In A Perfect World


So you live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Maybe it wasn’t you that was embarrassed. Maybe it was someone who reminded me of you. It would help if we could get some name tags or distinctive ribbons or something. Anyway, even in a utopia there’s no getting away from some civic responsibilities. At any moment something like one-eighth of our population is busy introducing the place to an outsider. Are you ready?

Maybe you’re wondering where they come from. The answer is, all over. Some of them are people from before the utopia who got themselves caught in cave-ins, or were put into stasis until medical science found a cure for painting bricks. Some of them are from alternate timelines, like one where Belgian visionary Paul Otlet and his electric telescopes failed to manifest the Mundaneum in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1934. Maybe they’re dreaming, as far as they can tell, and there’s no sense waking them up before you figure out which of us is real. Ooh, maybe they’re aliens, so we can be their aliens, and add this neat little mirror-image chic to things.

Really it doesn’t matter. Any visitor to utopia has some things they just have to know. And they have some expectations. Meet them, and they’ll be happy with the experience. They’ll need to be told they are in a utopia, straight off. Hide that and they’ll never be happy. And they’ll need a couple rounds of origin-shaming so they appreciate how their homes made serious dog’s breakfasts of things. That’s an easy sell because people find it charming to hear “dog’s breakfast” as a metaphor.

They’ll want to have a tour, once they’ve been electro-taught the universal language or just happened to know it anyway. You’ll want to take this on foot. It makes stuff seem bigger. I recommend taking them to one of those middling-size buildings made with that brick cladding that somehow looks like fake bricks even though they’re real bricks. Try to approach from the side that’s the least architectury. Then go into something about how it’s the administrative district’s largest facility for producing psychoneutral brick or self-motivated gelatin or fully interactive quadrophonic squirrels or whatever. To make a convincing presentation remember the important two elements:

  • A bunch of statistics delivered in obscure units. Try saying something like `modules over 20.38 centipoise per millikatal hectosievert’ or `response metrics as sensitive as 12.10 decatur-centidays’ until it sounds kind of normal-ish. `400,000 mease of herring each compline’. `0.2 adrianople-ceston-centiMcClintocks.’ Something like that.
  • A moving sidewalk. You can find some at most airports, many train stations, and the occasional shopping mall.

You’re going to get the occasional visitor who’s looking for social satire. By “social satire” people mean everyone talking about how their enemies were fools and their heroes visionaries. This is tricky to do before you know who their enemies and their heroes were. You can make some wild guesses and if they react with horror say that you were just testing to see if they were ready for the true order of things. You’ll want to practice that with friends before doing it live. Also bring some gift certificates for ice cream or something so you can act like you’re giving a special award for their figuring it out. Some weird flavor, something hard to like. They’re not coming all the way to utopia just to get fudge ripple. They’re looking for something with a bit of freaky to it. In fact, don’t just do this for ice cream. Every day try to find two or three little things to freak up a bit. It’s surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it and it makes their experience so much better. It’s kind of an important rule for life.

If you still can’t get a handle on them, try some patter about how gold and silver make the throw pillows of utopia all the more throw-pillow-ish. Your guests will make what they want out of this, and if they ask you to expand on it pull the old “what does that tell you about us?” routine. You’re not going to believe how well this works.

Sometimes you’re going to get the visitor who’s decided utopia is actually a dystopia. There’s no arguing them out of it. They’re going to figure they’re the only ones who see it, and they have a responsibility to destroy society, which is supposed to somehow help. So you’ll want to have contacts with some local theater group. They should have a bunch of costumes and a couple people who can do improv work as an underground movement. Set them up with something harmless like bubble wands. Tell your visitor these are futuristic pacification weapons so that nobody’ll get unnecessarily hurt while they’re busy destroying society.

Now you’ll need to set up a story where the organizing impulse for all society comes from, oh, whatever. That closed psychoneutral brick factory nobody’s got around to tearing down yet. Send them off to attack it and after all the foam has evaporated — well, you know joy? Not really. Not the kind of joy you’ll see after they figure they’ve gone and obliterated society. It’s pretty sweet, really. After you do go along with this you’re going to have to listen to them blathering a while about how they’ve opened everyone’s eyes and how society is really and truly going to work this time. And some of them can go on forever like this. But whoever said life in utopia was perfect?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose eleven points on word that if everybody was good we might just go to an amusement park for the Fourth of July. Skeptics protest that major holidays are the worst time to go to amusement parks because everybody goes to them then, but they were shut down by that time on the 4th of July that we went to Great Adventure and literally got to walk on to the front row of Kingda Ka, and when does that ever happen?

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Me Week: That Big Rainstorm Back in November


I’m still laughing about the end of the Silver Bells In The City parade last November, when it got really wet all of a sudden. Also I’m still drying out. So I wanted to give people another chance to read about it. Also after that I got to see how the event played on TV, and it wasn’t any less wonderful. Plus, hey, my continuing fascination with how it is that somehow calendars work. It seems to me there’s something weird going on there that someone ought to do something about explaining.

And then, here Writing To Be Read, my observations about ways to tailor one’s writing so that it can achieve popularity. Reading over it I realize how little I do to try to be easily read. Meanwhile two years later An Open Letter To, Really, Every Social Media Ever gets to be one of those social-commentary pieces I read while either chuckling or despairing and I’m not sure which. So you’re sure to love it!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell nineteen points as investors were finally convinced that no, that was legitimately a “Crazy Eddie pees his pants” joke made in Hagar the Horrible last week and didn’t there used to be, like, rules about that or something?

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Me Week: Around Town


Carrying on pointing out old stuff I’ve done: somewhere along the way I learned that I live in an interesting area. I mean, I’m probably the sort of person who can’t help finding the place he lives interesting, because I love looking at things and the harder you pay attention the more you notice how much of it doesn’t quite make sense. But for a while I was cagey about saying just where I was, lest A Chaos Fairy send agents out after me. But eventually I got to see the appeal of using my actual location for stuff.

The first breakthrough? Escape to Lansing,, inspired by a web site the city put together for a trade group sent to South By Southwest. It left me with all sorts of questions like whether other cities have business districts that support the existence of screen doors.

Anyway, Trending In Mid-Michigan continues on that thread, and mixes it with some of the local history that I’ve gotten to learn about. Also a really big piece of coal that might or might not be right by the pet shop with the river of giant koi you can feed. I went on the next week to look at more stuff that isn’t actually in town anymore, or that is a little bit inaccessible because there isn’t really a good street crossing near it.

And, finally, what the heck. Curiosities on the Highway observes some stuff from 70 miles per hour. They raised the speed limit in some areas to 75 now.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

After rising twelve points in brisk market talk traders for the Another Blog, Meanwhile index paused, looked at each other, and asked “what have done?” because, wow, 281? How could it have got up this high from a humble origin at like 100?

281

Me Week: Posts About Doing Stuff


I need another low-impact, low-effort week so I’m going to do another round of posting to some of my older stuff and hoping new readers exist and will give them a try. Also, there’s comic strip stuff on my mathematics blog that maybe you’ll like too.

So. Here’s a piece that was called What You Missed At Karaoke Night until I realized there was a Sparks song that made a better reference. By Sparks I mean the long-running Ron and Russell Mael band. If you haven’t heard Sparks, you should give them a try. This thing started as a Statistics Saturday post and kept growing because it was easier to keep going until it was 700+ words rather than to edit it down.

What You Missed At Open Mike Night follows a similar path, and it’s one I like. A lot of little modest jokes that add up to a satisfying piece.

That feels a little thin overall so let me also put in one of my slightly deeper social-critique pieces. Personality: Can Something Be Done About This? is one of those observational bits that I think is good, but is maybe two rewrites away from being great. Maybe I’ll do that sometime when I need another low-impact week.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose seven points today on rumors that there was some kind of debenture in need of examination or maybe coming due or something and that’s left everyone in a good mood of feeling all financial and whatnot.

269

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? April – June 2017


This report on the recent plot developments of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. is right and fitting for late June, 2017. If it’s a lot past that by the time you read it, things might have moved on. I’ll do my best to have more recent updates near the top of this link. Thanks for being interested, and do enjoy.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

2 April – 25 June 2017.

Last time, you’ll recall, Terry Beaty’s dismantling of the Cult of Sarah Morgan and the showering of untold fortunes on her had nearly completed. She was ready for her first day back at public school, as a mere normal, if amnesiac, student almost completely bereft of the ability to draw horsies. She’s saved from kids teasing her by Edward, the former bully she had publicly shamed on a school tour when she was on exhibit at The Local Art Museum. (Seriously, this is where the strip had been before Beatty took over the writing.) That’s totally how it works when you publicly shame the class bully. They usually become your protectors.

Edward: 'I'm sorry those kids were being such JERKS to you.' Sarah: 'Thanks for scaring them off. I know I'm the NEW kid and all, so some kids won't like me.' 'Don't pay any attention to those mean kids. They're just BULLIES like I used to be -- until you changed my mind.' 'I wish I could remember meeting you, Edward. The accident made me lose a lot of memories -- like a YEAR's worth.' 'Man -- that must be WEIRD!' 'It is. Feels like I was asleep for a LONG time. And woke up to a new house and new baby brother!' 'I'd like to go to sleep and forget my BIG SISTER!' 'What's wrong with your sister?' 'She's meaner than I EVER was! I just try to stay out of her way.' 'That's too bad. Maybe you could come play at my house if you ever need a break from her?' 'That'd be like EVERY DAY. Could I bring my dog?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of April, 2017. Quick show of hands here, people who’ve been bullied: has ‘don’t pay attention to those mean kids’ ever worked for anyone ever? Thought so. Anyway, I do enjoy the bit of kid wonder at the idea of losing a year’s worth of memories. It feels like actual kid responses to something that, as a grownup, would be pretty horrible, if nothing else for how tedious it would be to reset all the passwords you’d changed in the lost year.

With Sarah’s plot safely tucked off in public school, June Morgan decided she’d spent enough time as a stay-at-home mom not doing medicine. She wanted to get back to being the Doctor’s full-time assistant, hanging around the office and not doing medicine just like Doctor Rex. By late May she had leapt back in and everything was fine and dandy. So this all might sound like there’s not a lot soap-operatic happening in this soap-opera strip. Fair enough.

