OK, so my brilliant plan. I’m going to find one of those cities where people will invite me to events but not really care whether I show up or not, so that I don’t have to show up. However, when I do go to events I’m going to show up with a confederate. We’ll be ready with a stock conversation that we can make vamp as long as necessary, so that during a lull in the room chatter I can say as loudly as I can manage, “19th Century superclown Dan Rice”. Then my voice fades back into the background, letting people wonder what possibly preceded or followed that. All this will take some effort, because I’m a soft-spoken person. There’s people who’ve known me in real life for years and couldn’t pick out my voice from a collection of random voices or ambient sound effects. Two of them are my siblings. But I’ll rally my voice and find some way to do it at no less than one even per week. Done.
OK, so my brilliant plan. I’m going to find one of those cities that has just enough people in it that it can support the essentials of life, like a hardware store stocked full enough that it feels a little scary to be in because I can just imagine my father saying “it’s right next to the quarter-inch annular grommets” as if that’s any kind of guidance. But it’s small enough that it can be converted easily into a utopian colony. It’s not going to be one of those utopias that tries rejiggering all society and setting out rules like everybody has to spend time being one of exactly 810 kinds of cook. It’s going to be basically like life is now. The main difference is anyone following up a mention of something being “left-handed” with any kind of sentence about “thought there was something sinister” has to leave, and never be spoken of fondly again. Done.
OK, so my brilliant plan. I’m going to find one of those cities laid out in the decades right after the American Revolution. The ones that have their downtown streets named Washington, Adams, Jefferson, et cetera in this neat pattern right up to the point where they gave up, which was Monroe. Then, I take it over. (Some work needed on this part.) Next, I finish the renaming — “Quincy Adams”, guys, it’s not that hard — of streets to complete the Presidents set. And then I go pointing out to news-of-the-weird item types that this town, established 1802 or whatever, has a street grid that perfectly predicts the Presidents of the United States. And finally announce that therefore we can say with certainty that the next President will be Commerce Park Drive North. Done.
- Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky.
- Banana: the Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel.
- Symbols of Power: Ten Coins that Changed the World, Robert Bracey, Thomas Hockenhull.
- In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart.
- Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan.
- Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, Gillian D’Arcy Wood.
- Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, Chris Lowney.
- Legends, Icons, and Rebels: Music that Changed the World, Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot.
- Indigo: The Color that Changed the World, Catherine Legrand.
- Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano that Changed the World, Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe.
- Tea: A History of the Drink that Changed the World, John C Griffiths.
- Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World, Jim Lacey, Williamson Murra.
- Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, Douglas Wood, Barry Moser.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World, Penny Colman.
- Mauve: How one Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield.
- Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events that Changed the World, Phil Mason.
- Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Jack Kelly.
- The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, Bill Eppridge, Adrienne Aurichio.
- Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Laura C Martin.
- Nasdaq: A History of the Market that Changed the World, Mark Ingebretsen.
Not listed: The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester.
Also counting the Winchester I’ve read at least seven of these. That Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe volcano book wasn’t about Tambora, don’t be silly.
So at Meijer’s they’d set up a little tent with a ballot box. “Who Do You Want In Your Basket: Chocolate Bunny or Marshmallow Peep?” And delightful was that it was just a sheet of paper to mark your preference. It doesn’t ask for contact information. There’s no using your vote to market anything to anyone. That was fine enough. And then —
Somebody was so bothered about a mis-marked ballot in a meaningless, irrelevant buy-more-candy stunt that they tore up the mistaken ballot? I’m so amused by that I’m going to go ahead and pretend I don’t suspect the torn ballot was there at management’s orders so people wouldn’t feel worried they’re the first person to fill in a ballot or anything.
And in my mathematics blog, mathematics comics. No calculus this time, although I do try to transcribe Comic Dutch dialect. Plus I ask about educational reform trends in Canada, so you know that’ll be fun!
And finally, those reading Thomas K Dye’s Infinity Refugees may have missed the sad news. He’s had to put the project on hold for a while. But the good news is he’s taking the chance to rework the Newshounds comic it draws from. The new version started this week, so it’s a good chance to hop on.
This book was typeset in Moins Michael. The typeface was first crafted by a now-unknown craftsman in 1540s Warsaw. We think he was well-liked in his circles at the time. It stayed behind to wait for the first typesetting machine to reach the Polish capital. This made a good laugh since at the time Krakow was the capital of Poland, and they’d had typesetting machines since like the 1470s. Good joke on everyone, wasn’t it?
The typeface was popular with authors who had much to write about fish. The descenders made for rather good hooks that didn’t tend to catch the boring kinds. This is a rare accomplishment for typefaces of the era. Even much later ones such as Caslon are known to attract interest from ugly and unattractively-named fish that we only catch and eat because we’ve already eaten everything else in the sea.
The typeface was implicated in various partisan struggles during the era of the English Civil War, the Protectorate, and the Restoration. Following a well-placed tip it fled London just ahead of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Though safe it did lose some of its less interesting letters, such as tet or cade. Though this would lose it much work in the setting of Phoenician texts, the typeface was now more slender and nimble. It enjoyed a reputation for hussling better and this would serve it well in the times ahead.
Moins Michael held out for a long while against an italic form, claiming that such a space-saving form was beneath its dignity. So it might be, but then you have to explain its blackletter variant. The best we can say for that is it was the 1740s. This explains all, to those who are sympathetic.
A major opportunity for the typeface came about in 1869, when it had a chance to appear in the evacuation-of-Moscow sequences in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s War And Peace. This was thanks to the help of some friends playing a prank, whom the typeface later forgave. One of them was only forgiven in 2010, so don’t go thinking it’s a patsy. It’s just willing to be reasonable when there aren’t any alternatives left.
