Fairy Tales Are Why I Can’t Get Anything Done Today


I’m sorry, but I’m coping with what I learned from looking up the nursery rhyme “The Gingerbread Man” on Wikipedia. Apparently the story was first written down in 1875, in the Saint Nicholas Magazine. And its teller claimed they got it from a “girl from Maine”. What the heck? A bit of obvious silly nonsense like this is supposed to come from, like, some snarky pamphlet published during the English Civil War. And folklorists are supposed to not be perfectly sure what it all means, but they think it’s all about mocking John Pym’s management of the Providence Island Company or something. But this? This!

Hold on. Wait. That John Pym thing I completely made up and yet it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it would kind of fit all the metaphors and see? This is why I have an enthusiastic readership of dozen of people. I know, I can’t help myself. I have the idea that somewhere out there are people who want to hear snide jokes referring to the English Parliament of 1642 and maybe there are. And maybe they’re going to just explode in joy when they hear a joke that isn’t completely far off. Big deal. There’s like twenty of them and they’ve already made all the John Pym jokes they need.

Anyway. Back to what primarily has me a quivering ball of impotent rage (non-US-politics division). “The Gingerbread Man” only being first published in 1875. I mean, for comparison, the first time “The Gingerbread Man” was written down, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was already ten years old. P T Barnum’s American Museum had been built, burned down, been rebuilt, and been re-burned-down. L Frank Baum was barely 24 years away from writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m sorry, I’m having trouble thinking of another circa-1875 cultural touchstone since I’m informed that 19th century superclown Dan Rice somehow does not qualify as known to anybody? Oh, here we go. Charles Dickens was already dead by then, and only after that does this story about a magic cookie running around teasing people about outrunning them gets written down?

You don’t suppose that could be causal, do you? “I hear Dickens died! Guess I’ll wait five years and then dash out that bit I was thinking of a gingerbread boy who runs off, but still gets eaten.”

Oh also apparently in the earliest versions the Gingerbread Man doesn’t call out “run, run, fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Instead he taunts with saying “I’ve run away from a little old woman, a little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!” So besides its other problems an America struggling its way out of the Panic of 1873 was still trying to learn how to make a taunt scan. I’m all kinds of discombobulated about this. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be functional again.

All right, that’s not happening and not just because it’s 2018. Do you remember this episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph Kramden is feeling old, so he figures the thing to do is act all young? And he dresses up ridiculously and tries to dance to this ridiculous song called “The Huckle-Buck”? I do, because I’m of that cohort where reruns of The Honeymooners was the only decent thing on between reruns of M*A*S*H and reruns of Star Trek, and the song’s been running without stop in my head since 1986. Fine.

Yeah so it turns out this was an actual song and actual dance craze that actually happened in actuality. “Actuality” is what we call “reality” when we got the sentence started off using “actual” instead of “real” and have to commit to that for the rhetorical value but it’s easier to keep typing instead of erasing three words. Anyway, I had gone my entire adult life figuring “The Huckle-Buck” was just this catchy plausibly dance-craze-ish song made for The Honeymooners so it wouldn’t get in the way of Ralph Kramden’s discovery that to stay young you most need some stories about ridiculous stuff you did as a youngling. And now I find out he was actually doing something actual — hang on. Not doing that again. But now I find out he was genuinely trying to get in on the dance craze of … eight years earlier? Hang on, that would be like me trying to get in touch with the young by listening to whatever the dance craze of 2010 was. What were people dancing to back then? Lemme go and check.

No, Wikipedia, I do not believe the summer dance sensation of 2010 was Lady Gaga’s “Gingerbread Dance”.

I’m going to bed and hide under it.

If The Dick van Dyke Show‘s “Twizzle” was a real thing I’m never coming out again ever.

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How To Have A Small Business


There are over nine ways to get your own small business. The quickest to start is to locate some large business that nobody’s paying particular attention to, and hit them with the full might of your shrink ray. If you then have a large enough bottle you can keep the business in your home as a convenient profit-generating center. If you do this make sure to poke some holes in the lid to let fresh air in. But this approach, while it skips many of the harder parts of getting set up, does have its lasting costs, not to mention the trouble of dropping in needed business supplies like shrunken lunches and miniature dry-erase markers and ISO 9.001 certification. Plus if they develop superpowers in the shrinking you’re in for all sorts of headaches. Small headaches, yes, but they might be persistent.

Taking a medium-size business and shrinking it a little bit is generally safer. But this, ironically, requires a larger floor plan to fit the appropriate scale. Putting the businesses close enough to HO scale means the disparity will be noticed only by the most exacting train enthusiasts. Three-quarters of all model railroad layouts are former commercial districts plucked out of their original communities by train enthusiasts running their own businesses. Utica, New York, was formerly a bustling megalopolis of over two million people before it was dispersed into thousands of model sets, and there are concerns the city disappeared in 2014, but we haven’t had the chance to get back upstate to check. Its residents have suggested they could swipe Rochester which is somehow a completely different upstate New York city, but they haven’t had the chance to get over there and check either. Anyway, check whether your business district is right for you before shrinking it.

When it comes to starting a small business of your own the basic idea is to provide some goods and, or, or services. Goods, though, are right out. The trouble with goods is you need to extract them from wherever they come — the ground, probably — which is a lot of digging and hard work for stuff that turns out to be worth as much as stuff found in the ground around your home would be. There is a market for moldy leaves and sun-faded empty cans of Diet Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla. But it’s not one that pays well to the people who actually find stuff. And unless you expand your resource-gathering territory vastly it just won’t bring you that much money. If you don’t extract them, then you have to make them out of something someone else found. And that seems like it should be workable, except that it turns out anything you have to do a lot of, a robot can do better and cheaper. So they’ll cut you out of the doing of it and then where are you? Goodless, that’s where.

Services, then, look a lot more promising. In services you don’t necessarily find or make anything that can be definitely traced back to you. You just do something, and trust that someone else will realize they need to pay you for it. Where this breaks down is that you need to convince someone who has money that they should give it to you for that. But there are already plenty of people earning a living by rhetorically asking the television whether the people who make the News at Noon understand how they look, or engaging convenience store cashiers in elaborate stories about how much change they have, and there’s no need for more of them. What you need is your own niche.

A niche is a little spot where your project can thrive, kind of like Mrs Frisby’s cinder block home, in the vast farmer’s field of capitalism. A good (not goods) niche should be several paces from one side to the other, be reasonably dry, close to good sources of food, and should come with a team of genetically modified super-intelligent rats who can put together a block-and-tackle system to move it from peril. You can carry on without rats for a while, but the crash will come. Many observers credit the collapse of Pacific Electric Railway and the disappearance of Pan Am to well-intentioned pest controllers who relocated their rats to the American Broadcasting Company and to Cisco, respectively.

If you can’t stand the rats you might make do with a couple of guinea pigs with master’s degrees. But that’s really only appropriate if you regard your business as a bit of a lark (not the bird). And if you don’t mind when it comes to a sudden tragic end as the guinea pigs look on indifferently and squeak. The lesson is clear, and should really be made plain by someone or other.

On Looking At The Liberty Bell


Go to the next person you see and ask if she or he knows the shape of the Liberty Bell. Odds are the person will be taken by surprise. Probably, having expected a question like “how’s it going?” or “hot enough for you?” they’ll reply, “just exhausted” or “I got up this morning and the elm tree had melted”. This is why the most important rule in a conversation is to never just start talking about whatever you want to talk about. You have to lead up to it. Start with little cues, as much as four days ahead of time. Some shy people hire flag-bearers to approach. This is why in the introvert district of town you see all those people with bright orange banners that read, oh, “CAR TIRE” or “THAT SEMESTER YOU SPENT IN SPAIN” or “PEAK FREANS COMMERCIALS” or the like.

Anyway, so try again and this time after having given some clues you want to ask about the shape of the Liberty Bell. Then warn that you mean to ask a question about its shape. Try not to be frightened if your partner wants to know why you’re thinking so much about the Liberty Bell! Just explain that it’s for a school assignment. If challenged on the grounds that you’re not in school, plead that you do tend to procrastinate. No one will challenge you on that point. In any case, I’m willing to bet that your partner agrees that the Liberty Bell has a shape, and that they know pretty much what it is. It’s rather distinctive and pretty memorable. It’s kind of bell-shaped.

But there’s all sorts of things to notice about it. There’s, yes, the overall bell-ness of it. There’s the famous crack in it. There’s the know-it-all who would like to remind you how the big crack everyone remembers isn’t the actual crack. It’s instead a much bigger crack. They drilled so as to keep the small actual crack from turning into a much bigger crack. This plan worked with an extreme level of brilliance, except for how they couldn’t do anything about the original crack anyway. And there’s other stuff too. There’s the funky bits at the bottom where people stole metal off of it. There’s the way in the moulded text up top it includes most of the letters you really notice in ‘Pennsylvania’ at least.

Yoke and upper portion of the Liberty Bell, showing the wooden frame and the hoops of metal attached to them. Also, engraved text around the top: '... THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE ... ' and '... OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic]'.
Since you maybe don’t know what I mean, here’s the top part of the Liberty Bell and where the metal pieces get all weird. I guess when you really look at it the shape isn’t all that weird, but it’s still kind of weird. Also this is the part where they swung and missed at spelling ‘Pennsylvania’.

