Statistics Saturday: Big Surprises You’re In For If You Own A Home In Michigan


It's a really big home that I'll bet isn't even in Michigan.
Also, no, that’s not the Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, but you probably knew that already or are just nodding and moving on without thinking about it.
  1. You forgot to put the recycling out!
  2. If you’re on the landing exactly at midnight New Year’s Eve you can get into the secret extra floor there.
  3. There’s somebody, anybody, back east who knows you’re in the Eastern Time Zone.
  4. That shield bug in the bathroom that’s been motionless and on its back for two weeks? It’s not dead yet somehow.
  5. There’s still a Radio Shack in town.
  6. You will never be perfectly confident that the faucets are turning off correctly.
  7. Tucked inside the wall you can never get a picture nail to stick in? That’s the canvases of 19th century moving-panorama showman John Banvard’s famous half-mile long painting of the Mississippi River, once the toast of American and European theatrical performances, and thought to be completely lost.
  8. Oh, the basement, let’s not even.
  9. The button you never use on the dishwasher is for its twelve-minute Licking Cycle.
  10. That’s no home, that’s some 60s black-and-white French science fiction movie in which people grunt about how the essence of mankind is love and faith, courage and tenderness, and then getting shot until they fall into swimming pools at the direction of the all-powerful computer god, which is played by a heat lamp behind a box fan.

Your Inspirational Thought For The Day


Over in a Star Trek forum I quite like, there’s a heated debate raging. The question: is the “Captain’s Office”, the part of his quarters that Captain Kirk used for discussions with senior officers when they needed confidential discussions, functionally the same as the “Ready Room” where Captain Picard or the other, less important, Star Trek captains would go to not be on the bridge while still having tea and getting told that they’d “better come see this”? Or are they completely different structures, serving wholly different roles, not to be mistaken for one another except by people who didn’t understand the question?

And now the inspiration. You have no part whatsoever in this quarrel, and nobody is expecting you to have any part of it. Even if you have an opinion, you don’t have to have an opinion. And I believe that’s a comforting thought even in these difficult times.

Out Of The Parking Lot


Over behind that neighborhood block they’re going to demolish was a parking lot. There still is. The construction plan as I understand it is that after the construction the parking lot will be a parking lot again. But it’ll probably be one of those new parking lots, where there’s little islands of trees so you can never pull forward out of your space. Parking lot designers hate folks pulling forward with the kind of intensity you’d expect for homoiousionism or how many spaces to put after a period or whether there were twelve or thirteen starships like Captain Kirk’s. I don’t know why. I suppose parking lot designers get frustrated, like any of us. And I guess they’re taking out their frustrations by putting trees into their work rather than going outside and berating squirrels or whatnot. That’s respectable. It’s more dignified, anyway, and maintaining your dignity is one of the best ways to make sure people have no idea when they’re offending you. I feel like something’s gone wrong somewhere, but we all do.

Anyway. All those buildings from a couple weeks ago that used to be things? Like the United Nations store that somehow existed? (That has to have been a front for something, right? But why not do their money laundering with something less obviously a front, like a used-quarters store or just a mass of burly men in heavy coats standing around saying “there’s nothing going on here”?) They needed parking, and the lot is still there. It used to be a pretty good space if you needed to park at the hipster bar or the less-hipster bar across the street. There was always lots of space and the parking meters stopped charging at 5 pm.

There’s a bit of parking space behind the hipster bar and all that, but not enough. This is important to city life. Cities drive innovation because they reach a critical density where folks can’t park. This gets people to think about ways to get enough parking in town. There’s no way to do this, but once the mind is focused on the parking hassle, it starts having other non-parking-related ideas, like:

  1. “Invent Google!”
  2. “Have uniform prices for a wide range of department store goods, streamlining business and allowing for hte hiring of more clerks than could plausibly become partners or proprietors of their own businesses!” (If it’s the mid-19th century and you’re one of the new class of department store managers)
  3. “See what it’d be like if you used conditioner on your beard!”
  4. “Be Henry Ford and build internal combustion motor-driven cars! (NOTE: BE HENRY FORD FIRST — MOST IMPORTANT!!)”

That third is a great idea, since my barber mentioned how soft and well-behaved my beard was last time I got it trimmed. It doesn’t make me any money. But any unsolicited compliment from the person cutting your hair is an apple of gold. The others were good bits of commercial and social progress too.

But in the last couple weeks, since the last restaurant closed, the lot’s lost its parking meters. Most of the metal poles are still there, like giant pieces of metal wheat, but there’s nothing on the tops. The easy thing to suppose is that the city figures there’s no reason to charge for parking as long as there’s nothing to park there for. But that implies the city figures it’s worth taking all the meters down now, months ahead of the construction starting. They must be in storage somewhere.

But then they’re taking an awful risk. What if someone loses the key to the parking meter storage locker? And you just know that sending the mayor in to straighten things out won’t work. There are two kinds of city mayor. One is the relentlessly polite boring type that couldn’t argue the fast food counter into taking an order. He’d be useless in settling a storage locker dispute. The other — the kind Lansing has right now — is the brash big-talking type that you remember because he might slug someone and you’d get to watch. That won’t work for the storage locker problem either because the clerk at the locker place would end up punched. I grant we have to take the risk of the storage locker key getting lost anyway. But why add unnecessary months for things to go wrong?

As I say though, that’s the easy thing to suppose. Too easy? Remember that we just learned how a whole road in Russia got stolen. What if someone’s swiping parking meters from lots that nobody would pay attention to? Someone with a couple dozen hot meters could very slightly starve mid-Michigan for nickels and dimes and even quarters. Without this small change what would we put in parking meters? I don’t know, but I bet there’ll be an answer from someone who was just looking for a place to park.

When Time Stopped Again


We had a Christmas lights timer that over New Year’s stopped working. It had this simple mechanism, a dial that turned over the course of the day, with lights turning on or off based on whether the pin for that time was in or out. But it stopped at about 8:00. And it got stuck again, and again. Something was stuck in it.

Finally we got desperate enough to avoid other chores to open it up and see if we could fix it. The timer had this outer dial with the in-out pins and, when taken apart, it turned easily without getting stuck. The inner clock mechanism turned easily too. We put it back together — after turning the outer dial and the inner gears some crazy number of times — and it got stuck, consistently, at 8:00 again. That was a little creepy, so we took it apart again and turned the dials some more so at least it would get stuck at a different time on the clock face. But that didn’t work, and it got jammed at 8:00 again. It still does.