The Great Depression was a difficult time for it, but you could say that about anyone. But, despite temptation, Moins Michael held on to its investment in selenium stocks an as a result had a nifty latter half of the decade. There were persistent rumors the typeface was bribing comedians to make jokes about electric eye and other photo-sensing technologies so as to boost its stocks. But no allegations were ever proven. And most of the investigators recovered from when they accidentally slugged themselves across the back with crowbars eighteen times.
The typeface returned to Warsaw in 1954, but couldn’t find anyone it still remembered and the restaurants didn’t seem any too good. It was being fussy and wouldn’t even talk to anyone. It apologizes for the wasted trip, saying it now understands how to be a good tourist and more open to promising experiences. Case in point, in its 2006 visit it had nothing but great times and in the suburbs found the “most unbelievable” Thai place in existence. We could not verify the most-ness of its unbelievability before press time.
A noteworthy quirk that many of the typeface’s advocates praise is that Moins Michael has no space. Historically typesetters would use spaces from a compatible font, such as Garamond or Bodoni Extra Spaces. Computer versions of the typeface include a space created by the foundry company. Piracy lawsuits are often settled by the tell-tale differences in the interpolated spaces.
Moins Michael had hopes of being the first Western typeface to orbit on a spacecraft. Though it performed well in all the physical exercises it got cut from the program in favor of a sans serif typeface. That was to save weight. It considered bringing a discrimination lawsuit. But the courts have always been unwelcoming to this sort of complaint, being as so many of their documents are filed in monospace. It asserted to have no hard feelings about the matter, and did buy a flight to the International Space Station for one week in 2002.
This text was set in 14 point. It may appear smaller than that, owing to the typeface’s habit of leaving two or three points in the junk drawer just in case.
Do you remember the 1997 action-fantasy movie Warriors of Virtue? No, no you do not. Let me help you out: it’s about a kid meeting up with a bunch of kangaroo warriors who use the martial arts of the Mystic East to defeat a bad guy. No, you’re thinking of Tank Girl. This one you didn’t see. Neither did I. Anyway for some fool reason I read its Wikipedia entry, and learned it had a sequel, somehow. In it, the kid meets up the martial arts warriors again, only they’re not kangaroos anymore. Wikipedia suggests this was done to save money, which only makes sense as an explanation if money works at all the way everyone thinks it does.
Still, I am delighted by the idea of making a sequel to a movie about martial artist kangaroos without the kangaroos. It’s like making a sequel to Star Wars where instead of a bunch of humans and aliens tromping over the galaxy to blow up large spheres it’s all about a couple stoners wandering through Grand Rapids, Michigan, late on Labor Day and trying to find a bar that serves food. Or a sequel to Jaws where instead of a shark it’s just one bee. Not a swarm of killer bees or anything, just one ordinary old regular bee that doesn’t even know there’s people around. And it isn’t looking for revenge or anything. It just saw this awesome dance about the location of some clover and it missed a couple of the moves and it’s trying to make its best guess. And it’s got this whole beach-and-field-side community getting all tense over it. Or it’s like making a side-quel to Judgement at Nuremberg set across town, in a court dealing entirely with traffic citations. Spoiler: Rudolph Hess gets a summary judgement against him for failure to appear and fleeing the jurisdiction. Well, whatever it is, I’m delighted, though not enough to watch it.
My love recently got some holes in favored pairs of socks. I don’t think that remarkable except for having favored pairs of socks. I have a line of white socks and a line of grey socks. The only favored ones are that I have a line of thick socks that feel so very good come winter. When those get holes they leave the sock rotation and just make free-form pairs with whatever other sock might be nearby and of the same line.
But my love’s different, and has some patterend socks, and some to not give up on easily. And thus my love studied a couple instructional videos and the like, got some thread and needles, and tried darning. This started with a sock of no particular emotional import, but the result was astounding. A little bit of unpromising fiddling about, this slog of despair that anything useful could come of all this work. Then one strong tug on the string and it was like magic. The hole was gone. There was barely the hint there had ever been a hole.
So, my love’s now got on this darning, um, tear, going through all the socks with holes that were too important to throw away and turning them back into viable sock products. It’s reached the point we might start deliberately poking holes in socks, just for the fun of closing them up again. Home economics is a wonderful thing.
And hey, I just hit 33,333 page views here! Neat. To me, anyway.
So it was in the news lately that they’ve made a computer that can beat people while playing Go. Not just anyone, I mean. Any computer can beat me playing Go, because I’m just not very good at it. My best Go move is to claim that I’m someone else until the opposing player goes off looking for the “real” Joseph Nebus.
But now they’ve got it so the computer can play Go better than even professional Go players can. That’s taken a while to get here. I remember when we finally got computers that could play chess better than any humans. I guess there must’ve been a time computers were no good at checkers or backgammon or whatever, but you never hear about that. I know I go out of my way to avoid hearing about backgammon.
I’m glad we’re getting computers that can play games, though. I’ve got some video games I’ve never been able to make sense of. I’m thinking here of Supreme Ruler: Cold War, which is this incredibly complicated and detailed grand strategy game where you can play any country in the world from 1949. There’s no useful manual, and the wiki describing how to play it is about four pages, all referring to broken-link images. It’s barely possible to work out what you can do with the game. I’ll be glad to turn it over to a computer and not have to slog through trying to make it do anything on purpose anymore.
Obviously we’re nowhere near the time when computers can play all our games for us. But at least now we don’t have to play Go anymore. Dad, I’m sorry for all the Go players I’ve sent in your direction over the years. Apparently it won’t happen again, though.
