No Robert Benchley Society Contest For 2016


My love asked whatever happened to the Robert Benchley Humor Writing Contest. It’s a good question. I hadn’t heard anything about it and wondered what happened. It happens they just made an announcement:

No Benchley Humor Writing Competition this Year

I regret to inform you that the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Competition will not be held in 2016. Watch this blog for further announcements about Society activities.

This is way too much effort to make to find a way not to give me the award. Guys, I can take rejection. It’s all right. I don’t look to you as a way to get my feelings hurt. I just enter the contest for the sport of it. I’ve got people I’d been intimate with for years to hurt my feelings when I need to feel hurt.

Anyway, I’ll pass along any word I receive about why they aren’t doing anything. Also I’ll look up the Donald Ogden Stewart Society Humor Writing Contest. And my mathematics blog did comic strips again yesterday, so please enjoy that if you will.

In Plans That Can’t Possibly Go Wrong


I have what many people would consider a compulsive personality. For example, while I know that to me this isn’t the reasoning that motivates a particular kind of behavior, people observing me might conclude I was washing my hands because I figured I had gotten them dirty in the process of washing them the first time. No. My actual reasons are much more complicated than that but that is pretty much why.

Anyway, I think I’ve figured a way to get this to work for me. All I have to do is set myself the habit of doing one thing that deliberately breaks one of my compulsions each day. And that’s going splendidly. In fact, I was doing this barely a week when I felt like I should do something to deliberately break two or three compulsions each day. Once I get myself going like this, it’s hard to stop. So I figure there’s an at least forty percent chance that I’ll collapse into a black hole by Flag Day. More on this as it comes to pass.

Statistics Saturday: Amount Of The Plot Of 1994’s _The Mask_ That I Remember At All


Based on the Wikipedia summary of the plot, how much I remember of a movie I have seen possibly as much as twice back in the 90s:

Bit Of Plot Do I Remember It?
Stanley Ipkiss is a shy and unlucky bank clerk working at the local Edge City bank. Yes
He is frequently ridiculed by everyone around him, except for his Jack Russell Terrier Milo, and his co-worker and best friend Charlie Schumaker. Yes
Meanwhile, gangster Dorian Tyrell, owner of the Coco Bongo nightclub, plots to overthrow his boss Niko. No
One day, Tyrell sends his singer girlfriend Tina Carlyle into Stanley’s bank to record its layout, in preparation to rob the bank. No
Stanley is attracted to Tina, and she seems to reciprocate. No
After being denied entrance to the Coco Bongo, he finds a wooden mask near the city’s harbor. Yes
Placing it on his face transforms him into a zoot-suited, green-faced, bizarre trickster known as the Mask, who is able to cartoonishly alter himself and his surroundings at will. Yes
Stanley scares off a street gang that attempts to rob him by turning a balloon into a Tommy gun, and then he exacts revenge on his tormentors. No
The next morning, Stanley encounters detective Lieutenant Kellaway and newspaper reporter Peggy Brandt investigating the Mask’s activity of the previous night. No
To attend Tina’s performance, he again becomes the Mask to raid the bank, inadvertently foiling Tyrell’s plan in the process. No
At the Coco Bongo, Stanley dances exuberantly with Tina, whom he ends up kissing. I guess?
Following a confrontation with Tyrell for disrupting the bank robbery, Stanley flees leaving behind a scrap of cloth from his suit that transforms back into his pajamas, while Tyrell is arrested by the police as a suspect for the bank robbery. Yes?
Based on the shred of cloth, Kellaway suspects Stanley to be the bank robber. Yes
Stanley later consults a psychiatrist who has recently published a book on masks, and is told that the object may be a depiction of Loki, the Norse god of darkness and mischief. Maybe?
The same night, Stanley transforms into the Mask and meets Tina at a local park, but the meeting is interrupted by Kellaway, who attempts to arrest him. No
Stanley tricks a large group of police officers into joining him in a mass-performance of the Desi Arnaz song “Cuban Pete”, takes off the mask and flees with Peggy, but she betrays him to Tyrell for a $50,000 bounty. Yes, up through that “Cuban Pete” thing, although the rest of that is a mystery to me.
Tyrell tries on the mask and becomes a malevolent green-faced monster. No
Forced to reveal the location of the stolen money, Stanley is kept hostage in one of the mob’s cars while Tyrell’s henchmen search his apartment. No
With the money now in the hands of Tyrell’s gang, Stanley is then delivered to Kellaway, along with a rubber green mask, where he is arrested. No
When Tina visits Stanley in his cell, he urges her to flee the city. No
Tina thanks Stanley for treating her with respect and tells him that she knew that he was the Mask all along. No
She attempts to leave the city, but is captured by Tyrell’s men and forcibly taken to a charity ball at the Coco Bongo hosted by Niko and attended by the city’s elite, including Mayor Tilton. No
Upon arrival, the masked Tyrell kills Niko and prepares to destroy both the club and Tina with dynamite. No
Milo helps Stanley escape from his cell, and Stanley brings Kellaway as a cover and hostage in a desperate attempt to stop Tyrell. No
After locking Kellaway in his car, Stanley enters the club and manages to enlist the help of Charlie, but is soon after spotted and captured. No
Tina tricks Tyrell into taking off the mask, which is recovered and donned by Milo, turning the dog into a cartoonish pitbull who wreaks havoc among Tyrell’s men, while Stanley fights Tyrell himself. Yes
After recovering the mask, Stanley uses its abilities to save Tina by swallowing Tyrell’s bomb and flushing Tyrell down the drain of the club’s ornamental fountain. No
The police arrive and arrest Tyrell’s remaining henchmen, while Kellaway attempts to arrest Stanley once again. No
Mayor Tilton intervenes and demands that Kellaway release Stanley, declaring that Tyrell was The Mask the whole time. No
As the sun rises the following day, Stanley, Tina, Milo and Charlie take the mask back down to the harbor. I guess?
Tina throws the mask into the water, and she and Stanley kiss. Yes
Charlie then jumps in the water to retrieve the mask for himself, only to have it taken by Milo first. Yes
The film ends with Stanley kissing Tina, quoting the Mask’s catchphrase: “SssssMOKIN’!!!” Not really, but it makes sense so I probably kind of remember it?
Sentences To Describe Plot: 33