And yet. Consider this. Where would the Liberty Bell be if it weren’t for the wooden yolk on which it hangs?

Well, a bit lower down, probably. Wouldn’t be surprised if they left the thing on its side, to save drawer space. Then it would roll around in these funny little spirals every time the ground shook in one of those notorious Philadelphia earthquakes. People would stumble across it in the midle of the night. Then probably one of the cats would wrestle the clapper until that fell down and the cat fled into the city’s laundry room.

And now at last I have reached mey point say my rough notes here. Without the yoke, we’d have much less of a Liberty Bell. Plus everybody would pay more attention to how weird and ungainly the top of the metal part looks. Seriously, take a picture where you can really see how weird the top looks. Pretty weird, huh? Thank you. You can find all sorts of discussions online about the bell and its metal and whether it ever actually rang. But the yoke? Nothing.

It’s made of American elm. Hm. So, imperfectly-cast British product brought overseas, re-cast and re-cast again by apparently, anyone in eastern Pennsylvania who had a bright idea and no expertise in bell-making between 1752 and 1860. And then, hung on American wood, it was finally a swell icon for bell-ness without actually being useful as a bell. I’m not sure if we can tighten this metaphor up any before the writing group reviews it. Maybe have a carpool of security guards going home for the day accidentally smash through the front porch of some Lenape family’s home.

Liberty Bell icon on what is labelled as a 'Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976'.
This picture hasn’t got anything to do with even what little the rest of the article has to do with itself. But it is a reminder that when they open or expand a museum, anything that any of the docents have that they can’t get rid of just might turn out to be an artefact! So if you can’t bear to get rid of stuff, make it work for you and open a museum. Also I hope to someday write something as amusing to me as is the ‘circa’ in the description ‘Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976’.

Anyway the yoke, for all it does to give the Liberty Bell shape and structural support, is just there. It’s got a nearly perfect record of not growing new cracks and needing to be re-casted. And they guess it’s the original, as far as anyone knows? So here’s to the pieces of wood that are important but don’t get much attention: this is an important lesson about something and darned if I know what.

In Which I Missed My Chance To Park On The Street After 2am


Imagine my surprise when I learned I had spent all winter living in a lawless wilderness. If it helps paint the picture, understand that I was reading the newspaper when I learned. I guess it’s a newspaper. It’s something called the Lansing City Community News, “an edition of the Lansing State Journal”. It’s tossed onto our lawn once a week no matter what. It’s great, since the four or sometimes six pages serve as protective wrapper of forty or more pages of advertisements for stuff we have never wanted or ever known anyone who wants. And they’re full of articles ripped from the Journal‘s web site, sometimes without cutting out text like “Story continues below video”. They take donations to cover printing costs.

Several inches and two columns from the Lansing City Community News. The relevant part is on the right: ``... State officials had earlier said they'd hoped to get $7 million for the facility. Story continues below video. The Bojis actually offered the state two options: The straight $4.5 million cash, or an estimated $6 million option ... ''
From page A5 of the Lansing City Community News for the 24th of June, 2018. The Bojis in this case are rich people who own buildings, who’re hoping to use their money to be more-rich people who own more buildings. They own Boji Tower, the tallest building in Lansing. It used to be the Olds Tower. When it was built, they hoped to put in a carillon that would play “In My Merry Oldsmobile” every hour, possibly every quarter-hour, despite the real threat that it might drive the entire downtown insane.

So imagine me looking at that newspaper-themed product. Also imagine me smiling and laughing in that special way I have when I see something’s gone all higgledy-piggledy for some crazypants reason. Got it? So here’s the thing. According to the article, Lansing’s charter specifies that every ten years the City Council has to vote on whether to re-codify city ordinances, or to confirm that it means to let them lapse. And they confirmed the city ordinances in 2007. But 2017 rolled on through and nobody did anything about them, possibly because everyone was distracted by how the world was on fire and we were all thinking, for solace, of that time the whole Internet was mad because Apple bought everyone a U2 album. I mean, there were people raging about that for months. I swear that actually happened.

So the big effect of this whoopsie-doozie nonexistence of law between the 24th of November and either the 15th of February or the 26th of March is like 50 otherwise-criminal cases being dropped because it’s not sporting to charge someone with breaking a law that isn’t there. Community News listed among them:

  • 2 cases of carrying a knife with a blade longer than three inches
  • 2 cases of being loud or boisterous
  • 1 case of disturbing the peace
  • 1 littering case

That seems like a low number of littering cases. But it was winter so maybe a lot of the evidence was lost under snow. It also seems like a low number of disturbing-the-peace problems, but remember it was 2017. There was like fourteen minutes of peace the whole year. Good luck getting your disturbance in fast enough to notice. Hey, remember when the Internet was all cranky about this kiddie show starring a big huggy purple dinosaur who liked people? And stayed that way for years?

Also I had no idea that, apart from a maybe five-month window this past winter, they could write you up on a charge of boisterousity. What a thing to get on your rap sheet. “What did they get you on?” “Had a three-and-a-quarter-inch knife. You?” “Being boisterous. Yeah, but it’s fair enough. I was outside Fish Fry and Grill, dancing like nobody was watching. But they were watching. They’re always watching. Oh also I was waving people over to come hug me.” Discovering this makes me glad I can only with concentration and for brief seconds make myself look like I have any emotion other than “growing concern that the lower-than-expected cost for having the bathtub pipe drained means more significant plumbing problems are festering and this will cause me grief”. And yet apparently I could have gotten away with being merry all winter, had I but known.

If you weren’t already giggling over the city temporarily going all lawless, here’s some more fun. First, there’s not complete agreement about which laws exactly it was didn’t exist from November through a while. The city attorney says it’s just “regulatory” ordinances. A defense attorney who’s not explicitly credited with being the person who noticed this says it’s “all” ordinances. (“I think I can get you off this charge of three-and-a-quarter-inch-knife-having, but I gotta warn you, it’s going to sound like three-and-a-half-inches of crazy.”) Also the defense attorney argues that the lapsing of all law doesn’t count as a “true emergency” allowing the hasty reintroduction of law to the city in February, so that only the March reinstatement counts. Easy for him to say, and maybe necessary if he wants to give the fullest possible defense for his clients. But would he agree it wasn’t an emergency if there were four littering cases being thrown out? Hm?

The article says that it’s the job of the City Clerk to remind the City Council when it’s time to renew the existence of law in the city. When asked what happened, the Clerk took a deep breath, nodded sadly, and then ran down the corridor of City Hall to where that dragon is. He’s been there since, crying and occasionally sending out for Kewpie Burgers. I mean, you always hate to make a mistake at work that gets you embarrassed. The City Council’s thinking of ways to help prevent this happening again. One great idea is to have someone whose job it is to check every four years and see if the City Clerk’s remembered to check whether law’s about to expire. Sounds sensible to me, except then you’re going to need someone coming around every two years to check on the four-year checker, and you’re going to need someone whose job is to poke in once a year and as if the two-year checker-checker is all right or needs anything. Well, I’m sure they can work out something before they reach the point of having an infinite series of people who are just nagging each other to check on other people until tempers flare and we get that whole disturbed-peace thing again.

Also in the news: a downtown bike shop’s losing its parking lot, the side effect of (allegedly) an improperly recorded easement years ago. Oh, I bet the bike shop owner feels awful now he didn’t know he could have just poked into the deeds office anytime in December or January and written one in himself. Well. I’m thinking of all sorts of boisterous or littering things I mean to do in March of 2028, if I remember. See you then!