Now, we’ve got a mantle clock. It’s charming and gives us a regular steady ticking noise so that we can reflect on how much of the day is going by without our doing anything worth note. Also how we really ought to get the chimes fixed but that’s so hard to do. And it stopped, though it was fully wound, at a little before 8:00. We started it up again and it stopped at about the same time.

And then my love’s watch also stopped at about 8:00. That was easy to explain, as it’s a holiday watch with little decorative bits that came loose and sometimes jam the machinery. It just needs to be shaken and it goes again. However:

There’s a house in mid-Michigan where analog clocks consistently stop at eight o’clock-ish? So far this is the most boring magic-realist novel ever.

Ernest Saves Christmas, Somehow


Being a reprinting of Wikipedia’s web page about the 1988 movie with the word “somehow” suffixed to every sentence. An idea that was created with the support and help of my love, somehow.


Ernest Saves Christmas is a 1988 Christmas comedy film directed by John R Cherry III and starring Jim Varney, somehow. This is the first film to feature Gailard Sartain’s character, Chuck along with Bill Byrge as his brother, Bobby, somehow. They made their first appearance in the television series Hey Vern, It’s Ernest! which was in production at the same time as this film, somehow. It is the third film to feature the character Ernest P Worrell, and chronicles Ernest’s attempt to find a replacement for an aging Santa Claus, somehow. Unlike other Ernest movies, it does not have an antagonist, somehow.

Plot, Somehow

A man who claims to be Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) arrives at the Orlando International Airport in Florida, somehow. Ernest P Worrell (Jim Varney) is working as a taxi driver, somehow. He takes a passenger to the airport, but speeds and the passenger falls out of the taxi, somehow. Ernest later picks up Santa Claus, who tells Ernest that he is on his way to inform a local celebrity named Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) that he has been chosen to be the new Santa Claus, somehow. Carruthers hosts a children’s program named Uncle Joey’s Treehouse in the Orlando area similar to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with emphasis on manners and integrity with the catchphrase “They never get old, somehow. They always stay new, somehow. Those three little words, Please and Thank You, somehow”, somehow.

While they are driving, a runaway teenage girl (Noelle Parker) who says she is named Harmony Starr joins Ernest and Santa in the cab, somehow. When they get to their destination, Santa possesses no legal currency (only play money), so in his giving Christmas spirit, Ernest lets him ride for free, somehow. The decision gets Ernest fired from his job, somehow. Back at the taxi garage, Ernest discovers that Santa left his magic sack behind in the cab, and Ernest begins a quest to find the old man and return it to him, somehow.

Santa arrives at the Orlando Children’s Museum to talk to Joe, but is interrupted and rebuffed by Joe’s agent Marty Brock, somehow. Marty misunderstands Santa’s name, thinking he said “Mr Santos,” and continues to call him by that name, even when Santa tells him his real name, somehow. Santa begins to worry as he then discovers he lost his sack, and becomes more discouraged as he realizes he is becoming forgetful in his old age (he’s 151 years old, indicating he was born in 1837), somehow. Joe does not believe Santa’s story and Marty has Santa arrested, somehow. Meanwhile, Ernest goes over to his friend Vern’s house to put up a Christmas tree, much to Vern’s distress (as with the original commercials that first introduced Ernest, the audience never sees Vern’s face and only his point of view), somehow. Ernest poses as Astor Clement, an employee of the governor and Harmony as the governor’s niece Mindy, and the two help Santa escape from jail by convincing the police chief that Santa believing that he is Santa Claus is “infectious insanity” and he must be taken to an insane asylum, somehow. Ernest disguises himself as an Apopka snake rancher (Lloyd Worrell from Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It’s My Family Album) who sneaks Santa into a movie studio and speaks to a security guard about delivering the snakes to people who direct horror films, somehow. Meanwhile, Marty presses Joe to quit his children’s job, shave his beard, and instead land a part in a horror film titled Christmas Slay a movie about an alien which terrorizes a bunch of children on Christmas Eve which offends Santa so deeply he punches the director in the eye, somehow.

Santa tracks down Joe at his home, but Joe finally tells Santa, “Thanks…no thanks,” somehow. Later on, however, Joe is overcome by conscience when the director of the movie wants him to use foul language, which he refuses to say in front of the kids on the set, somehow.

Ernest and Harmony (whose real name is later revealed by Santa to be Pamela Trenton) discover the magic power of Santa’s sack, and immediately Pamela starts to abuse it, somehow. She steals the sack, and attempts to run away yet again, somehow. On Christmas Eve, however, her conscience prevails, and she rushes back to find Ernest and Santa and return the sack, somehow.

Eventually, Joe hunts down Santa on Christmas Eve and accepts the job, somehow. For the first year, however, Ernest gets to drive the sleigh, somehow.

Cast, Somehow

  • Jim Varney as Ernest P Worrell, Astor Clement, Auntie Nelda, The Snake Guy, somehow
  • Douglas Seale as Santa Claus (aka Seth Applegate), somehow
  • Oliver Clark as Joe Carruthers, the new Santa Claus, somehow
  • Noelle Parker as Pamela Trenton, aka Harmony Starr, Mindy, somehow
  • Gailard Sartain as Chuck (Storage Agent), somehow
  • Bill Byrge as Bobby (Storage Agent), somehow
  • Billie Bird as Mary Morrissey, somehow
  • Key Howard as Immigration Agent, somehow
  • Jack Swanson as Businessman, somehow
  • Buddy Douglas as Pyramus the Elf, somehow
  • Patty Maloney as Thisbe the Elf, somehow
  • Barry Brazell as Cab Passenger, somehow
  • George Kaplan as Mr. Dillis, somehow
  • Robert Lesser as Marty Brock, somehow
  • Zachary Bowden as Boy in the Train Station, somehow

Filming locations, Somehow

This was the first major feature production filmed almost entirely in Orlando, Florida at the then-unfinished Disney-MGM Studios, somehow. Vern’s house was actually a façade located on Residential Street at the park, and was part of the Studio Backlot Tour until it was demolished in 2002, somehow.

