Statistics Saturday: The World’s Top Canadas


  1. Canada
  2. Canandaigua, New York
  3. Little Canada, Chua Chu Kang New Town, Singapore
  4. Canada Township, Pennsylvania
  5. The Due South interactive dark ride at Universal Studios Vancouver
  6. Canada Township, North Carolina
  7. Canada (lunar crater)
  8. Canada Township, Nebraska

Reference: Charlie Chaplin And His Times, Kenneth S Lynn.

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Gasoline Alley is trying to make a fool of me


So yes, I do enjoy the couple hours I spend each week perusing the story comics so that I can write a plot summary. And even the writing of the plot summary. If I am doing a public service, good. It’s fun, and it seems to help people out.

So I would have written this past Sunday’s recap of Gasoline Alley in any case. But I feel a little disheartened that Jim Scancarelli posted this on Wednesday, and it goes and does the whole plot recap thing in three panels.

Melba: 'How did you meet this Willow woman?' Rufus: 'Her little dog scared off a wolf that was chasin' me and she hadn't eaten in days an' passed out in my place an' never left!' Melba: 'Sounds like *you* passed out in the vineyard an' never left!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of June, 2019. By the way, this is a nice use of a continuous background with only implicit panels. I enjoy that sort of composition.

Anyway I’m just hoping that this was coincidence. I’d hate to think Jim Scancarelli was trying to undercut me. I thought it was clear that jokes like saying he was trying to get installed as an exhibit at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio were affectionate. I mean, I’d love to be at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio myself.

Well. At this rate I’m wondering what James Allen is planning to do to me come Tuesday.

Everything There Is To Say About Holding Bottles


Now that we have some time let’s consider how to hold bottles. Bottles are a popular, common way to hold things that need holdings. Most objects are content to be petted or rubbed. Some, such as carpets and carports (they are not interchangeable!) need to be hugged. Bottles, though? They have special talents. They can hold other things, which yes, many things can. But they also can migrate away from where they ought to be and into the path where people walk. The bottles don’t mean anything bad by it. They suffer from wandering lids, and do their best to keep up. You’ve had days like that.

You want to be careful about disturbing bottles. They might be holding laundry detergent, so that the cap on it is tight enough to fall off when you touch the bottle. This teaches us something about the importance of holding bottles well. It’s more important than alphabetizing your cats. It’s not as important as locking the front door before you go on a two-week trip to another continent.

Most of us think we have a good idea of what is a bottle. The question of what is not a bottle might be a little shakier. Start for example with soda bottles. There’s not much arguing their bottle-ness. But where does a soda bottle come from? Soda comes from soda bottles. Thus we conclude that soda bottles come from soda bottle bottles. Clear enough. Where then do the soda bottle bottles come from? The only answer is soda bottle bottle bottles. From this we can infer the existence of soda bottle bottle bottle bottles. And we carry on like this until it gets funny to slip a “bootle” or two into the repetitive list of “bottles”. You see how even I couldn’t resist.

But then think about these bottle (etc) bottles. Where are they all kept? How can there be any factory capacious enough to hold an infinite regression of container-style bottles? At the factory you get soda from, yes. The bottling plant. But still, how is there room for all this? And the answer lies in the economies of scale. They have a dragon. This sort of thing is key to almost all businesses. Try not to worry about it.

Bottles can take on all sorts of forms, too. A soda bottle has some resemblance to a wine bottle. I mean, if you squint. And you’re looking at a different wine bottle. Still, neither of those looks a lot like the bridge-spouted vessels of the ancient Phoenicians. I’m told those are bottles by people who don’t seem to want me to look foolish. I don’t know, myself. The description makes it sound like it’s some kind of ship. I know they had ships in the Phoenician days. That’s almost what defined Phoenician days. You had ships, you had some carnival rides set up in the agora, you had a face-painting booth. Maybe have a Pythagorean over to light up the place. Bottles don’t seem to be part of this at all. I apologize for that, but the topic was good for a hundred words of content, so that’s something.

To hold a bottle, apply your hands to the outside of the bottle. Under no circumstances should you apply them to the inside. There’s only three possibilities for the inside of the bottle. You might have no idea what’s inside the bottle. In that case it’s probably something you don’t want on your hands, like glitter paint or finger-remover ointment. Or maybe you do know exactly what’s inside the bottle. In that case if you wanted it on your hands you wouldn’t have put it in the bottle to start with. You’d have put it on your hands. Yes, maybe someone else filled the bottle with the something. But then why did they put it in a bottle, instead of on your hands? They must have had good reasons, which you shouldn’t just ignore. You should learn what the reasons are and only then ignore them. The final case is maybe the bottle is empty. That’s harmless, if it is. Is the risk worth it? I don’t see how.

I hope this has answered all your questions about bottles, except for the obvious one. You’ll have to work that one out yourself. I have no opinion about whether socks are merely bottles for toes.

In Which I Maybe Run Out Of Words


I apologize for not writing more but I have been trying to match all my various keyboards with their appropriate lockboards. It’s not going well, in terms of matches completed. It’s going very well in terms of not getting things done on time.

(Thanks for watching me do what I promised to do last week. Please visit next week as I try to figure out why autocorrect changed an attempted word into “housecfront”.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures is trying to make a fool of me


Me, last week when I reviewed a 1960s cartoon so I could build a little buffer time:

Next week I should get back to Popeye’s Island Adventures with a fresh essay at this link. Now watch as King Features double-crosses me and doesn’t post a new cartoon this week.

King Features:

(Goes two weeks without posting a new cartoon.)

I was ready for it and yet I feel betrayed.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s with the woman living in Rufus’s house? April – June 2019


I’m happy to be one source of plot summaries for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about September 2019 I may have a more up-to-date summary at this link. I also have a good number of older essays at that link. If you want to know the last couple years’ story developments. Thanks for using them.

On my other blog I look for mathematics topics as discussed in the syndicated comics. You might enjoy that too. I enjoy it all. But for now, back to the story strips.

Gasoline Alley.

1 April – 22 June 2019.

The story seemed over last time I looked in on Gasoline Alley. Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s career of real estate fraud had collapsed. So had his relationship with Mayor Melba Rose. Rufus was now free to try getting his feelings requited.

Rufus takes Melba to Corky’s Diner. It goes well. Rufus is walking on air as he heads home. He’s also walking through the woods, which gets him chased by a wolf. The wolf gets stopped and scared off by Toro, a small dog. Toro’s there with Willow, a young woman wandering the woods. Toro’s hungry. Willow claims that she isn’t, right before passing out.

Rufus, to the dazed Willow, on his bed: 'That's OK, Willow! Yo' take th'bed an' I'll sleep on the porch! It's a nice night ... outside ... er ... ' (Willow collapses on the mattress and instantly falls asleep.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of April, 2019. I only ever seem to write about the art in these photo captions. So be it: that’s a great-looking sloppy bedroom there. It looks like it was fun to draw. Also in minor plot points notice that Toro is still growling at Rufus, long after their first meeting. This is because Toro is part of the Gasoline Alley snark community, who would like rather less of Rufus but aren’t sure who they’d like to see more of instead.

Rufus feeds both of them, and offers Willow a place to sleep. He sleeps on the porch, in the rain. By morning, when Joel picks him up to go in to work, he’s a mess. And please consider how bad he has to look for Joel to think he’s a mess. They go to the thrift store for some better clothes and run into Frank Nelson. It’s a rare non-Skeezix-connected appearance for Frank Nelson in these pages. They get a fresh coat and head on.

At the Used Thrift Shop. Joel: 'We better stop in the Used Thrift Shop an' get you a new used jacket!' Rufus, to the clerk at the suits: ''Scuse us fo' protrudin', but do yo' work here?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooooh! No! I'm a display mannequin on break!' Rufus, to Joel: 'Wha's he mean?' Joel, to Rufus: 'He's a dummy - yo' dummy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of May, 2019. It’s interesting that Scancarelli framed that first panel so that Joel would appear to have mule ears. Maybe even a tail, if you read the lines of Becky’s harness wrong. I suppose Joel’s had a stubborn insistance that Rufus should dump Willow. But that’s a weird small point to reinforce in artwork. It might just be an accident. Scancarelli tried to fit Rufus, Joel, vehicle, and door together in frame. Maybe he couldn’t avoid the composition making something unintentionally funny. I do feel like the repetitions of ‘used’ in the first panel are meant to be funnier than I found them.

At the end of the day Rufus returns home. Willow’s sleeping, but she offers to make dinner. If Rufus has brought any more food, since she finished what was there. And Toro is still a growling, angry little dog. This after being fed several times and getting to see that Rufus is a good guy. I mean, you may find the comic tradition he comes from annoying. But he’s been consistently kind and generous this story.

