Some more things to say about The Story Of Brick


To get back to The Story of Brick, as told by the American Face Brick Association. I don’t want to over-sell the joy I feel in this book. I know these are hard times. Maybe things that bring me a little cheer are intensified. Still, I think there is a lot to enjoy here.

There’s a stretch of book trying to show what the different brick-laying styles are. In the text this is done by pictures. The eBook reader that for some reason gave me this, though, puts some of them as text. So it’s full of weird ASCII art. Like, here:

The Common or American bond, in order to secure transverse strength of wall, can be treated in a way to produce pleasing effects, as may Fig 7.

m
	ZZ3EZ~]C~Z3CZZI]CZrj.
	Fig. 3.
	Common
	ME
	oc
	:es3c
	U^r

The Flemish bond (Fig. 5) is secured by

mi
	nm
	immzznm
	izmmz.
	DCZS3
	IIEE3E
	nnc

Header Diamonds

|/>)(\(//-/>
<<|//-<-\|<|(\-///\\)|)--</>
())((//<-<
(-/(<\|/-(|(
/(>>/()|-->
(\))|(()(/|-->|/)-->)>>-)||</\/\|(|/<((<|/-(\\|)-)/\>-(>|/)\
	

Herring!

               .-_|\
              /     \
      Perth ->*.--._/
                   v  <- Tasmania

And despite that fine presentation of good new LinkedIn passwords for me, it just runs a picture for “Chimney Top”. I know what a chimney top looks like. I have one on my house. At least I did last time I checked. It’s been a while.

OK, I’m back. Yes, my chimney top is still there, along with all the chimney middle. You may mock me for checking that nothing had come along and swiped my chimney top without my knowing, but I remember that this is the year 2020. You know what would be stranger than something stealing the tops of chimneys of otherwise untouched buildings? Every single day since the 14th of January.

I don’t fault the book having a pro-brick agenda. I’m sure there’s a comparable book from the American Wood Shingles and Shakes Association that keeps pointing out how lousy bricks are. This if the shingles and shakes people get along. But the enthusiasm this book brings to bricks sometimes paints weird scenes. For example, remember the Great Baltimore Fire that destroyed over 1,300 buildings in February 1904? Me neither but I’ve only over driven through 1904 on the way to 1908 or 1894. Yes, I’m a Coxey’s Army hipster. But the American Face Brick Association notes “there was something saved, however, for a special committee … reported that between 200,000000 and 300,000,000 usable brick worth $5.00 a thousand were recovered”.

So now this paints a scene of a time when “brick” was the plural of brick? Maybe it was a character-recognition error. No, but they do this all over the book. All right. Let me move on.

So this also paints a scene of Baltimore, smashed by a catastrophic fire. Through the smoldering ruins, though, a civic leader stands up. I’ll assume his name was “Archibald”, since that’s an era when civic leaders had names like Archibald or Edwin or Vernon or all that at once. “It is not all lost, my fellow Baltimoreans,” cried Archibald, holding up two pretty good brick in his right and one fractured brick in his left. “There is merchantable salvage comprising a million and a half of dollars of brick here!” I bet his news was greeted with deep, impressed looks from the survivors picking through ruin. I bet they shared their joy and brick with him. And then Archibald interjected, “Herring!”

So it’s a good thing to know there were a quarter-billion still-usable bricks in Baltimore in 1904. It shows what kind of a craftsman I am that actually using them seems like maybe more effort than they’re worth. Of course, what they’re worth was a million and a half dollars, according to Archibald Edwin Vernon. That is a lot of effort to not go to. It’s just I think of my own uses for used bricks.

There’s one set behind the microwave so we don’t push it up against the wall when we press the door-release lever. There’s a brick I use to get a crowbar in the right place, when I do my annual prying-open-of-a-window-some-cursed-former-resident-painted-shut. There’s one we keep in the basement, next to the stairs, so that we can stub our toes if that hasn’t happened already. I think if we stretched our imaginations we could use as many as two more brick.

So that covers a market for five used brick. This leaves 1904 Baltimore with needing to find applications for only a quarter-billion more brick. They could solve this by building more houses, sure, but that’s still 40 to 60 million houses to use up all that brick. It makes one wonder what they were doing with all those brick in the first place.

Herring!

Everything there is to say about seeing comets


This is a good time to share tips with people about how to spot comets. You might protest there’s no visible comets in the sky. We had NEOWISE hanging out there for a couple weeks. That there’s no comet to see is no reason you can’t try anyway. Most of the time there’s no comet anyway. Every couple years the world’s astronomers all feel lonely. So they go telling people, “Oh, hey, comet D/2495 Q1 Rococo-Compsognathus is passing by the sun for the first time since Pangaea was a thing! The vapor trail will wrap over a thousand degrees of sky, looping almost three times from horizon to horizon! At its peak it could be up to 36 times as bright as setting your face on fire!” That “up to” covers a lot of possibilities.

Then they find a field or the top of a building, scatter some telescopes around, and wait for the crowds to come rolling in. I’m not saying it’s a sinister conspiracy. At heart, it’s a conspiracy to get strangers to ask them about their Cassegrain reflector. They’ve spent a lot of time learning the word “catadioptric” and you understand their wanting to do something with it. The word means “cat of the day of the ptrics”. The day of ptrics is April Fool’s or Halloween, depending on context.

Astronomers can’t help explaining things like this. They grew up as nerds. And as nerds, we hated being in school. We liked the learning part. It’s just we hated having to be around other people teaching stuff. This is why now that we’re out of it, we spend all our time teaching other people stuff. This is also why nerds are always angry with each other over declarations of things like “this was a good episode of a TV show”.

In principle there’s just a few things you need to study the night sky, among them:

1. Night.
2. Sky.
3. You (very important).

The ‘sky’ and the ‘you’ are pretty easy for you to come up with. The night could be hard. You can tell it’s night by how vividly you remember every relationship you ever screwed up by saying one wrong thing.

To get to see anything in the sky you’ll want a good dark area. This can be found by going into the basement without turning on the lights, but there are house centipedes down there. Out to the field it is, then! This is a good way to discover how badly your town is light-polluted. There’s an excellent chance that ten miles outside of town you can still read this week’s updated privacy policy from your Discover card.

What you want is a good quality dark, but that’s hard to come by. The great dark mines of the upper midwest were exhausted by the 1920s and we’ve had to make do with reclaimed and processed dark since then. Really it’s easier to go gather around the astronomers and let them ask you if you can name the nearest star to Earth. This takes you to the astronomers, yes, but they know where it’s dark enough you can’t see the bats.

Out in the field you get to see families who aren’t particularly amateur astronomers, trying hard to get anyone else to look at the same thing. “Do you see that star?” “The red one?” “Stars aren’t red!” “Then why is it red?” “You must be looking at an airplane.” “One of those famous stationary airplanes you see all the time.” Tempers grow short. You get packs of people, one pointing up at a tree. “Look! Is that Cassiopeia?” “YOU’RE Cassiopeia!” responds someone who’s fed up with how much fun everyone else had learning there’s a constellation called Puppis, the Poop Deck. Someone in the group has a solid memory that you just “arc to Arcturus”, but not where you arc from or why you want Arcturus in the first place. You want Arcturus because it’s the most prominent star in the constellation of Arctoo. The astronomers could explain that, if you don’t accidentally get them explaining what a Dobsonian telescope is. It is a telescope made by Dob and Sons, of Telescope Alley in London.

Anyway the most amazing thing you can learn is that there are obsolete constellations, just like if stars were recorded on VHS tapes or something. Also that one was called Turdus Solitarius as if astronomers weren’t all twelve-year-old boys.

To light up my life


I’d like to get back to the American Face Brick Association’s writing, but it was more important to discuss the kitchen light. I think you find it a welcome break from the world to hear about we haven’t been able to see what’s spilled on the counter. It seems to have been … molasses? Which … we … don’t have? We have no idea how this came about.

So the trouble was that the warp core inside our light fixture broke, scattering space and time and also not illuminating anything anymore. We couldn’t fix the problem, because of this frosted glass dome cover held on by three metallic clips. With our own mechanical ingenuity exhausted we called an electrician. And, I admit now that we’ve seen how to remove the glass dome we feel foolish having needed an expert for it. But without seeing how to do it how would we have known? The answer is to use a good, dependable fold-out ladder to get close to the ceiling, then smash the glass dome with a sledge hammer, and throw the pieces over the fence into the yard of the neighbor we’re fighting with. Let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to the time we aren’t fighting with any of our neighbors! And also have a burned-out kitchen light.

And it turns out the burned-out warp core was actually a halogen light bulb. The electrician offered to replace the light fixture, if we had a new light fixture, because those are getting hard to come by. A couple hours later while I was at Meijer’s for a separate light-bulb-related fiasco I discovered they have two-packs of halogen light bulbs for eight bucks. So maybe we should tell the electricians that or something.

So we put in the new bulb and the new glass dome. And that’s worked great. The space-time rift that was swallowing up coins reversed itself. We found, like, $4.74 in loose change that we’d dropped and heard hit the floor but never saw again. This included a Denver-mint American Samoa quarter, so, I hear you but don’t be jelly. We’ve also found so many dropped pills. Redemption tickets to the Fascination parlor off Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey. Long-disappeared previous inhabitants of the house. “Has … has World War II ended? Did we win?” asked one. I asked, “Which World War II? World War II I, or World War II II?” He slugged me. Fair enough. In retrospect, that was a mean and baffling joke, the kind of thing more appropriate for a 90s web comic. I list it here to work out my shame.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
So it turns out this was less bad than I expected, but still, betting that it would be bad seemed like the way to go.

Also the new bulb is 300 Watts and let me tell you, that’s bright. The previous bulb turned out to be 150 Watts and it was maybe going before it broke altogether. This, though? It’s brilliant. It’s bright enough to shine around corners. It’s so bright we can see what’s in the refrigerator without even opening the door. Dozens of house centipedes (don’t do an image search) have come out, raising upwards of 26 arms each, begging for mercy and unfortunately reminding us we have house centipedes. It turns out that I have a weird, secondary liver, and not even in my abdomen. Last night we had three people come over to ask if this was the drive-in theater. We didn’t have the nerve to say “it is now!”

We do feel a little bad about using a 300 Watt bulb to light less than one city block, yes. If there’s an LED equivalent I’d switch over to that. The trouble is finding an LED equivalent. What would be as bright but not intensely wasteful and hot? We can’t match it by talking about Watts. But it turns out that every other method of measuring brightness doesn’t work. Like, there’s the candela, which is a larger candle tuned to one perfect-fifth below. But two things can be the exact same candela and each somehow look twice as bright as the other. Then there’s the “lux”, which is short for the “Pop-u-luxe” or, as it’s known outside the Midwest, the “Soda-u-luxe”. This measures how well the thing is fringed by a swoopy, ideally neon fixture with chrome plating. There is no need for this. There is the “lumen”, which measures how ominous a thing you can’t quite see yet is. The more lumens, the more you can’t quite see it coming. This does nothing to help you tell how bright it is.

For now we’re just going to see things in the kitchen but feel bad about it. This is as best as we could hope for, really. Thank you for your concern.

In which I can’t quite say something more about bricks


I don’t want it to sound like all I’m thinking of these days is that The Story Of Brick book from the American Face Brick Association. I bet the American Face Brick Association itself thinks I’m making too big a deal of it. “Look, it’s just not that important a thing. We wrote it when we were feeling all defensive about people’s bad estimates of the cost of brick faces. It’s not like we think it’s bad or anything, it’s just … you know, just this one book.” I bet they’re blushing.

