Science Fiction Book Identification Corner


We had this missive cross our desk, after first asking permission and getting a hearty lad to walk ahead carrying a red flag:

What was that old book where I don’t remember the title or the author, but the cover art was this hollowed-out human head that was unpeeling into a helix, and in the upper right there’s a planet kind-of Earthlike but not exactly, and then it’s also an apple with a huge bite taken out of it, with the background an isometric grid imposed on an outer-space shot, and in the lower right corner there’s an infinite regression of open doorframes, each with the silhouette of a stern-looking and possibly alien person in front?

PS: Love your podcast, hope to listen to it someday. Do you have one?

The answer is: you are thinking of every science fiction novel, 1970-1974. You may find some in any used book store of class III or above; best of luck with your search! Do write in if you have further questions.

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Today’s Ominous Sign Of The Week


So the Auto Care place down the street took its last emotionally-charged sign message off its board. It spent a couple weeks congratulating some athlete or other for an accomplishment in the field of sports athleticism and that’s fine enough. But since this weekend the board has been this:

The Auto Surgeon message board: just a ' mark, left over from the previous message.
So, I walked down the street, listening to a Movie Sign With The Mads podcast, trusting that I would look nice and casual while taking a picture with my iPod. Then I went back home and saw the picture was just awful because it was way too zoomed in and jpeg-artifacted and all that. So I went back out, listening to Movie Sign With The Mads again, with my for-real grown-up camera, accepting that if anyone did thing I was the weirdo for taking photos of this sign then they’d have to accept it. And so I grew up that tiny little bit more, right?

Is this how the world ends? Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but just a single, forgotten apostrophe left in the void?

I hope not.

In Which Usenet Turns Out To Not Be Dead


So back in the 90s there was this troll on Usenet. I know, shocking. The guy would post to the group alt.tv.game-shows, which was about such TV game shows as had that grunge sound. Also sometimes to the other TV newsgroups. He’d post about the forgotten 1984 Bill Cullen game show Hot Potato.

Anyway, the troll would post, sometimes several times a day, the question: how was Hot Potato played? Did Bill Cullen throw a hot potato at the contestants? That would be funny. And then he’d sit back and wait for the offended corrections to roll in. When the fun of that paled, he would repost, spelling some of the words wrong. You have to understand, this was the 90s. While it was theoretically possible to watch a video online, it couldn’t actually be done. All you could do was spend three hours downloading some program that claimed to be able to show videos, then spend an hour downloading a video, which would be a postage-stamp-sized thing that was mostly black, with occasional green speckles, that would then crash. And while memes were technologically possible, no one believed they could be made practical. We had to do what we could.

So anyway now you can imagine my joy to notice that this got posted last month to alt.tv.mst3k:

how wuz hat putato plaed? did bil kulin tos a putato at thu kuntestintz? tat wuld b a funi.

And doesn’t that just make you feel young again?

For the record, Hot Potato was played by Bill Cullen giving a category, and then the contestants having to name stuff in that category. Very few physical things were ever thrown at anyone during the game, as the referees kept very good game control.

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


Have you been wondering what the current storyline is in James Allen’s Mark Trail? You’re not alone. The past several months have been this story about Mark Trail and a bank robber and a much-delayed census of prairie dogs in North Dakota. It’s possible that this story, which was going on in August of 2017, has ended by the time you read this. I admit, right now, it’s hard to imagine that. But if “prairie dog bank robber rental car” seem like words completely irrelevant to what you’re reading in the comic strip, maybe this essay is just out of date. At or near the top of this page should be my most recent Mark Trail update essay. I hope that helps you out.

If you’re interested in other comic strips, my other blog reviews the comics that touched on mathematical topics. You might find that interesting. I don’t see why you wouldn’t. You know that thing where you write out a long number, grouped in bunches of three? Like, 10,000,000 instead of, say, 10,00,00,00 or 1000,0000? You know how long people have been doing that? I tell you over there.

Mark Trail.

11 June – 26 August 2017.

It’s been eleven weeks since I last reviewed the action in Mark Trail. Back then I thought we might be drawing near the end of a story that began in mid-March, about Mark Trail held hostage by a bank robber instead of doing a prairie dog census. I misjudged the story length. But now I really, truly, think we’re coming near the end of the story. We’re at the point that every James Allen Mark Trail reaches: the point where Nature tries to kill everybody. The story had promised “bad weather” last time around, but now we’ve got it.

Where we had been: Mark Trail, trying to rent a car in Rapid City, South Dakota, is approached by an armed gunman with a hostage. He’s robbed a bank and wants Trail to drive him to safety. Trail superficially complies but somehow alerts the car rental agency that he’s in distress. Trail drives the bank robber and hostage to the cabin of Johnny Lone Elk, where Trail picks up his friend and they all shift to horseback. Lone Elk knows something’s wrong and he and Trail talk trick riding, while Lone Elk’s wife suspects something’s up.

Trail and Lone Elk tell the Bank Robber (still unnamed, by the way) and Hostage that there’s a major storm coming. The least incredibly unsafe course is to go down the Vulture Creek ridge. The Bank Robber and Hostage go along with this plan, but they’re not near the ghost town they hope to reach before the rain gets heavy. Lightning explodes a tree next to Lone Elk, and his horse panics, leaping over the edge of the ravine.

