of King Features placing Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem into newspapers. That’s basically a panel strip, although done in the long rectangular dimensions of a three- or four-panel comic. It’d be a good choice for any newspaper that doesn’t already carry Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler’s WuMo, if there are any. King Features has also started recently Take It From The Tinkersons, by Bill Bettwy, which is unlike other family comics by being about the Tinkerson family instead of other family-comics families; and David Reddick’s Intelligent Life, which hops on the bandwagon of The Big Bang Theory with the speed and precision we expect from the comics page.

Universal Uclick should be able to place Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and her Unicorn into at least a few of those emptied spots. Simpson’s is the first comic Universal Uclick has launched into newspapers in several years, and it’s got a pleasant, charming whimsy. It’s also benefitted from well-meaning reviews that claim it’s a female version of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s no girl-based clone of that comic, though. It really only shares the superficial traits of being well-drawn and starring a child and an animal with Bill Watterson’s masterpiece. But the syndicate would be fools not to trade on good publicity, and I’d expect many readers to like what the strip actually is once they’ve read it.

But it’s also sadly possible that no comic strip will reap a bonanza of new spots from this. It might all go to the tire ads instead. November 2015 has been a harsh month for syndicated comic strips, and that in a bloodbath year. While everyone was watching Apartment 3-G collapse, Larry Wright’s impossibly gentle panel strip Kit ‘n’ Carlyle ran its last installment, on the 7th of November. And come the 29th, Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set panel is to retire. Kit ‘n’ Carlyle was about a kitten making a mess of its owner’s dates or food or drapes, rather like Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts without the despair and misanthropy. The Dinette Set was all bite, daily peeks at some horrible people who don’t get it. It doesn’t really have punch lines, more of an atmosphere of awkward unpleasantness. I can’t fault the many readers who never got what was supposed to be funny in this.

I don’t know that I ever saw Kit ‘n’ Carlyle in an actual newspaper, but then I don’t remember when I last saw Apartment 3-G on paper either. The Dinette Set I remember seeing at least a few times, so maybe it runs in four hundred newspapers. Also finished this year were Fred Wegner’s Grin and Bear It and Steve Sicula’s Home and Away. Jan Eliot’s Stone Soup last month switched from daily to Sunday-only publication, which is almost as good as stopping altogether. Daily and Sunday comics pages are only loosely connected. Terry LaBan and Patty LaBan’s family strip Edge City is ending with the close of 2015. Given all this, I wouldn’t blame a comics page editor for taking the chance to reorganize everything and drop all but the cheapest or most popular comics. Or the tire ads.

If there are still comics page editors, or newspapers, soon.

Statistics Saturday: The Relented March Of Time


Some astounding facts about how it is later in time now than it ever was before:

  1. The network television debut of Star Trek (1966) is closer in time to the network television debut of Lost In Space (1965) than it is to today (2015).
  2. The end of the Thirty Years War (1648) is closer to us (2015) than is the start of the Thirty Years War (1618).
  3. There are no known living survivors, or spouses of survivors, of the Battle of Manzikert (1071).
  4. More than twelve whole generations of mice have been born, lived, and died of old age since the last installment of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery Of Edwin Drood was published (1870).
  5. At no point in the 21st Century has President Thomas Jefferson been alive.
  6. Though you may be loved today more than yesterday, and may expect to be loved more tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the amount by which your belovedness increases between today and tomorrow is itself an increase on the amount by which your belovedness increased between yesterday and today.
  7. Between the founding (1922) and the abolition (1991) of the Soviet Union, World War II began (1939 or maybe 1937 or arguably 1931), was fought, and ended (1945 or 1947 or maybe early 1991).
  8. 2016 is to see the 25th anniversary of the 225th anniversary (1991) of the founding of Rutgers University (1766).
  9. November 1st is closer to November 5th than November 22nd is to November 30th.
  10. The television series Casablanca (1983) has been off the air more than twenty times as long as it was on the air. The same astounding property holds for the other television series Casablanca (1955-56).

