How To Write Out Numbers


Here are some rules for writing numbers.

For whole numbers under ten, write them out as words. For ten, 11, and twelve, discuss the matter with your copy editor, engaging in a long-running and frank exchange of typographical views that will, as always, end with at least one of the parties arrested for stuffing a body part into a toaster on the “bagel” setting that is itself stuffed into a composting pit, and might bring in some other parties who will discover they can not believe these other people are allowed to vote or hold sharp objects such as hula hoops. If the argument is not productive enough bring up the matter of zero and what results will surely end with arson. For numbers larger than twelve use digits, as they’re too tedious if given the chance to be words. Exceptions: googol googolplex either neither fimble flumble seizure leisure sixty-four caffeine.

When writing a string of numbers it’s important to alternate between digits and words for clarity, as for example in the famous aircraft being the Boeing “seven40seven” or the less famous aircraft the Boeing “7.thirty.7”. In addition to reading clarity the graphic design potential is powerful, and if you can’t imagine a trendy club writing its address this way you’ve failed graphic design class and probably can’t even recognize Futura when you see it, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person but does mean we’ll have to have someone watching whenever you walk into the campus’s Fine Arts Library.

Percentages should never be referred to in print, as they make the reader suspect this is a word problem and the reader will go off to the bridge column. They may be used in PowerPoint slides only if the percent symbol is animated, rotating around one or two axes but not the third.

Negative numbers require special protection so as not to startle skittish readers. Besides being denoted with a minus sign they should be preceded by a man on foot waving a large red flag, and followed by another man ringing a bell. It is good practice to surround the number in parentheses, in case of spilling, and to be printed in red ink, lest the supply of red ink get noticeably too large. At that, you’ll want to have your copy reviewed by trained professional mathematicians. Do not rely on the untrained kind, as they will try to clean up spilled negative numbers by having them (the numbers) eaten by a goat. Trained professional mathematicians will call in something from accredited accounting ungulates.

Imaginary numbers may be written any old way you like, as the non-mathematical reader thinks you’re just making them up anyway, while the mathematically inclined roll their eyes and sigh knowingly whenever the subject comes up. Really, you probably don’t even have to do that much. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the whole subject, even if you have to change the essay’s subject from the history of polynomials into, oh, lumps of putty.

If you need to pluralize a number go wild and add an apostrophe before the s or es, as in: 7.thirty.7’es. In fact, nobody’s ever lived to regret adding apostrophes where they’re not needed, so, what the heck, toss in something so, like, this year is known as 201’4, or the population of the United States as 317′,84’2,’000. Apostrophes are also cool if you need to omit the part of the number that’s boring. Why not try writing the volume of your refrigerator in cubic inches as 14’82 and leave the reader to work out the omitted numbers for their fun and mental exercise, other than that if the reader finds out where you live they might jab you with an apostrophe in front of the toaster?

Know the difference between ordinal and cardinal numbers! If mixed they will fight until one is stuffed into a toaster and the other sneaks off to make long-distance calls on your land line. In cases of ambiguity remember that cardinal numbers are nearly invariably Rh-positive while ordinal numbers are afraid of bats, owing to the longstanding resentment of ordinal numbers for vampire novels after their manuscripts were rejected.

If you don’t like those rules, try some other ones. That’ll go well.

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Expedition Log, Day 1, Day 3: Nothing


11:58 am. Coming to question entire point of expedition. What is the point of discovery? What is the value of exploration? How can traveller’s tales of Upper Fiddled Mewes or the eastern shore of the Pompous Lakes District be relevant to the modern age? Is there a point to continuing, and at that, is there a point to pointedness when life is occupied by a string of suffering that stretches to the indefinite past and to the pointlessness of the future? The Price Is Right ended in a Double Overbid. After enough time spent staring into the void will come the balm of punching a book of Nietzsche.

Total Mileage: 0 (me), 0.001136 miles (book of Nietzsche, would have been farther but it hit the wall; may try again in a larger room).

Georges Melies: Le Diable Noir


For today I’d like to offer another Georges Méliès film, 1905’s Le Diable Noir. Le Diable was probably Méliès’s favorite character, since, toss in the sort of impish devil that his films featured and you have a perfectly sound reason to spend the whole film making stop-motion tricks follow one another. Here, a tenant — I believe it’s Georges Méliès himself — attempts to get to bed and it goes about as well as you might expect. I enjoy this sort of playful demon who’ll do less about inflicting eternal torment and more who’ll make excessively many chairs appear in the room.

The Beatles’ Revolver Hits


The days of the year you’re most likely to hear the various songs from The Beatles’ Revolver on NewsRadio 88 or your equivalent news station:

Song Most Popular Day
Taxman November 15 (Tax Day for procrastinators)
Eleanor Rigby September 24 (Eleanor Day)
I’m Only Sleeping August 8 (Snoopy’s Birthday)
Love You To First Monday after First Tuesday of February (Why Not?)
Here, There and Everywhere October 8 (Dave Barry’s Son’s Birthday)
Yellow Submarine Second Weekend of August (Manasquan, NJ, Big Sea Day)
She Said She Said July 16 (Echo Eve)
Good Day Sunshine Penultimate Tuesday in March (first sunny day of year)
And Your Bird Can Sing May 5 (Bird Morning)
For No One December 2 (Nothing going on)
Doctor Robert October 28 (Robert defends his thesis)
I Want To Tell You Last Sunday before Last Monday in June (Honesty Day)
Got To Get You Into My Life January 14 (National Absorption Of Other Amoebas Day, Amoeba Orthodox calendar)
Tomorrow Never Knows April 16 (better get ready!)