The remainder of the scenes were filmed in various locations in the greater Orlando area, including Orlando International Airport, Epcot Center Drive, Lake Eola, Church Street Station and Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando, a toll booth on the Bee Line Expressway, the original Orlando Science Center which has since been replaced by a new facility (used as the “Orlando Children’s Museum” in the movie), and the Orlando AMTRAK station, somehow. Scenes that take place in the movie studio and its hallways were shot at the facilities of the local FOX affiliate WOFL which in the mid-1980s had its own custom promo featuring the Ernest character, somehow. A small number of scenes were filmed in Nashville, somehow.

Reception, Somehow

The movie was not a critical success, although it earned back its costs, somehow. In the opening weekend the film opened at #2 at the box office and grossed $5,710,734 from 1,634 theaters, somehow. Its final domestic grossing was $28,202,109, somehow.

Robert Benchley: Thoughts On Fuel Saving


The specific points of this Robert Benchley essay, reprinted in Of All Things, may be dated. The spirit of them, I think, is still with us. I know I feel Benchley’s impression of whanging a shovel into a fire box every time I have to figure out why iTunes is acting like that.

THOUGHTS ON FUEL SAVING

Considerable space has been given in the magazines and newspapers this winter to official and expert directions on How to Run Your Furnace and Save Coal — as if the two things were compatible. Some had accompanying diagrams of a furnace in its normal state, showing the exact position of the arteries and vitals, with arrows pointing in interesting directions, indicating the theoretical course of the heat.

I have given some time to studying these charts, and have come to the conclusion that when the authors of such articles and I speak the word “furnace,” we mean entirely different things. They are referring to some idealized, sublimated creation; perhaps the “furnace” which existed originally in the mind of Horace W Furnace, the inventor; while, on the other hand, I am referring to the thing that is in my cellar. No wonder that I can’t understand their diagrams.

For my own satisfaction, therefore, I have drawn up a few regulations which I can understand, and have thrown them together most informally for whatever they may be worth. Any one else who has checked up the official furnace instructions with Life as it really is and has found something wrong somewhere may go as far as he likes with the results of my researches. I give them to the world.

Saving coal is, just now, the chief concern of most householders; for we are now entering that portion of the solstice when it is beginning to be necessary to walk some distance into the bin after the coal. When first the list of official admonitions were issued, early in the season, it was hard to believe that they ever would be needed. The bin was so full that it resembled a drug-store window piled high with salted peanuts. (As a matter of actual fact, there is probably nothing that coal looks less like than salted peanuts, but the effect of tremendous quantity was the same. ) Adventurous pieces were fairly popping out of confinement and rolling over the cellar. It seemed as if there were enough coal there to give the Leviathan a good run for her money and perhaps take her out as far as Bedloe Island. A fig for coal-saving devices!

But now the season is well on, and the bad news is only too apparent. The householder, as he finds himself walking farther and farther into the bin after the next shovelful, realizes that soon will come the time when it will be necessary to scrape the leavings into a corner, up against the side of the bin, and to coal his fire, piece by piece, between his finger and thumb, while waiting for the dealer to deliver that next load, “right away, probably to-day, tomorrow at the latest”.

It is therefore essential that we turn constructive thought to the subject of coal conservation. I would suggest, in the first place, an exact aim in shoveling coal into the fire box.

By this I mean the cultivation of an exact aim in shoveling coal into the fire box. In my own case (if I may be permitted to inject the personal element into this article for one second), I know that it often happens that, when I have a large shovelful of coal in readiness for the fire, and the door to the fire box open as wide as it will go, there may be, nevertheless, the variation of perhaps an eighth of an inch between the point where the shovel should have ended the arc in its forward swing and the point at which it actually stops. In less technical phraseology, I sometimes tick the edge of the shovel against the threshold of the fire box, instead of shooting it over as should be done. Now, as I usually take a rather long, low swing, with considerable power behind it (if I do say so), the sudden contact of the shovel with the threshold results in a forceful projection of the many pieces of coal (and whatever else it is that comes with the coal for good measure) into all comers of the cellar. I have seen coal fly from my shovel under such circumstances with such velocity as to land among the preserves at the other end of the cellar and in the opposite direction from which I was facing.

Now, this is obviously a waste of coal. It would be impossible to stoop all about the cellar picking up the vagrant pieces that had flown away, even if the blow of the shovel against the furnace had not temporarily paralyzed your hand and caused you to devote your entire attention to the coining of new and descriptive word pictures.

I would suggest, for this trouble, the taking of a “stance” in front of the fire box, with perhaps chalk markings for guidance of the feet at just the right distance away. Then a series of preparatory swings, as in driving off in golf, first with the empty shovel, then with a gradually increasing amount of coal. The only danger in this would be that you might bring the handle of the shovel back against an ash can or something behind you and thus spill about as much coal as before. But there, there — if you are going to borrow trouble like that, you might as well give up right now.

Another mishap of a somewhat similar nature occurs when a shovelful of ashes from under the grate is hit against the projecting shaker, causing the ashes to scatter over the floor and the shoes. This is a very discouraging thing to have happen, for, as the ashes are quite apt to contain at least three or four pieces of unburnt coal, it means that those pieces are as good as lost unless you have time to hunt them up. It also means shining the shoes again.

I find that an efficacious preventive for this is to take the shaker off when it is not in use and stand it in the corner. There the worst thing that it can do is to fall over against your shins when you are rummaging around for the furnace-bath-brush among the rest of the truck that hangs on the wall.

And, by the way, there are at least two pieces of long-handled equipment hanging on my cellar wall (items in the estate of the former tenant, who must have been a fancier of some sort) whose use I have never been able to figure out. I have tried them on various parts of the furnace at one time or another, but, as there is not much of anything that one on the outside of a furnace can do but poke, it seems rather silly to have half a dozen niblick-pokers and midiron-pokers with which to do it One of these, resembling in shape a bridge, such as is used on all occasions by novices at pool, I experimented with one night and got it so tightly caught in back of the grate somewhere that I had to let the fire go out and take the dead coals out, piece by piece, through the door in order to get at the captive instrument and release it. And, of course, all this experimenting wasted coal.

The shaker is, however, an important factor in keeping the furnace going, for it is practically the only recourse in dislodging clinkers which have become stuck in the grate — that is, unless you can kick the furnace hard enough to shake them down. I have, in moments when, I am afraid, I was not quite myself, kicked the furnace with considerable force, but I never could see that it had any effect on the clinker. This, however, is no sign that it can’t be done. I would be the first one to wish a man well who did it.