Some Astounding Facts About Summer


  • The mean time from the summer solstice to autumn equinox is nearly a day longer than the mean time from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, and both are three days longer than the mean time from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, and that’s nearly a full day longer than the time from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. And what the flipping heck, Earth’s orbit? What are you doing with stuff like that? How can it be longer from spring to summer than from summer to fall? Longer from spring to fall than from fall to spring? Does this work in the southern hemisphere too? I’m getting dizzy thinking about this and I have to go lie down a while now.
  • The only common word in the English language that ends in s-e-d-e is “supersede” There are eighteen imaginary English words that do, too, among the most popular of which are “blockosede”, “snorsede”, “fluorosede”, and “logosede”. This has nothing to do with summer but I’m still working on that whole length-of-the-seasons thing. I feel like I must have written that astounding fact down wrong.
  • The sun appears to rise higher and higher in the sky until the summer solstice, which is triggered by the sun’s ever-greater fear of heights. Then it start sneaking down again until the winter solstice. That happens when the sun is as low in the sky as it can get without triggering its fear of heightlessness. “Wait, you’re being irrational,” the Sun’s friends tell it. “You get way lower than that around sunrise and sunset.” This causes the Sun to glare at its friends and insist they aren’t even trying to understand.
  • No, no, I went back and checked the book and that’s what it said about the lengths of the seasons. I just … sheesh, I don’t know, you know?
  • In the original Star Trek series episode And The Children Shall Lead, someone says “chocolate wobble and pistachio” and not a single person knows what exactly that’s supposed to mean. From context it’s got to be some kind of dessert but what’s a dessert wobble besides some joke about tripping when you’re carrying your turtle brownie over to the table?
  • Because of the differences between land distribution in the northern and the southern hemispheres … yes, yes, I know that thing above didn’t have anything to do with summer. I just needed to fill in something while getting another reference on this lengths-of-the-seasons thing. Look, they were talking about ice cream in that Star Trek episode, that’s mostly a summer thing, right? I mean apart from the peppermint ice cream we only get at Christmas because it feels so Christmas-y. That’s got to be the opposite for the southern hemisphere, right? Where summer-to-fall is shorter in Australia than winter-to-spring is? It couldn’t work any other way, right?
  • Although the solstice is the longest day of the year, the latest sunset may happen some other day, including in early July or even the middle of February, owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the analemma of time and what your latitude happens to be and oh this is even more crazypants than the length-of-seasons thing and I can just not right now.
  • Ah, right, here we go. The Ancient Athenians tried to start their new year with the summer solstice. They also tried to start their months with the New Moon. So there was this nasty stretch near the start of any year where they were trying to get the moon to hurry up to new-ness, or fall back to its last new state. Given the state of cosmological engineering at the time all they could do is try to toss people up and get them to push the moon in its orbit some. This resulted in lots of Ancient Athenians being tossed from the top of a really tall hill and plummeting right back down. (Don’t worry about them. They were much younger Ancients in those days, and could take it.) The year started as it was figuring to anyway. There’s a lesson in this but once again, heck if I know what it is.
  • No, no, the book still says that stuff about the season lengths. I don’t know.

Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Baseball Without Talking About Playing It


Baseball! Say the word (baseball) and right away you’ve conjured thousands of rhapsodic essays about baseball that you won’t read. The sport attracts a lot of writing. To write you only have to be awake and have run out of everything to do except writing. To play it as a sport you need a bat and a ball and maybe like eighteen friends and crowds of tens of thousands of fans. Getting enough people together to supply concessions alone is a chore. Far easier to just write essays about how awesome it would be to play, or maybe watch, or maybe just not worry about.

Still, baseball puts up some good statistics here. Baseball enthusiasts create an average of 49.5 pretentious essays about its inherent greatness for every 12.1 that football enthusiasts create. There’s alo 62.7 essays about baseball for every 25.3 about basketball. There’s 88.5 pro-baseball essays for each 56.2 about cricket. There’s nearly two baseball essays for every one about some silly made-up sport that appears in science fiction shows. That’s a pretty good ratio for the made-up sports. But remember that lots of those essays are snarky. Their major thesis is how the games never look like anything anyone would ever plausibly do for fun, unlike real sports, a category which includes “competitive shin-kicking”.

But just that paragraph gets at some of the joy of baseball. You see even a mystical aura given to its numbers and how easily they can start arguments. Try out 61, for example, or 2632. Toss in a 755, or an 1981 if you’ve got it. If these don’t start an argument, you’re not being persistent enough. Try them again, with greater emphasis. Some numbers get so contentious that there’s nothing sensible to do except retire them. Usually only baseball teams will retire a number. But if you want to do it, go ahead and retire one yourself. If you pick some number that doesn’t get called on much, like 441, they might never catch you. The National League discovered in 1994 how someone had retired 2538 on them over five decades before and they never noticed.

Baseball enthusiasts like to embrace the sport’s mythic origins. According to those, the rules were the creation of Paul Bunyan, who wrestled John Henry’s locomotive. This dug out the finger lakes and uncovering Cooperstown. There Johnny Appleseed emerged from the ground. From this first Home Plate he would walk the Old Northwest, planting Cardiff Giants everywhere. And from these steps small semi-professional teams would grow. Then Mike Fink would come along and punch them. The legend may have grown confused in the retelling.

More serious baseball enthusiasts like to point out the game actually derives from the British game of rounders. This turns out to be fictional too. It all comes from one guy reasoning that he liked baseball now, and when he was a kid he liked rounders. So they must be the same sport at different stages in his life cycle. When he wrote it down this seemed to make sense to everybody, which shows what the standards for making sense were like back then. Please remember that “back then” was generations before baseball was so well-organized that its players could be poisoned by socks. But it inspires questions. Like, what if he had written about this rounders-baseball thing later in life, when his interests had moved on still farther?

What if we saw baseball as merely a transitional sport between baseball and holding a cane while disapproving of the young? How different would the sport be? Would it earn publicly-funded stadiums in all the major cities? Would we have teams of nine scowling old men competing to see who can most be disgusted by some youthful frivolity? Would we be tracking the range and performance of the nation’s greatest complainers? Would the 60s have seen carefully-reasoned critiques about what makes a good crack about how with their long hair you can’t tell boys from girls anymore? Would the American League in 1973 have introduced a Designated Grumbler? I don’t know, but isn’t that an experiment worth running?

My point has gotten away from me, leapt over the back fence, and is running off toward the bridge over the highway. If found please return to this address, or any other needy place which you believe will provide a good home.

Exciting Information About Our Rewards Program


Thank you and greetings to all patrons of whichever brand of gas station this is! We have made some major improvements to our rewards plan. Please do pay attention. All our departments have put a lot of work into making this a thrilling experience. We know Tom from Accounts Discernable would be heartbroken if nobody found out about the glass-blowing workshops. He’s very sure this is going to be the next big experience everyone wants to have and who knows. He could be right. Anyway the principle holds.

We don’t want you to see us as only one of three options for socially acceptable late-night peeing near exit 101 of the Interstate. We want you to see it as the last piece needed to reach a eudaimoniac state. In this all humanity is treated with respect and consideration and dignity. All beings capable of rational thought will be cherished. They will be brought to the fullest expression of their greatest potentials. Also three packs of Bugles are four bucks.

Please review these changes carefully! Teresa Cearley of Hopendyll, Maryland did. She was signed to a big ten-year contract with M-G-M pictures starring alongside Donald O’Connor! Jocelyn van Florp of Glacial Moraine, Wisconsin, did not. The day after she did not, her car was jailed on three counts of aggregated content!

So. We used to have the plan where if you bought six fountain drinks you get a coupon for the next one free. Or where if you bought six coffees you got a coupon for the next one free. First, we’re making clear that tea counts as coffee for the purposes of getting these coupons. You would not believe how much time our cashiers have to spend reassuring people about this. Some days during the depths of winter they’ll be asked about it four times. Which yes, doesn’t sound like a lot. Which yes, doesn’t sound like a lot. But it adds up. Over a full year it comes to whatever four times the number of days in a year is.

Also we count refilling your own travel mug as buying whatever the largest cup smaller than your mug’s size is. Travel mug volume is determined by an integral calculus. We will use integrals of rotated surfaces, best two falls out of three. We are retaining the popular feature where the coupon lasts long enough you forget you have it in the car’s cubby-hole for cell phones.

You continue to earn points by buying stuff from us or using our credit card. We’re also getting ready to release our app. It’s going to offer an exciting new way to earn points where you take pictures of anything, anything at all, with our app. Your car? Sure. Your friends? Yup. The place you’re road-tripping to? Absolutely. Home after a successful trip? Definitely. A cow that amused you all on US 2 in Ohio with how it existed and everything? Yes. An abandoned, crumbling brick factory? Yes. Once you’ve taken the picture call out, “Olly olly oxen free! Olly olly oxen free!” and there you go, points! We’re almost ready to go with this. It’s just the thing you call out set off a frightful argument around here. One faction said “olly olly oxen free”. Another faction said wrong things that were wrongitty wrong wrong and were stupid and wrong as kids. We’ve had to split the development team into four separate rooms, one of them in another building.

But what are points without the chance to use them on anything? Please look at our online store where you can see pictures of:

  • A flat-screen TV
  • Some manner of power tool
  • A foosball table
  • One of those unfolding rubber keyboards that people sometimes roll out and that hooks up to their phones by bluetooth or something and you can’t figure out how they work.
  • A foosball chair
  • An ugly watch
  • A curved-screen TV
  • A blender
  • A foosball sofa
  • An even flatter-screen TV
  • A foosball love seat
  • Movie tickets
  • The abstract concept of social harmony
  • A foosball TV

You can log in using your 24-digit rewards club membership number plus, for safety, the four-digit pin you selected when you got the card in 2009 and don’t remember! It is 1312. Like in the stardate. Remember it by the point-four after that.

Please now pay attention to this video of the third-largest publicly-accessible model railroad in Harding County. Pretty neat, huh? You have to love this bit where it runs underneath the Old New Fulton Street Library. This has nothing to do with the rewards program but we like it. Thank you.

What Is Air Conditioning and Why Not Already?


With the days getting a bit warmer than they were two weeks ago it’s worth spending 819 words talking about air conditioning. Air conditioning is — please hold your questions until the essay has come to a full and complete stop — where some air is conditioned so that it’s less like air and more like conditioned air. It’s probably safe to toss in whatever your questions were now.

