Leapt Day


Ah, the 29th of February. Without it February can totally fit into exactly four neat little rows of the calendar. Not often. It did in 1981, exciting the young me. Otherwise it takes five rows of the calendar without quite filling them, the way most months do most of the time. And isn’t that boring? But then sometimes it’s a leap day and that extra day means February can’t fit in four weeks no matter what. Like in 1976 or, if you want to start the week on Monday, 1988. That extra day spoils this wonderful compact four-row thing that February could have going for it. And doesn’t February need more things going for it? Yes, certainly it does.

What I’m saying is that in middle school I couldn’t get the Dungeon and Dragons clique to play with me. Or even acknowledge my existence. It’s possible there wasn’t even one, just so they could be sure I wouldn’t show up and bring stuff like this to them. Ay me.

Statistics Saturday: Units Of Length Organized By Length


  • 1. Ell
  • 1 (tie). Rod
  • 3. Foot
  • 3 (tie). Inch
  • 3 (tie). Mile
  • 3 (tie). Yard
  • 7. Chain
  • 7 (tie). Cubit
  • 7 (tie). Meter
  • 10. Fathom
  • 10 (tie). League
  • 10 (tie). Micron
  • 10 (tie). Parsec
  • 14. Furlong
  • 15. Angstrom
  • 16. Kilometer
  • 17. Centimeter
  • 17 (tie). Light-Year
  • 19. Bohr Radius
  • 20. Light-Second
  • 20 (tie). Rhode Island
  • 22. Nautical Mile
  • 22 (tie). Planck Length
  • 24. Football Field
  • 25. Astronomical Unit

A Momma Comic Strip I Don’t Understand, Plus Some That I Do


It’s only half-true that I don’t understand Thursday’s Momma. Mell Lazarus’s comic strip has a couple reliable gags. Most reliable is Momma fretting that the awful, awful people she has as children might not love her, despite all she does to be needy and controlling an difficult. So the word and thought balloons suffice to explain the comic.

'My children never tell me they love me anymore. I think I'll just call and ask them if they do,' says Momma to a couple friends(?) marching in on her. As they keep walking toward her very large phone she thinks, 'On the other hand, why take the chance?'
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 25th of February, 2016. Among the things baffling me is the total change in attitude of the second person marching in from the right. She seems cheery and content in the first panel, and then suspicious and nearly angry in the second. What’s changed, besides her wondering exactly how tall Momma’s telephone has to be for it to be larger than any of their torsos?

It’s the art. I can sort-of nearly make out Momma in this, although she’s way off model. Who are the other people and why are they slow-marching through her living room? What’s going on?

Meanwhile, Mary Worth really has gone on another month of Mary and Olive telling each other how much they like liking things, like the City and being open to doing things. And despite a moment of Olive fretting that her parents “don’t understand me” the way Mary does, “they seem to like me”, and that’s it. Also there’s something about how great it’ll be if Olive visits Mary again, ‘and no need to go swimming!’ OK, last time Olive was in the strip she did fall into the pool and could have drowned, so I understand not wanting to do that again, but that’s not swimming per se. That’s more having an emergency in the area.

As Mary and Olive enjoy the Empire State Building observatory ... 'New York is GREAT!' 'Especially from UP HERE! I'm going to miss this city ... AND YOU, OLIVE. But don't worry! I'll be back!' 'Maybe I'll visit YOU next time. I LOVED Santa Royale, except for that ... ahem ... thing with the pool!' 'You're always welcome to stay with me, dear! And no need to go swimming!'
Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth for the 21st of February, 2016. While everyone is upset to see Mary Worth leaving New York City, nobody has a more frowny face about it than the observation deck’s telescope, which just looks heartbroken in the first panel of the second row there. Also I’m not sure about the perspective here but I think there’s a guy in light green pants hovering behind Mary there.

Anyway, there’s comic strips I understand very well. Many of them have mathematical themes, and I chat about them some on my other blog. If you’ve got the chance to read them, please, do.