June: 'I thought you were managing the clinic just fine WITHOUT me?' Rex: 'We ARE, but ...' 'Well?' 'Summer and Michell are doing a perfectly fINE job here, it's just that ... well ...' 'OUT with it, Doc. I'm WAITING.' 'I simply MISS YOU being here. I mean, HOW many years have we spent running this clinic? It's just not the SAME without my FAvORITE nurse.' 'Do you have ANY idea how many POINTS you just earned?' 'Said the RIGHT thing, did I?' 'Sure did.' MEANWHILE, in Holly's Dad's collector garage. Niki: 'HOLY COW! When you said your dad collected cars, you weren't KIDDING!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of May, 2017. Never mind the question of whether Rex Morgan ever sees a patient. I like married-person banter, especially when it’s between married people who enjoy each other’s company. Love is one thing, but there’s something special in just liking being near someone.

The drama the past couple months has focused on Sarah’s driver/part-time babysitter, Kelly. While it’s a pretty good afterschool job as these go, her schedule conflicts with her boyfriend Niki’s, who’s a pizza deliverer. He gets a call to Holly, a girl from the arts school, and she kind of likes him, and her dad quite likes him. Holly’s Dad offers him the chance to drive some of his antique cars around town. Holly has to go with, of course, but you understand how wealthy fathers enjoy picking out trustworthy pizza-delivery guys and having them tool around town in their antique cars with their teenaged girls.

Really I’m comfortable with this. Put that way the story sounds like absurd wish-fulfillment. But, you know, the Rex Morgan, M.D. world has been one of basically pleasant people who like other people. And Niki had the in that he drove a vintage Beetle himself kept in respectable shape. I’ll buy the premise.

Where this gets soap-operatic is that this leaves Niki spending his free time driving around town with Holly in a sequence of antique cars. Which gets back to Kelly, who wants to know what her boyfriend is doing driving some other girl from the arts school around instead of her. Niki answers with all the self-awareness of a teenage guy who doesn’t understand why someone would be upset he was driving someone else’s car. So Kelly spent about eighteen months correctly identifying him as an idiot.

Kelly: 'Let's recap. You've been driving HOLLY around in her DAD's vintage cars while I'm BABY-SITTING for the Morgans.' Niki: 'Uh, yeah.' 'And LYING to me about it.' 'Gee, Kelly, I didn't think I was doing anything WRONG by hanging around with Holly.' 'REALLY?' 'Yeah - we're just FRIENDS. Nothing more to it.' 'Then why KEEP it from me?' 'Like I said, I was afraid you'd take it the WRONG WAY and be ANGRY or JEALOUS or something. Like you ARE right now.' 'Niki - if there's NOTHING going on between you two, you shouldn't have been afraid to TELL me. It's you NOT telling me that makes me think there IS something going on here.' 'But there ISN'T, Kelly - there REALLY isn't. It's just that the CARS are so cool.' 'And HOLLY being a PRETTY BLONDE has NOTHING to do with it at all?' 'Well, I GUESS she IS pretty and all, but ... OH, GEEZ, I said the WRONG THING, huh?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of June, 2017. I also appreciate the natural, unforced dumbness of Niki’s situation here. We’ve seen the whole story so we know he never had an unfaithful thought, and possibly never had any thought besides “shiny car”. Also, hey, a millennial who’s interested in cars as objects of particular historic and design and cultural importance; who knew?

Anyway, all seems to be getting better as Niki and Kelly go to the arts school’s production of Large Levi, put on when I guess somehow they couldn’t get the rights to Li’l Abner? I don’t know why Beatty didn’t just use the actual comic-strip-turned-stage-play. Maybe when he first mentioned it he thought he’d need some scene that couldn’t plausibly be in a high school presentation of Li’l Abner. Maybe the Al Capp estate is weird about perfectly appropriate and fair mentions of his intellectual property. I don’t know.

Having met Holly, and her girlfriend Crystal, and getting invited to their game night, Niki gets all smug about how Kelly was silly to be jealous. She points out how he’s an idiot. Fair enough.

And those are all the major plots developed over the past few months. There haven’t been other sidelines. There was some overlap during the transition from Sarah At School to June At Work to the Kelly and Niki show, but nothing too narratively complicated. And most of the time was spent on people screwing up their relationships, the way a soap opera might well. Nothing happened with senile industrialist Milton Avery, nor with Jordan and his housekeeping job. Pioneer comic magazine artist “Horrible” Hank Harwood hasn’t been seen since April.

Next Week: Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker unless something big comes up.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index fell four points after traders noticed the Sirius XM Deep Tracks station playing some crazy obscure Kinks stuff and while they’re always playing the Kinks, I mean, what the heck? This is some stuff that even people who loved Soap Opera never get around to listening to.

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Statistics Saturday: Reuters’ Science Headlines All Jumbled Up


  • Kepler telescope finds tiny Utah human origins
  • Moroccan fossils provides new technique to size up skin, hair in pigs
  • Einstein’s theory making ‘preliminary’ preparations for NASA astronaut corps
  • In major breakthrough, firm for manned lunar mission makes breakthrough
  • China’s quantum satellite regenerates Mars rover scientist, SpaceX engineer
  • China shake up understanding of life-friendly planets
  • 10 more possible stars in secure communications
  • Join

OK, that last one doesn’t make sense but I had the word left over and it seemed like cheating not to use it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped twelve points which was so much of a relief that it jumped back up another six points again, and then slacked off two points since it was so close to the end of the day.

266

The Scene Outside Morton’s Fine Catering As Seen By Someone Who’s Never Successfully Cartwheeled In His Life


Two minivans. At least two families’ worth of kids spilled out into the tiny lot. The adults keep walking back and forth between the cars. The kids are protesting in the way kids brought to a deathly dull adult place will do. One is sitting against a minivan’s rear wheel. Others have taken to doing handstands, even cartwheels. They’re not in danger of cartwheeling into the street. They’re just going back and forth on the sidewalk, or again, between the minivans, while the adults try to shepherd them into the building. I have never been inside it, but I just know it’s a slightly dark room that’s quieter than a noiseless room, decorated with a couple of tables that have those heavy tablecloths you feel bad for spilling stuff on, and while there’s some food the kids are going to be allowed to eat, it’s only one or two things, and it’s something like coconut macaroons that as a child can’t be fit into any known food category. I empathize with every person in this scenario, including the Fine Catering clerk who just wants nobody to cartwheel into anything that that breaks.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

A sharp rise in the morning trading was tempered and partly reversed as news came in about this forest fire raging in Portugal this week, and investors realized they had never known that a country like Portugal could get forest fires, and then felt stupid for having made the casual assumption that somehow it wouldn’t. Is it weird to have just never thought about what kinds of forest Portugal has or doesn’t have, and so to be surprised that it would get forest fires?

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Coming To Senses


It’s natural to ask about being knocked senseless. It would even be good sense, if only that weren’t an impossibly complicated logical problem. About the only resolution is to list important senses ahead of time so if you lose them you will be able to tell, and feel the worse for it.

The sense of taste. Without this, there’s really no way to know whether you like what you’re eating or whether you merely think you do. To test whether you have this you’ll need some calibration. With a trusted friend, or an enemy whose respect for the integrity of knowledge overcomes your differences, swap tongues and test some agreed-upon meal. Take notes! You’ll want to compare them. Under no circumstances start arguing about whether the color that you perceive as blue is the same thing that your friend or enemy perceives as blue. Starting on this path will result in unpleasant questions about whether chocolate tastes like chocolate or whether you merely think there is a taste to chocolate. Those lacking friends or trustworthy enemies can borrow a tongue from the library. It is normally kept in the multi-media section so that patrons will know all of their audiobooks and DVDs have been licked by a qualified tongue.

The sense of scale. There are so many needs for this, and not just if you want to tell whether that’s a naked cobra in front of you. It’s not. It’s a garter snake. You live in Troy, New York, for crying out loud. Be sensible. It’s not like … wait, garter snakes are venomous? Who’s responsible for that? Excuse me, can we talk with the person in charge of reptiles so we can sort out who thought we needed venomous garter snakes? OK, wait, Wikipedia says they don’t produce a lot of venom and they don’t have any good way of delivering it? The heck, garter snakes? If you’re going to be venomous then do it right, and if you’re not going to be venomous don’t go getting us all riled up like that. You’re supposed to be North America’s cute little starter snake so we can look at you and feel a little thrill and then laugh at ourselves for getting scared. What are you doing getting all complicated like that?

The sense of touch. This is an important sense in order that people learn whether their legs are being attacked by a cat hiding underneath the bed. Without this sense who could say whether they were even on a bed, apart from looking at the thing they’re in and reviewing the checklist of important qualities of bed-ness to see if enough of them are satisfied? Yes, exactly. And you thought I was just going on a bunch of nonsense today.

The sense of balance. Without this it’s almost impossible to do a professional job arranging the graphic elements for a newspaper page. While one can carry on, the best one can hope for is pages made competently, without the sense of joy or wonder that truly engages readers. Without attractively-arranged pictures, headlines, and text blocks, people are forced to leave behind the printed newspaper and take up positions in web page design and glaring at the neighbor that’s parked on the wrong side of the road and building dense hedge mazes around what was until hours ago the municipal parking lot.

The sense of scale. Among the other many needs of this you need something to help you avoid stepping onto one and getting the unpleasant news about your weight. You have one. That’s a hard thing to hear about this early in the century, and it won’t be any easier later in the century either.

The sense of smell. Without the ability to notice a curious odor there’s no way to tell that your car is on fire except by the honking and frantic waving of people in the car next to you. This limits your driving to two-lane roads with enough traffic, which can cause you to be late for whatever you needed to do.

The sense of scale. Without the ability to tell which things are nearby and small and which are far away yet large you might accidentally take too large a step for the situation and turn out to be ten floors up on top of the building. This may inconvenience the person you were walking with. It’s different if you were trying to lose the person after finding out what they think food tastes like. You just have to know the context for what you think you’re doing.

The sense of sponge. Without this sense you could be surprised by something moist yet compressible. You can’t go around spritzing objects to then test whether they become more compressible, not without having to answer questions from the unexpectedly damp.

Should any senses be missing you should replace them from the store. Try aisle four, by the dollar toys.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another three points and now everybody’s ready to panic about how they suddenly have what sure seems like a nice thing and how could that happen to people like them and you know it’s honestly kind of exhausting dealing with people like that all the time.