Come bedtime Rufus heads out to Joel’s. He doesn’t want to sleep on the porch in the rain again. He doesn’t like how Toro’s chased out his own cats. Joel has harsh advice on this: stop feeding Willow and Toro. If she’s sick, take her to the emergency room. If she’s not, then — what’s she doing?

Rufus, dressing, in the hay next to Becky the mule: 'Sorry 'bout the commotion last night, Joel!' Joel: 'Don't give it no never mind! Becky ain't used t'sleepin' with humans!' Becky, thinking: ''Specially if they haven't bathed in a while!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of June, 2019. Rufus’s bathing habits, and general odor, have been a running gag in the story. It’s not been a plot-relevant thing, just, a little something we’re supposed to find funny.

And it’s a fair question. Rufus spends the night sleeping with Joel’s mule. He stinks of it when he gets to work. He covers this up with the free perfume samples at the department store. This is too much in a different direction. But he’s able to tone his odor down to “existing” by lunchtime. He and Melba walk the streets downtown. And then he sees …

Melba, pointing in a store window: 'Oh, Rufus! Let's look at these shoes in the window! It'll only take a sec! That brown pair is divine, isn't it?' Rufus, looking to the side: 'Hmm!' Melba: 'Rufus! You're not looking!' Rufus, thinking: 'Yes I am! But not at shoes!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of June, 2019. It’s a good, cinematic selection of panel shots here. And yet I’m distracted by reasoning that actually, yes, Rufus’s face should look about like that when seen from that angle, that close up. It’s somehow not what I expect, but the reasoning behind it seems correct. I don’t know; this is just one of my problems again.

Well, he’s sure he saw Willow’s reflection. Why would she be in town despite her fatigue and dizziness? We’ll see in the next few weeks what her deal is. The strip has gone to some length to paint her as a mooch and even an unpleasant person. But I notice it hasn’t committed to anything that couldn’t be rationalized. I don’t say there is a plot twist coming. I think it’s plausible there will be, is all.

Before writing a What’s Going On In … essay I try to remember the highpoints of the last three months’ of a comic. I go on to re-read the whole comic run, yes. But I like to think of what my impressions were. It helps me figure whether I need to schedule time for another 2,000-word doorstop of an essay. This time around I realized I couldn’t think what had happened exactly. Rufus and Melba Rose … were on a date back in early April, and then this last week … they still were? Something like that? With an odd week of Frank Nelson in the middle?

Mind, there’s nothing wrong with a story strip not being that plot-dense. Jim Scancarelli writes a casual comic, with low stakes. I’m surprised that it has been this little. I suppose this is why I expect Willow not to be what she obviously is. I’m also surprised by Rufus getting two stories in a row. Also that there’s a mention to the unresolved story of his courting The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. I’d assumed that story was dropped in favor of Rufus courting the Mayor. So, even if not much is happening there’s still surprises coming around.

Next Week!

We’ve got desert. We’ve got a gold mine that might exist. We’ve got a guy with facial hair. We’ve got obscure raccoon-like mammals in the foreground. If there’s not some major breaking news we’ll have James Allen’s Mark Trail featured in a week. Thanks.

Statistics Saturday: Some Fake Roman Numerals And What They Mean


  • T (twelve)
  • E (three)
  • W (six)
  • F (ten)
  • R (twenty but with the wind chill bringing it to the low teens)
  • Γ (π)
  • K (nine hundred ninety-nine)
  • A (regnal years of the current emperor, to date)
  • L (3014 RKCB, referencing the lowest step response to the 4NT key card asking bid in a right jolly game of bridge)
  • U (ninety, but with the connotation of talking sarcastically to the Etruscans)

Reference: The Zimmermann Telegram, Barbara W Tuchman.

A Follow-Up About Mnemonics


My love read over that my Everything There Is To Say About Mnemonics essay and found something I had failed to say. I hate when it turns out I missed a thing to say. But it is important to note to call them “mnemonics” and not “pneumonics”. “Mnemonics” is the thing about remembering stuff. “Pneumnonics” if that were anything would be something about vapor-propelled actions. Or possibly a New Wave band with two hits, one of them about romance during nuclear war and one of them about radio. I’d love to help people keep this straight but I don’t know a way to make it easy to remember.

Everything There Is To Say About The History Of Gas Prices


There’s little question about whether gas prices are rising. You can check whether the gas station signs are getting taller. But are the prices increasing as well as rising? Those varied collections of digits don’t grow on trees, not anymore. The last grove of wild price-berry trees grew in Maine’s upper peninsula until 1914, when spoilsport geographers pointed out Maine hasn’t got any upper peninsula. An effort to transplant them to the New Hampshire panhandle failed for similar reasons.

The history of gas prices traces back to the Babylonians. One fragmentary parchment a scant three cubits by five reads “DXXXIX OCTANE .XIXIX”. This shows how thousands of years ago, before not only the invention of unleaded but before leaded was a thing, it was cheaper to get 89-octane regular. The meaning was unclear to the Babylonians, because they hadn’t invented Roman Numerals yet. (Roman Numerals were invented by early Renaissance mathematicians to make their early work look more classy.) The Babylonians were pretty hazy on the concept of Rome and whether it would go anywhere too. It’s more sort of sprawled than gone anywhere.

Even once they found out what Roman Numerals were there was still confusion . For example, everyone was pretty sure that “D” is how the Romans wrote “500”. “Fifty” should be something else, like a letter φ. The sad thing is there’s no way to find out. We have to stumble through and tell ourselves if we’re confused it’s probably because we missed something. Maybe it’s a letter ‘T’. That seems like it ought to be a Roman Numeral for something.

Today, gas prices are generally obtained through mining. Most 9’s come from three former mountains in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Even digits, most often, are taken from Kentucky or the Ozark Mountains when the owners aren’t looking. The odd numbers 1, 3, and most 7’s are dug from former silver veins in Nevada. Other 7’s come from the lower Mississippi region, the onetime “breadbasket of numbers that look random-ish”. The mighty 5 is produced by the one remaining open plant at Washington state’s Hanford Nuclear Plant. This is a highly industrial process. It creates 5’s by fissioning off either a 2 from existing 7’s, or a 3 from an existing 8. A project in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in early 1994 fused a 2 and a 3. But the operation wasn’t practical, just pretty. There’s still sometimes talk about reviving the project and hoping it works out better. It’s nice to hope for, but don’t count on anything.

As long as gas prices have been for sale people have been trying to find ways around paying them. One one approach is to use prices that are not actually written down but are on electronic signs instead. These are easy to change, so gas station owners can respond to things like the crisis in vanadium. I’m assuming there’s a crisis in vanadium. It seems like the kind of element that’s always having crises. But there are disadvantages. A physically written price needs to be paid for once and then used however long the gas station owner wants. With electronic prices you keep owing typeface royalties to either the Caslon family or the Mergenthaler heirs. Cross them at your peril.

What of the quirk of ending gas prices with a 9/10? The United States has not minted a 9/10-cent coin except briefly in 1831. This was when the Second Bank of the United States was feeling all sarcastic towards President Andrew Johnson. It was a great moment of pettiness, but they looked foolish when they remembered Johnson wasn’t in office and they meant to snipe at Andrew Jackson. The modern uses of 9/10 traces to the Second World War. A War Production Board order of January 1943 restricted the use of the fractions between 91/100 and 99/100. For the duration prices went from ending in 99/100 down to 9/10. Then people got so comfortable with that they didn’t feel like changing back when fraction rationing ended in March 1945.

Many non-United States countries sell gas by the liter, rather than the gallon. Thus they use the same prices but at different times. This inspires curious feelings of nostalgia or a sense of peeking into the future, depending on when one happens to be overseas, and when one should be otherwise.

In Which I Use Few Words Few In Count And Average In Kind


You say it’s World Simile Day? What is that like?

(Thank you for watching me fulfill last week’s stupid word promise. Please visit next week when I try to match all of my various keyboards with their appropriate lockboards.)

1960s Popeye has Plumber’s Pipe Dream


I’m taking this week to build myself some margin in the Popeye’s Island Adventure series. I’m doing that by filling in a week with an older cartoon. This one, Plumber’s Pipe Dream, is part of the notorious 1960s series. In that, King Features made over two hundred short cartoons over the course of about three years to fill television with a heap of content. Doing this required hiring, like, everybody who could hold a pencil. This is a short that I thought King Features had on their official YouTube channel. They have a couple dozen of that run. So I’m posting a copy I can find. If you find it’s been removed, please let me know. I’ll try to find a replacement. It could be King Features will have added it to their official channel by that time.

This cartoon, at least, I can give credits for. It was made by Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney worked for Disney in the Golden Age — he directed sequences in Pinocchio and Dumbo. And he worked for UPA Studios at its peak too. You could get that idea from the stylish title card. By 1960 he had his own studio doing television work, King Features cartoons among it.

