Why Not To Make A Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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


How To Swim In Some Other Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Weekly Planner


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

How To Know It All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I win.

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

It’s Just A State Of Mind

I’m soggy about all this. No, I’m not being apologetic while spelling poorly. I’m surrounded by even more water than usual. You maybe heard about Michigan getting an unusually large shipment of rain in. If you didn’t that’s because you couldn’t hear it over the rain hitting the roof. But from about Monday evening through Wednesday morning we had a lot of rain. And then another lot of rain on top of that. I’m not sure the precise mechanism of this, but as I understand it we had twenty different rainstorms all one on top of the other. The bottommost twelve layers of rainclouds couldn’t add any of their own water. They were busy passing on the rain that was falling on top of them. The storm at the bottom felt bullied, smothered underneath its uncaring but higher-up rainclouds. It started crying and nobody could even tell.

The rainfall gauge at the Capital Region International Airport washed downriver to Grand Ledge. The guy they sent out to replace it forgot he left a sponge in his pocket that morning and it bloated up to the size of a minivan, throwing him completely off his game. I know, some of you are thinking I’m making this up: why would a trained airport person have a sponge in his pocket? Joke’s on you. This is a lifehack for people with posture problems caused by sitting on overstuffed wallets in their back pockets. The sponge balances you out, see? But only if you put it in the other back pocket from your wallet. Still think I’m making this up? Call up and ask the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics about this. Don’t mention my name.

So this was a lot of rain. And it was a lot of rain while it was warm. It was in the 60s (Fahrenheit) before the water washed away the thermometer’s numbers and the concept of temperature. And this was a lot of rain and a lot of water after we’d got in several good-sized snowstorms the previous couple weeks. I mean, most of them were your simple three- and four-inch things, with an eight-inch storm tossed in. It let me shovel and feel all smug about how much better I shovel our sidewalk than certain other people on the block do. I’d stop every night, before going to bed, and admire how our sidewalk was clear and bone dry. So nice to go to bed feeling smug. I’m not joking about this.

Point is between the rain, the snow, and the warmth, they’ve issued a flood watch. Or a flood warning. Whatever it is they issue when they’re putting places under Voluntary Evacuation Orders and publish maps of the city covered in blue. This area of mid-Michigan is, geologically speaking, a marsh with too little self-esteem to get swampy. But drop enough water on top of it and the area will feel more embarrassed by not going along with the flooding. So that’s when you get pictures of people paddling a canoe to the bar off 127.

We’re nowhere near an evacuation zone, if by “nowhere near” you mean “it’s like two blocks to the east, and goes from there to the bar off 127”. I’m hunkering down waiting for them to squeegee our street. We’re on a minor street so I figure it’s going to be a couple days. The sump pump’s been running, not just filling up all normal time with its sump work but reaching out into new avenues of complex- and quaternion-valued time to shove water from the basement out to … the … yard, I guess? Somewhere.

Still, I’m doing my part. Like the Mayor asked, I’m helping out by drinking as much water as possible so the river levels go down. Lansing gets its water from an aquifer. There are three major rivers that converge in the Lansing area — the Red Cedar River, the Other One, and the Grand River — and we drink the water we have to mine. We got a new mayor in last month and it’s hard to catch up on everything you should know in any new job. I didn’t know about the aquifer thing until I was here like four years. So drinking as much as we can is pointless. But the important thing is being part of the process.

Two mounds of snow on the lawn of the house across the street. Also a lot of leaves smothered flat by snow and rain.
I know what you’re thinking, but no. They shovelled their snow. This isn’t an Old Mount Soot situation or “Sootuation” as they call it in the trades. This is just one of those mysteries of the neighborhood.

So now the mystery. We had 36 hours straight of it being in the 50s and 60s while all the rain in the world fell on us. It’s been above freezing all during the day and most of the night since then. Why does the house across the street still have heaps of snow in the yard?

The Conference Call

The call is scheduled for 2:00 Friday. PM, the office manager sent out a follow-up e-mail about, as though AM were up for discussion. It’s the same joke sent out every time. But we must respect the rituals of the Conference Call. To leap in without the assurance that everyone was not getting together at 2:00 AM would be unthinkable. And it would bring about the ambiguity about whether they meant the 2:00 AM reached by staying up late on Thursday or staying up late on Friday.

The subject is the M’Gregor Project. The M’Gregor Project has been going on for so long and gotten discussed so well that it has achieved organizational Nirvana. There is no task on it, however minor, which can be completed by any known means. The attempt to establish how to complete any part of any task on it results in the task splitting, like a free neutron, into three smaller tasks and administrative neutrinos. And yet these smaller tasks are no more completable. And yet call for as much discussion. It is not that anyone is avoiding work. They put reasonable, responsible efforts into their tasks. It’s just that everyone needs something someone else does before they can finish, and there is nothing that can be finished first.

Thus the need to set a careful agenda. There should be time to review outstanding tasks. This is all of them. There will not be time to review outstanding tasks. The group will get through about ten minutes of this and then ask whether there’s anyone falling behind. Everyone feels themselves falling behind. Even without trying to subdivide tasks two or three new ones have appeared to everyone. Tasks are like feral kittens scratching at the break room door. After consideration most everyone accepts these newly subdivided tasks. They set them up in the least-used corner of their workspace with a small bowl of kibble and bedding made of shredded printer instructions. There is special time given to the person who’s found five new tasks. Two of them are given away to people who think they could whip that out Monday. Monday’s when the printer is set to explode, but that isn’t on the agenda and so is not considered.

There is no one at the company who remembers the M’Gregor Project’s start. There is no one at the company who will be there when it ends. There is no one at the company who can explain why it’s not MacGregor. There is no one at the company who can convince those separatists that it should not have been McGregor. All agree there is some benefit to the company if the M’Gregor Project should be completed. Something, surely. But to just make some clear progress before the end of the quarter would be good too.

Nothing is completed. Nothing could be completed. There is something. There is the possibility of reorganizing tasks into new categories. This is more than trading tasks that haven’t got finished. This would be the chance for everyone to think carefully about what they’re good at. To think of what they feel engaged in doing. To think of which of their assigned tasks are too boring to even let fail. A chance to own up to it, to show what one accepts one will never do, and give them up to people who still think themselves ready. To set about such a reorganization is work. A large number of people have to devote themselves to rationalizing their projects. This is a major task. A great many people would like to have done it.

The Conference Call is a chance to share anxious anticipation of explaining why your task is not finished, or fear of getting a new task. In this way do the participants reassure one another that they are part of the group. That they are some of the many, many people who have been involved in the M’Gregor Project. It is the socially acceptable substitute for our instinctive desire to groom one another’s fur for lice and tics. And this, of course, is why the thing is done.

We’re ready for you to join on line two.