But, ordinarily, the shaker is the accepted agent for teaching the clinker its place. And, in the fancy assorted coal in vogue this season (one-third coal, one-third slate, and one-third rock candy) clinkers are running the combustible matter a slightly better than even race. This problem is, therefore, one which must be faced.

I find that a great deal of satisfaction, if not tangible results, can be derived from personifying the furnace and the recalcitrant clinker, and endowing them with human attributes, such as fear, chagrin, and susceptibility to physical and mental pain. In this fanciful manner the thing can be talked to as if it were a person, in this way lending a zest to the proceedings which would be entirely lacking in a contest with an inanimate object.

Thus, when it is discovered that the grate is stuck, you can say, sotto voce:

“Ho, ho! you * * * * * * * * * ! So that’s your game, is it?”

(I would not attempt to dictate the particular epithets. Each man knows so much better than any one else just what gives him the most comfort in this respect that it would be presumptuous to lay down any formula. Personally, I have a wonderful set of remarks and proper names which I picked up one summer from a lobster man in Maine, which for soul-satisfying blasphemy are absolutely unbeatable. I will be glad to furnish this set to any one sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope. )

You then seize the shaker with both hands and give it a vicious yank, muttering between your teeth :

“We’ll see, my fine fellow! We’ll see!”

This is usually very effective in weakening the morale of the clinker, for it then realizes right at the start that it is pitted against a man who is not to be trifled with.

This should be followed by several short and powerful yanks, punctuated on the catch of each stroke with a muttered : “You * * * * * * * * * !”

If you are short of wind, the force of this ejaculation may diminish as the yanks increase in number, in which case it will be well to rest for a few seconds.

At this point a little strategy may be brought to bear. You can turn away, as if you were defeated, perhaps saying loudly, so that the clinker can hear: “Ho-hum! Well, I guess I’ll call it a day,” and pretend to start upstairs.

Then, quick as a wink, you should turn and leap back at the shaker, and, before the thing can recover from its surprise, give it a yank which will either rip it from its moorings or cause your own vertebrae to change places with a sharp click. It is a fifty-fifty chance.

But great caution should be observed before trying these heroic measures to make sure that the pins which hold the shaker in place are secure. A loosened pin will stand just so much shaking, and then it will unostentatiously work its way out and look around for something else to do. This always causes an awkward situation, for the yank next following the walkout of the pin, far from accomplishing its purpose of dispossessing the clinker, will precipitate you over backward among the ash cans with a viciousness in which it is impossible not to detect something personal.

Immediately following such a little upset to one’s plans, it is perhaps the natural impulse to arise in somewhat of a pet and to set about exacting punitive indemnities. This does not pay in the end. If you hit any exposed portion of the furnace with the shaker the chances are that you will break it, which, while undoubtedly very painful to the furnace at the time, would eventually necessitate costly repairs. And, if you throw coal at it, you waste coal. This, if you remember, is an article on how to save coal.

Another helpful point is to prevent the fire from going out. This may be accomplished in one way that I am sure of. That is, by taking a book, or a ouija board, or some other indoor entertainment downstairs and sitting two feet away from the furnace all day, being relieved by your wife at night (or, needless to say, vice versa). I have never known this method of keeping the fire alive to fail, except when the watcher dropped off to sleep for ten or fifteen minutes. This is plenty of time for a raging fire to pass quietly away, and I can prove it.

Of course this treatment cuts in on your social life; but I know of nothing else that is infallible. I know of nothing else that can render impossible that depressing foreboding given expression by your wife when she says: “Have you looked at the fire lately? It’s getting chilly here,” followed by the apprehensive trip downstairs, eagerly listening for some signs of caloric life from within the asbestos-covered tomb; the fearful pause before opening the door, hoping against hope that the next move will disclose a ruddy glow which can easily be nursed back to health, but feeling, in the intuitive depths of your soul, that you might just as well begin crumpling up last Sunday’s paper to ignite, for the Grim Reaper has passed this way.

And then the cautious pull at the door, opening it inch by inch, until the bitter truth is disclosed — a yawning cavern of blackness with the dull, gray outlines of consumed coals in the foreground, a dismal double-play: ashes to ashes.

These little thoughts on furnace tending and coal conservation are not meant to be taken as in any sense final. Some one else may have found the exact converse to be true; in which case he would do well to make a scientific account of it as I have done. It helps to buy coal.

Caption This: Camping In The Delta Quadrant


Janeway and a large expressionless plastic figure (Chakotay) standing around some camping-or-something equipment in the middle of the park next to Paramount Studios sometime in the late 90s.
This is from some episode of Star Trek: Voyager but I don’t know which and I’m too embarrassed to admit that fact or to ask for help. Any ideas, friend?

Janeway: “Can opener?”


Did I get it wrong? Maybe. Let me know if you have the right caption in mind. Also, if you’re interested in mathematically-themed comic strips, I talked about a couple of them the other day and you might like that.

Statistics Saturday: Exponential Growth Versus Time


A Google Books NGram Viewer chart for 'exponential growth', which shows from 1920 to 1970 what does look like exponential growth, apart from a little bit during World War II where it's below the curve.
Because I saw a jokey cartoon going around Twitter showing the use of ‘exponential growth’ growing exponentially with time, is why, and I wondered if that was actually so, and then I fiddled with the date range until it looked kind of true-ish.

Honesty compels me to admit the growth of ‘exponential growth’ drops off dramatically after 1970. The term reaches a peak in the late 70s, slacks off to about 1990, and rebounds, but below its disco-era peak.

Movie Based On Comic Strip To Be On TV


I’ve mentioned Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy in the past. It’s one of the all-time great comic strips. It’s also deeply influential. It was one of the first “thoughtful child” comic strips. It was a model for Charles Schulz, and through Schulz, every other comic strip that tries to be about kids since then. It’s also a rather modern comic strip. It’s funny in the ways that comic strips made after 1950 are funny. It’s curiously like Robert Benchley, whose essays are a touch dated but come from a style of humor that’s still current. It was ripped off by a renowned manufacturer of buttered peanuts.