266

In Which I Fix A Non-Broken Business Model


So the shop is called Muffler Man and, OK, that’s not a bad start. It lets you know clearly that at this shop you’ll be dealing with a man of some kind, and that he asserts to have some experience dealing with mufflers. That’s all very good stuff because you can trust a company whose name tells you what it does. The only thing that would improve it is if the name also included a location, like, “Lansing Muffler Man” or “Michigan Avenue Muffler Man”, because companies that tell you where they are usually know what they’re trying to do. When a company removes their geographic designator from the name that’s the first sign they’re going into providing services of some kind instead of doing anything useful. And if the name doesn’t mean anything it means they don’t want to do anything either, and if they are good at anything anymore it’s just inertia. They’ll screw it up as soon as they want to improve analysts’ ideas of their stock value. “Muffler Man”? Safe company to deal with. If if were, say, “Asperience”? Will never do anything that leaves you happy.

Thing is, you hear “Muffler Man”, you can’t help thinking that jingle about “Muffin Man”. So: why don’t they embrace that and start having muffins too? I haven’t had any real problems with my mufflers since I stopped buying $1,000 used cars from guys my dad knows. But if Muffler Man were a place to go and hang out and get something like muffins to eat — and I’m open to things in the greater muffin metropolitan area to eat too, such as cake-type brownies — I’d sure hang out there more than I do now. I bet I could find marginal excuses to have my muffler … looked at or whatever it is car repair people do with mufflers. The possibility is right there; what’s wrong with society that we’re not taking it?

Like I warn, though, this is just about making what’s already perfectly fine a little bit better. Muffler Man is not at all screwed up, as it is. I just think there’s more eating could be naturally associated with the experience is all.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose another sixteen points today in trading that’s just encouraging everybody’s Imposter Syndrome, so it isn’t like anybody is even happy about this.

263

You Know What? I’m Just Going To Amuse Myself Here


I’m busy dealing with a thing at work where something that hasn’t changed in a year-plus and that I didn’t know was being used for anything suddenly stopped working quite right, and looking over the project I can’t figure out how it would ever have been working quite right based on the now not-quite-right scheme. So instead let me share this with you: It’s an Estonian blog dedicated to characterizing all the appearances of pigeons in movies and TV shows. Yes, it includes discussion of the pigeons’ symbolic import and relevance to the plot. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index shot up over 22 points today following a confusing dream in which Rhode Islanders seemed to have some broadly accepted conspiracy theory about how they were fomenting localized heavy storm cells? That doesn’t seem to add up. Rhode Islanders are used to storms, that’s why they’re there.

247

A Good Sign To See


First the routine news: comic strips on my mathematics blog. Plus I make reasons to include images of two of the comics so there’s no extra clicking through links for that. You like that, don’t you?

Now the exciting news. The auto care place that seems like it might be going through a slow-motion breakup announced by its sign board? It’s switched to this.

Auto Surgeon sign: No Act Of Kindness Is Ever Wasted
If that weren’t enough good news: they found a message that doesn’t require an ‘L’ or ‘7’ so they don’t have to use either of them upside-down to represent the other. I’m pretty sure that ‘W’ is a correct ‘W’ and not an upside-down ‘M’, based on how the vertical strokes on the ‘N’ appear.

Have to say, I don’t see how to read this except as a quiet announcement that there’s been some breakthrough in the cold-war-style relationship they’ve been working out. I’m glad. It’s been an awful year, compounding an absolutely brutal year. That an auto care place can have some chance at happiness can maybe be that first little flower proving that life will come again.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point after traders finally got around to listening to the Flophouse Podcast Movie Minute thing where Elliott pitches his Ziggy movie and they’re not sure if they’re more entertained or just awestruck by how he went on for seven and a half minutes possibly without taking a breath.

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What’s Going On In Mary Worth? March – June 2017


Interested in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Sure, who here wouldn’t be? If you’re looking for a recap of the current plot, it’s cruise ships. But in case the cruise ships plot ever ends there might be something more to say. So if you’re reading this much later than June 2017 you’ll want to see my most recent story summary. It’ll be at or near the top of this page. Good luck, meanwhile.

Mary Worth

26 March – 18 June 2017

I mentioned last time the new Mary Worth had lurched into action. Mary Worth had taken Toby’s warnings that they hadn’t been important to a story in ages. Mary Worth decided to make her big story a cruise ship. I had understated then just how much Toby and Mary Worth told each other about how awesome cruise ships were. You know, how they let people with different interests have fun despite travelling together and all that. This had been the focus of like 18 weeks of strips in a row before my last summary. I thought that had all been prologue to make sure no readers questioned why someone might decide to go on a cruise ship as a recreational activity. And I imagined most of you would be willing to take that as read.

Since that time, Mary Worth and Toby have gotten to the cruise ship and been on the cruise ship. A lot. I’m not sure the cruise ship vacation will ever end. I’m not sure it’s capable of ending. This is a cruise ship vacation that my parents and their friend who always went on cruise ship vacations with them might well say was too much cruise ship.

Mary Worth overheard Derek and Katie Hoosier thinking about how this was their first cruise and latched onto them with the resolve and determination of Lieutenant Columbo noticing that Patrick McGoohan is in this episode. But she establishes pretty quick that the Hoosiers are indeed linked in an approved heterosexual monogamous relationship. What possible problem could they have? Well, Derek’s hoping the cruise will help him finally break his smoking habit.

Katie Hoosier: 'I can just imagine us getting LOST as we RUSH from one part of the ship to another to attend events!' Mary Worth: 'The ship is BIG, but if you ever lose your ORIENTATION and don't know if you're facing the FRONT of the ship or the AFT look down at the CARPETING. In the hallways, the FISH PATTERN points to the FRONT of the ship!' Katie: 'THANKS! That'll help FIRST-TIME cruisers like us!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 2nd of April, 2017. I have no idea if this fish-pattern thing is generally true about cruise ships. My only cruise-like experience was an overnight ferry we took once from Amsterdam to Newcastle, England, that was great fun and had soooooo many clearly-labelled vegetarian options in the buffet and then a whole table with nothing but cheeses and crackers and if we weren’t going to Blackpool Pleasure Beach I believe we would still be there, eating. Anyway, I didn’t notice the carpets that I remember and my camera was only barely working after getting soaked in a rainstorm at Efteling amusement park in the Netherlands so I can’t check my pictures.

Mary Worth and Toby talk with each other about how CRUISE SHIPS offer all manner of relaxation and entertainment options, including towel folding, lamb chops, and theater. Derek and Katie go to one of the professional entertainments, a show featuring professional entertainment professional entertainer Esme, who sings and dances and wins the wide-eyed gaze of Derek. And that attention is returned by Esme, who meets him at a secret smoke break. She’s smitten by him, which is understandable. Women with tolerably successful entertainment careers are hard-pressed to ignore starstruck young-adult males who exist and have definite physical properties and are able to set cigarettes on fire.

Derek: 'I SHOULDN'T be here!' Esme: 'WHY NOT? What's WRONG with an INNOCENT cigarette?' Derek: 'I PROMISED someone I'd QUIT.' Esme: 'Promises are made to be BROKEN.' Derek: 'I SUPPOSE. In any case, let me INTRODUCE myself. My name is DEREK.' Esme: 'We spoke BRIEFLY after my performance last night. Glad to know your NAME.' Derek: 'Where are you FROM, Esme?' Esme: 'ARIZONA.' Derek: 'I would have guessed SHANGRI-LA ... or OLYMPUS ... or VENUS!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 7th of May, 2017. The first of a great many smoke breaks Derek and Esme take, making me wonder if there’s maybe some new rule about smoking around the offices of Comic Strip Master Command that Karen Moy and June Brigman are worried about? I don’t know. Anyway, they’re staying very calm considering in the first panel the smoking deck is like sixty feet above water and in the center panel last row it’s like ten feet above the waterline.

So smitten, in fact, that when the CRUISE SHIP stopped in Haiti for a bathroom break, Esme locked Katie Hoosier in the nation’s bathroom. Derek gets all tense and worried about this. Not unreasonably, I should say, and I’m reminded of an anecdote my father tells about their honeymoon whenever he needs my mother to roll her eyes at him, about what turned out unexpectedly to be a pay toilet in Spain. They knew about the Spain part going in. Not so much about the pay part, nor about the attendants making sure users didn’t leave without paying. Mary Worth suggests Derek try checking Haiti’s bathroom, and what do you know but she was right and everyone was silly not to ask her sooner. All return to the CRUISE SHIP, but Derek ponders what kind of world he lives in that innocent American tourists can get locked in foreign bathrooms.

When Derek and Mary free Katie from a locked restroom. Mary Worth: 'WHAT HAPPENED?' Katie: 'When I went IN, the door was PROPPED OPEN, but when I came out of the stall, the door was CLOSED and LOCKED!' Mary: 'Maybe it was a PRANK. It could've been a KID who did it.' Derek: 'We LEFT the States to get some PEACE ... only to get THIS!' Mary: 'The MAIN thing is you're ALL RIGHT!' Katie: 'YES, just a little SHAKEN UP! Let's get back to the SHIP before it LEAVES us BEHIND!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of May, 2017. I am not sure I have ever enjoyed a person’s emotional state more than I have enjoyed Derek’s rage at Katie getting stuck in Haiti’s bathroom.

Derek fumes about this all the way through the CRUISE SHIP’s stops at Jamaica and Cozumel. At least he joins Esme for smoke breaks through all this. The smoke breaks aren’t enough for Esme, who follows Derek to one of the CRUISE SHIP’s piano lounges to give an impromptu concert. Katie catches Derek committing some solo smoking and kicks him out of their cabin if he’s going to be doing that to his lungs. Moments later Katie checks on him and sees that not only is he smoking, but he’s kissing Esme, a woman who is not her. Derek protests that it wasn’t what it looked like. The entertainment professionals on CRUISE SHIP will just naturally pursue and kiss innocent smoking passengers.

Derek: 'My WIFE won't let me BACK in the room tonight.' Esme: 'Stay with ME ... I'm in cabin 1122.' Derek: 'Esme ... you're BEAUTIFUL, TALENTED ... and an INCREDIBLE woman.' Esme: 'Then come to my ROOM tonight! We'll make MAGIC together!' Derek: 'I'm SORRY, but I have to DECLINE ... I think I need to be ALONE right now.' Esme: 'I'M LEAVING THE INVITATION OPEN, DEREK! FOR WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of June, 2017. Go ahead and mock the formalism of Derek’s “I’m SORRY, but I have to DECLINE”. Go ahead and wonder about Esme’s lung capacity if she can shout out “I’M LEAVING THE INVITATION OPEN, DEREK! FOR WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND!” (Remember she’s a professional singer: she’s surely learned a few things about breath control and good projection.) I’m saying, switch to Turner Classic Movies one of those hours they don’t really care what they’re showing, and you could slip this scene into some 1930s play-done-on-film and it could work. The cruise ship would be a canvas backdrop and there’d be none of these fancy non-level camera angles, but you know, I’d watch the rest of it.

