Statistics Saturday: Fake Charts By Type


Chart types: Pie Charts, Line Graphs, Bar Graphs, Pictographs, Spiral Graphs, Flowcharts, and Stem-and-Leaf Plots which ARE TOO a thing for real. But barely real.
Spiral charts are the ones that are really pie charts except the radius gets bigger or smaller for some reason and I don’t know but Florence Nightingale used this to explain to Parliament that people kept dying in the Crimean War because nobody was trying “medicine” and “sanitation” on people who were shot and Parliament could understand that subtle concept better if it was pictures. We’ve come so far since then.

Not included: maps where someone made the hilarious political joke of showing the last election’s results exactly match the results of where supervillain Lord Destrostecles rampaged through with his Stupid Ray last year. But we appreciate their contributions to things that aren’t really comedy or satire or commentary or anything besides an argument on social media.

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Not A Put On


I understand the metaphorical value in talking about someone putting their pants on one leg at a time. I’m just not into that myself. I know how people work. If you put on pants one leg at a time they’re most often going to prefer one leg or the other. And that means there’s going to be one leg that gets pants put on first way more than the other leg does. The imbalance! No. No, can not have that and that’s why I say pants should be put on by sitting on some convenient surface and drawing them both up together at the same time. It’s the only rational way.

Thank you. This has been a message meant to surprise absolutely nobody who has ever met me, ever.

Still not reading about the history of socks.

What Constellation Am I Looking At?


Part One Of An Experiment.

It’s natural to wonder what the heck you’re looking at in the sky. The sky’s there nearly all the time, after all, and most of it isn’t clearly annotated. We’ve divided the sky into … uhm … I want to say 86 constellations. I know at one time there were the same number of constellations as there were counties in Ohio at one time. And I know there are … not 84 counties in Ohio. Does 86 sound right? It’s not. It seems like a lot of counties to have.

Most of the constellations we can’t see anymore because they’re in the wrong hemisphere or they’re some screwy thing they came up with in the Age of Discovery, when Europeans looked up for the first time in four hundred years and noticed stars. So there’s a bunch of constellations representing what was important to them at the time and that nobody cares about anymore, like the Equatorial Fardel and the Southern Bill Of Exchange. We can’t see most of them anymore, since we left the lights on. So I’m just going to talk about the constellations we can see. Also they keep finding new counties in Ohio, owing to bad surveying in 1794.

First, you have to go see some constellations. That involves looking at the sky. Is it mostly blue or grey with one giant star it’s hard to look at? Maybe with like a half a white part-circle? It’s daytime. Those are the sun and the moon. They’re not part of any constellations, owing to a fantastically heated and complicated yet somehow boring quarrel they had online with Vega and the Lesser Magellanic Cluster. Those are other things you will not see. Try again, this time at night.

OK. So go look at the sky and let’s work out what you see. Does the thing you’re seeing look like anything at all, or is it just a big sloppy mess of stars? If it’s just a big sloppy mess of stars then you’re looking at Hydra, the hydra, named by someone who wasn’t trying hard. Hydra occupies about four-fifths of the night sky because it turns out to be quite hungry and none of the other constellations have any idea how to handle this besides “let’s run at it and hope we choke one of its many, many throats!” Remember, the night sky is not that bright.

So let’s suppose the thing you’re looking at looks like something. Does it look like a person? Let’s suppose it does. Is it Orion? If it is Orion, then you’re looking at Orion. If it looks like a person and it isn’t Orion, then it’s Hercules. Yell at it for not dealing with Hydra already. I don’t know what his problem is. There were some great sequences in his Disney movie. You can’t say that about every constellation.

So there are things other than people that a constellation can look like. For example, it might look like a real thing that isn’t a person. Is the real thing that it looks like a dipper? If it is then we’re making progress. Is it big? If it’s a big dipper then you’re looking at the Big Dipper. If it’s not so big a dipper then you’re looking at the Little Dipper. They should be pretty close to one another and if they aren’t check to see whether Hercules is trying to stuff a dipper down Hydra’s throat. If he is, again, explain to him that choking isn’t the way to handle a hydra.

More progress. Suppose it looks like some real thing that isn’t a person and isn’t a dipper. Is it a cross? If it is, then check what hemisphere you’re in, which you can do by examining whether your Mercator maps are right-side up. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, then the cross you’re looking at is the Southern Cross, so named by a team that thought the people who named Hydra were trying too hard. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, then you’re looking at Cygnus, the Swan. Cygnus you’ll recognize as not the star of E B White’s classic The Trumpet Of The Swan. There isn’t even a trumpet constellation, I guess. If you’re looking at something that’s a real shape but isn’t a cross then it’s Pegasus.