How I Spent The Snowstorm


The backyard, with a light frosting of snow on one side of the trees so you can see the edges of them very well against the bark.
Snowstorms look so cute and innocenet when they’re at this age, don’t they?
  • Like 11:30 (am). The snow started already, like four hours ahead of projections. Exciting start. It’s light, energetic snow considering some of the flakes are the size of nuthatches. I don’t mind. Cheery snowstorms like these are the results of frolicking ice phoenixes. These are majestic and magical birds, quite like their more famous fire-based counterparts except these ones never go in for stealing Baby New Year. Also they spend more of the summer sweating and wondering why it has to be this muggy and who even had the idea of letting a magic bird sweat, anyway. I toss some garlic croutons, from the bag we use to make salad less boring, out as a treat.
  • 1:00 (pm). We go out to lunch. I know, the mayor, the governor, and the county Commissioner of Drains, who just happened to be nearby, all asked everybody to do only essential travel. But it’s only like two blocks, and we had to mail a letter anyway. And it’s to this restaurant that’s trying to use the Subway build-your-own sandwich model for Middle Eastern food. There may not technically be an emergency need to get falafel and baba ghanoush over rice at any particular time but I stand by the decision. Three-quarters of an inch of snow gathers on the car while we eat. We forgot the letter.
  • 2:15. Checking the animal feeders in the back yard. I fill up the bird feeder, so that the squirrels have something to eat. I fill up the squirrel feeder, so that the raccoons have something to eat. Also since we should totally have a fire I take a big tote bag full of lumber off the pile in the garage. The mice living far underneath the pile complain that this is “totally bogus” and they paid their rent, why are we taking the tenth storeys off their woodpile now. I leave a handful of sunflower seeds and fill up the water dish so they don’t have to venture out to the raccoon feeder.
  • 2:25. I stare out the kitchen window at my car. I tried doing that thing where you leave the windshield wipers up, instead of against the car, this storm. I’m not sure why people do that and I wanted to see what difference it makes. Mostly I feel anxious about it. Are people walking past the house looking at my Scion tC and laughing at the wipers? Or are they just laughing that I have yet another car from a marque that’s been discontinued? In my life I’ve had two Mercuries, a Saturn, and now a Scion. I don’t go looking for car marques to drive to extinction. They follow me. Maybe I should put the windshield wipers back down.
  • 4:45. There’s way too much snow to put the windshield wipers back down.
  • 5:20. The snow is doing that thing where it’s a perfect field of white out the front window. Out the back window there’s a couple scattered flurries and an ice phoenix taking a drink from the pond heater. It’s eerily tranquil. I think about tossing out some leftover chow mein noodles but don’t want to risk it.
  • 7:00. The remote control’s batteries have gone dead, foiling our plans to catch up a backlog of Stephen Colbert episodes dating back to when he was a bright twelve-year-old reporting the 2004 Republican Convention for Comedy Central. We leave the TV on the station it was last on, hoping to see school closing reports.
  • 8:15. In the pantry. We’ve got a half-eaten box of Peanut Butter Bumpers. That would be a great breakfast tomorrow except who wants to eat cold cereal on a snow day? I am a genius: what we need is something that’s as good as milk for pouring onto cereal but that’s warm and hearty, like … um … warm milk, or maybe miso soup or something? This could revolutionize eating and in the good ways.
  • 8:17. Experiment over. I am an idiot. The raccoons examine a bowl of Peanut Butter Bumpers mixed with warm almond milk and miso powder and just shake their heads sadly, then shuffle away into the snow, pausing only to be berated by a red squirrel.
  • 9:20 Maybe I could clear off enough of my car to put the windshield wipers back down only what would I tell my love I was doing out there?
  • 10:50. But couldn’t something else serve to replace the warm milk in the snow day cereal experiment? Maybe history will vindicate me after all.
  • 11:45. We forgot to have a fire.

Winter Storm Watching


I wanted to let people know all’s fine here in mid-Michigan despite the pile of weather we’re getting. The snow started early, and the National Weather Service added up to two more inches of total snowfall. I can take that. We got a new snow thrower this season, and I’m pretty sure it has gas in it, and I’m not going to check what exactly the difference is between a “snow blower” and a “snow thrower” because I’m sure it involves a lot of flame wars of staggering pettiness. Also there’s probably people making all kinds of immature jokes about snow blowing. You forget at times that the Internet is mostly a twelve-year-old boy, and not the good kind. But then you say any word at all, and it starts giggling, and you remember again.

Also added to the general warning are “Snowfall rates in excess of an inch per hour at times late this afternoon and evening”, and “Significant travel disruptions tonight through Thursday”. Not here, thank you. We’ve done all the travelling we mean to disrupt through Thursday and that was in getting stuff from the Mediterranean restaurant two blocks over. We’re not going out for anything short of an emergency, which is what I keep telling myself even though my toothbrush is getting a wee bit worn and probably could stand replacement. Well, it can probably hold out to Friday. I guess. I should’ve got snow tires put on something or other, maybe the car.