Sentences I Remember At All: 14

Percentage Remembered: 42%

Time Mystery Deepens


OK, once again, the thing with the clocks? The strange little boring magic-realist novel breaking out in our house where all clocks stop at about the same time? It’s still happening. The mantle clock, the one we’d maybe bring to the mysterious Clock Repair sign-hanger if we could remember the number? The other clock in the living room came to a stop at just about the same time as that. It’s just a dead battery, we think, but still. If some mysterious force is trying to freak us out, they’re going about it in the way that most makes us over-estimate how long is left in The Price Is Right.

In other updates, I am still not learning about the history of socks.

The Heck Is Even With Poison Ivy: An Investigation


My love was working in the yard. I wasn’t. We have a well-agreed-upon divide of household chores. My love gardens, while I bring in all the groceries in one trip and offer to run back to the store for the butter we forgot. Anyway, my love encountered what we believed to be poison ivy.

That was natural enough. There’s been poison ivy in the yard before. We got rid of as much as we could last year in an expedition that brought us into the neighbor’s yard. A lot of ivy was growing through the fence. Somehow our neighbor was willing to accept our offer to dig a noxious weed out of his yard for free. It takes all kinds to make a neighborhood Most of that kind are neighbors.

But we got to thinking about poison ivy. Most poison you get into your body, and then you get very sick or die, and that’s that. The whole point of poison is to stop getting eaten by heaping a pile of dead animals around where they tried eating. But poison ivy? You get it in or on you and then maybe up to three days later you get an irritating rash that lasts up to three weeks. As poisons go this is pretty incompetent. It depends on animals brushing up against it and then, a couple days later, being pretty irritated. And then the animals are supposed to peruse their travel logs and review any suspicious plants they might have passed near. And then after extensive reviews determine the element in common to all these itching incidents is being up to seventy-two hours removed from the close proximity of a bit of poison ivy. That’s asking a lot from animals, who are lousy at tracking infection vectors, except the Malayan Golden Forensic Mousedeer.

So I put “the heck is even with poison ivy” into DuckDuckGo and right there on the first page of results is a link from something called “mamapedia” and I’m not going to touch a link with a domain name like that. My most optimistic guess is it’s like Wikipedia but with the charming parts of a southern accent. According to some non-scary-pedias the thing that makes poison ivy so kind-of poison-ish is called urushiol. Turns out nearly all the itch-based plants, like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, sumac oak, oak ivy, and so on, get their itching by liquids called urushiols. Urushiol is a kind of compound known as an oleoresin, which is a kind of resin whose name you can yodel.

It’s not a poison, though. These plants use it somehow to retain water. That it irritates skin is a side effect. The plant doesn’t get anything out of it. It’s just the plants needed to retain water and they muddled on the best they could. There’s a lesson for us all in that. I like to imagine if we explained the situation to a session of the Poison Ivy Witenagemot, in a committee of the whole, they’d apologize. “We had no idea,” surely they’d declare. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” and then we could share with them water-tower technology. And we’d all have a good laugh about the misunderstanding that caused so much irritation over the centuries. They’ll mend their ways, limiting their irritation to watching old TV shows on modern HDTVs with the aspect ratio all wrong. I’m not saying that isn’t also irritating. But it’s a quicker kind. It’s an irritation you can resolve simply by jumping up and down and shouting, “What is wrong with you people? We spent fifteen years explaining letterboxing movies to you and you finally got it and now don’t you even notice how everybody on The Mary Tyler Moore Show looks like a pile of mashed potatoes wearing Seventies Plaid?!” and then being asked to leave the room.

It turned out our poison ivy wasn’t, anyway. It’s an easy mistake to make. Poison ivy comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, ranging from stringy vines crawling around dead trees up to functional self-service gas stations ready for the new chip cards the United States is getting in twenty years after everybody else in the world. All you can be sure of is that leaves-of-three thing, but it’s no surprise if you count up the leaves on a perfectly innocent plant it might happen to be a multiple of three. Something like a third of all the counting numbers are a multiple of three. Still, ours was a false alarm. The plant was a perfectly innocent Striated Woodsy Guiltywort vine, brought over from the old country by settlers who thought that was a good idea. And that emergency cold shower after applying all that urushiol repellant was just jolly good practice in being made miserable after poison ivy exposures.

Also besides not being actually all that poison, poison ivy isn’t ivy. At some point you have to wonder if the people who named it were quite sure what they were doing.

On The Passing Of _Momma_ Cartoonist Mell Lazarus


Years ago I got a book about skyscrapers. It was a collection of articles from Architectural Digest or some similar quasi-trade publication. The articles were mostly about what contemporaries thought of buildings at the time. It was one of those this-looks-interesting-in-the-dollar-bin purchases, since I know less about architectural criticism than you imagine. No, less than that.

One essay catching my attention, though, was about a circa 1910 skyscraper. The article praised its design for having finally solved the problem of skyscraper proportions. And the picture looked … normal. Boring. There was nothing distinctive about this building. You could drop this maybe fifteen-storey thing into any city and not be noticed. It was a mystifying phrase until I understood the context. If this solved the problem, well, of course it wouldn’t stand out nearly a century later.

The National Cartoonists Society announced yesterday the death of Mell Lazarus. He was renowned in comic strip circles for Miss Peach and Momma. Miss Peach, particularly, I keep hearing singled out for brilliance, and I confess I don’t get it. Probably that’s from lack of exposure. It was never running in a newspaper when I was growing up, and I never saw it on a newspaper’s web site before the strip closed up in 2002. I may have seen it parodied, mostly in Mad Magazine, more than I’ve seen the original. It’s hard to understand what’s great in something that way. It looks like an average example of that Mid-Century Modern comic strip style shared by every comic strip from between about 1960 and whenever it was Dilbert became trendy. But see the problem of the solved skyscraper.

