According to Reuters, Abraham Poincheval, a French artist, has successfully hatched nine out of ten chicken eggs which he had been incubating by sitting on for three weeks. He had been sitting in a glass vivarium at the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum in Paris. He sat on a chair, in an insulating blanket, over the egg container, leaving for no more than thirty minutes a day for meals. Meanwhile I’m in the early stages of an e-mail dispute with coworkers about whether the password for a server was, in fact, changed. I’m not saying he necessarily has used his past month at work better than I have, but he did spend two weeks living inside a hollowed-out bear sculpture in 2014. So he’s got something figured out which I don’t.
My new life challenge! Someday, someday I shall make it all the way out of the driveway without hopping out of the car to check once again that I locked the side door.
I’m only fooling myself. But then who are you only fooling?
I’m sorry to be a little down but over the weekend I learned that my phone, my camera, and our Mi-Fi device all use the exact same size mini-USB plug. And then we also successfully used our Mi-Fi device to get a little bit of functional Internet in a place that didn’t otherwise have it. Oh, it only lasted until the Mi-Fi device’s power wore out, and we weren’t able to buy a second day of service in a row. But still. Three things using the same mini-USB plug, and using a Mi-Fi device to have a portable block of Internet service where we needed it? When am I ever going to achieve anything as impossible in life again?
Anyway, over on my mathematics blog I ask people for word problems because I’m all but sure that cartoon Jef Mallett mis-represented one in one day’s Frazz so at least I have that going for me.
If you’re here to follow the most recent storylines in Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man, the newspaper-syndicated comic strip version of the character, thanks! This link should bring you to whatever the most recent post is, at the top of its page.
The Amazing Spider-Man, 23 January – 23 April 2017
I last reviewed Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man at what felt like the one-third mark in the current story. Ronan The Accuser had crashed his spaceship in the Arizona desert and slurped up the contents of a diner. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Parker, on a road trip, couldn’t do anything about that, but they do witness Rocket Raccoon’s arrival. Rocket and Spider-Man complete the Ritual Battle of Superheros Meeting, and they pretended to be a costuming family for a motel owner. So what’s the story since then?
Rocket warns that Ronan The Accuser is looking around for The Sentry, an 80,000-year-old alien-built contraption that looks faintly like a robotic Moe Howard. Ronan figures he can use this to unleash all sorts of accusations on the whole galaxy. Peter, Mary Jane, and Rocket deduce The Sentry must be somewhere in Petrogylph National Monument, as the road sign for it is clear and fills up nearly half a panel. Ronan The Accuser follows similar clues and he and Spidey punch each other until The Sentry wakes up. It goes off to blow up Albuquerque. Rocket remembers that Ronan (“please, my dad is Mister The Accuser”) is extremely vulnerable to Earth air. So he and Spidey try to knock his helmet off, which goes great.
Luckily Newspaper Spider-Man is extraordinarily good at taking blunt force traumas. He uses this to do a “why are you hitting yourself?”, using Ronan T A’s own large hammer to smack his helmet off. Spider-Man tries to put the unconscious Ronan’s helmet back on, on the grounds that he can’t just suffocate the guy even if he is trying to blow up the world or galaxy or whatnot. And I admire this idealistic bit from Peter Parker, who’s not going to be more cruel than he must be, however much trouble it makes. The resolve to be kind even when it’s hard, or worse, inconvenient is something we should take from superheroes. Anyway, Spidey accepts Rocket’s promise that Ronan isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping, and they go off to fight The Sentry.
Rocket and Spider-Man leave Mary Jane to watch Ronan just in case he wakes long enough to gasp out something plot-relevant. And hey! So she flags down a truck and buys it and a bunch of day laborers to bring Ronan to the big Albuquerque fight, because she always travels with that kind of cash. Using the unconscious Ronan — whom The Sentry can’t harm — as body shield Spider-Man teases The Sentry mercilessly. Meanwhile Rocket climbs inside and punches stuff until it breaks.
So that looks like it’s ended the Ronan and The Sentry menace: this Sunday’s comic teases that coming next is “Farewell to a furry comrade!” A shame, since I’ve loved Rocket’s time on the strip. I mean, all his guest stars insult newspaper Spider-Man relentlessly. And Rocket’s depiction has varied from “pretty raccoony” to “maybe a small, bug-eyed werewolf” to “EEK! wasn’t that the deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare Tommie brought home to Apartment 3-G that one year?”. (Here’s the Apartment 3-G deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare for comparison. Warning: deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare content.) But they really click as the effective and the put-upon members of a team. It can’t last, of course, and I’m sure Rocket is about to deploy some suspiciously vague explanation of how he needs to be … elsewhere, with … other people, soon enough.
Also, yes, Spider-Man did pretty near nothing to drive the story. Rocket did most of the heavy lifting and Mary Jane overcame plot-related sexism to do something too. Peter Parker was mostly there to, I dunno, get hit with stuff. This is healthy.
Peter and Mary Jane Parker were in Arizona to start with as they were taking a driving trip to Los Angeles. I don’t have any guesses who’s going to be the Hollywood antagonist. And I hope it’s not long before they bring Rocket around for another session.