If they’re even called the American Face Brick Association anymore. I just bet they went through that process where they reason, you know, face bricks aren’t all we do. There’s also slates and stones. So then they go adding that to make the name the American Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association. And then someone points out they know a guy in Toronto. And someone else knows that guy too and he’s fun to have at their conventions. So then it becomes the American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association briefly. Then someone reminds them it’s 1936 and Newfoundland isn’t part of Canada yet, and they explore calling it the American and Canadian and Newfoundlanderian thing before settling on “North American”. And then someone finds other stuff you can put in front of houses and they don’t want to list all that. So we get the North American Building Coverings Association. Then some consultant tells them that a geographic designator is too old-fashioned so it becomes the Building Coverings Association. Then you get to where it seems all fancy to have a clipped, shortened name and it turns into the BuiCovAssoc, or as it’s finally known, the Association. Except on the front of their building they still have the “American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association” because they can’t agree who gets to engrave the new name.

But even with the break in the heat wave I’ve needed things to think about that are easy and comforting. And I know it’s hard to think of bricks as comforting. It’s also hard not to notice you can rearrange the words in that last sentence and get one at least as good. “And I know it’s comforting to think of bricks as hard.” That’s reassuring in these trying times. “And I think it’s hard as comforting bricks to know of.” That one turns out to have extra words, unless we happen to know someone named “Of” who’s inscrutable. We might. We know all sorts of people, I can’t know things like what to call them.

Daft? Yes. This is daft. But it’s better I worry about this than I worry about the kitchen light fixture. That stopped working the other day. You’d think the answer would be “put in a new light bulb”. No. First, the fixture has this ceramic dome on it that’s connected by I don’t know what. It’s some metal clip contraption that’s holding on to it more securely than my car holds on to its engine. I can kind of tug one clip a little out of the way. But it’s not enough to take the cover off, and I can’t move two clips at a time unless I go up there with more arms than I have.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
I don’t know what this is or what repairing it is like except that I know with a certainty ordinarily possible only for mathematical truths that it will not be good.

Also inside I can see there isn’t a light bulb. There’s just this … thing. It’s a long skinny cylinder with a couple of scratch marks on it that look like they’re supposed to be on there. It looks like a warp core’s reactor. I don’t know why we’ve been getting light from a small warp reactor. I also don’t want to know what kind of problems with space and time having this thing in the house has been causing. I think this might explain how last week I dropped eight cents on the floor, and heard the nickel and all three pennies hit the floor, and every one of them vanished. This was while the light was still working, too. I’m not upset about losing the eight cents. I’m worried that this loose change has gone and popped into the Neutral Zone and maybe been given superpowers by an alien planet of coin-based life forms, and it’ll head back to Earth zapping starships and planets and whole galaxies into a little coin-collector’s book jacket.

Anyway I probably have more thoughts about that book but I don’t remember now. Sorry.

In which I would like it a little cooler please


I would like to carry on talking about that book from the American Face Brick Association. Really. You have no idea how much delight I find in every page. It’s just that I have bigger problems right now. I don’t mean bigger problems like we all have from it being 2020, what with it being 2020 and all that. This is the year where there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll come back from a half-hour walk to the news that “Medusa is real and she’s stolen the Moon”. This is why I make my walks at minimum 35 minutes, and you’ll notice, nobody’s stolen the Moon yet. (CHECK BEFORE POSTING) I don’t expect thanks; I’m gratified to know I’m doing my part.

But the core of my problems right now come from the heat wave. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, unless you’re my love, who’s sitting on the other side of the table and terrifying me by reading something I wrote and pointing out where I stole jokes. Here, though, we’ve got a heat wave. Apart from a well-received bit yesterday where a cloud passed in front of the sun, it’s been about 140 degrees Fahrenheit every afternoon for a week. In the evening it drops to a balmy 160.

It is so hot that I feel a bit too warm. I have to explain why that means anything. I am one of those people known in the medical lingo as “a bit cold”. I would like the temperature raised a little bit in almost any circumstance. I’m the person you see sunbathing, wearing long cargo pants and a hoodie to the beach in July. There have been campfires I’ve accidentally stepped into and thought, “this could be hotter”. I set my half of the electric blanket so high my love has to leave the bed, go into the other room, and still sleep without a blanket. And I’m still not convinced the blanket is on. That is the warmth I need. And this heat wave I think is a bit too warm.

It’s a difficult heat wave to exaggerate. This is hard for me because 85% of my personality is exaggeration, with the rest being “pop culture reference I’m trying to tamp down because everyone else makes the same references”. Which is hilarious because most of my references are to, like, nice cracks Fred Allen had about Billy Rose’s Aquacade in the 1939 World’s Fair.

But still. Like, our neighbors mowed the lawns just ahead of the heat wave, so their lawns are these neat uniform brown patches of dead grass. Ours looks like my beard, in comparison, although with more plantains. I mean the plantains are in the lawn. I can’t mow the lawn, though, because the grass has melted. In the relative cool of evening I could squeegee the lawn, except the squeegee also melted and ran down the storm drain.

We made a pitcher of ice coffee, and set it back in the fridge, where it caught on fire.

My daily walk? The one that I make long enough we don’t have to worry about Moon theft? I have to take that later and later, in the hopes of finding cool. Monday I had to take it about 11 pm. Tuesday I had to walk after midnight. Yesterday’s walk I had to take so late it was actually 2 pm today. It is not pleasant out there.

It’s not so hot in here, because it’s too hot in here. Our house, in the past, was owned by many people who meant well but had no idea what they were doing. At least one of them painted all our windows shut. Every summer I target one window with hammer and chisel and crowbar and pry it open and about half of the time I even succeed. This year I got a second window in the dining room almost ready to open, and I would have succeeded too, if the window handle had not melted off in my hand.

Anyway I know people talk about using atom bombs to break up hurricanes. I want to know where the research is into using atom bombs to break up high-pressure systems. Trust me, I normally oppose using atom bombs for any purpose besides making a merry little strategy game suddenly all serious. But this has been going on a week now.

So given how I’ve been talking like this: why are my friends going back and fact-checking whether it could literally be 140 degrees here? I mean … am I not being clear enough I’m exaggerating? Or am I surrounded by friends who are going to take me seriously until I cut that out?

It’s got me burning up, I tell you.

Hardly everything there is to say about The Story of Brick


So I read that book by the American Face Brick Association that I had noticed yesterday. How could I not? By the second page it’s got into how things had changed by the time of Nebuchadnezzar. When else do you ever hear about Nebuchadnezzar? There’s times that Linus is getting all scriptural in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that’s about it. I’ll finish any book if it starts out by how the subject had changed by the time of good ol’ Nebuchadnezzar. “How will we get Joseph to finish reading this book about modern bowling alley management,” I can imagine a niche author wondering. “Make him aware such a thing exists?” says her co-author. The first, not realizing this is correct, says, “I know!” And hastily adds to page three a sentence, “by the time of Nebuchadnezzar the management of bowling alleys had developed some techniques familiar even today”. This would clinch the deal.

I know what you’re thinking, and no. So far as I know, “Nebus” is not a shortening of “Nebuchadnezzar”. I am aware of no relation to the ancient kings of Babylon, Sumer, Akkad, and the Universe. My family has always lived in the Universe but that’s about it.

The book is written by a true believer in bricks. I suppose we all believe in bricks to some extent. It’s not like we’ll pat the brick cladding of a building, lean over to our companion, and whisper, “Of course, you know what’s really going on with these.” I mean unless it’s that new kind of brick they build stuff with today, that’s somehow bricks that look like fake bricks. I mean we believe in bricks that look like bricks. We just don’t believe in bricks as much as this writer believes in bricks.

From this book I learn that, like Gaul, the clays used for brick are divided into three parts. The first is surface clays, “of which the commoner type of brick are made” and which I trust are the down-to-earth clays. Next are shales, “nearly reduced to the form of slate” by immense pressures, I trust from trying to avoid those commoner surface clays. The last group are fire clays, “so-called because of their refractory qualities”. Can you name three refractory qualities? Share your work below.

I wouldn’t have put Gaul into the matter except the book is written all like that. There’s a bit where it talks about how John Howard Payne made himself immortal with his universal lyric. Quick, name it!

Before I go further I should explain the difference between a brick and a face brick. A brick is that brick-like thing you call a brick or use for brick purposes. A face brick is a brick that sounds like you’re writing for a comic strip or maybe a network TV cop show and so can’t say “Facebook”. I hope this clarifies matters.

Anyway the American Face Brick Association feels quite strongly that whatever it is you’re doing, brick is a correct choice. “Whether you plan some elaborate baronial sort of mantel and fireplace or a cozy little ingle nook, you will find nothing either in point of durability or beauty that excels the right kind of brick.”, they say, and fairly. I can’t imagine they would have kept the manuscript draft that admitted ingle nooks are more a hardwood floors thing. I have enough trouble imagining what an “ingle nook” is, if not a transcription error. Maybe it’s the town in Connecticut that the physicist J Willard Gibbs was from?

If the book would like me to remember anything it is that bricks are cheaper than you think. Like, that time Tuesday when you and your friend were talking about how expensive bricks are? “This is a grave mistake based, as it is, on comparisons of forty or fifty years ago.” Add in the 98 years it’s been since this book was published, and you’re degrading bricks based on information that’s as much as 148 years out of date. I would urge you and your friend to apologize. Run to the door and cry out, “I apologize to the American Face Brick Association!” I don’t mean right now. It might be after 11 pm when you read this and that’s late to shout apologies to any face brick association.

To put all this in a word so far, though? Nebuchadnezzar. In two words? Nebuchadnezzar bricks.

How Things Are Going


Generally, terrible. They’re all on some kind of hyperfire where every part of the fire is exactly the same vastness of fire. But that is a general matter. Specific things may be less awful. Let’s review some of them .

Weather. It’s now at the right temperature where you can dress so you’re too hot, or are too cool. There’s no combination of clothes you have that will let things feel all right. This awkwardness will continue through Saturday, and over Sunday will give way to modest embarrassment with scattered clumsiness and afternoon to evening thundermeekness.

Yellow things. Yellow things need no attention and are fine as they are.

Vocabulary. The use of the word ‘coruscate’ around you has been steadily increasing. Consult the masses of people lined up outside your door to say it. Yes, this action is doing nothing to convince you it is an actual word. Why they’re doing this is a mystery. It’s not like we think you’re responsible for the word, so don’t go worrying about that We apologize for the inconvenience but can’t think of anything to do about it.

The Capital of Montana. The capital of Montana remains missing. It was last seen approximately five months ago, when it was photographed during a school trip. Now the capital is nowhere to be found and the schools are a bit wobbly too. The school thought the trip was successful and the capital was showing an interest in kickball. Those with leads are asked to call the governor anonymously. The capital was an ‘M’.

Green things. Green things need to be less yellow-y so as to not need attention.

Haunting Odd Behavior By Co-workers. Yes, your co-worker has responded to how you end the late-morning chat by saying “hope you enjoy your lunch” with the answer, “isn’t that the truth!”. It seems like that thing where you give the correct response for the wrong prompt, but they have done it three times in the past two weeks. Their hearty laugh shows they’re enjoying it, at least. Maybe they have wicked plans for lunch? Maybe they eat ironically? Maybe they’ve transcended meals wholly, and exists on giving co-workers a vague despair? But then why are they doing it in these times?