Why Should We Condition Air? Many reasons. The air that you get all around you is free and as such, that’s great. But it’ll often be too hot, or too cold, or too clammy, or be filled with too many feathers from an exploded pillow, or some other problem, such as that it’s too dry. And it’s never any of these at the right time. For example, it would be great if just before your history midterm the air were filled with sparkly confetti and party favors. At the least it would distract from thinking how you have no opinions about the Reform Act of 1832 except that it’s probably good they got that done before 1833 started or it would have needed a snappier name.

How Can One Condition Air? This depends what you want conditioned. If you want the air hotter, for example, all you need do is gather enough lumber. Trying to get it into the fireplace wil make you as warm as you want, as you determine by the sixth time you check every room that the house hasn’t got a fireplace and you’re now quite mad about that. Fuming mad, as they say.

But cooling down has always been a different problem. In ancient days the Romans noticed that the same room might be perfectly chilly in the winter and too hot in the summer. Their ingenious engineering minds started a system in which each winter they’d seal one room up tight in the middle of winter and leave it that way until the middle of summer. Only then would they open it up to enjoy that stored winter air. This never worked, but after all the trouble they’d gone to sealing the room up and then opening it again, they weren’t going to stop. They kept at it year after year, insisting to themselves that they did feel a lot cooler and saying maybe next year they would try this with three or even eight rooms. Eventually the Roman Empire fell, but I wouldn’t say the air conditioning was the only reason. There was also their calendar.

What Scientific Breakthrough Made Air Conditioning Possible, And What Important Spinoff Came From It? The most important breakthrough was the discovery of Charles’s Law by Boyle, unless it was Boyles’s Law by Charles. It was Towneley-Powers’s Law, and was discovered by Mariotte. However it turned out the discovery was simplicity itself: if you spray a can of antiperspirant the spray will be cold, and the can will be cold, and your hand will be cold. The implications were obvious. By the end of the century scientists all over Europe were trying to invent a spray can of antiperspirant.

The antiperspirant part and the spray part would be challenges, sure. But the practice was an immediate success, a century later. And it had spinoff benefits. The cans proved to be great ways to can food, for example. This allowed people to take the peaches that they weren’t going to be able to eat before the end of summer and turn them into a fine aerosolized powder that they’d spray on their armpits or, if their aim was off, the bathroom door. This solved some problem. And considering that tells you a lot about what life was like back then.

How Does This Affect The Movies? Well, by the 1920s all the major problems of air conditioning had been solved. Soon industrial-grade air conditioning was popping up all over, like it or not. Cities began building movie theaters around the air conditioning so that at least it would go to some purpose. The air conditioning would stay on full-blast all year, so that wintertime movie patrons had to dress in parkas and carry shovels to help the usher scoop out a trail through the snow. Often patrons would be lost in snowbanks and not be discovered for days or weeks until they emerged in the concessions stand. Over one in five ushers didn’t survive the first year of work, which is why we now regard it as tasteless to expect ushers to ush at the movies. We may ask them to ush in other non-movie contexts and then they can show us their ush stuff.

Is Air Conditioning A Form Of Skinnerian Behaviorist Stimulus-Response Training? No. You are thinking of air hypnosis, which has been discredited as a scientific method but can be a lot of fun as a party trick. It’s a common mistake and you need feel no shame for making it. 818, 819.

How To Move A Plant (Non-Emotionally)


Moving a plant is not a chore you should rush. Really you shouldn’t be rushing any chores, what with how they’re chores. A rushed chore feels skittish, much as you might, and will try to run off. A defensive chore ends up spraying out side tasks as distractions. You may have noticed the results of this. You start off trying to organize the shelf of Books That Friends Who Don’t Read Gave You. You’ve barely gotten to alphabetizing the fourth copy of the novelization to The Thirteenth Floor, which you spent a quixotic two months defending as far superior to The Matrix before remembering that you could go outside and roll down a grassy hillside all afternoon.

Somehow you find yourself in the refrigerator, shelves cleared, sponging off some congealment that seems to be maple syrup hybridized with vinaigrette and store-brand Dr Pepper equivalent. In someone else’s house, one you’re thinking of buying at the tax auction. You have no recollection how it happened. I couldn’t tell you how many times this has happened to me, not since they put all those tags on the cinder-block house two streets over. This is just how chores work.

Nevertheless before moving a plant — remember that? — you need to prepare. Without proper planning even something as simple as cutting down a weed tree could cause the Moon to tumble out of its orbit and go rolling through Appalachia, leaving many stricken West Virginians considerably flatter. How is left as an exercise to the student.

The first step is to warn the plant as early as possible that it will be moved. Moving is traumatic. The plant needs to appreciate the friends and familiar places it’s about to be torn from. They also can get started dreading the new cliques they’ll be plunged defenselessly into a month before the end of the school year. Remember to insist to the plant that it has a say in this move, although not one that would change your plans.

The next step is to have a place to move the plant to. There are great ideas to grow plants hydroponically, without any particular location. It turns out hydroponically means that it’s four spindly lima beans in injected-foam cups during second grade. This may not fit your plant-relocation needs, what with how you have a fourth-grade understanding of fractions and compound sentences.

A great place to deposit a plant is inside a hole. You can purchase a hole, of course. But a great many people with mobility issues depend on pre-dug holes. I feel guilty taking any stock away from them. Funny, that’s the same look the person at the garden supply store gave me. Anyway, I’m able to dig roughly cylindrical holes myself. I encourage that for people who can do it, since it’s such a great experience.

The easiest way to dig a roughly cylindrical hole is with a post-hole digger. Yes, it’s way too much mechanism for this task. It’s just so much fun to lift the digger in the air and toss it in the ground with this satisfying CHUNK, and squeeze it and twist it around and scoop up a heap of dirt and swing it over, dropping the dirt on an unsuspecting smaller sibling. Of course you need a post-hole digger for this. And you can’t just wander in to the grocery store and go to the “P” section and buy the first thing you see. They’ll be filed under “D” for digger. Unless your grocery store uses Reverse Polish Notation, in which case you’re back to “P” again, but who does that? Who isn’t trying to make a point, I mean?

You should keep digging until you have enough hole, which comes when you feel the sense of inner tranquility that comes from outgrowing the idea that you’re a giant long-necked dinosaur used down at the quarry and settling into the idea that you’re pretending to be a hydraulic pile driver. One you do, ponder how it is you have no idea what a pile driver does. I mean, there’s the obvious: it temporarily flattens cartoon animals, but gets broken by the mighty skull of Popeye the Sailor Man. It turns out pile drivers are used to drive piles. Here a pile is a long cylinder of something that’s pretty stern. They get driven into soft soil so that the piles make a better foundation that the dirt does. This may help you feel a sense that the world is abundant in things that are ordinary and unobtrusive but really quite clever.

This might make the plant seem like a rather provincial concern. That’s all right. Explain this to the plant and it will figure out arrangements for itself.

Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Dividing Numbers


Many people have written here to the Department of English to ask about dividing numbers. We think they’ve entered some code wrong. But in the spirit of open-minded civic cooperation we shall try to help.

There are many reasons to divide one number by another. For example, one can use it to adapt a recipe so that you can make an amount for fewer people than the recipe figures on. Recipes often need to be divided, we guess. The person writing the recipe assumed you were excluding fewer people from your meals, because they were not on social media at the time.

You need to have an objective before checking a number’s divisibility. This keeps you from doing something absurd like finding out whether you can divide 96,133 by 251, considering that neither number is at all believable. By “number” we mean “whole number”. These are numbers which are at least two percent fat by volume. Skim numbers follow different rules, but are healthier, and taste more like watercolor paint.

Do check that your numbers are in base ten. This won’t often be a problem. Base ten is popular in places where people mostly have ten fingers per person. There are some people enthusiastic about other bases. Other bases let you do things like figure out what the 69,281st digit of π is in base 32. Or insist that it’s a funny joke to say “Halloween is equivalent to Christmas” and insist that’s true. Smile at these people and move on with your life. Do not bring up base eleven. They’ll start talking the history of the metric system.

Divisibility starts with 1. This is easy enough since everything is divisible by 1. This is the result of 1 winning a fourth-round bye in the Numeric Invitational Tournament. (The first through third-round byes won money instead.) 10 is also a pretty good number to divide by. If a number ends in zero you can divide it by 10, and for that matter by 5. This makes 5 sound pretty free-wheeling. 2 is a more needy number and insists that any numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, 10, 18, 64, 98, 144, or 69,282 divide by it. There is no point arguing with 2 about this point anymore. Let it have these. Do not let it have 251.

Things get tricky around 3, which should surprise nobody, given the number’s pointiness. But there’s hope. Take all the digits of your number and add them up. If that sum is divisible by 3 then so was your original number. Yes, we’re still stuck on whether some number can be divided 3, but it’s a different number. By keeping a list of all the numbers we’re considering divisibility by three we can show we’re working hard and taking this problem seriously. Later we can learn that we did the adding-up wrong, costing us one point but not much affecting our grade.

A number is divisible by 4 when the corresponding year is a Presidential Election Year in the United States. Unfortunately this means you might be waiting around for hundreds or thousands of years to check. Plus the rule is no good for anything below 1788. Maybe someday we’ll discover a different method that’s practical instead.

Nothing is divisible by 17, but who would want that anyway?