Is Ray Davies A Normal Person?

My love and I got to discussing this the other day. I forget how. But I’d like to lay out the arguments for and against.

Pro Ray Davies being a normal person: If many of his lyrics are a guide to his mental state, he’s fairly sure he’s either crazy or just barely holding it together. The only thing that could possibly be more universally true is if he realized how every evening he was tired and sad about the way the day had gone.

Con Ray Davies being a normal person: He spent decades as the front man for one of the world’s most popular and influential rock bands. This is unusual behavior, exhibited by only about five percent of the population, thus, not normal.

Pro: Again going by his lyrics, he mostly would like modern life to stop being quite so much and leave him alone to drink his tea. It is easy to suppose that like the rest of us, he is gradually doing fewer things online because it’s getting to be too much work to do a password reset every time he forgets what his Picarto or Twitch account should be. Also he’s never able to keep straight whether the ID is his full e-mail address or just rdavies0644. This is further normal behavior.

Con: Was propped up statue-like at the center of the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony for the world to sing at, a thing that almost nobody can expect to ever do.

Pro: He made use of the assonance between “slave” and “lathe” for one line in Second-Hand Car Spiv, and there’s almost nothing more natural than that. Maybe rhyming “moon” with “spoon” in all those merry songs about how you mix celestial bodies into your milk and stir it all up.

Con: He knows which of the birds in the comic strip is Shoe. I know, too, but I recognize that’s my personal eccentricity and that it’s not shared by anyone I ever meet.

Pro: As a white guy spent much of the 1970s arguing with bare acquaintances about what exactly is a “rock opera” versus “concept album” and who had the first of them. Granted, yes, this would often be after he had snuck out to a party dressed as the schoolboy-in-disgrace or whatever he was performing on stage and thought people didn’t recognize him, but who wouldn’t do that in the same case? And it was important to let him make arguments about how yes, there was that thing by that band that was before Tommy that he never heard either and no he is not thinking of Days of Future Passed and he has a whole presentation he can give about this. It wasn’t in dispute, but aren’t your best longwinded rhetorical arguments about stuff that wasn’t actually in dispute too? Thank you.

Con: Even today we can’t be completely sure he isn’t going to release Preservation Act III. Do you know anyone who’s working on that still? Are you? Exactly.

Pro: Does not regularly speak with legendary Kinks founder Dave Davies. Most people can hope to have a conversation with Dave Davies at most once, possibly twice before they die, and so does Ray Davies.

Con: Ray Davies’s mailing address has way too many things in it:

Sir Raymond Davies OBO
Solempne House
2 1/2-A Daunger Gyse Lane Without
Shrieval Pudding
Gebetan-Dream-upon-Mere under the Bridge
Grimshire 00 18 463 11 00
Rutland Boundings
Lesser Notts and Glos
Greater Notts and Glos (Ceremonial)
North London, Greater London, England, UK, FRS, BAAS N10 3NU ZERO ZERO ZERO DESTRUCT ZERO

Pro: Yeah, but every British address looks like that. Nobody has ever successfully sent a postcard to anyone in Britain and that’s why.

Con: Feels no thrill when he notices in the closing credits of The Price Is Right how the second contestant was found to be ineligible and thus could not receive the patio furniture they’d won in their Item-Up-For-Bid.

And now to add it all up please make a computer-y beep-bop-boop noise for a few minutes, and then reduce your answer by an appropriate amount. In sum we find that Ray Davies is not in fact a normal person, but only because he hasn’t yet given up on his DeviantArt account. The subject may be reviewed after ninety days.

Interestingly, I Need Help

I was in the university library because I don’t really make sense anywhere else. Not to brag but in my life I’ve been in over twenty places, and really, “university library” is the one I look the least awkward and weird in. I don’t mind. At least it’s somewhere.

But I was there because I’d wanted to read this history of word processors. Not a recent book, mind you. The book was written sometime in the mid-80s. That’s a lot of word-processor history ago, I admit. Back then word processors were primitive affairs, often programs we got by typing them in from magazines that cost $2.95 at the grocery store and there’s nothing about that I’m making up. Many of them were coal-powered and they were able to store up to one macro, which would be “add a line break after each paragraph, except that makes your document more than 4 kilobytes big, so the computer runs out of memory”. Still, I’d want to know more about how we got to that point.

And that’s when I discovered the horror: the library was reorganizing its shelves. Like, all of them, best I can figure. Everything. And I thought: no! That shelf where I ran across that book about pasta technologies holds nothing now! How will I ever find that book again? I haven’t wanted to find it again since I first read it but still, I knew where it was. I was lost.

This made me realize something. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I own a book that’s entirely about nutmeg, a spice I could not positively affirm under oath that I had ever had. Seriously, if I tried it would go something like this, taken from my court appearance for failure-to-yield in this minor traffic accident I had at the awful traffic circle where Route 206 crosses White Horse Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey:

ATTORNEY: And have you, knowingly, ever consumed a thing with nutmeg on or in it?

ME: I … think? Maybe? Don’t they use it for pumpkin pies? I’ve eaten that.

ATTORNEY: Maybe? Didn’t you knowingly and deliberately sprinkle some onto the free coffee you got at the farmer’s market so you could see what it was like?

ME: Oh, yes, I guess. It tasted … like every spice ever?

I don’t know what the attorney hoped to prove. In any case they forgave the failure-to-yield and only gave me a citation for listening to an audiobook about the history of the concept of corporations. And that feeds back to my point. I want to say I’m curious about all aspects of the human experience, and that I’m open to how much thought and history goes in to even the small, insignificant things. And then the attorney asks, “Don’t you own multiple books about the history of calendars each written by someone with the name “Duncan”?” Yes. Yes I do. And I already knew all the good stuff in the various Duncans’ books from having read many books about the calendar when I was a kid.

Clearly, I need help. I need some kind of guide to what things are in fact interesting and what things are not. This might take the form of some kind of specially-trained support dog. Someone who will notice how I’m looking over a history of subway tokens (by Brian J Cudahy, author of one of those containerized-cargo books) and leap onto me, shoving me to the ground and maybe rolling me over to something of more general interest. Like a history of an Apollo mission. No, not that Apollo mission. A famous one, like Apollo 11 or 13. Good grief. Fine, maybe 8. No not 12 why are you looking at 12? Who notices Apollo missions that didn’t have James Lovell involved?

They didn’t have the word-processing book. So, hey, someone else found it interesting or they lost it in 1992 and nobody’s asked about it yet. Left to my own devices, I got to Harvey C Mansfield’s 1947 A Short History of the Office of Price Administration, because apparently I need to know something about the theory and practice of World War II price-control administration that I couldn’t just pick up from listening to Lum and Abner episodes that had a public-service mission. Ah, but consider this: it includes this July 1947 quote from Bernard Baruch, architect of what price controls the United States government attempted in World War I and a leading advocate for strategic planning of economic needs given the national emergency:

Also, as a result of piecemeal price control, we are now faced with inflation which, next to human slaughter, maiming and destruction, is the worst consequence of war.