This is not a good cartoon. It is one I enjoy watching. It’s weird that those go together. A strain in pop culture, especially on the Internet, celebrates bad stuff. It’s been celebrated so long that we can forget that this is a strange choice to make. What’s fun about a bad cartoon, or movie, or book, or story?

I think it’s something you have to grow into. You start out taking in stories (cartoons, movies, whatever) and accepting them as stories. Then you get to knowing stories well enough. You can tell good from bad, and maybe why some are good and some bad. Most of us then stick to the good stories, and live a happy life with our entertainment choices. But some of us, in what feels like a nerdy thing to do, break that. I think some of us get so obsessed with studying stories, and why they work and why they don’t, that we overthink it. Like, we notice that most good stories follow (sensible) rules. A genuinely bad story, though? That won’t follow rules. Or it follows a weird distorted idea of the rules. It surprises in a way that a well-made story can’t. The surprise and novelty is great if you’ve consumed so much of a particular kind of story that normal ones are boring. And it’s great for showing by its mistakes how good stories come together. And, yes, a good story that defies rules and breaks expectations is also cherished. But there’s probably more ways to make a bad story than a good one.

So how does this hypothesis matter to this cartoon?


We start with Olive Oyl having a leaky faucet. Good premise. Plumbing cartoons are usually fun. Leaking water gives things a sense of urgency, and that often builds comic energy well. Swee’Pea suggests having it fixed, something Olive Oyl never thought of, even though they have the same voice actor. Olive Oyl insisting she wouldn’t have thought of that, and looking up “plumbers” under “P as in Plop”, are a couple cute throwaway dialogue jokes. They’re not quite laugh lines, but at least they’re cheery.

Popeye’s the designated plumber, and mentions how this call roused him from a snooze. There’s a weird momentary fade to black at about 1:31, before we see Popeye’s face making some weird expressions. This turns out to be plot-important, but you only know that in retrospect. Popeye’s first attempt only makes the leak worse and he rushes to the basement to turn the water off. This by the way takes about as long as a whole Popeye’s Island Adventure does. So I appreciate how much story compression has to go into those shorts.

Popeye can’t remember which apartment he needs to turn off, so he breaks that pipe too. So he figures now he has to go to the water main and runs out to the city sewer. Here, given the direction to turn the wheel right he turns it back and forth until it breaks off, sending even more water loose. You have get to wondering whether Popeye was always this incompetent. Boring Suburban Popeye, the character he mutated into in cartoons of the 50s, had a lot of problems. (And yes, this is Popeye in the city. But it’s the way he acts when the cartoon makes him the owner of a boring home in a boring suburb.)

Now the apartment is flooding to the point it looks lost at sea. Popeye needs to get to the city mains before a J G Ballard novel can break out. He hails a taxi, that gets there on distinctly dry streets, and calls out, “The City Water Works!” The shocked driver asks, “It does?” and so help me that makes me laugh every time. This is because I am a nerd. That a phrase might have more than one meaning is always funny to both nerds and four-year-olds. Four-year-olds it makes sense. They’re delighting in the discovery of how language works. Nerds, I don’t know. Might be we so like having things explained and sensible that a sentence which resists mono-meaning is delightful.

Now the water comes, with the city streets flooding or flooding more. Popeye swims toward the water works, only to find the water’s risen so high that it threatens to extinguish the Statue of Liberty’s torch. You know, the torch that has never been a literal fire.

There’s some spinach floating by, that Popeye grabs happily and eats. He gets his power-up fanfare and … water squirts out of his muscle bulges. Well, he puddles to the drowned shutoff valve, which opens a drain, threatening to suck him down. And then what do you know but it’s all a dream, and he’s still getting another call from Olive Oyl. He rushes to Olive Oyl’s apartment and once again forgets to turn off the water. The end.

Lay out the storyline like that and it seems workable. Making a small problem ever-worse is a standard comic method. It’s standard because it works so well. And there are a bunch of funny little drawings. Popeye asleep in his chair looks weird, but in a funny way. The taxi driver has some nice bugged-out eyes when he sees the flood coming. There’s more nice casual jokes than I remembered were in this short. It isn’t quotable, but that’s because all the jokes depend on their context to be anything. And a cartoon doesn’t have to be quotable to be good.

But what’s bad. Mm. Well, little things. Every scene takes a few seconds longer than it needs. The music was done by hitting shuffle on the King Features 1960s Background Themes playlist. I’ll give them a pass on how much animation gets reused within this short. They had like $20 and a heap of Green Stamps for an animation budget, and as many as twelve minutes to draw the thing. But did a third of all the dialogue have to be Olive Oyl crying out “Heellllp” in an endless repeated chant? (I likely find this more annoying than other people because the same chant gets used in many of the 60s cartoons. I recognize it like I recognize the exact same gunshot sound effect in half of all the M-G-M Tom and Jerry cartoons.)

For the most part, this cartoon is boring. Or it’s annoying, when Olive Oyl is crying out “Heellllp” in a sound clip they used in every King Features Popeye. It’s going a bit loopy, with the speed and magnitude of the flooding. But it’s not until 3:55, it changes. This is when Popeye notices the Statue of Liberty is almost drowned. Now the cartoon is not only bad, but great bad. Making the flooding worse by fixing it? That’s a normal line of action. That’s the plot thread that you could make a good cartoon around. Making the flooding “Oh, and it’s going to extinguish the flame in the Statue of Liberty’s Torch”? That’s not a logical thought. The cartoon leaps into some surreal, dream-logic territory. It’s surprising and weird. The rules of plot logic that we’re used to fail and that’s thrilling. Plus there’s a nice alarmed look on the statue’s face.

That it’s all a dream is … eh. The cartoon could as easily have had the big drain open up and let the city dry. Making it all a dream retroactively excuses Popeye making dumb mistakes, at least. And it sets up the here-we-go-again punch line. The cartoon manages, at least for a while, to be a great bad cartoon.


Next week I should get back to Popeye’s Island Adventures with a fresh essay at this link. Now watch as King Features double-crosses me and doesn’t post a new cartoon this week. Well, I have 219 other 1960s cartoons to look at. Plus they’ve posted episodes from Popeye And Son. I can wait them out.

I Just Want To Check That I Understand A Technology Thing Right


Check my work on this. The reason every web site nowadays, including the ones that just show you what the Linotype keyboard layout looked like and reprint old tips for how to get proficient at mechanical typesetting, ask for permission to send you notifications is because they’re run by vampires, right? And they need you to say they’re allowed in before they can come and vampire out all over you? Because I can’t think of another answer that fits the available facts.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Daddy Warbucks really kill his wife? March – June 2019


Thanks for wondering about Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If it’s later than about September 2019, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. This should get you up to date on what’s happening as of mid-June 2019.

Dick Tracy.

24 March – 16 June 2019.

There was a special guest star in Dick Tracy last time around. Not from another comic strip. Joe Samson, who’d been a character in the late 70s, was back. He’s pursuing a Tacoma serial killer who’s murdering schoolteachers. Schoolteachers who are also basketball coaches and maybe sportswriters. We readers know who it is, and why he changed towns. It’s Barnabas Tar, hit new sports columnist for The Daily. He’s moved because his brother Reggie “Rocks” Tar thought this might stop his brother’s murdering.

Tar’s newest killing makes the papers. And gets him a Serial Killer Headline Name, “Teacher’s Pet”. The Tacoma newspapers called him that too. This outrages the killer. He confronts Wendy Wichel, star crime reporter for The Daily. And threatens death if he calls her anything but The Professor. She writes up the encounter for The Daily. And hasn’t got much more to share with Tracy. The Professor had a disguise. Also one of those voice altering devices that exists in this kind of story.

[ The SBN Parking Lot - As Dark As It Gets ] Wendy Wichel, to a masked assaulter: 'W-What do you want?' Professor: 'Your story about the murder was an INSULT! Do I look like a 'Teacher's Pet' to you?' Wichel: 'No!' Professor: 'I don't pander to anybody! I teach the teachers about death! You will call me 'The Professor'! Understand? Use 'Teacher's Pet' again and you'll be victim number eight!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 31st of March, 2019. Also hey, check that Crimestoppers reference to The Stan Freberg Show. The sixth and eighth episodes included a “Face The Funnies” sketch in which people too smart for their own good talk about such nonsense as … Dick Tracy and … Little … Orphan … Annie. Hm.