S J Perelman: The Body Beautiful


[ Among The Best Of S J Perelman is this article about the funny things one can find by scrounging around magazines meant for readerships which don’t include you. That’s always been a method of finding comedy, and Perelman even includes a casual mention here about how much work you might have to do in searching for stuff in order to find something that can be used.
]

Sometimes when I have worked for hours in vain over a difficult problem in Baker Street and my keen hawklike profile is drawn with fatigue, I like to take down my Stradivarius, pile it on the fire and curl up with a cop of Hygeia, the monthly magazine published by the American Medical Association. I don’t necessarily have to read it; all I have to do is curl up with it. In a few minutes my pulse becomes normal, my eyes glaze over, and I am ready to do business with the Sandman. I don’t know much about medicine but I know what I like, If the American Medical Association would only put up this magazine in tablet or powder form nobody would ever pass a white night again. Unlike other soporifics, Hygeia does not affect the heart; I have even read a copy without any ill effects other than a feeling of drowsiness the next day. It fulfills every requirement of the United States Pharmacopeia; it is clean, it is fresh every month, and it is standard strength. From the opening essay on flat feet down to the very last article on diabetic muffins, it is a guaranteed yawn from cover to cover.


The one oasis in this Sahara, however, is a sort of outpatient clinic where the layman is allowed to make a fool of himself in full view of the medical profession. I quote at random (random hell, I had to look through nineteen
copies to find it) a letter headed “Synthetic Saliva” appearing in the Q. and A. department of Hygeia:

“To the Editor:— How could saliva be duplicated? Where could the proper materials be secured to duplicate it or nearly so?— H.C.D., Illinois.

Here is a cry from the heart. Obviously some young Frankenstein has built himself a monster or Golem in his spare time out in the woodshed. With infinite labor and utmost secrecy, using bits of wire, tin, old bones and meat, he has created the perfect robot. Suddenly, on the verge of completion, he stops in sudden panic. He has left out saliva. The monster is beginning to growl ominously; he wants what all the other boys on the street have. But do you think the editors of Hygeia care? They fob off H.C.D. (possibly one of the most brilliant inventors of our time) with a few heavy-duty medical words and sink into a complacent snooze, unmindful that a raging monster with a dry mouth may be loose in the Middle West at this very moment. I don’t like to be an alarmist, fellows, but this is a very short-sighted attitude.

No matter how blase they imagine themselves, hypochondriacs from six to sixty will get a deep and ghoulish satisfaction studying the correspondence which appears each month. Those private maladies you have been pruning and transplanting couldn’t possibly compare with the things that bother Hygeia. readers. The pathetic query of J.I.B., Pennsylvania, will illustrate:

“To the Editor:— Is there any danger of contracting radium poisoning from the use of clocks painted with a radium compound; for instance, in case the clock crystal should be broken and the radium compound chipped
off?”

The editors, who pretend to know everything, reply that there is no danger whatsoever. This is pretty cold comfort to a man who probably glows like a Big Ben every time he enters a dark room. However, he might as well stop barking up the wrong tree; he wouldn’t get a civil answer from Hygeia even if he grew a minute hand and sounded the hour and half-hour with a musical chime.

I would like to think that the case of G.S., Ohio, is also one of hypochondria but it has a more ominous ring:

‘To the Editor:— Can the statements contained in a recent daily newspaper that bobbing the hair will cause girls to grow beards be verified? Or is it just a bit of propaganda?”

If that isn’t a tacit admission that Miss G.S. is sporting a grogan or an imperial around Ohio, I knock under. Even if she only thinks she has a beard, I wouldn’t give her house-room; but that is beside the point, as she has not asked me for house-room. She probably has the whole house to herself anyway. Much more understandable is the plight of the frightened Kansan who writes as follows:

“To the Editor:— My students tell me that surgeons have been able to transplant the stomach from an animal, as a calf or a goat, into man. Is this possible?— N.B.Z., Kansas”

I can sympathize with the poor fellow for I, too, get the same sensation when I drink black velvet. Actually, it only feels as if you had changed stomachs with a goat. One morning I even woke up convinced that I had swallowed a marble the night before. To make it worse, a man named Mr. Coffee-Nerves was standing over my bed in a white Prince Albert, helping me to hate myself. I got up and went right through him to the bathroom where I had a long look at my chest. At first I couldn’t tell whether it was a steelie or a bull’s-eye, but it turned out to be a clear glass agate with a little lamb inside. I managed to dissolve my marble with two aspirins in a glass of hot water. But thank God I’m no hypochondriac; you don’t catch me writing letters to the American Medical Association.