Momma, though, that I read growing up and through to the present day. The family dynamics are awfully screwed up, but in a way normal enough for a joke-engine daily strip. The art, at least at Lazarus’s peak, had that style that looks shaggy and undisciplined, but which you learn is really tightly controlled when you study it seriously or, better, try to imitate it. And the jokes may have gotten harder to parse lately, but it’s hard to land every joke successfully, especially in a comic strip with a necessarily small cast of characters and limited set of continuing stories.

Anyway, by all accounts, Lazarus was a fantastic person and your life was considerably better if he was in it. That’s a great thing for people to be able to say about you.

Driving With The Comics


And then I noticed this banner at gocomics.com. They’re celebrating National Golf Month. I only saw the banner ad once, and then haven’t seen it since. My assumption is the comic strips are celebrating National Golf Month by just going about their business as usual. If there’s one thing syndicated comic strip artists love, it’s making weeklong stories about how stupidly pointless it is to give kids souvenir trophies for participating in big events. But if there’s another thing they love, it’s making up creepily unnatural names for social media their characters use instead of Facebook and Twitter. But coming up soon after that is telling golf jokes, because deep down syndicated cartoonists think it’s still World War II and they can get in good with their officers by talking a lot about golf, the way the senior officers seem to. And then they get to characters having to do their taxes, even if it’s August and tax forms aren’t due for eight months.

'Happy national golf month - these comics are a hole-in-one!' Featuring a picture of Snoopy golfing, the way he did really quite a lot.
Which nation, by the way? Also which month, since this appeared like the 18th so they either started way late or fairly early.

Me, I just talk about mathematics in the comic strips, and in this case, I analyze one joke about entropy until it falls all apart.

Rescued From The Spam Bin


I do sometimes remember to check the WordPress spam filters. It’s good practice, because there’s no telling how many people who’re expert Search Engine Optimization specialists are looking to help me out. One that hit me recently, though, was:

I’ll immediately clutch your rss as I can’t in finding your email
subscription link or newsletter service.

i try to load the pages using the web browser SEWERLUST 53

Now, I know this is spam, because, really, “clutch your rss”? I have an automatic RSS because who has manual? People who figure it isn’t easy enough, that’s who.

But I am intrigued by this talk of the web browser SEWERLUST 53. Particularly, what was wrong in SEWERLUST 52 that they had to do a complete rewrite? Or is it like Firefox where they download a new major-version number every time someone involved thinks of an even bigger number? There’s no way to say, which is to say, I’m not going to say. If you’d like to say, please do. We might say something.

Time Mystery: A Footnote


Oh, another mysterious little thing around the neighborhood. Somebody hand-stenciled a sign with a phone number and the words “Clock Repair”. And then nailed it to a telephone pole pretty near the big strip mall near here. No name or anything. It’s just an implicit promise that if you call this number you will acquire links with the world of clock-repairers who take enough pride in their work they want to advertise, but not so much pride that they want to say who they are or where to find them.

Plus they just hung the sign on one of the roads leading up to the mall, not actually at the mall or anything. I guess I don’t have a better idea where to hang signs on the street to find people with clock-repair-needs. But it’s hard shaking the idea they might do better with some more focused marketing approach, like picking houses at random and asking the residents if they have any clocks that aren’t clocking anymore.

The heck of it is, we have a clock that needs fixing. If they’d just come to us we could’ve worked something out. But now we have to remember to write down the number if it’s still there next time we see it. Don’t think too hard about that last sentence and just trust me that it’s there.

Statistics Saturday: My Time Spent Preparing For A Weekend Car Trip


Activity Time
Packing 15 minutes
Checking The Packing Hasn’t Unpacked 3 hours, 45 minutes
Trying To Write A Whole Four Days Ahead Of Deadline For These Blogs About Two Weeks
Forgetting Toothbrushes (again?!)
Downloading Podcast Episodes Almost At Random Until There’s Like 65 Hours To Listen To Two hours, plus three hours yelling at iTunes for not actually downloading the things I told it to
Worrying I Didn’t Pack Enough (I never stop, even after the trip)
Spending Fourteen Hours Wikipedia-Binging Starting From The World ‘Envelope’ 14 hours, 20 minutes
Turning Things Around The House Off (can’t tell; accidentally turned off the clock I was using to time it)
Removing The Fourteenth Pair Of Underwear From My Duffel Bag, Trusting That If I Need That Many Over The Course Of A Three-Day Trip I Could Probably Buy One, Even If I Am In The Barely-Settled Wilds Of Sandusky, Ohio Three minutes before I change my mind and put it all back
Panciked Buying Of Yes Albums So There’s Also That To Listen To Six minutes, plus ten minutes punching iTunes
Emergency Game Of Europa Universalis III Four years running now and I haven’t got the hang of it yet
Finding Every Possible USB Cable Except The One That Plugs Into My Camera 85 minutes

From The Evening’s Monster Report


I know I haven’t had many dream-world updates lately but that’s just how these things happen. There was a pretty detailed one this week, though. Apparently it was some sort of long-form documentary program about the differences between North American and Pacific Asian giant monsters. Turns out, it seems, that there’s a tendency for North American giant monsters to have many more sets of limbs and wings than their East Asian counterparts. And this apparently reflects longstanding cultural practices. Lest you think that’s an unchanging fact of life, though, apparently the Asian giant monsters are looking to add more sets of claws and wings to become more competitive in the world market. And somehow this documentary didn’t describe any of this as a new arms race.

It means something and I don’t know what.