In Weather Before The End Of The World


There’s weather news besides the impending end of time and space. Of course there would be. Last weekend, for example, we had a thrilling windstorm that saw breezes of up to 350 miles per hour and that left a large chunk of South Bend, Indiana deposited on top of Battle Creek, Michigan. Don’t go getting excited. It landed upside-down and all the jelly fell on the floors.

But there’s a projected major storm ahead. This is kind of exciting, since it means we might get to stay home from school. And it’s been a gentle winter so it’s exciting to get some of the real stuff in. According to the National Weather Service there’s the risks for:

  • six to ten inches of heavy wet snow
  • Strong north wind gusts to 40 mph
  • Some blowing and drifting developing Wednesday night
  • major travel disruptions
  • Scattered power outages
  • Potential for school closures on Thursday

“And,” they might as well add, “we’re sending a snowplow driver around to kick you in the thigh”.

It’d be a little inconvenient to me if the snowstorm really does hit as projected. It would screw up plans I have for the day. But there’s something satisfying about nestling safely indoors through a heavy storm. You go upstairs sometimes and peer outside, checking that yes, the snow is going there just like on the first floor. There’s individual snowflakes as much as ten inches across and weighing up to 25 pounds. There’s gusts of wind high enough squirrels are able to glide from tree to tree by holding a leaf over their heads. There’s the reminder I left all the wood in the garage, where it’s no good to us for building a fire. It’s all quite grand in its way, sitting tight, wondering why the National Weather Service can’t be consistent about its capitalization, and waiting for the thaw and a pothole the size of Battle Creek to open up. Can’t wait.

Statistics Saturday Update: End of World Delayed Until Weekend


Developments since Saturday!

A 7-Day weather forecast ends abruptly at 6 pm now on Friday the 27th.
On the up side, the world gets a little farther along. On the down side, I guess I have to write another of those long-form essays for the Friday posting.

So the good news is apparently we’re going through until Saturday before time comes to a stop. We might see one last snowstorm in before that, which is a bit inconvenient. But that does mean we don’t have to feel guilty for sleeping late rather than shoveling it off.

Bob and Ray Tell You What’s On Channel 6


I want to share some of the gentle, absurd, kindly wonderful humor of Bob and Ray. Here’s something a bit mysterious. Its description on archive.org is able to give only some information about where it’s from. It was an Armed Forces Radio Service transcription disc. It would seem to come from one of their 1958-era broadcasts, apparently on NBC’s Monitor weekend service. I can’t pin it down more precisely than that.

The audio is patchy. But I think their appeal comes through. They offer brownies to the audience and that goes as well as anyone might hope. There’s a look into the difficult world of the soap opera writer. And there’s a review of what could be found on TV. I too would watch that Weird Theater tales meant to keep you in suspense.

Meanwhile At The Carousel-Carving Shop In Like 1920


A giraffe carousel figure. It's got a really camel-ish head.
Exhibit at the Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio, which is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.

“They want a giraffe?” said the carver, sometime in 1920. “What the dickety-heck is a giraffe? Gimme the dictionary … uhm … `giraffe. African animal. Another name for cameleopard’. OK. I can do a camel leopard. No, Carl, I’m not gonna waste time taking a trip to the zoo. I gotta start carving!”


(This space left open for other people with their own caption ideas.)


Did I mention I had some more mathematically-themed comic strips put up over on my other blog? I had some more mathematically-themed comic strips put up over on my other blog. Make sure I remind you that I had some more mathematically-themed comic strips put up over on my other blog. We’ll both say something about it.

When The News Photographs Twitter


Last week Twitter’s stock dropped precariously on the news that it had millions more people using it now than last year. If you read the business news this is supposed to make sense. I read the business news about this over on Reuters. My imagination was captured by the photograph they used with the article:

An illustration picture shows the log-on icon for the Website Twitter on an Ipad in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013.

I copied that over because it so delighted me. If I needed to know where and when this photograph of someone’s finger hovering near an iPad screen got taken, I no longer needed to know. I knew. Also I knew I’d want to write about this.

It’s a good thing I copied the caption. I went back to the article to grab the photo so you could marvel at this. But they’d changed the photograph. The one they have now, and this time I saved it, is:

A 3D printed Twitter logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration picture made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
A 3D printed Twitter logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration picture made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

A 3D printed Twitter logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration picture made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016.