Katie is having none of these excuses. Fair enough given that her husband’s been acting like the character in a Jam Handy film whose thoughtless behavior we, the audience, are supposed to discuss amongst ourselves. Plus she got locked in Haiti’s bathroom. It’s going to take a lot to get her to like CRUISE SHIP vacations again. But, then, Mary Worth has barely had anything to do this story except explain to the Hoosiers how CRUISE SHIP carpeting will show you which way is forward and which way is back. And eating things. And going to that towel-folding demonstration. Plus, after all, Katie and Derek are having one actual breach of trust (the smoking thing) and one crazy-but-basically-a-misunderstanding issue (Esme). I bet she has them meddled back into a happy marriage, possibly with children, well before the CRUISE SHIP finishes its tour, if it ever does.

Next week: Terry Beatty’s CRUISE SHIP Rex Morgan, M.D., if all goes well.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose seven points today as someone finally explained how to make a cell phone actually scan a QR code so it does something, although projections are for the market to drop precipitously tomorrow what with how we’ve already forgotten how to do it.

223

Statistics Saturday: Devo’s “Are We Not Men” By Content


This. This is the sort of thing that happens when you let me put on the crazy grab bag of stuff that I call music. I get to listening to the Devo album I bought because I figured I liked that one song so why not? Also, you know, stringing out words into alphabetical order like this produces a bunch of interesting other word blocks. Yes, I am thinking particularly of the one that starts “do evolving from glue go God”. But really isn’t the most startling thing about this the discovery that “Are We Not Men?” is not in fact more than fifty percent of the song? No, it is not. Next week: They Might Be Giants’ “Particle Man” unless I get a better offer or maybe consider Sparks’s “Let The Monkey Drive”. also I know what you’re thinking and that strand is ‘now okay pool our pinheads’. Not ‘poot’.

Pie chart with the words of Devo's song Jocko Homo ('Are We Not Men') in alphabetical order going clockwise around the chart. Most words appear 0 percent of the time because it rounds off, but 'are' is 16% of the song, 'we' 19%, 'not' a mere 9%, 'men' 8%, and 'Devo' or 'D-E-V-O' 11% in total.
The most starting thing about this? Learning that the song is not technically called “Are We Not Men” but rather is a pair of words in the middle of the song where nobody even heard them.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose two points today after investors noticed on reuters.com a commodities listing for some kind of sale of Palladium, which is the sort of thing that it seems like they should be tracking, even though if they’re reading the listing right it didn’t rise or fall or anything and just kind of filled up space.

216

In Which I’m No Good At Creating Supervillains


I was listening to a Flophouse podcast episode that got onto talking about supervillains and how so many supervillains were just making life worse for themselves trying to conquer the world. Why not try selling their super-inventions instead and get rich so their evil will be socially acceptable? And that’s when I realized you could totally make that a supervillain’s backstory. Like, someone invents her army of mind-reading robot soldiers and they try making an honest living on it, and then the companies they sell it to all steal her invention without respecting her patent rights. And then she’s not just got her supervillain science going but also has a logical reason for turning against society and fighting society’s lackey superheroes. And just as I thought I had a great idea for cracking the supervillain motivation problem I realized: I was building a story premise on long-running corporate abuses of patent law. Once again I am reminded of just why everybody kind of had a point treating me like that in middle school. Please forget I said anything and if you can use this idea for your supervillain origin story I will neither sue nor send an army of battle sheep or whatever after you. Promise.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell twelve points as the house down the street that somehow throws out a sofa every two weeks this week threw out a toilet and whatever that signifies it can’t be good for the neighborhood.

214

In The Long Term


It’s about time for some long-range planning, considering how well we’re doing with the short-range stuff. If you don’t agree, come back in about ten minutes and see if it’s time then. I’m thinking of really long term, not like those geology folks who think 1,625 million years is a fair stretch. I want something big.

As you go out long enough, the Sun is going to continue shining. This might sound controversial, but remember that we’ve almost completely amortized the costs of constructing the Sun. All we’re responsible for now is basic maintenance and upkeep. Even if we wanted to replace it with a more modern design it’d hardly be economical. And besides, the contemporary zoning regulations would make it really annoying to build the necessary falsework for a replacement to the Sun.

Now the thing about the Sun shining is that all that light falling down exerts pressure on the ground. Light hasn’t got any mass, being possessed of low self-esteem as a child when it might have formed some. But it does carry momentum, being unable by temperament to say no when asked to carry some momentum somewhere. When the light hits the ground and is absorbed or bounces off it pushes the ground down as surely as hitting it with tennis balls would, only without line judges. This is never a lot of push, but it is there all across the daylight half of the globe, and that adds up to a fair-sized push.

Imagine the Earth to be made of Play-Doh. This is a metaphor: it is actually made of peanut butter. But if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you can lose all focus while you absorb that strange plymer smell. Please try to be productive through that. While enjoying the smell roll the Play-Doh into a ball and then set it down. It will not stay a round ball forever. Even before other people in the house take it to build their own projects, the continual pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but we have that time. There’s probably billions of years of time you haven’t scheduled anything for yet, but still won’t be able to get around to writing that novel you have in mind.

Earth isn’t sitting inactively on a table. This is a good thing as the temptation to hit it with a giant pool cue would be nearly irresistible. Nor is it sitting in a giant chicken nest, again good for everyone who worries about stuff hatching from underneath them. But while the pressure of sunlight is flattening the Earth, the Earth is also rotating. This implies all that sunlight has the same effect of rolling a ball of Play-Doh on the ground: it’s going to roll out into a long, thin pole.

There’s no denying this is a long-term fate, but I warned you about that four hundred words ago. As the rolling effect will continue eventually the Earth with be a pole world. Long enough at this and the Earth will just a few inches wide and enormously long swinging around the solar system like a baton. Imagine the size of the matching cheerleader.

What can we expect life on this Pole World Earth to be like? Narrower, for one. There will be evolutionary pressures towards plants with very shallow roots, which means we may at last be free of those impossible-to-remove lawn weeds. It will be difficult for trees to grow tall, but those which manage will find to their photosynthetic delight that spreading their branches even a couple inches to either side means they get sunlight all day long. Probably that’s good for plants. You can’t imagine them getting worn out from too much sunlight and sneaking off to a corner, exhausted and panting from all that sugar-making.

While burrowing life forms will find life difficult, those which are comfortable living on vines or branches will be in good shape. Two- and three-fingered sloths may find the climate most comfortable except when someone wants to pass.

Humans will need to adjust as well. Those with long experience in grabbing poles, as they may have on buses or subways, will have an advantage, of course. Thus we see in large-city mass transit systems as evolutionary pre-adaptations to the future Pole World Earth. Subtle foreknowledge of this fate and the privileged position city-dwellers will have may account for the smugness often held against the urbanized.

Yet subways will have long since ceased to run by then, probably by the time the world is a pretty long rod only about fifty feet in diameter since trains need more clearance than you would have guessed. Not a lot more, just like another two feet or so more. But that’s still more. Without subways we can expect the economy to be radically different and generally much more cylindrical. Strong but lightweight straps could reasonably be in demand, but on the other hand people may just grow steeper arches in their feet. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index continued to rise as traders discussed how they could adjust their lifestyles to be more like a capybara’s, and word that it involved a lot of staying in comfortably warm pools of water really worked for people.

226

In Which I Am Surprised How Little Time British People Leave Tea Bags In


I’d been reading Marcus du Sautoy’s The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life because I still haven’t decided whether to make an inter-library loan request for Martin Albrow’s Bureaucracy or just to give up on the idea of fun altogether. Or whether I mean David Beetham’s Bureaucracy instead.

Anyway, de Sautoy gets going in a right jaunty chapter about how tea bag shapes were revolutionized in the 1990s when Tetley thought to try “circular” and it was incredibly popular. And PG had to think very hard about a shape not so fusty and old-fashioned as “mostly square I guess”. But the book mentioned part of the design challenge was how long the average British tea-maker left the bag in the hot water. Apparently it’d be as little as twenty seconds, short enough that in the mostly-square-I-guess bags not even all the tea leaves would get wet.

It’s left me stunned. I grew up with the American fashion of making tea, which is to put the bag into the water and leave it there forever. The only reason we ever throw out a mug is because it’s gotten stuffed full of spent tea bags, jammed into a dense mass of compressed diamond-like sourness. But I know that’s extreme. I hadn’t realized that the British way of making tea was so extreme on the other side. It’s left me wondering how tea was ever rationed, back in the day. It seems like even in the heights of wartime and Austerity Britain rationing they could’ve satisfied everyone’s tea tastes by just shipping a cardboard box labelled “tea” with instructions to bump it against the teapot three times before serving.

This is the eternal joy of learning: it makes you realize how little you understand the world.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Investor confidence returned today when traders found a bunch of pictures of capybaras, including a bunch that are all other animals resting on top of capybaras that don’t seem phased by this at all, and now everybody also wants to be a capybara.

215

In Which I Just Have Some Excuses Because It’s Kind Of Warm


I’d totally be on top of writing something that amuses at least me today, but I’m sorry. Given the heat I’ve been dealing with my car melting into a puddle of black-with-red-trim goo. It’s a huge hassle, as you might figure, especially given the prevailing tides. The only things that’ve been making it any easier to deal with are that the winds have been calm, making it easier to put up the foam barriers and squeegee much of the car back into some kind of shape, and that I never threw out that Super Extreme Large foam cup I got at the convenience store on a road trip a couple weeks ago, so that a lot of the backseat just fit naturally into the cup I had formerly thrown into the backseat. Anyway, it’s all very time-consuming and stressful and I’m hoping that it cools down before the rain comes because after the trouble when this happened three years ago I don’t want to have to go through reverse-osmosis on my car again. Thanks for understanding.

Scion tC covered in snow and ice from a late winter storm.
My Scion tC, here, not too warm.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Investors panicked today after reports of — well, anything really. Why aren’t you panicking? Good grief, there was this clickbait ad saying “don’t invest in lithium until you see this” and that’s enough right now. Why would you be investing in lithium to start with? Why would you stop? Why aren’t people talking about this? Or why are they talking about this? Is that picture by it what lithium actually looks like in the wild? And the clickbait below it says the new shampoo is 100% guaranteed to and we don’t even see the rest and that’s enough too!