Mysteries Of The Neighborhood


I’ll start this roster from close to home and work my way out. First is that the goldfish we finally moved back into the pond outside just aren’t eating algae. They look like they are, what with their being goldfish and the algae being algae. I would have imagined that an arrangement they could keep up with. But they’re not eating it, not nearly so fast as the algae’s growing. Some of the goldfish are going so far as to swim into the middle and hover worryingly still. I guess they’re doing what I would do if I walked into a room and was covered in a pile of powdered doughnuts. I mean, I wouldn’t leave either, and I guess I’d be annoyed if someone reached in with the pool grabber and poked me. So maybe that’s not mysterious on the part of those goldfish. But I’d be making clear progress in doughnut-eating in that case. I may not always know what to do, but I’m almost mastered doughnut-eating. Happy as the fish may be, they’re dragging down the house’s efficiency ratings and I’m considering calling in an expert. If you know of one please write in care of your television market’s local news-weather-and-traffic leader. I bet they’d like to know.

Down the block. That auto care shop that was having the weird passive-aggressive fight by way of its message sign? It finally put up a message to replace “The Cost Is Zero To Be A Decent Human Being” and it went over to “We Can’t Save Everyone But Everyone Can Save Someone”. So they were apparently getting back to their groove of messages that unintentionally inspire dread at the futility of existence. And then that message about saving someone lasted maybe a week and a half. Now it’s “Whether You Think You Can Or You Can’t You’re Right”. This inspirational messages has limitations. They’re not referring to your ability to just charm your way past a defensive perimeter and through the security cordon. They’re thinking more about whether you could get that Associate’s Degree in actuarial mathematics with night, weekend, and online classes. And even with small-scale things there’s limits. No matter how confident I am in how I spell “accommodation” today I can’t get the spell checker to agree I’ve managed to hit any word. I have to put it in quotes to fool it into not putting this ugly underline squiggle there.

I’m not asserting that the office-supply store down the street, the one with the showroom floor that seems to be nothing but task chairs pressed up against each other, is necessarily the front for some secret society maintaining a portal to a magical alternate dimension where possibly everybody is robot dinosaurs. But I did stop in recently because I needed some manilla envelopes. I figured, why not support a neighborhood business that’s got an extremely faded poster in the window for Space Pens? OK, because I terrify the woman working the showroom what with not making enough noise going in and her coming out of the back room not expecting a tall, beareded man seeking manilla envelopes there. I’m sorry.

Thing is, they didn’t have manilla envelopes. At least she couldn’t find any. They had a small stock of actual office supplies, with most o the showroom being dust-covered task chairs. She was able to find a couple envelopes, but they were kind of peach or maybe salmon-colored. I was looking for manilla envelopes because I needed some paper folded up and glued together so that other paper could be put inside it, to then put the envelope inside a filing cabinet, there to be lost. The color didn’t matter. I had to promise that it was all right they had peach envelopes. I trust they got them from their warehouse supplier in that alternate timeline where history has proceeded just like it has here, only envelopes are colored weird.

So there’s this bowling alley not too far off. Rumor is it used to be a city park, for some reason, and I don’t know anyone who understands why or whether it is anymore. I’d go and ask them but I’m worried they would try explaining bowling to me. “You know how it’s fun to knock stuff over? What if you could knock stuff over in a manner tolerated by society? And have a machine pick things up to be knocked over again? And, from 10 pm, with a blacklight and a diffracted laser turned on?” The proposition sells itself. I don’t need to have that explained to me.

What I do need to be sold on, if I read their sign right the other day, was traffic hazard cones. It was in traffic and I was driving so I didn’t want to pay too much attention to it but they were going to have a sale on traffic hazard cones? Which is somehow something you can just do at bowling alleys? I mean, I understand needing traffic hazard cones. And you have to get them from somewhere. I just wouldn’t have thought the bowling alley.

All told this is a mysterious neighborhood.

Yes, Yes, Yellow Submarine, Now Move On


My love and I were listening to Sirius XM’s Cheesey 70s channel, because we had used up the 80s channel and were saving what’s left of the Current Indie channel. They got to playing C W McCall’s “Convoy” and I heard something I never noticed before. Buried there somewhere in the lyrics he sings something about a “chartreuse microbus”. I didn’t imagine it. My love heard the same thing.

And now I’m left wondering: what other oddly-colored vehicles are hiding in the midst of songs everybody kind of knows but doesn’t really listen to? If we poke around “Sweet Caroline” would we find a fuchsia MG-B? Is there a minor verse in “We Didn’t Start The Fire” built around a teal Mercury Lynx? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in “Take On Me” that’s about a khaki Buick Roadmaster, but has anyone checked recently?

Well, at least I was able this week to spoil someone’s theory about what “25 or 6 to 4” even meant, so there’s that.

Some Fine Sentences In This Reuters Article About Sequencing the Carrot Genome


Without distracting from the interest in science stuff caused by this science news, and after taking a moment to tell you I did that comic strip thing again on my mathematics blog, I’d like to bring some excellent sentences to the reader’s attention. By the reader I mean you:

  • [Carrots] are familiar to everyone, and generally well-regarded by consumers, but like most familiar things, people don’t necessarily know the background stories.
  • The common weed called Queen Anne’s Lace is a wild carrot.
  • Worldwide carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and they now rank in the top 10 vegetable crops globally, the researchers said.
  • The earliest record of carrots as a root crop dates from 1,100 years ago in Afghanistan, but those were yellow carrots and purple ones, not orange ones.
  • Paintings from 16th century Spain and Germany provide the first unmistakable evidence for orange carrots.

I realize that it’s fully legitimate that carrots used to come in way more colors than they do now, and that they became orange because people deliberately grew them orange and that it’s all tied up with the Dutch War of Independence and all that. But I love the talk about searching for evidence of orange-ness in carrots. This is the sort of question that makes academia work. Also I had no idea (per a sentence that didn’t make the cut) that caraway was “a close relative” of the carrot, but I admit I didn’t have any better ideas what caraway ought to be a relative of. Also, so wait, like, Charlemagne had come and gone before anyone anywhere planted and ate carrots on purpose? That’s just weird, man.