Admittedly the results are thrown a little off by going down to the farmers market on a Thursday afternoon and leaving my cart off to the side by the health-food clones of normal breakfast cereals and then having people apologize for being in my way when I backed it up from them. Also from people apologizing for getting bags of coffee beans while I was looking over flavors of coffee beans. Also for being in the same aisle while I was looking for one particular brand of barbecue sauce that wasn’t there.
Also they do amazing things with “Golden Grahams, only kind of healthy” these days, but it’s going to be hard to win me over from Grape-Nuts brand cereals where if you mix exactly the right amount of milk in it’s like you’re chewing down on concrete. There’s nothing better. I’m not being snarky here. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t eat cereal like that if you could.
- Constant loud buzzing noise indicating swarm of cicadas located within.
- Spontaneously resets and loses all programs, program guides, content, everything.
- Growls, hisses when remote control used; insists on being petted.
- Keeps fussing over whether specific commas in the program descriptions are necessary, or are merely good style, or could be dispensed with altogether.
- Will not stop quoting dialogue from The Abbott and Costello Show while impersonating the wrong voices.
- Has mismatched pair of gloves, somehow.
- Tells jokes about how funny kinkshaming would be, if it were doing that, which it isn’t, but if it did, think how funny that would be.
- Judges me for watching that show about the so-called Treasure Pit on Oak Island that totally exists, no, seriously.
- Keeps asking my opinion about its His Dark Materials fanfic.
- Is fine, but we sent it back anyway out of habit.
- Spiky quills around the HDMI output.
- Pops up messages asking yes-or-no questions with the option to answer “proceed”, “cancel”, and “ignore”.
On the bright side we’ve never been so close to having watched everything in our queue.
Nineteen years ago my love bought a TV set. Nobody thought that exceptional, but the thing is we were still watching it until last month. My love and I share an attitude toward durable goods, which is they ought to be. So we’ve had about five years of people asking, “seriously, you don’t have an HDTV yet?” But we were fine. TV shows would just assume we had more horizontal space than we did, like when The Price Is Right changed the Showcase Showdown wheel into a fat ellipsoid, but we rolled with it.
All was fine until one Tuesday after I’d watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD and then my love noticed the screen was flickering and the TV softly hissing. Then it got to hissing a lot louder, and the picture on screen contracted to a temporal anomaly letting through alternate-history episodes of Voyager. Friends who seem to know about this stuff told us the flyback transformer had broken, and that needed to be replaced or else it would explode and cover a four-mile radius with a black, sticky tar, made of the substance left over from leaving How It’s Made on as background noise. Fair enough.
And as we promised, finally time to get a brand-new High Definition set. We shopped around until finding the right set for us: one that a friend had and wasn’t using and that didn’t require us to put the back seat of the car down to fit in the trunk. My love and I grew up in the picture-tube era when a 14-inch set was respectable, and 21-inch meant you’d really made it. In the modern era a 21-inch set is the one you put in the bathroom so while showering you can watch steam. My parents picked up a bed-sized TV set for the living room, and demoted that to bedroom purposes when they got an even larger one, I believe folded up many times over and included with a box of cereal. A large box, mind you, they’re not giving those things away in a mere 12-ounce box of Honey Nut Cheerios. You need the 20-ounce at least. And maybe Golden Grahams instead. We had to rearrange the living room furniture is what I’m getting at.
The hard part was moving the bookshelves, which had been where they were since they were first put in place by glaciers in the Wisconsin Glaciation. This let us discover there wasn’t as much dust as we expected. There was evidence of mice, though. A few years back we had some of the least efficient mice in the world in the house. You know the thing where mice are quiet and kind of shy? They were prowling around, coughing loudly and demanding attention and sitting up next to our pet rabbit looking for all the world like rowboats approaching a dreadnought. We found accommodations for them where we don’t have to hear them all the time.
No mice there. But we did see a few pages, all that was left, from a chewed-up copy of the Consumer Reports Buying Guide for 2008. As best we can work out, the mice were diligently researching which microwave oven to get. I guess they chose wisely. We haven’t heard any complaints.
The other challenge was getting the old TV out of there. I know everyone has problems with power cords and antenna cables and all tangling together. But our house has some special space-warping power around it. I’m fussy about plugging stuff in, and I still have stuff where I plug in my iPod and the digital camera and the cables instantly knot together and there’s fourteen separate USB end plugs, most of which don’t even exist. Between the TV, the cable box, the DVD, the Wii, the record turntable, the CD player, and the audio thingy that I have to keep pressing buttons on to get sound out of, I’m still behind the TV stand now, screaming at wires. It’s been over a month. Send help.
Thing is it wasn’t that awful a movie on that Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD. If I had known the trouble it would cause I’d have watched something more epic.
You might have inferred that we spent Easter with my love’s parents. We also brought our pet rabbit. My love’s parents have a new dog, a basset hound. One time, once, during the weekend the basset hound got into our pet rabbit’s room, and gave him a good solid bark!.
To this our rabbit responded not at all. Not in the least. Not even with the little eye-blink that indicates confusion. Didn’t even acknowledge the dog.