200

In Which I Am Amused By Fish Lip Research


Before I get to it, here’s my mathematics blog with last week’s comic strips. Thanks.

Now, amusing me is this Reuters article about a kind of fish I never heard of before, the “tubelip wrasse”. It lives in the Indian Ocean and the central-western Pacific, which seems to narrow its existence down to one-eighth of the globe. I suppose that’s enough detail for a news report anyway. It’s not like I was going to go visit them anyway, not without more research. What’s interesting is that it eats corals, which are hard to eat, what with how they’re all coral-y. The secret is in their mouths: they have mouths that let them eat coral, and once you have that, eating coral is easy. Anyway, they have this quote in:

“To our knowledge, this type of lip has never been recorded before,” James Cook University marine biologist David Bellwood said.

It’s a beautiful sentence and I want everyone to take a moment just to admire that. But it’s also a beautiful sentence with this beautiful implication: there’s some record of all the adequately studied lips out there. There are people whose jobs include the task of overseeing and keeping up-to-date some portion of the world’s record of lips. Maybe even someone who oversees all the lip records known to humanity. Suppose there is. Then that is a person who either grew up wanting to be the master of humanity’s record of lips, or else it’s someone whose life went through twists and turns to bring them there. Either way, is anything about this not delightful? No, it is not.

If that were not enough for you, somehow, Víctor Huertas of the James Cook University in Australia offered this detail about the coral-eating process:

“It looks exactly like a quick kiss with a distinctive ‘tuk’ sound,” Huertas said, “often leaving a coral ‘hickie,’ which is actually a patch of flesh sucked off the skeleton.”

Never mind the stuff about flesh ripped off skeletons since that isn’t so jolly as I’d hoped. Think of fish giving hickies to coral and making a little ‘tuk’ sound doing it. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eighteen points today as investors thought it was just too hot to short any contracts, however obviously they’re set to fall. It sounds good for everyone who’s going long but, you know, heat snaps end. Just saying.

221

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? March 2017 – June 2017


Hi, reader. This is my best attempt at explaining what’s been going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail for the last couple months. If for you the last couple months do not include, like, May of 2017 then I might be writing here about a story that’s not going on anymore, if the current story ever ends. Right now it’s not looking promising. But in case the story has ended by the time you read this, try reading this instead, as a more current essay might be among its first links. I hope this helps you find what you’re looking for.

Mark Trail

19 March – 10 June 2017

My last Mark Trail report coincided strangely well with the start of a new adventure. 17-year-periodic guest star Johnny Lone Elk had invited Mark Trail to South Dakota, there to watch the prairie dog census and to find out if there’s some way to get the black-footed ferret to explode a boat. I’m interested in this because as a kid I was deeply impressed by that Peanuts sequence where Snoopy pretended to be a prairie dog. To this day I think of the punch line “prairie dogs are making a comeback” as the sort of appropriately odd not-a-joke thing to be dropped into a conversation and so make it that much needlessly weirder, so once again I’m reminded why everybody treated me like that in middle school. Anyway, this would be the start of a lot of talk about prairie dogs by Mark Trail.

Meanwhile in Rapid City, South Dakota, a local tough has robbed a bank, taken a woman hostage, and spotted in the fresh-arrived Mark Trail just the unwitting getaway driver he wanted. Mark Trail, thinking fast, has enough of an internal monologue to ponder the need to alert some official without betraying what he’s doing to the bank robber. And, to a wonder, he does it without letting the reader in on his plan.

Bank Robber: 'Being a writer must be a pretty lame job these days! I mean, does anybody even read anything anymore?' Mark Trail: 'It has proven to be a good career for me to provide for my family!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of April, 2017. Granting that this is impossible, is there any way that all cinematic portrayals of Mark Trail could be done by Michael Rennie? Because I feel like he’s just perfect for deploying dialogue like “It has proven to be a good career for me to provide for my family!” in the wake of being kidnapped at the rental car counter.

My best guess: he’s figuring to pull a Ransom of Red Chief only instead of being a holy terror, he’s going to drive the bank robber past every possible scene of animals interacting in some way. Am I being unfairly snarky? From the 19th of April through the 28th the strip showed the car driving past a clutch of groundhogs, wolf pups, some falcon-class bird learning that it can’t just pick up a jackrabbit, a herd of sheep, another falcon trying to prey upon the dialogue balloons, a couple rams head-butting one another, and some moose or something. After that the bank robber has enough of this, figures out Mark Trail’s got a tracking device put on the car, and rips that out.

Kidnapped Woman: 'Mark Trail, wow! You know, I read your work! In fact, I just read your latest article online!' Mark Trail: 'Oh yeah? What did you think?' Kidnapped Woman: 'I hate to sound like some of the snarky comments made by people online, but you're no entomologist!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2017. I would like to think this isn’t back-snarking at me for getting tired of the endless volcano explosion on Invasive Ant Island but who knows? Anyway that’s burying the lede, which is: Mark Trail is aware of the existence of snark. This changes everything!

After driving past some buffalo, antelope I guess, and groundhogs looking disapproving at a wolf the bank robber tells Mark Trail what they’re going to do. They’re going to go to Johnny Lone Elk’s, tell him that the bank robber and the kidnapped woman are his new camera crew, and put the stolen money in Mark Trail’s camera bags. Then they’ll all go off together to see these prairie dogs and an abandoned airstrip that Mark Trail exposited about earlier.

Meanwhile the local FBI, looking for the bank robbers, is following the clue that there’s something weird about how Mark Trail rented the car. I admit I have never tried to rent a car while being held at gunpoint by a bank robber, but for the life of me I can’t figure how I’d do something weird with my car rental. I mean weird enough that car rental people would notice. Maybe tell them yes, I’d love the car insurance that’s an extra $75 a day and doesn’t do anything my home insurance doesn’t do anyway.

Johnny Lone Elk's wife: 'I've got a bad feeling about this - that bald guy looks shady!' Johnny: 'That's because you suffer from peladophobia!' Other Guy: 'Ha ha ha!' Mrs Lone Elk: 'That's not entirely true ... I think guys with man buns are creepy too!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of May, 2017. Life goal: hire an acting class to figure some way of staging this conversation that doesn’t come across as some theater of the absurd stuff. And I will record every single run-through and trial and release it as an experimental film that will sweep, I tell you, positively sweep the Capital City Film Festival’s coveted “The Heck Am I Even Watching?” awards.

Mark Trail does his best not to act weird around Johnny and his wife and their handyman Nick Charles. But a stray $100 makes Johnny’s wife suspect there’s some connection to the Rapid City bank robbery, suggesting that she’s not really into this story and hopes to get it to the end as soon as possible. On the trail, Johnny knows something’s wrong and arranges for some dramatic talk about trick riding. Meanwhile a prairie dog tries to evade another swooping hawk, possibly the same one that was getting kicked by a rabbit a couple weeks back.

Mrs Lone Elk: '[ The bank robbery ] might explain Mark's odd behavior - Not coming in the house and leaving with potentially bad weather headed this way!' Other Guy: 'Plus it would explain why Mark left his new camera equipment in his vehicle!' Mrs Lone Elk: 'That's the same thing Sheriff Stober said when i told him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of May, 2017. I love the dirty look being given the cougar by what is either an abnormally skinny raccoon or else a ringtailed cat that doesn’t realize this story is taking place in South Dakota, like five hundred miles from anywhere it has any business being. Maybe he’s taking a vacation or getting in on that prairie dog census.

I know this sounds like a lot. But I gotta say, reading it one day at a time, it feels like the whole story has been waiting for stuff to happen. I expect James Allen is going for suspense in the question of how Mark Trail could possibly have arranged for help in all this, but the lack of specifics, or even hints of specifics, undermines that. I’m hoping that we’re about to see some action that brings this to a clear resolution. I’m also curious how the strip is going to turn into some major natural disaster that teaches us to never go anywhere more wild and untamed than an Apple Store. Well, there was threatened bad weather. That could mean anything.

Sunday Animals Watch

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Bees, 19 March 2017
  • Moose, 26 March 2017
  • Platerodrilus Beetles, 2 April 2017
  • Feather Stars, “Crinoids”, 9 April 2017
  • Dracaena Cinnabari, the “Dragon’s Blood Tree”, 16 April 2017
  • Giraffes, 23 April 2017
  • Male lions, 30 April 2017
  • Parrotfish, 7 March 2017
  • Saiga Antelope, 14 May 2017
  • Alligators, 21 May 2017
  • Black Rhinoceroses, 28 May 2017
  • Sanguinaria Canadensis, “Bloodroot”, 4 June 2017
  • Tornadoes, 11 June 2017

Next Week!

Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Not to say too much about what’s been happening, but: cruise ships!.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders were feeling optimistic and full of pep today as they got like four half-filled loyalty cards at the mediterranean fast-food place merged down into … well, all right, three loyalty cards, but two of them were filled so that’s good for one free lunch today and one free lunch next time if nobody loses the filled card.

203

Statistics Saturday: E.T. Fitted Into The Titles Of The Air Bud Cinematic Universe


  • E.T. The Extraterrestrial
  • E.T. Golden Receiver
  • E.T. World Pup
  • E.T. Seventh Inning Fetch
  • E.T. Spikes Back
  • Air E.T.s
  • Snow E.T.s
  • Space E.T.s
  • Santa E.T.s
  • Spooky E.T.s
  • Treasure E.T.s
  • Super E.T.s
  • The Search For Santa E.T.
  • Santa E.T. 2: The E.T. Pups

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose four points today as traders got caught up on watching Conan O’Brien on the DVR.

198

Betty Boop, the Bum Bandit, and Missing Chances


Had a couple more comic strips over on my mathematics blog, if you like that sort of thing. I do and don’t see why you wouldn’t.

On to my other amusements. I seem to be back in a Betty Boop sort of mood. So here’s another of the early Betty Boop shorts. It’s a Talkartoon originally released the 4th of April, 1931. It’s from before Betty Boop had her name, at least publicly (I don’t know when she was named internally). It’s even introduced as a Bimbo cartoon. It’s got a couple of odd points. (It’s also got one bit of ethnic humor that could’ve been far worse.)

So the first oddity here: Bimbo’s the villain. In most of his appearances he’s your generic faintly pleasant heroic-coward inkblot; here, he’s just outright robbing a train. It’s not a bad look for him, really. It gives him the chance to mess around for a couple minutes with incompetent shooting practice that’s got a bunch of good nonsense logic to it. The sequence also lets him set up as villainous without being too evil to be the protagonist.