Oh Yeah, That’s How To Live Like This


So that Star Trek forum finally came back up and everything’s fine. And in the Original Series subforum I’m now stuck in a pretty vicious squabble over NASA Associate Administrator for Space Transportation System John Yardley’s famous May 1978 memorandum on standards for the naming of space shuttle orbiters, so I can’t wait for the forum to go back down again. I mean it’s like some of these Star Trek fans don’t even understand the concept of primary versus secondary documentation or something. Furrfu.

Those Mysteries, Eurovision Edition


I spent most of yesterday watching Twitter friends, none of whom know each other, talking about Eurovision. And that was fun. Since I wondered why Australia was in it I went to DuckDuckGo because yeah, I’m that kind of guy, and started asking the question. This led to this fine selection of autocompletes:

DuckDuckGo autocompletes for 'why is australia'.
Related queries: why is there France? Why is there Spain? And why am I here and why is there rain?
  • why is australia called the land down under
  • why is australia called oz
  • why is australia a continent
  • why is australia in eurovision 2015
  • why is australia not an island
  • why is australia dangerous
  • why is australia so expensive
  • why is australian dollar falling

I appreciate the joy of that sixth one particularly. Anyway, it seems that Australia was in Eurovision 2015 because everyone involved thought that would be nice. And then they were brought back in 2016 because everyone figured that worked out so well last time why not do it again? There are much worse reasons for everything everybody does.

My love mentioned getting the Eurovision question as an autocomplete after just entering “why is au” on Google. So I thought to try it on DuckDuckGo and while Eurovision didn’t turn up, “why is autonomy important” did. This suggests DuckDuckGo’s user base is much more likely than Google’s to be a bunch of Intro to Philosophy students cramming the night before finals.

DuckDuckGo autocompletes for 'why is au'.
I never heard of Austin and Ally so at least I’m not broken up over its ending. I had expected “Au the symbol for gold” to be on the list.

Also there’s people who had to look up why Australia would be called Oz, because apparently they’ve never said the word “Australia” aloud in their lives? I don’t know either.

Statistics Saturday: Word Counts Of _The New Scooby-Doo Movies_ Episode Titles


Word Appearances
a 1
affair 1
and 1
Baron 1
Bigfoot 1
candy 1
Caped 1
caper 1
carnival 1
coming 1
country 1
creep 1
Crusader 1
deep 1
dinner 1
Doo 1
Duncan’s 1
dynamic 1
exterminator 1
factory 1
fog 1
fracas 1
Frickert 1
from 1
ghastly 1
ghost 3
ghostly 1
good 1
guess 1
Hagglethorn 1
hall 2
haunted 5
horseman 1
Hyde 1
in 1
is 2
island 2
Jekyll 1
Knott 1
loch 1
medium 1
mess 1
missing 1
music 1
mystery 2
Ness 1
of 7
Persia 1
phantom 1
rare 1
red 1
Sandy 1
Scooby 1
secret 1
shark 1
show 1
showboat 1
spirited 1
spooked 1
spooky 1
sports 1
the 22
to 1
town 1
Wednesday 1
weird 1
who’s 1
winds 1
Winona 1

Most surprising point: while Hyde appeared in episode titles for both Scooby-Doo Where Are You and The New Scooby-Doo Movies Jekyll does not.

The Most Wonderful Sentences In Wikipedia’s Entry About The Red Imported Fire Ant


This is regarding the species Solenopsis invicta:

The specific epithet of the red imported fire ant, invicta, is Latin for “invincible” and “unconquered”. This derives from the phase Roma invicta (“unconquered Rome”), used as an inspirational quote until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. This symbolic statement was printed on minted coins.

Only fair to stop using “Roma invicta” after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. I mean, yeah, there’s that whole other part of the Empire to consider but who does that? Not us from the west. Still, that’s got me thinking. There must have been someone who was carving “Roma invicta” into something — a brass pin, a building stone, something — just when the news of Rome being conquered came in. What’d the person do? I suppose edit things over to “Roma invicta for the most part” or “Roma invicta-ish” or, if the news came early on, “Roma pretty darned near invicta all things considered”. Anyway I don’t know why the coins come into play given we were talking about ants. And we were talking about ants because I heard the phrase “economically important ants” and wondered what that would be. It sounds like ants that are major supporters of microlending operations or something. There’s somehow still things I don’t understand about ants despite reading several paragraphs and skimming the rest of an article about one kind of them.

Once Again InfoWorld Leaves The Real Story Untold


I am on a daily mailing list of information-technology-related news references for a good reason which I do not know. I don’t know when I signed up for it or why. But it’s interesting just often enough I don’t feel like unsubscribing. For example, here’s something from yesterday’s mailing. It’s a real page-turner of an article about plans for more frequent but smaller updates to the official Javascript standards. That’s the computer language that makes it possible for every web page to take forever to load, and then stuff grows and shrinks when you’re just trying to read a freaking paragraph already. Also it lets people argue whether Javascript is properly speaking a language right before you stop talking to them forever. I was just amazed to learn there were standards for Javascript. I had never suspected it followed any rules. But according to the end of Paul Krill’s article:

Sometimes, a feature can get a thumbs-up for inclusion and then be cast aside. This happened with object.observe, for observation of changes to objects. It had been planned for inclusion this year but was withdrawn due to a change in the technical circumstances around it.

(I should explain for non-programmers what they mean by objects here. They mean “objects” in the computer sense. It’s not anything like a real-world object, such as the “buttery cream spread” that fast food places give you to smear on a potato or a biscuit. A computer programming “object” is an imaginary thingy that programs can make do stuff or have properties. Whereas “buttery cream spread” is just a promise that this is a thing with mass and color and a kind-of-definite shape, which you can place into your mouth and consume if you think that’s going to make you any happier. To computer programmers this would be an “interface”, which is a kind of object that is even more imaginary.)