Meanwhile — just a second here. I do mean “meanwhile”. Something James Allen’s brought to Mark Trail has been a relenting of the stories’ linearity. We can get information on separate threads. It’s not as unsettling as Allen’s choice to have Mark Trail sometimes think a thing instead of saying it aloud at the top of his lungs with random words emphasized. But it’s still a surprise for the long-time reader. That’s just the world we live in anymore.

FBI Agent John Paul: 'Mrs Trail, you seem remarkably calm for someone whose husband has been kidnapped by bank robber!' Cherry Trail: 'Agent JP, have you ever met my husband?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of June, 2017. “The only thing I would worry about is if my husband were kidnapped by bank robbers while being out in a major storm out in the open, trying to get to a ghost town occupied by a provoked grizzly bear! But what are the odds of that?”

Meanwhile, FBI Agent John Paul is on the case, because of the bank robbery. The car rental agent recognized Mark Trail and figured something weird was going on, I think because Trail rented a minivan and not a giant squirrel. He asks Cherry Trail about who Mark Trail expected to meet and where they were. And then why Mark Trail skipped out on his own reservation, instead using one for “Lesley Joyce” at “WaterWorld”. Cherry Trail finds this hilarious, but can explain: Mark surely figured this would be a way to alert people without raising Bank Robber’s suspicions. John Paul is surprised by Cherry Trail’s calm, but she points out she’s been in this strip since like the 40s. Mark’s been through way more serious hostage situations than this.

Lesley Joyce enters the narrative to explain while showing off every pose from How To Draw Realistic Fashion Design Figures ever. Trail and Lone Elk had been hired by Joyce and WaterWorld Theme Park to film a walrus giving birth. The walrus got loose, but Trail and Lone Elk found her. They loaded her into Joyce’s new Escalade, and on the drive back the walrus gave birth to twins. The car technically survived. So if you remember being confused when Cadillac kept running those “pregnant walrus” ads for the Escalade, now you know why they were doing it. And this all ties in to the current story because the car rental contract Trail had with WaterWorld from back then was somehow still open, and he could use that to get Joyce’s attention at least?

Lesley Joyce: 'Thanks to Mark Trail, the pregnant walrus proceeded to deliver twin baby walruses all over the back of my brand-new vehicle!' The strip includes an image of the scene, with the car shattered by its interior walrus.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of July, 2017. Words cannot express just how many different poses and how many facial expressions Lesley Joyce took on during this anecdote, which ran in the daily strips from the 29th of June through the 15th of July. The anecdote was all Lesley Joyce striking a pose and FBI Agent John Paul saying this is hilarious, please go on. It almost read like that Futurama episode mocking silent movies. If you find someone who can use this as the storyboard for a live-action scene that reads naturally, hire them: they can film anything.

I admit this all seems like a lot of story time spent on a tiny point. It isn’t as if the FBI wasn’t looking for the Bank Robber or as they didn’t find the Mark Trail connection on their own. But it’s realistic that Mark Trail couldn’t know that, and would send out whatever distress signals he could. And that car rental counters don’t offer a lot of chances.

The FBI works out something about the bank robbery security footage and the car rental counter footage. The female hostage in the second is one of the Bank Robber’s accomplices in the first. Remember what I said about James Allen making the Mark Trail stories less relentlessly linear? The twist took me by surprise, yes. On rereading the story, I have to grant: Bank Robber and Hostage/Accomplice’s interactions make much more sense now. It wasn’t planted by anything overt; it was just interactions.

FBI Agent John Paul(?): 'The woman who helped rob the bank and the female hostage in the airport video ... they are one and the same!' Other FBI Agent: 'WHAT!?' FBI Agent: 'Yep! - She's a willing accomplice ... and she's armed!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of July, 2017. Agent John Paul delivers what is a real, legitimate plot twist in this storyline. Also, I don’t know the name of the guy in the second panel so I don’t know whether to call him Agent George Ringo or Agent Benedict Francis. But I’m going to be ripping that off for Telegram stickers.

The FBI follows Trail’s … trail, into the storm, and they borrow horses from the local town sheriff to get to the ghost town. The storm’s getting worse, with tornadoes in the area.

Meanwhile, Johnny Lone Elk turns out not to have died by falling down the ravine. The plan was to go down a not-as-steep-as-it-looks part of the ravine to fake his death. Then Lone Elk would get help while Mark Trail manages a distraction, by which we mean, while Mark Trail punches somebody.

Mark Trail, punching Bank Robber: 'I have had ENOUGH of you I'm DONE with your attitude!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 9th of August, 2017. Yeah, so me acting like that is why I’m not allowed at my local Congressman’s town hall meetings anymore, but I feel that history and the Free American provisional government will forgive me.

Besides punching the Bank Robber, Trail reveals he saw through the Hostage/Accomplice long ago. Trail explains he knows terror-stricken people when he sees them and she wasn’t it. … Which, is fair enough. But as fun as punching and yelling at people is, the storm’s getting worse and they need to get to the ghost town.

Lone Elk finds the sheriff, and they agree to head over to the caves where a big old grizzly bear named Samson lives. They figure this is the best way to get to the ghost town through the rain and maybe get the Bank Robber eaten by a bear. And that’s where the story stands right now. We’ll see how that all turns out, and see whether we do eventually find out how many prairie dogs live near Rapid City, South Dakota.

Sunday Animals Watch.