So now my love’s parents have been trying ever since to reassure their dog that no, the problem isn’t that it’s failing its basset hound rabbit-hunting chores. They’ve had some success in explaining that a Flemish Giant isn’t actually a rabbit at all, but rather a kind of short, long-eared bear that’s always preoccupied with questions like why the water bill seems uncharacteristically low and that’s why he didn’t notice. If you see their dog, please, don’t tell her otherwise. She’s got enough problems.
The scene: the university library. The time: earlier today. The person: me. The books: on the shelves.
While looking for a specific book about rust my eye was caught by something. “Is that,” I thought, “another book about the history of containerized cargo?” I’ve already read, and bought, two such, but I am hardly going to refuse a third book just because I would not be able to buy it from the library without first losing it. “Oh, no, it isn’t,” I thought, “it’s about containerized cargo as a current and living industry. That’s great!” And I had a book I didn’t figure on borrowing to borrow.
So if you also remember that I’m still reading Usenet, you know everything necessary to prepare your own simulation of me.
I’ve got the usual Sunday comic strips post over in the mathematics blog. Have you given it a try? It might like the company. There’s an Archie comic over there, if that affects your choice. If not, that’s fine. We’ve been spending the weekend trying to figure out which of Paas’s four egg-dye tablets that could plausibly be pink actually is the pink already. People keep asking the Internet this question and there’s suspiciously few answers considering it would just take one person with a dye kit and two pictures, and then we’d know which tablet isn’t supposed to get mixed with vinegar. Fix that problem, Internet. Anyway, fresh off yesterday’s activities, a scene that came to mind:
“Hey? Hey guys? Guys? What are you talking about? Are you doing something? Are you talking about me? Can I come over and talk with you? Can I? Guys? Hey, are you ignoring me? Do you wanna talk about me? It’s okay with me if you wanna talk about me. Hey?”
Hi! Thanks for coming here trying to understand what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. The most recent of my posts tracking the stories should be at the top of this link, until I forget to tag some of these installments. Thank you.
16 January 2017 – 15 April 2017
When last I checked in on the goings-on of Milford school coach Gil Thorp and his band of students it was basketball season. The story was about Aaron Aagard, who’s 46% punchable, 51% charming for a teenager and 3% basketball phenomenon or something. It’s a good enough mix. His problem was he was really good some days, really bad some others, and he’s known to go to raves even in whole other towns. Some teammates overheard he was “taking Molly”. My “hep” “cat” informants assure me this is how “the kids” refer to the ecstasy when they “rap” about drug habits. Aagard had promised Coach Thorp he’d clear up their misunderstanding. I predicted it would turn out he was taking his “generically-disabled niece or something” Molly to the raves.
Shows what I know; Molly O’Herlihy is his girlfriend who totally exists and all, he just doesn’t want to show her off because you know how teenage boys are. There’s no group less prone to ostentatious displays of deployed heterosexuality. Thorp tells Aagard’s teammates to stop trying to figure out his deal, so they continue trying to figure out his deal. They have a breakthrough when they realize Aagard lives in an apartment far below his mother’s standing as an actuary. It’s good thinking on their part. Any mathematics major who’s bought his department’s propaganda will tell you how actuaries are just rolling in cash. If I ever need a quick 25 grand I just have to walk down to the business district and mutter about how I’ve got an advanced degree in mathematics and then, like, Jackson Life Insurance supposes I might be an actuary and they should pay me something just to be safe.
Coach Thorp, roused into something like action, checks in on Aagard’s mother. She’s not even actuarying, just doing bookkeeping for a couple small businesses. Aaron Aagard, deploying the sort of pacing that indicates he thinks he’s the charming star of an occasionally-serious three-camera sitcom, explains that the problem is not drugs. It’s drugs. His mother’s opioid habit. So he does well when there’s enough money in the house for, like, food and all. This leaves Thorp some unpleasant responsibilities. Thorp tries to figure out what he can do without screwing up Aagard’s life all the more. It’s not like he can even just pass Aagard some money to get groceries without inviting a world of scandal. So he covers where he can, inviting his student for one-on-one dinners in public areas.
After being fed enough pie and I’m going to go ahead and assume cheese fries, Aagard consents to turning his mom in to the Actuary Police. Before she’s taken off to answer sumptuary charges of living beneath her actuarial station she gets to see one last, and first, basketball game starring Aaron. Pressured, he has a lousy game, at least until Thorp points out that as a person with advanced mathematical skills and training, Tina Aagard completely lacks the ability to tell whether a basketball player is doing well or badly. I agree, although the boo-ing from the rest of the audience might clue her in. Anyway, with that reassurance Aagard finishes up decently and goes into foster care with one of the teammates who did so much to change the set of hassles he’s dealing with.
Got to say, honestly, I did enjoy the story. I’m snarking about it because it’s more fun to recap stuff with a little silliness. The pacing was decent, the star was appealing, and Thorp got to be charmingly exasperated with the kids who insisted on figuring out what Aagard’s deal was. And the underlying problem was credible, and that the characters were stuck in their situation made sense too. It wasn’t anybody being stupid, just, stuck over their heads in a situation that just grew bad.