This serves as a valuable reminder that one does not get to be an extraordinarily wealthy individual and public intellectual advising presidents across many decades without completely losing one’s ability to realize one has just composed the daftest sentence in all of 1947, a year when the administration of Germany was divided into The Soviet Sector, the Brassiere, and Bizonia. Yes, yes, plus the Protectorate of the Saar. Don’t nitpick me. I do my reading.

The Apollo 12 astronauts considered giving their Command Module the name Abner, so that their call signs would be Lem and Abner, but this was stopped when, I trust, a NASA Public Affairs Officer came down and slugged Lunar Module pilot Alan Bean. I can show you the book that’s from.

Every Home Repair Show I Ever Happen To See

The show starts with some upbeat music, cheery stuff that keeps threatening to have a tune. The credits dissolve to Jeff, who’s wearing a blue shirt along with his tool belt. “Hi there,” he says, “And thanks for joining us for another episode of Fixed In A Jeffy. We’ve been working for the last several weeks on a lovely ten-story single-family dwelling in Naugatuck, Rhode Island, and we’re going to continue not listening to those spoilsports at the historical society who say it’s Connecticut. Let’s check in with Jeff and see what he’s found.”

They cut to another Jeff, who’s got a red shirt but lacks a tool belt. He says, “This lovely building, with a footprint of nearly 120 square feet, was originally built in late 1886 as a cotton distillery who saw potential in the Pawcatuck River and didn’t know where they were. It was rebuilt as a different cotton distillery in early 1887 and again in 1893 by people who had a knack for assembling these things. During the Second World War employees in this facility put strands of the finest, strongest treated wool across the Norden bomb sight until the War Department caught them. We’re hoping to convert it to fit a small family like ours.”

The first Jeff says, “And there’s some real time pressure here. We’ve only got about a week until the owner gets back and probably picks some kind of fight with us. So let’s take a peek at a home in Eddie Foy, South Carolina, which much like Jeff’s here has got walls.”

There’s a musical interlude and the show comes to another Jeff, who’s got a green shirt and doesn’t care who sees him. This Jeff steps into the two-story hall with cats running up and down the stairs. “Homeowner Jeff has been gutting this absolutely gorgeous room, and it turns out to be because of a common mistake made the last time the house was renovated. Can you tell us what that was, and how many people are making it even without looking?”

Homeowner Jeff, wearing a white collared shirt that’s got two nonconsecutive buttons undone says, “We were experimenting with a nontraditional wall covering. We hoped to cover from floor to ceiling with a sparkling red lycra and that didn’t work at all. In the first place, cats would leap at the walls and get stuck, and then they’d be angry at whoever un-catched their claws. Un-caught their claws. Unclawed their catches.” Other Jeff slaps his shoulder, breaking him out of this loop. “We could have lived with that, but we also got joggers. Non-competitive, of course.”

The first Jeff (third of that name) nods. “Of course; this isn’t the badlands. Still, you don’t want flocks of joggers coming through and breaking up your private community space. Still, it begs the question — ”

The first Jeff (the first one) cuts in, smiling, but not meaning it. “Now, Jeff, we’ve talked about this. You mean to say this raises or asks the question. Back to our recorded segment from South Carolina.”

The third Jeff (the third one) nods, on tape. “You’re right of course. This raises the question, why lycra in the first place?”

The fourth (second) Jeff says, “We got there by a very interesting path and let me share the story with you. But first, I want to show you something.” He opens the door and they walk through a dissolve cut to the bottom of the driveway. “I designed my own mailbox so that it would look like an obscure dolphin called the melon-headed whale. You just slip a piece of paper in here — ” and he does, “And a little flag pops right up through its blowhole!” Which it certainly does.

Jeff (one of them) nods, saying, “Thank you. That is a creative and distinct way to comply with no currently known postal regulations.” A cat races out of the open door, leaps up the left Jeff, and lands on the flatbed of a truck that’s puttering down the street, which carries it out of sight. “I think some of this might be useful to you up in Vermont. Jeff?”

They return to the second Jeff. “Now, we’ve talked about this. Vermont and Rhode Island are radically different places, what with being represented in completely separate divisions of Lechmere’s Department Stores back in the day.” The camera pulls back to reveal he’s standing in front of the air conditioner unit behind the house. “So. We’ve found something alarming back here that isn’t just a repeat of the hornet incident. Join us for next week’s Fixed in a Jeffy when we look into that, won’t you please?”

Yes, I suppose that I shall.

How To Not Be Overly Organized

Is it possible to be too organized? Physics offers us an answer: it explains that the polhode rolls without slipping over the herpolhode. This sounds dirty. It really has something to do with the rotation of rigid bodies as they begin their nutation. This makes it sound unbelievably filthy. Physics reports now that it misheard the question and apologizes fiercely.

Now that we ask physics again, where it knows its mother is listening, we have a better answer. It would be too organized if all the mass and energy of the universe were piled into a single spot of extraordinarily high, by which we mean low, entropy, causing the expansion of space to restart with a new Big Bang and the formation of a different universe with physics that might be substantially different from those we know. Even the person who’s so orderly as to have a ten-point checklist for connecting the garden hose would agree this is too organized, given how long it would take for a new universe to expand and cool enough to support stars, life, limited-edition holiday-flavor candy corn, and the part of town where they’re always having ukulele festivals.

Most of us stop before that point anyway, because we are stymied by questions such as: does it count as a pair of socks if they are noticeably not alike, but they are each the only one of their kind, and you have two of them? This is the problem I posed to my advanced physics lab partner in college, when he said he was starting to organize his dorm room by dividing it into “pair of socks” and “not a pair of socks”. His answer was to look at me with sad despair. His dorm-room organization project ended in failure, and we were unable to show that the Inverse Zeeman Effect ever happened.

The Inverse Zeeman Effect is a physics thing you look for in advanced physics labs and it has nothing to do with polhodes as far as I know. It’s named for the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who was such the life of the party he was known in every physics lab as Pieter “The Man” Zeeman, only in Dutch. Eventually he got a sinecure working for the water-reclamation agency. This allowed him to be Pieter “Zie Man” Zeeman of the Zeiderzeewerken. For putting up with this all his life they gave him a Nobel Prize and asked him to say “sinecure” with a Dutch accent.