USB. We are still doing that thing where there are about 48 different shapes of USB plugs. We’ve stopped that thing where some of them are called mini USB and others are mini-B USB and some are micro and some are -C and some are -A and all that. Now they are all simply USB 3.0, except those that are 3.1. Some of them are called Thunderbolt or Firewire or Lightning Loops or Superdooperlooper or Batman: The Ride. We have no idea why anyone puts up with this.

Purple things. They’re just overdoing it because they want the attention. Pay them no heed.

Spelling (Non-Vocabulary Division). In the past week alone I have created by typo the words “touside” and “lightnight”. Both words deserve to be things and I will leave it to you to complete the rest of the work. I feel like “touside” should be a chipper sort of slang said in a slightly dangerous part of town, but will leave that up to other parties. It’s important no one person do everything. “Thundermeekness” is a fun word too, but its uses have obvious limits. I also composed “trea”, but that one could use some work.

General Cleanliness. Somehow the keyboard keeps getting fragmentary Cheez-Its lodged between letters, most often in the bit between the ‘f’ and ‘g’ which stare out accusingly at your housekeeping. There haven’t been any Cheez-Its near the keyboard ever. Logical explanations are needed, and there are none.

Heeding things. Earning two and a quarter percent; some restrictions apply.

Comic strips. That one Far Side from 1987 that you weren’t getting? The joke is that ‘Al Tilley, the bum’ sounds a lot like ‘Atilla the hun’. Now nights when you really need to sleep you can lie awake wondering about this Calvin and Hobbes from 1992, and whether it is ‘lie’ or ‘lay’.

Your Blogging Site. Is still encouraging you to try their new post editor, as if you were a big enough fool to try that. The only good version of anything computer-based is the second design they published after you started using the thing, and everything since then has been this somehow water-y thing where you can’t do the one simple task you always do.

I hope this has relieved some of your anxieties, but know it has not.

A Follow-Up Thought


I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.

Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.

But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.

It’s one of the most baffling school experiences I remember. It’s up there with the time they took us to the Garden State Arts Center and instructed us to clap with our hands cupped. I think we were also there to have music played at us, but I remember the clapping instruction.

But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.

What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.

This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.

In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.

Everything there is to say about the creation and use of tools by rooks


Animal researchers were surprised in the last couple years to learn that rooks will make and use tools. Here I mean humans who research animals. The animals researching people were surprised that this was surprising. I don’t know what the people who research animals who research people were surprised by. I can’t take all that much surprise, not in a single sentence.

The thing to remember here is that the rooks are birds. These are variant models of the crow, with a moonroof and power aelerons, not the chess pieces. These are often confused, what with how surprising and confusing a time it’s been. Also with how many of them are members of the International Federation of Chess-Playing Animals, an organization that’s properly known in French by basically the same words in a different order. In the wild, rooks actually don’t depend much on rooks. They play much more on bishops, which leaves them vulnerable to badgers, who like the little horseys. “How are we losing to you?” cry out the rooks. “You call them `little horseys’!” Chess is, as the immortal plumber says, a game of deep strategy.

The thing I don’t know is how anybody can be the least surprised by animals making and using tools. Yes, we used to think humans were the only people who made and used tools. But that came to an end with the historic ruling in 1996 that animal researchers — again, the humans doing the researching of animals — were allowed to sometimes look at the animals they were researching. It made for exciting times in the animal-research (by humans) journals. Top-tier journals published breakthroughs like “Kangaroos not actually large mice”, “Mother opossum just, like, wearing a coat of babies”, “Mice not actually tiny kangaroos”, “Is that red squirrel yelling at me?”, “Medium-Size kangaroos or mice just nature being difficult”, and “Look how happy this mouse is eating raw pasta!”.

Today we should understand that basically any animal that can get one will use tools. The only unique part about humans is when we get a tool we’ll feel guilty for not filling out the warranty registration. In our defense, filling it out requires dealing with a web site, and those haven’t been any good since 2012. Also they want to be allowed to send you push notifications, so that anytime, day or night, you might be interrupted a fast-breaking update on the biscuit-joiner situation. It’s a great way to get out of a dull conversation, yes. “I’m sorry, I have to take this, it’s Milwaukee Sawzall telling me about a clamp meter” is a socially acceptable pass out of any interaction. “It’s of much greater precision!” will get you out of the next conversation, too.

Meanwhile we see animal tool use all over the place. Nearly two-thirds of all Craftsman tools sold in the 2010s were bought by tree-dwelling mammals of 18 inches or less in length. Nearly the whole world’s supply of rotary sanders have been obtained by squirrels. We don’t know what they’re doing with them, but we do notice the red squirrels spending less time yelling and more time rubbing their paws together while grinning. And this all does help us distinguish the smaller squirrels from chipmunks, who prefer belt sanders. See a Miter saw in the wild? There’s a badger no more than 25 feet away. Nobody knows how raccoons got wood routers, but it is why they’re just everywhere on the Wood Internet.

And animals have done much to give us tools. The inclined plane, for example, was nothing more than an incline before sea turtles thought to match it to the plane. They didn’t even realize they were creating a useful tool. They just hoped to advance to being sea-saw turtles, and did. The monkey wrench, as you’d expect from the name, was not invented by a monkey. It was a team of four monkeys working long hours for a period of ten years, at the end of which they had produced the works of Shakespeare, which they had been reading during breaks. Nobody knows how wrenches got into the matter.

Having said all that, now I’m wondering whether the animal researchers were confused between the chess rooks and the bird rooks. Wouldn’t it be just like life if they had meant to study the chess pieces and got onto birds by mistake?

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files


Thank you for agreeing to participate in our user survey. You be the user part. By doing so you get the chance to win up to five thousand dollars in slightly worn gift cards. It should be noted that, according to a free-market hypothesis-endorsing economist who broke into our offices and is holding a sharpened blackboard pointy stick with the rubber tip shaved off at us, if it were actually possible to win a big cash prize in this survey someone would have already won it before you did. We have no explanation for this phenomenon.

  1. How would you rate your customer experience with us?
    1. I would use a scale of one to ten.
    2. I would use a scale of one to five.
    3. I would use a Pareto chart if these actually existed and were not attempts to cover up having heard the words “parrot chart” incorrectly, possibly as part of song lyrics.
    4. I would use a series of allusions and metaphors.
    5. Maybe hand puppets?
    6. I would use a simple thumb-up/thumb-down.
    7. I am not so judgemental as that and if you were sensible you would not be either.
    8. Open-ended Richter scale or bust.
  2. Which parts of routine maintenance have you performed on or against your product to date?

    1. I have meant to clean it after every use. And have done so exactly once. While doing so I lost the cloth rag to go along with it.
    2. I have dusted it once when company was coming over, and then another time when I thought I would get everything under control by putting in ten minutes every day to dusting, only to learn later on that “dusting” traditionally means “removing dust”.
    3. On four separate occasions I have hit it on the side, and only on the third was this followed by the sound of plastic shards slipping off and falling deep into the interior.
    4. The product was a vending machine ice cream cone.
    5. While the product was a vending machine ice cream cone I found it needed to be rebooted from a recovery flash drive, and then I had to spend twenty minutes downloading updates. The ice cream was a gelatinous goo. This is not to say it was bad.
  3. How do you indicate that you should not presently be taken seriously?

    1. I have heard of your Earth concept of “serious” and it fascinates me. Tell me more.
    2. I have spoken of “sheeple”.
    3. I say things like “I have heard of your Earth concept of “serious” and it fascinates me. Tell me more.”
    4. I have never been not taken seriously except by accident when I meant it, and good luck figuring that out.
    5. Have you taken a good look at me, ever?
    6. I bring every conversation around to how there is a Big Brown Bat, and it is one of of the microbats. I mean the American Big Brown Bat, not the Asian Big Brown Bat, which I don’t know whether is a microbat or not but is smaller than the Big Brown Bat that is a microbat. I can come in again.
  4. Which body parts has your use of our product lead you to conclude are funny to mention?

    1. Spleen.
    2. Inguinal ligament.
    3. Monoclonal antibodies.
    4. h3 tags.
    5. Tenocytes.
    6. Pelvic brim.
    7. Hipster’s metatarsals.
    8. Fingernails.
    9. Galloping protease.
  5. What logical fallacies have you developed while using this product?

    1. I’ve used “affirming the consequence” with a side of “continuum fallacy”.
    2. I remind people anytime any study anywhere finds a link between two things that “correlation does not imply causation”, and therefore do not connect this habit to how people don’t talk with me anymore.
    3. I never use fallacies, but I do stand off to the side waiting for people to say they are “begging the question” when they mean to invite a question, which has nothing to do with how people only talk in a resigned, exhausted voice around me anymore.
    4. I want to say “modus ponens”, which I’m not sure is a logical fallacy, but which is a lot of fun to say and has few applications, unless you are discussing logic or are poorly translating it into “The Mode Of Ponies” to get people talking to you about that.
    5. I am still working through a 24-pack of logical fallacies picked up in the past, and have not even opened up the box of quantificational fallacies in the pantry.

Thank you for your valued contributions to whatever it is we are really up to, which you do not really want to think about. Contest winners should they exist will be notified. Send help, the economist won’t leave.

More identity explorations as we move into the plague summer


Here are some more identities you could develop while it’s safe here, now, what with nobody knowing what to do.

You could be the person who floats their head to the side of the screen, letting it drift sideways up and down, in every group video chat. This is what I do. Cut it out. We may be technically correct that Ernie Kovacs would do this, but only David Letterman and I care. Also, as mentioned last week, it’s most often a bad idea to do things like me. It involves a lot of books set across the tops of other books on bookshelves until the whole thing collapses.

You could, though, develop some particular niche hobby to incredible, almost cartoon-like depth. This is a great idea. For instance, I know two people who are amazingly deeply into squirrels. Everyone they know is always sending them squirrel plush dolls and videos of every squirrel being cute or clever on the Internet. Every report of where a squirrel, say, causes a stock market panic because they chewed through an Internet cable. Every time Mark Trail has a giant squirrel talk over a log cabin. They’re so renowned for being into squirrels that their hobby’s self-sustaining now. Their friends do all the work, and all they have to do is sometimes acknowledge that yeah, that squirrel sure got onto that bird feeder all right.

You could become that person with an amazing stock of music knowledge. For example: remember 1981? That year, three-eighths of all sounds were radio plays of the Theme to The Greatest American Hero. (Believe it or not!) I know, I’m surprised too. I remember 1981. I would have sworn it was at least three-and-a-half eighths of all sounds. Anyway, the guy who sang that, Joey Scarbury? He went on, with Desiree Goyette, to record “Flashbeagle”. You know, for the Charlie Brown special It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Yes, Desiree Goyette, the voice of Irving’s other girlfriend Brenda from the 1987 Cathy cartoon. Anyway, drop a fact like that into any conversation and you’ll have changed it forever! I’m afraid that’s about all the music knowledge I have for you. Sorry. It has to be your thing, not mine, anyway.

You could become a know-it-all, but one who tempers every statement by prefacing it with “it’s my understanding that”. This doesn’t work. Also, it’s the kind of nonsense I do, and again, you should avoid doing things like I do.