[ Edited the 15th of May, 2017 to add: ] I’m grateful you see this site as a place to learn what’s going on in Mary Worth. My most recent story summaries should be at or near the top of this link’s essays, if you are looking for the current or for more recent stories than this post has.
So remember a month or two ago I was noting how the current Mary Worth story had gone on a long while without any actual story? It was all just mood-setting as Mary visits the recipients of some past meddling and they thank her all over again?
The sequence ended, with past meddlee Olivia talking about how great it was to have someone she could talk to, and Mary Worth agreeing how great it was Mary had someone listen to her. And … that was it. They spent several months in New York City, wandering around random tourist location, talking about how great the other one is. There wasn’t even anybody with a mild problem needing the order to get married or anything.
Since then, Mary’s come home for a long and pointless date with Jeff. That’s always good for a spot of ironic appreciation, since the strip has somehow let it get encoded that Jeff wants to marry Mary Worth, and she would rather drive through seedy Downtown Santa Royale, California, than consider him. The curious thing is this time around they’ve spent a lot of time explaining how Mary Worth wanders around meeting people issuing them advice, which they take if they know what’s good for them. One of the commenters on Comics Curmudgeon (I’ve lost the link) said it read as though the comic strip got picked up by a new newspaper and they were worried they had to explain the premise in crushing detail for all their new readers.
If the comic had just reached a noteworthy anniversary, I’d understand running a little victory-lap story like this. But Mary Worth started in either 1934 or 1938, depending on whether you consider Apple Mary to be part of the continuity. (It’s not an obvious question.) Either way the timing is off.
But there’s another reason one might do a valedictory sequence. D.D.Degg, of Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips, brought to the group’s attention an interview with Joe Sinnott and Joe Giella. Sinnott inks the Sunday Amazing Spider-Man. Giella draws Mary Worth. The interview mentions:
Giella who will turn 88 years old in June, is still penciling and inking the daily Mary Worth newspaper strip. He told me that he’s on the last of the Sunday pages for Mary Worth, but will continue to draw the dailies for the newspaper.
A new artist for the Sunday strips? Possible. Dismal news for the Sunday strips? Also imaginable. I don’t know, but am interested to know.
Finally, I know it’s been two whole days since I mentioned something like this before.
But there were some more mathematically-themed comic strips that I discussed over on my other blog. One of them gave me an excuse to do some actual real calculus, if you want to see what hat looks like. It won’t be on the test.
Any Actual Crossword Puzzle
Every In-Class Activity Crossword Puzzle
“I came into Star Fleet for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there’s trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole starship sectioned off, you can’t make a move without a form.”
The wrong riff? Could be. Please, enjoy this space for one of your own, or someone else’s:
Meanwhile, over on my mathematics blog, there were a couple comic strips for Pi Day. Also some general mathematics stuff. You’ll enjoy them, I hope.
When I was a kid I placed Aquaman as one of my favorite Superfriends because shut up he is too cool. That maybe sounds a little defensive. You understand where I get that. It would be wherever I learned to be so off in my own strange little world I couldn’t just say “Green Lantern” like all the normal people who wanted out of the Superman-Batman rut but weren’t hipster enough to say “Plastic-Man”. Or who just felt they needed to be shunned that much more.
Aquaman’s not an easy Superfriend to stand behind. I’ll do it, though, not just because he could stay underwater forever and he would often get turned into a giant quasi-prehistoric sea monster and go rampaging through coastal cities. I’m not saying that I would turn down those powers. I’d be up for staying underwater as long as I liked, as long as the computers still worked. And I don’t want to say I have a list of 22 minor Pacific Rim municipalities I’d crush under my mighty webbed clawfoot. I just ask, if we’re being honest, what does Des Moines, Washington offer that isn’t satisfied by other, less coastal Des Moineses?
And then there’s the talking to fish thing. That’s the point that’s supposed to shut down every Aquaman fan. Because that’s just not respectable. Oh, talking to land animals, that’s fine. Tarzan can communicate with any of the primates and that’s a cool part. Because, yeah, a howler monkey has so many useful things to say that a blue whale doesn’t. Being in telepathic contact with a jaguar is supposed to impress us. Being able to summon all the Great White Sharks in a ten-mile radius? Eh.
I’ll have none of that attitude. Besides, arguing over that overlooks Aquaman’s real superpower. I bet anybody could talk with dolphins or whatever given the chance. In a superhero universe it’s hard not to talk with them. There’s always magnetic meteorites falling into the seas and unleashing strange side-effects and whatnot. But Aquaman can ask the creatures of the sea to do any fool thing that pops into his head, and they do it. And, as you may remember from every Superfriend cartoon ever, they had an endless supply of fool things to do. Remember, it once took three Superfriends to outsmart a roller coaster. And not a cursed or enchanted roller coaster either, just a regular old one in a defunct amusement park. Granted two of the Superfriends were Zan and Jayna. There’s still a thick block of foolishness around their projects.
I mean, imagine this. You’re a porpoise. You’re busy going about your business, swimming, eating things, arguing with people who mistake you for a dolphin. The same things you do now, only you don’t have to get dressed for work. Then comes a telepathic summons from Aquaman. He asks you to swim over from half a mile away and whack your body against this motorboat that’s stuck between two rocks. Would you do it? Before you say sure, remember the last time someone asked you to help them move a fold-away sofa-bed to their fourth-floor walk-up apartment. Now answer honestly.
The sofa-bed mover promised pizza and The Wrath of Khan on the new TV and to return the favor. You still “thought that was Sunday, I’m sorry. Oh and my phone was dead and turned off and lost.” Aquaman offers none of that. Oh, there’s some rewards. There’s always the satisfaction of a job well done. And you could imagine yourself to be punching a motorboat with your whole body. Who wouldn’t want to do that? But those are rewards we make for ourselves. Aquaman isn’t giving anything except the chance to do him a favor.