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

  • Tornadoes, 11 June 2017
  • Bees and Wasps, 18 June 2017
  • Giant African Snails, 25 June 2017
  • Egyptian Fruit Bats, 2 July 2017 (we understand their arguments! Weird, huh?)
  • Komodo dragons, 9 July 2017
  • Hoopoe (birds), 16 July 2017
  • Pygmy Dormouse, 23 July 2017
  • Slipper Lobsters, 30 July 2017
  • Roseate Spoonbills, 6 August 2017
  • Cook Pines, 13 August 2017 (wait, they grow at an angle proportionate to the latitude? The heck?)
  • Bay Cats, 20 August 2017
  • Whales as ecological influencers, 27 August 2017

Next Week!

I don’t want everyone out there quivering too hard with anticipation, because it doesn’t have as many cruise ships! as it could have. But still: Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth is back!

On Licking The Science, 1666 Edition


I got to this part in Jenny Uglow’s A Gambling Man: Charles II’s Restoration Game. The book is about King Charles II and Britain, mostly England, in the 1660s. And this is from right after the Great Fire of London.

It was a scene of horror, but also one of wonder, a natural curiosity drawing the observant men of the Royal Society. In the broken tombs in St Paul’s, they observed the mummified bodies of bishops buried two centuries before, while in the tomb of Dean Colet, a more recent burial, his lead coffin was found to be full of a curious liquor that had conserved the body. “Mr Wyle and Ralph Greatorex tasted it and it was a kind of insipid taste, something of an ironish taste. The body felt, to the probe of a stick which they thrust into a chink, like brawn.”

I grant this sounds daft that someone would go into the still-smoldering ruins of London after the greatest fire it had yet known, locate a corpse that hadn’t been destroyed, see that it was secreting some fluid, and declare, “I gotta lick that!” But that’s just what chemists had to do, back in the days before real professional laboratories with clear analytical protocols and even a concept of analysis existed. Everybody doing chemistry had to rely on touch and scent and taste. It helps us remember why Louis Pasteur was the first chemist to ever live to be 34 years old.

Thanking You For Listening


As a white guy who’s liked Popeye’s Fried Chicken I’m often asked why I don’t host a pop-culture hangout podcast. “Hey, you!” people will gather around my house to cry out. “There’s stuff you watch and read and listen to that you think is bad! Why aren’t you snorting into a microphone about that with some of your friends?” It’s becoming a nuisance. “I’m just putting these old fenceposts out for someone on Freecycle who says they’re going to pick it up tomorrow but is lying,” I answer. “I don’t have time to podcast!” They’re unmoved. But I have reasons.

First is that I have this problem with my voice. I mean, I have one that I use almost every day. But I’m hard to understand. I’ve avoided having my New Jersey accent be incomprehensible by not saying much of anything out loud. I’m not trying to hide my voice. I just don’t know how to talk loud enough to be heard over other people, or ambient music, or background noise like our pet rabbit breathing. Or my own breathing. When I say something the words come out of my mouth, then plummet, bouncing off my feet and rolling underneath the bookshelf, there to be harvested by mice.

Also I have to cough, a little but insistently, every 26 seconds. I’ve had this condition since like 1997. I’ve tried to ask my doctor about this, but she can’t hear me. We could edit around that, but editing seems like a lot of work for a pop-culture hangout podcast.

I could set the microphone on my feet so when words tumble onto them some get caught. But then there’s my sentence problem. At some point I figure I’ve said as much of any sentence as could benefit anyone to hear, and then I stop. I trust people to work out the rest. For example, suppose my love wants to know what that racket out back was. I might say, “I knocked over two of the empty flowerpots, but they didn’t break.” But that takes more words to say than interest in the subject warrants. I’m sorry to spend so much time on it now. So I would answer, “I knocked over two”, and figure that’s as much of that as anybody could stand. Oh, I’ll drift off, letting my voice get somehow even softer. My love can probably work out the rest of the sentence from context anyway. That and the flowerpots. But I know that’s not good asynchronous radio.

Plus there’s getting together with friends to record something. I’ve got friends, people I know well enough to help them move furniture. But most of them are online. We could only record a podcast by organizing whatever the Internet equivalent of a conference call is. I hear there are people who can do this. But I also hear there are people who can climb Mount Everest in their shorts or who can magic Magic-Eye Puzzles work. I’ll never manage the trick. People I know in real life — people near enough that I could lick their bodies — are mostly folks I see at pinball events. They’re fun to hang out with, but who could record over all that pinball and bar noise? I don’t know how pinball podcasts do it. I imagine a lot of shouting.

Oh gads and then there’s voices. I’d probably have to do some characters by way of funny voices. I can’t. I haven’t got any way of making my voice do anything on purpose. I could do a character that’s “me, only talking a little faster”. Or I can do “me, only talking a little slower”. But could I do, like, Columbo? Popeye? Any of the supporting cast of The Simpsons? Not even remotely. I’d have to call in experts to support me. That runs into money and social obligations.

Plus there’s having feelings about stuff. You can do a pop-culture hangout podcast about stuff you like, or about stuff you hate. But that means you have to like or hate stuff. I don’t trust strong feelings about stuff, even if they’re my own. It’s asking a lot out of me to have them, never mind to keep them viable for, what, a half-hour of recording before I can get to letters from listeners?

So that’s why, despite my record of being a guy who sometimes likes dumb stuff, I don’t figure on starting a podcast anytime soon. Thanks for listening, and remember, Patreon subscribers at the $5 or above level get my monthly special episode about which Funky Winkerbean comics most make you want to slug the guy who writes Funky Winkerbean. Next episode’s dropping Sunday. See you then. If you need some fenceposts, please, come take them now. They’re just taking up space.