So now we’re left with a constellation that looks like something but isn’t a real thing. Is it some shape? I can help you there. Does it look like a W? That’s Cassiopeia, ancient queen of spell checkers. If it doesn’t, it’s Cepheus, which you can double-check on by whether it’s grumbling about how Cassiopeia gets to be in the alphabet.

If you’ve got all this way and still don’t know what you’re looking at then say it’s Lyra. That’s a good choice. That’s got a nice constellation-y sound to its name and we can’t see the actual Lyra anymore anyway.

Happy stargazing! This month’s lucky planets are Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and PowerBall Planet Mercury.

Who Was In Town


So there was this bit on Either The Daily Show Or The Nightly Show, I Forget Which last week. They wanted to send some correspondents to The Convention, but didn’t have more than subway fare, so they went to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. There were some conventions going on there but they didn’t want to appear on television for odd comic purpose for whatever reason. That’s fine. But who were they? So I went to the Javits Center convention site and found what recent conventions were there (the link’s contents will mutate in time) and what an amazing mass of prose they offered:

July 17 – 20, 2016

IIA 2016 International Conference

Join us as we celebrate The Institute of Internal Auditors 75th anniversary at the 2016 International Conference. You’ll embark on an educational journey rich with insights for internal auditors at every level. Expand your network with 2,000+ peers from more than 100 countries, deepen your knowledge of internal auditing, and experience the sights and multicultural offerings of New York City as we celebrate “Internal Audit Rising …75 Years of Progress Through Sharing.”

Already I feel the sort of giddy excitement I get from being invited to a LinkedIn group with an interesting name that nobody ever posts to, ever.

Also going on was this set of marketing and menswear:

July 17 – 19, 2016

Vanguards Gallery

MRket developed this area in 2011, launching with a select group of cutting edge menswear brands. Vanguards Gallery has since grown into over 80 booths with two sub-sections: Vanguards Gallery Platinum and MOVE. Michael Macko, former men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue and former fashion director of Details magazine, curates the Gallery as a stylist and menswear consultant and works closely with the brands. Vanguards Gallery is an impactful, trend-driven section of the MRket show. You won’t want to miss it!

While at the same time was ..

July 17 – 19, 2016

MRket

The exclusive show for the menswear industry – a global fashion trade show for discerning menswear brands. Representing the best in classic and contemporary clothing, sportswear, footwear, accessories and outerwear from the US and abroad. We are also very excited to be part of Modern Assembly in Las Vegas– the strategic alliance made up of AccessoriesTheShow, Agenda, Capsule, Liberty, MRket and STITCH.

I hope these rival menswear brand conventions don’t fight each other. Also I choose to believe the latter is a strategic alliance of people dressing up in blue and other-blue garb and rampaging through cities, backing up sewers, reversing street signs, stealing left shoes. That sort of thing. If they’re not I don’t want to know because what else would a strategic menswear alliance even be for? We’re grownups, people.

Why Does Mary Worth Look Different?


[ 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 some idea of what’s happening in the stories as stories and not just how they look.


I know people wonder this, and will find my blog while searching for questions like “why does Mary Worth look different” and “is there a new artist on Mary Worth” and all that. In early May Joe Giella retired from drawing the Sunday editions of Mary Worth, which are mostly a recap of what had gone on the previous week but in fewer panels. I mean “had gone on” in the serial story comic sense, which is not to say that all that much happens, but it is doing better than Apartment 3-G. June Brigman and Roy Brigman began doing the Sunday strips.

Narrator: 'Later, as Iris hurries to class'. Iris thinks, 'I have an exam today ... and another tomorrow! At least I'm ready for today's test! I hope Tommy's all right . The painkillers should help!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of July, 2016. The first daily Mary Worth not drawn by Joe Giella in something like a quarter-century. In the current storyline, Tommy’s girlfriend broke up with him, it happens, the same day he hurt his back lifting a thing. So he’s taking prescription painkillers, which because it’s a story comic, means he’s abusing prescription painkillers. Meanwhile Iris thinks late July is the middle of the college semester and is bouncing between classes. Don’t tell her.

