I Misread Science Headlines


I thought the link on the BBC News Science and Environment page read “Bird slime reserve baffles experts” and that’s why I clicked it. Who wouldn’t wonder what there was to be baffled by in the current bird slime reserves? Bird slime reserves are the soundest form of capital deposit known to the financial world, because anyone challenging the worth of one nation’s reserves is liable to get a telegraphic transfer of bird slime for their nosiness.

But no, the link was really, “Bird reserve slime baffles experts”, as there’s mysterious jellies appearing at a nature reserve in the Ham Wall nature reserve in Somerset, England. That’s not so mysterious, apart from how nobody knows just what it is or why it’s here or what it’s doing. I want my link-clicking returned, which I can get by applying in care of this office.

Fred Allen: Correcting Alphabet Soup


Fred Allen is a comedian I didn’t discover, outside his famous quips about how committees work and about television, until I was well grown and listening to a lot of old time radio. He’s not remembered as well as his rival Jack Benny, and if you wish to point out Jack Benny isn’t well remembered I’ll come over there and spit on your driveway. Besides, Fred Allen did get a cameo in an autographed photo on 30 Rock last season.

Most of his writing defies quotability, as he liked to be very timely, and enjoyed commenting on the other comedians of the day, and so he has to be flanked by footnotes. But some bits carry through, such as this one from the Salad Bowl Revue of October 6, 1933, which is available on archive.org as part of their old time radio collection, and which I believe to be out of copyright. I can’t convey Allen’s voice in print, and unfortunately there aren’t even any good cartoons that parodied him, but he came from Boston so take your guesses and this really is what YouTube is for.


Announcer:

And now Mr Allen’s help and advice on etiquette:

Good night, ladies and gentlemen. Well, our etiquette department is going like a blacksmith’s clientele in a one-horse town, and a postcard tonight comes from Professor Merrill G Clark of Detroit, Michigan.

Professor Clark says, quote, “I am an English professor at a local college and always have trouble eating alphabet soup in restaurants. Invariably the waiter serves me a plate of alphabet soup containing grammatical errors which he expects me to swallow. I have taught English for so long that a grammatical error even in this form upsets me internally. What should I do?” Unquote.

Alphabet soup has always been a problem to grammarians, Professor Clark. Many professors finding errors correct the soup and send it back to the chef, giving him some homework besides. Other teachers send for soup censors supplied by the makers of the illiterate broth. The censors will gladly remove any objectionable words that may have formed in your soup; but generally, by the time the censor leaves your soup is cold and, while you may enjoy a grammatical triumph, gastronomically you are defeated.

The best thing to do is to order your alphabet soup with the H’s dropped and eat it as English mutton broth. Since fully sixty percent of the soup consumed in this country ends up on men’s vests anyway, you are really swallowing nothing but your pride and forty percent of the liquid insult.

If you, too, have a problem in etiquette lying unsolved in your dumbwaiter, ladies and gentlemen, why not send me the spare parts of a possible faux pas and I shall be glad to spank my mind in an effort to help you as I know I have helped Professor Clark tonight?


A bit of Internet searching reveals to me there was a Canadian diplomat named Merrill G Clark, but I can’t figure out when he lived, or if there were any reason that Allen might have heard such a name, or whether he just made up something that sounded plausible and not distracting.

A Fresh Start In Standing Around


Disaster’s struck the worldwide headquarters for the Major Obstacles League. The main standings computer, tracking who it is has shown the best work in standing exactly in the right spot to block as many more people as possible, has suffered what’s described as a “severe malfunction” because of all the explosions and the memory tapes falling into a black hole that way. They were “just about” to make their first backup since November of 1893.

A couple of individual accomplishments — like Daniel Stoever’s legendary December 17, 2003, standing just outside a men’s room in concourse C of O’Hare airport, which managed to make it impossible to enter or exit the bathroom, or to fit between his luggage cloud and the wall, or get onto the moving sidewalk, reading carefully a billboard ad in which IBM promised to someday make more computer things for over 25 minutes — will be remembered, of course. But for the normal obstacle, the struggle for recognition begins again.

At least, it will begin again soon, when the early lead is probably be the guy standing outside the new computer room’s door and not noticing everyone coughing to be let in, because he’s very busy … he’s not even texting, he just has the phone in his hand … what, checking the time? For this long?

He’s good, whoever this is. You can definitely see his experience in standing exactly where the escalator lets people onto the floor, in his not even guessing that everyone trying to get his attention so he moves might mean him.