How I Spent The Day


I ran across this on the BBC News’s Technology page:

Headline: Digital Life After Death? How tech is livening up the funeral industry
Remember when this was the joke we made about tech? And funerals? What are we doing wrong?

So I figured I had to go outside and roll down a hill all afternoon.

Oh yeah, did some more comic strip talk on my mathematics blog so thanks for listening to all that.

Unlocking The City


I don’t fault you for not having heard about the city of Albion, Michigan. It’s a small college town that maybe is where tee-ball comes from? The city claims it was first played there anyway. But here’s something that I can be kind of sure-ish happened: In the early 1960s the Albion Malleable Iron Company made a bunch of Keys to the City, to showcase civic pride and how they could malleate iron. The City’s since given away all the keys and hasn’t got any left, and there is no Albion Malleable Iron Company anymore, so good luck malling your iron into another shape.

According to that link I didn’t read either, among the recipients of the Key To The City Of Albion, Michigan was none other than Aunt Jemima, who “visited Albion on a few occasions in the early 1960s where she participated in our local benefit pancake breakfast at the Albion Armory”, a series of events I am sure never produced any photographs or moments that might be awkward or embarrassing or terrible if reviewed today.

Another Key To The City Of Albino, Michigan recipient? Ann Landers. The key turned up on eBay in March 2003. So that’s a warning to all municipalities bursting with civic pride. Yes, you can give the Keys to your city to anyone you judge of good character, but there’s no predicting what will happen after that person’s death. You’ll need to keep a list of who you’ve given keys to and change the locks after each death. Really seems like a bother, but I suppose there’s some benefits.

Not quite related to this: in 2007 the city of Sault Ste Marie gave the keys to their city to the band Kiss. Kiss has also gotten the keys to the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I’m hoping the band keeps these keys in a safe location. Think of the potential for mischief if they don’t!

Good News For The Ox, For Now


And then this came along in the local alt-weekly:

Thursday marks the 72nd consecutive summer the citizens of DeWitt have come together to celebrate the Annual DeWitt Ox Roast. Hosted by the DeWitt Memorial Association, the festival will not roast an actual ox, but all proceeds will be used to support the city.

Apparently they used to roast an ox, but haven’t in a while, and the article doesn’t see fit to say when they stopped. I’m fine with that. They do offer this:

“We’re bringing in something new this year,” said [DeWitt Memorial Association President Dave] VanArsdall, “They’re called body bubbles.” Encased from the waist to the armpits in a rubber ball, festival goers can don pot-belled suits to bounce off their friends and family.

I am sad to have missed this event. Also I’m sad that they’re thinking of maybe getting an ox to roast for the 75th Ox Roast. Oxen have it hard enough. Why go bothering them?

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? May – August 2017


Do you know what time it is? Or what day it is, anyway? Because if it’s later than about December 2017, this isn’t an up-to-date report on the current plots of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. I’m writing this in mid-August 2017 and try to avoid making unfounded guesses about where stuff is going. So if it’s gone far enough that I’ve written a newer story summary, it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading.

Also thank you for reading my mathematics blog, where I reviewed some comic strips which had mathematical topics about six hours ago. There’ll be more.

Gasoline Alley.

29 May – 20 August 2017.

The Gasoline Alley for the 29th of May, 2017, shows Santa Claus getting tossed in the air by a water wheel. There’s reasons for this. One of Jim Scancarelli’s stock plots is the weepy melodrama, and that was in full swing. Comic-relief dopey characters Joel and Rufus had run across a desperately poor family living in the old mill and decided to bring them Christmas presents as Santa Claus Running Late.

In accord with the Law of Christmas Mysticism, the attempt to play Santa Claus crashes on the shoals of physical comedy. But a mysterious figure dressed as Santa Claus and explaining that of course he didn’t forget about the children delivers a pair of bicycles. But wait, you say, Joel is still dressed as Santa Claus and stuck on the water wheel! Who was that mysterious Santa-y figure giving presents to children? Hmmmmm?

Santa: 'I brought you two bikes! I hope you like them! Ride Safely!' Emma Sue And Scruffy: 'Wow!' (Crashing noise.) Emma Sue: 'What's that?' And Scruffy: 'It's Mr Rufus and some ol' geezer!' (Joel, dressed as Santa, caught on the water wheel) 'Ol' geezer?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of June, 2017. This features one of the rare times I don’t think Scancarelli drew the comic very well. From the staging, it seems like Santa must have been visible to Joel and Rufus. The earlier strips suggest that too. But Joel and Rufus go on not knowing who that strange Santa-like figure giving away presents might have been. I’m not sure how to stage the action so that the reader could have been misdirected about which Santa was on-panel while the characters wouldn’t see what was up, I admit. Maybe there’s nothing to be done but this.

Hm. Well, Rufus goes back home to find his cat’s had a litter of kittens. Emma Sue And Scruffy, the poverty-stricken kids he tried to give bikes to, see them too. Rufus’s reasonable answer to whether they could adopt them (“you have to ask your mother”) inspires Joel to ask why he doesn’t try marrying The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus tries to dodge this plot by going fishing. Emma Sue And Scruffy do too, biking to the fishing pond.

There they find a codger, drawn realistically enough that when he tells them to scram they scram. Or they do until And Scruffy drives his bike down the embankment and learns it was a mistake not to also ask Santa Claus for bike helmets. Rufus did warn them about biking without protection, and honestly, when Joel and Rufus are the voices of wisdom …

Codger Elam Jackson, talking to camera: 'Many problems will solve themselves if we just forget them and go fishing!' He sees the accident-stricken And Scrffy. 'Hey! What's that up there? A head? It looks like a problem I won't be able to forget!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of July, 2017. Oh, I don’t know about this problem not being one to forget, Elam. Have you ruled out staying at home and eating sheetcake?