For a refreshing contrast to Hygeia, one turns to a live- wire little monthly called Estes Back to Nature Magazine, published at 1 1 3 North LaBrea Avenue, Hollywood, California. Its editor is Dr. St. Louis Estes, who modestly styles himself “Discoverer of Brain Breathing and Dynamic Breath Controls for Disease Prevention and Life Extension, Father and Founder of the Raw Food Movement, and International Authority on Old Age and Raw Foods.” (There is something to write on a library card when they ask you for your occupation.) Cooked vegetables, spices, and hair tonic are poison, says Dr. Estes, and although I have never tried the combination, I can readily believe it. But the Doctor is constructive, and I know no better answer to the cynicism and bigotry of Hygeia than a menu I found in his magazine. It was labelled “A Dinner Fit for a King” and it still haunts me:

“EGG AND FRUIT SOUP: To one quart of milk and one pint of cream, beat in thoroughly four eggs. Use as a filler cubed pineapple, sweeten to taste with honey. Serve in cups like broth.

“MOCK TURKEY-WHITE MEAT: Into one pound of cottage cheese mix and roll equal amount of raw flaked pecans, peanuts and Jordan almonds until it becomes a thick, solid mass. Season to taste with chopped onions, pimientos, green peppers, adding a dash of powdered celery, sage and horseradish. Serve in slices like white meat.

“MAPLE ICE CREAM: To one pint of whipped cream add one pint of pure maple syrup. Whip until thick. Then add the beaten whites of two eggs and one cupful of chopped nuts. Freeze.”

I froze.

Statistics Saturday: Country Populations Versus What I Thought


I confess I’ve gotten a little away from the important business of these statistical reports, that of listing countries of the world. Let me return to that, then, with a brief chart describing the countries of the world and how their population compares to what I thought.

