The Ballot Questions


The polling place was fairly quiet, because it turns out locally there were three races being held, and they were only able to find two candidates. To make it feel a little more like things were exciting they added a couple of ballot questions, reprinted here:

  1. How was trick-or-treating at your house?
    1. Like nobody came, what’s the problem here?
    2. Last year there were like two kids, this year about seven thousand, what’s going on?
    3. I’m still getting ready for Orthodox Halloween next week.
    4. I think I’m the last person alive who still likes eating Heath bars.
  2. That Toronto mayor with the crack video:
    1. Yeah, sheesh, what’s with him?
    2. It’s some kind of performance art.
    3. I didn’t even know they had crack in Canada.
    4. Bill De Blasio?
  3. Did you get robo-called yet today?
    1. You’re robo-calling me right now.
    2. I set my phone on fire so you’d stop calling me.
    3. I’m the one shrieking at you to stop robo-calling me already.
    4. I have a kangaroo to listen to stuff on my phone.
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The Seasoned Campaigner


The election’s tomorrow. Most folks in the United States are having an off-year election in which even the poll workers don’t remember what offices are being voted on or why they need to be there (it’s just nice to get together with other folks and share powdered doughnuts while squinting at people’s recorded signatures, is the best guess), but here in Lansing we’ve got a violently fought city council election going. The mayor’s office is pretty secure. Virg Bernero has a lead of like 140 points going into the final weekend, since he’s kept pretty much all his important campaign promises: he swore last time that the city would not fall prey to semi-feral gangs of genetically-engineered kangaroo super-soliders terrorizing the populace, and indeed, it hasn’t. Most of them are working as school crossing guards or as patient-advocates at the hospital. And there’s signs of good urban development too, such as the hipster part of town being able to support Portlandia-esque comically unsustainable “general goods” shops. Plus the band Walk The Moon played here last winter without seeming out of place.

So Bernero’s turned to trying to beat the point spread and working on city council candidates, which involves sending us over eighteen flyers per day and relentlessly robo-calling to warn us against a guy named Jeffries. Jeffries actually quit the race back in August, citing a need to spend more time with his family and not get picked on till he cried, but Bernero’s supporters wrote him back in on the ballot so they could keep on campaigning against him. Bernero’s also calling in support of someone who won a silver medal in hurdling in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and won a something in the Pan-American Games too. I can’t tell you much more about her, but I’m almost sure she was able to get tickets to the Goodwill Games.

It’s been getting pretty intense. Not only have they been having a robot call us as often as every five minutes but last weekend they sent a robot over to pick up the phone and answer. I hope they come take it after the voting is over; I don’t want to have to deal with this too.

Time On My Hands


I haven’t got any jokes about the end of Daylight Saving Time for the year because I’ve looked into it and nobody has any jokes about the end of Daylight Saving Time for the year. I see folks trying, but I’ve seen jokes before and they’re coming up way short of them. Plus even mentioning Daylight Saving Time is dangerous because when you do you get swooped down upon by people who rabidly hate it with the white-hot passion of a million disaffected fanboys, who’ll inform you that the time change is directly and immediately responsible every year for more than 224,000 adorable little schoolkids bursting into flame when sleep-deprived drivers run them down. I don’t buy it, of course; numbers that high suggest the drivers are using the pretext to get their cars set on fire. But I’m sure not going to get into that fight.

In the kitchen we’ve got this clock that picks up the time from the atomic clock radio station, which isn’t actually the dullest radio station I’ve ever listened to, and adjusts its time to fit. It’s an analog clock face, so when it adjusts the time it does by rolling the second hand forward really, really quickly, about twelve times normal speed, and the minute and hour hands follow. The result of this, and I’m not joking here, is that it takes about five minutes to rattle ahead a full hour in spring. To rattle ahead the eleven hours that it needs to do to fall back, though, takes it about 55 minutes. I’m just delighted that it can spend an hour rattling around to get done what it could do as easily by sleeping in an hour. It feels like every conference call I’ve ever been on.

Me, I spent the extra hour efficiently, getting done all the blinking I’d had planned for the next week.

Numbers for October 2013


Having numbers worked out all right in September, so maybe I can give that another try.
For the month of October I got 370 views — down from 397 in September, and my third-highest overall for a month. This is from 179 unique viewers, itself up from 162 in September, and (by a nose) almost my third-highest overall. Go figure. 179, interestingly, is known as Grothnik’s Prime Number by people who have never heard of Prime Numbers or of Grothnik.