The investigation’s short on leads, so the subplots have to pick up the slack. Bonnie Tracy, who turns out to be a schoolteacher, takes the class on a tour of The Daily newsroom. Barnabas Tar is smitten with Bonnie Tracy, and they set a date at Coletta’s Restaurant. And just in time, as Reggie Tar has thought hard about his brother’s serial-killing and decided to call the cops on him. One might complain that once again Tracy gets the solution handed to him, no super-detective work needed. And I admit I’m not the crime podcast listener in the household. But my understanding is “family member turned them in” is one of the top ways serial killers get caught. It’s that and “gets stopped for an expired license plate and somebody checks”. Tracy catches up with Barnabas Tar at the date with Bonnie. Barnabas flees, out the kitchen and into the alley. Cornered in an alley, he tries to shoot Tracy and misses. Tracy tries to shoot Tar and succeeds.

(Gunshots in an alley between The Professor and Dick Tracy.) Tracy; 'Stay still. I'm calling an ambulance.' The Professor, falling into a heap of garbage: 'Don't bother ... dying in a garbage dump ... how ironic.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of April, 2019. Not to pick on someone’s dying utterances here but … I’m not clear what the irony is here. I can headcanon this, certainly, fitting it to Barnabas Tar/The Professor here having been proud to make it out of the dumps. And there’s no reason that his dying thoughts have to be anything Tracy would understand. I feel unsatisfied that they’re something we readers don’t quite fully have.

So that covers the Teacher’s Pet killings. The only big loose end is that Bonnie Tracy still has ambiguous feelings for Joe Samson, who’s been less a part of this story than you’d expect. But Samson doesn’t have to leave the strip just yet.

And some other busienss. The 26th and 27th of April, Vitamin and Kandikane Flintheart’s son is born. He’s named Kane Flintheart. Seems cute as kids go, so far as I can tell.


The 28th of April started another Minit Mystery, a two-week diversion written by Jim Doherty. The framing device is Dick Tracy recounting his time as police chief of Homewood. This for the benefit of Patrick Culhane and Austin Black, history writers. The story’s illustrated in a different style to the modern Dick Tracy usual. And it’s soaked in bits I love from old-time-radio detective stories. Wide-open cities run by gangsters, mayors being elected on a reform slate, protection rackets, insurance fraud.

The mystery featured a lot of text, though, and a lot of plot. When I read this as it came out I felt lost. I trusted that if I read the whole two weeks’ worth of strips at once, it would make better sense. It does. The solution is — well, it’s sensible. I’m not positive that it’s adequately planted by the narrative. But the puzzle would not have taken Dick Tracy so long without all the heavy plotting and heaps of information piled on the reader either. So was it fair? … Yes, I’ll say it was. I hope not only because I can imagine, say, Gerald Mohr reeling off Dick Tracy’s lines here.


Back to the main continuity. The current story started, more or less, the 13th of May. (There was one day’s strip previewing it before the Minute Mystery.) It features a special guest star. B-B Eyes’s trial for murder has hit a snag, from the prosecutor’s point of view. Its main evidence, the sworn statement of Trixie Tinkle, is missing. So is Tinkle. She was last seen on a cruise with her husband, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Yes, the story is a chance to check in on Dick Tracy‘s foster comic, the orphaned Annie.

Trixie Tinkle’s been missing for twenty years. I have no idea whether this is something from the actual Annie. I’m sorry. GoComics has Annie comics going back to spring of 2001, but I don’t have the kind of research time for that. Tracy’s sent to ask Warbucks about the disappearance of his wife.

Tracy: 'Oliver, you've been married ... ' Warbucks: 'Yes. Twice, at last count. My first wife took in an orphan. It was a fad. I came home and there was Annie. I'll always be grateful for that.' Tracy: 'And your second wife?' Warbucks: 'Kind of nosy today, eh, Tracy?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of May, 2019. That’s some typically good use of shadowed faces especially in the first panel. Also this strip makes me realize I don’t know the canonical explanation for how Warbucks and Annie ever met. I think like most people of my age cohort I just knew … uh … it was like in the Broadway musical that we never saw either, right? More or less anyway. So I appreciate getting the surprising news that Warbucks had a wife and she did the hard work of making the comic strip happen.

Warbucks doesn’t want to talk about his wives, and being rich and white, doesn’t see much reason he should answer fool questions from a public servant. But he’ll admit eternal gratitude to his first wife for taking in Annie. His second … he calls a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work. Like, how could Annie know someone who disappeared twenty years ago? Also, wait, how can B-B Eyes have been waiting twenty years for a trial? (B-B Eyes was thought dead during that time which, yeah, would delay his being brought to trial.) Also wait, Oliver Warbucks hadn’t adopted Annie before … recently? Really? That seems weird, but … I mean, I’m not going to challenge Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on story strip continuity.

It’s not just you, though. Emphasizing that Tinkle’s disappearance was twenty years ago, instead of a vague “years ago”, is weird. I think most comics readers accept this sort of floating timeline continuity. You know, where we don’t bring up that Tracy’s been about the same age since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Maybe it is going to be important that this was twenty years ago, but as of now, I don’t know why “years ago” wouldn’t suffice.

Meanwhile B-B Eyes thinks he might be able to do something, now that the key evidence against him has vanished. He visits lawyer Tim Jackel, who’d tried years ago to get Tinkle a separation from Oliver Warbucks. Jackel actually says he got “a beating”. I’m not clear if he means in court or with a diamond-crusted mace. You don’t want to think that Oliver Warbucks, one of the protagonists of a long-running story comic, would be a violent and malevolent person. Then you remember he’s not just a billionaire, he’s a munitions manufacturer.

[ B-B Eyes's Apartment ] B-B: 'Tim Jackel! Long time no see!' Jackel: 'Same here! What can I do for you, B-B Eyes?' B-B: 'I've got to find someone, Tim. A showgirl named Trixie Tinkle.' Jackel: 'Trixie? You can have her as far as I'm concerned . I tried to get her a trial separation from her husband, Oliver Warbucks. What a beating I got! It wasn't long after that she and Warbucks took a world cruise. Trixie never came back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of June, 2019. I’m very distracted in this side of the plot because I would swear that “Tim Jackel” is the name of somebody I play pinball with. So I keep thinking what the odds would be against him in a head-to-head match on Bad Cats. I like my chances. I can usually grind out the center ramp shot.

Anyway, B-B Eyes knows that Tinkle spoke often with a woman named Gypsy Gay. She might know something that might be admissible. He hires Jackel to track her down. Also searching for Gay: Dick Tracy. All they have to go on is her employer from when Tinkle vanished. And the hopes that that employer maybe knows where she’s gone. Really I would’ve checked Facebook first.

Gypsy Gay turns out to be in the other plot thread. Honeymoon Tracy, Ugly Crystal, and Annie are hanging out at the hotel Siam. It’s Annie and Warbucks’s home for the summer. Annie realizes she doesn’t have a toothbrush so stops in the gift shop where, what do you know, but Gypsy Gay is working. Ugly Crystal makes a note of her name. Why? She says “I collect unusual names,” or as they are known in the Dick Tracy universe, “names”. Jackel, reading the comics as they come out, passes news of Gay’s location on to B-B. But will Honeymoon Tracy ever pass on to her grandfather what she just learned? Guess what happened today, then. I’ll let you know if you’re right in, oh, let’s say September.

Next Week!

With “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s land swindle foiled, what more could be happening in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? I should reveal all in seven days.

Revealed today: what syndicated comic strips discussed something mathematical in the past week. I hope you enjoy my blend of pop-mathematics discussion and acknowledging that students don’t like story problems.

Statistics Saturday: The Weather, Over The Year


January - mid-May: I have to wear a hoodie because it's way too cold outside. Mid-May to Mid-October: I have to wear a hoodie because it's warm outside so everywhere I go has too much air conditioning. Mid-October to December: I have to wear a hoodie because it's way too cold outside.
The months are numbered starting at zero because I couldn’t figure how to make Apple Numbers do a little spreadsheet where the major axis is ‘months’ and finally decided, you know? Making a stacked bar chart as a timeline is such an obvious and useful application that I am not spending the time it takes to figure out how to do it. I only this week learned if you hold down ‘option’ while clicking on file formats in Preview you suddenly can save files as GIFs or Microsoft BMPs or any of like a dozen other formats. I can’t learn another new thing so soon.

Reference: Look, I’m just a little chilly is all, okay?

In Which I Explain Why I Have Embraced Night Mode On My Laptop


I’ve discovered it’s really nice to have the subtle change in lighting serve as a visual cue for when I can switch from saying “I don’t have to do these four simple little tasks that have been on my list for months now because there’s plenty of time left in the day to start them” to saying “It’s too late in the day for me to start any of these four simple little tasks that have been on my list for months now”. I would do this anyway, yes. But I like having the little difference in how white looks to make my excuse seem all the more technological and therefore correct.

Everything There Is To Say About Going Indoors


Ooh, and hey, now I can publish an Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors essay by taking this and running it backwards. This is great, I’ll finally be ahead of deadline a little, only to mess it up!

[OK, I know what you’re thinking and believe me, this is better.]