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: A Statement That Will Be Only More True After Tomorrow


Apartment 3-G is, by all reports, to end on Saturday, the 21st of November. I am sincerely sad, and not just because people trying to find out what was with the plotless void of the summer have driven my readership to all-time highs. Well, they’re only all-time highs so far. I don’t like seeing long-running stuff end. I especially don’t like seeing them end on sad, pathetic notes.

And before I forget: Over my mathematics blog I look over recent comic strips and discuss their mathematical themes. I’ve also been giving a tour of sets that mathematicians use a lot as domains and ranges for functions. Please give them a try.

Back to business. What’s the final week of Apartment 3-G held, though? It seems to be trying to make an honest attempt at tying down as many of the loose plot threads as it can, finally. On Monday the narration box opened with the declaration “Four Weeks Later, At Their House … ” to show Margo’s parents talking. This time-jump to get away from the mess of unresolved stories is something the strip has used before.

In this 2013 sequence, a homemade bomb explodes in the Apartment 3-G room. Greg, Margo's boyfriend of the time, wakes, dresses 'hastily', and summons help.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 23rd of January, 2013. The revealing thing about this nearly-three-year-old sequence was that bomb-setter Evan was deeply jealous of this “Eric” whom Margo kept talking about in her sleep. I honestly had not noticed at the time that Margo so remembered her dead fiancé as to be dreaming about him. This makes dead fianceé Eric’s return to haunting her without ever speaking to her in a non-delusional state somehow even worse.

A couple years back a crazed boyfriend of one of Margo planted a bomb that blew up in a charming Christmastime vignette. (Because of comic strip time, the event actually happened a month after Christmas, but that’s not doing too badly.) The comic strip took this promising chance to tell stories about where the characters lived and what they did, presumably separately, while the building was repaired, and the presumably interesting police and court action to follow, and piddled it down its leg. After some admittedly exciting rescue scenes and a few hospital scenes in the burn ward, we got a narrative box that it was “a few weeks later”. Everyone moved back in to an apartment that looked just like it had before.

Still, jumping ahead a couple weeks is an efficient way of getting story threads nailed down quickly. You can just drop anything you don’t have time to deal with. A character can fill in anything essential Mad Libs style. They mention they’re happy now that ___(DEAD FIANCEÉ ERIC)___ has gone back to ___(BEING DEAD IN HIMALAYALAND)___. That reads like a resolution and takes almost no time.

Margo's mother Gabby tells psychic Diane that she should've known she was going to be fired.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 17th of November, 2015. Part of the farewell tour of beloved Apartment 3-G characters such as the lamp, affectionately known as Lampy; the various dressers with knickknacks; and what might be a wine decanter of some kind or possibly a lost genie bottle in the first panel? Anyway, if the laws of perspective held, that’d be a pretty tall dresser to put stuff on top of. It was in this strip that I realized that at some point within the past year, Gabby has in earnest delivered “I know you are but what am I?” as a retort.

Monday through Thursday was entirely Margo’s parents talking to one another, violently not making eye contact while taking a tour of the few random backdrops left to the artwork. Granted the things Margo had been thinking about, before her eight-month sojourn through the Manhattan wastelands, had all related to her parents’ wedding and her mother’s falling under the spell of a fake psychic. It’s still an odd choice to have the last week of the comic strip basically feature none of the main cast.

Gabby, Margo’s mother, broke up with her fake psychic because of the reasons, so that’s one storyline and the proximate cause of Margo’s breakdown resolved. And the Martin/Gabby wedding is apparently on, since they speak of “our” wedding on Wednesday. They speak of this prominently enough that only the reader who’s ever read any other piece of fiction, ever, would suspect this was setting up for a double Martin/Gabby and Margo/Greg-or-possibly-dead-Eric-who-died-of-death wedding to close out the comic strip’s run.

Gabby is so happy at how Margo looks that she could cry. Martin agrees they're lucky to have their daughter.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 19th of November, 2015. Possibly our last view of that strange kind of pine-needley plant that gets dropped in wherever the white void of nothingness gets a little too much for the comic strip. Also I think Gabby and Martin are wearing the same outfit but in different colors. This makes it remarkable that the randomly applied flood-filling that’s done to colorize the daily comics managed to get the colors correct literally every panel this week.