Country Population How That Compares To What I’d Have Guessed
China 1,363,800,000 About Right
India 1,242,620,000 About Right
United States 317,842,000 About Right
Indonesia 247,424,598 About Right
Brazil 201,032,714 Higher
Pakistan 186,134,000 Higher
Nigeria 173,615,000 Higher
Bangladesh 152,518,015 Higher
Russia 146,019,512 Higher
Japan 127,120,000 Lower
Mexico 119,713,203 Higher
Philippines 99,392,700 Higher
Vietnam 89,708,900 Higher
Ethiopia 86,613,986 Higher
Egypt 86,261,500 Higher
Germany 80,716,000 Higher
Iran 77,347,000 Higher
Turkey 76,667,864 Higher
Democratic Republic of the Congo 67,514,000 Higher
Thailand 65,926,261 Higher
France 65,864,000 Lower
United Kingdom 63,705,000 Lower
Italy 60,021,955 Lower
Burma 53,259,000 About Right
South Africa 52,981,991 Higher
South Korea 50,219,669 About Right
Colombia 47,540,000 Higher
Spain 46,609,700 Lower
Ukraine 45,410,071 Higher
Tanzania 44,928,923 Higher
Kenya 44,354,000 Higher
Argentina 40,117,096 Higher
Algeria 38,700,000 Higher
Poland 38,502,396 Higher
Sudan 37,964,000 Higher
Uganda 35,357,000 Higher
Canada 35,344,962 About Right
Iraq 34,035,000 About Right
Morocco 33,225,600 Higher
Peru 30,475,144 Higher
Uzbekistan 30,183,400 Higher
Malaysia 30,071,000 About Right
Saudi Arabia 29,994,272 Higher
Venezuela 28,946,101 About Right
Nepal 26,494,504 Higher
Afghanistan 25,500,100 About Right
Yemen 25,235,000 Higher
North Korea 24,895,000 About Right
Ghana 24,658,823 Higher
Mozambique 23,700,715 Higher
Australia 23,446,084 About Right
Taiwan 23,379,129 Higher
Ivory Coast 23,202,000 Higher
Syria 21,898,000 Higher
Madagascar 21,263,403 Higher
Angola 20,609,294 Higher
Cameroon 20,386,799 Higher
Sri Lanka 20,277,597 About Right
Romania 20,121,641 About Right
Burkina Faso 17,322,796 Higher
Kazakhstan 17,207,000 Higher
Niger 17,129,076 About Right
Netherlands 16,845,600 Lower
Malawi 16,363,000 About Right
Chile 16,341,929 Lower
Guatemala 15,806,675 About Right
Ecuador 15,715,900 Lower
Mali 15,302,000 About Right
Cambodia 15,135,000 Lower
Zambia 14,580,290 Lower
Zimbabwe 12,973,808 Lower
Senegal 12,873,601 About Right
Chad 12,825,000 Lower
South Sudan 11,296,000 About Right
Belgium 11,188,935 Lower
Cuba 11,167,325 Lower
Tunisia 10,886,500 About Right
Guinea 10,824,200 About Right
Greece 10,815,197 Lower
Rwanda 10,537,222 Lower
Czech Republic 10,512,400 Lower
Somalia 10,496,000 About Right
Portugal 10,477,800 Lower
Haiti 10,413,211 About Right
Benin 10,323,000 Higher
Bolivia 10,027,254 Lower
Hungary 9,879,000 Lower
Sweden 9,658,301 Lower
Azerbaijan 9,477,100 About Right
Belarus 9,468,100 Higher
Dominican Republic 9,445,281 Lower
Burundi 9,420,248 About Right
Honduras 8,555,072 Lower
Austria 8,504,850 Lower
United Arab Emirates 8,264,070 Lower
Tajikistan 8,160,000 Higher
Israel 8,157,300 About Right
Switzerland 8,112,200 Lower
Papua New Guinea 7,398,500 About Right
Bulgaria 7,282,041 Lower
Hong Kong (China) 7,219,700 Higher
Serbia 7,181,505 About Right
Paraguay 6,783,374 Lower
Laos 6,580,800 About Right
Jordan 6,568,100 Lower
El Salvador 6,340,000 Lower
Eritrea 6,333,000 Lower
Libya 6,202,000 Lower
Togo 6,191,155 About Right
Sierra Leone 6,190,280 About Right
Nicaragua 6,071,045 Lower
Kyrgyzstan 5,663,133 About Right
Denmark 5,627,235 Lower
Finland 5,453,784 Lower
Slovakia 5,415,949 Lower
Singapore 5,399,200 About Right
Turkmenistan 5,240,000 Lower
Norway 5,109,056 Lower
Lebanon 4,822,000 Lower
Costa Rica 4,667,096 Lower
Central African Republic 4,616,000 Lower
Ireland 4,593,100 Lower
New Zealand 4,522,810 About Right
Georgia 4,483,800 Lower
Republic of the Congo 4,448,000 Lower
Palestine 4,420,549 About Right
Liberia 4,294,000 About Right
Croatia 4,290,612 Lower
Oman 3,992,000 About Right
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3,791,622 About Right
Puerto Rico (USA) 3,615,086 About Right
Moldova 4,062,800 Lower
Mauritania 3,461,041 About Right
Panama 3,405,813 Lower
Uruguay 3,286,314 Lower
Kuwait 3,065,850 Lower
Armenia 3,017,400 Lower
Lithuania 2,941,953 About Right
Mongolia 2,931,300 Lower
Albania 2,821,977 About Right
Jamaica 2,711,476 Higher
Qatar 2,116,400 About Right
Namibia 2,113,077 Lower
Lesotho 2,074,000 About Right
Macedonia 2,062,294 About Right
Slovenia 2,062,227 About Right
Botswana 2,024,904 Lower
Latvia 2,003,900 About Right
Gambia 1,882,450 Lower
Kosovo 1,815,606 Lower
Guinea-Bissau 1,704,000 Lower
Gabon 1,672,000 Lower
Equatorial Guinea 1,622,000 About Right
Trinidad and Tobago 1,328,019 About Right
Estonia 1,311,870 Lower
Mauritius 1,257,900 About Right
Swaziland 1,250,000 About Right
Bahrain 1,234,571 About Right
Timor-Leste 1,066,409 Higher
Djibouti 873,000 About Right
Cyprus 865,878 About Right
Fiji 858,038 Higher
Réunion (France) 840,974 Higher
Guyana 784,894 Higher
Bhutan 746,060 Higher
Comoros 743,798 Higher
Montenegro 620,029 Higher
Macau (China) 607,500 Lower
Solomon Islands 581,344 Lower
Western Sahara 567,000 Lower
Luxembourg 537,000 Lower
Suriname 534,189 About Right
Cape Verde 491,875 About Right
Malta 416,055 About Right
Guadeloupe (France) 405,739 Lower
Brunei 393,162 Lower
Martinique (France) 392,291 About Right
Bahamas 351,461 About Right
Belize 349,728 Lower
Iceland 325,671 Lower
Maldives 317,280 About Right
Barbados 285,000 Lower
French Polynesia (France) 268,270 About Right
Vanuatu 264,652 About Right
New Caledonia (France) 258,958 Higher
French Guiana (France) 237,549 Higher
Mayotte (France) 212,645 About Right
Samoa 187,820 Lower
São Tomé and Príncipe 187,356 Lower
Saint Lucia 180,000 Lower
Guam (USA) 159,358 Lower
Curaçao (Netherlands) 150,563 Lower
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 109,000 Lower
Kiribati 106,461 About Right
United States Virgin Islands (USA) 106,405 Lower
Grenada 103,328 Lower
Tonga 103,036 About Right
Aruba (Netherlands) 101,484 About Right
Federated States of Micronesia 101,351 About Right
Jersey (UK) 99,000 Lower
Seychelles 90,945 Lower
Antigua and Barbuda 86,295 Lower
Isle of Man (UK) 84,497 Lower
Andorra 76,098 Lower
Dominica 71,293 Lower
Bermuda (UK) 64,237 Lower
Guernsey (UK) 63,085 Lower
Greenland (Denmark) 56,483 Lower
Marshall Islands 56,086 About Right
American Samoa (USA) 55,519 About Right
Cayman Islands (UK) 55,456 About Right
Saint Kitts and Nevis 54,000 About Right
Northern Mariana Islands (USA) 53,883 About Right
Faroe Islands (Denmark) 48,308 About Right
Sint Maarten (Netherlands) 37,429 About Right
Liechtenstein 37,132 Lower
Saint Martin (France) 36,979 Lower
Monaco 36,136 About Right
San Marino 33,549 About Right
Turks and Caicos Islands (UK) 31,458 Lower
Gibraltar (UK) 30,001 Lower
British Virgin Islands (UK) 29,537 Lower
Åland Islands (Finland) 28,502 Lower
Caribbean Netherlands (Netherlands) 23,296 Lower
Palau 20,901 Lower
Cook Islands (NZ) 14,974 Lower
Anguilla (UK) 13,452 Lower
Wallis and Futuna (France) 13,135 Lower
Tuvalu 11,323 Lower
Nauru 9,945 Lower
Saint Barthélemy (France) 8,938 Lower
Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France) 6,081 Lower
Montserrat (UK) 4,922 Lower
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (UK) 4,000 About Right
Svalbard and Jan Mayen (Norway) 2,655 Lower
Falkland Islands (UK) 2,563 About Right
Norfolk Island (Australia) 2,302 Lower
Christmas Island (Australia) 2,072 Lower
Niue (NZ) 1,613 Lower
Tokelau (NZ) 1,411 Lower
Vatican City 839 Higher
Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia) 596 Lower
Pitcairn Islands (UK) 56 About Right