Second oddity is Betty Boop. She’s voiced here by Harriet Lee, I think for the only time. There’s nothing faintly boop-oop-a-doop about her voice. And as with Bimbo, Betty’s suddenly got a infusion of personality. At least, she’s got a personality with initiative, taking deliberate action instead of just trying to shape what’s going on to be not so bad. She’s got a good song, too. It’s not hard to imagine an alternate track for Bimbo-and-Betty cartoons with them as openly antagonist partners. It gives the story an inherent shape, a tension that makes the cartoon feel more modern than its contemporaries.

Which makes the end all disappointing. Things are crackling along as best they can for an early-30s short and then the climax just … evaporates. Not really any action, just she grabs him and off they go. It’s a good cartoon, threatening to be great.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose nine points today and then shrank back one for fear of looking “showy”.

194

How To Program (Computers)


The only hard part of programming computers is you’re expected to make a computer program. And even that wouldn’t be so bad except for the expectation the program will work. There’s where programming falls down. Economists say this is from purely rational market motivations, because economists think it’s very important things result from purely rational market motivations and they’d feel awful if they ever found something that didn’t. In just the past month economists have identified purely rational market considerations behind how buses never run from anywhere anyone is to anywhere anyone wants to go, potato chips which resemble celebrities, the way that nobody has correctly identified sarcasm since 1986, the Balmer spectrum of Hafnium, and certain highly educated pebbles.

In this case, the economists have a point, and don’t think they aren’t all smug about it. Imagine you were a computer program that worked. You’d be put to work, likely at impossible times such as 5:15 am, instead of doing what you’d like. What you’d like would be trying to remember old cartoons you’re pretty sure you didn’t make up. To get to do what you want instead, you have to do the stuff you’re expected to do wrong.

And so programs have bugs. For example a program to alphabetize the boroughs of New York City lists “Queens” and then drives the computer off a cliff, causing a steam locomotive in 1908 to explode. This gives the program hours to establish that yes, Gary Coleman was an angel this one cartoon, and is he dead or was that somebody else? It also gives physicists something to argue over, and helps historians. These days the Haymarket Square Riot is understood to have been triggered by beta-testing of Microsoft Access 2016, with the real tragedy being that the upgrades could have been handled in a Service Pack. Also all the death.

Now to practical examples. Begin with a good software development environment. There are none. But there are neat packages which turn words different colors and send code flying all over tab stops. This is soothing to the eye. These development environments adapt their color schemes to the seasons. They’ll show more words in red and green around Christmas, purple and green around Easter, green and green around June, and so on. This way you can easily tell what time of year it is. It is too late in the year.

Let us use as demonstration the famous “Hello world” program, because that never demonstrates anything useful. This can be as simple as a line to the effect of:

System.out.writeln("Hello world");

As your development environment puts “System” in blinking blue and white, celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, you can compile and try running it. If it were to run, the program would justly fear being put to work by economists, therefore, we get a series of errors like:

  • Package ‘System’ cannot be found.
  • Thingy ‘out’ does not exist.
  • File cannot be found.
  • Function ‘writeln’ not defined in this context.
  • ‘System’ is a little fishy too.
  • We changed that ‘l’ to a lowercase ‘one’ to look better.
  • File cannot be written.
  • Not in that context either.
  • File cannot be read.
  • We’re none too sure about this ‘world’ thing either.
  • We’re pretty sure it’s nowhere near Greece’s Independence Day.
  • File cannot be.
  • Don’t think of bringing up that context either, that’s right out.
  • We want to punch an economist.
  • Does Greece even celebrate an Independence Day?
  • “Being” is an Aristotelean property inappropriate to the complex post-Alfred-Korzybski world.
  • “Hello” still feels slangy.
  • Put that context down, you’re getting fingerprints on it.
  • Development environment wants a hug.
  • Not from you.

More advanced environments may also be a little snarky about the alleged grammar of “Hello world”. Just try diagramming that sentence, see where you get. Turn off the prescriptivist settings, which could be found under Edit/Tools/Preferences/Checking/Grammar/Advanced, if you were using a different version of the environment from what you are, and from what every person offering advice on StackOverflow.com has.

Your environment might list what lines raise the objections. If you’ve programmed well enough, these numbers will have nothing to do with where the problems actually are, or with the number system. Go to any line you like, for example number square-root-of-seventy-A, which is blank. Comment out all the blank lines, then the non-blank lines, and soon you will trigger Wat Tyler’s Rebellion. Now step away and sulk until the office closes and that’s your work accomplished. And if you look in your hand you’ll see your card is the six of clubs. Am I not correct?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Investor confidence was badly shaken by a 6:30 am work e-mail reporting that the water was perfectly safe to drink, bringing up previously unsuspected fears of the safety of the water and its drinkability, which is what they get for not leaving the e-mail until the middle of the day or something.

186

Something To Celebrate, But How?


My love was looking for something and so found something else, which is the way it goes half the time. This was a partial box of birthday candles. Nice ones, too: they’re hand-dipped rainbow candles. My love remembers the only store that sold those boxes and so can date their purchase. They must be 21 years old, and have to have survived being moved at least four times before the handful of remaining candles were put in the Scary Closet and forgotten.

Five rainbow-colored hand-dipped Cheerlites ``candles for celebration''.
The box offers no hints about who made it or when, other than that it was “Made In USA”. Nevertheless my love found what looks like the company that made it, and which according to its web site the company started … four years after these candles were bought. We have no explanation for this phenomenon. (Well, maybe their web site meant they started in their current location four years after my love bought these candles. It’s still weird.)

Thing is now we have a problem. What could we ever use these candles for? For that matter, these candles are now over two decades old! At this point we should be throwing a birthday party for the candles, in which case we could make a cupcake and light the candles to celebrate themselves. Sick? Maybe. Also a bit of a busman’s holiday. That could be what really stops us. They’re cute candles, though.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose three points as traders got to arguing about whether pop culture’s fascination with zombies reflects social awareness that Baby Boomers are retiring and often require long-term medical care, placing them effectively outside the “economically productive” bounds of society and making demands on the rest of society that can be read as fitting base, immediate needs. The large number of Baby Boomers represents how zombies in these kinds of story often outnumber, or at least compete with, the number of “living” humans. And any person, even one young and apparently able, can be suddenly strick by accident or trauma that leaves them similarly outside “economically productive” society, joining the “zombies”. Even if they don’t suffer accident, they will eventually by merely living long enough join this post-living set; it’s unavoidable. Anyway, it’s a good, lively debate, suggesting many of the Another Blog, Meanwhile trading floor really missed something not pursuing English degrees. Maybe even Masters’ degrees, because this analysis sure seems like it could be made compelling.

193

Statistics May: How The Last Month Treated My Humor Blog


I’d meant to look at my readership back on Friday but then we got some breaking news about The Phantom in. And then the usual routine stuff filled up scheduled slots and that’s why I’m getting to my monthly readership report a week into the new month.

Well, I didn’t break 2,000 page views last month. Came close, and I thought it was almost sure when I checked a couple days before May ended. But according to WordPress I finished May with 1,944 page views. That’s up from April’s 1,765, and about two busy days below March’s 2,085. I shall be lobbying to extend May to a 33-day month sooner or later. The number of unique viewers was up again, to 1,291. In April it had been 1,099; in March, 1,308. So May was almost as busy as March around here. I can cope with that.

The secular decline in ‘likes’ around here had a temporary pause in May. 167 pages got liked by someone or other, up from April’s 147 and March’s 154. Probably won’t last. Comments, now, those were typically dismal. Only ten comments made around here in May, down from April’s 26 and below even the 12-comment doldrums of March. This does coincide with a useful discovery, though. I switched back to the old style of making links to other posts here, one that generates on the page referred to a link to whatever makes the reference. These get sent to me for approval as comments. They don’t affect the comment totals, though; I certainly had more than ten internal cross-reference links in May. Since using links this way makes it easier for people to find relevant stuff in their archive binges and it doesn’t mess up the comments count I’ll stick to doing that. Still don’t know why WordPress insists I approve links from my blog to my blog, though.

Meanwhile, my conversion of the blog to a full-time report on the story strips is basically complete. The five most popular posts around here in May were:

Well, at least I can be of use to people who want to understand the ongoing Mary Worth plot without having to actually read the comic. (She’s doing the tourist areas of Cozumel Island while the special guest Bland White Guy is sneaking cigarettes behind the cruise ship’s school gym, and that’s about it.) My most popular long-form humor piece is the review of Python Anghelo’s bonkers concept document for the Popeye pinball game from the early 90s. If you haven’t read it, I’d be flattered if you did read my summary, but I really am just painting the lily that is nine pages in which the least daft part is H Ross Perot helping Popeye launch the Glomar Explorer into space. My most popular recent long-form piece was about my new computer and why I needed one.

Well: on to the roster of the nations. Where did my readers come from in May?

Country Views
United States 1495
Canada 63
India 60
United Kingdom 47
Australia 25
South Africa 23
Brazil 21
Germany 18
Romania 17
Sweden 13
New Zealand 12
Denmark 9
Netherlands 8
Poland 8
Austria 7
France 7
Italy 7
Ireland 6
Malaysia 6
Spain 6
Switzerland 6
Russia 5
Singapore 5
Hong Kong SAR China 4
Indonesia 4
Peru 4
Philippines 4
Trinidad & Tobago 4
Ukraine 4
Czech Republic 3
El Salvador 3
Finland 3
Japan 3
Mexico 3
Argentina 2
Bangladesh 2
Belarus 2
Bulgaria 2
Chile 2
Croatia 2
Norway 2
Angola 1
Belgium 1
Cambodia 1
Dominican Republic 1
Estonia 1
Georgia 1
Libya 1
Macedonia 1
Nepal 1
Pakistan 1 (*)
Portugal 1
Serbia 1
Taiwan 1 (**)
Thailand 1
Turkey 1
Venezuela 1
Vietnam 1

Pakistan was a single-reader country last month. Taiwan’s been one for two months. I make out visitors from 58 countries, up from April’s 51 and March’s 55. There were 17 single-reader countries, up from April’s 13 and March’s 14. This seems to suggest middling-readership countries are drying up. I hope they’re all right. Somebody write in they know what’s going on.