Simplicity itself is the test for whether something is divisible by 21. Start with the last digit of the number you’re testing. Now make a copy, in case the number needs to be remastered at some point. Add to that last digit ten times the digit to the left of the last digit. Then subtract five times the digit to the left of that. Once you’ve got that done, simply add four times the digit to the left of that one. From that sum subtract twice the digit to the left of that. If you’ve got any digits left over then add one times that. If anything is still left over, go back around the multiplying and subtracting or adding like before. And voila: if the new number you get is divisible by 21 so was the original! It’s amazing there are people who need this explained to them even today, but it was Thursday all day. We can’t expect too much.

If you should find your recipe contains a number that can’t be divided, then you can’t make the recipe until you start talking to people again. We don’t know how to help with that. You can leave a note that you’ll accept an apology when they feel courageous enough to offer one. This has never worked for anyone, ever. But hey, good luck to you!

What They Found Inside City Hall


I don’t know how closely you’re following the public debate about Lansing’s municipal infrastructure. I admit having suspicions. Anyway the biggest debate, as measured by height above street level, is about the David M Hollister City Hall. They named City Hall for Mayor Hollister last year. Mayor Hollister was mayor back a couple decades so he’s in the sweet spot right now. Nobody remembers what the heck his big scandal was, but they do remember he’s alive. That latter one puts him up over the guy who succeeded Hollister, whom Wikipedia tells me was Mayor … Mayor M Lansingmayor…son?.

They’re talking about moving to a new City Hall. This seems like a dis on Hollister, but nah, he’s fine with it. He never liked the building to start with, which makes naming the place after him seem like an even bigger dis. I’m starting to wonder if somebody does remember whatever the heck his scandal was and is playing headgames. But the major talk about moving is that the current City Hall was last maintained in any form in 1973. This was when they painted over the sign reading “Court of Oyer and Teminer” after learning Michigan has never had one of those.

The alt-weekly had a piece last week about how bad the building is. The building’s from 1958, so it’s got that swinging mid-century modernist style like a setting for one of those Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons. And it’s great for regrouping after heavy rains destroy a parade. But I have to admit some of these problems seem dire. For example:

Stalagmites. There’s those steady water leaks through the cement causing trouble all over. Last month somebody voting in an absentee ballot came back to the basement garage and found a limestone iceberg had completely enveloped his 2017 Buick Verano and also a wooly mammoth. And the vote was on whether to extend participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement. The vote passed but was it really worth the loss of his car and mammoth? Oh, probably. Regionalization is good for this kind of thing.

The Eighth-Floor Bathroom. It’s got faded orange walls. It’s also got that thing with a cloth towel looped into some kind of metal dispenser that’s been rusted in place since 1959. It’s like, it’s supposed to turn so you aren’t wiping your hands on the filthiest piece of fabric known to humanity, but it doesn’t? Also there’s a four-by-five-foot hole in the floor that looks over a hole in the floor below that’s the same size. Also the floor below that, and so on, down to the second storey. Yes, yes, on that second storey there is a trampoline. The city isn’t reckless. Oh, but also when you enter, some phone navigator voice calls out, “Please continue on the current route”. No one has any explanation for this phenomenon.

David Hollister’s Middle Initial Is ‘C’. I know, that hardly seems to make sense, does it? It would flow so poetically if his middle name started ‘M’. But he insists on ‘C’ and there’s no arguing him out of this. They are saying if they move to a new city hall it’ll be the David C Hollister City Hall and I guess we’ll swallow our tears over the ‘M’.

Climate Control. The building’s original, dials-and-levers, steam-based control system hasn’t worked in decades. Instead management has to use a set of signal flags, based on a code book used by the Royal Navy at the Battle of Ushant 1778. I know, you’re giggling thinking about how well that worked out for the British, right? It causes so much confusion. People on the maintenance floors have to keep stepping away from their big, rusty blocks of metal that makes alarming banging noises to clarify things. “Do you really want us to send the sixth-rate frigates to lee?” “No, no, we just need the property tax appeals to be about three degrees cooler.” It’s a lot of trouble.

The Upper Floors. Between the strong, hypnotic horizontal rows of alternating blue and black windows, and the regular vertical aluminum linings, there’s definitely a Saul Bass credit sequence forming. This isn’t by itself a problem. But it does need someone to extract the credits. Zoo officials recommend placing it at the start of a tight 95-minute thriller about a man who saw a book about the Byzantine Empire in the wrong section of the library, checked it out on a whim, and found himself on a wild transcontinental race for the secrets of an atomic supermarket that were hidden on a folded sheet of paper on between pages 383 and 384. Movie goof: you can’t fit a sheet between pages 383 and 384! The book is only 352 pages long.

The Lobby Escalator. When the state put up a spite office building right infront of City Hall the town had to wall off the escalator. The partitions are still there. Two years ago the courts ruled that the city had to open enough of a hole in the drywall to let the people trapped on the escalator free. “We don’t know how this happened,” said the assistant city manager. “We would have sworn the escalator was too far from the courtroom for any judge to hear them.”

There’s more, but it gets into some weird territory. But now I understand more why they figure they need a new building. They’re not figuring to demolish the current City Hall, though. They figure they can turn it into a hotel. That sounds like it’ll be a much more interesting place than the last Red Roof Inn I stayed in. They barely even had any weird candy in the vending machine.

What Is Walking, Anyway


Walking is an easy and popular way to get around, in case you need to be somewhere you aren’t. It’s also an easy and popular way to get in a bit more exercise. This is good if you’ve figured out that you need more exercise. This you might have figured out by noticing something like how you have the muscle tone of a deflated bagpipe. The experienced music major will explain how this tone is actually a note in the key of G-flat. This doesn’t seem to get you anywhere. But it’s good for the soul to interact with the arts majors more.

Walking is very much like running, except it’s not done so very fast. It’s also very much like crawling, except it’s not done so very low. It’s rather something like swimming, although without the persistent dampness, unless you’re walking in the rain. If you are walking in the rain then it’s a slight bit more like swimming, only without the persistent feeling like you should have a better pair of swim goggles on. The ones you have kind of pinch the hair around your ears. It turns out this is just the way swim goggles work best. If they didn’t pinch your hair they would turn to minor acts of vandalism and we don’t need that. Walking is also very much like walking on stilts, except that it’s not done on stilts. (NOTE: This does not apply to walking on stilts, which is very like walking on stilts except that you do walk on stilts.) And finally walking is very much like roller skating, only without the roller skates. Walking is furthermore very much like running — oh, wait, no, I said “finally” before, so that part of the explanation is done as far back as the start of this paragraph.

Walking is very much like — no, no, I’m on a different track here, I can go on. Walking is very much like walking to somewhere, only without the somewhere. For this sort of walking you’ll want some kind of loop that returns to wherever you start, as the alternative requires a never-ending series of new homes or workplaces. And that is a great hassle since it’s so much trouble to keep setting up new job interviews. And you’ll often find yourself at the mercy of new local Internet providers. Plus, it gets harder to return library books reliably.

There are great advantages to walking out-of-doors. Walking indoors is fine, certainly. But too much of it will confuse household pets and make anyone you live with ask what exactly it is you’ve forgotten or lost. You can answer “the way to the fridge” about twice before that joke’s been exhausted, and “my walking pants” maybe four times before that’s no good as a punch line. If you keep that up you’ll be trying to think of ever-more-fanciful things to have lost or places to be going. This is good exercise too. But it eventually putters out with something like “the tea set for the upper veranda” and there’s nothing to help the creative flow anymore. This will come after about two weeks’ work. After that you turn to grunting at whoever’s asking and give an unwanted reputation of being all cranky. Oh, you could walk on a treadmill, but this requires getting a treadmill, and then dealing with all your friends telling you jokes about how you don’t use the treadmill.

If you walk outside you don’t have to deal with people asking what you’re looking for. But in trade you might encounter people walking the other way. You can handle this by smiling pleasantly and nodding, until it turns out they’re walking the same circuit you are only the other direction so you keep seeing them. The smile-and-nod starts to see like a pretty weak response about three times in. You’ll have to pretend you didn’t see them, such as because you sneezed or suddenly had to jump into the shrubs a little.

Motivating yourself to walk regularly for exercise can be hard. One useful trick is to use the walk as a chance to listen to something you like. This way, you get to associate something you enjoy with a chore that leaves you feeling tired and maybe sweaty. This seemed like a good idea before it was laid out like that, but, you know, what doesn’t?

Comfort Disasters


I realized I haven’t been watching those sciencey or history-ish channels that I used to. I’m not sure how that came about. It’s not like the sciencey or history-ish channels aren’t still there. I know we’re paying good money for the “Sorta Tier” of satellite TV channels. You know, the Kinda Nature Channel or the Plausibly Food Channel or Home Craftishness TV. These are great shows, stuff you can watch without ever quite paying attention and learn stuff. That stuff will be something like there was a deputy engineering inspector with a weird name who wasn’t listened to, but isn’t that something?

But I realized this today. I know why. My social media feeds, like most of yours, were full of how the 19th of April was the 106th anniversary of the first hearings into the sinking of the Titanic. Fun fact: all your friends passing around pictures of the Waldorf-Astoria, site of the hearings? They’re wrong! It was the old Waldorf-Astoria, the one they tore down to build the Empire State Building. It wasn’t at the same site. The Empire State Builders were having a giggle and can’t believe they got away with it.