And Krill just leaves that point there, as if it were enough. What change in “technical circumstances” could have removed the need for an object-change-observation feature? For that matter, what’s a “technical circumstance”? More to the point, what isn’t a “technical circumstance”? I suppose it wouldn’t be a “technical circumstance” if they were all set for the object-change-observation procedure announcement and then they couldn’t get on stage because an offended cow blocked the hallway. That would be more of a “natural correction”, of the problem that they couldn’t just go down the hallway? No, not if the cow was offended enough to chase after them. But I bet the cow would be offended about how the feature was supposed to be implemented, so there we go right back to a “technical circumstance”.

I bet the “technical circumstances” excuse was a cover. And that it all goes back to announcing the feature. I figure it was like when you decide you’re going to give your book report presentation by bringing in a cute puppet and having it describe the book from the perspective of a cow that witnessed most of the story. And then you run into the “technical problem” that the day of the presentation you get Doing Something Novel Stage Fright. That’s like normal stage fright, plus you’re scared everyone will laugh at you forever. And even though everybody would love you for doing the only non-boring presentation ever you chicken out.

So you abandon the puppet at the last minute. And forget that you wrote your script in character. So you have to stagger on reading it with one or two lines done in kind of a funny-ish voice when you kind of remember the gimmick. So you just feel terrible all through it and for weeks after, and everybody else is bored except when they’re confused. I bet this is what happened to the object.observe Javascript feature change proposal. They were all set to add this thing that I guess would have helped somebody with their objects that need observation and they got scared. “Technical circumstances” indeed.

But what puppet would they have planned to read about a Javascript object method feature change? My guess: the Folkmanis hand ostrich. He’s totally got the right body type for it, what with having a great beak that flaps around well and having wings you can slip a hand into for that Muppet-scratching-the-chin thoughtful effect. It would’ve been great if they hadn’t got scared.

I hope this answers all questions you had about why there isn’t a standardized method for the observation of changes in Javascript objects. You’re welcome.

Don’t Know How I’m Supposed To Live Like This


But the Star Trek web forum I keep prowling around has been down for “some backups” for the past fifteen hours. I’m sane, still, but it’s tough going. How am I supposed to carry on without cracking jokes about how even the guy who played the helmsman on Star Trek: Enterprise doesn’t remember the helmsman on Star Trek: Enterprise? Or telling fans of Deep Space Nine that nobody cares how its first two seasons were better than Next Generation‘s, they were still boring? It’s important to my identity that I pass my spare time being all cranky about a bunch of TV shows I insist I like. But I’ve got some very important thoughts about whether the Genesis Torpedo could even in principle reshape a star and they have to be shared with people who are wrong.

Starry-Eyed Punching


First, I did another comic strips thing on my mathematics blog. Yes, there’s Jumble in it, don’t worry.

Now, something I realized recently about the mirror-universe episode of the original Star Trek. You know, it’s the one everybody does evil-twin universe episodes about. It’s a subtle thing. The episode starts with Kirk meeting the leaders of the Planet of the Week, right before it Ion Rains. Later, Kirk in the Mirror-Universe hails the Weekian leader. And it’s a small thing but the Weekian leader’s disheveled, and he’s got black eyes. He’s been roughed up. Presumably, by Mirror-Universe Kirk.

The Weekian leader on the Mirror Viewscreen, where he's looked better.
I know, I couldn’t find a screen capture that made his black eyes more obvious. I might punch my DVD.

It’s one of those little things you can watch the episode a dozen times before noticing. It’s a great little touch showing how brutal the Mirror Universe is.

And then what I finally realized: wait, so the Empire is diddling around sending starships all over the Mirror Galaxy to non-compliant planets so Mirror Kirk can beam down and punch people until they behave? That seems like a poor use of resources. But then I also realized: that’s pretty much what the Federation and the good-universe Star Trek is about too. It’s mostly Kirk punching the Weekian leaders until they stop screwing up their planets. The Good Universe Kirk is mostly fighting for the dignity of individuals, but that does come down to a lot of fist fights.

They did other kinds of episodes, so it’s not like I’m saying the show should be renamed Space Punching. But I have got to re-watch the show with this insight in mind.

When The Sauces Run Dry


There’s this burrito place. We don’t go there often, maybe once a year. They had a selection of fourteen kinds of sauce, ranging from “hot enough that it cannot be held in the bottle that contains it” down to “is not quite so spicy as cake frosting”. Last year there were “retired” stickers over two of the bottles. This weekend there were “retired” stickers over three of them. Apparently they don’t get much new selectable-sauce signage in.

Also, what of the future? Will there come a time they run out of all their sauces, perhaps one at a time, perhaps in clusters? Will they look at the day they’re down to their last sauce and ponder how long they have before they must turn the lights out, lock the door, unlock the door so they can get outside, lock the door again, and walk out never to set foot in the strip mall again? Or will they manage a desperate last-minute campaign, striking out to find new viscous fluids that can be dropped on top of food? Keep sending people to the drive-through at Skyline Chili and asking for extra hot sauce until they’re caught? Will they strike out to the Tim Horton’s and come back with barrels full of maple syrup, producing a burrito that’s disastrously bad but in a way that sounds kind of interesting, really?

I don’t know. Based on past trends we’ll find out perhaps as early as the year 2026 so watch this space!

Statistics Saturday Bonus: The Days Of The Week In Alphabetical Order in Afrikaans


Because the months of the year were a little disappointing. This feels a little more like they’re trying.

  1. Dinsdag
  2. Donderdag
  3. Maandag
  4. Saterdag
  5. Sondag
  6. Vrydag
  7. Woensdag

I think my favorite is Maandag, but that’s just because I remember his adventures trying to tear up the ersatz X-Men team Psi-Force in Marvel’s short-lived and completely unloved New Universe line of comics. His most vicious attack was to remind the team they were in the New Universe and would probably never get promoted to the real comic book industry. But really, Maandag! Half-maan, half-dag! He’s unstoppable, unless someone tries. Aren’t we all?

