The Comics (or some of them)


Over that way a bit on my mathematics blog I do a bit of talking about comic strips which mention mathematics or mathematical themes or that just catch my eye for whatever reason. So if you’re interested in comics and a particular theme I’d appreciate your poking over there and reading them. My commentary on them isn’t meant to be funny, but the strips are at least trying for that.

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The Mystery Of My Power Cord


I found in the hotel room — this is true, by the way — that the rubber insulation of part of my laptop’s power cord had got torn up. I’m not sure how it happened. The cord was wrapped up, and inside a plastic bag, because I’ve liked putting power cords inside plastic bags ever since that airport security screener told me that was a smart thing to do. But when I pulled it out it looked like it had been chewed open by a tiny bear, or maybe that it had exploded as an even tinier hippogriff guppy hatched from within it. I know what you’re thinking and no, our pet rabbit has a solid alibi. So far it’s still giving power but I wonder how lon

My Dimmed Stars


So had you noticed there’s these star ratings you can give my entries, in a little box just beside the “Leave a Comment” link? No, I didn’t think so, because nobody notices them and nobody bothers with them. But my Dearly Beloved pointed out, someone has noticed and gone and given a bunch of articles two and three star ratings. This puts out a good question: who’s taking the time to seek out and disapprove of something they don’t have to bother with? Based on this M O, my suspects right now are everybody on the entire Internet, ever.

Forms of New Jersey Local Government (4)


The Quick-Jervis form of municipal government is designed specifically for townships in the Kittatinny mountain range of New Jersey, in the scary parts far in the northwest where the old New Jersey Bell phone books suggested they didn’t offer phone service and should maybe ask Pennsylvania for help. Under this scheme, designed for the ridges and valleys that are pretty steep by New Jersey standards, town council meetings are held in those buildings where on one side of the hallway it’s the third storey and on the other side it’s two storeys up to ground level. In accord with these needs, these municipalities will sneak over to Pennsylvania to steal cable TV and to taunt Pennsylvanians about their state liquor stores. As satellite TV is not mentioned, obviously, the measures are somewhat out of date, and Pennsylvanians don’t understand their state liquor stores anyway.

Singing the Praises of Pants


I admire the work that the mighty Land’s End Catalogue Company has put into finding ways to sell me pants. It’s been mostly sending me catalogues showing that there are pants, leaving it to me to conclude that I could if I so wished buy them, but I admit I don’t have many better ideas. If they tried, say, chasing me down and holding pants up to me so I could kind of see how they’d look on me if I were flat, that wouldn’t entice me to buy more. This is why I’m not an important pants marketer. I presume they want me to wear them, but they should know that once I’ve bought them, the pants are wholly my concern and it’s none of their affair what I do with them.

Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish


Say what you like about Pythagoras of Samos, and you mostly can because nearly all his leading followers have gone and died from embarrassment over being asked to explain what precisely the thing with the beans is about, but here’s a bit of legend that really caught me. It’s from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I never heard of either: “Pythagoras is said to have had a golden thigh, which he showed to Abaris, the Hyperborean priest, and exhibited in the Olympic games.”

Think of the stories that sentence implies. The obvious question is, was it the left or the right thigh? And was it the whole thigh or just one side? I’d think you’d want the gold to be the outer thigh, so as to make it easier to show off, but maybe Pythagoras didn’t get to pick. For that matter, why a golden thigh?

Continue reading “Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish”

From the Local News: Pole Barn Controversy Resolved!


The local news at noon had some great news for the top story: the pole barn controversy was settled! The controversy was, this company built a new research building too near a neighborhood full of people who complain about these things. We’re not talking about a hideous building, the kind that parents warn children to avert their eyes from, that collects awards from embittered architectural societies seeking vengeance, and which naturally accrues collections of modern art. This is more … think of every light industrial building you’ve ever passed that was too boring to notice. Have that in mind? No, because it’s too boring a building for you to even imagine noticing it. Even now you’re forgetting how I described it. But that’s what the whole controversy was about.

I don’t argue this wasn’t right for the top story in the local news, because it’s obviously local news-worthy, unlikely to get on the national Sunday morning talk shows where elderly white men complain how nobody’s LISTENING to them enough. Plus, if it wasn’t pole barn controversies they’d have to fill the program with traffic accidents and student housing fires unexplained but possibly linked to the fireworks they might have been setting off, just wanted to get that idea of students and fireworks out there even if we aren’t sure there were fireworks, and calling the weather forecast all kinds of silly things besides “forecast”, like Precision FutureCast Doppler 8000 or some such rot.