Still, this is the time of year the sciencey history-ish channel would be full of shows about the sinking of the Titanic. And they’re great comfortable shows. They open by reminding us how the ship was called unsinkable, right to its face, if ships have faces. After the first commercial break the narrator asks us if the problem was some previously unidentified construction flaw. “Was the great ship doomed when its segmented compartments were, to save time, not riveted together but instead patched with Velcro, invented in 1941 by Swiss electrical engineer George de Velcro?”

A mechanical engineer with the job of being interviewed stands in front of a black backdrop. He explains how sometimes Velcro works great, but not so much before its own invention. Then on comes a Royal Navy officer who says the same thing, but uses different words. He stands in front of nautical junk left over from a Seafood Shanty restaurant. Those were great.

Around 14 minutes in there’s been enough of that. We bring on an entertaining fellow from an obscure university who uses his hands way too much. His point: from the iceberg’s point of view the Titanic rammed it. And we never hear about how many icebergs get sunk by ships each year. However, one of the engineers explains in a cutaway, most modern icebergs aren’t held together by Velcro. They only use it recreationally.

At the 24 minute mark there’s some footage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. The narrator concedes that this hasn’t got any bearing on the Titanic. But they had the footage thanks to a silent movie made to better exploit that tragedy, back then. And it would be a shame to let a solid good crime against human decency go to waste like that.

Then on to some grainy footage of people. They’re walking along the boardwalk and an amusement park we’re going ahead and assuming is Coney Island. The men are wearing 34-piece suits. The women wearing dresses sufficiently poofy that they can best get down steps by rolling. That’s how people went to amusement parks back then. Women never went up stairs. The narrator explains that due to changes in materials science what the people of 1912 considered acceptable metal for building ships would, today, be classified as store-brand diet pudding. All that held the Titanic together was how much embarrassment it would cause the company if it never amounted to more than a heap of components.

At about 48 minutes in they mention that guy. You know, the one who wrote that book about the ship with a name that was kind of like Titanic? And how the book in that ship — I mean the ship in that book, but I bet there were books on the ship in the book that sank — sank. They’ll point out how that guy achieved immortality and fame. They never ask what role he had in the iceberg.

They mention the sister ships Olympic and That Other One. There’s never talk about the father or the mother ship. Sometimes they discuss how being an orphan must have affected the ship growing up. I should pitch that one. If they’re still making those shows anymore. Like I say, I haven’t been watching the Kinda channels lately. I bet there’s a story there.

Explaining The Common Cold


What is a cold, and if it is, then what is it not? Furthermore, how many? This last question doesn’t seem to fit at all and maybe it belongs in a different piece, one that’s three words short.

The common cold, as it’s known to everyday experience (outside Wednesdays), is one of daily life’s more reliable chores. It serves a valuable biological purpose. Without it how would we remember that we don’t really like going to work, and aren’t necessarily that fond of a lot of our coworkers, and we come down to it we’re not so fond of leaving home either? Home has so many nice things, like how it’s not work, or how you know which channel it is has the show that’s just about paint. Blocks of clay-ish matter being chopped up into powders. Powders being stirred into transparent or white-ish fluids and stirred. Colored paints being poured into shiny metal buckets. Shiny metal buckets getting lids stamped down on them. Shiny metal closed buckets getting wrapped up in paper labels. Worry that the right labels aren’t getting put on the right cans. Buckets being loaded into trucks, never to be seen again. They must be going somewhere. Maybe a paint store. Maybe an awesome paint-bucket fortress in the woods. But it’s not your concern, and it’s so good when you’re working your way through a cold.

The first sign of a cold is the one on the highway telling you which exit is for the airport. Colds spend a lot of time at airports, since they like to pass time watching the airplanes taking off and landing and pretend that they’re part of crew alert systems instrumentation. Colds were very strange as children, not often being played with by other relatively minor diseases. When they did, they were forced to be the navigators. And they liked it, because they knew all kinds of things about magnetic declination. “Did you know magnetic variation changes over the day, from its most easterly around 8 am to its most westerly around 1 pm?” they’d ask to fellow kids who clearly did not. “The variation is greater in summer than in winter!” That teaches you a lot about what you’re dealing with, when you have a cold.

When a cold encounters someone at the airport they know it’s one of two cases. It could be a person who’s travelling for business. In which case, latching on to that person lets the cold share thoughts of how they’d rather not be travelling for business. Or it could be a person who’s travelling for pleasure. In that case, hey, wouldn’t you hang around someone who’s apparently doing something fun? So that’s why colds pounce on people at airports, wrestling them to the ground and telling them about how besides the diurnal and seasonal variations there’s also a secular variation in the compass. Sometimes you might think about the irony of saying you “catch a cold” when it’s the other way around really, but it won’t help.

Are there good ways to prevent a cold? Oh, now why would you go and spoil a cold’s fun, when it’s going to all that trouble to find you? Well, you go and be you. I’d like to say you know what you’re doing, but I know better. It’s 2018. Anyone who had any idea what they were doing has fled to some better time, like 1998 or the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, there’s many people who swear that large amounts of vitamin C will prevent a cold. Just how it’s supposed to do that is controversial. The leading theory is that you should take a great heaping pile of vitamin C and build a fortress around you for it. The colds will be curious, of course, and poke their way through the door. That’s when you reveal that you were never inside the fortress at all and instead slam the door shut.

The plan might seem odd. But it’s only because it makes you realize you don’t really know what vitamin C looks like. You know what those candy drops with vitamin C look like. But the bulk of those are candy; the vitamin C is just, on average, four molecules per tablet. What would a wall of the stuff look like? What color would it have? You know vitamin C is “ascorbic acid”. Is it acidic like soda, sticky but harmless to touch? Is it acidic like H2SO4 that kills Johnny in that rhyme your chemistry teacher told you? There’s no way to know. Maybe there’ll be something about it on TV after the paint documentary finishes.

If It Is Not The End Of The World


It’s hard to avoid thinking about the end of the world sometimes. I suppose most of us figure the world’s got to end sooner or later. Most of us are banking on later. If it’s any sooner than that we don’t want to know about it. Except there are people who want to know about it. And who figure they know about it coming sometime soon. Where this gets me is I remember hearing years ago about how Russia had scads of groups of people figuring the end of the world was near. There were enough groups bunkered down in … bunkers … somewhere that it was causing a crisis in bunker space. Apparently the Russian government had an office of people trained to deal with groups bunkered down for the end of the world.

That’s the sort of thought sure to last long in my mind. First there’s how some people work in the Office of Talking Groups Out Of Their End-Of-The-World Bunkers. That’s either a job that you spend years aiming yourself at, or else it’s one you stumble into without meaning it. Either way is a heck of a story. More of a story than how people end up at whatever factories make those tiny little cocktail-drink flags on toothpicks. But that’s because of what the job is about. There’s still something weird that anybody has either of these jobs at all. Oh, and then there’s the regular old administration and support staff. They must need good transcriptionists at the Office of Talking Groups Out Of Their End-Of-The-World Bunkers. That’s got to be the table at the farthest, strangest corner at Transcriptionist School.

But it’s the mainline officers I wonder about. The people who go out to a group that’s all gathered in some secure spot waiting for the end of the world. The job is to talk them out of the bunker, but, how? What is there to even talk about? I know what a mess I’d make of the job. I’d go up to the door and wave at the security camera. We get some communication going somehow. They call me on my cell phone and then someone reminds me I left my cell phone in my messenger bag, on the chair we don’t otherwise need, at the dining table, back home. I’m always doing this and it never makes my life easier. But let’s pretend that I’ve got my phone, which is the least plausible part of this scenario.

“Come on out,” I bet you I’d say. “The world isn’t ending anytime soon.”

And then they say, “Shan’t. The world is coming to an end really very soon, and we’re going to hide.”

“Well, if it is going to end soon, what good is it staying in a bunker like that? The bunker” — and here you see the reasoning skills that earned me a PhD in mathematics but not work in mathematics — “is located inside the world.” (I’m assuming they’re not bunkered down in a space station, for the fourth most obvious reason.)

“That’s as may be,” comes back the voice, “But we’re fairly sure this is the part of the world that’s going to end last.”

And at that point I’m stumped. I can’t think of evidence that would prove my proposition that the world isn’t ending soon, or that if it does end it’s going to end there last. I’m assuming they want to be part of the last group that’s ended, to see if there’s anything good in the world’s closing credits. Start with the end of the world and there’s not a lot of places to go. Yes, yes, I know this is a fallacy. Of course you end with the end of the world. But you know what I’m getting at and I thought we were friends here. But what could I offer an incentive to come out and stop all this hiding away in caves or bunkers or whatever in Russia somewhere? (Also they’ve hit one of my weaknesses. I love when people say “shan’t”. If they only started bunkering so that they could say “shan’t” to a person who urged them to come out, then I’m on their side.)