Thursday takes place in a nearly featureless void, with a plant growing out of the date box. It would be appropriate for the start of a double wedding ceremony. Granted, Gabby and Martin aren’t dressed for a wedding, certainly not one they’d be part of. They’re more dressed to experience that vague awkwardness of maybe being a little overdressed for TGI Fridays without being actually, clearly, too dressed up for it.

So, of course, having teased the idea of a double wedding Friday dashes that. Margo makes her first appearance in a week and a half to say she isn’t marrying Greg, who she wasn’t planning to marry even before she spent 2015 wandering around a featureless void.

Gabby tells Margo how Greg adores him. Margo explains that she's not marrying him.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 20th of November, 2015. I choose to believe that Gabby is watching Margo in the mirror, just in case Margo reveals herself to be a vampire. Meanwhile Margo reveals herself not to be interested in marrying Greg, because she’s saving herself for her dead fianceé Eric, or she’s hoping the strip will get rebooted as a CBS Digital Download next year. Also because she thinks someone was proposing she get married to Greg?

Obviously this’ll be the last Friday-night-Eastern-Time post recapping the nothing happening in Apartment 3-G. I do mean to have some closing thoughts, after the final strip posts. I don’t suppose there’s another story strip likely to capture the strange baffling charm of the last few years of Apartment 3-G.

Walking Through Novel-Writing: The Next Step


Hi, everyone, thanks for being back for the next part of this novel-writing walkthrough. You remember last time my leads had gone off down the wrong street. It’s so hard to keep a book on track when the characters drift off like that. Plus, there’s the risk of them doing something that a reader knows is wrong, and the reader then tweets something snotty about you. So what, you say? Well, how do you know that the tweet isn’t going to go viral? And you aren’t going to wake up one day underneath an Internet Dogpile of people mocking your naivete? The public pressure grows until the publisher recalls and pulps every copy of your book, and then goes after you for the money. You’re left with no choice but to escape your home, leaving behind all your loved ones and all the belongings that don’t fit in your cargo pants. And you have to flee to some obscure Canadian province where you eke out a bare living by working as an off-season basketball hoop. Then things get dire the second day.

But. Here’s how I’m going to double down and turn this accident into bonus points. See that? Second lead mentions how, you know, this is the part of town where Jonathan Lethem set most of Chronic City. Main lead didn’t know that but admits he never read it. Second lead reflects how he never read it either, he just heard this was the area. They shrug and get going back to where they should’ve been. Little detour is good for, like, 125 points total.

Why? First the obvious stuff. I get to mention a more popular author’s book, but not in any way that makes me look envious or sour. Readers who’ve heard of him now know I heard of him too, and they like me more because they figure we’ve got stuff in common. Even if they hate Lethem, that’s OK, because I point out the characters didn’t read him. More subtly, now, the story looks like I’ve used its specific setting. Major bonus in making the events feel grounded in reality. I get that even though if you look you realize I haven’t actually referred to any real details.

And if I have the reference wrong, I have a built-in excuse right there in text for getting it wrong. Even the most hostile reader has to agree, characters can get wrong details about books they haven’t read. Doesn’t say anything about what I screw up. Finally, having them talk about a book they haven’t read makes an echo of their talking about quantum mechanics they don’t understand. Almost nobody reading it going to pick up on that. But it adds this nice extra underpinning of security to the story.

You know, I bet this is all good for up to 150 points. Well, that depends on your scoring system. I use the one I’ve always used, some algorithm that was built into emacs back in Like 1994, because it’s too hard to learn another. Some madman exported it to a separate PHP script in 2002 and I’ve been using that ever since. And yeah, there’s this patch that’s supposed to let you use the 2009 revisions to standard story scoring but I’ve never gotten it to work reliably. You can score by whatever your word processor uses, or a web site if you’re doing this competitively. I mean my points and that’s enough for me.