What delights me is that the anchor went from announcing there’d been a settlement in the pole barn controversy to tossing it to the reporter in the field, who just had that there was a settlement in the pole barn controversy and hopefully there’d be more details later. Then everyone looked at the building and yawned and curled up for a nap.

Oh, yeah, the company that owns the building? They make particle accelerators. I would have thought that could have settled the argument sooner. “Stop complaining,” they could have said, “or you’ll see a bunch of kaons where you don’t expect them!” But no, they just fell back on ordinary settlement processes like painting and property tax abatement requests. Where’s the imaginative scope?

Franklin P Adams: To a Thesaurus


[ My first selection of poetry from Franklin P Adams seems to have been received well, so let me bring out another piece from Tobogganing on Parnassus. My eyebrow is raised — well, my raising-eyebrow eyebrow is raised — by the spelling of favour, and both “sustention” and “opitulation” are new ones on me, but “meseems”, I like on this first meeting. ]

O precious codex, volume, tome,
    Book, writing, compilation, work
Attend the while I pen a pome,
    A jest, a jape, a quip, a quirk.

For I would pen, engross, indite,
    Transcribe, set forth, compose, address,
Record, submit —– yea, even write
    An ode, an elegy to bless —–

To bless, set store by, celebrate,
    Approve, esteem, endow with soul,
Commend, acclaim, appreciate,
    Immortalize, laud, praise, extol.

Thy merit, goodness, value, worth,
    Expedience, utility —–
O manna, honey, salt of earth,
    I sing, I chant, I worship thee!

How could I manage, live, exist,
    Obtain, produce, be real, prevail,
Be present in the flesh, subsist,
    Have place, become, breathe or inhale.

Without thy help, recruit, support,
    Opitulation, furtherance,
Assistance, rescue, aid, resort,
    Favour, sustention and advance?

Alas! Alack! and well-a-day!
    My case would then be dour and sad,
Likewise distressing, dismal, gray,
    Pathetic, mournful, dreary, bad.

Though I could keep this up all day,
    This lyric, elegiac, song,
Meseems hath come the time to say
    Farewell! Adieu! Good-by! So long!

Our Rabbit Explains


“I like baby carrots,” said our pet rabbit.

“I know you like them, but why would someone send them?” We’re having enough trouble with mysterious deliveries.

“Because I like them,” he said again, obviously upset that I wasn’t getting this point. “I look like I’m big when I eat the tiny carrots!”

“You are big.” He’s a Flemish giant, which as a breed grows to Mark Trail-esque proportions. “You’re bigger than I was through third grade.”

He nodded, “And I didn’t even go to third grading! That’s how big I am!”

“Where did they come from, though?”

And our rabbit looked at me as if disappointed I was so dense. “They’re cut from full-size carrots to just look like baby carrots. Don’t you know how the world works?”

“Why would the world arrange somebody to send you baby carrots?”

“Obviously the world knows I like them!”

“But why?”

“Because it’s true! It couldn’t know that I don’t like baby carrots, because that isn’t true, and if you actually know something then it has to be a true thing or else you don’t actually know it.”

I like his reasoning, but I feel like there’s something missing.

To Buccaneer These Alumnae


I don’t really want to encourage this sort of thing but I ran across this in the spam filter and every block of five words in a row makes me smile, so I hope you enjoy it too.

Farewell… Hi, im from , Asia Continent. Thank for this message, it was satisfactory content and also utilise me few strain to buccaneer my alumna.

I do thank whatever search engine optimization scheme is behind this for their help in inspiring me to buccaneer my alumna too.

Numbers the August 2013 Way


I said last month I was going to carry on tracking numbers, even if some of them are kind of disappointments, such as the square root of five. The big number according to WordPress’s statistics counters. The number of views dropped from 375 in July to 349 in August, and I don’t have the excuse of a shorter month for that. The number of visitors also dropped from 178 to 141. But this does mean the number of pages per viewer has risen from 2.11 to 2.48, which is the highest on record. I may not be getting many readers in, but they’re reading more of me.

According to WordPress, the top articles of the past thirty days were:

  1. You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care in which I do some thinking about how to arrange money;
  2. What I Notice In Every Old Picture Of Me and what’s horribly wrong about all those pictures, based on the real actual me;
  3. Community Calendar: Streetlight Counting Day for a little event;
  4. Getting Started and my troubles with that;
  5. In Which I See Through A Chipmunk and the odd story of the squirrels and their comedy club develops; and
  6. Some Parts Of The Horse, a quick useful guide.