The most popular articles over the past 30 days:

  • The Monster In The Living Room, because it does combine everything important, like the pet rabbit, and physical injury, and I had good cause to mention it on Usenet, which is a thing that exists still.
  • Flying Turnabouts, regarding the strange case of Knoebels’s new Flying Turns roller coaster that we’re getting to next year unless the world ends. And if it does end, we’re going to see it out on a road trip there.
  • Disappointment, regarding my successful non-victory in the Robert Benchley Society contest.
  • The Platonic Stooge, my wonder at a thing Plato and the Three Stooges have in common.
  • Also, Just Hush, Benjamin Franklin , about my wood-cutting experience and an epigram from Benjamin Franklin that apparently isn’t as common or popular as I thought it was. I tend to do that. My default assumption is if I’ve heard of it, then everyone else has, and so my timely allusion to the Battle of Manzikert goes terribly unappreciated.
  • Police Blotter: Traffic Incident, about something that was obviously designed to make the news.
  • The top five countries were the United States (304 viewers), United Kingdom (12), Canada (10), Australia (8), and Austria (5). Sending me a mere one reader each were France, India, Mexico, and Spain. France was the only one to send me a single reader last month, and they only sent the one the month before that, too.

    The Benjamin Franklin thing is he’s quoted as saying “Cut your own wood and it will warm you twice”, which, yeah, just hush there.

    Past Customers Have Thought …


    “You bought a power brick for your computer recently! Won’t you please review it?” The Best Buy e-mail was simple, and its declarative statement true. But to review it? What could I possibly say?

    “Please?” the e-mail begged. “Pleeeeeeeeeeease?” I didn’t even know my computer had Helvetica Extra-Whiny. So naturally I refused.

    They sent me a follow-up e-mail. “You still haven’t reviewed the power brick you bought for the Apple MacBook Pro Limited Edition with Peppermint Stripes”, it said, making me wonder if I’ve missed something in not licking my computer. “Couldn’t you please let other potential customers know what to expect?”

    Continue reading “Past Customers Have Thought …”

    You Might Also Like


    I don’t buy a lot of stuff online, because apparently deep down I still believe it’s 1995 or something, but this offers the benefit that I get to enjoy the big marketing computers flailing around desperately in the attempt to figure out what else I might want to buy. So I get suggestions like this from Amazon:

    You recently purchased Billy Bragg’s Greatest Reminders That You’re Voluntarily Collaborating With A Corrupt System and … uh … Leapfrog Explorer 3: Dora The Explorer Searches For Spock? The Heck? You might also like:

    • A History Of The United States Weather Bureau Through 1960, by Robert D Whitnah.
    • The Blu-Ray edition of forgotten 1980s sitcom Mama Malone for some reason.
    • A 14-foot-long mass of undifferentiated blue-green matter.
    • This one potato chip that looks like a significantly larger potato chip.
    • Two dollars off a purchase of auto parts maybe?
    • Staples, all sizes, all colors, some of them made of pearl.
    • Maybe a cohomology group of an unexpected order? I dunno, you’re the math major.

    All this is quite silly, of course, because there’s only one thing that I really want. It’s the same thing everyone wants: to occasionally have a day turned into a great one by hearing somebody unexpectedly playing the theme to Shaft. Don’t tell Amazon.

    Turbo Comics


    Over on my mathematics blog I’ve again gathered a bunch of comics which have some kind of mathematics theme and talked about whatever comes to mind on reading those. If you like seeing stuff in the comics footnoted, you might enjoy that.

    If you don’t, then you might enjoy something I have: according to the WordPress statistics page, people are coming to me while searching for “facts about turbo movie”. I should be delighted beyond all reasonable measure if my information page about Turbo were to become one of the Internet’s leading pages about the film, before the film is consigned to the same “wait, did that really exist?” bin that, say … oh, I forget … has gotten immortal fame for.

    I’m also getting a little interest in “rutgers vs houston football game death” and “mcdonald’s ketchup”, not to mention “lisa kudrow” for some reason.

    The Krazy Centennial


    I missed it by a day, apparently, but according to a post over on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, October 28th was the centennial of the first Krazy Kat comic strip. More or less. The comic strip, drawn by George Herriman, started out in the somewhat amorphous way comic strips did back then as a running gag sharing space with his till-then hit feature The Dingbat Family. It’s only in 1913 that the strip was spun off into its own regular feature with a title and everything.