The stuck-boat thing isn’t much of a favor to ask, yeah. But what about the big ones? “Drop all your porpoise work! I need you and whatever eats porpoises to form a giant fleshy dam that can hold up to this army of robots shooting ice rays at Coast City!” How could someone ever say that in a way that made you even consider it, much less do it? I can’t imagine selling a porpoise on that deal. Even imagine being coaxed in with the promise that it was going to be a giddy little prank to warm the alien’s floating starship full of heat rays. It would figure what was going on and go somewhere else. But Aquaman coaxes sea creatures into carrying on. How?
I know what excuse you’re making. “It’s just mind control, the fish don’t have a choice.” Oh yeah? If that’s so then why do I have a clear vague memory of an episode where some dolphins or something give up on Aquaman’s project because they’re exhausted and he lets them go? Why worry about their exhaustion, besides his not being a complete jerk? Huh? How about that? Remember, that’s from the era where superheroes were jerks only by accident or by their privilege. It’s before writers discovered they could look good if we felt bad for liking superheroes.
So I stand behind my interpretation. It isn’t just amazing that Aquaman can talk to fish. It’s that he can get them to commit to doing whatever he thinks needs doing. But getting people to change their minds has gone out of fashion. Punching people out, that’s the new persuasion. The last time we’ve got on record of reason changing someone’s mind was in 2008. And that was just over whether William Shatner was actually a decent director for his Star Trek movie. If we’re not interested in persuading people anymore, we’re certainly not going to be interested in persuading fish, even if we need to do something about Waldport, Oregon. I know. Just ask anyone who asked me about my favorite superhero. I’m sure that’s why they didn’t ever talk to me a third time.
If you’ve been listening along with Vic and Sade episodes this week you maybe noticed that not much happens in them. The characters talk about what they’re up to, but they don’t do much about it. That’s part of the style of the show. It has an almost classic respect for the ancient unities of Greek theater. Each day’s installment is one scene, at one time, and rarely do characters enter or exit, at least not much. Doing stuff is almost impossible in the ten minutes or so of conversation they have.
But stuff happens between episodes. And, more, it’s remembered. Vic and Sade is a representative of the serial-sitcom. It could have storylines going and progressing and developing, five days a week, just the way they might on soap operas. Vic and Sade isn’t a strong representative of the genre, the way that Lum and Abner or the difficult granddaddy of them all, Amos ‘n’ Andy, are. Vic and Sade stories aren’t as long and don’t dominate weeks of storytelling the way the more dedicated serials do. But it’s there.
Here, for example, at least after about the first two and a half minutes (spent talking about the wonders of Crisco and perhaps local advertisers), is a continuation of Vic’s All-Star Marching Team. The Marching Team is hoping to put together a Ladies Auxiliary. Sade is targeted to participate. She’s uninterested in marching and she and Vic talk just a little past one another about the point. The Marching Team was based on an absurd premise to start. And now the Ladies Auxiliary promises to be further absurd, as it can’t just be the wives of the Marching Team members. Many of them aren’t married. (One has intentions of marrying his beloved early in 1948, a joke which barely registers until you know that this episode is from the 22nd of February, 1941.) It’s not the straightforward absurdity of the original Marching Team premise, and its need to rehearse when none of the members can get together. That doesn’t keep it from finding wonderful absurdity anyway.
Maybe I’ll just carry on with the old-time radio and make it a Vic and Sade week. Picking out episodes makes me want to hear more episodes, and I like talking about the stuff I enjoy. So here goes.
One of my favorite comic modes is the deadpan absurdity. The name almost explains it. Presenting the most ridiculous idea possible with the straightest face possible delights me. If someone questions your absurdity, you can own up to it … or you can try explaining why it really makes sense all along. Take the second path and you are entering the heady woods of the American heritage of tall-tale folklore, of the reductio ad absurdum that earns mathematicians their pay, and — if you happen to answer every objection soundly — conspiracy theory.
Vic belongs to a lodge, the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, the way many people did in 1941. The way even more sitcom men did. The lodge wanted to organize an All-Star Marching Team. The head lodge chose ten members, Vic included. Lodge headquarters wants them to practice marching as a unit. The members are distributed across the country. The members aren’t asked to spend money and time travelling to each other.
So … how to rehearse marching as a unit when you just can’t get together? And there’s an answer, and it’s ridiculous. There’s obvious objections. They’re answered with a straight enough face that it all almost makes sense. It’s wonderful.
And a note for listeners: boy, the sponsor’s introduction really does go on, doesn’t it? If you are already as sold on Crisco as it is possible for you to ever be, you can skip to about two minutes thirty seconds in and the start of the real action.
I’m still feeling in an old-time radio mood.
Vic and Sade starred Art Van Harvey as Vic, and Bernardine Flynn as Sade. That was, apparently, enough cast to start with, but they adopted Rush, played by Bill Idelson, soon enough. Most of the scripts depended on the three, or two of the three if one of the actors got a day off, describing events to one another. A problem arose in 1940, when Van Harvey became ill. Every long-running radio show had this problem occasionally. If the actor’s illness was known about long enough in advance they could rewrite around the part. If it was sudden, they could just have someone else fill in. (There’s at least one episode of Burns and Allen with someone else playing the part of Gracie Allen, and that is not a role to step into lightly.)
To cover for Van Harvey’s illness, author Paul Rhymer brought a talked-about character in. This would be Uncle Fletcher, played by Clarence Hartzell. Uncle Fletcher could take the part of someone for Sade and Rush to talk to, or at least talk around, at least as well as Vic did.