I have trouble listing all the delightful things about this. There’s that they have more than one photograph to represent the concept of Twitter. There’s that they felt the first photograph of Twitter was inadequate. They changed it to something more dynamic than a three-year-old picture of someone touching an iPad in France. They went to someone who’d not just made a block to look like Twitter’s logo but had 3D-printed it. And there’s that Reuters I guess knew someone in Bosnia and Herzegovina who had a 3D-printed Twitter logo block to set up in front of a stock market chart.

And it’s not like they just knew someone and called her up for this article. The caption dated the photograph to the 3rd of February, about a week before the big Twitter News disappointment. This implies someone at Reuters asked, “Do we have a photo to use with a Twitter stock price drop story?” And got told about this three-year-old photo of a person touching an iPad. “No, no, that won’t do! Who cares that someone had the Twitter app in Bordeaux in 2013? Get me something that’s today!” And they did. For all the troubles there are in the news business today they’re still on top of the “updating file photographs for company stories” game.

Furthermore, it can’t be just Twitter. They have to have photographs for all sorts of companies that might disappoint investors enough to be worth writing about. That means they must decide what companies are worth getting representative photographs ready for. And that implies they have staff meetings in which people debate what companies need updated logo pictures. Some discussions must get heated, with arguments going on and on. Someone argues that “Zoup” is a company prominent enough they’ll need photographic coverage for its financial prospects. Someone else argues that “Zoup” is just the first person having a slip of the tongue while talking about lunch and doubling down on the mistake rather than owning up to the fact that sometimes tongues just don’t. I understand. I’m still trying to recover my dignity from this time in 1992 I named the below-ground floor of the house the “bisement”. The arguments must be glorious.

I grant the possibility they don’t have meetings about this. There might be someone who’s wholly taken the responsibility, and decides on arbitrary grounds. Perhaps there’s someone roaming through the Business News office at Reuters Master Command, ordering: “You! Get me an image of Hasbro’s logo in front of a waterfall! You! Look lively. Get me a Kellogg’s ‘K’ in front of an early-90s cyberpunk-y logo of a bird fluttering off someone’s hand. HEY! LiveJournal! … Never mind. But I’ve got a cream-filled long john for the first person with the Scion logo on-stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, wearing a Project Gemini spacesuit and … being stolen by a raccoon!” That’s a thrilling environment in which to work, right up to the point that the person is violently overthrown. Still, there’s some process by which logo photographs are made.

We live in a world filled with wonder and stock images. Also “bisement” should be something.

S J Perelman: Insert Flap ‘A’ And Throw Away



Has everything amusing there is to be said about do-it-yourself kit projects been said? Perhaps. That doesn’t mean some great people haven’t said find things about it. From 1947’s The Best Of S J Perelman here’s some talk about a ready-to-assemble toy.

INSERT FLAP “A” AND THROW AWAY

One stifling summer afternoon last August, in the attic of a tiny stone house in Pennsylvania, I made a most interesting discovery: the shortest, cheapest method of inducing a nervous breakdown ever perfected. In this technique (eventually adopted by the psychology department of Duke University, which will adopt anything) , the subject is placed in a sharply sloping attic heated to 340 °F. and given a mothproof closet known as the Jiffy-Cloz to assemble. The Jiffy-Cloz, procurable at any department store or neighborhood insane asylum, consists of half a dozen gigantic sheets of red cardboard, two plywood doors, a clothes rack, and a packet of staples. With these is included a set of instructions mimeographed in pale-violet ink, fruity with phrases like “Pass Section F through Slot AA, taking care not to fold tabs behind washers (see Fig. 9).“ The cardboard is so processed that as the subject struggles convulsively to force the staple through, it suddenly buckles, plunging the staple deep into his thumb. He thereupon springs up with a dolorous cry and smites his knob (Section K) on the rafters (RR). As a final demonic touch, the Jiffy-Cloz people cunningly omit four of the staples necessary to finish the job, so that after indescribable purgatory, the best the subject can possibly achieve is a sleazy, capricious structure which would reduce any self-respecting moth to helpless laughter. The cumulative frustration, the tropical heat, and the soft, ghostly chuckling of the moths are calculated to unseat the strongest mentality.