This Is Not Your Daughter’s Oldsmobile


We saw a young person driving an Oldsmobile Ciera. I forget what kind it was, but it had a bunch of letters after it, because that’s how car makers in the 90s used up their excess typewriter capacity. She was awfully young, though, and we joked that maybe Oldsmobiles were becoming hip among kids looking for a retro thrill. Then we realized we were stuck in traffic and the giddiness wore off.

Still, the merry little joke might’ve been right anyway. Back when teenagers and college kids were wild for the Stutz Bearcat, in Movie 1920s, the car was already out of production. In the late 70s you could barely get down the Interstate without seeing a college kid nursing a beat-up Skylab back into road-ready condition. There was that period in the late 40s when kids were all into ironically driving their Edsel Citations, which wouldn’t be made for another ten years. This is often thought to be the result of a typographical error in a history of young adult fads written in the early 22nd century, but was actually a copyright trap. By the time it was done it had recovered sixteen separate copyrights, including one not previously known to science.

I Guess It’s A Compliment?


The DishTV representative wondered where I was from, for the good reason that we had been on the phone for ten minutes waiting for a green bar to finish going across the screen. I wonder how long satellite TV people spend on the phone waiting for people to watch green bars move all the way across the screen. Probably after a long day of this they go home and watch blue dots dripping down screens, for the variety.

But I told her I was from New Jersey, which is true, and she said I didn’t have an accent. I thanked her without having the faintest idea why, and we got the green bar all the way across the screen without having to find any more small talk.

But it’s tidied up all along 127


So I realized this one rug needed to be vacuumed, and once you get to the effort of getting the vacuum out of its special guarded chamber and all that it doesn’t make sense not to vacuum the rest of the rugs too. And sure, once you have that it doesn’t make sense not to take out the broom and sweep the floor, and when you’ve got that going there’s the stairs too. And once you’ve got the cleaning vibe going for the stairs there’s all these things that could use dusting — I mean removing the dust, not putting it on, that was last week’s chore — and then there’s the glass that could use being sprayed with a translucent blue liquid that’s swiftly rubbed off and that can really be done on both the inside and the outside of the house and …

Long story short, I’m somewhere on the outskirts of Alma, Michigan, straightening out the edges of potholes. If someone could sneak up on me and shoot me with a tranquilizer dart and deliver me back to home I’d appreciate it.

How To Draw


Drawing is a wonderful way to express yourself, to force your friends to look at URLs of your art without leaving them free to express their real indifference, and to get pictures of what you really want without having to explain it to an artist. (“It’s Kim Possible’s Mom as Captain Picard’s new helm officer, only she’s a steampunk mermaid dragon Little Pony, and she’s eating spaghetti, in Tron.”) It’s also a beloved activity of childhood, something parents and teachers pass on to kids, along with making paper rings and snowflakes, to show humanity’s dominance to crayons and construction paper. Many of us stop drawing, but here’s how to do it again.

The first decision is whether you want to use pencil and paper, or “media”, or to use computer and drawing tablet, or “media”. The advantages of pencil and paper include cheapness, portability, and the ease with which the pencil will go missing every time you should practice, saving the bother of actually drawing things. Computer methods offer the chance to buy consumer electronics which always feels so good, unlimited undo’s, and 25-cent refills if you bring your own mug, and save you from practice by throwing up “Driver Error: Link token exchange ring to bus”, which sounds like some sort of contract squabble at the Port Authority. Best to give in to their demands unconditionally, as I’m fairly confident they have tire irons.

Continue reading “How To Draw”

Searching for Tranquility at Steinbach’s Mall


Shopping malls are complicated and busy things. We need a more relaxing one. I’m thinking here of a zen shopping mall, one stripped of everything distracting about the mall experience. My concept right now is an enclosed area containing just a concrete planter, and one of those perennially green plants of no identifiable species but kind of fern-ish and growing on abandoned quarter-filled cups of coffee, placed next to a Spencer’s Gifts holding a going out of business sale. What do you think?

Organized!


I bought some plastic storage containers today. Is there any feeling better than buying plastic storage containers? Yes, there is. Better is seeing somebody you can’t stand getting trapped underneath an Internet Dogpile as Twitter or Facebook or somebody notices they said something really stupid, and they go on just making it worse every time they try explaining that what they meant was something that was just like what they said only without the Twitter universe noticing them.

But buying plastic storage containers is right up there. It gives all the thrill of having your life in order even if you can’t figure out how to get them to fit in the car. I’m so hooked on this that the basement is turning into enormous stacks of empty plastic storage containers, looming high and making menacing faces at me when I do laundry.