It does mean we have curiosities like this episode, though. It’s from the 9th of October, 1941. It’s a two-actor day. So it’s an episode of Vic and Sade with neither Vic nor Sade. It’s built on Rush attempting to do his algebra homework, and Uncle Fletcher attempting to coach him through it. As I’d said, many Vic and Sade episodes are driven by the characters talking not quite past one another. This is a fine example of the form.
I’m in the mood to share some more old-time radio. This is an episode of Vic and Sade. It’s a strange show. It was for most of its run a daily, 15-minute program. It’s classed as a situation comedy, although it’s not what you would imagine from “radio sitcom from the 1930s and 1940s”. You might get that from how its Wikipedia page insists one of its catchphrases was “Is there a perfumed lady, heavily veiled and greatly agitated, hiding under the davenport?”. (I do not remember hearing this in any episode I’ve listened to. This might be instead a “memorable quote” from the show. However, I haven’t heard all the three hundred or so episodes that survive. Perhaps something happened.)
If I must describe it briefly, I’d say it’s “three people obsessively talking almost past one another”. It’s a small cast — Vic, Sade, and their son Rush — talking about what’s of interest to them. Often it’s some trivial daily event. Sometimes it’s a project that’s become urgent to one of them and uninteresting to the rest. It’s not a program to dip into casually. Something in it will be amusing if you listen to it while doing other stuff, sure. But it’s one of those shows that presents itself as deeply mundane. It keeps piling on the day’s premise until you reach the point of noticing they’re having a crazed conversation. There’s no guessing where that moment will hit for you. But it’s there.
Vic and Sade was written, all three and a half thousand episodes, by Paul Rhymer. Rhymer had left the newspaper business when the Bloomington (Illinois) Pantograph learned he was interviewing people who didn’t technically exist. Radio probably fit him better. He had a knack for writing people who are ridiculous yet not quite unbelievably so. People who could plausibly make a catchphrase of “You’ll send your undershirt to Detroit parcel post”. And he could string together words in that way that makes every sentence more interesting than it has to be to hold its information. It’s hard to pin down a punch line. Any sentence might suddenly strike you as the funny part, and you’re right. There are reasons most of the series was done without a studio audience.
And the episode I mean to have highlighted above — called “Rush’s Speaking Acquaintances”, based on Rush’s obsession of the day — gives a glimpse of one of Rhymer’s talents. He could compose funny names that are actually funny. The show would collect legions of discussed and typically-offscreen characters, all with names that feel off without ever quite being distractingly impossible. You don’t know how impressive this is until you’ve paid attention to people making funny names. Mix in some absurd touches and discuss without anybody quite finding their point, or convincing anyone else of it. It’s almost a course in how to write character-driven comedy.
There is a third-season episode where Kirk’s pants get torn. It’s the one where rock monster aliens pretend to be Abraham Lincoln so they can learn a little something about humanity. The pants-tearing probably wasn’t on purpose.
So Comics Kingdom has been running the Flash Gordon comics from 1961. In these stories, set in the far-distant future world of 1971, life is very different. There’s human colonies on all the good planets of the solar system. And on the moon, a guy’s homemade robot duplicate has swiped a flying saucer and he’s cleaning up on the quiz programs. And that’s not even the stuff I’m making up.
So here’s a panel from the strip from Saturday, the 22nd of April, 1961. This ran ten days after Yuri Gagarin’s flight. And now … just … “No Parking After Midnight (Earth Time)”. Does the qualifier “(EARTH TIME)” simplify matters any? And if so, how?
If that’s not enough to think over, well, why not look over some mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog? Also why not read the Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z glossary that I’ve been building? I’ve gotten to write about stuff I sometimes even understand.
Kangaroos. For this review I regard ‘Kangaroo’ as including all the variant models. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Potoroos, Wallaroos, Pottabies, Wottabies, Kangabies, plus any of the new 4th-generation-compatible variations to come out the last month. Doesn’t matter. They’re great all around. Fine body plan. Fur that can feel surprisingly like my sideburns when they get the most bushy and out of control. They anthropomorphize well by just adding a vest and maybe a pair of glasses. They’ve got everything under control. Rated A. The only thing keeping them from an A+ is the sloppy design job regarding the male genitalia. Granted that most mammals have design problems on this point. The only species that’s really got that handled with dignity are guinea pigs, the males of which keep their out-of-use private parts in safety deposit banks with an institution in Lima, Peru.
Koalas. Generally adorable, with great ears. But they have been coasting on past fame since the mid-80s. They’ve done nothing to freshen up the line to respond to the rise of fennecs for the status of “oh such adorable animals they look like plush toys only they’re alive!”. Nostalgia acts are fine but we should make way for new innovation. B.
Alpine Tasmanian button grass. Much-needed bit of flora with the sort of name we have the word “mellifluous” for. As plant life goes these are plants that live while not dead. Button grass looks like the hair of a minor Peanuts character with a name like “Leland”. Shows good imaginative use of the “long thin stuff with beady tops” motif. B+.
Platypus. You figure the platypus came about from someone hearing a jumbled description of a griffon and going wild with what they had. And that’s great. Some awesome stuff comes about from trying to follow a jumbled description. It’s how we got centaurs and Cincinnati chili and Chinese lion costumes and some other things that don’t start with ‘c’. All that’s fine and this blend has a nice self-assured weirdness to it. And then it sweats milk. That’s getting into strange-for-the-sake-of-strange territory. C+, would accept resubmission. Not of milk.
Wombats. Are real things? Huh. I thought they were made up so cartoons could do stories about Australian wildlife without getting into hassles from the real species over inaccurate depictions. You know, the way they make a movie about “Charles Foster Kane” instead of William Randolph Hearst, or a political TV show will do a story about going to war with a fake country, or people will vacation in “Florida”. OK, if they’re real then. C, get your brand identity under control. Next.