You could be a person with a deep-dive podcast into some small mystery of life. Like, you could be the person who finally solves why the nutritional information for a noodle packet gives you both the cooked and the uncooked nutrition. Like, are there an appreciable number of people who’ll eat the Hamburger Helper mix — dry shells, powder and all — without any hamburger or water or help or anything? Who are the people tearing open packets of ramen to eat them raw? Where are they? Are they coming after us? Are they getting nearer? At the end of fourteen deeply thoughtful segments you come to the realization that everybody runs at minimum about 25% freak and, you know? If your freak turns out to be “chomps down on raw Noodle-Roni”? That’s fine. It’s not like you’re hurting anyone like you would if your freak had something to do with, I don’t know. Enchanting poodles or anything that’s professionally titled “arbitrage” or something. The good thing is if you do enough of this series, your audience may start doing fan art or sending in tips and then the thing becomes self-sustaining.

You could become a neighborhood legend. You maybe imagine that requires an incredible load of effort, such as by stealing three golf carts from the course on the north side of town, chaining them together, and RV’ing your golf cart train around the neighborhood park. Not at all. You can make do with two golf carts chained together, if the people who are Extremely Upset Online in the neighborhood Facebook group are representative.

What’s important is not so much what you do but that you choose something that feels right to you, a person you are trying to not be like. There are ways that this makes sense.

Some further explorations of identity in the Plague Spring


So things are still a bit rough. I’m understating. On the roughness scale, which starts at 1 and goes up to “fell off the roof, scraped down the porch overhang, then plummeted into the crabapple bush”, things are averaging around “ … and then dropped into the wheelbarrow full of lava rocks heaped on the gravel driveway”. Still, this is a chance to try out a new identity, and be ready to unleash it on a changed and unsuspecting world. Forming a new identity is tough, but you can use some templates. It’s all right to try being the same person someone else is. Your attempt will be different from everyone else’s, and that makes your them a different them than their them is as you see it. Yeah, that sentence made me dizzy too. Best to move on. Here’s a few options to consider instead:

You could be the person who puts their lawn waste in collection bags from regional stores from other parts of the country. This is a good way to lightly bewilder the neighborhood. “This is Lansing, Michigan,” neighbors will say, if you live in Lansing, Michigan. “The nearest Price Chopper is in Syracuse! Are you driving seven and a half hours out of your way, crossing through Canada, to get these or do you have people mailing them to you?” They won’t ask you about it, but you’ll collect many excited looks from your neighbors.

You could be a person who can explain to me what exactly ‘var’ does in Javascript. I have to warn you, this is a tough one. Oh, for non-computer people: Javascript is what lets your web browser be slow, and make all the things on a page jump around until you give up reading it. It’s how web sites keep you from reading them anymore. Anyway, ‘var’ is this thing that sometimes you have to put in, except you don’t have to, so you don’t, and then sometimes it stops working, until you put it back in? I don’t know. I’ve had this explained to me like thirty times in the last twenty years and I still think it’s a prank whipped up by Javascript Master Command. Maybe it does something, but I don’t think it does, and anyway, I’m not going to remember why it does that.

You could become an immortal comic legend. This one is easy, in comparison. It just takes one step. Work out some kind of wordplay so that, after you’ve said your good joke, someone else can respond “… literally” and have that be a good joke too. I don’t have any idea what that would look like. But there was this paper in the Journal of Theoretical Joke Structures last month which said one can exist.

You could try being me. I recommend against it. Not that I can’t mostly put up with me. It’s that being me involves a lot of standing up from a comfortable enough chair, walking four feet, rubbing my hands, and deciding to sit back down again. It’s not much of a pastime. But when you consider what my knees are like it’s a lot of strain to no good purpose. Sometimes they make the noise your car makes when you have to replace that brake thing that’s $600 but if the mechanic can find some spares, only be $580. But, you know, I committed to being me, so who am I to say I was wrong to do that? Ask me when I’m staring at the ceiling at 5:30 am, tonight and every night.

You could be yourself, but two feet over to the left. This is attainable by just about everybody, unless their apartment is too small.

You could become a world-renowned puppeteer. You can even pick the world you want. They’re finding new ones all the time, so you can be renowned all over that world. How is anybody going to check on you? It’s not like they can get to the observatory any better than you can. You can even make up the world, and that’ll work with all your friends except the astronomers you know. And how many astronomers do you know? I mean well enough they feel like they should come to your parties but don’t? If you’re like me, and I still don’t recommend being me, you know four at most. You can get them to play along. Just agree to cover them for their new identities.

Anyway whoever you choose to be, good luck. Let me know how your knees work out.

Remembering the home computers of the 1980s


I wanted to share my experiences in home computing in the 1980s. I may not remember it quite right, but I remember it at all. You, I can’t trust to remember my experiences at all. I mean apart from my dad, who tells me he reads these things. But as I remember it, what he would remember is I disappeared into my room for up to 84 hours at a stretch. I’d emerge just because the groceries needed to be put away. And by putting them away myself I could put things in the freezer correctly, unlike everyone else.

Also I could get dibs on the microwave fried chicken. The microwave fried chicken was awful, understand. But it was convenient. Also the thighs would taste weird, which is not to say the same as good. But if I didn’t get away from the computer, someone else might eat that first. I don’t know whether my dad remembers this, but it’s got little to do with my computer experience. It would have looked the same to him if I spent all that time in my room re-reading the Star Trek comic book where the Excalbians went to Space War with the Organians because they were bored.

Big thing to remember is that how you got software was different. There were all these magazines that offered the promise of neat stuff, like, going around riding a dragon. And anyone could play this, if they just typed in six pages of three-column column text and trying not to get too much of it wrong. Then it turned out to be fun for maybe one-fourth the time you spent typing it in. Not everything was games, no. If you had a Commodore 64 you could type in programs that would let you use the graphics and the sound on the Commodore 64. It wouldn’t help you have anything to draw or … sound out. But if you ever thought of something, you were ready. Sometimes we would swap out the ROM version of the computer’s operating system for a RAM copy that was identical, except it didn’t throw a fit if you tried to find the ASCII value of an empty string. There were reasons this was important.

Still, games were great, because the only other software out there was spreadsheets and word processors. It still is, but now the spreadsheets and word processors are in a web browser so annoying ads can flash at you. But if you didn’t want to type in a game, you could get a professionally made game.

Compute! magazine issue #90 cover, showing a watercolor illustration of a kid riding on the shoulder of a large green wyvern, to advertise the text-adventure game The Hermit.
What rational person could resist getting this magazine and typing in the cover program? I mean, the chance to load, run, rename or delete IBM files at the touch of a key? Paradise! Fun fact: you could speed your Atari up to 30% just by tilting it backwards so as many electrons as possible were running downhill.

Thing to understand about computer games back then is that nobody ever bought them. You just … got them, somehow. Not really clear how, or who from. But they came on tape cassettes or on discs that a friend loaded you and you copied, or that they copied and gave you. There were stores that claimed to sell software, yes. They had welcoming names like Professor Technofriend’s Software Empori-fun. Doesn’t matter. They never sold anything. The top-selling game of the 80s, Broderbund’s Karateka, saw sixteen copies sold in stores. There was never a game for the Amiga that sold. Game companies didn’t even try. They just gave the gold master disc to someone who knew this guy who worked(?) somewhere (??). He’d crack the copy protection and then make a kabillion copies with a fun message on the first screen. Every playground would have copies, although there was only one kid in school who had an Amiga. So that oversaturated the market.

The traded tapes, though, they’d have like 428 games on them. This seems like great value, what with them being free. The drawback is the games were mostly boring. There’d be, like, tic-tac-toe only it’s a grid of four rows and columns. Or Blackjack, except there’s no graphics or placing bets and you can’t do that thing where you split a hand when you’re dealt doubles. You’d just press space and watch numbers come up in a row until someone busted. In hindsight, I don’t know how it is I spent so much time on this. Oh, well, there was a Wheel of Fortune game that was great. It was even better after I memorized all six puzzles and could start solving puzzles after five letters. I typed it in from a magazine.

I know this all sounds ridiculous. But if it weren’t ridiculous we wouldn’t have done it. This is still true.

How to Shake Hands


I write this for some future reader. I suppose I always have to, but this is more specific. Particularly it’s for readers who, after the Covid-19 pandemic wraps up, don’t remember how to shake hands anymore.

You may laugh. I hope you do. But you think that shaking hands is like riding a bicycle, you never really forget. Ah, but have you tried bicycle-riding after a long time away? You start with a sensible helmet, judging the wacky helmet in poor taste for these times. Then you try putting both feet on the pedals, but the kickstand is in the way. You put a foot on the ground and try pushing the kickstand back. But you have to push it in and press backward while letting it slide out and before you know it you topple over. You fall into the bag of leaves the city isn’t collecting yet so it doesn’t hurt. But you’re making no bicycle-riding progress.

It’s like this with handshakes too. Try it now, by yourself. Reach your right hand to your left and shake. Ah! You see, right? You can’t shake a left hand and a right hand! What you have done there, my friend, is applaud. This is why you need my guidance.

I’ll get to specific instructions in a moment. But you need to know a long-range goal. A handshake done well will be both good and firm. It’s obvious why you want a handshake to be good. We all strive for the good through the limitations of our understanding and perceptions. Plato’s students wrote three false Socratic dialogues about the nature of a good handshake. (That was because they needed publication credits, though.)

But why firm? I don’t know. I think it’s to be sure we understand what it’s like being handled by an adjustable crescent wrench. It may not be comfortable but it’s better than an unadjustable crescent wrench. It also could be just that guys set the standards, and the guy standard for everything is that it should be done until someone weeps.

So that’s the long-term goal. Now to practical steps. First, with your handshakes, check that you have at least one hand. No one, however much they want a handshake from you, will fault you if you haven’t got hands. This is an out, by the way. If for some reason you can’t bear handshakes, then “accidentally” leave them back home when you go out. I don’t know how you’ll lock your door, sorry. Maybe you live in a good neighborhood.

Ready for a handshake, though? With the help of at least one other person — remember the lesson about applauding — get ready. First, hold up your handshaking hand. Spread your fingers out and then close them back until you feel comfortable. You feel comfortable when you can hold your fingers at that separation for at least 120 seconds without feeling strain. (Practice this before your actual handshaking! You want it to look automatic.) Reach your thumb out perpendicular to your hand, then touch your palm, at least two but not more than three times.

Reach your hand towards your handshake-partner’s, starting with your palm held vertical. Turn it slowly horizontal. Your model here is the Space Pan-Am spaceship space-docking in the Space Hilton from 2001: A Space Odyssey. With your space hand — sorry, hand — accidentally slipped into your partner’s sleeve, apologize. Tap your forehead and say you don’t know where your thoughts are today. You are “spaced out”, as they say. Smile with a glint in your eye. After a hearty chuckle go on about your post-handshake business.

Does it seem like the handshake’s gone wrong? You have good insights, my friend. The handshake has gone wrong, but this is what you want. By sharing in a “blunder” you’ve shared a very mild embarrassment with someone. They now see you as the partner in a special little moment of common humanity. They’ll like you more even though they have no actual reason to. And that is the secret true goal of shaking hands.

[ Me, thinking I’ve closed the essay file. ] Ha-ha! Got them all now, didn’t I? Now I can reveal my intrigue! They have forgotten that I am incompetently germ-phobic! I have always hated handshakes! I am using this as a chance to quash the habit for once and all! They have no choice now but to try hugging or just nodding nervously!

Some Things To Say About Flying A Kite Or Kites


So you know what’s a great activity that will get you some fresh air and keep you from screaming at the state of the world some? Kite-flying! Why not try that? You’ve had that kite you got … sometime in the past quarter-century … that you’ve brought through four moves, one across-country. Why not use that? The answer is because you can’t find it but you know you still have it. It is in the second bedroom, behind the bookshelf somehow.