Emma Sue goes seeking help. The codger, bringing his fish back through the fourth wall, finds And Scruffy. This promptly melts his heart, so the codger picks up the crash-victim and moves his spine all around bringing him back to the old mill. The codger — Elam Jackson — introduces himself and offers the fish he’d caught for a meal. Plus he offers to cover the medical bill to call a doctor for And Scruffy.

The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy's Mom, to Elam, who's working on their water wheel. 'Why are you doing all this work around here, Elam?' Elam: 'The Good Book says we are to look after widows and orphans ... and that's what I intend to do!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2017. I don’t try often to project around here where stories are going to go. Usually, if a plot development seems directly to follow, I’m happy to let the writer try and fool me, or choose to do the obvious thing in an entertaining way. A story doesn’t have to surprise me; it has to be interesting. Still, at this point, I became convinced that Elam and The Widow Etc should be expected to set up home-making together. Rufus can try winning the affections of Miss The Widow Etc. But he’s one of the long-standing comic-relief characters. He’s not getting married off, not to someone who’s been in the strip less than three months.

Rufus calls Chipper Wallet in from the Physician’s Assistant public-service storyline. Chipper examines, judging And Scruffy to be basically all right, and leaves without charging. This short-circuits the attempts of both Rufus and Elam to win the heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom by paying her family’s medical bills. Rufus shifts to bringing two of the kittens as gifts to Emma Sue and Scruffy. Elam shifts to fixing the water wheel, offering The Widow Etc the chance to grind cereals as the public needs. I admit I’m not sure whether The Widow Etc and family are actually legit tenants of the old mill or if they’re just squatting.

And that’s where the plot stands at the moment.

Walt at the gates of heaven: 'Excuse me! Am I at the Pearly Gates?' Angel Frank Nelson: 'Oooh, yesss, indeedy! What's your name?' Walt: 'Walter Weatherby Wallet! Are you Saint Peter?' Frank: 'No! He's stepped out for a millennia! I'm filling in for him! Let's see! Waldo ... Walnut ... Ah! Here you are ... Walter Wallet! Now! What's the password?' Walt: 'Password? I didn't know you need one to get in here! Uh! Will my phone, computer, or credit card passwords work?' Frank: 'I'm afraid not!' Walt: 'What can I do?' Devil Frank Nelson: 'Psst, bud! We don't need passwords to get in down here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 6th of August, 2017. So, things I like here: That topper panel with the angel dog, cat, and mouse sequence. Angel Frank Nelson’s halo being this head ring. And the heaven-as-a-bureaucracy thing that was kind of popular-ish in movies and industrial shorts and stuff in the 30s through the 50s. What I don’t like: there’s no time for a good Frank Nelson-y put-down of Walt Wallet? ‘He’s stepped out for a millennia [sic]’ could be delivered nasty, but it’s not an insult by itself. What’s got me baffled: with an entry line like “psst, bud!” how is that devil not Sheldon Leonard? I am curious whether Scancarelli started out with the idea of Jack Benny’s Racetrack Tout trying to lure Walt Wallet to a warmer fate, which seems like a good premise. But maybe the setup took too long however he tried to write it, and Scancarelli figured to switch over to a Devil Frank Nelson to avoid muddling the surviving joke? I am not being snarky here; I’m genuinely curious how the idea developed.

The Sunday strips have been mostly the usual grab-bag of spot jokes. The one curious, possible exception: on the 6th of August we see Walt Wallet at the Pearly Gates, being checked out by Angel Frank Nelson. It’s hard to believe that Jim Scancarelli would allow for the death of Walt Wallet, one of the original cast of a comic strip that’s 99 years old, to be done in a single Sunday strip that’s mostly a spot joke. The strip hasn’t got most of the signifiers that something is a dream or a fanciful experience, though. On the other hand, neither did Slim Skinner’s encounter with a genie. And Walt turned up again just today, anyway, talking about the advantages of dying at an early age. So, I guess Sundays really are just a day for merry gags.

Next week: I check in on how nature or car-rental anecdotes will kill us all, in James Allen’s Mark Trail. Call your friends, if your friends know any prairie dogs! Word is that prairie dogs are making a comeback.

A Brooklyn Mystery


My love got to looking up Welcome Back, Kotter and noticed something odd for a show that, as I remember, made up about two-thirds of all television back in the day. It only ran for four seasons. 95 episodes total. That’s actually shorter than Caroline In The City ran, and do you even remember if that show had a theme song? Or was something that actually existed and wasn’t me making up what sounds like a credible name for a 1990s sitcom? Heck, The King Of Queens went on the air in 1998 and I guess they’re not making it anymore? I don’t think they’re airing it anymore. I hope they stopped making new episodes then.

Anyway. Grant it’s weird for a thing I remember from childhood to not have actually been that much of a thing. Here’s the thing that blows my mind: how is it there was never a Saturday Morning cartoon featuring the Welcome Back, Kotter gang, only they’re, like, all pre-teen kids and maybe superheroes travelling the world and maybe they’re robots? And they have a spunky alien helping them out? And there’s an episode where they travel to London and have to save the Crown Jewels from some crook who’s using a fog-monster cover story? How was this not a thing? Does the lack of this indicate that yes, in fact, reality has been deeply broken since at least 1980? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Getting Ready For The Eclipse


So we’ve only got a couple days left before the eclipse. I think we’re basically set. But we should go over some last-minute arrangements before we do.