April started softball season. Its plot starts with student reporters for the Milford Journal discovering the school board’s vice-president way padding his expense accounts and he gets all angry at them for doing this. I understand. When I travel for work I live in fear the company’s going to decide I’m indulging my hedonism at their expense. And I fly United. Meanwhile in sports, transfer-student pitcher Ryan van Auken reveals that he’s handled his anger issues by putting that energy into having a large face. That’s been about all the time we’ve had for this story so far, so I don’t figure to predict where it might be going. When there’s updates, I’ll pass them along. Thank you.
|Times I Have Been Ready To Inform Someone In Casual Conversation That The 15th Is Not The Ides Of April, The 13th Is||17||Times The Conversation Has Ever Come Remotely Near This Topic||0||Times A Comic Strip I Read Has Used This As The Base For A Joke||2||Times I Noticed In Time To Comment On This In A Timely Fashion||0|
Plus is the 15th even the Income Tax Filing Deadline in the United States anymore? It seems like it’s always bumped to like the 18th of April or the 44th of May or the 216th of Freaking October anymore. I don’t know. And yeah, the ides are the 13th day of a 30-day month, plus February, and anyway the Romans listed days as counting down to the next big calendar event day, so that the 15th of April would be “17 Kalend May”, which everyone understood to be part of April, not May, and also they sometimes slipped an extra month in between the 24th and the 25th of February. This is why the Emperor Vespasian was never able to get his programmers’ database software to handle dates correctly. Neither can we.
Everything ends. I guess we can’t put a stop to that. In early 1999 the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were a bunch of ideas for continuing the show, most of them floated by the regulars on Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. There was moving to another cable channel. Or maybe going to PBS. Maybe releasing stuff direct to videotape or that newfangled DVD. Maybe forget about fangling stuff and just release stuff online. Maybe save the we-imagined pricey business of recording host sketches and stuff and instead just release audio tracks that people could match to movies they’d buy. Maybe just go to doing live shows on new, never-ending college tours. Maybe even transcend the movies thing altogether and do comic books or something. Maybe do some fundraising scheme to buy new episodes. Not interested in this: the people who actually made the show, far as we could tell. It went off the air in August 1999 with the final episode, Danger Diabolik, and then went off the air again in September 1999 with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders which had been sitting in some kind of rights quibble for months. The show went off the air once again with The Screaming Skull a bit over four years later, when the Sci-Fi Channel stopped airing reruns.
But losing the original show hurts a group of fans gathered for stuff. And yes, the group’s focus expanded; we got to talking about movies and TV shows and books and all sorts of pop culture, viewed with that perspective of loving good stuff, but also loving looking for what’s enjoyable about the bad. Or looking at the bad and trying to find stuff enjoyable about it. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 has any positive insight, it’s that there is something worth sharing that can be made out of most anything.
Still, it hurts a group to lose its TV show. And it hurts a group to be on Usenet. The great thing about Usenet is it was designed in the early 80s, for anyone who likes to run a server to set up and run and share with people. The thing that kills it is that who wants to set up and run a server for talking about cancelled TV shows? If there’s any money in it, it’s in proper web forums that can show advertisements or at least harvest user information. Usenet can’t do that. Servers dwindled out of operation, probably because they broke and nobody knew they were even there or how to fix them. A couple of big ISPs dropped Usenet on allegations the system was used to pirate movies and TV shows and music and while that may have been true we also used it to legitimately talk about urban legends and pinball and comic strips and stuff like that. Still, with each month, there was a little less Usenet, and some people drifted away not to be seen again, and so there was even less Usenet, and some more people drifted off, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything left but a few people who refuse to turn off the lights.
My community dwindled away. Web Site Number Nine, the center of the MiSTing community, went down for a weekend of maintenance sometime in 2004 and hasn’t come back yet. rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc I’d say had its final collapse around 2007 or 2008. I stick around, checking in some and talking occasionally. I try to write at least one new MiSTing a year and post that, but I admit a lot of it feels like putting in designated at-bats to keep alive some abstract streak no one but me even knows exists.
There’s still fans, though. One time I had a rare chance to meet in person some friends from the Seattle area; they spent nearly the whole weekend talking in MST3K quotes, to the point I felt like I was being quizzed. Did I recognize the episode with the jingle about “when you want the flavor of bacon in a dip”? Well, of course I did, but … is this everything we have to talk about? Somehow it felt alienating and I started taking dives, claiming I don’t recognize episodes that I actually do. Boy that’s screwy.
Weirder stuff happened. Really, every crazy plan we had on Usenet in 1999 to save the show came true. There’s live shows, as Cinematic Titanic and as Rifftrax. There’s recorded audio-only tracks, for Rifftrax. There’s episodes made direct for DVD release. There’s episodes brought back on air, sent to PBS stations or some of those weird digital sub-channels on broadcast TV. I remember somewhere seeing a plan to license an MST3K comic book, but goodness knows if that’ll come about.