So we’re getting near the end of this installment. Before I go, the Comment of the Week is a special one. In subthread BlooPencil had the happy discovery that Cat Rambo is a well-regarded editor and writer of science fiction and not a novelty tumblr full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. I want to thank everyone for whimsical comments on that. And for the novelty tumblr you put together full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. That’s the sort of loving and creative community everyone wants the Internet to be for. Keep it up, gang.


About The Author: Though he has never had any work produced in the movie or television industries, Joseph Nebus has seen aquarium animals with names that are compatible with their being Arrested Development references.

My New Favorite Wikipedia Sentences Of All Time Of Today


I don’t know how long the thrill of this is going to last, but I was reading the “List Of Fictional Mustelids”. If you’re wondering why I went there, it’s because I thought I was going to the “List of Fictional Skunks” page. But before it gets to its list of mustelids that do not exist, we have these paragraphs:

All fictional badgers are found within the list of fictional badgers.

Fictional raccoons are found in the List of fictional raccoons.

I love the clarity of these paragraphs. And wonder how they can prove that all fictional badgers have made the list. Also why someone would go to a list of fictional mustelids if they were looking up fictional raccoons. I mean, who would think a raccoon was a mustelid? A rodent, sure, baby raccoons are classified under rodents, but mustelids? Sheesh.

My Short-Lived Million-Dollar Idea


So it struck me that I had a great idea for a quasi-reality TV show, in the vein of those shows on the Boring Channel where a camera crew descends on a house or apartment or restaurant or whatever, rips everything out while host hollers at the owner, and has brand-new everything put in so the house or apartment or restaurant looks like every other one of its species on the Boring Channel. In this case, though, we’d go in to some piece of software that does something useful, but that has a horrible user interface, rip out the interface and replace it with something that’s actually been thought out and can be used by people to do what the software’s good at.

And then I remembered: nobody knows how to make a thoughtful user interface anymore. We just muddle through terrible experiences until we get used to the exactly one way we can get this software to do the one blasted thing we want it to do anymore. Then they update the software and that way goes away. So we couldn’t even put in a new interface after all.

Then, too, I realized the cinematography problem. When you tear out and rebuild a home or business at least you have great scenes of wood and metal and plastic getting ripped out by teams of handy men who look much more competent than you, and you get to see pipes and wires and old insulation and stuff. That’s just good TV. Computer programming, though, that’s nothing but people in sweatpants typing. In your older generation of programmers they also swap Monty Python quotes so worn down that only homeopathic traces of humor remain in them. In the younger generation, I don’t know what they over-quote. Steven Universe or something. It’s hard to come up with something more intensely boring that isn’t one of those Scandinavian TV channels showing eighteen hours of felled tree trunks streaming down the river.

All that’s left is having the host hollering at some computer-software company owner. That’d be fun, all right, but I can’t see that getting the kind of ratings the Boring Channel demands. Maybe some streaming media company with tighter budgets and lower distribution costs would bite. No way to tell how to get in touch with one, though. All their contact information is hidden on their web sites.

Local Architecture Critic Derides Seasons, Nature


I’m sorry to get to this late, but other stuff kept coming up. Remember the architecture critic for the local alt-weekly? The one who took his mandate to ridicule shabby and run-down buildings around town as a chance to explain how ugh but the vertically oriented windows do not work with the lines of the house? He’s still at it.

In a recent issue he named the Eyesore of the Week — “our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing” — to be Power Lines and Trees, found “everywhere”. He says:

With autumn in full flush, one’s eyes are naturally drawn upward to enjoy the resplendent colors of the season. Unfortunately, that view is diminished when the bright colors are pruned away to allow for the unrestricted distribution of utility lines.

So my headline here is a bit unfair since he isn’t actually decrying the natural progression of seasons. He’s more protesting that we have power lines. To be fair, the city was hit badly by an ice storm two winters ago that knocked out power for a lot of the area. Some homes were without electricity for up to 23 months and reverted, Flintstones style, to having their cell phones charged by trained pterodactyls on bicycles hooked up to generators. And underground power lines would have a harder time being knocked out by ice storms and falling branches. And then we wouldn’t have to trim branches so as to better knock out power lines during ice storms.