First. I’ve talked with about two-thirds of all the dragons I know and they’ve agreed they aren’t going to go eating the sun while everything’s happening. They also agree not to eat the Moon. They’re making no promises about not eating Saturn, though. I know, I know, I kept pointing out how much we like the rings. This one silver dragon asked when’s the last time I looked at them and that’s just not fair. I’m not on Saturn-ring-watching duty. That’s, like, I want to say Eric? I think Eric signed up for that.

Second. We don’t need paper plates or plastic silverware. We have Jakebe signed up to bring them, and we’ve even got someone who’s going to tell him. Don’t worry. I’ve known him for years and I’m pretty sure he’s got this. Or will. Ooh, do you think he has those little wicker baskets you put the paper plates in? They make picnics just so much better.

Third. Egg salad. Here we do need help. We need someone who’ll whip up enough egg salad for everybody who’s on the path between 80 percent and totality. We’ve got enough egg salad for the 40 percent through 80 percent bands, and we’ve found that most of the people in the 40 percent and less bands are figuring to get their own lunches so we’re not worrying about them. They’re missing out, though. Should say, we want the egg salad with a little bit of dill picked from the yard just as if it were all right to grow plants in your yard and pick them and eat them. I know, we’ve been doing this for years but it still feels like we’re getting away with something. Please check the sign-up sheets and it’s all right if we have extra left over.

Fourth. As the sun passes behind the mountains of the lunar horizon we may see Baily’s Beads. We need about four more people to get up and polish them to a good shine so they’re really presentable. We’ve got the polishing rags, since we somehow have twelve camera-lens-cleaning cloths and we don’t know why we needed more than, like, two.

Fifth. Cloud cover. After the Transit of Venus we’re all rightly fed up with clouds obscuring stuff like this. We’ve got enough volunteers to go up in the sky and eat as many clouds as they can. That’s not going to be able to cover all the eclipse path, so we also need people who can go up and wave fans around to blow any clouds out of the way, then get out of the way before totality sets in. Please bring your own fans! We can’t arrange everything. Pro Tip: write your name or e-mail address on the fan’s handle so if it gets separated from you we know how to get it back.

Sixth. People to handle leftover egg salad. Yes, I said it’s all right if we have extra left over. That’s because we are going to have people to handle this left-over stuff. Look, it’s hard enough getting a big event like this organized. I’m not going to waste my time trying to make sure we exactly match up egg salad needs with egg salad availability. I say, make all the egg salad we can and we’ll work out what to do with the extra. I’m thinking spare lunches, but am open-minded.

Seventh. Oh, this is important. The music. Our band backed out because the guy who plays guitar has some impossibly complicated problem going on. You know the sort, where everything is caused by like four other causes and they’re all cross-feeding each other. So. I know how great it was back during the Annular Eclipse of 1994 when we just grabbed whatever CDs we had in our cars and did a jam of that. It’s temping to do that again but there’s a shocking number of you have cars that can’t even play CDs. I think we’re just going to have to stick to everybody listening to whatever podcasts they’re already behind on. Disappointing, but these are the times we live in. But if you do know a good band that’s got guitarists who aren’t caught up in crazypants drama please let us know. No, we’re not doing Pink Floyd covers again.

So I think we’re all set. If you want to do any last-minute sign-ups do it by 11 am Sunday. We are not pushing things to the last second and this time we mean it. And let’s try to get this right; this is our last full rehearsal before April 2024. Good luck and enjoy!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor is empty today. After a bit over a year at this and growing the Another Blog, Meanwhile index from 100 to 400, the analysts and traders agreed that they had done everything they could have hoped for, and that to carry on would just be to spoil the memories of what they had accomplished. All have agreed it was some of the best times of their lies, and agreed to stay in touch, all the while knowing that while everybody basically likes everybody else, they’re going to dissolve into bunches of at most two or three people who stay Facebook friends. They’ll now and then think of one of the others, and maybe even make contact, agreeing that they should totally get together sometime again, but never exactly do. And that’s all right. It’s fine to have friendships that aren’t ended, or estranged, or anything, just left after a contented while and occasionally revisited like an old home that’s not yours anymore.

Has The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Ever Seen A Squirrel?


Before I get into writing way too much about way too small a point, I want to mention my mathematics blog, where I had some more comic strips to write about yesterday. I’d like to say a little more about that, because I want to include an image of a comic strip with alarming art in it.

And if I pad the text enough before including the image, then WordPress makes it appear below the little block on the left with the dateline and tags and so on, then the image is larger, and that’s better.

And I need like one more line before it works on my computer to come out right.

Maybe one more.

One more, I think.

No, don’t need that one.

Beetle, offering food to some kind of small dog. 'I'm giving this squirrel a taste of cookie's stew.' Plato: 'That's kind.' The 'squirrel' looks dazed. Beetle: 'If he doesn't get sick, it's safe for ME to eat.' Plato: 'That's cruel.'
Mort Walker and Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 15th of August, 2017. So, in the vintage circa-1960 run of Beetle Bailey also on Comics Kingdom they have this fascinating running joke. General Halftrack frets that he hasn’t gotten any orders from the Pentagon for the last three years or so, and that last order was to just wait for their next order. It’s a good joke. It also feeds into the fan theory — yes, yes, all fan theories are the same fan theory — that Camp Swampy is some dopey military-fantasy camp with no connection to the actual US Army. I don’t care for the fan theory but, must say, an utterly forgotten camp kind of makes sense.