In a period of rapid technological change, however, it was inevitable that a method as cumbersome as the Jiffy-Cloz would be superseded. It was superseded at exactly nine-thirty Christmas morning by a device called the Self-Running 10-Inch Scale-Model Delivery-Truck Kit Powered by Magic Motor, costing twenty-nine cents. About nine on that particular morning, I was spread-eagled on my bed, indulging in my favorite sport of mouth-breathing, when a cork fired from a child’s air gun mysteriously lodged in my throat. The pellet proved awkward for a while, but I finally ejected it by flailing the little marksman (and his sister, for good measure) until their welkins rang, and sauntered in to breakfast. Before I could choke down a healing fruit juice, my consort, a tall, regal creature indistinguishable from Cornelia, the Mother of the Gracchi, except that her foot was entangled in a roller skate, swept in. She extended a large, unmistakable box covered with diagrams.

“Now don’t start making excuses,“ she whined. “It’s just a simple cardboard toy. The directions are on the back —”

“Look, dear,” I interrupted, rising hurriedly and pulling on my overcoat, “it clean slipped my mind. I’m supposed to take a lesson in crosshatching at Zim’s School of Cartooning today.”

“On Christmas?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes, it’s the only time they could fit me in,” I countered glibly. “This is the big week for crosshatching, you know, between Christmas and New Year’s.”

“Do you think you ought to go in your pajamas?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s O.K.” I smiled. “We often work in our pajamas up at Zim’s. Well, goodbye now. If I’m not home by Thursday, you’ll find a cold snack in the safe-deposit box.” My subterfuge, unluckily, went for naught, and in a trice I was sprawled on the nursery floor, surrounded by two lambkins and ninety-eight segments of the Self-Running 10-Inch Scale-Model Delivery-Truck Construction Kit.

The theory of the kit was simplicity itself, easily intelligible to Kettering of General Motors, Professor Millikan, or any first-rate physicist. Taking as my starting point the only sentence I could comprehend, “Fold down on all lines marked ‘fold down;’ fold up on all lines marked ‘fold up’,” I set the children to work and myself folded up with an album of views of Chili Williams. In a few moments, my skin was suffused with a delightful tingling sensation and I was ready for the second phase, lightly referred to in the directions as “Preparing the Spring Motor Unit.” As nearly as I could determine after twenty minutes of mumbling, the Magic Motor (“No Electricity — No Batteries — Nothing to Wind — Motor Never Wears Out”) was an accordion-pleated affair operating by torsion, attached to the axles. “It is necessary,” said the text, “to cut a slight notch in each of the axles with a knife (see Fig. C). To find the exact place to cut this notch, lay one of the axles over diagram at bottom of page.”

“Well, now we’re getting some place!” I boomed, with a false gusto that deceived nobody. “Here, Buster, run in and get Daddy a knife.”

“I dowanna,” quavered the boy, backing away. “You always cut yourself at this stage.” I gave the wee fellow an indulgent pat on the head that flattened it slightly, to teach him civility, and commandeered a long, serrated bread knife from the kitchen. “Now watch me closely, children,” I ordered. “We place the axle on the diagram as in Fig. C, applying a strong downward pressure on the knife handle at all times.” The axle must have been a factory second, because an instant later I was in the bathroom grinding my teeth in agony and attempting to stanch the flow of blood. Ultimately, I succeeded in contriving a rough bandage and slipped back into the nursery without awaking the children’s suspicions. An agreeable surprise awaited me. Displaying a mechanical aptitude clearly inherited from their sire, the rascals had put together the chassis of the delivery truck.

“Very good indeed,” I complimented (naturally, one has to exaggerate praise to develop a child’s self-confidence). “Let’s see — what’s the next step? Ah, yes. ‘Lock into box shape by inserting tabs C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, and L into slots C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, and L. Ends of front axle should be pushed through holes A and B.’ ” While marshalling the indicated parts in their proper order, I emphasized to my rapt listeners the necessity of patience and perseverance. “Haste makes waste, you know,” I reminded them. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Remember, your daddy isn’t always going to be here to show you.”

“Where are you going to be?” they demanded.

“In the movies, if I can arrange it,” I snarled. Poising tabs C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, and L in one hand and the corresponding slots in the other, I essayed a union of the two, but in vain. The moment I made one set fast and tackled another, tab and slot would part company, thumbing their noses at me. Although the children were too immature to understand, I saw in a flash where the trouble lay. Some idiotic employee at the factory had punched out the wrong design, probably out of sheer spite. So that was his game, eh? I set my lips in a grim line and, throwing one hundred and fifty-seven pounds of fighting fat into the effort, pounded the component parts into a homogeneous mass.

“There” I said with a gasp, “that’s close enough. Now then, who wants candy? One, two, three — everybody off to the candy store!”