And so we come to today, when the Kickstarter-funded, Netflix-backed season debuts. I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t have Netflix. We used to get Internet through AT&T, and they don’t want working-class neighborhoods in the state capitol as customers, so we couldn’t get Internet nearly fast enough to stream videos. They were bad enough that Comcast was the improvement. We probably have fast enough Internet to stream videos now. But the habit built from getting ten minutes into a show and stuff freezing up, until I call tech support and demand someone answer “Why?” dies hard. I recommend asking tech support “Why?” It’s at least as productive as saying what your specific problem is, and we do need more people working out exactly why we’ve let society come to this.
So I don’t know what I feel or what I expect exactly from the new season. I want to be enthusiastic, but I’m not good with enthusiasm. Especially if it’s something lots of people are enthusiastic about. It makes me worry something’s going wrong. So here’s what I can manage, before ever seeing Season Eleven: I really hope they don’t screw this up.
I don’t know if I want you to tell me whether they did.
Why Easter eggs? Why bunnies? Why chocolate? If so, whom? These are some good questions. The last one looks like the result of youthful enthusiasm. It’s probably grammatically wrong anyway, unless “who” would be wrong instead. I bet it was submitted by someone who hypercorrects things. Hypercorrecting is a fun pastime. You start out with something that’s okay and then apply the grammatical rule of “people don’t sound like they know what they’re doing, so make it sound more obscure or complicated”. It’s good fun. It appeals to people’s desire to sound like they know a better set of rules than everyone else does. And it gives people who like to correct mistakes something to write about. There’s nothing so fun as correcting the hypercorrect. I thought that time I got a bag of rabbit litter at half-price was that good. I was wrong.
Anyway, Easter we can understand. If we didn’t have Easter then there’d be this huge attention-getting gap in-between Ash Wednesday and the Feast of the Assumption. “Shouldn’t something go in the middle, here?” people would ask. Eventually all sorts of folk explanations would spring up. Maybe they’d tumble across “there ought to be a particularly holy day for one of the top religions” there. “Also we should have plastic eggs and rabbits made of candy” I bet wouldn’t. Maybe people would do some more research and figure, “Hey, there’s got to be something that’s seventy days before Septuagesima, unless that’s supposed to be seventy days after Septuagesima.”
I mean if there still is a Septuagesima. I haven’t checked and I have the feeling it’s been downplayed ever since Vatican II: Vaticannier. But it’s a heck of a name for something. It isn’t seventy days from anything interesting in either direction. There’s probably a reason for that. Yes, I meant the Feast of the Ascension. The Assumption is a completely different thing. Don’t challenge me on this. I was raised Catholic so I remember there was something called the homoiousian controversy and couldn’t deliver the Nicene Creed with cue cards. We said the Nicene Creed every Sunday. Nobody ever talked about the homoiousian controversy.
Since we have Easter, we don’t have to worry about why there isn’t an Easter, although if it ever goes missing you know what to look for. Easter eggs we can wonder about. If there’s anything that we could get straightened out then we’d have one thing straightened out, and that would leave is in much better shape. For instance, let’s do away with the folk etymology that says they were originally “yeaster eggs”, egg-shape snacks made out of extremely bread-based foods. We can also do away with the tale that it started out as “Easter yeggs”, roving packs of 19th-century Bowery B’hoy toughs prowling the riverfront and painting themselves brightly. These theories were popular in the 1970s when they were thought to be hoaxes played by angry writer H L Mencken. But we now know the claim that they were a hoax was a prank on Mencken played by President Taft.
The tradition of hiding Easter eggs come to us from Renaissance Germany, with an assist by the Princely States of India and a rebound against Grand Columbia, which does not figure in this narrative. The problem originally was one of planting the seeds of useful crops like barley or bauxite or jute or other stuff from social studies textbooks without having birds flying in and eating them all. Somewhere on the upper Rhine the locals realized they could plant the birds instead and wait for the seeds to fly in and carry them off. The practice spread and grew to be very popular, eggs put in all sorts of places on the ground, and didn’t lose popularity even when it turned out to not even begin to sort-of work.
Since that failed, they tried making the process more complicated. Painting the eggs turned out not to be a way to get blue chickens with yellow zig-zag stripes, but wasn’t it worth trying, just in case? Do you know anyone who has better ideas to handle our shortage of blue chickens with yellow zig-zag stripes? It’s not so easy to achieve, is it? Anyway, during the Thirty Years War the tradition fled Germany, and who could blame it? The tradition’s got some sense after all.
There is no explanation for how the rabbits and chocolate and all that got involved. I’ll try to write that up next year before Easter.
So what to do after finally seeing, and getting into, Mystery Science Theater 3000? It being 1996, the answer was: Usenet. The medium is all but dead now, but attempts to reinvent what was great about it continue, without success. I suppose the nearest analogue is Reddit. Or if you imagine the web forum for whatever your favorite subject is. Or the Facebook chat group for your favorite podcast. There’s big technical differences in how they’re organized and administrated. But the important social thing was: here was a way to find and talk with people about stuff you liked. So I got to the newsgroup called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. The name meant it was part of the big group about recreational topics; then the subsection of recreational topics that are about the arts; the subsection of the arts known as TV; the subsection of TV known as MST3K; and then … uhm … miscellaneous. Well, there was a rec.arts.tv.mst3k.admin that just posted “administrative” stuff like show schedules.