None of these was a top-five article last month (the last two were tied for most views). S J Perelman: Captain Future, Block That Kick! was tied for tenth place, so it’s staying popular. My top commenter is again Corvidae in the Fields, whom I thank for loyal readership, followed by Chiaroscuro, who just edges out Ervin Shlopnick, all friends loyal, true, and talkative.

I learned also how to find the most-commented-upon articles, which do include backlinks or trackbacks or whatever the heck they’re called. For this month the top five of those were:

  1. In Which I See Through A Chipmunk (as above);
  2. You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care (ibid);
  3. Comic Strip Celebrities Named (one from late July that was liked);
  4. Some Now-Forgotten HTML Tags (one of last month’s most popular bits);
  5. Fly The Little Skies (a short bit from late May and about the tiny airport in Trenton, New Jersey).

Once again the countries sending me the most visitors were the United States (268), Canada (8), and the United Kingdom (7). Countries sending only one visitor include Singapore, Chile, Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Albania, Portland, Mexico, and France, so while I may be losing popularity in Sweden, Poland is holding steady.

It does strike me that the shorts, usually one or two hundred word pieces, get a lot more views than the weekly essays that aim at seven hundred words. This may be telling me something important about how I write.

Again, Science Makes It Harder


It’s all very well to say the universe is about 14 billion years old, but physics will pipe in to tell you that it isn’t that simple because apparently physics is worried people aren’t listening to it anymore. Yeah, they had some big successes with the atom bomb and with the moon landing but that’s all a long time ago. And they don’t just mean the obvious stuff, like if you wait around 22 billion years my declaration the universe is about 14 billion years old is going to look pretty hilariously wrong.

Here’s the thing: because of relativity there’s particles out there moving so fast that from their perspective it’s only been sixteen years since the universe was created, and so they’ve never known a world without the Beloit College Mindset List. More, there are some particles, moving even faster, which know the universe only to be eight years old. Such particles, of course, find it very hard to swerve in time.

Some Of The Big Picture


The Universe: Where is it, how old is it, what has it been up to, and let’s just fill in who is it to round out the opening sentence here? These are undeniably fine questions, what with their existing and seeming to be the sorts of things there should be answers for, or to.

The first is the easiest. The Universe can be found all around you, explaining that sensation of something peeking over your shoulder while you try to go about existing. Don’t go looking back too suddenly as the Universe can be rather skittish — remember the old folk saying, the universe is more afraid of caterpillars than you are of varnish, which is why Enlightenment thinkers got the idea that everybody before them was an idiot — but if you check casually you should see signs of something. If you find only incontrovertible evidence that you’re actually a disembodied brain in a jar being fed electrical stimulations, don’t worry; you’re just having the same nightmare every butterfly is having.

Continue reading “Some Of The Big Picture”

Worse, What If They’re Not Talking About Me?


You can talk about Twitter and Facebook and somehow getting into arguments with people about the remake of V that they made like — two years ago was it? Is that still running? Did it ever run? — and for that matter the guy building the model spaceship in the break room But for my boss’s money the best way to lose productivity at work is to receive a brief e-mail addressed to everyone reminding all of the need to be understanding of one another in these difficult times. I might stay up for weeks wondering if they’re talking about me.

Rethinking Money (Again)


You know, now that we have the whole idea of putting money in different denominations on the table, I realize there’s no need to reduce it to powers-of-two the way computer programmers think makes sense. Really any set of relatively prime numbers will do just fine in terms of being able to make amounts of money you really don’t need, because the charge at most convenience stores is $2.92 if you’re there at breakfast time, $11.25 if you’re there in the afternoon or evening picking up a few things, and at the fast food place is pretty much going to be $7.14 for lunch plus another $1.42 if you go back for a McFlurry after.

So since we’re completely free to choose, let me design a set of currency that comes in denominations of 3, 7, 11, 24, 31, and 55 dollars, with additional bills worth negative two, negative thirteen, and negative twenty-nine dollars to make the vending machines happy. That should fix things.

Your Technology Requirements Of Next Week, Today


I had good reason to be in Best Buy during New Student Orientation Week but don’t ask me what it was. Whatever it was comes in second to what I found, a bunch of sheets listing the Technology Requirements for the various universities that students might be going to somewhere around here.

According to Best Buy, according to the various universities, students really ought to have some kind of laptop, because apparently they haven’t noticed students have merged with their iPhones to become a big mass of people with better things to do than notice there’s a professor trying to turn them into informed citizens. I’m delighted they recommend not just getting a laptop but also an operating system and one that’s compatible with Microsoft Office, the leading way to get documents which, on any system, can be read with random lines of XXXXX marks or weird glyphs wherever you’re supposed to sign your name.