Statistics Saturday: The Months Of The Year In Alphabetical Order In Afrikaans


Because someone, somewhere, requested it, I guess!

  1. April
  2. Augustus
  3. Desember
  4. Februarie
  5. Januarie
  6. Julie
  7. Junie
  8. Maart
  9. Mei
  10. November
  11. Oktober
  12. September

I kind of feel like Afrikaans isn’t trying very hard to make the months of the year its own.

Pretty Well Pictured


Oh yeah, comic strips on the mathematics blog if you missed that.

As will happen I got to wondering about the Sears Portrait Studio. Like, does it still exist? Does Sears? There’s a free-standing Sears store nearby that I assume is still open because every time I drive past I feel vaguely sad, but do they take photographs? So I looked up SearsPortraits.com and I couldn’t tell whether I was using it wrong. I can’t seem to get my web browser (Safari, because I’m on a Mac is why) to turn up any location at all other than the Cross Country Shopping Center, in Yonkers, at “Rte 87(ny ST) & Cross CT Pkwy”. That first would be what humans call I-87, or actually the Thruway.

Maybe it’s some web browser glitch. Their “Now Hiring” page lists two jobs, Studio General Manager and Sales Associates, and doesn’t list any way to fill in an application. They must need more than two people, right? At least they need someone to make their web browser work with Safari?

But I kept looking. And I found Sears Portrait Studio hours for someplace called The Florida Mall, in Orlando. It’s not listed as one of their Featured Stores. But what is listed?

Featured Stores: Macy's, Zara, Michael Kors, American Girl (R), M and M's World, Apple Computer, Disney Store, The, Crayola Experience, Carlos Bakery.
The Florida Mall has one of those annoying directories where it spins a little loading wheel to dynamically load a page of all its stores and icons, rather than just having, like, a flat page that gets updated the once a month that somebody new comes in or closes up. Just saying. How can the American Girl store be rated R and yet their Sunglass Hut isn’t rated NC-17?

The The Store? I love that place! It’s certainly a place to be! And it’s the spot to buy the most popular articles! Well, one of the two or maybe three out there, at least.

Also it turns out Sears Portrait Studio Canada is alert and active and watching Twitter to see if anyone doesn’t believe in them anymore so, you know, watch what you say. I do want to make it clear to them: I believe Sears Portrait Studio Canada exists and apologize for giving any offense wherever I might have.

From The April 2016 Scraps File


Bits from my scrap file that I couldn’t use in April 2016. Free to good home. No pedigree available on metaphors. Papers available upon request but don’t ask me to whom.

When I say it makes my hair look “good”, I mean it looks good enough for me. By “enough” I mean there’s room for obvious improvement. By “improvement” I mean a general bettering-ness of things. By “me” I mean the same old person I meant last time, only a little older. — Cut because I could swear it’s a Robert Benchley thing and while I would get away with it, I would know. And by “know” I mean “know”. By “I” I mean “me”, but in a different case.

seeming like it might be — Man, again I have this cropping up everywhere. I’m not even trying to write it, it just appears.

And then the label on the pumpkin can says “Good to connect! Visit us at LibbysPumpkin.com”. — Cut from the pumpkin can label because E M Forster rose from his grave to warn me that this was not even in the slightest what he meant. “It’s a can of pumpkin innards,” he said, “What could you possibly have to talk to anyone about that? There is no elaboration possible! Pumpkin innards are a complete explanation of themselves!” On hearing this, the ghosts of René Magritte and Alfred Korzybski got a heated quarrel going about whether a pumpkin was a sufficient representation of a pumpkin. They’ve been going at this since last Saturday and I would say I’m sorry to have got the whole thing started. Except that as a side effect Forster and the ghost of Marshall McLuhan have been watching my Arrested Development DVDs. You wouldn’t think that’s the kind of show someone could riff on, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. They don’t, not exactly. But their commenting’s got pretty sharp stuff anyway. Also the ghost of Korzybski has been in the dining room giving those “I’ve got my eyes on you” fingers to our picture of Immanuel Kant.

Nutmeg was supposedly so powerful it could bring things back to life, which makes it weird they’d use it to cover the taste of rotted meat. Would you want a slab of rotten mutton or whatever they ate in the 16th century coming back to life? But I understand scholars don’t believe Europeans were covering the taste of rotted meat anymore anyway. That makes more sense to me. Spices needed years to get from the East Indies to, say, Sheffield. Animals were right there. It’s much more plausible if Europeans used fresh meat to cover up the taste of rotted spices. — Cut from that time-in-New-Jersey essay because I’m not sure where I got that bit about nutmeg curing death. I’m pretty sure I read it in Giles Milton’s Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Something Something Or Other Something Spice That I Just Bet You Changed The World but I don’t know where my copy is. And maybe Giles was having a little giggle with us all. If anyone knows him please ask and let’s find out. Also I really thought that time-in-New-Jersey post would get more interest from the standards-enthusiast community here. Go figure.

But then a fantastic arrogance has always been your truest métier. — Cut from that letter I’m still working on to that estranged friend because I am getting to wonder what exactly I ever got out of that friendship.

Ghostbusters became a thoroughly enjoyed icon of pop culture despite the warning that it was a years-in-development labor of love by Dan Aykroyd. — Snipped when I remembered there are already plenty of opinions about Ghostbusters on the Internet and that doesn’t mean I have to have one too.

Cartoon Characters That Have Been Caught In Giant Snowballs Rolling Down Mountains. — Cut from a potential Statistics Saturday post when I realized I couldn’t name all that many. There’s ThunderCat Lion-O, of course. Also Betty Boop. But after that? I would guess it’s happened to Bugs Bunny. And probably on Hanna-Barbera’s 1960s series Character Who’s Got One Catchphrase And A Bow Tie And That Will Have To Do For 17 Episodes. I guess Breezly and Sneezly. But that’s not a list. That’s a partially baked idea and there’s no sign that the Magritte-Korzybski quarrel will heat it well enough to finish.