Even we who are not Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicists find natural limits to organization. Most things enjoy a natural resting spot which doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be consistent. Which is why, in a boring anecdote I am not making up, I kept my toothpaste in the refrigerator for about four years when I was living in Singapore. It was probably an accident at first. But then it kept happening, and before you knew it, if somehow there were toothpaste in a more traditionally sensible place in my apartment, such as the bathroom, I’d never know it. Clearly the natural habitat of Singaporean toothpaste was in the refrigerator. I should have left a note for whoever got my apartment after I moved out. But if I had left one, would they have believed me? What might they have said about it? “This person writes too small to be legible”, most likely. I’ve left notes for people before.

The trouble is that organizing tries to put things where it makes sense for them to be, which is rarely were they want to be. The displaced things respond by going missing altogether. Who among us hasn’t tidied the office supplies on their desk and discovered the stapler can’t be found? Or organized the stuff in their medicine cabinet to find that not only is their toothpaste gone but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever had toothpaste? To tidy up the house so well that the guest room goes completely missing and there’s just a vacant spot on the wall is an unusual event. But it’s not unprecedented.

If there is one important thing to consider, it’s this: the Dutch have a municipality named “Urk”. It’s a former island, as the Zuiderzee’s been reclaimed all around it. Now it’s geographically part of the Noordoostpolder, which sounds like they’re doing physics over there. Somebody look into that. After knocking.

In Which I Discover A Way To Make A Modest But Respectable Sum Of Money

Something I always get in December is the Peanuts page-a-day calendar. It’s an important piece of organizing my life. How can I confirm to myself all afternoon that I’ve completed the tasks I must do every day or else die or break a streak except by tearing off that day’s colorized reprint of a joke from 1966 that I memorized by the time I was seven? But somehow, through the machinations of fate and whatnot, I forgot to get one this December. And nobody was able to find one for me for Christmas. And the bookstore in town didn’t have any, either. So I had to resort to the thing that still feels weird and alien and exotic and maybe a little too much fuss for me, and buy the thing online.

So here’s what I faced looking at the Peanuts 2018 page-a-day calendar on Amazon. And by the way I trimmed out of this the estimated delivery date, which was that it usually strips “in one to two months”. That is transparent nonsense. What could take two months to get a calendar? I know the production rates of the vast calendar mines of Ecuador and I know how much containerized cargo is shipped from Guayaquil to Los Angeles daily. Even with the traffic difficulties caused by Panama Canal expansion. (The shipping goes through Rotterdam for efficiency’s sake.) The numbers don’t lie. Two months is just a fib. Anyway, don’t worry, the nonsense runs deeper.

Peanuts 2018 Day-to-Day Calendar, by Peanuts Worldwide LLC. 14 new from $7.49. 2 used from $39.59.
They include a full-color comic strip, but of the Monday-to-Saturday strips, which originally ran in black and white. The Sunday strips, which were originally run in color, aren’t included in any way at all.

Somehow — and I put this order in, like, the 3rd of January — someone is selling a used calendar for 2018 for $39.59. In fairness, they don’t say what it’s used for. If it’s used, for example, to scribble down the clues leading to the lost Schulz Treasure, then $39.59 seems pretty reasonable. (The Treasure is what’s left of this stock of ink pens that Schulz really liked, and that he bought the company’s entire stock of when they were discontinuing the model. This may not sound like a lot of treasure, but understand, if you have an art supply you can go up to any artist who draws — including writers or musicians who just doodle while avoiding writing or musicking — demand as much money as they have, and they’ll give it to you. They’ll sulk while they do it, yes, but don’t we all?) But what if it’s not? What if it was used for something more mundane, like, the thing wasn’t even taken out of its box and it was just used to keep a taller calendar from sliding down before someone could thumbtack it onto the wall?

Because if it turns out you can turn a ten-dollar calendar into a forty-dollar calendar just by using it then my entire financial situation has changed. And I’m going to have to have stern words with the version of myself that was asking serious questions about what I needed versus what I would merely like back in 2002 when I was getting out of grad school and preparing to move to Singapore. Because there’s, like, a dozen years of used official Star Trek Starships Of The Line calendars that I just tossed into the bin because they finally seemed to have no value. And don’t doubt that they were used. Every one of them had a little channel individually cut by thumbtack through the paper above the punched-out hole for hanging the things. Many of them also have little strips of manually-added scotch tape attempting to keep December from completely falling off the wall and onto the bare mattress sitting on the bedroom floor. You don’t get much more used than that.

I can’t promise to make every calendar so well used, of course. But I’m sure I could buy some calendars and give them some use. Maybe try to fold out the plastic leg on the back of them that’s supposed to make the calendar stand on its own and doesn’t. Maybe take a date and scribble an illegible note about an appointment nobody can quite make out. What is important to do at 4:45 on Tuesday with Nurl? I don’t know. But every appointment I ever write down is at 4:45 on Tuesday with Nurl. Do you want to miss it? Maybe write out for one of the activity puzzles at least four words you can make from the letters of “resolution”.

Lucy: 'I knew I was right! I knew it! There was a day just like today back in 1935! This isn't a new year at all ... this is a USED year! I'm going to write a strong letter of protest.' Linus: 'Who's in charge of years?'
Or maybe they’re just seeing who remembers the Peanuts from the 11th of January, 1966. Tough to say. It is the sort of needlessly obscure prank I’d play though.

I’m not saying this is going to make my fortune. There’s the up-front cost of ten or fifteen bucks per calendar. But at a per-calendar profit of $25 per this is at least as good an hourly rate as anything else I’m doing. Back in the day, my father made a modest but reliable profit buying, fixing, and selling houses. I’m not competent to do that, but why couldn’t I flip a couple days? It’s only fair.

2018 In Preview: A Small Pile Of Resolutions

Since the year is still not out of its probationary period I should review my own resolutions. It’s always a good chance to encourage that one friend you know to say it’s 1080i. This person has most recently been me. I don’t know that 1080i is a resolution but it seems like the sort of thing that used to turn up a lot when you talk about television sets. Now I think they’ve gone over to 4K, which means we are all sending more televisions to people whose name starts with ‘K’. They liked this when it started, but they’re getting tired of finding something to do with all those televisions now.

1. Eat Less. I’ve always been very fond of taking food-based things and putting them into my mouth. I spent many years as, I’ll admit, an expert eater. At one point, and not a word of this is made up, I took the rubbery waffles being handed out outside a microbus that was set up on the street in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district. The microbus was a tiny exhibit about the life of runner Steve Prefontaine. It is barely plausible that any part of this event happened at all and nevertheless, given the chance to eat a thing, I took it. I’ve since lost a great deal of weight (I hid it in the ventilation system of my parents’ old house and they never looked! Oh, and sorry about that mess in the vent system when you tried to sell the house, Dad), so I no longer move around mostly by being rolled by Oompa-Loompas. But my weight is creeping up again and I should do something about that. This resolution might possibly be “eat fewer” instead.