So here’s my money-making idea: I’ll open a shop where you go in and wander through aisle after aisle of boxes of all kinds of shapes and colors and opacities and wonderfully complicated lids and snappy things and all that. You go around and buy all the ones you want, and then we keep them in the store so you don’t have to deal with getting them home or putting stuff into them or being afraid of the tidal flow of empty containers.

(Until then, the solution to getting the boxes home is to warm up the engine, melt the containers underneath the hood until they flatten out, and then when you get home reverse the process by backing your car into the driveway.)

How To Be Likable


Many people, particularly introverts, haven’t got the knack of being liked. They try hard enough, by not particularly disliking anyone, and yet still find that people don’t show any signs of liking them, or disliking them, or being aware of their existence, resulting in many cases of shy, bookish people being mistaken for eighth-grade cafeteria tables. Fortunately, being liked doesn’t require special magic, just the steady following of a couple simple rules. Let’s review some.

Continue reading “How To Be Likable”

Robert Benchley: Holt! Who Goes There?


Since I’m not having any luck finding out who Goran Topalovic is or why I should know his name let me repost another classic piece by Robert Benchley, who wrote so many classic pieces. This one’s on the raising of infants and it shows its age more than the one about Portland cement does, and the ending is not the strongest. But there’s an ending at all, which makes the essay easier to finish reading.


“…children sleeping out of doors in the country are likely to be kissed by wandering cows and things. This should never be permitted under any circumstances.”


The reliance of young mothers on Dr. Emmett Holt’s “The Care and Feeding of Children,” has become a national custom. Especially during the early infancy of the first baby does the son rise and set by what “Holt says.” But there are several questions which come to mind which are not included in the handy questionnaire arranged by the noted child-specialist, and as he is probably too busy to answer them himself, we have compiled an appendix which he may incorporate in the next edition of his book, if he cares to. Of course, if he doesn’t care to it isn’t compulsory.

Continue reading “Robert Benchley: Holt! Who Goes There?”

Who Do I Know Goran Topalovic From?


I didn’t think anything bad could come of learning something about Drew Carey. Who would? But a bit about the cameo he makes in The Sims: House Party lead me to thinking about people named “Goran”, and from about an hour after that I got haunted by the idea that at some point in my life I knew someone named “Goran Topalovic”. This threw off my whole evening ritual of brushing my teeth, flossing, and considering how I don’t know anyone named Goran.

And thank you, Internet, for letting me know the number of people named “Goran Topalovic” is at least four, and not one of them makes any sense as anyone I could ever have met for any reason, ever. Even if I was introduced to him once, the name couldn’t possibly have stuck in my mind, as I’m a person who once failed to recognize his own mother’s name. I can’t have made up his name; I haven’t got the knack. I might imagine the Goran part, with help, but I’d finish it off with some word drawn from the depths of mathematics or physics, like, “Goran Eigendecomposition”, which doesn’t work at all.

The lesson for me is to stop learning things about Drew Carey, although if he’s got any leads on Goran Topalovic I’d appreciate hearing from him.

In Response To A Horrifying Link On Wunderground.com


No, I will not check your Interactive Tornado Map, and what is wrong with you that you think the words “Interactive Tornado Map” could ever be a soothing combination in a sentence? I want tornadoes in the non-interactive form pioneered by Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton wherein they appear only in movies that I still haven’t seen. And I say that as if not seeing Twister were some kind of point of pride, instead of the second-most minor of my life accomplishments, after only “not having eaten at Taco Bell”.

Lost Without A Galaxy


I found this article in the science section — any science section; I can’t imagine editors turning this one down — about how research has shown that dung beetles can use the Milky Way to navigate. I have to applaud the effort there. That’s more than I ever do with the Milky Way. If you left it to me I’d probably let the whole galaxy clutter up the scary drawer above all the pots and pans, and maybe take it out just enough to feel guilty about how I should be using it more. Navigating would never cross my mind, much less helping dung beetles navigate, so it’s good the beetles seem to have worked that out on their own.

The dung beetle navigation thing finally makes sense of a lot history, which is better than most history does for itself. You always imagined that people looked at Christopher Columbus funny for his refusal to adjust the heading until he’d had a flock of dung beetles on deck during a cloudless, moonless night, but he did all right for himself, and left his beetles in charge of Hispaniola while he was busy getting tried for treason.

But as ever we shouldn’t have been surprised. Folklore’s talked about how animals have astounding abilities for thousands of years now, although folklore also talks about how witches are baking little children and how it’s good luck for the Red-Leafed Arrogating Murderberry Vine to crack your house’s foundation and how this snowstorm is the very first time the university ever cancelled class for anything less than the death of a President, so maybe the trouble is folklore needs to be more selective about what it says. We can’t go listening to everything. There’s too much of it.