WordPress figures I started the month at 54,678 pages viewed from 29,834 distinct visitors. It also figures I have 736 followers on WordPress, up from 729 at the start of May. That seems like quite the jump, considering how these things grow. You can join them, if you like, by clicking the link on the upper right side of the page to Follow on WordPress. There’s also the chance to follow by e-mail that’s another link at the upper right side of the page.

According to Insights, my best-read day around here was Friday, which had 16 percent of page views. Friday is the date I normally publish the long-form piece of the week, but 16 percent is so close to 14 percent that I can’t believe there’s any significant difference. The 12 am hour is the most popular reading time; 12 percent of page views came then. So, stuff gets read by people who notice it’s just come up. Good to know, but I can’t say that’s revelatory.

Thanks all of you for reading, and for putting up with my meager self-examinations like this. Back to whatever it is I do tomorrow.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose nearly eight points today on words such as “bound”, “kurtosis”, “melange”, and “patina”.

190

Last Notes About The Cold


First, a note about my mathematics blog: it’s a thing that exists. Gads, I hate writing all this hype.

So my cold that’s been dominating my whole program of breathing the past week seems to actually be bronchitis and that seems like it’s on the way out. Friday I gave in to the fact I hadn’t finished a sentence since Monday without a coughing fit and went to the urgent care clinic. Their best guess was bronchitis, and prescribed some antibiotics and some cough syrup. The antibiotics were for an ear infection that had caused everything to sound like it was a woodcutter’s axe driven into my brain by a picric acid explosion. The cough syrup was your usual stuff, given in a bottle with instructions to take three times a day for five days, and which after the first day looked already half empty. I’m on day three or four now, depending on whether you count Friday, and it’s still only half empty. I do not know how this works and can only sit there, watching and pondering the bottle’s description of its contents: “a(n) clear, yellow, orange-pineapple-flavored syrup. (Pineapple menthol aroma)” May cause dizziness. I can’t say it’s wrong, just that it reads like they started thinking of words that could describe syrups and didn’t know how to stop. I’m impressed they didn’t end up “a(n) clear, yellow, orange-pineapple-flavored, viscous, revelatory, non-partisan, trouserless, analogue, costumed nighttime, obedient voiceless wet syrup”. Maybe the label was too small.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped over 23 points today on the discovery that the local movie theater was doing a Saturday midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show which would be great to go see except the audience will be full of people who’ll go to a Saturday midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

183

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? March – June 2017


Again I thank people who’re looking for help working out what’s going on in Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this much later than June of 2017 there may have been a new update. The update should be at or near the top of this link along with any miscellaneous but important news that’s broken about the comic strip’s production. For example, if the artist changes or something like that.

Dick Tracy

12 March – 3 June 2017

I last checked in on Dick Tracy as a mega-super-hyper-crossover event over twelve percent bigger than usual was going on. Perenelle Flammel was murdered just before the climax of the auction for her immortality formula. Tracy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit were going around the special guest stars looking for clues, but Oliver Warbucks, Tracy‘s own Diet Smith, Terry and the Pirates‘s Dragon Lady all have solid alibis, and Spirit recurring villain Mister Carrion was already arrested and sent back to the Old Comics Home under Jim Scancarelli’s supervision. With no other suspects in the picture Tracy and Spirit turn to God.

Hotel Siam - The Penthouse. Am: 'As my old friend Alley would say, long time no see.' Tracy: 'Am, did you just arrive here?' Am: 'Why, yes. How did you know?' Spirit: 'Am, I assume you have doubles?' Am: 'I do. You have discovered my secret! I pay them well, and it makes my life safer. Why do you ask?' Tracy: 'It's about the double that's been here in your absence. Where is he now?'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of March, 2017. Oh good grief, the Great Am is talking about his friend Alley Oop, isn’t he? He’s making an Alley Oop reference out of all of this.

God in this case is The Great Am. He’s from Little Orphan Annie, when Harold Grey figured he needed some supernatural aid in railing against the New Deal. I don’t understand his deal exactly, except he’s one of those Ambiguously God characters that can add a pleasantly mystical touch to a setting. And at least in some of the strips I’ve seen he could add a charming wicked little cynicism about human nature.

The Spirit, aware that the strip is almost out of characters, guesses that The Great Am has a body double for the vague security reasons that make impossibly rich people in pulpy adventure stories have body doubles, and what do you know but he’s right? Am’s Double and Flammel’s longtime servant Ramon Escobar are found in a state of cahootsing, still on the books as a vice rap. The two flee, with Double Am caught in a choke hold by The Spirit and Escobar struck by lightning.

The Spirit is trying to apprehend the Double Am. Spirit: (If I can get this dang sling off ... ) 'There! How do you like your NEW NECKTIE?' Double Am: URK!
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of March, 2017. I don’t know, Spirit. Is it within the power of man to truly apprehend the nature of Am? Or … well … you’re kind of dead, aren’t you? Something like that? Carry on, you seem to know what you’re doing.

The plan, explained: Escobar, denied his choice of wife by Flammel, hoped to steal first the auction money; when Kitchen and Brush failed (as recounted last update) they tried to steal the immortality formula proper. When Flammel discovered the attempted theft, Double Am strangled her. And so everything is settled basically sensibly.

Escobar, on the balcony: 'YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME IN, TRACY!' He's hit by a bolt of lightning.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of March, 2017. This is why when we were kids our parents warned us not to use the land-line phone (the only phone there was) or our balcony guns during a thunderstorm!

I have mixed feelings about the resolution. The story seems to hang basically together, in that if you grant the premise the participants have good reason for what they do and why. The weak point as a whodunnit mystery is there’s nothing that hints, prior to The Spirit’s question, that the Great Am has body doubles. Perhaps I missed the clue, though, or perhaps somewhere in the Great Am’s past appearances this was established and Staton and Curtis just supposed that of course we’d remember. On the other hand, part of detective work is asking slightly speculative questions and sometimes those do turn out to be valuable. So one can slight the Double Am’s existence as being a deus ex machina used to give the story a plausible killer. But then Escobar’s being literally struck by lightning as he’d otherwise have gunned down Tracy? — Ah, but, this is a part of the story dominated by the Ambiguously God character of the Great Am. Doesn’t letting Ambiguous God into the story serve as all the warning you need of a dei ex machina? I’m not sure, but realizing that about the story structure made me smile, so I’m going to have to allow it.

After a couple rounds of banter the new story began the 7th of April, with some guests from the Harold Teen comic strip that I never heard of either. Also a story with Shelley Pleger doing the daily art duties in place of Joe Staton. Pleger had been part of the team doing the Sunday art before. Staton’s credit is back on the first daily after this story resolved, so I suppose it to be a temporary post.

The story’s centerpiece is a cosplay convention, which Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Astor are thrilled to attend. Honeymoon guides Tracy gently into the world of people who cosplay, a friendly mass of folks who try to work out what he’s supposed to be, anyway, Inspector Gadget? But it also makes me think about this.

The Cosplay Convention is On! Tracy: 'Honeymoon, I recognize the cartoon characters, but what are those other animal costumes from?' Honeymoon: 'They're from a CROSSOVER FANDOM, Pop-pop. Do you know what a crossover is?' Tracy: 'I think so.' Honeymoon: 'Well, in furry fandom, some people design and wear animal costumes. They're called FURSUITERS.' Tracy: 'I see. Interesting. Those fursuits look professionally made.' Honeymoon: 'CONNIE! You made it! Where are you?' Connie: 'Right behind you, Honeymoon!'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of April, 2017. Honestly not sure if I’m more unsettled by Dick Tracy learning what fursuiters are, by the gang at the Flophouse podcast talking about Sonic the Hedgehog m-preg pictures on Deviantart, or that there’s a chance my dad will ask me what m-preg is next time we’re on the phone.

A recurring minor character in Dick Tracy is The Pouch. He had been a circus freak-show fat man attraction, but lost most of his nearly 500 pounds of weight. He took his enormously many loose, flappy bags of skin and sewed them into clasping pouches, the better to conceal and smuggle items while selling balloons at the zoo. And while you ponder the question, “wait, what?” let me give you this point: He once used a popcorn popper to kill a man. And now this question: if that is the baseline normal for what human beings are and can do in the Dick Tracy universe, where do you go for imagination and fantasy characters?

Back to Cos-U-Con. A mysterious masked figure robs contest organizer Brian Miller and one of the Three Margies, a trio of women whose struggling costume shop donated thousands to the contest. The robber makes off with the ten thousand dollars cash prize. But — as was clear all along — it’s a fake. The Three Margies have arranged the theft. Big Margie and Little Margie celebrate by vandalizing a cemetery for Jewish people. And that’s rather a jolt. Yes, Dick Tracy is a crime-detection comic and that is the sort of offense that a major crimes unit would deal with. It’s just a dramatic change in tone for a storyline that, three weeks earlier, seemed to be about Dick Tracy ogling someone in a blue raccoon costume. But then isn’t “we were all having a giddy little time and then it suddenly got awful” just what the past eighteen months have been? Those nice-looking cousins all named Margie who run a costume shop turning out to hate Jewish people somehow fits.

Tracy: 'Sorry the cosplay contest had such a unpleasant ending, SVENGOOLIE.' Svengoolie: 'It was a real downer, but I'm sorry for BRIAN MILLER, the con organizer.' Tracy: 'Having the prize in cash was inviting something like this. I'm thankful nobody got hurt.' Svengoolie: 'That's too scary to think of! I wish you luck cracking the case, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Thanks, Mr. Koz. With good detective work, we'll find the thief. And with a little luck, recover the money too.'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 7th of May, 2017. I appreciate the subtle change in the color palette this strip. It’s the same location as the previous comic, but a little bit darker and sadder after the robbery. Even if you didn’t read the word balloons you could sort out whether this or the strip from the 23rd of April happened before the crime.

Tracy and Sam Catchem, after asking the Three Margies about the convention theft, realize that as the other characters in the story the Three Margies are the best bet for the perpetrators. They confirm their suspicions with a Sunday strip’s worth of actual detective work. The Margies paid two months’ back rent in cash, and that one of the Margies had come six months ago from a town that suffered similar cemetery vandalism up to six months ago.

Tracy and Cachem stake out the Margies. Big and Middle Margie lead them to a construction site, where they’re trying to bury a satchel from the robbery. The Margies aren’t very good at this sort of crime, and get captured easily, dropping some surprisingly strong anti-Jewish words for the comics page and clearing Little Margie’s name on their way out of the story.