Also recommended: anti-virus software, showing that they’re right on top of the big computer security news of 1996 there, and every one of the local universities recommends a laptop with “wireless capabilities”. I considered asking a clerk if they had any laptops without wireless capabilities but was worried that one, in the eagerness to please, would make a laptop wireless-uncapable by the normal expedient of putting it in a transporter pod so as to catastrophically merge its molecules with those of a cinder block.

I didn’t buy anything there.

You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care


You know, it’s just a convention that we (I’m talking here about the United States) put out money in denominations of one and five and ten and twenty dollars, plus some other highly fictional amounts like fifty or a hundred or even two dollars. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it in a more orderly fashion, by which is meant the way computer programmers would do it, which is in denominations of one, two, four, eight, sixteen, and so on. Then an ordinary transaction could be much more logically handled, like this:

“Hundred and forty dollars, all right … uh … here’s a 64-dollar bill, and … 140 minus 64 is … more than 64, right? Well, I guess I have a 32 here and that’s … 140 minus 32 is … wait, 32 and 64 is … something and then that away from 140 is … uh … I could swear I had a couple 8-dollar bills when I set out this morning and … uh … OK, 140 minus 64 has to be like 86 … 76, thanks, and then from that I take away 32 and … no, I put in 32 and … ”

All right, so we’d have a couple more people who finish buying things at the supermarket by curling up in a ball and weeping, but that’s why the rest of us have credit cards for crying out loud.

Franklin P Adams: Ornithology


[ Franklin Pierce Adams was a humorist who wrote a newspaper feature that, as best I can tell, has just plain vanished: the newspaper poem. He’s known, at least among baseball-history fans, for composing “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”, a ditty about the Chicago Cubs’ double-play-making machine of Tinkers and Evers and Chance, often credited with putting those three in the Baseball Hall of Fame together. Here’s a bit from the collection Tobogganing on Parnassus, a title which by itself shows his expectation that readers won’t be thrown by classical references or an erudite turn of phrase. I’m sympathetic; I like to think I skew to the higher brow, but I admit reading his stuff makes I’m glad I can run off to the Internet to look up what he’s talking about. It’s hard to fully believe that the typical reader of 1913 quite got all of it. This selection, at least, isn’t too obscure. ]

Unlearned I in ornithology —–
    All I know about the birds
Is a bunch of etymology,
    Just a lot of high-flown words.
Is the curlew an uxorial
    Bird? The Latin name for crow?
Is the bulfinch grallatorial?
       I dunno.

O’er my head no golden gloriole
    Ever shall be proudly set
For my knowledge of the oriole,
    Eagle, ibis, or egrette.
I know less about the tanager
    And its hopes and fears and aims
Than a busy Broadway manager
       Does of James.

But, despite my incapacity
    On the birdies of the air,
I am not without sagacity,
    Be it ne’er so small a share.
This I know, though ye be scorning at
    What I know not, though ye mock,
Birdies wake me every morning at
       Four o’clock.

Robert Benchley Society Contest: One-Week Notice


I have posted this before, but since the deadline’s now only a week away I felt it worth repeating that The Robert Benchley Society’s 2013 Humor Writing Contest deadline is the August of 30th, or something around like that. I should probably check the rules over carefully before putting in my submission.

I have got a submission figured out, if you were worried, although I’m open to suggestions if you, the reader at wherever it is you are, have an essay I’ve written in mind as something particularly Benchleyesque and at least editable down to below 502 words. (At least in past years it was fine if the piece wasn’t new-composed for the contest, as long as it was original to the submitter, which is why I won’t be entering my essay about reading Benchley’s famous essay about quoting him.) And if you want to enter your own piece against me, well, I’m not going to say anything directly but you’ll be getting such a disapproving glare from our pet rabbit.

Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man


Superhero: Modulo the Modular Man

First Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 6, cover date March 1968 (sales date November 1967).

Final Appearance: Modulo the Modular Man issue number 4, cover date July 1975 (sales date March 1975).

This comic attempted to catch the excitement of the early space race by having its hero, Walter Canton, be an astronaut who gained the superpower of his hands popping off at will (his) as the result of an encounter with space witches. As Modulo the Modular Man he served as a competent entrant in the list of slapping-based superheroes. The attempt to draw young readers’ interest by each issue featuring faithfully rendered depictions of Project Mercury control rooms, testing laboratories, and space capsules was undercut by publisher Canton Instant Classics’ bad luck in timing, as the first issues of the series hit the shelves almost exactly four years after the final Project Mercury flight.

Continue reading “Forgotten Superheroes: Modulo the Modular Man”