Anyway, the cover story of last week’s issue was Art Infusion: Public Art Is Popping Up Around Lansing, But Where Is It Coming From? The question suggests that city officials just patrol the streets each day, and occasionally run across some bright-orange pile of twisted metal girders, and phone the main office to report, “Yeah, looks like we got some new public art on Eight Street. No, don’t think it’s actively threatening. I did hear a rumor of a Dali-esque melted-clock installation at Cedar and Kalamazoo, going to check that next.”

Statistics Saturday: Some Words Of No Inspirational Value


I understand that inspirational words and stories are the most popular thing on WordPress, but, I must be true to my muse for no really clear reason. So here are some words which I expect will not move you in the slightest. Enjoy!

  1. Actuate.
  2. Today will find us between yesterday and tomorrow.
  3. Length of visible light.
  4. Bowls of multiple sizes, some of them glass.
  5. But then I’d have to react in some way.
  6. Print out this coupon for a discount of up to five percent.
  7. Most of our content is ingredients.
  8. Blissen.
  9. I’m thrilled to think how disappointed I’ll probably be by all this!
  10. Post-pastoral posting.
  11. That’s how many boats he’s blown up or eaten now?
  12. Active anticoagulant.

Actually, #9 makes me think of Ashleigh Brilliant’s Pot Shots so maybe it’s a tiny little bit inspirational.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Do They Know They’re Ending Soon?


With Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G down to its last eight days the question each new strip invites is: did anyone tell them the strip was cancelled?

Before moving in to that, though, let me mention again that my mathematics blog reviewed comic strips with the appropriate theme. I get to nitpick a Sunday Luann comic strip, which is even more fun than you imagine.

Eric feels that his advanced age of forty and compromised health, what with his being dead. Tommie doesn't see why he shouldn't be with the woman he loves, and to whom he was engaged before he died. She does have a point, which is probably why she gives up on her stance so quickly.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 10th of November, 2015. You might chuckle that Eric looks like a surprisingly old forty, considering he looks older than his fianceé Margo’s father does. But he has had legitimate hardship in his past, what with dying in an avalanche in the Himalayas and coming back from the dead, which will make anyone look worse. Also, he has the problem of occasionally shrinking six inches.

Last week I outlined the loose plot threads, as best I remembered them. Most are centered around Margo, who’s spent the past week suddenly waking from her coma, again and again. But some involve Tommie or other people in the comic strip. I thought it might be possible to get at least the most important, Margo-centric, threads resolved, if the comic strip used its time efficiently to wrap up storylines.

But it’s gone for a loop instead. Eric, Margo’s fiancé who died in the Himalayas and came back as a needlessly elliptical speaker, would seem to be acceptable as a final boyfriend for the strip. He sat up at Margo’s side through her unconsciousness, and so, why not settle with them rekindling their romance and declare that a happy, or at least any, ending?

Eric figures that Margo deserves to be happy, so he's leaving her to Greg.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 11th of November, 2015. Eric and Tommie work out Margo’s future boyfriend plans, without going to the work of asking Margo what she might like. But then she hasn’t had a non-delusional conversation with Eric since he died five years ago, and hasn’t talked with Greg since she broke up with him two years ago, so why shouldn’t Eric and Tommie decide that Greg is the boyfriend of record for the comic strip to go out on? The first panel may make it sound like Tommie hasn’t got the idea of object permanence, but bear in mind, the environment has worked hard to teach her that nothing lasts panel to panel.

And instead he seems to be getting out of the fading, increasingly-poorly-drawn picture in favor of Greg. Greg was another of Margo’s former boyfriends. He’s an actor who in-universe is the new James Bond, and Margo was his publicist until she broke up with him and left publicity behind in favor of wedding planning. Why should he come back now, and why should Eric bow out of the picture, without ever having a conversation with a conscious Margo, in his favor? Other than that Eric’s a ghost, I mean. I don’t know, and this would be a good plot for a comic strip that had no particular limits on its time. For one that has sixteen panels left to wrap stuff up, plus a seven-panel Sunday? That’s just weird.