Octopus Stinkhorn. I just learned about this on Sunday thanks to Mark Trail and WHAT THE HECK, Australia. WHAT THE FLIPPING HECK? You know when we other continents talk about the problem of Australian species THIS is the sort of thing we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about spiders that have enough toxin in each of their fourteen venom sacs to knock unconscious 6.25 billion people and every raccoon in North America. We’re talking about snakes that spontaneously detonate with the force of a malfunctioning Saturn V rocket smashing into a xylophone Daffy Duck rigged with dynamite to make getting rid of Bugs Bunny “look like an accident”. And now we’re talking about octopus-tentacled corpse-smelling alien-egg fungus. REALLY? What is even WRONG with you? I mean, you give us a tree kangaroo, a kangaroo that literally lives in trees, and you follow that up with this? Stop, go back, redo this entire disaster from the start, and by redo I mean “never do anything even remotely inspired by anyone who has thought this a possible idea again”. This doesn’t even get a grade because we need to invent whole new letters to deal with how flipping WRONG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS. I mean, just, I mean. The flipping heck? I mean. Just. UGH.
Microbats. Microbats! Australia’s got lots of microbat species and they’re exactly what you think, bats that are small. Everything great about bats only little. This could get us back on Australia’s side. Even the name of the grouping is so adorable we don’t worry about whether they’re flying into the nostrils of everyone in Canberra. Microbats! B+ and not just because we’re getting them right after alien egg octopus corpse fungus. Seriously, Australia.
Marsupial tigers. OK, so, they’re kind of dog-shaped, and they have kangaroo heads. They have pouches, males and females. They’ve got tiger stripes down their back and tail. Oh yeah, and they’ve been extinct since Joseph Lyons was the prime minister. Great job piddling away an easy win, Australia. Check the backs of your closet and anywhere else they might be hiding and you can re-submit for an A-. I just … honestly.
Editorial note. While reviewing Wikipedia’s entry on the flora of Australia I encountered this sentence. “The dominant Acacia species varies with the location, and may include lancewood, bendee, mulga, gidgee and brigalow.” The page is clearly still subject to rampant vandalism. Fix and re-submit.
So among the bonus content that’s put on the back of my Peanuts Page-A-Day calendar, instead of the Sunday strips and pages for Sunday as a day on the calendar that I would think was the main content, was this:
Groaners: World’s Best Bad Jokes And Puns
A man walking with his friend says, “I’m a walking economy.”
His friend replies, “How so?”
“My hairline is in recession, my stomach is a victim of inflation, and both of these together are putting me into a deep depression.”
And I’m stuck wondering: who’s the joke supposed to appeal to? Never mind why it’s supposed to make me feel better about the price of the calendar and it not having Sundays. I get a kid finding it funny that older men might lose their hair and get fat, since that really is no end of merriment. But then the language throws you off. To a teen? Isn’t the hoary old joke structure too old-fashioned to amuse someone of that age? To a young adult? Why would they be buying a comic strip page-a-day calendar? To a middling adult like me? The time that joke would’ve amused me is long since passed, and the joke structure would need someone at least as skilled at delivery as a minor Muppet to work at all. To an actual adult like my parents? They’ve never gotten in a page-a-day calendar past the 12th of January. Why are they going to the effort to put a joke like that on the back of the calendar page? They could be putting trivia about the day that nobody will see until they next day when they tear today’s page off the calendar, instead.
- Date nut shortbread cookies.
- Snails which race in the Indianapolis 500.
- Stained glass.
- That crossword puzzle plagiarism scandal.
- Deceased New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
- The “Cover Up” pricing game on The Price Is Right.
- Integration by trigonometric substitution.
- Those seats in the movie theater lobby that demonstrate how the new premium-experience movie theater is kind of like the ordinary movie theaters, only the seats can shake I guess, so you understand why that’s a worthwhile upcharge when you go to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 For Some Reason?
- Isobaric lines.
- Band stickers for guitar cases.
- Hipster coffee shop Wi-fi password “GoneWireless”.
Oh yeah, we had that thing where the world was coming to an end. Let me check if it did. Um. No, looks like it hasn’t. If the world has then there’s a lot more squirrels underneath the bird feeder than I would have expected. Let me check the seven-day forecast. Well, it’s supposed to be in the mid-60s tomorrow, even though this is Michigan. That’s a bit unsettling but it isn’t precisely postapocalyptic. I’ll leave a granola bar out for the ice phoenix, who I can’t imagine is happy about this.
Also, you know where we had that problem where time kept stopping? The mantle clock kept stopping, the Christmas lights timer got broke, my love’s watch stopped, all that? The watch was just jammed and we could start it again by shaking. Well, it’s gone on and stopped, once again at about the same time as on the stopped mantle clock. Also, the kitchen clock, the one that sets itself based on the radio signals of … some … atomic clock … somewhere? That one stopped too. The battery ran out, it looks like. Still, unnerving, that’s what it is.
[ Picard, off-screen: ] Captain’s log, supplemental. We have entered our third day without success getting the superglue off Dr Crusher’s medical scanner.
(Wrong caption? Go ahead, use this space to offer a better one.)
Meanwhile over on my mathematics blog, I’ve had another chance to talk about comic strips. Mostly Popeye. Also I’ve got through the first week of the Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z project, a glossary of mathematics terms written in a way I hope makes sense to non-mathematicians. Please, consider enjoying.
No, “Teughly” is not a word, but the Scrabble Dictionary allows it, as a giggle.
Drawn from Wikipedia’s description of the plot to the 2001 Rob Schneider movie The Animal, an 83-minute movie I never saw with a plot summary 719 words long that I never read before, with the words ‘or something’ suffixed to every sentence. Inspired again by my love.