If you find that exiting doors until you get out of doors doesn’t work for you? Try opening a home-repair store and holding a good sale on doors and door frames. It’s a bit more work, but that’s what it takes.

[It’s not like I couldn’t reverse every word in every sentence like I said I could do last week.]

  • Look around for that free weekly paper they used to toss somewhere near your house but that you never see anymore. You don’t remember when they stopped tossing it nearby. Did they stop printing it? Did they get upset that you only read it to see what articles were made funny by copy-editing errors? You could write their editor to ask, but you don’t know their address, what with not having a paper. There’s no way to figure this out.

[It’s just not pretty is all.]

  • Start up singing “Everyone knows it’s windy” by the Association. Continue singing until you notice your neighbors looking at you, wondering if this is also talk about the weather. It’s not but you can understand where they’re coming from. It is from next to your place.

[I’m not being lazy in this. ]

  • Spend up to fifteen minutes examining that tree where last summer you saw a raccoon crawl out of a knothole that seems way too small for it.

[I tried reversing all the words and it just made me seasick.]

  • Test how far you can get from home before your WiFi stops being detectable. Alternatively, see if you can figure out where the WiFi signal with the really funny name comes from.

[I know, you’d think it would just make things sound like Yoda but that just seems like it’s hacky in a way I don’t like.]

  • Go back indoors.

[And I tried just reversing the sentences within each paragraph and that left me a bit queasy too.]

  • Agree with the neighbors that the weather is. This is a fun activity that improves relations with your neighbors. For some reason. Humans work all weird.

[It isn’t as if I can’t commit to a bit.]

What is there to do when you’re outdoors? There’s a world of things. Some options include:

[I mean, “baffling experiment in formalism passed off as humor” is almost my signature mode.]

If you find yourself indoors, you can get out of doors. Think hard of the last time you were outdoors, and exit at least as many doors as you entered to get where you are now. If you see a shortcut — some path that would skip some door or other — well, it’s your business. I wouldn’t risk it. You might overshoot the outdoors and get to the out-outdoors and that’s some weird space.

[But believe me there’s no way to make, like, “Detection outdoors in course advanced an need you’ll” readable at length never mind funny. ]

Thing about going out of doors is you can only do it if you start indoors. Thus, are you indoors? The way to know for sure is to apply a three-dimensional analog to the Jordan Curve Theorem. This is one of the foundational elements of multivariable geometry. So there’s no way to know. We have to infer from evidence. Check around you. If you find around yourself a fireplace, a cuckoo clock that is not oversized and does not feature comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour, a game show taping, or pictures on the wall of beloved yet vaguely identifiable relatives, there’s a good chance you’re indoors. If you find a herd of zebras or a ukulele festival or a golfatorium? These often indicate being outdoors. A giant cuckoo clock with comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour is often a sign you’re at an amusement park, and it might be indoors or outdoors. You’ll need an advanced course in outdoors detection.

[Anyway I won’t do this again unless it turns out that it worked brilliantly and everybody loves my weird mix of trying a thing that didn’t actually work.]

The outdoors is very like the indoors, with one fewer set of doors to go through. Also the outdoors offers weather. This is an exciting feature in which, instead of being comfortable, it’s too hot. Or it’s too cold. Sometimes you’ll be in a devious place and it’ll be too medium instead. There’s no guessing what the temperature will be like, except by checking a forecast. Plus weather offers the prospect of rain or snow or clouds of ladybugs or some other daft thing. There are places where you can say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. This is everywhere except Singapore. In Singapore it’s always 92 degrees Fahrenheit and muggy outside monsoon season, which is 1:30 to 3:30 pm every day.

[I feel like such a fool except this easily took me like four minutes less to write than a wholly original piece would have taken.]

Going out of doors is very like going in doors, except it works the other way around. Now if I had written Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors, I wouldn’t be behind deadline. I could just print that whole essay with the words in reverse order. Too bad.

In Which I Lower My Word-Count-Per-Post Average By Using Fewer Words Again


You know, the word “thing” is a gerund. Its root verb is “the”.

(I’m glad you were good enough to see whether I lived up to last week’s promise. Please check back in next week as I think about how World Simile Day is upon us and I wonder what it’s like.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Drone Drama


There were two minutes, seventeen seconds for this week’s cartoon. It’s hard telling any kind of story with so little time. This week, they impressed me with a story that’s densely plotted and interesting, without getting confusing. The 25th of these little animations is Drone Drama. It’s not an inspiring title. I can imagine it fitting into the King Features Syndicate cartoon run of the 60s. But do you remember the subject line I picked for this essay? No, and I say that before I’ve even written it. So I can give them a break.

We start with eleven seconds in Bluto’s Swamp. He’s making something sinister: one of those drones like you’d fly at the beach, only evil. Then we go to Popeye’s ship home. He and Olive Oyl are tending the spinach gardens. Swee’Pea is doing magic tricks with Eugene the Jeep. Routine enough.

Bluto sneaks up on Popeye’s ship home. He camouflages a can of bait as spinach and leaves it for Popeye as … bait. Despite Olive’s misgivings, Popeye takes the … bait. Bluto’s drone drops a cage on Popeye and Olive Oyl. Popeye opens the false spinach can and swallows the bait. This doesn’t get him any particular superpowers. It leaves me feeling queasy too.

Bluto flies, on is drone, up to the spinach garden. And at this point I realized how much I was liking this story. There’s some fun in the Young Bluto as a rival more than a villain, yes. But him doing actually villainous things is fun. And he’s got a good scheme here, one that’s using this drone invention well. Bluto uses the drone to drop a trap on Popeye and Olive Oyl, to get to the spinach garden, and even to scoop up the garden all around Swee’Pea and Eugene. And then to flee back to the swamp.

Swee’Pea and Eugene take action. Eugene vanishes, lest he spoil the plot by fixing the problem right away. Swee’Pea uses his saw to cut open Popeye’s cage. And this is something else I liked here. Swee’Pea can saw open the cage, but there needs to be a reason why he’d have a saw. So he’s practicing magic. And now this is all set up so it’s surprising but justified.

(Yes, yes, as illustrated Popeye and Olive Oyl would be able to get out of the cage if they stepped through the wide bars. I’m an easy audience. I’m willing to pretend the cage mesh is “really” too narrow to let them pass. It may not be more work to have the computer draw a fine-mesh cage rather than a sparse one. But it’s still hard to have a fine mesh cage and have the cartoon still read cleanly, especially to people watching on a phone. Give the animators a break.)

Popeye breaks out the emergency spinach reserve. Which was in a compartment covered by Swee’Pea and Eugene, by the way. In case you needed a reason why Bluto’s drone didn’t do anything about the hidden spinach reserve, there’s one. I’m not sure this is answering a potential objection to the storyline. It might have just been that “on top of the secret compartment” was the only good background available for Swee’Pea’s scenes. But it feels like it explains a problem someone overthinking the cartoon might have.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea catch up with Bluto and the stolen spinach. Bluto urges them to bring it on, and I like his smug confidence. It seems odd when you realize he’s seen they have spinach with them. Olive eats her can, and does a Plastic Man-style arm-reach to grab the bag of spinach. It turns out Bluto’s hidden his drone in the spinach bag. It pops out with big spinny whirly blades of death. Once again I like this. Bluto’s anticipating Popeye and his bunch. It makes him a tougher menace, and so a stronger climax.

Swee’Pea eats his spinach and flies into the air as a … something that flies, anyway. He tears up the drone, and the spinach falls toward the swamp. Popeye doesn’t eat a can; he grabs some loose spinach when the bag spills open. He makes a giant fan of himself, and blows Bluto into the swap. Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea grab the spinach bag. And Eugene finally reappears, to slap cucumber slices on Bluto’s mud-covered face. Happy ending all around.

This is a lot of plot for 137 seconds. I’m impressed with how well it all works. Bluto’s got a good scheme in mind. And he even anticipates Popeye’s responses and figures what to do about them. I like this. It gives the plot a more complicated and interesting shape than the last few weeks have shown. And for as much as happens here it’s never confusing. I followed what characters were doing and why they were doing it. And even stuff that didn’t seem relevant, like Swee’Pea and Eugene’s hanging out, mattered to the story. It’s all well-crafted. Again I’m sorry we don’t get credits for these shorts. I’m curious to know. Has one of the writing teams figured out how to work within the constraints this series uses? Or do things sometimes just all fit together well?

I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link. Next week, though, I plan to finally build myself a bit of buffer and review a much older cartoon. I hope you enjoy the change.

A Quick Little Note To My Satellite Navigator Map Update Software


You … want to keep running in the background, Garmin Express application? In case I need a day-zero update on the roads? Really?