Of course, I lack training. They must prepare new hires on simpler assignments. Perhaps new hires talk with groups that are holed up and waiting for the end of smaller things, such as Thursdays, or ironic detachment, or baked goods. I don’t know how I’d deal with those either. But the consequences of my failure would be less. Or consequences of my success. Wouldn’t it be my luck to talk a group out of their end-of-the-world bunker, and then the world comes up and ends right then and there? Think of the humiliation! I want to hole up and hide from that today and it hasn’t even happened. Oh, gosh, what if there’s some misunderstanding and that’s what all those scad groups were really hiding from? That could change everything.

What’s Happening In Town This Month


1st of April. Easter! Learn which of your friends have rabbit costumes they’ve just been waiting for a chance to use! That’s fun. Also learn which of your friends have egg costumes they’ve just been waiting for a chance to use! That’s a something. Good luck poking around the yard finding all your egg-costumed friends. If you miss any it’s going to lead to soooo many petty, passive-aggressive little quarrels. “Why would I go looking for you underneath the goldfish pond netting in the neighbor’s garage, Matthew?” “I don’t know, because you thought I was worth finding, maybe?” Maybe you should tie strings to your friends before they go off hiding. But where you are you going to tie a string around an egg? They thought about this way before you did, clearly. I don’t know what to suggest.

9th of April. Videotechque, the beloved and iconic longrunning institution, on the nation’s list of the ten most awesome video stores, announces it’s closing. The owners cite their advancing age, and the trouble in finding someone willing to take over even a place the whole metro area agrees is the best spot to find knowledgeable and friendly lovers of TV and cinema. But someone put Encino Man on to play in the shop, and the local alt-weekly’s business reporter stopped in while that was on, and asked about it, and after fifteen seconds of embarrassed stammering the owner just announced they were shutting down and it would be too awkward to go back on that statement now that it’s been made to the press and all. Really the movie isn’t that bad, it’s kind of dopily charming.

15th of April. Roving gangs of pedants wandering around the business district waiting for some unsuspecting person who’ll refer to the tax deadline as “the ides of April”, just so they can explain at length how the 15th is no such thing. This group of ten know-it-alls correcting each other is the biggest crowd downtown has had since the cleanup of the Unexplained Hardenberg Street Sewer Explosion of ’14.

16th of April. Roving gangs of accountants wandering around the business district talking about those dopes who forgot the tax deadline was the 17th this year.

18th of April. The library’s first Community Library of Stuff event turns out to just be chance for people to swap their old toasters with each other. Pretty good time all around though.

22nd of April. The Blitman Street Diner that’s a beloved and longrunning institution, on the alt-weekly’s list as one of the top two best places to hang out when it’s 3 am and you need to stare at a carafe of bad coffee and a plate of strawberry pancakes in a confused mix of fury and longing, announces it’s closing. The owners cite increases in rents and how hard it is to keep staff after someone’s just emitted a 65-second long scream of despair at the heap of plastic-packet creamer.

24th of April. So the club you didn’t know you needed in your life? The one for old-time radio enthusiasts who get together and talk about the stuff and even do re-enactments and sometimes perform charity shows? The one that’s got three people who’d go on to be the best friends you ever knew? The one that leads you into a minor but incredibly fun sideline as a voice actor, mostly recording stuff for museums or doing puppets for the occasional educational play for elementary schools? Yeah, that was meeting at 5:00 and you missed it. Sorry.

26th of April. That weird store on Holland Grove Road 3 that’s just got to be a front for something, because nobody’s ever seen any person going in or coming out from it, or buying it, and there’s no figuring out what they sell from looking in the window, and they’ve never run an advertisement in any known medium, and there’s like five different heaps of words somewhere in the window and on the door door any of which might be the name of the place but none of them clearly are, and the city tax records just list them as ‘PRODUCT SERVICES LLC’? They announce they’re closing because all the other beloved and longrunning institutions are closing and they want to hear some nice stuff said about them for a change. So gather your stories about finding the place weird and a little creepy!

30th of April. The County Line Road Merchants Association announces they’re putting covered scaffolding all along the sidewalks. This isn’t because of any construction going on. They just like the atmosphere it gives of being in a bustling, busy city.

Why Not To Make A Presentation


The thing about making a presentation is there’s no good reason to do it. Nobody likes making a presentation. The normal person, told to present a something, will throw their hands up and shriek. Yes, as though they were a mouse spotting a housewife in a cartoon from the 1940s. Then they’ll run through the most immediately nearby door, even if it’s the one to the linen closet. “Wait,” you protest, insisting that’s not real. “We’re at work. Why would we have a linen closet at work?” Well, if that’s not a linen closet then why is Holden buried under an avalanche of the successfully-folded towels? Hmm?

The other thing is nobody wants to see a presentation. Think of the great presentations of history. There was Stephen Jobs, in 1998, telling the world that Apple had decided to try making computers and music players and phones that people liked. And they’d stop whatever the heck they’d been doing the previous fifteen years. (They had been inventing new numbers to put at the end of fake, vaguely Latin names with meaningless letters suffixed. You know, like, Quadra CE 6122 or Performa XXL 230p or Centris vx715 III+: Turtles In Time.) There was Albert Einstein, in 1915, presenting how the non-Euclidean nature of spacetime explained gravity. There was King James II’s presentation of his son in 1688. This inspired the whole of England to rise up, throw the King into the Channel, and grab the nearest Dutchman to be King instead.

And the next other thing is you don’t have anything to say. Goodness, Dwight Eisenhower thought winning the War in Europe didn’t need anything more than a quick telegram. Yes, yes, he did that thing where he put his thumb on his nose and wiggled his fingers in the general direction of Flensburg. But who doesn’t do that from time to time? What do you even call that? You used to see it in cartoons. I think it was called “Flensburg”. If that didn’t rate a 45-minute discussion about process completion and goal reorientation how does your thing rate?

Also there’s no good way to make the presentation. The best sort of presentation is where you have a giant, cartoony implement with a lot of whirring wheels and spinning belts. You can take a big bucket labelled “STUFF” and pour it in the top. Then there’s a lot of chirring and chugging and whirling around of those little brass spheres on steeply-angled legs and all that. Eventually something goes “DING!”. A neatly-wrapped package drops out from the front. You get to at most three of those presentations a year. The waiting list for that machine is years long. Proponents of capitalism as a theory tell us that of course with such high demand manufacturers are going to step up production and make many more. Capitalists will innovate to make device-manufacture cheaper and more accessible to a wider market. They’re so cute when they talk nonsense like that. Mortals like us have to settle for waiting for the overhead projector to warm up. Then shuffle quickly through the only Powerpoint trick we can do. It’s having a line of text rotate on a central vertical axis until it finally snaps into place. We don’t know how to do it. Powerpoint started doing that one day and it seems to be having so much fun it can’t stop. We have to carry on as if we meant it.

One more thing is who’s got time to get to a presentation? I suppose there are people sprawling out on their floor. They’re thinking how they don’t have anything to do. And they’ve got all the time and energy in the world to do it with. These people are eight years old, nine max. The rest of us have upwards of twelve minutes of unscheduled time per day. If we bunch it all up for a week or so we might be able to fit in watching your projector turn off because it’s overheated. But is your talk worth it?

So if you don’t want to make a presentation, and nobody wants to see a presentation, and you don’t have anything that needs a presentation, and nobody expects any presentation to be all that good, and nobody has the time for a presentation anyway, why are you doing it? I don’t know. We live in complicated times, that’s all. Maybe we should have thought things out when we set up society back when we were starting it like eight years ago. There was someone who had some ideas we thought we should consider but we never had any way of hearing her outline them. Too bad.

How To Swim In Some Other Way


With all the talk these days about spring starting soon — please disregard this message if spring isn’t due to start soon — it’s a good time to learn some new swimming moves. You’ll want to do this before the swimming pools get to opening. In the fast-paced world of competitive recreational swimming if you wait for the pools to open you’ll be swarmed and overwhelmed by people who think they know what they’re doing. Nothing’s a greater threat to getting anything done than swarms of people who think they know what they’re doing. If anyone ever did know what they were doing they’d reconsider doing it in the first place.

And there’s no sense waiting for the pools to close. Getting your swimming-learning in then just leads to awkward questions and sometimes a court appearance. And not the good kinds of court either (basketball, tennis, or stuffed-doll kangaroo). If you find yourself somewhere after the pools close you could pretend to swim. Get into your shower, say, and make the appropriate motions. This will knock the shampoo over and send half of it down the drain. This will give some much-needed bounce to the hair clot that’s about two months away from causing a critical plumbing malfunction.

Now there aren’t any of these swimming strokes designed for efficiency. We already know the most efficient way to get across a swimming pool. First approach the pool at its narrowest end, making soft cooing noises without any startling motions. Then, having strapped a jet engine to your back, jump in at no less than 80% full thrust. Bring it up to 105% nominal full thrust before you hit the water and with luck you’ll be across without even getting wet, and you just might beat the falling boulder to that pesky roadrunner. No; what we want here is a full swimming experience, which is what these are about.