'Don't ya hate to wash ya teeth every night?' 'Yeh. But I don't mind it so much now, 'cause I had one pulled out.'
Percy Crosby’s Skippy rerun the 13th of January, 2016. The strip originally ran, I believe, the 14th of November, 2014, based on the image date information. (Well, what would you make of “skippy281114” then?)

Why mention all this? Besides that the strip is available and rerunning on gocomics.com, I mention because Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) is scheduled to run it this weekend. Saturday at 7:45 am, Eastern Time, it’s to run the 1931 movie Skippy. The movie stars Jackie Cooper. And in a fair trade, the movie made a star of Cooper. It was directed by Norman Taurog, who’s also renowned for directing The Adventures of Young Tom Sawyer, Boys Town, Young Tom Edison, It Happened At The World’s Fair, and Doctor Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, because it was 1965 and who even knows from movies anymore.

I can’t say much about the movie’s quality; I’ve never seen it. According to the (sad; meanness to animals involved) article TCM.com has on the making of the movie, it was successful at the time, though the sequel was not. That I could never find a copy to watch before doesn’t necessarily mean much. Early-sound-era films are almost as hard to find as they are to listen to. I mean, there’s bits of The Cocoanuts where it seems sure Groucho Marx and company are saying funny stuff, but who could guess what?

TCM does have a couple of scenes from the movie — three to four minutes each! — online, and I do like what I’ve seen. So, if you read this in time, I recommend setting the video recorder. There’s no guessing when the chance to see this will come again.

In Which I Guess I’ll Do Until The Souchong Guy Arrives


“Are you the souchong guy?” It’s not a question I expected to be asked. I doubt I’m alone. If any of you reading this now (or later, I’ll allow it) were expecting to be asked that please write in. I’d like to see how many are. But I wasn’t expecting it, so I was even worse than my average in responding to the guy at the farmers’ market. Not so bad as the whole “do you want to buy this pair of pants” fiasco, but worse than my average.

It’s really a grocery store, maybe a supermarket. It’s also got a garden center. But it styles itself a farmers market and I think there’s farmers involved with it somewhere. They carry the alt-weekly, and plastic bins of candy. And they’ve got a wine bar, so you maybe have the place scoped out now. I was there to get vegetables for our pet rabbit, and candy for our pet us, but I was wandering toward the tea section with the intent of getting tea. It’s the store where I got that scary box of Builders tea that I thought might punch me if I didn’t get it. They haven’t had it since, maybe after customer complaints about being punched by tea.

“Are you the souchong guy?” And the guy, who either worked for the store or was making off with one of their dollies, explained there was a guy with a beard who’d been looking for lapsang souchong tea. I was not that guy. I have a beard, and I drink tea, but that’s as far as things go.

I have a beard for considered reasons. If I didn’t grow a beard, I would have to shave, or have someone else shave me. And I can do that, when directed to by my love, or before that, my mother. Shaving once every two or three months may not be perfect. But it is between 98.3 and 98.9 percent of my ideal state of my face vanishing into a cloud of hair and spilled tea. That’s as much as one can hope for in this fallen world.

I don’t mean to imply beardedness dictates tea-drinking. I could drink coffee. I often get some at the farmers market’s complimentary coffee bar. But most of the time when I get coffee it’s because I didn’t hear the question right. I never drank enough coffee to get over the fact that it tastes like that. Tea, though, I’ve long since drank enough tea to accept that it tastes like that. The souchong guy might usually get coffee, but when he gets tea, he wants a tea that still takes time to get used to, and thus the souchong guy’s question.

The store guy explained that they hadn’t had any souchong, but he made some calls and found the last couple cases of Twinings souchong tea in the area. And they put it up on the shelves, ready for purchase. That’s sweet. The action, I mean. And I figured that since I was open to tea or tea-like products, why not go with this? After all, if it’s good enough for one Lansing-area guy with a beard, why not another?

As I drove home I got to thinking. I’m supposed to just believe a person asked for a specific kind of tea from the tea-selling staff at the store? I have a hard enough time working up the courage to impose on fast-food workers my preferred choice for lunch. To ask for something that isn’t even on sale there would be impossible. Oh, I hear of people going off and asking for things they’d like from stores that might sell these things, but I always took them to be the stuff of fantasy.

At this point my parents would like to point out the time when I was maybe five years old and my aunt asked what I wanted for Christmas. And I described this awesome toy spaceship. This sent my aunt on a crazed search through every toy store in northern New Jersey. The search ended when she realized that she had assumed I was talking about a toy that actually existed in any form anywhere, and I had not. I just answered what I would like, and never mind what exists. My aunt eventually talked to me again.

But! The situation is completely different. My aunt has, so far as I know, never even been in this farmers market and has no responsibility for the tea selection. Why would she have anything to do with souchong guy? I bet they had more souchong than they knew what to do with, and figured I was an easy mark for a little beard-based flattery.

Well, the souchong’s not bad with a bit of cream or milk. I can get used to it and call that liking it.

The Sofa Of Life


Up to the main street and down a couple blocks is an abandoned convenience store. If you know anyone who’s lost a convenience store, contact me. That person might be the owner and might be looking for it. Surely there’d be a grateful reward for being reconnected to it! But that’s a distraction, and don’t ask from what. It’s not good. But next to the abandoned convenience store is an empty lot that as far as I know is supposed to be there.

One day I noticed there was a couch squatting in the midst of the lot. It seemed in fair shape. It was a bit worn out, a touch tired-looking, but aren’t we all, these days? One could sense it had gone through adventures to reach this point in the couch life cycle. The next day there were two more couches, one about the same size and in brighter upholstery, the other a smaller one not quite small enough to be a love seat. There they sat for nearly a week. And then I drove past and found they were gone.

Where they came from, where they went to, that’s a mystery to me. I imagine the state Department of Environmental Furniture has a general idea of how the herds of things to sit upon move. But I have no reason to think they were tracking this little band specifically. I feel privileged to see even this small slice of the migratory cycles of furniture.

When The Dance Dance Revolution Comes


My love’s been working out on Dance Dance Revolution lately. It’s easier than actual revolutions, considering there’s so much less spinning involved. I haven’t. I’ve tried Dance Dance Revolution, and other rhythm games like that.