I must admit, this refusal to wrap up storylines is intriguing. I don’t see how they can get to a satisfying conclusion from here. I’m just worried they’re not going to get to one at all. Could it be coincidence that the story lurched out of its nothingness to some shambling resemblance of action just as the cancellation decision must have been made?

Eric says he's leaving to say goodbye to Margo. Meanwhile, the car that might be facing either direction has finally been revealed to be a truck! Or a tiny Smart-car class car in front of a building or an icebox.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 13th of November, 2015. Eric has worked out that there’s no way for him to get out of this conversation with Tommie except by fooling her into thinking he’s going to talk to Margo. He shouldn’t despair so. If he just stands still long enough there’s a good chance he’ll be drawn in a different background, talking to somebody else. And possibly he’ll be drawn as some other person too.

I suppose we’ll know this time next week.

Walking Through Novel-Writing Some More


Welcome back everyone. Hope you had a good week writing and are ready to resume walking through this novel-writing experience. Before I start, though, ClashOSymbols had his good post for the month, “Facts: Never Your Friends”. Read it wisely.

Now we left off last time here, our heroes wondering about the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics. But they don’t know it enough to say anything meaningful, so they can’t be wrong. See ClashOSymbols above. You can’t break a suspension of disbelief if there’s nothing to disbelieve. That’s the first reason they have to talk about stuff they don’t really understand.

Something else you get from this. Now, this part doesn’t matter if all you want is a book, but a career walkthrough’ll tell you this. Characters talk about quantum mechanics, you have a science fiction book. You want to start out writing genre, because if genre readers to start reading you they’ll never stop. Doesn’t matter what genre. Science fiction, mystery, western, romance, military, anything at all. But then you have to pivot to literary fiction. Your genre readers will keep reading, and they’ve talked about you enough to their normal friends that you get those readers too. All your books get reissued with boring but uniform covers and your back catalogue sells all over again. Your genre readers will complain about you selling out, but they’ll keep buying and new people will follow them. Always in your career: start genre, then pivot to lit.

But here’s the thing. The harder you start in genre, the tougher the pivot to lit. Start your career with books about Earth pacified by giant memory-wiping kangaroo robot detectives, your pivot is going to have to be like five novels where a sulky old guy reviews badly-named bands for a minor-league city’s failing alt weekly while nothing happens. So doable but soooooooo boring. If you start instead with something so softly genre it could get filed by accident with the grown-up books, you can pivot without doing anything more than picking duller titles.

So. They talk quantum mechanics many-worlds stuff, they don’t know enough to say anything right or wrong or anything. Science fiction fans’ll eat it up, real people will think you’re doing that Bridging The Two Cultures stuff. The novel’s got a good start and I’m already setting up for the pivot.

Now — oh, phoo, what did they go down there for? OK, they just got off the subway and went down the wrong street. I could just go back and restart from the subway and go the right way but you’re going to have to deal with accidents like this and you should see how to recover. Why is a wrong street dangerous? Because if you’re set in a real place, you might say something about the place that a reader can check and find is wrong. That can wipe out all the score you get from the whole chapter. Even if you’re doing the little-chapter strategy, which I say is gaming the rules and won’t do because I have integrity, this dings you. Remember, facts are just stuff you can get wrong. So, have the characters observe something non-committal and non-falsifiable and then they can say they’re on the wrong street. Hey, they’re rattled from that knifeketeer/magician thing, anyone would understand.

Or you can martingale it. Double down, pick something about the setting and just go wild describing it. Extra hard, yes. It’s almost irresistible to put bunches of facts about the place in. And facts aren’t your friends. But pull it off and you can get so many bonus points. We’ll talk about that a little next time.

For now, though, let me point out the Comment of the Week. That’s from FanatsyOfFlight back on Monday with her great Fan Theory: All Fan Theories Are The Same Fan Theory. If you missed it, you’re probably thinking fan theories are a weak target for satire. Maybe they are, but they’re so well-eviscerated.