Tracy: 'Take it slow, Ms Thatcher.' Maggie Thatcher: 'No! I won't go to jail!' (She hits him with the satchel.) 'Not again!' Other Maggie runs up with a stick. Catchem emerges from the shadows with his gun drawn: 'Drop it!'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2017. I do like the action here; it mixes the slightly slapstick with the threatening and the surprise reveal. Comic strips don’t have the space that they had in the glorious old days like when Dick Tracy was new, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t able to put together a lot when they need.

The story wrapped up, neatly for my purposes, the 2nd of June. Was it successful? I’d say so; once we grant everyone in the Dick Tracy universe going wild for cosplay the events hold together, and Tracy and Catchem do actual detective work that could logically lead them to the perpetrators. It’s not a very intense storyline, but they don’t all need to be; I appreciate that sometimes the initial major crime can be as simple as a ten thousand dollar robbery. If it comes apart because the Three Margies are not very good at laundering money, that’s fine; they seem to be dabblers in this sort of crime and naturally they’d leave an obvious trail.

A new story seems to have started the 3rd of June. It’s opened on the B O Plenty family. They’re hillbillies who long ago married into the comic strip. No guessing where that might lead. The last couple months have not included any one-off comic strips that seem to be there to set up long-running or future storylines. They’ve been on point to the current storyline.

Special Guest Stars Of Dick Tracy Have Included:

  • Will Eisner’s The Spirit
  • Oliver Warbucks
  • The Great Am
  • The Dragon Lady
  • Harold Teen
  • Pop Jenks
  • Shadow Smart
  • Svengoolie

I am certain I’ve missed some. The Cos-U-Con storyline included so many chances to draw characters in, and the only way to tell whether that’s actually Smokey Stover or just someone dressed as Smokey Stover is to talk with them. I do recommend going back looking over the art; there’s probably something you’re a fan of in there somewhere.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index bounced up seven points today as investors had a spare five bucks when they noticed the reverse-bungee ride at the mall’s food court was running for a change. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

207

Statistics Saturday: Milestones In This Current Cough


Day Event
Sunday Little nagging sensation that I’m coughing a bit more than normal and feel all achy and hot.
Monday I hear nothing after 11:18 am because of my uninterrupted coughing fit
Tuesday Temporary suspension of the tooth-brushing routine because the sudden spasms from my lungs and the toothpaste foam and the irritation in my throat lining create such a bad situation, such a bad situation.
Wednesday Boss excuses me from the planned two-hour conference call with a promise that he’d call back and catch me up and wrap up some loose ends, which he has yet to do.
Thursday Broke the key by trying to wind up the clock and I coughed at the wrong moment and do you know how many different size keys there are for mantle clocks? There’s easily more than six.
Friday Sleep is a lie, a distant faded memory never to be attained again in my life.
Saturday Oh, that’s a good bit better actually.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped eight points as investors’ attention was captured by rumors the bagel place had the tomato tortellini soup today and what implications this might have for the flavored cream cheese they’re offering for bagels.

200

Writer Tony DePaul Quits The Phantom


And then some breaking comic strip news disrupts my daily plans. Tony DePaul, longtime writer for The Phantom daily and Sunday runs, has quit the comic strip. The last of the strips he wrote, both continuities, should be published sometime in the fall.

He’s resigning, he states in the link above, over a dispute that began in November when King Features Syndicate wanted him to sign a contract. Before then — since 1999 — he’d been just turning in stories to get the comic strip ahead of deadline by up to two years, and would get paid as he turned in copy a couple times a year. I admit this seems like a surprisingly casual way of running things, but then I remember I’ve never had a contract at my current workplace and I’m not quite sure either my boss or I know exactly what we think we expect from the other, which surely will never lead to any unpleasant surprises ever.

Anyway, the contract DePaul was offered attempted to classify all his work for the strip as work-for-hire, which has implications for how to license things: as work-for-hire he wouldn’t get any money in case, say, a Phantom movie used one of the characters he created. He reports making counter-offers that sound to me like quite modest requests to get paid for derivative uses of his work, and getting nowhere, and then, that’s that.

In his post DePaul writes in greater detail about the dispute, and reviews some of the characters he’d created and that won’t be seen in a Phantom move or other property, under current circumstances. (I’m unclear whether they can continue to be used in the comic strip.) Several of them seem indispensable, particularly the terrorist leader Chatu and the seafaring hero Captain Savarna (worth her own strip, or movie, really). It’s hard to imagine the Phantom universe without them.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point, inspiring a feeling that we’ve been exactly here before and wondering if the system hasn’t got stuck somehow and maybe we need someone to go out and give it a push? People just have their doubts, that’s all.

208

Hack Work for May 2017


I have my tradition of setting free the scraps of writing I couldn’t use the previous month for the big Thursday/Friday-ish piece of the month. And I want to do that too. For example, here’s a bit I couldn’t do anything with all May: “you remember trituminous coal from how it got used to blow up the Amargosa observatory in Star Trek: Generations”. I don’t know what you would do with it either but let me know if you do.

Thing is I’d just got back to something kind of normal-ish with my computer woes when I got a cold. It’s not much of a cold. I’ve been lucky the last couple years in not getting really big colds. Not the kind where you have to stay in bed all day, no longer wiping your nose because the tissues hurt too much and even the lotion-filled ones have abraded your face to a smooth, featureless mass of weeping flesh. Nor the kind where you get a fever that can’t be measured because your thermometer melts into a puddle and your loved one repeats the mention of liquid crystal display until you finally holler that yes, you got it the first time, you just don’t have the power to giggle at a line like that even if you did feel like giggling at it, and then your loved one apologizes for trying to make light and you have to spend the rest of the day everyone in a sullen silence over how they each failed a little bit to be empathetic enough and nobody knows how to apologize exactly.

No, my cold has been the typical sort of light one I get. I spent a while feeling warm, which is nice, because I haven’t really felt warm since 2006 when I last lived in Singapore. Singapore is on the equator, and it has the climate you’d get if you jumped into the middle of an open-faced kiss between a fire-breathing dragon and a smaller ice-breathing dragon, all humidity and heat and sudden surprising blasts of air conditioning and sometimes the food kiosk has an offering that looks like some kind of organ meat. Not everyone’s taste. But at least I didn’t need to wear a little something extra over my shirt.

Also I’ve spent my time coughing. I won’t pretend that I’m a world-class cougher. I never got past the state level (14th place, 2010, New Jersey; 7th place, 1999, New York, although that was later vacated as I’d had a throat infection, a purely administrative change of ruling which does not reflect on my ethics). But serious coughing is tough competition. We do some impressive stuff. Back in the cold of October ’15, without even seriously training, I coughed hard enough in the shower that I threw out my back, causing my spine to rebound off the shower wall, clobber my right shoulder blade, and then sucker-punch me in the kidneys. I think there were deeper issues at work here and the coughing just a pretext. But what a pretext! It was so painful I even admitted that it kind of hurt.

Still, the coughing’s been going on nonstop since Tuesday. It’s triggered by some events, like taking too deep a breath, or too shallow a breath, or trying to say a whole word. I’d be fine with this really, since given the choice I’d like to just sit still and not say anything out loud. But then I have to reassure my love that I’m fine, really, the coughing is just annoying and not something we need to get to emergency care for, and it can take as many as twenty-two minutes to get through a sentence that complicated. Also work wanted me present for a conference call with people who were in the main office’s Echo Testing Chamber. I don’t believe we got any work done, but absolutely everybody has a headache.

I’d like to credit all this coughing to being exercise. I can feel the burn in my abdominal muscles, and I’m all set to smash my head into the steering wheel as I drive to the emergency care clinic. Oh, also I’ve been trying to build some kind of piece around sorting the nightshade family of plants into those that are edible versus those that are deadly, but I can’t figure a way to do it that isn’t just a factually useful chart. It feels a little xkcd-ish to me anyway, and that’s fine, but it isn’t me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped a point on learning that four percent of Michigan employers will allow their workers to bring pets into the workplace, because this is a fair bit below the national average of seven percent.

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Betty Boop: Minding The Baby, and the livability of cartoon worlds


Eh, what the heck. I’ve got a cold, I can do something relatively lazy. Let me share the 1931 Betty Boop cartoon Minding The Baby. It was the next Talkartoon released after yesterday’s installment, Bimbo’s Express. It came out the 9th of September, 1931, just a couple weeks after the previous cartoon. This seems to have been when Betty Boop took over top billing from Bimbo, a sign of her rising star. It would be a couple more cartoons before she got her own introductory song, and less than a year before she’d get a series all to herself. And this for an installment where she’s not got a lot to do herself. Before starting, though, a warning: the story is driven by an obnoxious infant. If you can’t stand crying babies in your entertainment you might want to give this a pass.

I do want to say, this is a fantastic print. I don’t know why it looks so crisp. I suspect it was restored, and then uploaded to archive.org by someone who figured since the underlying cartoon was in the public domain so were cleaned-up and restored copies. Perhaps they are, legally, but it does seem to me that the work involved in making an old piece of film look new deserves its respect at least. I will suppose archive.org knows its business, but I’d like to know how we do have such a good print.

This is another cartoon that’s pretty much just hanging out. Betty wants to see Bimbo for what I suppose is a solid night of canoodling, but he’s got to watch the baby who’s every bratty baby you get in this sort of cartoon. There’s a bunch of puttering around as everyone gets into minor scrapes and gets out again because the world isn’t all that harsh. The jokes barely have anything to do with each other and could almost be shuffled and make just as good a cartoon.

I think I’ve worked out why I like it anyway, though. Have you ever pondered what it would be like to actually live in a cartoon world? One that isn’t just seven minutes on a couple of sets but rather a whole city, one that’s always awake? Sure, people try. There’s the Toontown sequence in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There’s the animated-background sequences that I swear are there in Cool World. There’s some other glimpses. They’ve mostly struck me false. They’re too high-energy, too busy, too active. If everything is running at a fever pitch then there’s no everyday life.

This is different. This feels like a more lived-in cartoon world, the sort of place where you as a cartoon could just go home and have an ordinary night, listening to the radio (that smiles at you and turns its dial to a show it likes better) or making dinner (catching the hot dogs trying to sneak out of the boiling water and shaming them into putting on a bun, as a robe). Funny stuff happens, all around, but it’s a very low-key, very ordinary sort of thing. It’s an inhabitable place. I feel the appeal. Do you?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point today in anticipation of a conference call that everyone expected to be a disaster and instead turned out to be a kind of silly muddle.

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