Look, I appreciate your hustle. Really. It’s just, like, you notice I’m only this week downloading a map from after 2014, right? I’m just saying, I’m pretty sure I can improvise around any problems until I specifically need you to update. Just, like, go to sleep about 2023 or so.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Who abducted Queen Madeka and to where? March – June 2019


If you’re looking for the latest plot events from Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant please try this link. If it’s not later than about September 2019, this particular essay is probably my most up-to-date recap. Thanks for reading.

Prince Valiant.

17 March – 9 June 2019.

Madeka, Queen of Ab’sabam, was kidnapped. Her kidnapper was Fewesi the Healer, taking a break from his “healing” to deal out “mind control potions” instead. The pursuit was lead by Bukota, whose exile to the Misty Isles Madeka had lifted in a moment of clarity.

Fewesi brings the drugged Queen to her ship, telling of treachery from the Misty Isles. They flee the harbor. Bukota and Prince Valiant hop onto another Ab’sabam ship and give chase. In the long chase, Bukota considers what he now knows about Fewesi, and identifies him as one of “a nomadic people who know the secrets of poisoning the mind”. Well, you’ll get a certain amount of that in the time of King Arthur and all. Meanwhile Queen Aleta has pieced together enough of the story, and of Bukota’s poisoned guard Ambelu, to understand things. She sends her fastest war galley to chase Fewesi to Africa.

(On galleys at sea.) Another full day passes, with Val and Bukota's galley inching closer and closer to the fleeing Fewesi. The evil healer drives his spellbound crew mercilessly, but he has no great nautical skill, and senses his capture will come soon, even as the coast of Africa looms up. But Bukota is worried, and points to the darkening skies ahead. 'The sirocco winds are rousing a great dust storm --- we must overtake Fewesi and Makeda before it is upon us!' Closer they draw, and they are almost parallel to their prey, standing armed and prepared to smash oars and spring over the gunwales ... when a great blast of wind strikes, bringing with it a choking, blinding sheet of dust! The two galleys are driven sideways and apart.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 14th of April, 2019. By the way it’s not my fault there’s no title panel here. Part of the altogether bad work of Comics Kingdom’s redesign has been that sometimes they’ll just run the alternate layouts meant for newspapers that aren’t giving comics a full half-page. That’s all right for those joke-a-day comics where the Sunday strip is, like, two panels without a background. But for the story strips? Especially one like Prince Valiant where so much of the point is the art? Bleah.

It’s a close chase. Fewesi has a lead and the ability to control his galley’s slaves’ minds. But he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, and Bukota’s ship’s captain does. They catch Fewesi’s galley, in time for a dust storm to confuse everything. In the storm Fewesi’s galley meet another ship — not Bukota’s. An innocent fishing vessel. He takes the Queen and leaves on that ship. He escapes while Bukota and Valiant swim up to Fewesi’s galley, abandoned except for the slaves worked to near-death. Bukota and Valiant tend to the galley’s crew, at least.

And they get a break: a raven drops a piece of torn cloth to them. Bukota recognizes the raven as Aleta’s familiar. The cloth is a hint to look in the harbor of Paraetonium. They find in the bazaar the sign from which the cloth was torn. And it’s a good clue: there’s 1d6+3 first-level spell-controlled minions who rush out of the building for a quick fight. That’s easy enough to handle. But Fewesi’s also left spell-controlled melee attackers all through the building, the better to give him time to escape.

(Fighting a mob through a bazaar.) As Val and Bukota seek to enter the inn to which the raven's clue has led them, a crazed horde rushes out. It is quite obvious that the attackers are inexperienced, unorganized, and mere pawns deployed by Fewesi, but they are an effective obstruction. The two warriors do their best to disable the spellbound innocents without permanent damage. Knocking out hte supports on the inn's canopy eventually clears their path, but they burst into the inn only to find more mindless attackers awaiting them. A scream sounds from an upper flor --- Makeda! Up the staircase they plow, fighting past flailing, scratching men and women every step of the way and losing precious time, as Fewesi again manages to create enough delays to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of May, 2019. Bukota and Valiant’s armor there isn’t a compression artifact, by the way. It’s chain mail. I will say a good part of the Comics Kingdom redesign is they have the original art in an abundantly large size. The two strips used here ran, originally, as two- and four-megabyte PNG files. Great news except for people trying to read the strip on mobile. Although if you’re trying to read this comic on your phone you’re just … I don’t know what to tell you. Go back to watching Lawrence of Arabia on your Apple Watch or something.

Still, they get through all this. They chase Fewesi and Makeda through the rooftops of Paraetonium. Finally one roof has had enough of this, and the pair fall through and startle the old couple who’d just offered Raul some empanadas. They rush out of the mess, reasonably, and get to the street just in time for Fewesi, riding a camel, to nearly trample them. They run over to the merchants and toss a bag of 25 gold pieces. It’s too much for two camels, but it lets them get on the chase into the desert nice and fast.

Next Week!

What are Daddy Warbucks and Annie doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy? My recap of the last three months of that strip should be at this link, barring some surprising development.

Meanwhile, each week I read comic strips for mathematical content too, and share the thoughts they inspire here. Thanks for considering reading it.

Statistics Saturday: Some Fictional Greek Zodiac Signs


  • The Horse
  • The Chariot
  • The Philosopher
  • The Hydra
  • The Tyrant
  • The Swan
  • The Anktikythera Mechanisms
  • The Olympic Wreath
  • The Agora-Quarreller (sometimes regarded as just The Philosopher again)
  • The Tyrant-Overthrowers
  • The Bull-Headed Snake-Tailed Basilisk-Bodied Lion-Footed Off-Road Multi-Use Form
  • The Sailor

Reference: X-15 Research Results, Wendell H Stillwell.

In Which I Am Stumped By A Household Malfunction


Me: “That’s funny. Why isn’t the garage door opening?”
[ I re-enter the PIN for my library card from 18 years ago. ]
Me: “Did the circuit breaker trip or something? No, the waterfall pump is still going. So there’s no possible way to explain this.”
[ I enter the library PIN again. ]

Everything There Is To Say About Going Out Of Doors


Going out of doors is very like going in doors, except it works the other way around. Now if I had written Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors, I wouldn’t be behind deadline. I could just print that whole essay with the words in reverse order. Too bad.

The outdoors is very like the indoors, with one fewer set of doors to go through. Also the outdoors offers weather. This is an exciting feature in which, instead of being comfortable, it’s too hot. Or it’s too cold. Sometimes you’ll be in a devious place and it’ll be too medium instead. There’s no guessing what the temperature will be like, except by checking a forecast. Plus weather offers the prospect of rain or snow or clouds of ladybugs or some other daft thing. There are places where you can say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. This is everywhere except Singapore. In Singapore it’s always 92 degrees Fahrenheit and muggy outside monsoon season, which is 1:30 to 3:30 pm every day.

Thing about going out of doors is you can only do it if you start indoors. Thus, are you indoors? The way to know for sure is to apply a three-dimensional analog to the Jordan Curve Theorem. This is one of the foundational elements of multivariable geometry. So there’s no way to know. We have to infer from evidence. Check around you. If you find around yourself a fireplace, a cuckoo clock that is not oversized and does not feature comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour, a game show taping, or pictures on the wall of beloved yet vaguely identifiable relatives, there’s a good chance you’re indoors. If you find a herd of zebras or a ukulele festival or a golfatorium? These often indicate being outdoors. A giant cuckoo clock with comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour is often a sign you’re at an amusement park, and it might be indoors or outdoors. You’ll need an advanced course in outdoors detection.

If you find yourself indoors, you can get out of doors. Think hard of the last time you were outdoors, and exit at least as many doors as you entered to get where you are now. If you see a shortcut — some path that would skip some door or other — well, it’s your business. I wouldn’t risk it. You might overshoot the outdoors and get to the out-outdoors and that’s some weird space.

What is there to do when you’re outdoors? There’s a world of things. Some options include:

  • Agree with the neighbors that the weather is. This is a fun activity that improves relations with your neighbors. For some reason. People are weird.
  • Go back indoors.
  • Test how far you can get from home before your WiFi stops being detectable. Alternatively, see if you can figure out where the WiFi signal with the really funny name comes from.
  • Spend up to fifteen minutes examining that tree where last summer you saw a raccoon crawl out of a knothole that seemed way too small for it.
  • Start up singing “Everyone knows it’s windy” by the Association. Continue singing until you notice your neighbors looking at you, wondering if this is also talk about the weather. It’s not but you can understand where they’re coming from. It is from next to your place.
  • Look around for that free weekly paper they used to toss somewhere near your house but that you never see anymore. You don’t remember when they stopped tossing it nearby. Did they stop printing it? Did they get upset that you only read it to see what articles were made funny by copy-editing errors? You could write their editor to ask, but you don’t know their address, what with not having a paper. There’s no way to figure this out.

If you find that exiting doors until you get out of doors doesn’t work for you? Try opening a home-repair store and holding a good sale on doors and door frames. It’s a bit more work, but that’s what it takes.