About The Author: For two years as a reporter on the student newspaper Joseph Nebus attended all the student government meetings for four of the Rutgers University undergraduate colleges. The most challenging was the University College Governing Association, because as adult commuting students they could afford to cater their meetings with way too much pizza to eat and had the pull to reserve the warm conference room with the plush chairs.

What I Think Of The Peanuts Movie


In the opening scene of The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is setting out his kite for one more try at flying the stupid thing. That’s natural enough. He may fail every time, but he won’t stop, which is part of what makes him an admirable character. The thing is, it’s the middle of winter. Other characters mock him for this. He reasons the kite-eating tree can’t get his kite in this weather. It’s plausible enough. It even feels, at least a bit, like something the character in the comic strip would do. Especially in the strip’s late-90s renaissance, when Charles Schulz found new inspiration and played a bit more overtly with the comic strip’s motifs and running gags. So I can rationalize it. I can see where it makes sense, if not effortlessly, then at least because I can believe in the thinking needed to make that come about.

That’s what I suppose my verdict on The Peanuts Movie has to be. It’s a project that shows an obsessive, almost fan-like devotion to the comic strip. It attempts to do some original things. I can see where all the reasoning makes sense, even if it seems to fall a bit short of being quite natural. The wintertime kite-flying ends in a crash, as it could not help but do. The sequence goes on to Snoopy swiping Linus’s blanket, and recreate the ice-skating-chaos scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And that’s another of the movie’s driving forces, a desire to touch on classic or at least remembered pieces of the comic strip or older specials.

I mean, there’s a scene that arguably calls out It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, one of those Peanuts specials that gets included as an extra to pad out the running time of the remembered, better-liked specials. There’s a quick appearance by not just Snoopy’s sister Belle, but of Belle’s son. You may remember him from his two appearances in the comics in 1976, or as the answer to the never-asked trivia question “did Snoopy have any nephews?” There’s even a quick reference to 5. 5 — 555 95472, to give him his full name — is the Boba Fett of Peanuts, an exceedingly minor character with more appearances and more fan interest than he deserves.

Ahead of the movie’s release my love asked what I hoped for from it. I had ambiguous feelings. It struck me there were always basically two kinds of Peanuts specials or movies. There are the emotion-driven ones — A Boy Named Charlie Brown (the spelling bee movie), A Charlie Brown Christmas, Snoopy Come Home, There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown, that ilk. Then there are the plot-driven ones — Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, It’s A Mystery, Charlie Brown, She’s A Good Skate, Charlie Brown. Generally speaking, the more emotion-driven the better. What makes Peanuts fly is its emotional core — the indignation of wondering why everybody else gets to be happy — and if you want to have a plot, it should serve that. So I hoped for an emotion-driven movie.

(That isn’t to say strong plots make for bad Peanuts. But strong plots make it easy to get so wrapped up in doing things that you lose the sense of what you’re doing them for.)

The Peanuts Movie has a fairly strong plot, although it is a plot about emotions. Charlie Brown wants desperately to impress the new kid in class, the Little Red-Haired Girl. And thus there’s this string of little episodes of schemes attempting to be impressive, which all go wrong. Any one of them is all right. Any one of them could be its own special, really, and probably carry that weight adequately. That there’s so many episodes gets to be wearying. I think I’d have chosen to drop one and provide more time to savor the others, were I making the movie.

The runtime of the movie and the decision to make the plot “Charlie Brown Tries To Impress The Little Red-Haired Girl” work against each other, though. The problem with the Little Red-Haired Girl as a character is that she hasn’t got any character. She’s an invisible slate in the comic strip. All we know about her is that Charlie Brown thinks he likes her, and she chews her pencil, and her grandmother has red hair too. As long as she stays off-screen that’s enough. We don’t need to know why something is important to a character in order to accept that it is important to the character.