That’s all right. You can get a new kite. If it’s been a while you may be surprised. You remember the classic old diamond kite, the kind Charlie Brown flew? That you could draw with six straight lines, plus one wiggly line for the tail, and a bit of string? That’s out of date. You can fly it, but is it worth the risk? These are hard enough times. You don’t need everyone thinking you’re flying kites ironically. Modern kites are much harder to draw, though, and nobody will blame you if you get one pre-drawn for you by the kite store. If you don’t know where the kite store is, go to the traffic light by the highway off-ramp and ask stopped cars. These are strange times. Anything might work.

There are more than three rules of kite safety. But many of them are common sense, so they can be written down as more than eight rules.

Be aware of your surroundings. Especially watch for terraces, dropoffs, ha-has, ponds, fences, or the Old North Creek that you might run into while running. You might be surprised how many kite-flyers get injured each year by running into stuff. I probably would be. Like, if it’s one? That would be surprisingly low, just from how many kites there are. 483 million? That would be surprisingly high, considering how much of the sky is not blotted out with kites. Ten thousand? That would surprise me. One thousand? That’s not so surprising if we count as “injured”, like, someone stomped their foot into a plastic cooler and it’s sore for ten minutes. What was your answer? Let’s compare. If you have no surroundings please ask your area library if they loan any out.

Do not fly during lightning storms. Only fly your kite during meteor storms and time storms.

Be careful flying near people. A hard-core adrenaline-driven power kite can reach speeds of up to 480 miles per hour, in a steep dive and while trying to catch prey. If this hits someone it’ll do them quite some harm. There’s not only the injury or the emergency room visit. It’s how nobody at the emergency room will take them seriously. “I’m very sorry you got hit by a kite,” the admitting nurse will say, “but you have to wait behind this fellow who swallowed a third bowling ball trying to get the first two out”. Even when they do get care, their whole recovery time will pass without their getting a single non-sarcastic word of sympathy. This will give the person your kite injured a tort against you. And then you’ll be unable to resist punning that it’s actually a torte, and that you’d rather have a cheese danish. This will let you all have a merry laugh at the situation. When they get out of the hospital they’ll run you over with a space shuttle. The lesson is before flying a kite to ask everyone around you if they or a friend of theirs owns a space shuttle.

Don’t fly your kite near power lines, no matter how good the otherwise open field looks. If you must, call the power company first and ask them to move the power lines away for you. They’ll be happy to, since it gives them something to do.

Don’t use your kite to scare animals however much they deserve it.

There are special rules involved in flying kites near or at an airport, and they count double for flying a kite from inside a plane. Be courteous and look them up ahead of time. Yes, you could just take out your kite in Economy Plus and trust the flight attendants to explain the rules to you. But they’re quite busy and don’t need to deal with your nonsense.

Have fun, but only in reasonable amounts, so that you leave some for others.

On the Problem of Identity During the Plague Spring


The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.

But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.

All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.

How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.

There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)

You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.

Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)

The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.

More Thoughts While Doing My Daily Walk Around Town


Is that … snow? Yes, that’s snow. I’ve seen snow before, although not so much this winter. Who ordered snow? My parents better not hear about this.

Oh, hey, the place that used to be the 24-hour diner. Then the new owners figured instead of being the diner everybody went to because it was 3 am, they could just open for breakfast and lunch. Then they fired the staff and closed entirely. And forgot to get the social media passwords from the staffers. Then they tore down the diner because they figured the vacant lot was worth more than a diner-filled lot. Well, that turned out great. Hey, this has to be the spot where J— discovered his eyeglasses had gouged ridges into the side of his head. Good times.

This … was a lot warmer, like, a week ago. We are going into spring, right? We couldn’t be going right back out of spring again, not with how much everybody agreed on having a spring.

That’s a nice clearly-marked bike lane that comes into existence and runs nearly the length of a full block before fading out again. Probably a story there. Probably also an angry Facebook group.

Oh, criminy, it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. That would be nice and timely. I did that thing for Apollo 11 and forgot to do anything for Apollo 12. Let me see if there’s anything there, let me think a while and see if I can come up with like three jokes, that’s enough to build a piece around. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s a dumb idea.

So that’s a lone coffee mug six feet from the sidewalk on the torn-up field that used to have a convenience store and now just has the telephone pole with an ‘ATM Inside’ sign on it. This seems to be the setting for some short story with too poignant an imagery to actually read.

Oh, but remember how angry the Usenet group sci.space.history got over the From The Earth To The Moon series, when its Apollo 13 episode wasn’t just doing the movie all over again but on way less budget? Everybody was so angry about it being how reporter Jay Mohr won over reporter Cranky Old Guy. I mean, not so mad as they’d be when the Apollo 16 episode. They got so mad the episode was about the astronaut wives instead of how the Apollo crew drank too much orange drink and passed gas the whole flight. Boy, but the Internet used to be fun to be angry on. What happened?

If I just took that coffee mug how much would I have to clean it to use it again? I’m kidding, I would never stop cleaning it.

Well now I’m just thinking about that report where the Mars Curiosity team had shifted over to working remotely. It’s just, like, they already kind of were. They probably get that a lot. If I ever meet anybody on the team I’m going to have to not tell them that one.

Ooh, hey, the hipster bar left their Wi-Fi on even though they’ve been closed a month now. Good grief it has been a month now. All right. Well, that’s going to be great if my iPod does that thing again where I pause my podcast and it decides to throw away the file and I have to re-download the whole thing. … And I do that when I happen to be right next to the bar. Well, they left the curtain up front open just enough that if I press my face against the window and stare I can kind of make out what have to be the pinball machines. I can stop around to do that a while.

Still thinking about how the Lansing airport listed they had four flights arriving today and only two departing. That’s got to be atypical, right? They can’t be stocking up on two extra planes a day, indefinitely. They’d fill up the parking lot.

All right that’s … nine … ten … twelve pairs of sneakers lined up on the curb, and with a locker mirror and a $4 yard sale price stick on it. There’s probably a good explanation for all of this and the only way I’ll ever know is to knock on the door and ask. They probably get a lot of people knocking on the door asking about the shoe lineup and mirror, though. Maybe I’ll check if they have a web site instead.

Oh, the guys who practice drums four hours a day are still doing that. Still … sounds like drumming. It’s nice to have that to rely on.

My Observations, While Walking Around The Neighborhood


Oh, that migratory shopping cart that’s been going up and down the street has fallen over. Sad. Tipped on its side like this, it’s sure to be easy pickings for the abandoned disreputable lawn predators out there. Even a single tireless rusted-out Chevy on cinder blocks will be able to get it. If it were in range, that is.

Huh; yeah, this store used to be a barber shop, looks like. A long time ago. Oh, and just next to it, spot that used to be a convenience store. Also a long time ago. Building permit on it … mm. They’re replacing the floor and carpet by August of 2016. Well, I’m sure they have big plans for the reopening.

So here’s a spot where the road was torn up and re-patched. It intersects another stretch where the road was torn up and re-patched. There are cryptic markings in spray paint all over, pointing at the manhole from five directions. They’re not uniformly spaced around the manhole. They evoke a portolan chart, perhaps mapping the routes by which traders from the Hanseatic League will bring staple goods to port, and then lose them in the potholes surrounding the patched streaks.

Interesting to see another former barber shop, and so close to the last one.

Well, hey there, squirrel. Yeah, you’re looking happy that someone’s left a nearly whole loaf of slightly moldy bread out for you. Boy, would you even know what to do with bread that wasn’t a little moldy? I barely know what to do with it. Sandwiches, I guess. Dip some into soups for an experience that’s not as good as I think it ought to be. Got your slice, huh? Yeah, hop over there and you can enjoy it in private. … Or … you can just drop it there and go back to the loaf. No, you go ahead, pick your slice carefully. I’m fascinated to see how this’ll come out. Yeah, I go back and re-make decisions all the time. A squirrel should have as much chance to … go running off without any bread at all. All right. I feel like I’m being insulted somehow and I’m not even really in this.

Another former barber shop? This seems like a lot of barber shops to have ever been in this neighborhood. Did we sometime used to have a lot of people with beards, and they all got rid of them at once, and then we didn’t need so many barber shops anymore? I should ask my barber, who I drive to, two towns east of here.

You know, that shopping cart is kind of near the Chevy House. Maybe it is in danger.

A free boat? Oh, that’s interesting. Gorgeous, even. It looks like the kind of boat you get when you’re doing a low-effort movie from the early 60s and they have to have a fishing scene. … No trailer, all right. No motor either. The windshield’s come off but it’s sitting in the boat. It’s nice to know we’re in a neighborhood where someone can just leave their motorboat windshield laying around loose and nobody will come and take it. Oh, there’s no seats in the boat, though. There’s that pole where the driver’s seat should go. Probably some way to replace that. I’ve seen that Popeye cartoon. Still, if someone’s giving a boat away free, it’s got problems. Maybe leaks. Maybe rust. Maybe it’s somehow on fire. Maybe it bestows on its owner a mild curse, causing them when setting up appointments on the phone to always fail to hear the critical word in the question, however many times they get it repeated to them. Anyway we don’t have anywhere to store a boat. Our goldfish pond isn’t big enough to need one, either.

OK, so this is a barber shop that’s still open, across the street from the other barber shop that’s still open. I wonder if they get together and talk about the days that a squirrel could run from the Red Cedar Creek all the way to the Grand River from barber-shop-roof to barber-shop-roof, never touching the ground.

Another former convenience store. Maybe we’re just not a neighborhood for convenience. Oh, they’ve left all those two-liters of Faygo sitting around. Dangerous. That’s how you get Juggalos.

Hey, the migratory shopping cart is back up on its wheels and put out on the lawn extension. That’s great; maybe it’s going to survive, and become the leader of a new clan of abandoned shopping carts. But … how did it get upright on its own?

Emotional Drafting


A little bit before we got our stay-at-home orders I bought some pencil leads. You know, for mechanical pencils. I don’t say this to make you all envious. I know there are people out there who don’t use mechanical pencils. I prefer mechanical pencils and I won’t be apologizing for that. Yes, I have tried your fully pneumatic pencils. I don’t like the flow. Electronic pencils would be great, but they’re monitoring everything you do. And they’re sending mean notes to Facebook about your bad handwriting and how it’s ruining your wrists.

So mechanical pencils it is for me, and that means sometimes buying new leads. This is because putting in a new lead is two percent less bad than buying a whole new pen and throwing the old away. It should be a bigger gap. There’s mechanical pencils where you put the new lead in by pressing down the little cap thingy on the end and dropping a new lead in. I don’t have that. The pencils I have these days require me to take the end cap off, then remember that’s not how to reload these pencils. Then I have to unscrew the … I’m going to call it nib … from the center of the pencil. Then press down on the cap until I remember that’s not how to open it up to take a new lead either. Then I have to look up on YouTube how to put lead into my pencil, and follow that video. I might be better off throwing the old pencils away and getting a new one, but again, there’s that two percent margin. It’s a tiny bit less bad to buy a new lead.

Except. I bought this at an Office Depot. Or Office Max. I forget what it was before they merged (it was Kinko’s) and moved from one end of the strip mall to the other. The problem is, this got them e-mailing me to give my opinions about the transaction.