2. Help take some of those unwanted TVs off of Kay’s hands. I should meet someone named Kay first, in order to avoid legal complications. I know at least two people named ‘Kevin’ and they’ve probably got as much television as they can store. I don’t really need more televisions around myself. But I’ve always had a slight interest in setting up those long falling-domino trains, and if we did that with flatscreen TVs instead it would be a bit more interesting. Maybe that would be interesting enough to get me to try doing it.

3. Stenning less thorough the jerfling nagorn except when strumwel imeleer. Will admit I’m not exactly sure what I resolved to here. It was very important when I woke at 5:30 am and scribbled the notes down on the receipt for two Wendy’s sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes from a lunch in November 2015 for some reason. I admit I’m not sure whether this is something I should be doing more of or less of. But I appreciate the moral support you’ve all shown in my effort to sten more appropriately in these strumwel times. Possibly related to this, if I somehow used a second pen while jotting this down: “polka bear”.

4. To keep my hands adequately moisturized. It’s been dry here. I should explain that I live in mid-Michigan, which is geologically classified as a marshland with olive burgers. For example, our basement is normally extremely wet, sheets of water running down the walls like we’re a setting for some jellyfish horror movie. But this season? Nothing. The dehumidifier in the basement estimates the atmosphere down there at something like 30 molecules of water in the whole space. In some more words that are not made up, the bathroom mirror has not steamed up during my morning shower since before Christmas. So my hands have been hyperbolically dry. I don’t just have to shove my fists into tubs of hand lotion in the morning and leave them there until bedtime. I have to change out the tubs twice a day because my skin is absorbing all the moisture from it. And do you know what it’s like getting hand lotion moisturizer? It’s a freaking Zeno Paradox is that that is. Achilles and the tortoise and the aloe vera. Also if someone has a resolution about getting some moisture back in the air please write in.

Hm. It seemed like more when I was trying to get started this morning. All right, then.

Year In Review: Top Ten Events Of 2017

10. 14 May. That incredibly good shower right after you got up that didn’t start as anything special but somehow felt like washing way adulthood and the only thing that has to be done was to see how long you could hold a pencil upright in your belly button.

9. 22 June. CRUISE SHIPS.

8. 8 April. Every wedding reception turns out to be at hotels that also have a furry convention booked that weekend. So now there’s tens of thousands of families that have video of Great-Aunt Carol, confused but game, dancing to “Sweet Caroline” with a cat Ghostbuster. Also mom will not let dad wear that pig snout he bought EXCEPT ON HALLOWEEN.

7. 2 November. The tension of the first known alien visit to Earth dissipates when it turns out they just wanted to check out the flea market on Route 35. And then it turned out they were just snagging a bunch of reprint Harvey Comics books. And they lost every chance of claiming superiority when they put scotch tape over the staples on the cover and in the center to somehow make the books “last longer”. So any time you feel bad that, like, they’ve got faster-than-light travel remember that we at least know how to keep a Richie Rich comic book in good condition.

6. Mid-June to Early August. That weird call-and-response song that we never got an agreed-upon name for? That was fantastic, with those lines that had easy-to-learn rules about how to change the verse for the next song around. That was a lot of fun and we’d probably be doing it yet if someone hadn’t discovered the verse-changing rules turned out to be Turing-complete and some cretin set up a scheme so the song turned into bitcoin-mining. So yeah, now if anyone starts singing it we have to slug them and that’s a bummer, but try to remember the time it was just good.

5. 3 October. The phone and the new camera both take the same size mini-USB cable to plug in even though they are two distinct and different things.

4. 16 February. Sure, we all remember this as the day everybody put their right feet on their left legs and vice-versa. But photos of the day show that in fact fewer than one person in five participated in this weird and spontaneous event. Doesn’t matter. Those who joined in made the day an event of pleasant, slight awkwardness and a chance to see the world in a different light. Yes, it inspired over twenty thinkpieces about the arbitrariness of left and right but don’t worry. The people who wrote that were, in their way, participating in the fun too.

3. 22 September. All three contestants spin a dollar in the Showcase Showdown that episode of The Price Is Right, and then two of them spin a dollar in the tiebreaker round. And that after all six contestants won their pricing games. We don’t remember if someone went on to win both showcases but we’re going to remember it that way because it was already just that great.

2. 28 June. This was that day your phone kept making all those strange little noises that didn’t match anything you had on it. It seemed like the phone might be calving off a new app, inspiring thoughts about how maybe your phone would be the birthplace of a something that disrupts a something or other and then investors would flock to you and give you billions of dollars for a widget to make, who knows, something a bit more snoop-y than something previously was. The thoughts are still fun to savor, even since the phone stopped making that noise about 8:30 pm and hasn’t made it since.

1. 6 January. It was supposed to be an ordinary little patch that should have left squirrels immune to clothing. But some errant use of a : instead of a ; deep in the code left everybody’s clothing warping around things, jumping to weird places, growing or shrinking uncontrollably, merging and separating in amoebic blobs with other pieces of clothes, and so on. People were furious for the first hour or so but after that we settled in to embrace the absurdity. And now we’re coming up to what is, somehow, only the first anniversary of “facepants” becoming such a beloved meme. Can 2018 do anything to top that?

Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Christmas Decorating

While we’re still waiting on the upstate returns it sure seems like we’re going to have a Christmas this year. So it’s a good chance to talk about putting up decorations for Christmas like three weeks ago. But who’s had the time? Those who would like to discuss putting up decorations against Christmas may apply for equal time care in care of this station. This will let us see just what sort of care they have been taking of their time. This should be good for a solid laugh all around.

The basic unit of Christmas decoration is the poinsettia. This lovely plant has been cherished for several centuries, a couple decades, a bunch of years, a pair of months, a peculiar number of hours, and a strangely specific number of shillings and pence. They’s cheerful and when viewed from any angle and from a wide range of lighting conditions they appear to be spelled wrong. This allows us to spend much of the Christmas season slightly rearranging any existing poinsettias. In case their spelling ever does look right, the pronunciation looks wrong. If both the spelling and pronunciation are sound, then it’s time for the flowers to fall over.

There is a longstanding tradition of putting lights on trees. This grew out of the tradition of putting candles on trees. This itself grew out of the tradition of putting trees on candles. This tradition came to an end when the fire department started sending out stern letters and disapproving looks. Even so there are some neighborhoods where the fire department has to drive around delivering stern looks and disapproving letters, just in the hope the change-up catches anyone’s attention. In any case the lights are much easier to work with, what with how they can be turned off. You leave the trees on because it’s so hard to get something to exist again once you’ve told it to stop. At the least you get accused of being fickle, and can’t make an honest dispute of it.