Marvin Mange (Rob Schneider) is an awkward, clumsy nice-guy who dreams of being a police officer like his dad was or something. He continuously attempts to pass the physical test to become a full-fledged police officer, but he just can’t seem to finish the obstacle course or something. Marvin gets constantly mistreated by Sargent Sisk (John C McGinley) or something.
One day, while alone at the station, he receives a robbery call or something. With all of the real policemen out at a softball game, Marvin rushes to the scene or something. Along the way, he swerves to avoid a seal in the road and crashes over a cliff or something. He is critically injured, but is rescued by Dr Wilder (Michael Caton), a mad scientist who puts Marvin back together using animal parts or something.
Days later, Marvin returns to his normal life with no memory of what had happened or something. Suddenly, he’s full of life or something. He can outrun horses, mean dogs are now scared of him, and he doesn’t need his asthma medicine or something. He thinks it’s due to his late-night TV purchase of “Badger Milk”, which is guaranteed in the ads to make him stronger or something.
One day at the park, Marvin meets Rianna (Colleen Haskell) while she’s out walking dogs or something. His animal-like tendencies are slowly taking him over or something. When a frisbee is thrown in his direction, he can’t control himself, and he jumps to catch it in his mouth or something.
He goes to the airport to talk to his friend, Miles the security guard (Guy Torry) about his problem or something. While there, Marvin sniffs out a man trying to hide heroin in his rectum or something. For uncovering a drug smuggler, Marvin is declared a hero and is made a full-fledged police officer or something.
As days go by, Marvin’s animal instincts are becoming stronger or something. He often wakes up in strange places, and subsequently, hears about animal attacks that occurred in the middle of the night or something. Because of these attacks, Dr Wilder believes that Marvin is out of control or something. The mad scientist confronts him, takes him to his laboratory, and explains about the grafts and transplants that saved and changed Marvin’s life, and gave him remarkable animal powers with certain problem side effects or something.
Later at a party thrown by the Mayor (Scott Wilson) Marvin chases after a cat and destroys everything around him and is fired on the spot or something. During his reprimand, he hears something, jumps into the nearby lake and rescues the mayor’s son using powers derived from a sea lion and a dolphin or something. He is swiftly reinstated or something.
Chief Wilson (Ed Asner) questions Marvin about the late-night attacks on farm animals, because one of witnesses made a police sketch—and it looks like Marvin or something.
Rianna goes to Marvin’s house, where he has barricaded himself inside or something. They spend the night together, but Marvin wants to be tied up so he can’t hurt anyone anymore or something. In the morning, he finds himself untied, courtesy of Rianna or something. Suddenly, the police show up outside or something. Another attack had happened that night, and the police have come for Marvin or something. Rianna convinces him to run or something.
Marvin escapes to the woods, where a huge chase ensues or something. The police have organized an angry mob into a search party to catch Marvin or something. While running through the woods, Marvin finds Dr Wilder or something. The scientist tells him that there was another “patient” of his that is out of control, and he is in the woods looking for it or something.
Sergeant Sisk confronts Marvin, and is about to shoot him or something. Suddenly, the other “animal’ jumps from a tree and knocks Sisk down or something. The beast is Rianna or something. Now, the crowd finds them both together but Miles is there, and takes the blame for everything or something. He has been claiming that there is reverse discrimination with him since he’s black, and that no one wants to hold him accountable for anything or something. Sure enough, once the mob thinks a black man was responsible, they don’t care anymore, and leave or something.
Marvin and Rianna get married, and have a litter of children that each look like Marvin or something. While watching television, they see Dr Wilder win the Nobel Prize or something. He says he owes it all to his fiancée, who is the same woman from the Badger Milk commercial or something. When she turns around to kiss him, there are large scars shown on her back, implying that Wilder performed the experiment on her as well or something.
Snarker’s note: wait, what the heck with that penultimate paragraph? Seriously? The heck? I mean, what the heck? Seriously?
So what’s coming to the Internet to make you sick of things being on the Internet this month? Here’s our exclusive sneak preview.
Baby Guinea Pigs. It’s two minutes and forty-five seconds of baby guinea pigs sneezing. It’s a cute video but isn’t there anything else to do the whole weekend of the 5th? It’s cute but … oh, awwwww, the long-haired one has like five inches of hair trailing behind her.
Fabio. Remember Fabio? Back in the 90s he was kind of a celebrity because he looked good on romance books. Romance books are a lot like regular books except that people read them. And this made him famous even for people who don’t read romance books, because they figure they would read better stuff than that if they had time. Anyway, he looked good and this made him famous for some reason and we never really understood it then. He didn’t seem to understand it either. He spent 1991 through 1996 looking into cameras with the smile that says, “I have no idea why I’m here but I’m happy to be invited”. You know, the way two-toed sloths always do.
We haven’t heard from him in a while. Has he started saying things that would make us sad? Will it spoil the memory of a fondly-for-some-reason remembered celebrity? Has he got himself into personal or financial crises that make us sad to hear about? We don’t know, so the Internet is figuring to spend about two weeks studying whether we do want to know. Maybe he’s been all right. I mean, Dolph Lundgren’s in good shape, as far as we know without looking. Anyway, you are going to be so sick of the “Should we check in on Fabio” question before the 14th.
Kiss-guises. You know that thing of people dressing up in outfits to sneak a kiss in public? Of course you don’t, because it’s not a thing. But starting this weekend a strong contingent of the Internet is going to try insisting this is a thing, so they can say what a stupid thing it is. It’s not a stupid thing. Kiss-guises aren’t even a thing at all. But we’re all going to get so sick of the attacks on kiss-guises that people are going to go out and start getting kiss-guises out of spite and to get kissed. Look for it the 17th through the 27th.