This is a heck of a thing to ask for in any case. What is there to rate? I go in to a store that sells pencil leads, pick up a pack of pencil leads, and pay for it, and leave. How can I rate that? Plato himself would volunteer that there is no such thing as an Ideal Form of the pencil-lead-buying experience. There is no way to perceive the difference between a mediocre pencil-lead-buying experience and the greatest pencil-lead-buying experience of your life. I guess this does mean we can treat every chance to buy pencil lead as a new chance to have a best-possible experience, so far as we know.

I concede there can be a terrible pencil-lead-buying experience. But that’s because something interferes with the pencil-lead-buying. Like, while you’re there a ceiling tile drops on you. Or you can’t remember which phone number you gave for their loyalty program and then someone insists you are too John “Ten Eyck” Lansing Jr, the indirect namesake for the capital of Michigan (Ten Eyck), who went missing in 1829. That would ruin the pencil-lead-buying. That’s the result of the other experience getting in the way, though.

Anyway I figured to ignore Max Depot’s e-mails until they gave up asking. The way Best Buy has finally accepted that I have no opinions to share about a four-USB-plug power brick. Except that they would not give up. They e-mailed me daily, asking me to please tell them about the pencil-lead-buying experience.

They sent me more e-mails than Joe Biden’s campaign has, if you can imagine, now that Biden bought whatever cursed mailing list Amy Klobuchar had. And this as the pandemic kept on panning. So I gave in and answered them. No, I would not recommend buying pencil lead at Depot to the Max, because they keep asking me to have an opinion about it, and I keep remembering how if everything starts going well, the pandemic might only kill as many Americans as combat did in the Civil War, and I have to go to the basement and yell at cinder blocks.

They e-mailed back.

And apologized that my experience was so bad and they will work to make it better in the future.

So now management dinks are going to punish people who actually work, because I said the buying was fine but the follow-up sucked. And I have to deal with knowing I’m to blame for that.

So now I can’t ever buy pencil lead at Max Office, Max Depot ever again. It’s going to hurt too much. I have, finally, found what a bad pencil-lead-buying experience is.

How Music May Help Us Through This Crisis


Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.

Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.

But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.

But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.

And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.

So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?

Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.

If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.

Let Me Help You Out With Hand-Washing


So here’s some more on hand-washing. People ask how I, a germ-phobic slightly obsessive person, feel about learning how everyone else hates hand-washing. Like, am I grossed out to learn that other people will wash their hands only for special circumstances, like the discovery of a new Pope? That there’s a sizable contingent of people who figure washing after you pee is just some Puritan nonsense of shaming sexual organs?

Of course not. I know the average person sees washing their hands as a special event. Something that if you did too much would devalue washing or the idea of hands. I wouldn’t have a hand-washing compulsion if I didn’t believe that most of you figure you’ll get a prize for going the whole day without washing. Roughly, since I recovered from being a teenage boy, I have assumed every person and 45 percent of the animals I encounter is a cloud of … things … I must wash off as soon as it’s not rude.

So no, I’m not at all grossed out to see people remarking on how weird it is that now, they’re damp. I see it as reassurance that I have been right all along. The only weird thing is sometimes having someone apologize to me. They say now they understand why I always have that tube of hand sanitizer on me, and also that backup tube so I can sanitize the first tube of sanitizer.

Do I take joy in the world finally waking up to cleaning their hands off in the way I have? Well, no, because of all the death and disruption and stuff. I’m not a monster. I’m not like most people. I want the world to acknowledge me as right all along, yes. But I want the world to do that after waking from an unsettled night of dreams. These dreams should involve visits from the ghosts of liquid soap past, present, and yet to come. Not after any great turmoil.

I don’t have the self-esteem to want the world to go to any great fuss for me. It’s hard enough on my comfortable sense of my own triviality to learn the people at the sandwich shop know I want the cheese hoagie. This has been a week of ever more headlines and news alerts and interruptions to The Price is Right. That’s way too much focus on me for me to like. I would complain about this more, except, to who? And if whoever I did complain to listened to my complaints and stopped all this great fuss about proving me right? I would feel worse about getting that attention on top of everything else.

One thing I know people are discovering is that if they have long sleeves, then their sleeves get wet. Believe me, I’ve been there. The obvious answer is short sleeves. This doesn’t work for me as an answer because I am cold. Since I moved out of Singapore I’ve been cold. The only exceptions have come in special circumstances, usually when part or all of me was on fire. And even then I only got up to lukewarm. Part of the joy of handwashing is if I can put my hands into boiling water then my fingers are a little less frozen. I have to wear a long sleeved something, and that’s that.

So let me offer what I’ve learned about the wet-sleeves problem. If you wash your hands up to your wrists, you get water all over your sleeves. Ah, but, if you roll your sleeves up a few inches? Then they still get all wet. If you roll your sleeves up past your elbows, wash your hands, and then dry them? Now we get some great results: it turns out you haven’t dried your wrists enough and your sleeve gets wet. So now you need to think outside the box. If you take off your shirt or hoodie or whatever garment has long sleeves, and wash and then dry your wrists thoroughly?

By “thoroughly” I mean first towel them off. Then dry your hands up above where you washed on the wrists in the hot air dryer, if there is one. Or hold your hands up, palms facing you, and walk briskly back and forth for thirty seconds if there is no dryer. Then towel off again, and then put your shirt back on?

Then, your sleeves still get wet. And the whole length, too, since it turns wrists are made of hypersponges. I’m sorry. But you would know this if you had been washing your hands all along like I did, when I was right.

In Which I Am Very Petty About This Covid-19 Business


I am beyond happy at getting e-mails from every company I’ve ever heard of with explanations for how they clean everything now. Thanks, Best Buy, I’m glad to know that your response to the Covid-19 virus is that now you’re going to clean the store on a regular basis. United Airlines? You’re going to have the air on airplanes actually purified now? That’s fantastic. It’s really interacting well with my hand-washing germ-phobia thing.

Understand: I know that my hand-washing thing is my dumb thing. That it’s wholly irrational. And even that I don’t have a for-real germ phobia either. I know this because I will just forget about it if I’m having a good enough time. I’ll let my hands go, oh, hour without hand-washing. And not even feel anxious about it. My track record on, like, food is even worse, even ignoring the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident. Do I hesitate to grab popcorn that’s been spilled on the shelves from the free-sample bins at the farmer’s market? Yes. I hesitate until I’m sure nobody’s watching. A germ phobia is one thing, but me passing up four pieces of cinnamon-sugar-coated popcorn? Never.

I rationalize my hand-washing thing. It’s good practice to wash your hands before handling food. Or after handling food. Or handling pets. Or handing pets food. Or after handling doorknobs. Or after feeding doorknobs to pets. That one indicates I’m extremely confused, probably from lack of sleep. Best to wash my hands and get to bed. Wash after handling garbage. Or walking too slowly past the garbage. Oh, and of course wash my hands after going to the bathroom. For a good long while. Oftentimes my love will realize that I haven’t been seen in over four hours. This is when I’m trapped where I can’t open the door to get out of the bathroom without touching the doorknob, which requires me to go back into the bathroom to wash my hands.

Still, as silly as my hand-washing thing may be you can’t argue with the results: I get sixteen colds a year. And they hurry on out of here in five or six weeks each. I get so many colds that I have to have two or more colds at once just so there’s time. Last Christmas, at my love’s parents, I had four colds stacked one atop the other, all huddled under a trenchcoat and trying to get into Rise of the Skywalkers. My love’s parents, who are in their 70s, were very happy to see me sniffling and coughing. But then I’ve had a cough since that episode of NewsRadio about the crazy rich boss’s autobiography.

Incidentally yes I know faucet handles have their issues. But those faucets that work by some kind of sensor? No. In principle I should like having more things I don’t have to touch. What doesn’t work for me is that they don’t work for me. You know the thing where you put your hands in front of the sensor and water comes on? When I put my hands in front of the sensor water does not come on. I can hold my hands still and no water comes. I can wave my hands and no water comes. I can move my hands around there and no water comes. The only hope I have is if I punch the faucet, and then water comes, until I put my hands under the faucet.

Here’s a real thing that really happened for me for real, in reality, at the farmer’s market yesterday. In the bathroom there was a faucet that was constantly running. So, great! I did the sorts of thing you expect someone to do in a bathroom, and went to wash under the eternal never-stopping fountain of unending water. When I put my hands in the water stream, it stopped. Don’t believe me? Ask the guy at the other sink who looked at this absurd scene and shrugged. He used the hand dryer, because he has the kinds of hands that bathroom hand dryers can dry, unlike mine.

Anyway if you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, boiling the four-USB-outlet power brick that Best Buy still wants me to review.

How to Fix Walking


Walking is a pretty good way to get around. I mean, if you’re able and up for it. It compares favorably to tossing yourself on the ground and rolling to your destination, for example, by being faster and getting less sidewalk debris in your clothing. It provides exercise. And it puts you in touch with your neighborhood in a way you don’t otherwise have. Like, if you didn’t walk, would you pay attention to that empty shopping cart on your street? The one that’s got no identifiable store markings? The one that’s over a mile from any store that could support a shopping cart that capacious? The one that keeps migrating north and south, as if driven by some inscrutable mating drive? Can you stop noticing it, once you’ve started? And yet without walking all you’d do is acknowledge that a street exists. Where’s the fun in that?

Given its advantages, why isn’t walking a more popular way of people getting to places they’d rather have stayed home from? Some problems are obvious. There’s the vulnerability to rain. The poor reliability of air conditioning. That one block of sidewalk square that got dug up, and is marked off with tape, that’s been standing there non-existent for months. It, too, is compelling. If you were still eight years old you’d know that jumping into that square is an hours-long plummet into a strange world of dinosaurs and robots and robot dinosaurs and a great adventure to save the interworld. The only thing stopping you back then was how you had a spelling quiz to get to and you were feeling pretty darned confident about ‘ukulele’. It’s still a pretty compelling problem to get to, especially when you consider the shape the interworld’s in now. But, you know, I understand if you have to hurry on. That $50 rebate check the power company gave you for turning in that broken dehumidifier isn’t going to deposit itself. And who even knows if they have convenience stores in the interworld? They have, but you have to recognize that they’re marked by the giant pillbugs and like nobody ever thinks to explain that. Plus, you find a missing square of sidewalk there and you end up plummeting into the metainterworld and that’s all sorts of new issues.

I say one problem keeping walking from catching on better is the risk of collision. I mean with other pedestrians. It’s no less bad to accidentally collide with, say, a mailbox. That might even be worse, given the level of embarrassment. Colliding with the mailbox isn’t too bad but then you reflexively say “sorry” to it and feel like a right fool for days. It won’t be until like the next Wednesday you think of the witty comeback you should have said to the mailbox, and by then nobody cares if they hear it.

But it’s collisions with people that I’m worrying about, since I have so few mailbox readers. I have few people readers too, but I’m all right with that, since I feel pretty bad when I draw attention anyway. To collide with someone you need another person to collide with. You’d figure it would usually be pretty easy not to collide. You’d see the person walking towards you, and the person sees you walking towards them, and you both move a little to the side so as not to collide. Somehow this doesn’t work, though. If you move to your right, they move to your right. If you move to their right, they move to their right too. If you stop dead still, they stop dead still and grin, embarrassed. Then you and they try moving again and it’s the same problem. You leap off the sidewalk, hoping the First Speaker of the Interworld Partnership of Communards is checking the magic picture-book at that moment and will portal you out of this world. No luck; the First Speaker needs both you and your walking opponent, and you end up bonking together inside the Chamber of the Trustworthy.