Continue reading “Lost Without A Galaxy”

It’s The 70s, So Sure, Pinball Can Be A Game Show


Now that I’ve seen an episode of The Magnificent Marble Machine I know finally what Sid and Marty Krofft’s Password Plus would have been like.

I like how the game show really captures the essence of what makes pinball great: sluggish play by a pair of amateurs on giant board with a handful of targets, for up to a whole sixty seconds, that you get to only after twenty minutes of puttering around watching people try to guess whether “President’s Pad” might be a clue to naming “The White House”.

Now I’m sure the world feels better that I’ve made fun of a forgotten short-lived mid-70s game show. At least the world except the people who made it in the first place, so, I’m sorry about that.

So Who’s Not There?


I got to talk with someone who designs those sensors for sinks and air dryers. Well, at someone. I couldn’t get his attention.

Still, I don’t get why public restrooms decided we had to give up faucet technology. It was really good. Anyone could go into a Meijer’s restroom any time, day or night, and fauce as much as they want. They were happy days, but that’s all gone now. We’re saved from going out with dried hands, or wet hands either.

Maybe the problem isn’t the sensors. Maybe the trouble is I don’t exist. That’d be a good gag on the guy I met. Of course, that means I’ve got more library cards than I really should.

Also my spell-checker says “fauce” is a word, so I think my spell-checker is messing with my head.

Robert Benchley: About Portland Cement


There are many writers I deeply admire. Robert Benchley’s one of them. Here’s one of his essays, one of those that doesn’t get much attention compared to “Movie Boners” or “How To Get Things Done” or “The Treasurer’s Report”, but which I think is worth reading.


Portland cement is “the finely pulverized product resulting from the calcination to incipient fusion of an intimate mixture of properly proportioned argillaceous and calcareous materials and to which no addition greater than 3 per cent has been made subsequent to calcination.”

That, in a word, is the keynote of H. Colin Campbell’s “How to Use Cement for Concrete Construction.” In case you should never read any more of the book, you would have that.

But to the reader who is not satisfied with this taste of the secret of cement construction and who reads on into Mr. Campbell’s work, there is revealed a veritable mine of information. And in the light of the recent turn of events one might even call it significant. (Any turn of events will do.)

I suppose that these cement people understand their business. I shall know enough to watch out, however, and insist on having whatever cement I may be called upon to carry home done up in a cloth sack.

Continue reading “Robert Benchley: About Portland Cement”

And Somehow None Of These People Were Me


Warner Brothers is releasing a DVD set of the best Hanna-Barbera cartoons of their first 25 years, plus an episode of Jabberjaw. This implies that either someone had a career which finally reached the day when she or he was given the responsibility to “select the best episode of The Abbot And Costello Cartoon Show”, or that there was a committee formed to make that decision. Either way is a staggering thought.

Animals And Their Forecasts


So the groundhogs have seen their shadows, or they haven’t, or in one case the shadow came up and was frightened to see its groundhog. But consider these other animals and their prognostications:

  • A fruit fly emerged into the dining room, forecasting the throwing out of the bananas that have been in the pantry since October.
  • A buffalo poked its head out of a tree knothole in northern Rhode Island and sneezed. This forecasts that Mrs Wall will be giving a surprise pop quiz in English class Monday. Despite being so observed this should still catch everyone by surprise as Mrs Wall teaches science.
  • A dikdik in southern Indiana checked Facebook to find her best friend had written a lengthy essay that mentioned “reverse discrimination” in the first paragraph. It’s going to be at least three weeks of her telling her that gosh she’s eager to read it and get involved in the comments thread but she’s just got so much to do she can’t possibly respond tonight.
  • Xoredeshch Sfath, the great cosm-dragon, opened one eye in a panic, noticed that it was still 5:32 and his alarm isn’t for nearly 45 minutes, and went back to dreaming sleep. This gives the universe another 1,728 years of uninterrupted existence unless he has nightmares.

That’s not to say people are wrong to pay attention to groundhogs, just that they aren’t everything. Yet.

Squirrel Optimism


We’ve got a bird feeder, so we’ve been feeding squirrels. But I know the only effective way to keep squirrels off a bird feeder is to put up some squirrel exclusion device, which they find so hilariously ineffective that the squirrels roll up into balls of cackling fur, and drop from the bird feeder, then roll downhill. So I hired a guy to stand out by the feeder and tell them jokes.