Stands of lights grow in the hardware and in the discount department store. They find a natural habitat on what certainly seems like the wrong shelf. You expect them to be set up next to the artificial trees or next to the laser projectors that shine sparkly lights on an unsuspecting house. Instead they’re off in like row 13, between paint supplies and dowels and grommets. In some bigger stores they’re kept next to the grummidges and copper-plated hurk mounts and other wholly imaginary pieces of hardware. It’s a little prank they play.

You can buy new lights every year while cursing the light manufacturers. Or you can keep lights from year to year, taking the old ones out and cursing the light manufacturers over those. This is because any light strand more than three months old has a half that doesn’t work. Fortunately every strand of lights has two fuses embedded in the plug. And it’s easy to change these just by sliding the plastic panel open and then screaming in frustration at the fuses, since they’re in pretty tight and there’s no getting it out without using a needle that you drop on the floor to step on later. Replacing the fuses will not make the lights work. It’s just a way to pass the slow, unhurried times ahead of Christmas.

A good thing to pick up is this tool that extracts Christmas light bulbs. It should also have a button to press to test whether a given light is working. Nothing will ever tell you how to use this button, though. Do you hold the suspect bulb up to the side near the button? The side near the indicator light that flashes? Does the bulb have to be out of the light strand? Can it be left inside? What’s it mean when the indicator light flashes? Or when it stays on? There’s no telling. This all gives you something to do while pondering the futility of existence.

Tinsel is, in truth, no such thing. What we call tinsel is actually an artificial tinsel created by chemists who had pondered the saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and so did not. They had hopes that this artificial tinsel would help America in the war effort and it might have had they not done this all over the summer of 1926. Nevertheless, the work is well appreciated by anyone who would like things to look and feel the more stranded.

Once you have your Christmas decorations up, stop putting them up. This is most important as your ceiling isn’t tall enough to keep putting them ever-farther up. Enjoy them while wondering how it is the light strand over the doorway isn’t falling down. Nobody knows.

Things About Violins You Ought To Know

Learning to play the violin is a simple way to bring joy to many people, including violin instructors. It’s not just violin instructors, of course; you also bring joy to violin salesmen, manufacturers, and distributors. That doesn’t even get into the powerful Violin Marketing Board and its renowned publicity arm that each year puts violins under the chins of dozens of schoolchildren who were just yawning. Considering the number of people who’d be made happy by your learning to play the violin refusing to learn makes you sound perfectly antisocial. About the only people you make happier by not learning are the neighbors.

Much folklore says the violin comes from the medieval instrument of the viol, a violin-shaped musical instrument not used anymore. This is a folk entomology, however, a bug-filled derivation which mistakes two things as one on the basis of roughly similar-sounding names and shapes. Do not open the derivation if you’re the least bit squeamish. In the late 1830s, Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born instrument maker, used a violin-shaped metal template to carve a figure out of a piece of maple wood, opened up a hollow box, and given a neck, bridge, toll both, and frontage road in order to assemble the first violin. While filing for his patent he was heartbroken to discover he was beaten to the work by over two hundred years by Italian musicians. Sax went on to invent the harpsichord, the theramin, the Reuben sandwich, and the photoelectric diode before his friends finally wrestled him to his senses. He put his time more productively into creating the Adolphephone, at which point his family and friends said fine and called it that in front of him. And only then.

The violin is tuned in perfect fifths, so if you see any you should take the chance to tune your instrument immediately, even if you are on the subway. There’s no way of guessing when you’ll see your next perfect fifth. Some wild youths rejecting the wisdom of tradition will accept a marginally flawed fifth or even a pretty good sixth. If you do try this route elder musicians will point at you and snicker during quarter rests. To tune the violin, turn the pegs, which can be found in any music store next to the sheet music for popular tunes of the 1910s clockwise until the instrument sounds clearly out of tune, and then reverse the process by turning the violin over and repeating.

There are several ways to make the violin produce sounds. The most sociable is to simply ask it in a calm, respectful tone. Unfortunately many mass-produced violins are made with few social graces and will respond poorly to such requests. The next technique is to hide a small CD or MP3 player underneath the violin’s body, and press play when your performance is to begin. If you are the lead character in a teen-oriented sitcom this will work for most of the scene, and then fail in a way which forces you to confess in front of many people you wished to impress. It would be less embarrassing to play on your own.

A manually-operated violin, then, can make a sound by the pizzicato method, in which one pizzicatoes the strings in quick, clean motions, or by stroking a bow along a string. It is better form to make strokes perpendicular to the string. With four strings a violin can make four distinct tones easily. To produce a different tone you place a finger in the appropriate spot along one of the strings. If you should find out how, please share the secret with me. I always got stuck while trying. I’m pretty sure I was putting my fingers in the designated and officially correct spaces. The instructor could do this and get a nice clear note, say, B-flat above middle C. I would repeat the motion and get a consoling hug and, somehow, first-chair placement at the fifth grade winter concert (“A Collection of Songs You Don’t Have To Hold Down The String For”). If that doesn’t work you can try sticking to songs which have mostly the same notes played over and over, such as Baudot Code, invented in 1874 by Adolphe Sax, who was recovering from overhearing his friends talking about him by overachieving. You know how instrument makers will get.

Still Not That Flated

I’d like to say how getting my tires replaced was a long merry series of silly incidents. But really, it’s been more of 2017. I mean, this year, you know? This morning they broke into The Price Is Right for the breaking news about Al Franken, and the station had to break into that with a news ticker about the Larry Nasser scandal, which is one of those local/state-level scandals that reading about leaves you feeling like you’re on one of the latter days of the flu, where you’re no longer contagious or even all that achy. Mostly you’re just tired of feeling tired and want to stay in a blanket bundle watching The Price Is Right and that’s exactly where the breaking news came in to break you.

So. I figured to go to a tire place that had served my love pretty well over the years. I’d expected it to go well, since I’d already built a reputation as a magician there. They put my love’s snow tires on and off. They could almost fit the four tires that were coming off the car into the Honda Civic’s trunk. But I know the trick to putting all four in. And, my love says, have astounded the people working there who realize, as they try fitting the removed tires back in, that they didn’t pay attention to just how I got all four in.

A tire (mine) with a maybe ten-inch gash where the sidewall's come apart.
Also while it turned out this was the worst of my tires, it wasn’t the only bad one, so, good grief.

With the help of the Consumer Reports buying guide that my love’s father gave us for Thanksgiving right before my tire exploded, because my love’s father does things like that, I picked out new tires. And ordered them, which I had to drive down to the tire place to put money down on because … I don’t know. But the next day they called to say the tires were in, and I could get them put on anytime. Great! … I went in and it turned out that while their web site figures my model car takes 17-inch tires, my actual car thinks it takes 18-inch tires, and my car won the fight, three falls to two.