So that’s why I think we need to swipe a gimmick from the car industry (don’t tell them) and set up people with directional signals. Either that or have people go out wearing conical rubber walking-gowns, so that if people do collide it’s slower and the shock is absorbed. Plus, we’d look much more like game pieces from Sorry!. So maybe the directional signals idea is a bad one and we should go with the cones instead. Anyway, once we do that I’m sure people will like walking dozens of times better than they did before. You’re all welcome.

What To Do With Leap Day


I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with my Leap Day. I know, confessing that makes me sound like I can’t make decisions before the last minute. It’s not like we haven’t known it was coming. The leap day’s been scheduled for thousands of years now, and here we are maybe hours away, and I still don’t have an idea in mind.

Anyway there’s not much point my making plans too far ahead. I’ll end up forgetting them anyway. I’m so good at forgetting plans that I can forget my plans while I’m making them. It’s only months after the plan would have mattered that I’ll have any inkling of the idea. I’ll sit bolt upright in bed — dropping a conversation mid-sentence, if I have to, to rush back home, change into my sweatpants, and hide in bed, to sit up in it — and slap my head. It’s enough to make people think I’m not that good at interacting with them.

I also don’t know what other people are going to do with their leap day. I figure most are just going to take it as the 29th of February. It’s kind of cliche, but it’s got a lot of public support. And there’s almost nothing else to do with it. In 1996 I tried putting my leap day into my checking account. By the time I took it out again, in June when it would do me some good, the monthly fees had reduced it to 23 hours and 46 minutes. I don’t mind losing fourteen minutes from my day if I’m doing something useful with it, like ping-ponging between Nathan Rabin’s web site and Son of Stuck Funky, trying to figure if there is a new article, while waiting for whatever Javascript monstrosity they’re running to finally crash my web browser. But that’s my choice. I don’t want it lost because the bank is nickel-and-daying me. Also, “nickel-and-daying” is a phrase that I like, and yet I know not a single other person in the world is ever going to like it. Not even a little bit. It’s not even not funny. It exists outside the realm of possible amusement. It’s the writing equivalent of a blot of ink on the wall too small to care about repainting. It just is, and barely so, and will never be more than that. And yet I have already wasted fourteen minutes today grinning at it.

Anyway, after that experience I’ll probably take Leap Day as the 29th too. It can be fun having this sort of exceptional day. We all know how it exists outside the normal bounds of time and space. None of the ordinary laws of time exist. You can sleep in until 3:30 pm and still be in time to catch the sunrise, four times over. You can spend an hour on the phone talking with your parents and finally hang up two minutes before you call them. You can watch one of those two-minute Popeye flash cartoons and have it fill eighteen hours of the day. You can spend 57,500 years trapped in amber and be broken out and it’s still not 10:30 am. You can return library books that were due the 28th and not get charged late fees. You can turn on broadcast TV and catch an all-new episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s everything that’s fun about Daylight Saving Time, only twenty-four times as much of it, and no whining. If you want to declare it’s outside the whole seven-day week experience, that it’s actually happening on “Thworbsday”, nobody can protest. That’s just how the day works.

And yet for all that, my imagination fails me. I used to know what to do with a free day. I would play Civilization II, trying to repeat cool experiences like conquering the entire world without ever building a boat. Today? I don’t know. There’s stuff that I could usefully do, like spend a couple hours deleting e-mails from the Amy Klobuchar campaign. But, jeez, I could do that anytime. I could delete them as fast as the campaign sends them to me. Well, OK, no I couldn’t. But still: the day doesn’t come up much at all. It really seems like I could have something more special going on.

Yet Another Piece About Me Having A Cold


I know people reading this may think I’m always writing about me getting a cold. I have reasons for this. I don’t know anything about your getting a cold. I’m sorry; I should ask about your health more. How are you? Do you have one health, reasonably sized? If you don’t have a health of your own, it’s fine to get something store-bought. We all want one that’s bespoke, but really, off-the-shelf is fine. Anyway please fill in any small gaps in our conversation with how your cold is going.

Anyway I talk about my getting colds because health-wise, there’s not much else I have going on. Other than the occasional cold my health is pretty good. The only thing I have going on that doesn’t really work for me is my knees. I’m already at the point in life I have to plan out how often I’m going to kneel down, and what for, in the coming week.

It’s hard to say just why my knees are so bad. A leading candidate is that I used to be really quite obese. Until I was 39 I moved mostly by plate tectonics. My two brothers once went three years without seeing each other just because I happened to be standing in the way. And I know what you old-time-radio fans are thinking: that I just stole one of Jack Benny’s jokes about Don Wilson there. I did not. That joke came loose and fell into my gravitational well all on its own.

Anyway, I lost all that weight. Well, I “lost” all that weight; I know just where I put it. (It’s in the walls of my parents’ old house; don’t tell the new buyers!) But the damage to my knees was done. Oh, also, I have very tight hamstring muscles. Like, they’re tight enough that I can not straighten my legs unless I also bend my knees. My yoga instructor watched me trying to do anything and said, “But … how?”.

The cold has been a mild one. The biggest hazard is not mentioning it in front of specific friends. One of these is the zinc friend. You know, the one who isn’t just fond of zinc but so very sure it’s the fix for every problem that, really, I’m the difficult one if I don’t carry around a cinder block of zinc to lick every time I wipe my nose.

The other hazard is the soup friend. I like soups more than I did as a child. Especially when I have a cold. I can’t have enough to satisfy my soup friend. There’s not enough soup in the world to take all my soup friend’s advice. There’s barely enough me. Nevertheless I do appreciate letting a long boiling-hot ribbon of water flow down my throat.

Because the main thing I have is a cough. It’s not one of those coughs that accomplish anything. You know, the working coughs that you can respect even if you don’t like them. My cough is nothing like that. There’s this sore section in my throat, exactly where it can’t be reached by that viscous cherry spray ever. What I really want is something that can scratch that spot and give me maybe ten seconds of sweet relief. The threat of choking is holding me back, though, which is why I’m only thinking of how nice it would be to dangle, say, a miniature porcupine on a thread and let it press into my throat.

No good, though. The only cough lozenges anyone makes are all smooth things, as if I needed more smoothness in my throat. I’m taking them, certainly. They’re great for making every part of my throat except the one that I want to cough up feel smooth. It’s getting a bit much. Normally I’m pretty selective about what I put in my mouth. At least ever since the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident in Singapore a few years back. With cough drops, though? That caution is out the window. I’ll put any translucent gob in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I’ve swallowed some eight-sided dice. I’m on about 46 lozenges just this hour. When the medical examiners find me, they will wonder how it is that I made it to this age with such tight hamstrings and a throat that’s a menthol fossil.

Anyway, otherwise everything’s pretty good.

It Is Supposed To Be Cold Tomorrow


I have to write this piece today. Tomorrow we in Lansing, Michigan are supposed to be getting some cold in. By ‘some cold’ I mean ‘all the cold’. The sort where the temperature (Fahrenheit) isn’t just dropping below zero but all the way into the imaginary numbers. It’s the kind of cold where they warn you it’s too cold to leave buildings outside. Where you don’t see sparrows coming to the bird feeder anymore because they get halfway to the freezer, ice up, and these feathery snowballs tumble into unsuspecting squirrels.

So I have to talk about all this before I call my parents. After lives spent happily in New Jersey, with roughly similar weather, they moved to South Carolina. “What the heck,” my mother said, “We don’t know anybody there and my whole experience there has been one weekend with my friends in Charleston. That’s where we’ll spend retirement,” and my father said “What?” because his hearing aid had iced over. It’s worked out really well for them, except that between September and April the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how much warmer it is down there.

And it’s not like we always have terrible and cold weather. This winter’s been warm enough we’re all a little bothered by that. I know this makes us just sound disagreeable. But we’ve had it warm enough that it was, like, in the 60s and sunny, with nice strong breezes and seagulls coming in from the Great Lakes. Let me remind you, this is Lansing, Michigan. We’ve been having the kind of weather that gets incompetent seagulls. But most of the time it’s been a more normal winter, just a little warmer than average.

And it’s not like South Carolina’s weather is always better. Between May and August the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how their evacuation for the hurricane has gone. It’s not always a hurricane, mind. Sometimes it’s a tropical storm. Sometimes it’s a very lost nor’easter. Part of what’s nice about South Carolina, as a retirement state, is the low cost of living, which is to say they don’t have taxes, because they don’t do things like build a second bridge off the island where my parents live. Or have roads that don’t flood when it rains, or it’s very muggy, or someone leaves the sink running while brushing their teeth.

But we’re not in hurricane season now. So I have to get this written before calling them and they talk about how frigid tomorrow should be. This won’t keep them from hearing about it. But if I can get to talking out the weather here, before I call them for the week, I … don’t actually know what I’ll accomplish. At least I’ll have done something.

And weather this cold you do have to do something for. It’s the kind of cold that even being warm doesn’t help with. We have a good-quality water heater, the kind that gets the water hot enough to melt the water heater, but that won’t make a shower hot enough to completely revive my toes. Dressing is also a problem. The only thing to do wear layers. This means whenever you encounter any piece of clothing, put it on. Since I work at home this is tricky. I’ll pop into the bedroom for something or other, and have to put on another shirt or pair of underwear. By about 5:30 I’m a rolling ball of fabric.

And that’s staying inside. I don’t figure to go out. In this cold it’s a bad idea to let your tongue touch the air, as it’ll get stuck. Your tongue ices over. Then the ice that that’s caught on will get stuck on the air. That ices over, and again and again, and then you’re dangling a five-foot-long ice tongue out your mouth. And then you can’t go anywhere except on foot. Driving is out since you fit the encased tongue through the car door. You can’t lift your head enough to see when the bus is coming. All you can do is try to walk somewhere and find the doors there are frozen shut.

So that’s why it’s important I finish this, then call my parents, and then deal with tomorrow’s nonsense.

Everything There Is To Say About Moving Keyboards


I remembered this thing where, like, a decade ago some company wanted to make computer keyboards that moved. Isn’t that a heck of a thing to remember? Why remember that? I have a decent memory. Yet it keeps remembering weird things. I have an advanced degree in mathematics and yet if you ask me the difference between a “covariant index” and a “contravariant index”? I have to set the wallpaper on fire and use the distraction to look it up. A covariant index is written as a subscript and the contravariant is a superscript. Or it’s the other way around. I keep writing it down wrong because I remember last time I had it wrong, but I forget whether I got it right in the end last time. But this keyboard nonsense? Now I remember this.

What I don’t remember is why they wanted a keyboard that moved. I’m going to guess it’s for ergonomics. Any time you have a system that makes something easy pointlessly hard it’s usually because of ergonomics. This makes ergonomics sound like it’s about being mean. But the point of ergonomics is to avoid doing stuff that’s useless and causes pain. And it turns out almost everything we do is useless stuff that causes pain. There’s maybe five things that we actually need to do. And one of them is winding the mantle clock for the week. This would be bad if you did it too much, but most people have to wind only one or two mantel clocks per week, if that, so it stops before it could hurt.

Keyboards would be a good thing to be made more ergonomic, though. Typing is a terrible thing to do to one’s hands. People who study hands — Handocrinologists — report a fifteen-minute typing session is about as stressful on your wrists as beating them with a metal-working hammer against an anvil and then sticking them in a pot of boiling grease, then typing for fourteen minutes. The only thing worse would be a seventeen-minute typing session. Doing less typing, this by having a keyboard slither away, would probably help. If this moving keyboard thing had caught on? Today we might not suffer from typist’s wrists, cerebral IRC, Livejournal-snapped hamstrings, Usenet lung, or CU-See-Me face deprivation syndrome.