    The Library of Congress has what appears to be the daily Krazy Kat‘s first run, naturally from about two weeks later when the San Francisco Call got around to running it (the strip’s in the upper left corner of the page, to the side of The Dingbat Family and for that matter another little runner of Krazy and Ignatz showing the way the characters first got introduced to the public).

    For all that it’s one of the great comics of the 20th century I’m still not sure I recommend it, at least not to people who aren’t going in ready to love it. The comic comes from the far side of some kind of extinction-level event in humor circles, where stuff from long enough ago seems (generally) vastly overwritten for the meager joke even when it can be made out. (I don’t know why humor changed so drastically; I suspect talkies and radio, as they rewarded brevity and didn’t require making sure that any plot points of the joke were repeated so the people in back had a fair chance of hearing.) Krazy Kat‘s most accessible gags tend to be drawn from vaudeville and so feel old even when the specific one is new, or from minstrel shows, with all the uneasiness that knowing the source inspires.

    But if you persist to learning the rhythms of pacing of the strip it gets rewarding. I think that may be because Herriman’s characters are strongly defined with a couple simple traits. They don’t seem to have the sort of complicated inner lives that would let them, say, get away with an eight-panel monologue the way Charlie Brown could; but, they have a few clear notes that produce wonderful chords when they have a storyline to play around. The strip most like it today, I’d say, is Pat McDonnell’s Mutts (no surprise as McDonnell’s an authority on Krazy Kat), where again each character may have only one or two strong personality traits, but they’re so clearly defined that they can be soundly funny.

    The Library of Congress page there also has an example of Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and her Pals, which began in late 1912 and ran forever, or at least until after Sputnik and that’s help up as one of the most important graphically innovative strips of the time, although this particular example is from early in its run and doesn’t obviously stand out; and Tom McNamara’s Us Boys, which I don’t know much about. Apparently it started no later than 1912, and continued at least through 1928, but I can’t find much about it on a casual search. (The title doesn’t help matters, as search engines nowadays are too sophisticated to think I actually mean I want these particular words right next to each other.)

    The Big McDonald’s Ketchup Transition


    I understand that McDonald’s is dumping Heinz as its ketchup supplier. The BBC News article about this says that McDonald’s is working with Heinz “to ensure a smooth and orderly transition of the McDonald’s restaurant business” to some other brand. I suppose it’s better for the investors that way but I am kind of sad we won’t see a disorderly transition. It could be a period of fertile experimentation as people run around their local McDonald’ses, examining various things and evaluating whether they are in fact viscous liquids that might be applied to French fries.

    “Could this be it?” screams one customer who’s holding up a jar of maple syrup. “No, this,” cries out her husband, who’s found some lavender paint. “I have it!” shouts a person holding up molten Chapstik, while his rival for the big promotion at the ketchup factory has snuck in some horsey sauce from Arby’s. In comes a child with a bucket full of coal slurry, only to be upstaged by someone with that butter-inspired liquid gel they have at the movie theaters and the fry cook who’s got some of that liquid metal used to make Terminator 1000’s. Tensions are high when someone spots the guy refilling the Coke Freestyle machine with Fanta Zero syrup. He’s swiftly ringed by desperate people wielding McNuggets, and then someone — protestors blame the police, the police blame Occupy Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey — tosses the first brick. By the time the scene clears people have run off and got toasted artichoke sandwiches.

    Me, I don’t really care much for ketchup.

    Nobody Ever Died For Dear Old Rutgers


    I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but yesterday my undergraduate school, Rutgers, lost its football game to Houston by a score of only 49-14. (I assume that’s a college or university and not the Houston Oilers because I’m pretty sure the Oilers left town like twenty years ago.) This really shows the Scarlet Knights getting back into the form they had when I was there, when they were promoting the team with mottoes like “Scarlet Knights Football ’93: Gearing Up For Mediocrity!” Then the Board of Governors would decide the problem is they needed an even bigger stadium and they’d go rebuilding the blasted thing. I see they’re still up to that.

    This may sound cranky but I liked football better at my grad school, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. They weren’t trying to be Division I; they were somewhere around Division XVII-L, I think, and the football field was just in the middle of campus and there were automatic time-outs when someone walking back from the computer lab cut across the field. (And the computer lab was in a church, by the way, which isn’t even me making a joke.) Plus if you wanted to play, I believe, you just had to show up early the day of the game, no later than the end of the third quarter, and they’d let you suit up. If you could bring your own football, too, that’d really help them out. It was the sort of thing they never wasted effort rebuilding stadiums, or really quite building stadiums, for and the team was at least as mediocre.