I’d had to drive to their place to put down a deposit on the new tires, and I figured, might as well pay in full. Then had to come back the next day to find the tires were wrong. Also they found my tire pressure warning sensors had corroded to strange lumps of metal-like compounds no good for anything. So they refunded my tire purchase less the cost of replacement sensors. Also less the cost of the loaner tires they put on because I didn’t want to drive on the spare longer than I had to. And because another tire turned out to be maybe dozens of feet away from failing too.

I went back home to look up what tires were recommended in my size and learned the Consumer Reports Buying Guide had never heard of any of them. Picked some new tires anyway and had to go out to the tire place to put my money down on those. Also I appreciate that my credit card company finds nothing suspicious about a bunch of charges and reverse-charges, for ever-more-exotic amounts of money, going on from a place I’ve never had any dealings with before. I guess they’re just glad for the attention? Went back again Tuesday to finally get my tires on, and those seemed to work! Except that the tire pressure sensor was a solid light, interrupted by periods of being a blinky light. According to my owner’s manual, this is a signal for “pull off the road as soon as it is safe to do so, and flee the car, warning all within a 1,000-foot radius before the genetically engineered nanovirus is emitted and converts all nearby matter into locking lug nuts.”. Not what I’m looking for.

CBS News Special report on Senator Al Franken announcing his resignation is shrunk down for breaking news about Michigan's scandal involving Larry Nassar.
Fun Fact: of the 184 new episodes of The Price Is Right aired so far this year, only 23 of them have been shown in their entirety without a Breaking News update interrupting some part of them. Also a Fun Fact: nothing about this is the slightest bit fun.

So today in the latest round of this they said they could see me at 1pm, which turned out to be more like 3pm, in a quest that ultimately found the new sensors they put in were transmitting on the wrong frequency. Fair enough. I feel a reflexive skepticism toward mass agreement on stuff. If I were part of the tire pressure sensor community I’m sure I would want to see what those other frequencies were all about.

They didn’t charge for fixing this, of course. The guy at the tire place thanked me for coming back. I mean, they’d thank me for coming in anyway. But this was that service-apologetic tone you would get where, like, the Genius Squad at Best Buy admits, “I guess I see how every step in the situation built on the one before but I’ve still don’t understand how setting up an HDTV stereo sound bar resulted in your goldfish being on fire. Would it help if I gave you a discounted copy of The Nut Job 2?”.

The guy from the work bay pulled my car up. He said it was all in good shape now. And he’d left the keys in and the car running because the battery had died and they had to jump-start it, so, better leave it running some.


First, I apologize if this piece is rougher than normal. I have to put several hundred dollars into my car, through the funnel in the armrest that normally swallows up the iPod Touch. But the servicing takes time. And I have to try to make myself feel better about that, ideally by eating eighteen McRib sandwiches.

We were driving home from my love’s parents after Thanksgiving dinner, with four bags of leftovers packed in the hatched back of my car. I didn’t think much about the tire-pressure warning sign on the dashboard because my car is always throwing off warnings when it gets cold. I’d checked the tire pressure the day before and everything was fine. Then it wasn’t. The rear passenger-side tire burst open and started rattling and my love, as passenger, warned me: “[ Something I didn’t make out because I was looking at the rear-view mirror with disapproval ]”. Fair warning, though. We were right at an exit so I pulled off the Interstate and followed the bright lights to the large, well-lit, spacious parking lot of what turned out to be the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore.

A tire (mine) with a maybe ten-inch gash where the sidewall's come apart.
Yeah, so, I guess when I got my oil changed the dealership wasn’t just fishing around to see if I could be upsold into buying a replacement set of tires, and by their “I should look at this soon” they meant more like “We’re not all that sure we can legally permit you to drive home on these tires” and maybe I was missing some cues because of the distraction of HGTV people having silly things happen to their remodel.

They were closed, possibly because it was 2 am, possibly because it was Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, while we were waiting for AAA, three different carloads full of people drove in, looked at the front door, turned around and left again. Apparently the Adult Superstore underestimates their 2am-after-the-holiday foot traffic. They’re leaving money on the table, and I feel like there’s some slightly morally judgemental joke I could be making about that.

I didn’t go calling AAA right away, by the way. I’m confident that I can change a tire in my car myself. Three decades of car-based experiences have not turned up any successful cases of my changing a tire myself. But I’m like 80 percent sure I know the theory. It’s the tires that won’t cooperate. The problem this time is I couldn’t get three of the lugnuts off. They wouldn’t budge.

So with two lugnuts off we had to call AAA. While my love walked to the front door of the Adult Superstore, to see if they had a posted street address, I found out the phone operator at AAA had a low-key Thanksgiving since her dog just got out of surgery. Well, she asked how I was, and I told her “pretty good up to a mile ago,” which I still think was a solid line. And I only felt weird not asking her how she was so I learned her dog needed surgery and it all makes sense, all right? Anyway, her system had trouble finding the Adult Superstore. My love reported there wasn’t any address listed on the building, but that they did have a Christmas tree in the vestibule. “Surely you mean an X-mas tree,” I answered. Since my love did not punch me in the gut and walk away never to be seen again, I know it’s true love.

I could see the AAA guy’s truck pulling off the Interstate. It stopped, though, and the guy called us to verify our location. I got out of the car and waved and he said yeah, he thought that was us. It’s like he had some reluctance to pull up to the lone car in the Adult Superstore parking lot, with the motor running and the headlights off, at 2:30 am the morning after Thanksgiving. Or something.

He had power tools to undo the lugnuts and I’m proud to say he couldn’t get the lugnuts unstuck either. So I’m not a lifelong failure in tire-changing, see? It’s the tires. He declared, in another great line, “I’m not done giving up yet,” and took out a couple wood blocks. With them he could set up a rickety, ad hoc scheme of blocks leaning against each other, to brace the axis of the tire iron while he jumped on it. He only had to do this one or two times for each lugnut, and he didn’t slip and break his neck doing so. Also I needed to offer him the adaptor to go from the tire iron to the lugnuts like four times before he realized what I was offering. I must have been saying something wrong.

Anyway, after we had that sorted out it was like two minutes to finish the tire change. And now the interior of my car smells like leftover caramelized onion mixed with burnt-out flat tire. The second part of that isn’t what I would pick, but we have to go with the life we have.

Overall, this seems to me like it was a weird flat-tire experience. But I also don’t see where I did anything to make this weird and I’d accept advice on dealing with this better in the future. Thank you and good night.

On This Date: November 24, If You Will

2019. Highly disappointing opening of the canal between the fifth and the second floors of the West Mall in Bukit Batok, Singapore, with critics saying the whole system seems to be “just a slightly large elevator” and “not really better than riding a couple escalators would be”. The complaints are harsh but fair because riding escalators is a really grand thing. If there were some way to fix the problems of having to step onto or off of them then we’d really have something.