In conclusion: there are a lot of countries in the world and I somehow had preconceptions about the size of the populations of New Caledonia, Gambia, and Benin, which I only hope hasn’t caused me to make improper policy decisions.

Betty Boop: Crazy Town


For today’s cartoon I’d like to offer something that’s just absurd: the Fleischer studios’ 1932 Betty Boop short Crazy Town. After the handsome opening credits — which include James Culhane, who’s famous in animation circles for doing the “Heigh-Ho” sequence in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and writing (as Shamus Culhane) the classic textbook Animation From Script To Screen; and David Tendlar, who never achieved fame, but who animated for Fleischer Studios/Paramount Studios for decades and then went to Hanna-Barbera, so you’ve seen his work — Betty Boop and Bimbo take the trolley to Crazy Town, a place where pretty much any sight gag the animators could think of gets done. Many of them are simple reversals of expectation, birds that fly under water and fish that swim above, or barbers that make hair grow by cutting it, but that doesn’t infringe on the childish glee that comes from seeing the reversals. And then, of course, things keep getting stranger.

The Record Offensive


I’ve been reading Kenneth Bilby’s biography of David Sarnoff, the pioneer in organizing multinational corporations to enthusiastically crush inventors who foolishly develop critical radio and television technologies, and came across one of those passages in Chapter 7 (“Chapter Seven”) that just captivates a mind like mine:

The tools that [ Sarnoff ] proposed for winning [ the Cold War ] were electronic, to be made available at cost by American manufacturing concerns, led by RCA. Tiny record players, costing less than $1 to manufacture, would be parachuted in clusters inside Russia along with small vinyl records. The recorded messages in Russian would tell the populace that America was their friend and call upon them to overthrow their Marxist masters. [ … ] The idea of parachuted phonographs was dropped as too hazardous, and thus possibly counterproductive.

Imagine the world if come the late 50s RCA had cranked out millions of cheap record players that were parachute-dropped into the Soviet Union, carrying messages of friendship and goodwill and apologies for any record players that hit someone on the head as they landed, which would probably be the counterproductive part. “We love you,” I can picture the recording of President Eisenhower saying, “Sorry about the bumps on the head! Overthrow your masters!” Well, maybe that doesn’t exactly capture Eisenhower’s voice, since he was born in Kansas or something in the late 19th century, where they only used exclamation points for weirdly passionate arguments about silver coinage. So imagine something with those sentiments, then, but expressed using his own punctuation.

Of course, on top of the counterproductivity of bonking Russians on the head with record players of love and rebellion there’s also the potential for retaliation. Surely something fewer than two billion record players could be dropped onto Moscow before the Soviets would decide it’s time to retaliate, and they’d start whipping up their own record players for dropping into Western Europe, increasing the rate of head injury from the Oder to the English Channel, and maybe a bit farther, if the winds are up to it. By 1962 West and East Germany could be covered hip-deep in one-dollar record players, and traffic in anything smaller than a bulldozer would be impossible.

Since by this point it’d be clear the record-player-drop wasn’t working the only thing to do would be to step it up, with even more record players and far more discs plummeting onto the East European Plain when the Central Siberian Plateau turend out to be too hard to find. The President couldn’t possibly have time to record all the messages, and probably wouldn’t even review them after a couple dozen times. The record-makers would start slipping in popular music, comedians, maybe read some stuff from the newspaper they thought was neat and the only people to suspect would be the actual Russians, who, if they understand English, would naturally wonder why the United States was going to all this effort to read them Charles Henry Goren’s columns about playing bridge, or why anyone plays bridge.

To achieve better market saturation bombers would give way to rockets, and by the mid-1960s the Soviets and the Americans would have hundreds of Intercontinental Ballistic Muzak weapons, ready on a moment’s notice to shower the population with enough Ferrante and Teicher to background the world with music twelve times over. The contest would leap inevitably to space, where the first long-playing rockets threaten to light up the entire ionosphere with an inescapable mass of Mexicali Singers, at what risk to the ozone layer we can only imagine. (And none of this even considers how the Non-Aligned Movement might react to a blanketing of Vaughn Meader.) The first men on the Moon could well look back to Earth and remark how from that distance there are no 45’s, no 33 1/3’s, no 78’s, just a universal matrix message of brotherhood.

So aren’t you captivated by this? And yet the real world decided this was maybe one Cold War scheme too many. But that’s probably just as well. If we were making record players for a dollar to parachute onto unsuspecting people, how much would we be spending on the parachutes? I grant a cheap parachute isn’t necessarily a bad one, but, would you want to take that risk?