Now, I do have a sense of rhythm. It’s just that I don’t have any control over what rhythm it is I express. Like, if I need to clap regularly, fine. I can do that for as long as the clapping mood moves me. If you need me to clap to a beat that’s not the one my body has chosen — and it might not choose the same one next time — then I’m sorry but you’re just going to have to be more reasonable. Retooling from one beat to another requires figuring out completely different stances and attitudes and maybe also plastic surgery to change the length of my legs.

Also after dozens of attempts all I can conclude is that I’m incompetent at converting the symbols on the Dance Dance Revolution screen to any kind of body response. I can tell you what the up arrow or the down arrow mean, it’s just that what happens when I try to hit the up arrow or the down arrow on the dance pad is that I tip precariously over and threaten to fall on our pet rabbit, to his disapproval. I don’t blame him. If I tumbled over on me, I’d probably disapprove of me too.

I hardly blame my love for being good at Dance Dance Revolution while I’m awful at it. All I can do is look on, impressed, while we both try to figure out whether we actually watched the TV series Ashes To Ashes and if we did, whether we liked it or not. We’re not sure and would appreciate any advice you can offer.

Highway Robbery


If you accept the oddball news, then, you’d believe that a Russian official’s been arrested for stealing a highway. The BBC reports that Alexander Protopopov, a senior prison official, had thirty miles of road in the “far-northern Komi region” dismantled and driven away over the course of a year. (I’m glad they clarified it was the far-northern Komi region, and not, say, the far-southeastern Komi region I knew from visiting my grandmother in North Carolina when I was young.) I have to assume he was very careful figuring out which parts of road to steal first and which to leave for later. It’d be embarrassing to find you had to drive back over road that was now loaded up in the back of your truck. Sure, you could handle the situation — you’ve got road on you right there — but it spoils your getaway. You have to stop every couple feet to put down some more road and pick back up the old. It’s just undignified.

And I understand his pinching a road, if he did actually do it. I have a bit of a hoarding tendency myself. But I tend to grab stuff like that only if it’s clearly free and for the public to take. I have few far-northern Russian roads, so far as I know. My grabbed-stuff collection is mostly breath mints from Penn Station subway shops. (I say nothing about what my father might have in his storage locker.)

But I’m not a kindred soul to this fellow. The police, say the BBC, accuse Protopopov of selling off the road he got. That goes completely against the way I think. To me, if something might be remotely useful in some context I’m keeping it. “What, what do you need every receipt for buying gas for your car dating back to 2009 for?” a sane person might ask. To which I respond by pointing over the person’s shoulder, screaming as though in fear for my life, and running out of the room. A road is much more obviously useful, what with how you can set it up somewhere and attract a couple of grease trucks. Eventually this will form a little gentrified quick-food center in town, and you’ll get written up favorably in the local alt-weekly when they do their annual Dining In Town guide. So that’s where Protopopov really went wrong.

Also it turns out you can fence a stolen highway. I’m still getting over that a couple years ago someone stole a little garden statue from our front yard. It probably wasn’t this Protopopov fellow, although if Russian police do find he’s got a cute little statue of a rabbit standing up I’d appreciate their contacting me.

Not To Start Anything But Yes, _Mary Worth_ Is Being Weird And Creepy Lately


I’m not looking to start any trouble. But, for those who’ve missed it, the current storyline in Mary Worth is in its eleventh week. It’s been entirely about Mary Worth visiting New York City, where she’s been taking little Olive out and about to Broadway plays and museums and shopping and everything. What’s Mary Worth’s relationship to Olive? Nothing really. In a story a while back Olive had a tumor, and she was scared of the surgeon. Mary Worth got Olive’s parents to listen to Olive’s fears, and it turned out the surgeon was on The Drugs so she was right and that’s it.

So this looked like a nice, unusual follow-up story of the kid and her parents after they went back home. Except you know how every Mary Worth story is about people who have an exceedingly simple problem that they can’t figure out until, ideally, some people finally obey Mary’s orders to get married? Writer Karen Moy forgot to include a problem this story. It’s just been Mary poking around taking the kid on a tour of Manhattan, where the kid lives, and talking in ways that straddle the line between “kind of creepy” and “might be coded messages to foreign agents”. It doesn’t reach Apartment 3-G-esque levels of inhumanity — nothing could — but it’s still dazzling.

Little girl Olive and not-little-girl Mary Worth compliment each other's choices in Macy's watches a *lot*.
Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth for the 17th of January, 2016. Yes, it’s all watch-shopping action, but at least everybody involved looks painfully awkward and like they don’t know how to get out of this. Also, apparently Mary Worth is lefthanded? I never knew that.

The past week they’ve spent shopping for each other, with Sunday’s installment a fair representation of what’s going on, although the body language just keeps getting funnier. Special high points: Mary’s hunched-over, guilty, ready-to-flee look in the first panel of the second row; her far-off “and this is why I gave humanity the invention of warp drive” look in the first panel of the third row; and the shopkeeper’s “wait, where is every object in relation to every other object?” gaze in the final panel.

Anyway, I know what you’re really here for, and that’s a bit of gentle pleading to read my mathematics blog and its comic strip discussion there. It features electronic brain action, if you like that. (Who doesn’t?)

Statistics Saturday: Ten Unsettling Sentences In Wikipedia’s Guide To ‘Wild Kratts’ Episodes


Drawn from “List Of Wild Kratts Episodes”:

  1. Using the combined powers of whale and squid, the Kratt brothers try to withstand the immense water pressure of the ocean to save the whale and her calf before its too late.
  2. But after their new worm friend is carried off by a bird and left on the sidewalk to die, Chris and Martin race to save the worm before the sun dehydrates her.
  3. And if breaking the dam over and over again was not enough, they also have to deal with beaver predators, and they must solve the issue by the use of the abilities of the beaver.
  4. Meanwhile, Zach devises to plan to keep the neighborhood children off his lawn, by turning T[asmanian]-devils into Tasmanian devil robots.
  5. But after getting lost in the forest, Chris and Martin challenge each other to a creature contest, to see which is the better oak tree planter, the gray squirrels or the blue jays.
  6. And this is no ordinary [ badminton ] birdie — it is Aviva’s precious family heirloom.
  7. When a miniaturized Chris gets covered with pollen and ends up sticking to a bee, he is off into the remarkable world of the pollinators.
  8. Chris and Martin find a wolf pup in Martin’s bag after a chaotic morning involving a wolf pack and Chris’s Creature Power Suit set in moose mode.
  9. However, Zach tied balloons to many animals that then floated to his jet.
  10. But when the unstable [night vision] goggles stop working, the brothers find themselves taken in by the nocturnal society of the tarsier.