I don’t know why this wandering keyboard didn’t turn into a thing. I can’t see any downside to a keyboard that, in the middle of your sentence, scoots over, knocking over your soda can and crumpling up a post-it note that’s incomprehensible but so obviously important you will never throw it out. Maybe it made people’s prose seasick or something.

Anyway I know this memory is like a decade ago because of how it was they thought keyboards were a problem. We would use keyboards for everything. Writing stuff. Reading. Playing video games. Sealing up the crack under the door. Cricket bats, for when you didn’t know there was a game today. Setting dads up for jokes about how does it fit in the lockboard. Swatting off cows that aren’t supposed to be in the dining room. Everything. Now that’s all changed.

Way back then we would joke about how Apple was going to make a computer that just had one button. And then they went and did it, and it turned out to be a phone, and it was the most popular thing ever. Later they took away the button. Oh, wait, now I get it. The keyboard’s just a picture on the screen. But the phone has this rumble motor. The phone can roll out of your hand. All right, so I guess the moving-keyboard company didn’t flop, Apple just took the idea.

So then what’s the future hold? Just a keyboard that shakes even more out of the way isn’t enough. “You can’t top pigs with pigs,” as Walt Disney said, making people wonder what question he was answering. No, it’s got to be a phone that takes more dramatic action. Maybe something that jabs spikes out. Maybe shooting a web to the corner of the ceiling and swinging out of the way. Maybe just being very ticklish, so the phone won’t stop giggling when you use it.

Well, what’s important is that the Handocrinologists are happy. Someone should be.

Everything There Is To Say About Going Outside


Going outside is one of the popular things to do when you mean to go somewhere. It ranks almost up there with “going inside”. It’s no “meaning to go outside but then rolling over and groaning”. But, you know, what else are you going to do? Stay inside with your intrusive thoughts? Including that one about the time in 1997 your friend was excited to have noticed Team Rocket’s names were Jessie and James and you acted all cool about that, as if you’d noticed long ago, when you really had never put that together? No, the only way to avoid imagining that they’ve been hurting for 23 years over that thought is to go outside, anywhere, and keep going.

I have to preface this by admitting I’m not one for going outside much. Oh, I do it, but only because somehow the topic keeps coming up. I’m not even much for going to the other room. For that matter I need motivation to get to the other side of the table. Even reaching my arms out to their full length needs some motivation. In my defense, there’s plants I might hit if I just tossed my arms around wildly and they don’t need to be involved in whatever my issues are.

Still, the outside offers over four things that the inside just can’t. Unlike the inside, for example, outside there’s no way of controlling the temperature, humidity, precipitation, or light levels. You can find that you’re uncomfortably cold. Or warm. For part of the year you can be uncomfortably medium, with your outfit just making you bigger than you’d otherwise be. With the rain, you can get wet in ways you don’t want. Or you can put on water-resistant clothing, so that only your face, hands, and feet, the things that you most immediately use to interact with the world, get wet. I feel like I’m not making a good case for outside here. Let me slide a foot or two down the table and think this out.

It was only half a foot. Ah, but here: outside, you’re able to get to places. Like, you can go to a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop. Or, if you’d rather, you can go to a Jersey Giant sandwich shop. I mean if you’re around my area of mid-Michigan. Which, you can see, has a bunch of places to get Jersey sandwiches. There’s maybe more places to get a New Jersey-branded sandwich here than there were when I lived in New Jersey. I confess I’m not sure precisely what it is that makes something a New Jersey-branded sandwich. From observation, I think it’s “having a picture of the Shore at Sea Girt in the bathroom”. And oh, there’s something. There’s much more of the Jersey Shore that’s outside, compared to inside. That’s not likely to change unless someone goes and turns a door inside-out.

Outside also offers the greater number of bank drive-through stations. This is valuable because the outer lanes used to have those great little tubes you’d put bank stuff in, and it would go into the bank using what you always supposed were pneumatic tubes but probably were not. That’s all right. It’s so much fun to think of having, like, a savings passbook that’s shuttling around in a pneumatic tube. Now, I don’t know, I think it’s all just drive-up ATMs. So you can go up there and think how much more fun this all used to be. I’m doing a lousy job promoting the outside as something.

Oh, the outside is great for animals. You can see squirrels and more squirrels and different-colored squirrels and pigeons and none of that makes you nervous. If you see them inside you have an issue that you have to deal with, and you haven’t had time to deal with a new issue since October 2014. But outside? They have every right to be there, as do you, and all’s at peace. Oh, you could see some of these from inside, if you look through a window. Or if you’re not interested, looking through a wall. But then they’ll go off somewhere a little obstructed when they’re being the most interesting. Outside, if you see them hiding, you can walk around and then they’ll notice you and leave. From inside, you can’t have that experience of squirrels deciding they don’t want to be involved in whatever your issues are.

Everything there is to say about IP addresses


Each day over 36 people use the Internet. And yet how many of them know what it is? How it works? Where it comes from? What it’s doing? How it’s redressed in-between scenes so that in the first act it’s a starving artist’s kitchen while in the second it’s the luxury suite at a hotel? Still, let’s see which of these questions we can answer.

The Internet is, as designed, a high-capacity method of transmitting outrage. Essential to getting anything anywhere is the IP address. IP is an acronym; it stands for IP, but — you may want to make a note of this — a different IP than what we mean when we write IP. It is still typed the same, though, except in the dative case.

The purpose of an IP address was to be a unique way to identify the recipient of any particular Internet outrage. In the earliest days of computers this was done by identifying the person using the computer. But this was impractical, since back then, everyone used the names of the same minor Star Trek characters. Today, only three people know there even was a “Commander DeSalle” who was in more episodes than, like, Pavel Chekov somehow. The next step was trying to identify the computer using the person. But too many computers looked the same, especially back in the 90s when the computer makers got a really good deal on plastic the color of sweetened condensed milk you accidentally left open on the counter all month. We’ve since moved on to trying to identify the person and the computer together. This is done by timing how long it takes you to refuse web sites permission to send you notifications.

The IP address is how the Internet knows what to send to you. Consider this typical behavior. You put an OtterBox for your phone on your Amazon wish list, because the wrist strap broke off your old one. You’d just buy it yourself, but not having a wrist strap is a smaller hassle than your parents asking you to put at least one single thing on your wish list so they know what they won’t buy you for your birthday. Three weeks later, Amazon sends you an e-mail declaring they’ve found it would be a great idea if you bought an OtterBox. Sure, you think of the geniusnessocity of the mind that could create such a perfect needs-anticipation system. “Clearly,” you say, out loud, “the person behind this system deserves 130 billion dollars. Indeed, the person who could create that digital intelligence deserves all the billions of dollars.”

But this only works because it knows which of all the people on computers to send the e-mail to. Imagine if you got the suggestion to buy an OtterBox intended for somebody else who also wanted an OtterBox. Or what if the shopping suggestions were completely wrong? “We have a great deal for you: what if you bought a radial tire and the issue of Starlog about DeForest Kelly being on the War of the Worlds tv series from the 80s? Plus 1250 boxes of macaroni and cheese?” There would be no possible answer to give to that question. You would be stuck at home, all day, trying to find out, wait, there was a War of the Worlds series in the 80s? And it got kinda bonkers? But if there’s no way to get the information about this to you, then, where are you? Right back at home.

So how do you and your computer get this IP address? Eh, a lot of back-and-forth. Your computer goes asking others around it, “Do I look like a 12.440.593.56.210.315 to you?” And then the other computers go, “Oh, you’re underrating yourself. You’re easily a 56.337.404044.12.390 or maybe even more!” And then your computer answers, “Aw, golly. You’ll make me digitally blush, there’s no way I’m not a 8.266.712.8.775!” “Honey, stop with the false modesty. 18.9.2012.24.2007.48304 and if you don’t agree I’ll fight you.” Eventually they compromise on something. Of course, this is done at computer speeds, which is why it’s either instant or your computer just freezes up for three hours and eighteen minutes. And I’m translating what they say into colloquial terms. They would actually say “digi-blush”.

This all seems like a lot, and it is, which is why even brief exposure to the Internet leaves you so exhausted.

Some Reasons Everybody Treated Me Like That In Middle School


I’ve had some time this week to sit in a room with no particular expectations or Wi-Fi and so that’s got me all introspective. So this is going to be hard. I’ve gotten around to thinking of my middle school experience. Here are some things that, on reflection, I think contributed to that whole scenario.

So you know there was a Pac-Man cartoon in the early 80s, where Pac-Man and Pac-Family hang around Pac-Land, occasionally eating ghosts and sometime getting chopmed by them. So, there was this episode where the Ghosts got their hands on the Pac-Space-Shuttle. Unless that was the Space-Pac-Shuttle. Honestly not sure at this remove. Anyway, they harvest all the Pac Pellets in the world from off the Pac-Trees. They flew this whole load to, I believe, the Pac-Moon. I know what you’re thinking and no, I was not bothered that the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle might land on the Pac-Moon. It would be a gross presumption of us to suppose that the design limits of our space shuttle necessarily apply to the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle-Pac in this fictional universe, however much they seem superficially similar. (Oh, this is helping me see why other bloggers treat me like that.) No, what bothered me is that in the face of this Pac-Pellet shortage caused by the world harvest being stolen, Pac-Man, in space, eats the entire contents of the Space-Shuttle-Pac, every power pellet in the world, all at once, when we’d seen in other episodes that one was enough for him to chomp ghosts. Two, if he needed to be really confident in his ghost-eating powers. And that is what bothered me: this unnecessary gluttony would make the power pellet shortage continue for at least a full growing season. And these Pac-Pellets are the fruits of Pac-Trees. This is going to screw up geenrations of trees to come. I was very cross with Pac-Man over this.

On the evening news they would always talk about what the New York Stock Exchange had done that day. And yet they never mentioned the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which I supposed had to exist, or Los Angeles or San Francisco or anywhere else. Yes, I grew up in the New York metro area so of course the local stock market might be of interest but this injustice extended to the national news, and surely there must be some days that, like, the Saint Louis Stock Exchange had the most exciting stock-related exchanging going on.

[ I would like to emphasize that I am not reading my current weirdness back into the young me. These are as best as I am able reconstructions of thoughts I had in the mid-80s. ]

According to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manual if exactly the right things lined up you could just be a vapor, forever, and everyone would just have to let you play like that.

So in South River, New Jersey, there was this liquor store, and its sign was this representation of beloved drunk neighbor Thirsty from the beloved comic strip Hi and Lois. And I thought it was wild and belovable that in all the world we happened to be not too far off from the world’s only Hi and Lois-themed liquor store. And wondered at how much money must have changed hands for Thirsty’s Liquor to be set up in this really very average beloved Middlesex County town.

Also every power pellet in the Pac-World fit into one Space-Pac-Shuttle Cargo-Pac-Bay? Space shuttles aren’t that big.

Sure, we all have urged the rain rain to go away and come again some other day. But why was there no chant to urge the rain to come today, when nothing particularly needing dry conditions is going on, and thereby forestall rain coming some inconvenient later date? We need a certain amount of rain per year and there’s no good reason not to rush to get that done when the day’s already all wet.

While I do not think this very incomplete list justifies the whole of my middle school experience I am forced to admit that, yeah, everybody kind of had a point there.