Monday, June Brigman and Roy Brigman took over the daily art as well. Karen Moy’s blog explains that Giella is retiring, after a long career in the syndicated comics. That follows a long career in comic books, too, so I’m sure he’s taking some time to be by himself and roll down hills made up of his money. Moy points out that Giella does plan to still take commissions for painting and other artwork and that he’ll be at conventions, so this is your chance to commission that Mary Worth fanfic you’ve had in mind for years now.

The Drama At The Auto Care Place


So there’s a new message from the auto care place at the corner. It had, when I started paying attention, begun with the faintly despairing “Everything Is Going To Be Alright”. And in the time since then it’s gone to “The Cost Is Zero To Be A Decent Human Being”, then “We Can’t Save Everyone But Everyone Can Save Someone”, and then “Whether You Think You Can Or You Can’t You’re Right”. And now they’ve got a new one up:

Auto care place service sign: 'Mistakes Are Proof That You Are Trying'
Yes, it reads like they’re explaining why they’re still having trouble getting the transmission to shift right on that 2006 Acura, but I’ve only ever had good service from the place. Admittedly what I’ve needed from them is help getting my license plate holder off so I can put on new registration tags because the bolts I use to hold the plate on somehow rust into unremovable chunks every year. I have no explanation for this. They think they’ve got non-rusting bolts for the plate now.

I have to go back to my hypothesis that the message board is having a very slow, very bitter breakup with someone and is now trying to explain how it’s basically got its stuff together even if it’s screwing up on the little things. I worry that it isn’t going well. While it’s ordinarily admirable to admit when you made a mistake, especially one that set off a terrible fight, admitting it comes across rhetorically as the first step to declaring the mistakes don’t matter. It’s hard to own up to fumbling once the emotional shooting has got really going.

So in short, please read some talk about comic strips over on my mathematics blog. Thank you.

Ions On The Prize


Spotted a bit of science news the other day. According to the journal Science Advances some physicists have made the hardest-known metallic substance compatible with living tissue. It should be good for implants because it’s tough having that stuff in the body.

They did it by making an alloy of titanium and gold. That’s exciting. I had not realized materials scientists had been working from our fourth-grade secret lair designs. I’m looking forward to results in laser-giraffe, pizza-wallpaper, and force-field-silverware technology. I admit I added the last to my plans in sixth grade. Other kids might have been more advanced, though.

The researchers say there might be applications in the drilling and sporting goods industries. I’m sure they mean it and aren’t just trying to get free drilling and sporting goods equipment for the mention. They don’t need goltanium that much.

Mostly I’m glad to know there’s still good work being done by our ninja turtle princess scientists. The movie-star pirate astronaut bajillionaires are going to have to work hard to match this accomplishment.

Statistics Saturday: Seven ‘Kabibble Kabaret’ Exchanges That Are Not Actually Jokes


I can’t help it. They’re awful and yet compelling for some reason. I’m sorry, so very sorry. Dates are when the vintage Thimble Theatre reprint with the Kabaret exchange appeared on ComicsKingdom.com which you should totally subscribe to if you like comics at all. The vintage strips alone are worth the price.

  1. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Is music the food of lovers? — Z.V.
    I know a lot of couples that are on a more than eighteen day diet. (17 June)


  2. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Do you know what love is? — T.V.
    No — but I was kicked by a mule once! (24 June)


  3. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Does a jilted lover really die of a broken heart? — L.R.
    I do not care to discuss the movies (5 July)


  4. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Shall I propose marriage to a girl I know only for a week? — T.G.
    If she remembers you, I think it O.K. (7 July)


  5. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Do women like men who ignore them? — L.R.
    You can’t ignore that kind, brother. (8 July)


  6. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    What do you think of husbands who go on vacations without their wives?
    Why, then, think of the husbands (16 July)


  7. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Why do lovers always quarrel? — L.R.
    Can you imagine what they could do with a reason? (21 July)


L.R. has a lot of problems.

(You can nearly correctly suppose everything else parsed as a joke, specifically, “wives they so awful amirite fellas”. Honest. If you were trying to do a bit about hacky, misogynistic comedy of 1930 you wouldn’t imagine boldly enough to get at some of that stuff.)