“We wanna finish the delivery truck!” they wailed. “Mummy, he won’t let us finish the delivery truck!” Threats, cajolery, bribes were of no avail. In their jungle code, a twenty-nine-cent gewgaw bulked larger than a parent’s love. Realizing that I was dealing with a pair of monomaniacs, I determined to show them who was master and wildly began locking the cardboard units helter-skelter, without any regard for the directions. When sections refused to fit, I gouged them with my nails and forced them together, cackling shrilly. The side panels collapsed; with a bestial oath, I drove a safety pin through them and lashed them to the roof. I used paper clips, bobby pins, anything I could lay my hands on. My fingers fairly flew and my breath whistled in my throat. “You want a delivery truck, do you?” I panted. “All right, I’ll show you!” As merciful blackness closed in, I was on my hands and knees, bunting the infernal thing along with my nose and whinnying, “Roll, confound you, roll!”

“Absolute quiet,” a carefully modulated voice was saying, “and fifteen of the white tablets every four hours.” I opened my eyes carefully in the darkened room. Dimly I picked out a knifelike character actor in a Vandyke beard and pencil-striped pants folding a stethoscope into his bag. “Yes,” he added thoughtfully, “if we play our cards right, this ought to be a long, expensive recovery.” From far away, I could hear my wife’s voice bravely trying to control her anxiety.

“What if he becomes restless, Doctor?”

“Get him a detective story,” returned the leech. “Or better still, a nice, soothing picture puzzle — something he can do with his hands.”

On Reasons Not To Visit Prehistoric Australia


Yes, I also saw that news report about Australia’s prehistoric “marsupial lion”. According to it, according to a study, the marsupial lion turns out to be a thing that (a) existed and (b) could climb trees. I don’t know what a marsupial lion would be doing in a tree. And it’s not actually any of my business. Why shouldn’t a marsupial lion climb a tree in Australia, if it can find one?

Except I know anything about Australian wildlife. And therefore I know the marsupial lion must have been poisonous, venomous, razor-tipped at no fewer than 68 points of its anatomy, and prone to exploding as a defense mechanism. BBC News’s report on it says they would have been “a threat to humans”. Not this human. I’ve never gotten closer than 1,700 miles to Australia, and I haven’t got closer than about 42,500 years to marsupial lions. I’d like to think I’m outside the blast range. If I’m fooling myself, don’t tell me. Let it be a surprise. I just know it’s coming.

Moon and Starrs


So then this came up on Twitter:

I’m not that surprised that Buzz Aldrin and Ringo Starr would happen to run into each other. Sure they mostly move in different circles, but they have got that level of super-fame where, yeah, someone prominent enough would invite the two together. It’s that apparently they’ve run into each other before, and just by accident, at the airport, and more than once. It’s so mundane. It’s like the way you’re going through O’Hare trying so hard to leave and run into that guy again, the one at the Nuts On Clark kiosk, who’s staring at a bag of Trail Mix Or Something I Guess like he’s going to punch it. Only for them, that guy is a Beatle or walked on the moon. We’re never at our best at airports. I don’t think I could process running into an astronaut or a Beatle at one. How do Beatles or astronauts do it?

Buzz Aldrin also tweeted about meeting Joe Walsh, of the Eagles. Ringo Starr went on to maybe have his account hacked or something. It’s hard to tell. He has a kind of confusing Twitter feed even normally. Peace and love.

Idele Talk


Looks like we’re going to reach the 15th of yet another February without anybody casually mentioning it as “the ides of February” around me. And so I won’t be able to snap in and say “Ha! The ides are not the 15th of February! The ideas are the 15th of the month only on months that originally had 31 days. For months that started with 29 days — all the ones that now have 30 days, plus February — the ides are on the 13th of the month! We passed the ides of February two days ago and you never even knew it!” And then nobody’s going to have the chance to sidle off, brisky, turning to fleeing when I explain that this strange pattern of when the ides fall in months is due to the Romans really not knowing what they were doing when they made their calendar. I might even have tossed in a bit about how you can see their efforts to fit together lunar and solar calendar schedules with the otherwise inexplicable placing of January 1st where it actually is. Or how they’d sometimes jam a whole extra month in between the 24th and 25th of February.

Tch. What’s the point of knowing stuff like this if all you do is have a deeper appreciation for the wonders of mundanities like “the 13th or 15th of the month”, and don’t even get to overhear people making perfectly idle chatter and jump on them for not knowing trivia?