Ooh, and hey, now I can publish an Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors essay by taking this and running it backwards. This is great, I’ll finally be ahead of deadline a little, only to mess it up!

In Which I Lower My Word-Count-Per-Post Average By Using Fewer Words


Would the past tense of ‘mango’ be ‘mangone’ or ‘mangwent’, and how much should it be so? Thank you for your thoughts.

(Thanks for being here to see me fulfill the promise I made last week to ponder this. I’d be glad if you stopped in next time when I try to start another fight with grammarians by insisting that “thing” is the gerund of the root verb “the”.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Beach Ball Bonanza (no bonanza included)


While this, the 24th of the Popeye’s Island Adventures series, is titled Beach Ball Bonanza, readers should know there is no actual bonanza depicted, nor is there reason to expect one. There is a beach ball. I have no responsibility for these facts and so will not apologize for them.

The short faked me out some. I’m glad for that. From the start I thought it would be another one where Eugene sets up a contest to get Popeye and Bluto out of his hair. Or at least Popeye and Olive Oyl, which would be a change. So we start with Olive Oyl accidentally hitting their beach ball over to the cactus Eugene’s just planted. Popeye makes a good saving catch. When the relieved Eugene dusts some sand around the cactus’s base, it makes Popeye sneeze and burst the beachball on the cactus anyway. Basic but reliable setup. Usually the more times the story reverses whether the catastrophe will happen the better the joke.

Bluto sees his chance to swipe Popeye’s spinach. So he dresses up in a cactus costume, the better to sneak past them all undetected. This confused me the first time around, as, well, why sneak up to them just to sneak away to Popeye’s house? This shows how bad I am at spatial relations: Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Eugene’s cactus were between Bluto’s boat and Popeye’s house. So he has reason to sneak past them. Not answered: can’t Bluto just sail nearer to Popeye’s house? Maybe the reefs are too treacherous.

Bluto sneaks past the halfway point in the cartoon. He finally jumps up into Popeye’s garden, landing on a rake, which is one of those dumb laughs you certainly want. And now, finally, as Olive Oyl finishes repairing and re-inflating their beach ball, Popeye notices Bluto. The unexpected beach ball hit sends Popeye’s spinach flying loose, and Olive races to eat it before … I guess … it hits the ground and loses its potency? Spinach has always been a magic food, in the Popeye settings. This series has made it more explicitly so. If an opened can just has to be eaten right away that’s probably a good plot constraint to put on the series. Could add for some nice action. Or it may have just made for a better flow of action this short.

So, spinached up, Olive Oyl .. manifests the properties of a hang glider. A couple times now we’ve seen Popeye notice, say, a sponge and use the spinach powers to take on sponge properties. This was completely Olive acting on impulse. She carries Popeye over to his house in a scene that asks the question: was this really better than them just running over? It’s like a hundred feet away from where they started.

Popeye hasn’t got a can of spinach, but that’s all right, since the surprise gets Bluto stuck in a barrel. Like the rake, it’s a simple but reliable joke. Popeye attaches the air pump to the barrel’s tap, and setting up the beach ball explosion and repair pays off another plot dividend. The barrel explosion sends Bluto sailing into Eugene’s cactus, and we don’t need to wonder what happened to the spinach cans which were in the barrel. And, two minutes nine seconds in, we’re done.

It’s a fair enough short. It’s made me realize there are some stock situations, unique to this series, that I expect. And that the shorts can go against my expectations. That’s a good development.


Be with me next week as I try to review another of these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

Statistics May: How The Past Month Was Read, And For What


Deep down, I knew I wouldn’t repeat April’s four-thousand-plus page views. Not that my readership doesn’t seem to have risen to a new plateau since Roy Kassinger discovered me. (I don’t see a reason they should be connected, but the correlation is there.) Just that April saw a couple weird spikes of readership that I think were freak events.

There were 3,414 page views in May 2019. That’s down from the 4,033 of April and 3,565 of March. It’s still a bit above the twelve-month running average, though. (That was 3128.2 page views, for the curious, which will be ‘me in one month’.) There were 2,058 unique visitors, down from April’s 2,418 and March’s 2,165. It’s above the twelve-month running average of 1781.6, anyway.

Four and a half years of monthly readership statistics. The readership jumped up by about a thousand people per month from the start of 2018.
I had been feeling all good that I grabbed a snapshot of my statistics just as June started, so that there wasn’t this embarrassing final column with a couple of page views on it. And then two days later remembered I could fiddle with the date range so as to show four and a half years of statistics, which gives so much a better sense of change over time. So, here you have it, with that embarrassing final column.

The number of likes resumed its dwindle; there were 133 things liked around here in all of May. There’d been 233 likes in April, and 176 likes in march. And that’s certainly below the twelve-month running average, which I won’t name here because every other month had more likes. It was 172.8. Which sees odd since I had at least one piece that really hit a nostalgic sweet spot, according to the comments I got about it. Comments were a bit more common, 24 in May. There were 10 in April and 24 in March. The twelve-month running average (this is going to become a new obsession, isn’t it?) was 47.7.

In all, 377 of my posts got some view in May. (The Home Page also drew views, but that’s not counted as any specific post.) The most popular posts were about what I would have guessed:

I expect comic strip plot recaps to be my most popular thing. And something posted near the kalends of a month has the best chance to get readership counts. But I am surprised people didn’t just get the joke with Edward’s Dog of un-depictable ugliness. Maybe I’ve been better-primed to expect that joke.

And while it wouldn’t make the top five, one of my long-form essays was finally reached the top ten. Everything There Is To Say About Programming A Computer In The 80s was really well-liked, and I’m glad. It may not actually have a specific big laugh, but I think it has got that sort of humor that comes from knowing someone actually thinks like this.


Mercator-style map showing readership mostly in the United States, but also in most of the Americas, Eurasia, and Australia. For a wonder there's even a reader from China.
I realize that it’s just one viewer who possibly didn’t even know what they were looking for but, wow, someone from Mauritania looked at something I wrote this past month? How did that come about?

75 countries, or country-like polities, sent me readers at all in May. That’s up from April’s 66 and March’s 69. That feels nice to see. 18 of them were single-reader countries. That’s more than April’s 16 and March’s 14. Here’s the full roster:

Country Readers
United States 2,607
Canada 119
India 103
United Kingdom 90
Sweden 55
Brazil 46
Australia 43
Japan 35
Hong Kong SAR China 24
Netherlands 19
Malaysia 18
France 17
Germany 17
Mexico 15
Philippines 13
Romania 9
Denmark 8
Indonesia 8
Ireland 7
Finland 6
Hungary 6
Italy 6
Peru 6
Spain 6
Turkey 6
Colombia 5
New Zealand 5
Nigeria 5
Portugal 5
Singapore 5
United Arab Emirates 5
Uruguay 5
American Samoa 4
Argentina 4
Kenya 4
Russia 4
South Africa 4
South Korea 4
Switzerland 4
Taiwan 4
Bangladesh 3
El Salvador 3
Kuwait 3
Norway 3
Serbia 3
Thailand 3
Venezuela 3
Austria 2
Israel 2
Jordan 2
Kazakhstan 2
Liberia 2
Nepal 2
Poland 2
Sri Lanka 2
Ukraine 2
Albania 1
Belgium 1
British Virgin Islands 1
Bulgaria 1
China 1
Ecuador 1
Greece 1
Guam 1
Iraq 1
Jamaica 1
Macedonia 1
Mauritania 1
Moldova 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Paraguay 1
Puerto Rico 1
Qatar 1
Réunion 1
Uganda 1

This is a complete turnover in single-reader countries: none of those sent me exactly one reader in April. This is my first complete single-reader turnover in a long while. Possibly since I started paying attention to these things. And, of course, I am happy that anyone might read and, I dearly hope, enjoy what I write. I’m just curious why I should have so many readers in Sweden, Brazil, or India. Again, I’m happy to have you. I just feel like … really? I say anything relevant to you? I’d like to know what it is.


So my story strip recaps. All the story strip recaps should appear at this link. I do have a plan for the next several Sundays, if nothing happens that shakes up the orderly world of the twelve threads I follow. My plans are for:


Between the start of 2019 and the start of June 2019 I’ve published 149 pieces for a total of 92,272 words. 19,030 of these words were published in May. So, that’s 614 words per post on average in May — April had been 644 — and, year to date, an average of 619 words per post. At the start of May it had been 610 words. I told you those Wednesday little things weren’t working.

There’ve been 204 comments overall on the year, for an average of 1.4 comments per posting. That’s the same average as at the start of May, at least. 820 total likes, for an average of 5.5 likes per posting in 2019. At the start of May this average had been 5.7. But at the start of April the average was 5.5 again. Hm.