This Still Seems Like The Hard Way Somehow


So the United Kingdom’s astronaut Tim Peake, currently on the International Space Station (I trust; has anyone checked today? Could you double-check just in case?) recently used a remote-control device to drive a little robot car around a sandpit near London. And he succeeded, too, despite a couple of software glitches. It does seem like sending some from the United Kingdom all the way to space in order to drive a remote-control car in a sandpit near London is going awfully out of the way to get stuff done. But you do have to understand that it’s for good reason: it was to advance the cause of space stuff. Yes, that’s the purpose of all space stuff, but still, it’s nice to see done. Really, the only baffling thing is that it was a remote-control car and not a frighteningly elaborate model train set. Maybe they’re getting around to that.

And It Was Just A Flyer For Cheap Tires Anyway


So we forgot to check the mail, and left it in the surprisingly leaky mailbox while something like 400 feet of rain came down in some rain-like process. We’ve had that kind of spring. And yet somehow the mail remained dry enough that NASA wanted to research it for possible Martian bacteria. Unfortunately, they told us of this interest in a letter they sent the next week, where it was out in a mild drizzle for four minutes between the time it was delivered and the time there was a convenient break in The Price Is Right so I could get it. And in that time the letter was dissolved into postage soup. Ah well. I don’t know who on Mars would even be writing us in the first place. Maybe that would’ve been one the things NASA studied.

Statistics Saturday For April And How That Went


So, yes, I need to find a new weak comic strip to pick on. The humor blog readership continues to recede. Part of that I blame on my mathematics blog. I spent a lot of time the past two months focusing on its A To Z glossary project and that required a lot of writing. I didn’t tend things around here as much as I might have.

Here’s the sorry numbers. There were 1,043 page views here last month, down from March’s 1,107 and February’s Also 1,107. If you look at it as views per day, that’s still less than March. But it’s not so noticeably less than March. The number of unique visitors dropped more noticeably: 583 in April, down from March’s 632 and February’s 629.

I’m a bit more likable, though. There were 213 ‘likes’ clicked in April. That’s up from March’s 201 and February’s 178, but it’s still down relative to the height of the Apartment 3-Gocalypse. Comments were also up, to 50 from March’s 36. But that’s just to about February’s 52.

The most popular stuff the past month was, as usual, mostly little stuff I dashed off. In the top five were:

My favorite piece for the month — to write, and also what I think was my best — was When Do I Get To Sing _My Way_?, a brilliant expose of karaoke night culture and that was just my eleventh-most-popular thing of the month. Although that is out of 184 different things people looked at, so that’s not too bad. And I don’t know how many people read it as the item that was on the front page of my blog; all those readers get jumbled together.

I confess, I have enough childhood fantasies of being a humor columnist that I think of my long-form weekly things, usually 700 to 800 words and posted Thursday night/Friday morning, as the real meat here. But maybe there’s something connecting far better with the short little 200-to-300-word bits that make up the rest of the week. Maybe the medium works better the more spontaneous it feels. Or maybe I just do.

To the ever-popular listings of countries. The United States, 698. The Canada, 51. The Germany, 47. The United Kingdom, 32. That’s a fair number of page viewers. India had 22 for me. I had five from Guadaloupe; I don’t remember seeing any from there before.

Single-reader countries for April were Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong SAR China, Hungary, Jamaica, Lithuania, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Venezuela. Bulgaria and Turkey are the only countries there last month too, and nobody’s on a three-month streak.

There’s not a lot of interesting stuff in search terms that brought people here. But here’s some:

  • vic and sade (Good, glad to see that.)
  • paul rhymer writer (See above.)
  • betty boos boyfriend cartoon (Yeah, ‘boos’. She had some boyfriends but who caes about any of them?)
  • months of the year in alphabetical order in afrikaans (I … might use this for Statistics Saturday sometime.)
  • obsess and picturing after cheating (I don’t know.)
  • semalt expert (I even more don’t know.)
  • kangaroo’s folding wooden chess set with magnet closure (I love the idea but I don’t know so much harder with this than I didn’t know what was going on before.)
  • world end 2016 yes or no (I vote no; I’ve got some projects I’m still working on.)

The month starts out with 34,691 page views total so it still hasn’t overtaken my mathematics blog there. It has got 17,874 distinct viewers recorded and that does top my mathematics blog. WordPress claims there are 652 WordPress.com followers, up from 647 at the start of April, and I’ll try not to think what it means that it tells me seven people started following in April.

But there is the follow-me-on-WordPress button, in the upper-left corner of each page. If you wanted to do that and haven’t already, please, give it a try. It might work.

And Then I Lost My Chain Of Thought


All was well enough, and then New Scientist delivered this one:

'Wireless signal sent through meat fast enough to watch Netflix'
New Scientist article about wireless signals transmitted through meat.

And who can avoid the questions that raises? First one answered: it was the signal moving fast enough, not the meat. There is no particular limitation on Netflix wireless streaming that depends on how fast chunks of meat travel. And the people who did this worked up a reason to do this that sounds respectable, as if “rewatch Animaniacs with signals blasted through lumps of ground chuck” wasn’t enough reason. But the article just says it was fast enough to watch Netflix and doesn’t say what, if anything, anybody was watching through meat. Also, Animaniacs is a lot worse than you remember it being. You’d be shocked and a bit sad. Those jokes you thought were clever, smart things for adults that kids would never understand? They’re all “Wakko or Dot drags a celebrity on-screen for a second because something reminiscent of what the person’s celebrated for was mentioned, and the celebrity looks confused and blinks”. That’s it, all of them. Don’t go rewatching. Sorry.

Oh yeah, also, I did some more comic strips on my mathematics blog. It includes a Jumble puzzle. Jumble is about like you remember it being, so some things you can depend on yet.