The Big Picture


I’ve been reading Peter Buse’s The Camera Does The Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography. It’s the kind of pop history I like, full of nice crunchy little facts sprinkled into paragraphs about the cultural context and implications of making pictures easy. And then quotes from old Polaroid sales copy about how they should encourage customers to make friends at the beach by taking pictures of strangers and giving them the prints. I think that’s a fine idea sure to work right up to the point you get punched. But until then it’s going to do great. Granted most stuff works great if you omit the part where you get punched.

Buse also reveals to me that in the 70s Polaroid made a version of its self-developing film big enough to make prints 20 inches by 24 inches big. The camera weighed over 230 pounds. The film rolls were 150 feet long. And I’m a little sad I can’t talk about this without it sounding like a bit. I can imagine a comedy podcast having the inspiration of “really, really big Polaroid camera” and making five minutes of jokes about it. It’s almost certainly The Flop House. You couldn’t just wheel the camera around and take snapshots, you had to make an appointment to use it. See? Literal facts about it sound like some Bob Newhart thing. Ansel Adams took Jimmy Carter’s portrait in office using it. Again, it sounds like I am being all goofy.

So let me reassure you this isn’t a fun bit of whimsy by pointing out, thanks to a friend, the 20 x 24 Studio’s official web site. It’s got explanations of the camera system and why it’s there and what it’s like and also that it’s closing down in 2017 because it’s so hard to get really large Polaroid film stock anymore. And now I will receive your thanks for bringing to your attention this imagination-capturing whimsy alongside the news that it’s even more imminently doomed than most of us area.

Personality: Can Something Be Done About This?


It’s a common longing. You run across a WordPress blog that’s thanking its 10,000th subscriber and its millionth page hit. The blog’s been around almost three months. You look at your own, soldiering on for years now and sometimes getting a comment besides your father saying “it’s great, I wish I understood a word”. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I’ll explain.

I know why some blogs, some performers, some experience providers catch on. It’s personality. We pretend “personality” is something everybody has, but we’re fibbing. What we mean by “personality” is “stuff somebody does that other people wouldn’t choose to do themselves in that position”. It’s easy to form one. Just pick something other people wouldn’t do themselves, and do that. Then keep at it.

For instance, I like my mathematics blog. It’s comfortable writing and sometimes I do something I’m proud of. But I know it’s got this pleasant air of something safely ignorable all over it. If I wanted to change that I could. I’d use squirt mustard to write every equation on bread, and post photographs of that. The end of each post would be me eating this. Suddenly I’d have a blog people found interesting, if only to see when I eat enough mustard bread to regret my life. It would be a quarter of the way into explaining the Fredholm Alternative. I’d leave my readers in suspense about whether the Fredholm Alternative is a real mathematics thing or if I’m writing a 1970s political technothriller about fascist clones with space computo-germs. It’s both. INCLUSIVE OR! IT’S AN INCLUSIVE OR!

I won’t do that. Mustard photographs lousy and it’d be too much work to fix. And that’s part of why having a personality sucks. It’s a lot of effort to keep up. Edwin Land said, “do not do anything that anyone else can do readily”. While he was talking about making consumer cameras he’s right about making personalities too.

Even achieving personality isn’t an unvarnished good. When we say of someone, “he’s got quite the personality” we’re using all our available politeness. We’re trying to not continue, “that he’s using to bring the conversation back to common yet mistaken beliefs about the manufacture of float glass, again”. It’s fascinating, sure, but watching people do stuff we would rather not always is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dressing in a bright green outfit so eye-catching you can be seen through walls — “all part of my Chroma-Key cosplay, my dears”, you absolutely purr — or grabbing live porcupines and zerberting their bellies before they can file a stiff letter of protest. It’s thrilling to be part of such exotic goings-on, by which I mean being the part that watches without affecting it.

We like this sort of thing when we’ve got a safe distance from it and can flee without social penalty. It’s why personality does so well on stage and TV and online and in other places that have comforting, safe borders. When they venture outside those borders we’re dazzled and then disappointed, even if we’re smiling in the selfie they let us take. Too much personality’s a hard thing to take. If you have to deal with it all the time it gets to be kind of a prison.

But it’s a prison having a personality too. Once people know you’re going to react to something a particular way you have to keep doing it. A normal person can hear that chemists have discovered a new kind of industrial-grade blue dye and think anything they want about that. Someone with personality has to fit this news into what everyone expects. Suppose you’re the guy who knows a Yes song for every occasion, including karaoke night and the debut of new Tron movies. You know exactly what everyone you meet will talk to you about, forever. What if you somehow don’t have a Yes song relevant to industrial-grade color dye technologies? You’re doomed, or have to guess maybe They Might Be Giants have something on point. They don’t.