It was, like many newsgroups in the mid-to-late 90s, a lively place. Hundreds of people delighting in how they liked something, and how much they liked something, and how they liked it more than other people, and how other people didn’t like the right stuff about it, and how other people should stop liking the wrong stuff about it. You know, like people do. This sounds bog-standard now, but it was new to us all back then.
Some of the most fascinating stuff going on back then was a kind of flame war with a Star Trek fanfic writer. The fellow was named Stephen Ratliff. So far as I know he still is. You remember that episode where the Enterprise crashed into an Irwin Allen Disaster Movie, and the crew has to endure adventures like Worf helping O’Brien deliver her baby and Data popping his head off and Picard getting some kids to climb out of a stuck elevator? Stephen Ratliff was inspired by the kids of that episode and wrote some fan fiction. It has the kids start playing Star Fleet Officer on the holodecks and all that and forming their own little Kids Crew of under-twelve-year-olds. Anyone could have that idea. Ratliff had an idea of pure genius. He came up with some reason to put these kids in charge of the actual starship Enterprise. And then do it again, in more fan fiction.
There had been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction — taking the text of something and inserting jokes, using the characters from the show — for a couple years even then. But when one MiSTer (get it?) discovered Stephen Ratliff the genre was made. The stories had this magnificent natural absurdity told, in the earliest stories, with remarkable ineptitude. These flame wars on rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc amounted to people decrying the offensiveness of the Kids Crew premise — ten-year-olds put in command of starships, even Next Generation starships where nothing all that bad ever really happens? — and Stephen Ratliff defending his premise with remarkable patience and grace and the not-quite-off-point argument that kids used to be inducted into the Royal Navy so why not have that happen again?
Sure, even without Stephen Ratliff there’d probably be a good MiSTing genre. The idea is too good. But he made it part of the fandom. Partly by writing stuff that was so joyous to read, and to riff on. Partly by being so interesting to talk about. Marissa, the girl from the elevator, gets adopted by Picard and becomes Princess of Deep Space England and travels in time to hook up Wesley Crusher and Chelsea Clinton before sending a space shuttle to Mars and becomes Lord High Admiral of the Federation and all that? (I swear.) How do you not want in on that?
So I got in, despite having — then — only seen a handful of episodes. I had a good source text. There was this cartoon series based on Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. In it he and the gang are rebels trying to save the world from the evil Doctor Robotnik and his robots — you know what? Doesn’t matter. It was popular in the 90s, and a lot of people wrote fan fiction. I found a piece and asked the author for permission to riff it. Asking permission was an important part of MiSTing culture. I mean, we didn’t ask for permission to riff spam. But if it was something someone identifiable wrote, it was at least bad form not to ask permission, and to give the author the chance to veto any truly unfair lines — or, in principle, the whole thing — before publishing. No sense being a cad.
It was well-received. One of my friends who’d written his own Sonic the Hedgehog fanfictions asked me to riff his. Other people in the group started looking to Sonic fandom and finding volunteers. There was much more to the MiSTing community than Stephen Ratliff and Sonic the Hedgehog, of course. There was a lot of fanfiction. There were the bizarre rants and conspiracy theories that people published on Usenet without regard for whether that made any sense. My favorite was someone accusing the English department of my grad school, an engineering school, with working to bring down civilization. (Did we even have an English department?) There was spam. So much spam. There was more normal yet poorly-targeted commercial messages. Someone did a whole Tom Swift novel. We did a lot of writing. I learned from it, a good bit about timing and pacing and how to write host sketches that could plausibly be done on the actual show. (Two or three minutes at most, few characters, few entrances and exits, as little editing as possible. This was my taste. Others wrote sketches that could only be done in fan fiction, where budgets and staging action and all aren’t issues. Their tastes.) Stephen Ratliff continued writing Marissa Picard stories that were gradually getting better, in internal logic and in fundamental writing technique. And sending out announcements so people could organize who’d get to riff his newest work.
He won us over. How can you not like someone who listens to you telling him why his stories suck, and thanks you, and writes stories that stop sucking those ways? We won him over. How can you not like an alert and obsessively responsive set of readers for your every word?
There was a lot that was great in the 90s. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Usenet, and MiSTing, were big parts of my great 90s.
Friday: I bet I have some more of this talk in me.
Friday comes the release of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a show that was important to me so I thought I’d talk about my relationship with it some. It’s a nearly one-sided relationship, although I do follow Frank Conniff on Twitter, where he has never noticed me. He’s had other stuff to do.