A Comic Strip That Always Makes Me Laugh


I talk a fair bit about comic strips. Sometimes it’s over on my mathematics blog, where there’s a fresh batch of mathematically-themed strips. Here, it’s mostly about ones that have failed. They’re stuffed with joke-like constructs or weak art. Or they fail so completely they turn into weird outsider-art projects. Here’s an exception. It’s from Garry Trudeau, whose Doonesbury defined the genre of story-driven editorial cartoons superlatively well. Many strips try to imitate it, for good reason. It does incredibly well at humanizing big issues, at finding the politics in everyday life, at supporting a diverse and ever-increasing cast, and at keeping many storylines going.

Or it has. For several years now, the strip has been a Sunday-only publication. Trudeau’s been putting his main creative thrust into making the Amazon-distributed TV series Alpha House, about which I’ve heard good things. That’s mostly sad for the comics page, although some compensation for that has been the Classic Doonesbury run of reprints. This has been skipping through the years and bringing back important storylines. It’s also given people a chance to find out the backstory, intricate and tangled enough that Dickens would say “that seems a little much”, albeit in more words.

So here’s a strip from 1985, when Mike Doonesbury was still married to JJ. She had just got her first big break as a modern artist, doing the bathrooms of some guy’s new club. That’s already a fine premise, with admirably loopy moments like JJ pondering the downsides. “A downside? To painting a total stranger’s toilets for free?” And here it escalates.

JJ explains her concept for a nightclub's men's room. 'The urinals need a concept?' wonders Mike. 'I'm installing them in old TV's like this. It will compel the user to come to terms with his feelings about mass culture!' 'JJ, as a long-time user ... ' 'And to make the experience more theatrical, I'm filling them with dry ice.'
Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury rerun the 11th of February, 2016. It ran originally sometime in 1985.

I do not know how many times I’ve read this particular strip since 1985. I can tell you that it never fails to make me laugh. It has everything. It starts with the serious treatment of the silly, and the spoofing of modern art (a target of comic strips ever since comic strips were something), throws in the clash between the mundane and the conceptual, and then if the dialogue weren’t funny enough throws in physical comedy and dry ice. Characters, dialogue, and art converge magnificently. Would that every comic strip were written to this level.

On Things You Can Touch Or Punch


I was with a friend at the local hipster bar. I mean my local hipster bar. We weren’t anywhere near his. I know I talk about it a lot as the local hipster bar, but please understand. Their new logo is a rendition of their raccoon puppet, holding a couple of fireworks and a can of beer that’s labelled “Ham”. It’s a fine place and they’ve started having glazed-pottery nights.

My friend got to mentioning something or other coming up, and how he hoped it would go, knock wood. And he knocked on the bar. To this extent all seems well. I’m pretty sure the bar is wood and his knocking was in fine mid-season form. He carried off the knocking with no injuries and no dryads left stranded on base.

It got me thinking about the custom of knocking wood. It’s a good-luck gesture. It’s supposed to work by getting the attention of the wood-spirits who overheard you. You can see why that would work. Gumans drawing the attention of supernatural spirits has worked out well for the human according to every legend ever. “Well,” say many humans in these legends, “drawing the attention of that naiad or whatever it was sure has cured my problem of not being turned into a grasshopper!” Or else, “I used to think there was no way I would wake up chained every morning to be torn apart by hyenas. Then I stumbled into that pooka drinking party!” “I didn’t ever used to have a ferocious lightning-beast living in my belly button. But then thank goodness I fell through the wall of that Shinto shrine!”

Still, apparently the knocking of wood does help, if we can take any guidance from how rarely people at hipster bars get their eyes dipped in magic nectar so they can see the fairy creatures and then have their eyes gouged out so they can’t see the fairy creatures anymore. It did get me to thinking about one of those little cross-cultural differences. The English, I understand, merely touch wood, tapping the nearest piece lightly, rather than rapping sharply on it.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a dryad. And I couldn’t find any to interview before deadline. I have to think if I were one, though, I’d be more inclined to do favors for someone who tapped me rather than knocked on me. It’s got me wondering about the cultural differences. Why should Americans figure the best way to get a magic spirit to do what you want, or at least leave you alone, involves punching it?

Well, because Americans are good at punching, I admit. Look at the great legendary figures of 20th Century American Culture: Popeye, Superman, Dwight Eisenhower, Muhammad Ali, Mary Richards. They’re all people who punch through problems. Even Captain Kirk only used his phasers when he couldn’t punch for some reason. And they’re all pretty successful so maybe they have something with their punch-based plans.