There’s some good news, anyway. If you show personality long enough it sustains itself, without your involvement. I know at least two people with such renowned interests in squirrels that they get every bit of squirrel-related toy, news item, or movie or TV show forwarded to them. Their friends do all the squirrel-appreciation for them. They don’t ever have to think about squirrels the rest of their lives.

So that’s why I’m not complaining about other blogs being way more popular, way faster, than mine. I didn’t even say I felt that. I just said it’s commonly felt. I don’t want to contract personality for that sort of thing. Should I have a personality at all? I don’t know; I’m doing well enough as it is. But then look back to Edwin Land’s advice, and consider the fate of Polaroid. It’s universally beloved and doesn’t really exist. How many of us will ever achieve that much?

To sum up: the concept of “personality” is a good idea, but it needs considerable work before it will be practical.

Shelter CHOO is right out


Sign for Shelter A (below) and Shelter AA (above).
From the Indiana Beach amusement park, in Monticello, Indiana. They’re picnic pavilions, sheltered from the rain. They’re not meant to keep you safe against a tornado or maybe an attack by giant radioactive lizard or something. That’s all.

I never did find Shelter AAA or Shelter AAAAAAUGH! Shelter EEEEK was next to Doctor Frankenstein’s Haunted Castle.

Meanwhile I haven’t mentioned lately how my mathematics blog’s had comic strip posts. Well, here’s one I posted recently. And then here’s another one, if I didn’t mess up the tiny-URL maker.

Some Thoughts Not Keeping Me Awake At Night


I want it clear that I am not being kept awake at night by this thought. I have better things to steal my precious and sorely needed moments of rest from me. But I do have this thought coming. You know how the Voyager spacecraft have some gold-printed records with sounds of Earth, everything from children laughter to greetings from Jimmy Carter to Chuck Berry music, on them? Suppose it is ever picked up by aliens who figure out what the record is and the basics of how to play it. How do we keep them from playing the record backwards?

I know, I know, there’s supposed to be instructions on how to play it that we think aliens clever enough to grab a space probe will be able to work out. But I also know that humans are fantastically sucky at coming up with instructions for things. There’s packages of macaroni and cheese with instructions I find intolerable ambiguities in. Communicating how to set up and play a record to creatures with presumably no understanding of human norms? There’s no chance we’ve gotten that anywhere near right.

And all right, so it won’t be a big problem if a quarter-million years from now some aliens we don’t even know yet hear Chuck Berry backwards. And even if they play the record the right way around we won’t know that they won’t mishear things and come to Earth looking for more Chuck Barris. That’s at least something we get for the bother of being mortals.

Also, you know what? You could use a little Sparks in your life. Enjoy.

Will Style Guide Writers Take Over Michigan?


My love and I went to the Clearly Used To Be An Arthur Treacher’s Fish And Chips a couple blocks away, because a bunch of restaurants that have been around forever closed recently and we didn’t want to miss this one. While reading the newspaper there we got to the summary of recently-introduced state legislature bills, so you know what kind of fun people we are. I remind you, I’m a person who owns multiple pop histories about containerized cargo. But among recently introduced pieces of legislation is Michigan House Bill 5770. If passed, it’ll change some state law references regarding the Department of Community Health to the Vital Records Office. The blockbuster bill would also change “Department of Human Services” references to “Department of Health and Human Services”, reflecting some department mergers and renamings. Also if I’m reading it right they’re changing a reference to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers” to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers”. I think that was put in to see if anybody was reading closely. I was skimming.

I don’t mind the state legislature bowing to the forces of Big Copy Edit like this. Of all the special interests that might have their way in the capitol, the fearsome Blue Pencil Squad is one I’m not so afraid of. Sure, I’d like the roads to get fixed too, but I understand that takes money. This just takes fixing the web site listing state laws.

What gets me is that this bill has seven sponsors. Why? What was the controversy someone was hoping to squelch by showing the bill started with broad support around the state? Is it the bit where the use of “pursuant to” is changed to “under”? I bet it’s that. I know the kinds of people who say “pursuant to” and they will put up a heck of a fight to make other people say it.

I don’t mean to make this a political blog. But put me down in favor of correcting references to government departments in order to reflect the current names or the mergers of agencies into new administrative structures. And I don’t care who I’ve offended by saying this, unless it’s my love or the guy making my fish and chips meal. To them I say I’m sorry and remind them of my deep and long-held moral cowardice. Thank you.

Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end?


Mell Lazarus, cartoonist for Momma and Miss Peach, died about two months ago. And now we know how far ahead of deadline he was able to work, between original strips and reruns. This appeared last Sunday, when I was trying to cover up being away from home with a week of my own reruns:

Characters gathered around Momma's gravestone: 'RIP Sonya Hobbes, 1927 - 2016. I Told You I Was Sick'. Surrounding the gravestone are Cathy and Electra, Jeremy from Zits, Luann, Earl and Mooch from Mutts, Farley from For Better Or For Worse, Snoopy, Billy from The Family Circus, the dad from Baby Blues, the guy and dog from Ballard Street, and Tom Doozie from the Doozies. Plus some Sergio Aragones marginal figures.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 10th of July, 2016. I admit, I laughed, and felt bad about the laugh, which is what you want for this kind of joke. None of the characters are Lazarus’s, which does seem a little odd. The fellow on the far right holding the dog is from Jerry Van Amerongen’s Ballard Street. The very sketchy fellow on the far right is from Tom Gammill’s The Doozies and yes, it’s that Tom Gammill. If you don’t know that Tom Gammill, don’t worry.

I doubt anyone saw that coming. Momma was never a continuity-heavy strip and so there wasn’t any reason to think it would need a finale. I’m impressed that Lazarus or someone working with him had thought to have a closing comic. Also that it’s a perfect capstone for the comic.

It is curious to me none of Lazarus’s characters appears in the strip. For that matter, Cathy, For Better Or For Worse, and Peanuts are in officially announced perpetual reruns, with Schulz even dead for quite some time now. The Family Circus is in unofficially announced perpetual reruns. I don’t know what to make of this set of characters, other than that perhaps they reflect creators Lazarus considered particularly good friends.

Is the comic strip leaving syndication? I haven’t seen any announcement the syndicate means to drop it, although it’s hard to suppose there’ll be any more new strips. But the perpetual-rerun is now a tolerated part of the syndicated comic offering: besides the above-mentioned strips Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy are new only on weekends, and there are many minor strips that are new only on the weekends or not at all. And Momma hadn’t offered a new daily strip since February.

What I gather is that Momma is still being offered to newspapers, but that might reflect Creators Syndicate not having decided what to do after Lazarus’s death. If I hear of anything more I’ll say.

According to posters on the Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, Jok Church’s feature You Can with Beakman and Jax is ending this week. And according to the strip itself Kevin Frank’s Heaven’s Love Thrift Shop is ending at the close of the month. The past twelve months have been a brutal one for syndicated comics and related features.

Statistics Saturday: Eight Statistics Saturday Posts


To close out Me Week, how about some of lists of stuff that I liked?

And because the world is confusing and hurt-y, here’s one more. The Ingredients List For Libby’s 29 oz Can of 100% Pure Pumpkin brings a refreshing calm and sense of place to everything. I hope this helps.

Me Week: How To Write Out Numbers


When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.

How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.

Handwriting And How To Cure It


Handwriting was a once-popular way of committing stuff to a written record. For centuries it ranked just ahead of “chiseled into Stonehenge blocks”. But it was slightly behind “made in dry macaroni glued to construction paper” as an informal record-keeping method. It began falling off in popularity with the rise of personal computers, which having risen up to about arm-height were easier to reach. It was lost entirely in 2013 when the new model Glossy Black Rectangle came out.

But handwriting has been lost before. Nothing got written by hand for the two centuries before Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance began when he got people not to stick their hands out the bus window where they might get lopped off. It also got lost during the Age of Exploration, when it was washed overboard near the Bay of Bengal. And in 1943 handwriting was accidentally left in an unlatched briefcase on the Sixth Avenue El train in New York City. Police and FBI agents were able to recover it, except for the cursive capital Q. The War Production Board immediately issued a “Victory Q”, made of chicory and surplus Z’s. This was extremely popular except how nobody liked it. The prewar Q went back into production in 1954, but old-timers still complain that the new version doesn’t taste anything like the old. What does?