2020. The Internet has one of those weird spasms where everybody gets hung up on how the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, England, was renamed “Benbom Brothers Theme Park” in the 1980s just because that sounds like the name you’d create if you were in the 90s and doing a bad translation of a Japanese RPG. Within 14 hours, it passes, leaving no harm done.

2026. The “Inbox Zero” e-mail productivity fad gives way to the “Inbox Infinity” model as this turns out to be a great deal easier for everyone and their nerves needed it by this point.

2064. Last specific reprinting of Art Buchwald’s column about introducing Thanksgiving to the French, which is a shame since that bit about translating Miles Standish’s name as “Kilometres Deboutish”? That’s solid enough.

2065. Mutual occultation of Venus and Jupiter happens, two days late, following last-minute negotiations when the planets can’t agree about whether it should be the occultation of Venus by Jupiter or of Jupiter by Venus, and a furious debate on the Wikipedia talk page about “Crayons”, where the debate somehow settled in a process people were still trying to explain to their great-grandchildren.

2085. We fix the problem of having to step onto or off of escalators with the invention of shoes that can’t get caught in the teeth of those things but keep you pretty stable when you’re stepping into the belt.

2121. Bigfoot’s job hunt lands him a career as the mascot for the Jersey Devils. He lasts nearly eight years at the post before going on to greater fame as the official public greeter for Baltimore, Maryland (starting the 26th of July, 2129) and sees the Devils to two World Series appearances when their bus gets lost.

2200. The Universal Postal Union agrees that next year shall be 2200: The Gold Edition”, although it will be labelled as “2201” for the sake of not breaking anyone’s database software.

2243. 186th anniversary of the 24th of November, 2057, passes without turmoil but with many people asking “Huh?” and “Why?” and “This is a thing because of why?”

2371. Deep in a star system nearly 75,000 light-years from Earth the locals begin producing a program known as Star Trek: Voyager. It’s purely coincidence, though, as the vastness of the universe and the enormity of the number of peopled worlds and the relatively small number of sounds that are likely to be made into words cause a program that happens to have that name without actually being a remake or continuation of the United Paramount Network classic program. It is in fact a shot-for-shot remake of Star Trek: The Original Series except in this one Lieutenant Uhura gets along great with Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, and critics say this one little change drastically improves the whole body of work.

2618. After years, maybe a decade, of cruel taunting about what work it does exactly that ‘S’ and ‘K’ don’t do just as well the letter ‘C’ declares it’s had enough and leaves the alphabet. While people are able to carry on mostly fine, what with having both ‘S’ and ‘K’ there, it does leave words such as “church” pretty well stuck. The letter ‘J’ steps up to remind everyone that it could totally do the hard ‘ch’ sound, and is told to sit down because it’s done “so much already” and is really appreciated “right where it is” by letters that are rolling their eyes.

4211. No end of discussion about the way the dates of the year line up, if you’re in the United States, and a lot of arguing that the United States way of listing the dates is just stupid and dumb and wrong. By the time it’s over very few people are still talking to each other. It’s a good way to figure out who you need to stop interacting with, though. Consider it.

On This Date: November 17, If You Like

765. Date of the historical incident believed to have inspired, in distorted form, the fable of Jack the Giant-Killer, when seven flies were indeed killed in one blow by a giant rampaging through a middle-Uressexshire hamlet. Less famously the incident is also credited with creating the village of Flattstone-Under-Stompenhedge. It’s a little baffling how the story ended up like we know it today. Most historians of legend suspect “political satire around the time of the Commonwealth or Restoration”. But we’ll admit that’s their answer to everything.

797. Kanmu, Emperor of Japan, changes his residence from Nara to Kyoto but the student loan people find him anyway.

1602. Birth of Agnes of Jesus, who’d go on to become a nun in what seems like typecasting but there you go. Sometimes you just know what your course is in life.

1777. The Colonial Congress sends the Articles of Confederation to the British Parliament for ratification in a deliberately-arranged “accident” that both sides fail to use as a chance to apologize and try to come to some reasonable settlement of the whole matter. It ends up making everybody feel eight percent more awkward.

1810. Sweden declares war on the United Kingdom in order to start the Anglo-Swedish War, since it seems like a shame to have such a snappy name for a war and nobody declaring it or anything. The war ends two years later when they notice everyone’s been so happy with the stylish name and the idea of Sweden and the United Kingdom being at war that nobody ever bothered to fight the other side, and that isn’t even my joke.

1858. Day zero of the Modified Julian Day scheme so that’s why your friend who does all this database stuff with dates is staring wistfully out the window and wondering why we have to have a February even today. We do not; we have a February in-between January and March.

1869. The Suez Canal successfully links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Backers fail to reach their stretch goal of connecting the Mediterranean with either the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic Sea at Brunsbüttel, or Albany, New York. But they’re happy with what they did achieve and give out some commemorative coasters.

1933. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union.

1935. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union a second time when Guatemala explains how the two of them used to stand at the window outside the League of Nations building in Geneva staring inside and sometimes putting pickles from the burger stand down the way onto the window to see if they’d freeze in place there.

1946. Last use of a Murphy bed except in a black-and-white sitcom.

1952. Soap magnate Dr Emanual Theodore Bronner, serving his jury duty obligation for the civil court, is asked whether he is familiar with the law regarding trees and shrubs which overhang the property line. Both sides’ attorneys excuse him 36 seconds later. He finishes the first of many extremely considered sentences about the matter in December, and his whole thought about fallen branches by 1954 (estimated).

1961. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union again, but pretends to stumble and have to fiddle with its shoelaces a couple minutes while they pass on the sidewalk.

1973. One of the most successful weight-loss plans of the 70s gets started when Eater’s Digest publishes this compelling bit of reasoning. The reasoning: you can burn off more calories simply by going about your business while wearing weights. But what is fat except excess weight? And, better, weight that you can’t take off even if you want? Therefore simply by walking or standing or breathing or sleeping on your chest you’re burning off excess calories, thereby causing yourself to lose weight on the whole deal. And therefore being fatter is the quickest way to being thinner and, therefore, being overweight doesn’t exist and within two years everybody is.

2015. ‘Bob and Bert’ create the only podcast advertisement ever recorded that makes listening to the podcast sound appealing or desirable or even something other than just a bit of sadness. After the successful advertisement their Wheeler-and-Woolseycast releases one more episode, then misses four months for an unannounced hiatus, returns with a 15 minutes apology and explanation that it’ll be two months before they get back to their twice-a-month-schedule, and then never be heard from again.

On This Or That Date: November 10

1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.

1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.

1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.

1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.

1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.

1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.

1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.

1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.

2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.

2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.