The Mildness of the Weather and the Walnut Trees of Oregon


So, a close examination of the sidewalks in my neighborhood for reasons that are perfectly legitimate and not at all odd, thank you very much, led me to a January 1912 edition of The M.A.C. Record, the student newspaper for what would become Michigan State University. Amongst the items listed in “About The Campus” was this intelligence:

O. I. Gregg writes that he has placed an order for a large number of fruit and walnut trees, to be planted on the Fairview fruit and poultry ranch at Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Mr. Gregg enjoys the West, and states that the weather is very mild at this time of year.

I realize that this is not in substance any different from the things people post on their Facebooks or Twitter feeds today, but I can’t help imagining Mister O. I. Gregg, then now of Grant’s Pass, Oregon, stopping in the telegraph office and declaring, “Gadzooks! It’s the New Year! I must send a message to the Michigan Agricultural College and notify them of my purchase of fruit and walnut trees, as well as to attest to the mildness of the weather at this time of year!” Probably there was a crowd, too, of all the college men in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, gathered around and figuring out how many trees they were going to tell their alma maters they had purchased.

I wonder if the weather really was mild in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, in the winter of 1911-12. Maybe the college graduates just reported it was, so everyone would figure they were doing comfortably well, what with their fruit and their walnut trees, and wouldn’t worry about them and wouldn’t lose heart in their academic studies or dreams of someday moving to Oregon.

Expedition Log, Day 1, Redux: Not Arguing That Again


9:45 am. Not making the same mistake as last time. Headed out east to find the Cumbrey Road onramp desperately backed up due to emergency construction. Turned around; went west, discovered the Pridmore’s Swamp Turnpike closed due to non-emergency non-construction. At the Five Points Turnabout walls of orange barrels reach high enough to blot out the sun. Trying south instead discovered potholes for sale by the square yard and extending as far as forty feet off the highway and into people’s homes. Northwest reveals a patch where it’s still winter, and northeast finds routine construction implying detours sending me right back home. Clearly there are deeper forces at work here than we suspect.

Total Mileage: 0.

From The Days of Sensurround


You maybe remember a while back I got to wondering about the 1977 disaster film Rollercoaster. There’s a scene near the end where they needed a rock band, and apparently the producers’ first hope was that they’d get Kiss to play the scenes. Somehow that didn’t happen, and they got Sparks instead, because Kiss and Sparks are very similar bands what with having two S’s and on K in both their names.

It turns out that according to somebody or other on the Internet Movie Database, which is the soundest citation possible not involving “forwarded in e-mail from your grandmom”, the producers also considered at some point having the Bay City Rollers perform. This is obviously a huge departure what with that band having only one S and no K’s to speak of, and makes me wonder if the producers even knew what they were looking for. It’s almost like they figured once they had roller coasters everything else would just fit, whatever letters they had. I don’t know.

Robert Benchley: Do Insects Think?


[ I feel like some Benchley today; do you? From Love Conquers All, Mister Benchley offers his experiences with the problem of understanding the mind of a very non-human animal. ]

In a recent book entitled, The Psychic Life of Insects, Professor Bouvier says that we must be careful not to credit the little winged fellows with intelligence when they behave in what seems like an intelligent manner. They may be only reacting. I would like to confront the Professor with an instance of reasoning power on the part of an insect which can not be explained away in any such manner.

During the summer of 1899, while I was at work on my treatise Do Larvae Laugh, we kept a female wasp at our cottage in the Adirondacks. It really was more like a child of our own than a wasp, except that it looked more like a wasp than a child of our own. That was one of the ways we told the difference.

It was still a young wasp when we got it (thirteen or fourteen years old) and for some time we could not get it to eat or drink, it was so shy. Since it was a, female, we decided to call it Miriam, but soon the children’s nickname for it—“Pudge”—became a fixture, and “Pudge” it was from that time on.

One evening I had been working late in my laboratory fooling round with some gin and other chemicals, and in leaving the room I tripped over a nine of diamonds which someone had left lying on the floor and knocked over my card catalogue containing the names and addresses of all the larvae worth knowing in North America. The cards went everywhere.

I was too tired to stop to pick them up that night, and went sobbing to bed, just as mad as I could be. As I went, however, I noticed the wasp flying about in circles over the scattered cards. “Maybe Pudge will pick them up,” I said half-laughingly to myself, never thinking for one moment that such would be the case.

When I came down the next morning Pudge was still asleep over in her box, evidently tired out. And well she might have been. For there on the floor lay the cards scattered all about just as I had left them the night before. The faithful little insect had buzzed about all night trying to come to some decision about picking them up and arranging them in the catalogue-box, and then, figuring out for herself that, as she knew practically nothing about larvae of any sort except wasp-larvae, she ould probably make more of a mess of rearranging them than as if she left them on the floor for me to fix. It was just too much for her to tackle, and, discouraged, she went over and lay down in her box, where she cried herself to sleep.

If this is not an answer to Professor Bouvier’s statement that insects have no reasoning power, I do not know what is.