To revive handwriting you need only a few things. Other people can do with more, because they lack self-confidence. First you need a hand. Second you need a write to get written by whoever is in control of the hand. Next you need a writing surface. Third you need a writing implement. You can organize these pieces in any order. The trick comes in the final step. Using the writing surface and writing tool use your hand to write whatever it was that’ll be written at the end. Now that you’ve tried put it aside until you’ve got enough emotional distance to review what might have gone wrong. Here are a couple common handwriting problems:

A big old scribble that turns into the Turner Classic Movies logo.
Figure 1. Actually better than my usual notes. It also made me realize the TCM logo would look a little better if it bowed outward the way Cinerama movie screens did.

Wandering Baseline. In this case there’s no attention given to the lower edges of the letters. They’re allowed to just drift up and down and around and over to the living room to watch Turner Classic Movies’s “Underground” non-classic movies. This can be well-handled by a stronger drum beat. If we hadn’t replaced all drummers with percussion machines. The machines have good rhythm but nothing interesting to write about.

Another big old scribble that turns into a lightning bolt and a 'boom!' and 'Zap!'
Figure 2. Every slinky I’ve ever had, day four. Actually I like how the lightning bolt turns out.

Capital G. Under no circumstance should you attempt to write a cursive G. The last person who knew how to make it has been in hiding since 1998, when she met up with the last person who knew how to make a capital Z. If you need either of these letters you should do as on the right and make a little lightning bolt figure. This will add some vital force to your writing. After coming to life it can stomp around the German countryside. Then it makes its way somehow to the Orkey Islands and the North Pole in a framing narrative everybody forgets about. Most of us will not see such impressive results.

It looks like a bunch of vertical squiggles but there's clearly a + and maybe some kind of 'z' in there.
Figure 3. Baseball lost in the tall weeds.

Kerning. Kerning is the act of making sequences of letters kern. They are best kerned when, in the words of grammar maven E B White, “that’s all they ken kern and kan’t kern no more”. This means something.

It looks like every other Gemini capsule, admittedly.
Figure 4. Gemini IX capsule as photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan during his spacewalk.

Gemini IX. Gene Cernan’s physically demanding 1966 “walk around the world” spacewalk was an ambitious project. It was undertaken without the underwater training experience later flights used. The shortage of handholds and grips made the Manned Maneuvering Unit impossible to test. Furthermore his spacesuit visor kept fogging up. This made for a most frustrating expedition. But it was only the second spacewalk the United States had attempted, and only the world’s third ever. One shouldn’t be surprised by the discovery of operational difficulties.

Bunch of waves that tie onto a dog's foot.
Figure 5. Dog recklessly let outside without a collar and identifying tag on.

Spacing. Here the pleasant, uniform spacing of letters breaks up and descends into a sketch that’s a cute little doggy. This disrupts the flow of writing as the reader will want to toss a ball at it, or maybe just think about dogs instead of the world, for which you can’t blame it. This one handles by adding a little doghouse, so the doggy has somewhere to go while the reader works.

Like before only with a cute little doghouse.
Figure 5A. The dog has a house that itself has satellite TV reception so she’s not doing too badly. Still needs a collar.

This is not all of the common handwriting problems. There are three more of them. If you spot any do send a note to Handwriting Master Command, which accepts text messages. They will be happy to explain how it is all someone else’s fault.

Me Week: What Are Jobs Even About?


One of the essays I’m happiest with was Working Out The World. That’s from May 2015. It was inspired by some of the baffling things we were asked to do as students. And it got into some mulling over what jobs are, and what kids understand jobs are. I grant that in many ways I was a nerdy, oblivious child, but I never really quite understood what grown-ups did all day. A couple tasks I understood but they didn’t seem to quite fill a whole job, much less a career. Decades on, I’m still not really good about it. I don’t think I’m alone, but, maybe other people do.

I think the line about “what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow” is maybe the most Ian Shoalesian thing I’ve written. If it isn’t, it’s only because identifying corporations as the imaginary friends of an adult who had money edged it out. I don’t think I quite manage the transition to the closing paragraph right, but the closing paragraph is where everything falls apart.

Me Week: Stuck in Ancient Greece


I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.

In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.

Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.

And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.

Me Week: What Philosophers Give Me


My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.

Back in September 2013, we got to talking about Pythagoras, who’s renowned for being a cult leader that might have done something in mathematics or philosophy or both. It’s hard to say. But in Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish I was enchanted by something I hadn’t heard about Pythagoras before. Yes, it’s got Olympics content, because of course, Pythagoras. You would.

If that hasn’t satisfied your interest in philosophers, here’s a little pop quiz you can take. No fair cheating!