My first clear memory of knowing about the show was during one of their college tours. I think it had to be 1993. Some friends told me I had to go see it because I would love the show. They were right, but I didn’t believe them. I was still feeling burned after a lot of buildup for Ren and Stimpy, which I tried and learned was so utterly inappropriate for my tastes as to make me wonder if the people who recommended it to me knew anything about me. So I skipped it. Probably just as well. I’m sure whatever I was doing that night was more important anyway. It would have been playing Civilization I on the Macs in the office of the unread left-wing student weekly I wrote for. And I had nowhere to watch the show anyway, as I didn’t have cable, and even if I did, no cable systems had Comedy Central in those days. Yes, yes, there was trading in videotapes but I didn’t have a videotape player at college, because it was 1993.
A couple years pass and I hear occasional bits about what a great show it is. I go off to grad school. Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a syndicated hourlong version, made by cutting each episode in half and airing them successive weeks. It doesn’t air in my grad school’s TV market. But I get to try out some episodes when I’m home for some break. The first half of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first half of Pod People. Both are classic episodes, although Pod People was the harder to watch. The underlying movie is really sluggish, with muddy audio; if you’re not paying close attention the thing is gibberish. Still, I’m intrigued. The syndicated version goes off the air without my ever catching the second half of an episode.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a movie version. I’m glad to give that a try. There’s some nice publicity drives that make the show sound appealing, or at least worth trying out. The movie is finally released, although not to theaters. The studio makes maybe two-thirds of a print and circulates it for literally minutes. If it ever, ever appeared in a theater in the Albany area I never heard about it.
Ah, but! My grad school changes its cable provider to one that’s got Comedy Central. Finally I can give the show a try. By that time the show’s been officially cancelled from its Comedy Central home, but it’s still running a bunch of episodes ahead of the move to the Sci-Fi Channel. It occupies a couple timeslots early Saturday and late Sunday. I try out my first episode: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a fine episode, still one of my favorites. It’s a foreign movie, a Ruso-Finnish coproduction telling one of the legends of Sadko, whom I don’t know anything about either, which is why when the movie was imported it was redubbed as “Sinbad”. It’s a gorgeous film, full of practical effects and telling about a hero trying to bring happiness to his people and sailing to India and encountering magic and wonder. If it all comes out a little weird that’s probably because legends are a bit like that, especially when it’s legends from another culture and then made into a movie and then redubbed and probably reedited and all that. But it’s beautiful if odd and delightful. By the time I was forty minutes in I was sold on the show. It was also 2:40 am and I theoretically had classes the next day, so went to sleep, still never having seen the end of an episode.
Next Saturday there’s another episode. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, 10 am. I forget to set the VCR. (I know which episode it was because MST3K fans, incredibly, have kept track of the broadcasting of episodes.) Also somewhere in this time I’ve gotten a VCR. I set the VCR for Kitten With A Whip, 7:00 the next morning. Finally, finally I get to see an episode all the way to the end.
So, yes, I’m sold. Also I’m there at the last three months of the show’s Comedy Central run. I’ll have the chance to catch two episodes a week of a show that’s run for (then) seven seasons, and then probably never see them again. Mystery Science Theater 3000 exists in a complex battlefield of airing rights; there were already, then, episodes that everyone knew could never be legally shown again. There’s still some episodes that it looks like might never be legally released. But three months of the experience is far better than not having the experience at all.
I splurge, and start recording episodes in LP so they’ll be of higher fidelity. Not SP, though. I was a grad student. I didn’t have SP kind of money to spend on blank videotape, come on.
Tomorrow, unless I forget: my new MST3K fandom gets worse.
So if you’re like me, and I think you are, when you go to a hotel you use the tiny bottles of shampoo they give there? And in those circumstances there’s plenty of shampoo to clean your hair using that little dabby dot that you get out of that? And it’s not a large dot. It’s about half the size of a tear, if a tear were half the size of the dot of shampoo you get out of that bottle. And somehow this little blop of shampoo, that’s less than one-quarter of the size of itself, is plenty. And yet at home it takes way more shampoo. I mean, I get the cheap shampoo, because I never look at myself so I have no idea my hair looks like that, so it’s easy to do this. I’ll use enough shampoo to cover myself to a depth of eight feet, and still wonder if I need to repeat. (No.) So there’s clearly some difference in hair-cleaning pressure between hotel showers and home showers and I just think there’s some way to exploit this to make a new and very clean, manageable, vibrant, and bouncy source of power.
While I’m busy you can read my mathematics-comics stuff over on the other blog. That’s content, so that’s exactly as good as something here.
PS: Um … Okay, so, no, this shampoo power thing won’t work. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Hi! Looking for my most recent report on Judge Parker? This might be it. But check this page, with all the Judge Parker-tagged essays, just in case it’s not.
When last I talked about Judge Parker, new writer Francesco Marciuliano had finished his round of thoroughly blowing up the Parker and Spencer families’ incredible streak of fantastic good luck and fortune’s favor. Judge (Retired) Alan Parker’s movie deal had stalled and his new book was going nowhere. Sophie Parker had reappeared after months missing, with the rest of her band still gone, abducted by strange parties unknown. And Parker Sr had received a mysterious bouquet and message from shadowy intelligence-types, and made a promise to “have it done for you soon”.
Blowing up plots is fun and, relatively speaking, easy. How has Marciuliano handled putting things back together?