Podcasts. You know how to tell when your podcast edits out the little silence between when the hosts are all laughing at each other and when they start saying something else? “Wait,” you protest, “what do I care about the secrets of editing audio recording?” You don’t, unless you’re listening to professional sound-editor podcasts. But don’t worry, come the 20th through 25th the Internet is going to make sure you can’t avoid learning, and can’t stop hearing these edits on all your favorite podcasts. This will be followed by a search for the podcasts where they don’t edit. They’re 12 percent silence and “uh” by content. Not hearing your actual favorite podcasts is a small price to pay for not hearing the time when your favorite podcasts don’t have anything to hear.
Pens. You know the bad thing about being the person who’s always got a pen? It’s the time you happen not to have a pen on you. Your whole social media microclimate will not shut up about how you’ve decided you’re tired of being the person who always has a pen to lend them. And you’ve figured to enact this decision in the most passive-aggressive manner possible. It’s not, OK? You just left the pen on the dining table for no good reason, it just happened. This one’s rolling out at different times all over the Internet. For me it’s this past week. I just forgot the pen, is all, it’s not anything more than that.
From our best projections the Internet should be at its peak tetchiness over all this from the afternoon of the 19th through the morning of the 22nd. You’ll maybe want to instead just take in a movie 36 times in a row. Or maybe the guinea pig thing 1,568 times in a row which isn’t enough.
And now to review my readership statistics for February 2016. They should be a touch better than those of February 2012, what with this blog not existing back then.
So the key statistic: 1,107. That’s down from 1,211, and from 1,593, and from 4,528. That’s the number of page views the last several months. I would characterize this as recovering from the Apartment 3-G death throes. This is back to just below what the readership was in July and August of 2015. And let’s not forget, February was a much shorter month than July and August. If we prorate the daily average to a 31-day month that suggests 1225.6 readers. That last three-fifths of a reader would be someone just here for the pictures.
I know some of what I need to do is chat more on other people’s blogs and do some proper reblogging or posting more headsup. It’s just so hard what with that being kind of like human contact-ish and all. But it’s also the … what’s the word … decent thing to do. Fun and all that, even, once it’s done, which is probably enough reason to do it.
The number of unique visitors, says WordPress, dropped to 629, down from 645 in what WordPress calls janvier because that’s all it remembers from taking four years of French in high school, and 785 in decembre. That’s again getting back to pre-3-G-ocalypse levels. There were 178 likes in February, which is down a fair bit from January (272) and December (278) but maybe everybody was in a fowl mood. There were 52 comments, down from 66 but up from 40, because the number of comments obeys no known rules.
For the first time in months the top five posts of the month were not dominated by Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G. It was only two of the top five posts. But I can still look over what was popular here, and it was dominated by … stuff … I … didn’t write. Okay. Often read in February were:
- A Comic Strip That Always Makes Me Laugh (though one of my Twitter friends didn’t get it at all)
- Bob and Ray Get Wally Ballou’s Report on the World’s Fair, Early (which I imagine came up because of Bob Elliott’s recent death, but it’s still so very worth listening to)
- What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G (which is when the Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G watch really kicked in)
- In Which My Love Makes A Good Observation (a picture that says it all)
- Idele Talk (finally we get the subject back to me)
The United States sent me more readers than any other single country in February. It always is. 834 of my page views were for there. Second place went to Canada, with 47 page views. Then Germany with 34 and the United Kingdom with 27. Then we get into countries that don’t have English as a primary language, such as France, or that don’t have a language, such as Australia. Singapore sent me two viewers. India sent me four.
Single-viewer countries this time around were Albania, Algeria, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, China, Curaçao, El Salvador, Ethiopia, the European Union, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Moldova, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Vietnam. The European Union isn’t a country. Ireland is the only one that was a single-viewer country last month and nobody’s on a three-month streak.
Among the search terms bringing people around here the past month were a lot of Apartment 3-G as ever. Among the intersting terms were “new penny 2015”, “celestial seasonings blackpool”, and “zippy the pinhead i promise not to invade new jersey”, along with “make a comics strip about cosette side by side with the stranger in the dark”.
The month starts with 32,541 page views in total and some 16,659 unique viewers. There are 639 people listed as following me on WordPress. If you’d like to, I’ve now figured out how to make sure there’s a little sticker at the upper left of the page to make it easy to follow on WordPress. There’s another button a bit below that to follow by e-mail, if that’s your fancy. Or by RSS, if that’s your other fancy. And I’m on Twitter, also, as @Nebusj, if you want to follow that too. Look, just find something and follow it. That’s all I ask.
First, we got a lot of snow in on Thursday. Over the weekend, under temperatures of as much as 125 degrees (avoirdupois) it melted. Every bit of it, except for those mounds of neutron snow in the parking lots and right where the garbage bin goes for collection. But those are special cases, because those mounds of snow are fortified and will last through to August anyway. If we limit ourselves to the normal snow made of the melting kind of snow, it all melted by yesterday. Today, it snowed. I feel like we’re not getting anywhere. I took one of those giant coffee mugs, the kind you get at slightly hipster coffee shops, and filled it with miso soup and set it out for the ice phoenix, since it’s been frolicking up something fierce for a storm like this to happen.
Not only did nobody recklessly speak of the “ides of February” as though they might be the 15th of the month, but nobody even brought up the question about whether Leap Day is actually the 29th of February. So I couldn’t go on a big tear about how it might technically be the 25th of February unless you’re from certain countries formerly ruled by the United Kingdom in which case it’s totally the 29th. What’s the fun in that?
I need a shovel.