    A Futile Warning


    Over on trekbbs.com, the leading web site among places I can be bothered to go to find stuff to say about Star Trek still, somebody asked the question “How to introduce my girlfriend to the Borg?”? And I think that question’s something whose answer the world deserves to have.

    Don’t introduce your girlfriend to the Borg! For crying out loud, they’re rampaging monsters from the Delta Quadrant determined to assimilate humanity into a genericized, personality-free mass-mind paste. If you’re trying to get your girlfriend in to that, frankly, it’s suggesting you have some deep issues in your relationship and maybe you and she just shouldn’t be interacting right now.

    I admit I’m saying this without knowing their past. Maybe she made the original poster spend some time in a Cylon enclave or something in which case things are a little more evenly balanced. But even then if you’ve got a relationship where you’re both introducing the other to galaxy-destroying menaces then maybe you should be seeing other people or maybe those flying space pancakes that get stuck to your back and make you build starships. Have some sense, people.

    The Monster In The Living Room


    “I can’t help sensing a certain coolness in you toward me,” the savage, bloodthirsty monster said.

    I agreed with our pet rabbit. “Well, I have felt a bit put off by you lately.”

    “It wasn’t my fault!” He shook his head, flapping his ears together, in that way that starts out being dramatic and ends up comic because, you know, rabbit ears flapping. “I didn’t have any choice when you went and attacked my tail.”

    “Uh-huh,” I said, and scratched the part near my knuckle where the scar was. “Me, one of the two people who’s spent the past fifteen months bringing you all the food you could eat — ”

    “Not nearly all!” he protested. “I could have a whole box more of raisins if you gave me a chance!”

    “— and who gets rewarded for brushing you out with an attempt to sever my finger.”

    Continue reading “The Monster In The Living Room”

    Disappointment


    I missed the announcement of it, but the Robert Benchley Society has announced its finalists for the 2013 Humor Writing Competition. Since the ten finalists were announced back on the 9th of October that pretty well says where I placed: no higher than 11th. I’m disappointed, obviously, but if I weren’t basically quite confident in the stuff that I write I wouldn’t go on writing it.

    There’s no accounting for taste, obviously, especially someone else’s. I imagine one thing which went wrong was that I submitted a trimmed-down version of “Giants of the Colonial Era” — a piece I think has a lot of that Benchley patter — in order to meet the 500-word limit, and the cutting out of something like 250 words from the original drained much of the writing’s flow. I might have done better to throw out all the words and rewrite it from scratch instead.

    Well, on to more writing and waiting to see when Finley Peter Dunne Society gets around to its humor contest.

    (Also, do take the chance to read the finalists as there’s an excellent chance you’ll like at least one of them, and it’s not as if you have enough things that you like in your day.)

    Something To Read


    I understand that with the advanced sophistications in marketing today, where marketers can gather even bits of information about myself I had no idea about, they’re able to target advertisements and free trial offers with unparalleled precision, but they mostly just figure to try out “everybody ought to buy everything, all the time”. All right. But why are they trying to get me to subscribe to Bussiness Week: The Journal Of Fussy Old-Fashioned Kisses? Also how is that still going on while Starlog died like five years ago and nobody ever mentioned? You know?

    Things I’ve Observed About Science Fiction


    Providing lifehacks is all the rage among people who are precisely sure what it takes for something to qualify as a lifehack, and I’d like to offer some that I’ve figured out. They mostly involve talking about science fiction online, so here goes:

    1. You can save time when discussing Star Trek: The Next Generation by not bothering to look up the name of the Star Fleet Guest Character Who’s This Week’s Plot Annoyance by just referring to him as “Admiral Jerkface” instead.
    2. People who show off their knowledge of age-of-consent laws are doing nothing to help their argument that Piers Anthony’s Xanth books aren’t creepy.
    3. That first tip doesn’t actually save you more than like a couple seconds a year because everybody pretty much ran out of stuff to talk about Star Trek: The Next Generation back when we all didn’t go see Nemesis.

    That’s about it, really. Sorry.

    This I Believe


    That kid who was pinching his friend’s wrist over and over again really was, just like he said, very concerned that his friend was adequately hydrated while at the amusement park all day, because it’s very much in the nature of ten-year-old boys to be worried about one another’s hydration levels and not at all to be looking for chances to see how long you could pinch someone before they start hitting back.