1 January – 8 April 2017
Sophie Spencer, returned just in time for Christmas, has as rough a time of it as you might figure. Finding her father’s Crazy Evidence Wall, full of clippings thumbtacked in around circled notes (no strings of yarn connecting stuff, though) sends her into a rage which she takes out on her room, setting off a potentially-fatal-to-their-marriage fight between Sam Driver and Abbey Spencer. But Sam persists, setting back up his Crazy Evidence Wall, growing out his beard to Not Obviously Unhinged levels, and finally (this week) agreeing to go to Ambush Ridge with Sean Ballenger, father of the first abducted teen to have been released. That should turn out well. He can still get his beard out to Riker In The Borg-Are-Everywhere Timeline levels, if need be.
Sophie, understandably still traumatized, gets into therapy. It played as a belated move, but just because even when stuff is happening swiftly there’s only a few panels per day and a lot was going on. In-story it was clearly set up within days of her release. This might still be late, but after all, nobody expected her tolerably safe return. She reveals that the only thing she knows of her kidnapper is that she soundd “so much like Abbey”, calling her adopted mother “a cheat” who “doesn’t deserve what she has”. It’s hard not to see this as teasing the fourth wall, or smashing right past it, given the years during which the Parker-Spencer-Drivers were in fortune’s favor. Marciuliano had a more literal, and classically soap-operatic, idea in mind.
The other kidnapped kids reappear with their own harrowing tales. They had been kept in a remote shack, fed occasionally, waiting for any sign they might be able to escape, or any hint about what this was all about. They don’t get much. Some kind of ransom, some kind of torture to make Sophie Spencer “fall in line”. And then the gradual and then sudden collapse of the kidnapping scheme, as the woman in charge — the one who sounded so much like Abbey — has a fallout with another woman, “the only one who ever helped” her. The One Who Sounded Like Abbey shoots her partner, and then starts shooting the guards. The kids escape when she comes around to kill them, injuring but not killing The One Who Sounded Like Abbey.
So who is The One Who Sounded Like Abbey? The clear implication is that she’s Abbey’s sibling, or some other person with a claim to the Spencer family (and fortune), denied for reasons not yet revealed. Or at least someone who believes she has a claim.
Not yet resolved: who the mysterious intelligence-type guy was that phoned Judge Parker Senior, or what he was promising to do.
I say Marciuliano’s succeeded in both blowing up the old status quo and putting things together into a plausible, credible, and intriguing new storyline. I’m looking forward to the next couple months of this.
Drawing inspiration from Bob “Death To Flying Things” Ferguson, whose nickname is wholly unattested by any contemporary accounts. Team affiliations are not unique but represent my best guess about who they were with most of the time, and not all these careers were uninterrupted, which is important so that you know my little joke here is as intellectually honest as possible somehow.
- Candy “A-Go-Go” Cummings, Hartford, 1872-1877.
- Roger “10-4” Connor, New York, 1880-1897.
- John “Technopop” Clarkson, Boston, 1882-1894.
- Bid “Rocket Man” McPhee, Cincinnati, 1882-1899.
- Ed “Googie” Delahanty, Philadelphia, 1888-1903.
- George “Knuckles the Echidna” Uhle, Cleveland, 1919-1934.
- Kid “On Fleek” Nichols, Boston, 1890-1906.
- John “Brenke Fish ladder” Ward, New York, 1878-1892.
- Mickey “Laser Knees” Welch, New York, 1880-1892.
- Sam “Robo-Sam Crawford” Crawford, Detroit 1899-1917.
- Togie “Theremin” Pittinger, Boston, 1900-1907.
- Eppa “George `Knuckles the Echidna’ Uhle” Rixley, Cincinnati, 1912-1933.
I did some more comic strip review stuff on my mathematics blog and I figure to do more of that on Sunday, but that isn’t what’s got my focus right now. I got a mildly ironic purchase of the Superman Showcase #3, a collection of early-60s Superman comic books. What can I say, I like the Silver Age of superheroes doing goofy things for peculiar reasons. (No color, but that does mean they can include more stories to sit on your head and make you beg for logic, which works for me.) I was sold on the book, even though it might not be very good for me, when I ran across “The Babe of Steel” story, originally from Action Comics number 284.
In it, Superman receives a message from an invisible hand on what I had thought was the Super-Chalkboard but which on careful review is just an ordinary grade chalkboard. It warns him of peril, which he figures he can best cure by turning himself into an infant for 24 hours. Fortunately he has the stuff on hand to do this, because that’s the world Silver Age Superman lived in. If I had to choose a superhero world to live in, it would be the one where Superman has the ability and willingness to spend 24 hours as an infant in response to cryptic messages on chalkboards. If you don’t agree, I don’t know that we can truly understand one another. Anyway, while waiting for the big problem to show itself this happens:
And I gotta say, Supes, of all the living beings on planet Silver Age Earth, how are you the one to leap to this particular conclusion? I mean, you have travelled back in time on like a half-dozen different occasions to see how the Kryptonian Jerk Council dismissed your own father’s conclusions about Krypton exploding as the ravings of a madman, right? Don’t go telling me you were right. That’s only moral luck, and you should be above that. Just saying.