At least they look successful. But, like, if you watch the cartoons Popeye gets shipwrecked a lot. Probably that’s because he has more chances at shipwreck than the average person. Someone in, say, Havre, Montana, who never enters a body of water bigger than a coin fountain might expect to be shipwrecked only eight times in her life. Popeye must run a higher risk. Still, you have to wonder about if he shouldn’t pass up on sailing in favor of a punching-based lifestyle.

But punching is a cherished part of American culture. One of the leading myths of the early 19th Century Mississippi River valley was of Mike Fink, a bombastic, tough-talking, hyperactive bully who spent his time punching, shooting, or punch-shooting (punching with a gun) everything he could find, especially if it wasn’t a white male. His friends explained he was really a great guy, just you had to understand his point of view, before he punch-shot you. But that’s what friends of sociopaths always say so that they don’t get punch-shot-punched next.

I can’t draw any big conclusions about British touching and Americans knocking wood, though. Most of the differences between British and American cultures were invented by the Tourism Boards in 1958, so that people could share stories of how different things were on their vacations. I’ll bet any number of British people who don’t care about tourists knock wood whenever they feel like.

It still seems risky. I’d stick with touching, or if it wouldn’t be redundant buying the wood-spirits a round. Culture is a complicated thing.

And Then At The Chinese New Year Event


The mall hosted a Chinese New Year event this weekend, much as it does every Chinese New Year that I’ve been tracking. They had some lucky-draw giveaways. Last year my love and I came achingly close to winning something. We had a block of maybe six tickets and they called the number before our block. The number after our block. The numbers ten less and ten more than ones in our block. This guy next to us was amazed by our near luck. He didn’t win either.

We didn’t get so close to winning anything this year. But that’s all right because the raffle prizes seemed to be from a restaurant’s surplus sale. Some of the prize items were slow cookers. One, a mystery item in a huge box, was three slow cookers. Not just a tower of three slow cookers, but a huge box that contained three slow cookers together. You know, for people who realize they need to buy three of them at once and want a huge, unwieldy package instead of an unwieldy pile of packages.

Besides giving away hundreds if not thousands of slow cookers, they were giving away deep fryers. Lots of deep fryers. And I realized, a deep fryer is almost the precise opposite of a slow cooker. This must be why the pile of slow cookers and the pile of deep fryers were on opposite sides of the stage. You wouldn’t want the appliances to start fighting.

There were some non-cooking-appliance things given away. Please picture this scene: a kid maybe half the age of our pet rabbit finds out she has a winning ticket. She runs on stage. She picks one of the wrapped-up mystery gifts. Inside is what every kid most hopes to win: a heating pad. The kid had the same expression you see from a dog who was expecting a burnt sausage and instead got asked a calculus question. So this was all worth it, as we got to live-roleplay Jim’s Journal.

What’s Wrong With The Silent Disco News


I appreciate a good bit of oddball news as much as anyone. Sometimes I even appreciate it up to twelve percent more. But this one from the BBC, “Swiss city bans `noisy’ silent discos”? I’m sorry, that’s just trying too hard. As is the photo caption that notes “City authorities say that silent discos are not necessarily silent”.

Silent discos, by the way, are a thing that exists in both the real world and in Jonathan Lethem novels. Instead of having music anyone can listen to, they give out headphones and everybody listens to a broadcast of the music they’d play. Fine enough. I’ve seen one, without headphones. This didn’t hurt my ability to find the beat at all, because I could not find the beat with my love patiently explaining, “NOW! No, not now, wait for it … NOW! No! Just … do what I do. No, when I do it. NOW! No, stop.” I’m not good with rhythm.

The problem in the underlying news was some applications for outdoor silent discos. So the neighbors would hear all the noise of a disco except the music. I’ve never lived next to a disco, but I have been places where things happen. I can imagine how it’s worse to get just the ambient noise without the music. For one, you’d hear all the coughing, and never know whether it was on the beat. Also, the article says, “participants can’t help singing along to the music”.

So let’s get this sucker rated. The underlying news item, tolerably amusing but not odd at all once you think about it. This is where so much oddball news fails us. I give that a two out of five. The reporting has that nice quote about singing along to the music being the issue. That’s a four out of five. The headline blows it, though. It should’ve been “Silent Disco Banned On Noise Concerns”. Two out of five. This averages out to a 2.67. Needs work.