    Franklin P Adams: A Plea


    [ Liking words is a tricky hobby, because you never can tell just when some of them are going to really get to annoy you. For example, I can’t stand the phrase “grow your business”, which is all the more annoying because I can’t fault it for being a ridiculous metaphor or anything. I just don’t like it. But sometimes a skilled writer such as Franklin P Adams gets annoyed by something and turns that irritation into something lovely, eg: ]

    Writers of baseball, attention!
       When you’re again on the job —
    When, in your rage for invention,
       You with the language play hob —
    Most of your dope we will pardon,
       Though of the moth ball it smack,
    But — cut out the “sinister garden”,
       Chop the “initial sack”.

    Rake poor old Roget’s Thesaurus
       For phrases fantastic and queer;
    And though on occasions you bore us,
       We will refrain from a sneer.
    We will endeavour to harden
       Ourselves to the rest of your clack,
    If you’ll cut out the “sinister garden”
       And chop the “initial sack”.

    Singers of words that are scrambled,
       Say, if you will, that he “died”,
    Write, if you must, that he “ambled” —
       We shall be last to deride.
    But us to the Forest of Arden,
       Along with the misanthrope Jaques,
    If you cling to the “sinister garden”
       And stick to “initial sack”.

    Speak of the “sphere’s abberation”,
       Mention the “leathery globe”,
    Say he got “free transportation” —
       Though that try the patience of Job.
    But if you’re wise you’ll discard en-
       Cumbrances such as we thwack —
    Especially “sinister garden”
       And the “initial sack”.

    Franklin P Adams: The Rich Man


    [ It’s been a month or so since I last swiped a spot of public domain verse from Franklin P Adams and Tobogganing on Parnassus. Please, enjoy a spot more. ]

    The rich man has his motor-car
       His country and his town estate
    He smokes a fifty-cent cigar
         And jeers at fate.

    He frivols through the livelong day,
       He knows not Poverty her pinch.
    His lot seems light, his heart seems gay,
         He has a cinch.

    Yet though my lamp burns low and dim,
       Though I must slave for livelihood —
    Think you that I would change with him?
         You bet I would!

    The State of the University


    Good afternoon and I’d like to thank everyone for attending this State of the University address. I’m sorry it’s going to be a little ragged but I kind of have to patch up the parts where the Public Relations department told me I couldn’t use words like that in public. I think they’re being a little … well, I mean, we all use words like that sometimes, right? Well. Anyway.

    As anyone who’s walked through the deserted wings of the main quadrangle or “quad” as I’m told by informed people who’ve met students tell me they call it knows, we have suffered an under-enrollment problem in the past few years, affecting our ability to fill such levée-en-masse courses as Grueling Calculus and the basic Great Works Of Agonizingly Boring Literature Or Maybe Movies. This isn’t just a problem at our school, so please stop writing us about it. We have taken several pro-active steps to improve population. Even as we speak we have an unmarked van driving slowly around Ann Arbor, and when they locate people who seem to be about the right age for college they swoop down with the giant nets and bring the prospective students back here where they’re to remain until completing at least five years or study or accumulating $185,000 in student loan obligations.

    The first several attempts for this new plan have been a little disappointing, owing to unusually large holes in the nets, but as this new revenue stream comes up to speed we hope to be able to afford patching some of them and creating what they call a “virtuous circle” of improved student body acquisition. Ah, so that probably answers the question a lot of faculty have been asking me about why some of the students have long ropes tied to their ankles.

    Continue reading “The State of the University”

    The Platonic Stooge


    A little while ago the Three Stooges’ short Hello Pop, from 1933, was discovered. It had been lost, thought to be destroyed in a 1967 archive fire, but it turned out it was just hiding out in Australia after running up some debts with a mob of wallaroos. Happens to the best of us. Here’s the thing that captures my imagination: this was the only Three Stooges short thought to be lost. So as far as the human intellect is able to understand, there are no missing or absent works from the whole Three Stooges catalogue of films. The complete record is there.

    Now what this makes me think of is the remarkable fact that, again as best we can determine, there aren’t any lost works of Plato. There aren’t any references we can find to a book he’d written that’s now lost, which is staggering considering that your typical ancient Greek writer — your Hipparchos or Aporia or Hypochondria or the like — ran about eighteen lost works to one that anyone ever actually saw. Aristophanes is thought to have pitched two or three plays into the wine-dark sea for every one he had performed just because that was the thing to do in that time. So it’s stunning we have any complete sets of any of the ancients, especially when it’s one of your name-brand greats like Plato.

    So of all the things that the Three Stooges and that Plato might have in common, who would have guessed that there were any?