OK, so, yeah, since about 1950 comic strips have relied on this Mid-Century-Modern-influenced styling. Every comic strip develops its own non-representational but, hopefully, expressive design. And trying to fit something very different into that design can be difficult. Charles Schulz never figured out how to put a cat he liked into Peanuts. But this … I mean … what the heck?

I’m not saying I can do better. My own squirrel-drawing abilities are sharply limited. I would probably give you a better squirrel if I handed a canvas and ink brush to a raccoon and asked her to draw something. She would refuse, because it’s really crummy to ask an artist to draw something for free. I would offer the onion we kind of forgot we’ve had in the refrigerator since May as payment. She would insist also on getting the block of year-old cheddar that’s going a bit off because we’re not eating as much cheese as we expected. I would say she could have the parts that are starting to go dry, but not the salvageable part. And there we would reach an impasse. In any case, we wouldn’t get some Apartment 3-G nightmare like that. That’s what I’m saying.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a starting 23 points over the day to close at 400, a new high number and a nice, round number too. Everybody’s in quite the giddy mood, pondering, what can they possibly do to top this? Someone came in from consoling Lisa with the suggestion of “401”, but was called a mad fool and a dreamer.

400

Dream Preview


I suppose this is properly speaking a dream. But it’s a cryptic note from the dream world. It was mostly just a “graphitic content” warning for the dream to come. I’m excited by what that means. My guess is some of those neat charcoal-sketch animation like you see in Disney cartoons from back in the 70s that nobody cares about, or cared about when they were making them. I like the aesthetic.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index popped up seven points today as some leftover chocolates were found and the whole trading floor agreed that things just don’t get better than this.

377

Meanwhile In Town


The trading floor alluded to this yesterday. But Saturday there was some kind of open-air smooth-jazz festival going on down at the Armory, which is a couple miles away from here. I’m assuming it was open-air. If it wasn’t then the performers have to have obliterated the Armory with the force of sound alone. It was loud enough out here to recognize individual songs, which only got weird when someone started performing, for some reason, “Smoke On The Water” and that isn’t even me joking.

Besides a couple stray bits of that, though, the whole Eastside spent the day smothered under a blanket of background-worthy music. It finally ended around 9:30 in the evening, when someone thought to press a button and we finally moved, letting dozens of blocks of Lansing get out on the second floor.

As you’d figure there’s complaining about this on the neighborhood Facebook community. My love tells me there’s a sharp division between people who are annoyed at hour after hour of extremely soft jazz rattling their houses, and those who are annoyed at hour after hour of extremely soft jazz rattling their houses but think the complainers are just too old to enjoy music. You know, the hit music of DuPont industrial shorts from 1962. I’m only getting the good bits of the dispute, but that’s a good bit. And I haven’t made up a bit of this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose sixteen points today and then Lisa came back from some kind of lunchtime meeting about her proposed TV show and you do not want to get anywhere near that. Neither did the index, which fell five points after all that went down so we settled in at about an eleven-point rise.

370

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


Are you trying to work out what’s going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy? Welcome, fellow confused reader. I’m doing my best to explain the current storyline myself. I’m writing this in the middle of August 2017. If it’s much past that date for you, the story might have changed radically or even concluded. If I’ve written another summary of plot developments they should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for trusting in me to spot pop culture references in the venerable story comic about a scientific detective.

For other comic strip talk, my mathematics blog just reviewed some strips with the theme of “Pets Doing Mathematics”. Please consider that, too.

Dick Tracy.

4 June – 12 August 2017.

My last update, in early June, coincided with the conclusion of a storyline. So I have a nearly clean field for this one. The story for June and July focused on the B O Plenty family, hillbillies with one Devo hat and a powerful aroma to them who married into the comic strip decades ago. The Plentys worry about strange sounds suggesting their house is haunted. What they should worry about is Paragon Bank noticing there haven’t been any payments on their mortgage, like, ever. In foreclosure, Plenty points out that he paid for the house in full, and turns over the receipt. The judge goes against precedent and rules the bank may not seize their home and destroy their lives.

Not to worry for justice. The bank skips out on paying court costs. Tracy, at the behest of Gravel Gerty, goes to the bank to keep B O from shooting anyone wealthy. And while he’s there Blackjack and his gang pop in and hold up the bank. Tracy doesn’t get involved, on the grounds that he didn’t want to start a gunfight. Blackjack, a hardcore Dick Tracy fanboy, realizes the detective has been replaced by a pod person, but makes off with the cash. Tracy points out that Blackjack’s taken to robbing banks with notorious reputations for cheating people, so, you know. I’m sure the bank is working its way through to paying court costs like the manager says they were totally planning to do.

Blackjack's Hideout. 'I still can't believe it! I had the chance to meet B.O.Plenty and Gravel Gertie!' Winston: 'Why is that bothering you, Boss?' Blackjack: 'It's something you can't understand, Winston. If I'd met the Plentys, perhaps I could have met their daughter, Sparkle. I have all her toys. This is too much for me! I NEED TO GO ROB A BANK!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of June, 2017. So, better or worse: Blackjack going on a series of bank robberies, or Blackjack sliding in to Sparkle Plenty’s Twitter direct messages? Because I gotta say, he has got to have the creepiest come-ons.