Statistics Saturday: Mean Time Between Paul McCartney


Here is a quick reference guide to how long you can expect to go between references to something written by or featuring Sir Paul McCartney:

Location Time
The 60s ratio station 18 minutes
The 70s radio station 17 minutes
The 80s radio station 34 minutes, but it’s going to be “Spies Like Us” distressingly often
NewsRadio 88 46 hours
Any given episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 54 minutes
The 50s radio station There are no 50s radio stations anymore
Foreign currency exchange markets 12 minutes (!)
Dave Davies’s house Once per year, as in late March he figures to write an April Fool’s e-mail to Ray Davies saying Paul invited him on tour because nobody else can sing “Death Of A Clown” right, only he has to delete the unsent e-mail because once again this year he hasn’t got Ray Davies’s e-mail
As Wake-Up Music On The International Space Station 4 days
Commercials Supporting The Existence Of Banks Surprisingly short
Those tiny toy music boxes at the museum gift shop Continuous until the cashiers go mad

Felix the Cat: Felix in Fairyland


For this Saturday morning I’d like to offer Pat Sullivan’s Felix in Fairyland. Felix the Cat is one of those cartoon stars who managed to become so famous in his prime that he’s been kind of remembered ever since even though there hasn’t really been a lot to remember him for in a lifetime. There’ve been revitals in the 1950s and 1990s, and a direct-to-video movie in 1991 that featured some staggeringly ugly computer animation, but I can’t say any of it since the 1930s has been all that interesting. Nevertheless, he’s still somewhat recognizable, and gets rated as among the top cartoon characters of all time, so, why not look to one of the originals?

This nine-minute short, as promised, sends Felix to a fairy-tale land after an act of kindness, and once there he stands up for Little Miss Muffet and then comes to the aid of the Little Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe. Cartoons would do a lot of fairy-tale fracturing and recombining in decades to come, and I’d be surprised if this were the first cartoon to do that, but it must be among the earlier ones since cartoons were only something like two decades old at this point.

The cartoon shows its age, in ways besides being silent. The worst of these ways is the pacing, as it takes its time establishing stuff and making sure everyone knows the setup. Felix doesn’t even get to Fairyland until two and a half minutes in. But the best of these ways is in the loose way that anything can be anything else, given a moment to change. Reality could be a very fluid thing before animation got very good at telling stories, and before sound and color added a kind of heavy reality to objects. When it was all black ink and white background, a spider could be a witch and Felix could climb a ladder of his own question marks with dreamy ease.

In Which I Do Not, Repeat Do Not, Poison Our Pet Rabbit


“This is poison, isn’t it?” said our pet rabbit, as he chewed on the leafy part.

I’d had the accusation before. “It’s Swiss chard again. There wasn’t anything poisonous about it last time either.”

He hopped up and shook out a little, which is the sort of happy thing rabbits do and didn’t match his tone at all. “Why are you trying to poison me?” He sniffed and then chewed some more at the leaf.

“Why on Earth would I even want to poison you? You’re too darling to poison.”

He pulled his head up, which is some new behavior he’s picked up and exposes this adorable dark-colored patch in the middle of the white-colored patches of his chin, and it’s only his quick reflexes that keep it from being tickled. “I can’t know your motivations. If I make the a priori assumption you’re a rational agent I could expect you to inevitably come to a sufficient moral awareness to keep you from choosing to poison me, but for all I know you’ve had a partial or a defective moral upbringing. And I know you’re not fully rational because I heard that awful movie you watched Saturday.”

So this explained why the bookmarks in my Beloved’s books of Kant keep getting moved around, and maybe why there was a nibbled corner of the Critique of the Power of Judgement. I should probably mention here that not all pets kept by philosophers end up acting like. Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, famously kept a pet squirrel who did little but kick the him in the shins, less because of the squirrel’s treatise on the origins of ethics and more because Wittgenstein was the sort of person who inspired people to kick him. Also in my defense I was watching Foodfight extremely ironically and felt a little bad for even doing that.

“I can’t prove to you that I’ve got a functioning moral compass” — and he interrupted with a sharp HA! — “but if you really suspect the chard is poison you don’t have to eat it.”

He stopped chewing and looked up indignantly. “You yelled and laughed when I ate that dog food!”

“We didn’t think you’d really eat it! We thought you’d sniff at it and refuse. That stuff contains meat, you know.”

“Then why’d you put a kibble out for me?”

“Well, it’s cute seeing you sniff at things you rear back from.”

“Because you figure I won’t eat poison!”

“Again, though, you haven’t suggested a reason for me to poison you. And just saying I’m irrational doesn’t excuse the need for a reason. You need an irrational reason.”

He huffed a bit, the way he does when he realizes he’s being pulled into the pet carrier. “You envy my superior lifestyle. I can just hop around the house and eat and nap all day.”

“That argument won’t obtain,” which sounds like a smart thing to say, because it’s a weird use of the word “obtain”, one I’m not sure is defensible. “I’m a telecommuter. Functionally we’re equivalent.”

“If you’re not envious then why don’t you ever name me when you write about me on the Internet?”

Ah, that. Probably best to go with the honest answer. “I don’t want people getting your name and ringing up fraudulent credit card charges. It protects you.”

“Oh.” And he started chewing on the stalk of the chard. “You could give me a stage name.”

“I can’t think of any that could capture your personality.”