June began with my having made 2,311 posts. They’ve gathered 125,314 views from 69,657 unique visitors. And as mentioned, 377 posts got at least one view in May. 565 posts got some view in April, and 420 in March. I have no idea what these fluctuations signify. Most likely nothing. If I’m actually interested in how much of my archive is being read any month, I should probably look at, say, the number of posts that get at least five page views. Or some threshold that suggests it wasn’t just a mistake.


If you don’t think reading me is a mistake, thank you. You can be a regular reader by adding the Another Blog, Meanwhile feed to your RSS reader. Or you can use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the WordPress page. I’m on Twitter as @Nebusj, but I won’t feel jealous if you follow other people too.

And if it helps you decide whether to follow me, I try to start each month with a pair of rabbit pictures.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Is Kadia’s mother even alive? March – June 2019


This is my snapshot of the March-through-June 2019 storyline in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re looking for the plot of the separate Sunday-continuity Phantom, or are reading this after about September 2019 and want something more up-to-date you’ll want another essay at this link. If you’re looking for the latest mathematically-themed comic strips, that’s at this link. Thank you.

It’s too soon, as I publish this, to say whether Kadia’s mother is alive. The past three months of story were built on The Phantom assuming she’s alive and well. But she’s not been seen on-camera. Nor has anyone with authority to know said she’s dead. This may change in the coming week.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

11 March – 1 June 2019.

The Ghost Who Walks was riding a weird ship last time I checked in. He and Bangallan President Luaga had gotten Heloise Walker and Kadia Walker, née Sahara, out of New York City. Kadia was still reeling from the discovery her father was the international terrorist The Nomad. She’s coaxed Kit Walker into rescuing her mother. At least to arranging the rescue; he claims to know someone who could do it. One of the Nomad’s militias holds her at one of his estates, hostage to secure his silence about their activities.

Kadia draws the best map of the compound she can for her newly-adopting father. Kit Walker promises this will be a big help to him, and by him he means the person who’s going to rescue Imara and, uh. You know, at some point they’ll need to have a talk about the Walker family business but that can wait. Well, Kadia’s doing quite well with this whole learning-your-father-has-a-secret-life thing.

Kadia, as she and Heloise board the plane: 'There's no friend.' Heloise: 'Sorry, what?' Kadia: 'No associate, no expert ... Heloise, I'm not stupid! He's going there himself!"
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of April, 2019. I have wondered at what point Kadia is going to be brought in on the secret of her new family. In any event it’s nice seeing Kadia work out things on her own. I can accept easily people keeping secrets from their family, but those are usually secrets that require fewer days of emergency surgery.

In Mawitaan, Diana Walker’s found a new school and apartment for Heloise and Kadia. They set off for that. Kit Walker sets out for North Africa, by himself.

And we set out for somewhere in New York. Secret Service guys are visiting David Palmer and his sister Lily. David Palmer’s the uncle of Diana Walker. He’s been in the strip, off and on, since 1940, and been an intelligence agent at least some of that while. The Secret Service people want help. They’ve confiscated the video of the unknown party who crashed The Nomad’s plane and made a cop arrest him. They know who the party is. They want to know what Heloise Walker was doing for the Bangallan President. He doesn’t know she was doing any such thing. They want to know what he’s been saying about Imara Sahara. He denies having ever said such a name. They want his advice on blowing up The Nomad’s North African compound. He has none to give them.

David Palmer, pouring tea: 'Those agents think that I know more about Lamanda Luaga's business than they do. That the woman in North Africa is an asset, one whose survival is in our national interest.' Lily: 'Oh, Dave, I thought you were through with all this!' David, while the picture is of The Phantom at night infiltrating the grounds: 'I am, Lily. That's why I'm not in a dark room right now, advising those fellas on whether to bomb the place flat in the next ten minutes.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of April, 2019. So part of me curses my compulsion to look for load-bearing strips for these plot-point-illustrations. I was really amused by the strip for the 13th of April, for exactly the reason you’d expect: I like building models too. Well, having unbuilt model kits, anyway. I’ve never known someone in the model-building community to actually build a model.

It seems like a curious detour. Men come to bring David Palmer into the story, and he refuses to be part of it. It does serve to re-establish what role Heloise Walker has had in all this, and why this North African expedition might matter to anyone. One of the many hardest parts of any serial story is helping casual readers not lose the plot without annoying the dedicated readers. And then also …

Well, on to North Africa. The Phantom readies to infiltrate the Nomad’s compound. Last time he tried something like this he got suckered by a decoy, and quite badly wounded. He’s better-armed, better-shielded, and ready to do one of his classic one-man infiltrations.

Phantom, thinking as he runs up to and tackles two unsuspecting guards: 'The sound of the surf is on my side ... the only penalty in *this* game is if the players get back up!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of May, 2019. So what do you figure the guy on the right was looking at on his phone? I’m thinking otter memes. You?

The complication: oh yes, American military forces are figuring to bomb the compound like it’s a wedding party. Their drones detect The Phantom moving in. So the drone warriors pause. They can’t figure what his deal is, and they’re not eager to wait for early June for me to explain it all to them. They couldn’t even get David Palmer to explain things to them, no matter how much they invited him into this story. They hold off on the bombing a bit, though.

The Phantom finds some useful cues. A pile of ammunition he can use to blow stuff up. A crate containing a chunk of ham on a bone that’s good for 20 health points. People he can beat up for intelligence. Some cute chances to call back to things other characters said.

Terrorist minion: 'Already we have won! No matter what you do! We don't need her alive to compel the Nomad to guard our secrets!' The Phantom: 'You just need him to *believe* she's alive. [ Slugging the minion. ] We're assuming he *cares*, aren't we?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of June, 2019. I’ll admit the part of the story where everybody starts openly double-crossing everyone else is typically where I get lost. But I’m hanging on so far and, in any case, I’ll have until late August or early September to work it all out. That’ll be plenty of time to get organized!

He’s not going undetected in the compound, though. He’s already knocked out a bunch of low-level minions, and they’re starting to be discovered. He collects a not-unconscious minion. The minion reports Imara Sahara is in the safe room, as The Phantom expected. There’s four guards holding her. Two of them have orders to kill her rather than let her be freed. It’s going to make an already bad situation worse.

And that’s where the situation is. The Phantom, alone, trying to rescue Imara Sahara. She’ll have have no idea who he is or what he’s doing. She’s held by a militia ready to kill her in case The Phantom gets too close. That’s if she is still alive. The interrogation this week made clear the militia has limited reasons not to kill her. And American armed forces are ready to blow up everything. Bit of a fix. Well, I suppose he knows his business.

Next Week!

I finally get what should be my easy week. Scheduled in seven days is Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Oh, wait, I have to read it through Comics Kingdom’s really quite bad redesign. Hm.

Statistics Saturday: Things That Non-Vegetarians Think The Rest Of Us Need To Hear


  • Salad isn’t food! Salad is what food eats!
  • You know, chickens are really mean to other chickens.
  • I’d love to be vegetarian but then I couldn’t put bacon on everything.
  • You know, the Indian word for ‘vegetarian’ is ‘bad hunter’.
  • Yeah, that’s cool but some of us have to be the carnivores.
  • You know, the Humane Society of the United States is a lobbying group, not an animal shelter.
  • Oh, yeah, this is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. They make a great tuna steak.
  • So when you go for fast food are you, like, just there to be all smug about everyone getting their chicken nuggets or stuff?
  • I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the measurements and supplements and stuff you have to do to be a vegetarian. I’m impressed.
  • You know, you get E coli from lettuce.
  • You know, almost nobody actually has a problem digesting gluten, you can just eat whatever you want if you haven’t actually been to an allergy specialist.
  • That’s all right, I’ll eat enough sausage for both of us!
  • Wait, that’s got cheese on it, you can’t eat cheese, right?
  • It’s so weird you want, like, burgers that taste like meat but that nobody has to kill a cow for, instead of something really vegetarian.
  • You know, hamsters will eat their own babies if you let them.
  • So when you go for fast food do they, like, just throw a handful of yard clippings in your face?

Reference: The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Paul Fargis, Sheree Bykofsky.

Thinking About Rotini


Boy, do you ever look at a box of machine-extruded rotini and think about all the generations of pasta-carvers plying their trade? Rotating this thick noodle base and chiseling away a long and deep enough groove to make that spiral? Learning how to have a steady enough hand as to not chop the rotini up into too-short a length, or making the spiral tread too shallow or the vanes too thick? And doing it fast enough that they could carve away a whole dinner’s worth of pasta in the time it takes to make a meal? And then all those centuries of accumulated experience being wiped away in favor of pasta-making machines that don’t need any humanity to them.

Hey, totally unrelated yet fun fact: my sister-in-law won’t let me tell her kids anything without a responsible grownup supervising.