Bonus unsettling point: all this is from the first season of the show. It’s now halfway through its fourth season.

Why It’s A Bad Idea To Clean Out The Car


While cleaning the backseat of my car I came across a flyer for The 53rd Annual 2015 Ohio Gourd Show. It was scheduled to be held in the place widely known as “the Delaware of Ohio”, the town of Delaware, Ohio. The theme for it was “Gourds In Space” and it even shows a picture of some silver-painted sphere of some kind with aliens crafted out of what I trust were gourds on top. And of course, I missed it all. If the flyer was right the whole event was held in early October 2015, so it’s not like I could rush there and hope to find them cleaning-up and get a glimpse of a couple space gourds after all. And to think that I missed the 53rd Annual 2015 Ohio Gourd Show — all those years they were holding the Annual 2015 Ohio Gourd Show, like 1975 and 2002 and 1986 and for once it actually happened in 2015. And I missed it! The 54th Annual 2015 Ohio Gourd Show, due this year (2016), would be a poor compensation after this.

The thing is, as best I can make out my Ohio travels, I have to have picked up this flyer after the event was over anyway. And I’d forgotten the whole event and my disappointment at not spending a day in Delaware, Ohio, looking at painted gourds. But now it’s back, since I cleaned my car, and that is why cleaning the car is a mistake. There’s all sorts of stuff going on in Ohio we otherwise forgot.

What’s Not Here Anymore


There’s a little block of doomed buildings in my neighborhood of Lansing. It’s not doomed for the good reasons, like we’re facing a small meteor strike, or there’s a rampaging horde of attack jerboas headed this way, or they found it was actually a giant kid’s play set and she’s outgrown it and giving it away to a less fortunate giant, maybe in Big Rapids or somewhere. It’s for the usual reason. The local developer noticed this was a thing that wasn’t torn down already, and it is so much fun tearing stuff down. I understand. What would be the fun in tearing down the empty lot one block east for their new construction? All you get to do there is tear up a gravel lot, and when you tear up a gravel lot you just have a gravel lot at the end of it.

The local alternative-weekly included a piece describing some of the things that had been in the doomed buildings. Mostly they name things. Some of the buildings have been there since the 1910s, so there’s a lot of things to name, even if an awful lot of them seem to have just been barber shops. I’m not disparaging barber shops, it’s just there’s a limit to how much story any of them have. There’s the part of the shop where a guy is cutting hair, there’s the chair that doesn’t work right, there’s the signed sports jersey, and there’s a bunch of colorful slips of plastic that turn out to be the money of foreign lands.

But there’s wonder and mystery here. For example, between 1995 and 2008 one of the storefronts was the United Nations Association. My love remembers it. It sold all kinds of United Nations-themed merchandise. And why the United Nations? In Lansing, Michigan? A United Nations-themed store makes sense in a city more associated with international diplomacy. You know, Geneva or Paris or New York or the Frelinghuysen Estate in Raritan Township, New Jersey. And don’t go thinking I’m overlooking Portsmouth, New Hampshire, either. I know exactly where they are and I have my agents sending me reports.

Maybe it did start out the logical way. Someone sold the original proprietor a fake ticket for Vienna. Then he found himself in the mid-Michigan area and figured, why not? Still, they must have been on to something for a United Nations merchandise store to carry on for thirteen years. I would have thought a store for that market in that location would last about four hours. But then I also thought Home Improvement was a cute show that would last maybe eight weeks. Instead here we are decades later remembering that it’s not still being made, is it? It seems like it couldn’t still be on, right? Somebody check and tell them to stop if they haven’t already. But the point is, the wonder is that the store lasted only thirteen years. Maybe it moved to an even more promising United Nations-mad city, like Muskegon or Rochester, Minnesota.

Still, there’s other businesses that used to be there. One that delights me ran from 1951 to 1972 and began as Merry-Go-Round Toys, then became Quarmby’s Merry-Go-Round Toys, then Quarmby’s Art Supplies, and finally Quarmby’s Picture Frames. I was all set for them to cycle back around to Quarmby’s Picture Frame Toys, or maybe a Merry-Go-Round Quarmby, but they demolished the building instead. The spoilsports. And with blotches like that on the record people have the nerve to call capitalism efficient.

Another building spent 1914 through 1916 as Sanders & Fizzell Hardware. Sometime in 1916 I guess Sanders’s eye was turned by another merchant-proprietor. From 1917 to 1920 it was Sanders & Newsom Hardware, Tinshop, Furnace, & Heating. Perhaps Sanders and Fizzell broke up peacefully. It could be Fizzell was less sure about the market for tin-shoppery in Lansing. Maybe Fizzell just didn’t see the need to advertise their providing both furnace and heating services. “Goodness, Mister Sanders,” Mr Fizzell might say, because those were more formal days. “What sensible warmth-lover in this metropolis would not know to come here for furnace and heating work already? Why `puff’ oneself `up’ so?”

Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong. Possibly Fizzell wanted to encourage all hardware stores to emphasize their tinshop and furnace and heating sides. Once Fizzell found a decent partner in Newsom he could leave Sanders to his devices and move on to another hardware shop in need of his magic touch. I just don’t have the evidence to say. Sanders & Newsom things and other things wasn’t on the block after 1920 anyway, so you’ve missed that.

Then there’s the building that spent 1965 through 1975 as Dental Art Laboratories. I can’t imagine it was for, like, painting molars, yours or someone else’s. That seems too early for the paint-your-own-ceramic-stuff-while-drinking kind of store you get in malls these days. But then I wouldn’t have expected a United Nations store just a couple blocks from my house either, and see what happened? It’s all a wonder, that’s what it is.

Lottery Strategy


There’s this billboard showing the current Mega Millions and the Powerball lottery jackpots. It’s gotten a little crazy the past week since, well, you know. Last Saturday we were driving past it and there was the powerball sitting at 800 Million. And next to it, poor little Mega Millions trying to drum up interest in a mere 15 million dollar payout. I can’t help thinking that Mega Millions has been spending the last several weeks crying out, “Ma! He’s doing it again!” And Powerball yells back, “What? What? I’m not even touching you! I’m not touching you!” There’s surely a lot of slapping involved.