Put her on-screen, though, and she has to do something, show some reason why Charlie Brown should put any effort into impressing her. She almost has to do something at the climax, either accept or reject Charlie Brown. If she rejects him then the audience has good reason to have nothing to do with her again. If she accepts him, well, that’s nice, but then what do they have to talk about? Her only character traits are that she’s somehow tantalizing to Charlie Brown, and a mystery to the audience. You’re In Love, Charlie Brown — with a strikingly similar plot — gets away with this. Its short running time helps it. None of Charlie Brown’s attempts can take up too much time, and the contact between Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl is short and ambiguous enough to preserve her tantalizing mystery. I’m sad that the encounter between Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl couldn’t be shorter and more ambiguous in the movie.

This plotting problem could probably have been avoided if they had ditched the Little Red-Haired Girl and used another character from the comics — Peggy Jean, Charlie Brown’s girlfriend from the 90s strips. She was always a character on-screen and accessible. She could interact with Charlie Brown in the relaxed, easy way that makes it easy to understand why Charlie Brown might like her, and why audiences might like them as a couple. But Peggy Jean never had that tantalizing and mysterious aspect, and never captured the public’s imagination the way the Little Red-Haired Girl did. Peggy Jean might have made for a less tortured story. What can you do when a central character can only be glimpsed from afar and can’t say much of substance, and can’t even be addressed by name? But I must admit nobody who isn’t a hardcore Peanuts fan even remembers she existed. Even some who are hardcore fans forget her. The marketing logic probably overwhelmed the plotting logic.

There is much likable about this. The animation style, for example, I think worked better than it had any rights to. (Though there are a few dream sequences with classic animation, and which show how unbelievably awesome traditional animation done on a feature budget would make Schulz’s line style. Add to his personable, wavering line a fluttering in time and you have almost perfected animation. Anytime a straight line has personality you are doing art brilliantly right.) There’s a running secondary plot of Snoopy writing a World War I Flying Ace story that makes for well-timed pauses in the main story. And it provides the mandatory Runaway 3-D Setting for the video game to adapt.

There’s a funny scene of Marcie touting the right book for a book report to Charlie Brown. (Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.) This feeds into another funny scene of Charlie Brown working out the plot of War and Peace that’s enough of a laugh that only later did I wonder “did I just see that in a Peanuts cartoon?” There are many efforts to pander to the hardcore fan. (Who else could have any desire to see two seconds of Belle’s son?) I admit it’s a quirk of my personality that the more something panders to me as a fan the less I like the result.

So, I’m glad for the movie, and I think it’s worth seeing. It didn’t fall into the obvious pitfalls that could make a bad Peanuts film, although I don’t think it made a great one either. I could probably be more ambiguous, but only by trying.

The movie doesn’t clearly set itself in any particular time. It’s rather like the comic strip that way. Charlie Brown has a land-line telephone with a cord, that sits on a stand in the hallway, but then anyone might. None of the other characters are shown having cell phones or making reference to social media. But they don’t have reason to anyway. There is something naturally detached-from-time about the original comic strip, and it’s disorienting (in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown) to hear a character talk about a computer game. On the other hand, in the late years of the strip Lucy mentioned giving her e-mail address to Charlie Brown and that didn’t feel like it went against the nature of the universe.

The movie gets Peppermint Patty’s last name (Reichardt) correct. It gives Marcie a last name that I don’t think has any basis in the strip. The name went by too fast for me to remember what it was. It takes no stance on the question of whether Schroeder is the kid’s first or last name.

Why We Never Listen To My iPod On Shuffle


If I’m alone in the car I listen to audio books. I’ve got a lot of them because I don’t have to drive alone in the car much anymore. The current model iPod hides the things it knows to be audio books off in a different application because listening to music files is totally different from listening to someone reading. Fine. But with a bunch of audio book files I haven’t got around to setting the flag that tells the iPod that it’s an audio book, not music.

So. We tried my iPod on shuffle for a change because my love’s iPod that we normally listen to was low on battery and we forgot its cable. We were running about one-third “weird electronic music experiments from that time I bought an album of BBC Radiophonic sound products” to two-thirds “random chapters from Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. Which apparently is a lot longer in audio book form than I imagined because it just kept coming up. I should probably listen to it sometime.