First: The Ladder Climb. Start from the top of a ladder which leads into the pool or other body of water. You might need to bring a ladder with you, in which case be sure to mark your name on it somewhere, yes, even if your name is “Mark”. Stand securely with both hands on the railing and both feet on a step, and make your way one step at a time down. When your body is mostly in the water you can then shift to hopping down, both legs taking one step. For the final step hop away from the ladder while describing this as one small step for a man or woman as appropriate but nevertheless one giant leap etc. Advanced swimmers might try a more obscure line such as “Whoopie! Man, that may have been one small step for Neil.” Or try working up your own lunar-landing quote, possibly delivering it imitation of some 1930s comedian you know only from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Try Ben Turpin. Nobody will know if you’re doing it wrong.

Second: The Vertical Drop. Place your arms and legs together to descend rapidly to the bottom of the water. With your eyes closed (if you’re anything like me, you have to do this before you even get started) reflect on how nice it is to be there. It’s warm enough. The light leaking through your eyes is diffuse and nonspecific. Children squealing sound like they’re thousands of miles away. Lifeguards blowing whistles sound like alien life forms. The cries of people evacuating the pool are barely audible. The siren warning about sharks in the area is as nothing compared to the weird, not-exactly-grippy surface nosing you around. Remember to not breathe until you’re done with your business down below.

Third: The Twist. Start from a horizontal pose within the water. Select one arm (the wrong one) to move forward as it’s above the water line, the way you would for a crawl or for that other crawl. Meanwhile using the other arm (the right one) move backward, similarly. With your legs kick left and right simultaneously, producing a lurching motion that immediately propels you into the person in the next lane. With your full measure of grace apologize and pledge never to do it again. Then using the second arm (the right one) forward and the wrong arm backward (the other one) try again. This will propel you into the person in the other lane. In case you are swimming where there’s not any lanes bring along some ropes and string them up yourself. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

While these may seem obvious to do, it is worth practicing so that you look up to four percent less silly when you can go swimming again. Put the shampoo bottle on the sink. Sorry, no idea how the shark got into this.

Your Weekly Planner


Friday

9:30 am. Wake up late. So apparently that melatonin you took to help get to bed Wednesday night was stronger than its 3 mg label suggests. Boy, those things are great. Can you imagine how awful life would be if any of this stuff were regulated or anything?

2:00 pm. The conference call. It starts with great promise. Logemein isn’t working, and no number of panicky e-mails to the people who insist that no, it is too working will make it work. Matters shift quickly to GoToMeeting. This allows for a great five minutes trying to find some talk small enough to wait for the password reset. After that’s done there’s plenty to talk about. What does “custom content error module” even mean, for one? Do we have those words in the right order? Surely “custom module content error” makes more sense as a thing a computer might have trouble with? Or perhaps it’s the “error content custom module” that wants attention and has chosen this moment to ask for it? Anyway, be ready to deploy your joke about “error module contented costume party”. It will be the most appreciated part of the day, judged by how much everyone grunts in acknowledgement that this was a thing said.

Saturday

1:30 pm. Plan to go out to the bagel place for a late lunch disrupted by how you’ve got to share these Private Benjamin plot summaries. And wait, there’s an episode where the Ordnance Disposal Unit accidentally blows up a guy’s house and there’s one with a robot and there’s one where the colonel gets mugged and feels he can’t be a leader anymore and that’s the same season Benjamin tries to save a space-program chimpanzee? The heck? This is way more compelling than onion bagels with the spinach-artichoke cream cheese they’re trying to make.

Sunday

1:56 am. Remember to go over to the kitchen to watch the radio-guided clock automatically correct itself for Daylight Saving Time.

1:59 am. Return to the living room with the bag of microwaved popcorn you didn’t actually want but which, on entering the kitchen, was the only reason you could imagine entering the kitchen at this hour of the night for.

11:25 am. Remember the clock thing and now very angry with yourself. But the memory of the time you did watch, and how as the clock had ratcheted the minute had ahead only about two-thirds of the way the battery died and you were left standing there for three minutes trying to figure what was up, doesn’t do anything to make you feel less bad about missing this.

11:32 am. The battery didn’t die so at least you didn’t miss that excitement maybe?

Monday

6:20 pm. Moment of regret for longstanding institutions gone forever as you notice the vacuum cleaner repair shop has closed. I mean, that has to have been a money-laundering front even more baffling than the United Nations store, right? But it was there forever and it was nice to think that if for some reason you needed to repair a vacuum cleaner there were people who were willing and, presumably, able to do it? But in this loss of a place you never visited and never seriously thought of visiting do you feel the loss of charm and personality and identity of the town you live in, and you feel the touch of oblivion that, most days, you ignore in your own life.

6:21 pm. Wait, the vacuum cleaner place moved two flipping storefronts down? They didn’t even move across the block? They’re just … they … the flipping heck is any of this even about? Money laundering, that’s what it has to be.

Tuesday

11:30 am. Reach the 100th consecutive day of telling the computer to “Remind me tomorrow” about that system update it thinks is so all-fired important and that you can’t even begin to car about.

4:45 pm. Nurl. That’s all it has listed here. Good luck with that.

Wednesday

6:30 pm. Michael’s sends you a good-for-one-day 70% off anything in the store coupon and the only thing you can find that’s even remotely slightly of need is a $2.99 spool of ribbon.

10:10 pm. Oh yeah you were meaning to get that good rubber cutting mat for like ever.

11:25 pm. No luck getting to sleep. Better take a melatonin.

How To Know It All


Hi. I’m a know-it-all. I’m aware this might surprise you, since most of you faintly like me. You don’t like me enough to help me move a couch into a new apartment, I mean. You like me enough that you don’t particularly want to slug me. If you do it will be from a sense of civic duty. You might feel some pride. But it’s the pride of voting in the boring elections about whether to extend the municipality’s participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement for two years. This is the most socially welcome a know-it-all can hope to be. I decided long ago I wanted to be able to move in both know-it-all and likable-person communities. And now I’d like to share with you, the non-know-it-all, some secrets in how to be a know-it-all.

To set out being a know-it-all might seem intimidating. Even the name suggests you ought to know a bunch of facts about a bunch of things. This common misconception keeps millions of prospective know-it-alls from fledging. There are two things you need to do to be a know-it-all. The first to spot some commonly-agreed upon fact or amusing bit of trivia. Let’s see how you do with this sample. Which of these are commonly-agreed-upon facts or amusing bits of trivia?

  1. There’s a leap year every four years.
  2. North Dakota was the 39th state admitted to the United States.
  3. Stop, drop, and roll.
  4. No spider is ever more than three light-years away from you.

The correct answer is to be already writing a comment about how no, centennial years are not generally leap years in the Gregorian scheme of things. And that’s not even starting on the we-could-make-this-legitimate dispute about whether President President P Presidentson signed North Dakota’s or South Dakota’s statehood papers first. Because what makes a know-it-all is the second thing you need to do. Explain how, if you are being precise, some true thing can be argued in the right lights to be imperfectly true, which is the same as false.

So to know-it-all, recognize statements that nobody feels any need to dispute. Then dispute them. Be polite about it: start out by saying how “You know” or “It’s a common misconception” or “To be precise”. Follow up with anything. It doesn’t have to be correct. Just plunge in with the confidence of a white guy talking on the Internet. Bludgeon your conversational opponent into submission. Eventually, they slug you, and you’ve won.

The biggest danger, besides to your face, is if there’s another know-it-all ready to jump in the conversation. You might need several layers of technical points before your opponent gives up. That’s all right. There’s only a couple topics that know-it-alls really specialize in. One of the great ones is David Rice Atchison, who often hits trivia lists as having been Acting President for one day in 1821. The incoming President wouldn’t take the Oath of Office on a Sunday, and so the office devolved upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. But wait, you say. Yes, the President’s term had expired, but so had the Congress’s, and so Atchison wasn’t the President Pro Tempore of anything. My counter: ah, but until 1890 the Senate customarily chose a President Pro Tempore only when the Vice-President was absent from Washington City or on the final day of a Congressional session. Thus they believed they were choosing a potential successor in case of a vacancy between sessions. Fine, you might answer, but then Atchison never swore the Oath of Office and therefore did not act as President. I retaliate: granted the Oath of Office might be necessary to exercise the powers of the presidency. But Atchison’s accession is covered by his oath as a member of Congress to uphold the laws of the nation. And those laws would include the Succession Act of 1792 then in effect.

At this point, I should explain, we are furious in our debate. There’s people trying to pull us apart. People are emerging from their houses to see what all the excitement is. People shouting about offices “devolving” upon people is pretty exciting stuff even in these troubled times.

You’ve got more nitpicking to deploy. If taking the Oath of Office isn’t necessary to merely be President then the actual President took office at noon on the 4th of March regardless of whether he was sworn in. There was no vacancy for Atchison to fill. I answer. Before the 20th Amendment there was no constitutional specification to when a non-acting President’s term of office began. Stymied? You can ask how Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, could be an Officer of the the United States, which the Constitution specifies as the only people eligible for the succession. And then I point out David Rice Atchison was 13 years old in 1821. Not all of 1821, but in March of it anyway. The question of whether he was President for one day was about the time in 1849 that the new President didn’t want to take the Oath of Office on a Sunday. And then you slug me.

And I win.

I can’t tell you why you’d want to be a know-it-all. All I know it’s the best.