Sparkle Plenty goes to the bank. There she hears the haunting strains of Blackjack’s leitmotif, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” (“I get knocked down/But I get up again”), which I am going to go ahead and assume he adopted after falling out of love with Smashmouth’s “All Star”. She appeals to his fanboyishness, offering to sign all his Sparkle Plenty collectible toys if he’ll call off the bank heist. He agrees, dependent on his getting a selfie with her. So that works out great for everybody.

Finance rumbles on. With Fleischer Savings and Loan defaulting on pension obligations Tracy figures he knows Blackjack’s next target. Manager Frank Hickman appreciates Tracy’s warning, but he’s counting on Blackjack robbing the bank to cover a $250,000 shortfall the auditor is days away from discovering. But Blackjack takes his time, as he’s busy building plastic scale models of Dick Tracy. Here the last molecule of plausibility is destroyed. I’ve been a plastic scale model builder since I was like seven and I will not accept the idea of a plastic scale model builder actually putting together a plastic scale model. We just buy kits and paints and glues and gather reference materials and let them sit until a loved one yells at us, then we sell two of the most-duplicated kits at the next yard sale. Building the blasted things goes against the Code.

Anyway, Blackjack wastes so much time that he gets to the bank just after Hickman’s set the place on fire. Tracy and his stakeout team, and Blackjack and his bank-robbery team, turn to rescue operations, hauling people out. Hickman fights Blackjack hard enough everyone knows something’s up. Tracy gets a major clue when all the bank workers say how Hickman set the fire. Blackjack’s arrested too, but he gets to see Tracy’s Wall of Action-Scarred Hats, which is a thing and really thrilling to him. And that, on the 25th of July, wraps up that story.

The Fleischer Savings and Loan is in ruins. Sam Catchem: 'Tracy, all the employees I've talked to say THIS FIRE WAS SET.' Tracy: 'Mr Hickman, we'll have to take you in for questioning.' Hickman: 'I WANT A LAWYER!' Tracy: 'As for you, Blackjack ... ' Backjack: 'I know Tracy. I had to help those people in the bank.' Tracy: 'Thank you, Blackjack.' 'Sure, I rob banks, but I'M NOT ALL BAD.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of July, 2017. What I’ve never been able to work out is whether the name of the Fleischer Savings and Loan is a shout-out to the Fleischer Studios, the animation team that brought us all those great Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons, but also went and made Hunky And Spunky For Some Reason so maybe that’s why they get a rotten bank named for them?

The current story: Silver and Sprocket Nitrate escape from prison. Their liberator: an animate Moai named Public Domain. Domain wants the bogus-film experts to create a phony audio recording. There’s the legend that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville had recorded Abraham Lincoln’s voice on his phonautograph in 1863. The Nitrates like this idea, figuring they can make it their one last caper before retiring to a farm upstate. While the Nitrates call everybody they know to ask if they can impersonate Abraham Lincoln, Domain primes his mark. And that’s where we stand now.

The work begins at Public Domain's hideout. Sprocket: 'You've got a package, Silver.' Silver: 'THE CYLINDERS ARE HERE! They're made of canova oil, like the ones Edourd-Leon Scott de Martinville used.' Sprocket: 'Are you going to record on this cylinder?' Silver: 'You got it. Abraham Lincoln was supposed to be a tenor with a Kentucky accent.' Sprocket: 'Public domain is right. You're the tops at scams like this!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 6th of August, 2017. I am embarrassed to say how much I’m geeking out about this forged-audio-recording storyline. I mean, creating a plausible phony antique media document like this, which I assume has to come complete with a plausible provenance, presses so many nerd buttons on me.

There’s two major plot threads that have been left unresolved but got refreshes recently. Nothing’s been said about the weird noises that made the Plentys think their house was haunted. Other Detective Lee Ebony continues in deep undercover as Mister Bribery’s bodyguard.

Not given a refresh the past couple months: crime boss Posie Ermine wants his daughter, who’s been brainwashed and surgically altered into the Duplicate Mysta Chimera (“Moon Maid”), back. There was some (apparent) Lunarian in an Antarctic Valley pledging to investigate the mysterious Duplicate Mysta.

Next Week: Since my car has finally passed 100,000 miles I should take it down to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for a check-up. Will there be old-time radio references? You make the call!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eight points today despite fears among traders that there might be multiple open-air jazz festivals going on in the Eastside that we’re going to have to deal with? The heck is that even possible?

359

Statistics Saturday: The Numbers Zero Through Twelve In Alphabetical Order With A Mistake To Lure Some Know-It-All Into Commenting


  1. 8
  2. 11
  3. 5
  4. 4
  5. 9
  6. 1
  7. 7
  8. 6
  9. 10
  10. 3
  11. 12
  12. 2
  13. 0

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points today as everyone reviewed the list above and held their breath.

351

In Which The Journey Is Its Reward, Turnip Edition


I don’t remember why I was reading Wikipedia’s article about turnips, but it was justified by running across this sentence and its parenthetical diversion:

The Macomber turnip (actually a rutabaga) dating from the late 19th century features in one of the very few historic markers for a vegetable, on Main Road in Westport, Massachusetts.

Yes, they have a photograph of the historical marker (“Legend of the Turnips”) and no, I’m lying. I know why I was reading Wikipedia’s article about turnips. I just don’t want to admit what it was.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped fourteen points and while there’s a faction trying to argue that that isn’t anything more than if it lost like four points back when it was at a hundred there’s people running around screaming and just making everybody all tense.

356