Anyway, this week, the Powerball sign moved over from saying ‘Millions’ to ‘Billions’ and the numbers don’t look so enormously different. Still, Mega Millions is sitting there at 15, resolutely not moving. It’s got me wanting to go over and buy a Mega Millions ticket just so it doesn’t feel completely unloved anymore. Maybe I’ll also pat it on the back and give it a jelly roll or something. Its time will come. We all have to get lucky eventually.

More Gifting Events


My mathematics blog had some more comic strips to talk about, and there’s even a Jumble puzzle to solve. You might like that. I did.

I got a gift receipt spat out with my purchase at Meijer’s. I was surprised. It’s not the time of year when many people give gifts to people they kind-of-but-don’t-really know, like nephews and co-workers and siblings and parents and friends. So why would a gift receipt be assumed to be needed?

More, exactly what in the purchase raised the suggestion that I might need a gift receipt? What I got was: a couple tubes of toothpaste, a condolence card, a bag of frozen tortellini, and four boxes of what I would be better off saying was soda, except that one of them is Vernor’s and if that’s not pop then nothing is pop. It’s a ginger ale and it’s extremely ginger-y and there’s no disputing that, and you won’t find that where people say ‘soda’ except in specialty shops. Why would they figure anyone needed to return anything from this for credit?

Well, obviously, because I accidentally bought a packet of tortellini with meat, instead of the cheese tortellini I would swear it was when I took it out of the freezer bin. So I have to exchange that and — hey, I’ve got the gift receipt! Also the real receipt too, of course. But the point is, how could they know I really wanted the cheese tortellini instead?

Robert Benchley: Confessions Of A Chess Champion


It’s always fun to read a review of a book that amused someone in ways they didn’t intend. Here, from Love Conquers All, is a review Robert Benchley wrote of a chess memoir.

CONFESSIONS OF A CHESS CHAMPION

With the opening of the baseball season, the sporting urge stirs in one’s blood and we turn to such books as My Chess Career, by J R Capablanca. Mr Capablanca, I gather from his text, plays chess very well. Wherein he unquestionably has something on me.

His book is a combination of autobiography and pictorial examples of difficult games he has participated in and won. I could understand the autobiographical part perfectly, but although I have seen chess diagrams in the evening papers for years, I never have been able to become nervous over one. It has always seemed to me that when you have seen one diagram of a chessboard you have seen them all. Therefore, I can give only a superficial review of the technical parts of Mr Capablanca’s book.


His personal reminiscences, however, are full of poignant episodes. For instance, let us take an incident which occurred in his early boyhood when he found out what sort of man his father really was — a sombre event in the life of any boy, much more so for the boy Capablanca.

“I was born in Havana, the capital of the Island of Cuba,” he says, “the 19th of November, 1888. I was not yet five years old when by accident I came into my father’s private office and found him playing with another gentleman. I had never seen a game of chess before; the pieces interested me and I went the next day to see them play again. The third day, as I looked on, my father, a very poor beginner, moved a Knight from a white square to another white square. His opponent, apparently not a better player, did not notice it. My father won, and I proceeded to call him a cheat and to laugh.”

Imagine the feelings of a young boy entering his father’s private office and seeing a man whom he had been brought up to love and to revere moving a Knight from one white square to another. It is a wonder that the boy had the courage to grow up at all with a start in life like that.

But he did grow up, and at the age of eight, in spite of the advice of doctors, he was a frequent visitor at the Havana Chess Club. As he says in describing this period of his career, “Soon Don Celso Golmayo, the strongest player there, was unable to give me a rook.” So you can see how good he was. Don Celso couldn’t give him a rook. And if Don Celso couldn’t, who on earth could?

In his introduction, Mr Capablanca (I wish that I could get it out of my head that Mr Capablanca is possibly a relation of the Casablanca boy who did the right thing by the burning deck. They are, of course, two entirely different people) — in his introduction, Mr Capablanca says:

“Conceit I consider a foolish thing; but more foolish still is that false modesty that vainly attempts to conceal that which all facts tend to prove.”

It is this straining to overcome a foolish, false modesty which leads him to say, in connection with his matches with members of the Manhattan Chess Club. “As one by one I mowed them down without the loss of a single game, my superiority became apparent.” Or, in speaking of his “endings” (a term we chess experts use to designate the last part of our game), to murmur modestly: “The endings I already played very well, and to my mind had attained the high standard for which they were in the future to be well known.” Mr Capablanca will have to watch that false modesty of his. It will get him into trouble some day.

Although this column makes no pretense of carrying sporting news, it seems only right to print a part of the running story of the big game between Capablanca and Dr O S Bernstein in the San Sebastian tournament of 1911. Capablanca wore the white, while Dr Bernstein upheld the honor of the black.

The tense moment of the game had been reached. Capablanca has the ball on Dr Bernstein’s 3-yard line on the second down, with a minute and a half to play. The stands are wild. Cries of “Hold ’em, Bernstein!” and “Touchdown, Capablanca!” ring out on the frosty November air.

Brave voices are singing the fighting song entitled “Capablanca’s Day” which runs as follows:

    “Oh, sweep, sweep across the board,
    With your castles, queens, and pawns;
    We are with you, all Havana’s horde,
    Till the sun of victory dawns;
    Then it’s fight, fight, FIGHT!

    To your last white knight,
    For the truth must win alway,
    And our hearts beat true

    Old `J R’ for you

    On Capa-blanca’s Day.”

“Up to this point the game had proceeded along the lines generally recommended by the masters,” writes Capablanca. “The last move, however, is a slight deviation from the regular course, which brings this Knight back to B in order to leave open the diagonal for the Q, and besides is more in accordance with the defensive nature of the game. Much more could be said as to the reasons that make Kt – B the preferred move of most masters…. Of course, lest there be some misapprehension, let me state that the move Kt – B is made in conjunction with K R – K, which comes first.”

It is lucky that Mr Casablanca made that explanation, for I was being seized with just that misapprehension which he feared. (Mr Capablanca, I mean.)

Below is the box-score by innings:

1. P – K4. P – K4.
2. Kt – QB3. Kt – QB3.
3. P – B4. P x P.
.4 Kt – B3. P – K Kt4.

(Game called on account of darkness.)