And he did that little shaking hop.

“You know, when I bought that chard, the cashier asked if red or white tasted better.”

He let the stalk of the chard drop. “What did you tell him?”

“I told her I didn’t know. We just buy it for you.”

“And she asked why you’re poisoning me?” He picked the stalk back up and started inhaling it, like a log disappearing into a buzz saw.

“She asked whether you liked it.”

“And you said?”

“I said you were still working out your policy regarding Swiss chard” — he snorted again — “but you look so adorable chewing the stalk that we couldn’t resist.” And he finished the last of it.

“I name you when I write about you on the Internet.”

“I’m flattered.”

“If this isn’t poison why don’t you eat some?”

“The last time we ate any vegetables we bought for you you called it the end of the world.”

“Well, that’s honest at least,” and he flopped out on his side.

Expedition Log, Day 1. Mileage: lower than expected


9:30 am. Readied to set out. With the car loaded up, popped back inside to announce to presumed interested public about the start of the journey. Drawn into conflict about whether this should be “Day 1” or “Day 0” away from home on the grounds that a nontrivial part of the day was spent at home. Argument proved surprisingly violent; cats hid under bed, producing discovery that there were cats around.

Total Mileage: 0.

Math, Comics, and Popeye


I wanted to give people around here a warning that over on my mathematics blog there’s a fresh collection of comics that mention mathematics subjects, and what those math subjects imply.

Bud Sagendorf’s _Popeye_, 18 March 2014. Olive Oyl demands Popeye’s first, middle, and last names.

And to keep things interesting around here this April 2, when all the stores mark their pranks down to half-price, let me point out the current storyline that’s in the daily Popeye comics by Bud Sagendorf. It’s a rerun, originally running from the 7th of January through the 9th of April, 1980, and in it Olive Oyl is working as a census taker, and having trouble with Popeye because, as the sampled strips note, he just hasn’t got a last name. Nor has he got a middle name, which I’m aware causes all sorts of problems with forms that were designed on the assumption that people have middle names even though that’s so very wrong.

Bud Sagendorf's _Popeye_, 19 March 2014.  Olive Oyl thinks Popeye's name sounds like a condition.

Anyway, the story has been staggering on a couple weeks in the quest to get Popeye’s full name, and not making much progress there, and I’m reading partly because I do like Popeye that much, and partly because I really want to know if, for all this talk about Popeye the Sailor needing a middle name, they’re ever going to figure out a middle name for Olive Oyl.

Unfortunately the Sagendorf Popeye was not notable for its satisfying resolutions to its storylines, and there isn’t much evidence a couple weeks in that the quest for Popeye’s name is looping back around to the obvious question.

What Nebus Humor Found In March 2014


To keep up the listing of things and numbers and especially countries that’s oddly popular around here let me review what WordPress says the humor blog did here the past month. The big news is I had my most popular month, by page views, on record, 468 things looked at, which is thrilling because I’d hoped that sometime I’d write stuff that was viewed by not more than ten percent less than 500 times in a single month. There were 199 unique visitors, too, which ties for second for my all-time records without being a suspiciously neat 200. I bet WordPress deducted one just so it wouldn’t look like too round a number was being reported. Anyway, all that’s up fro February 2014’s 337 views and 170 visitors, and even the views per visitor went up from 1.98 to 2.35.

The top five articles this month produced a four-way crash for fifth place, which isn’t that always the way? But here’s the list of them:

  1. The Chuckletrousers Decade, a lightly biographical bit about something funny that happened on Usenet back when Usenet happened.
  2. I’m No Good At Music, the really not at all exaggerated story of how bad I am with doing music.
  3. Next, The Comics, pointing over to my mathematics blog and showing off a Beetle Bailey cartoon printed literally days after the Soviet Union had the world’s first successful intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
  4. Dream World Investment Tips: My Little Pony Edition, as apparently there’s a very peculiar fortune to be made out of this show.
  5. Warnings From The Dream World: Trans-Dimensional Travel Edition, as there are hazards in going through dystopian alternate universes and hassling with their movie cashiers.
  6. Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail In The Indianapolis 500, because really isn’t every fact about this movie astounding?
  7. Escaping To Lansing, and the various disasters you won’t see there.
  8. Better Eating For 2015, and how Olive Garden figures it will provide this.

The countries sending me many readers this month were the United States (342), the United Kingdom (22), and the Canada (11). Just a single reader each came from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Pakistan, Russia, and Switzerland. None of those were on the list for February, so again, the whole world is very gradually kind of tolerating my stuff.

Among the search terms that brought people here:

Community Events: Neighborhood Warning Night


Lesser Pompous Lakes, All Residential Neighborhoods, 6:30 – 8:30 pm: All residents are requested to go to their windows and look up and down the block to identify the most petty things their neighbors are doing that still annoy them. Get some sheets of paper and write these things down, then wad the papers up around rubber erasers and after ten or fifteen minutes go out and throw these things at the relevant neighbors. Meanwhile in the confusion a small squad of pranksters from South Lesser Pompous Lakes will be able to sneak in to City Hall and leave the cow. No don’t write that part in the e-mail to the newspaper, Jeremy. No, it isn’t funny to pretend we’re going to tell them why we’re doing it, now delete it before you hit send