The Big Novelty Act


I ran across this bit in Anthony Slide’s The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville:

Of the genuine freak acts, one of the most revolting, but popular, was Willard, the Man Who Grows, billed as “the star attraction of the Wintergarten, Berlin”. Clarence E Willard was featured in vaudeville during 1913 and 1914, and could add 7 1/2 inches to his height of 5 feet, 9-3/4 inches. He could extend his arms to anywhere from 8 to 15 inches, and could make one leg 4 inches longer than the other. As “Wynn” noted in Variety (October 17, 1914), “Willard is one of that strange species of novelty that one must see to appreciate.”

I really kind of have to agree: I’m not entirely clear how “becoming seven and a half inches taller” could be an act, exactly, yet I’d be interested in seeing it, so apparently that is an act. And that fact means I can’t fairly make a joke about how, like, yeah, in 1913 the only other public entertainment options were watching baseball from before they bothered mowing the lawns inside the ballparks and catching the latest Balkan War. But I also don’t see what extending an arm eight to fifteen inches could do to be revolting. The best I can get is creepily unsettling. Maybe I’m not thinking about it hard enough.

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First-Class Prize-Winning Thinking


The Post Office had a nice, big sign in the glass of the front door, which is useful as it keeps people from being scared by their views in or out of the front door through. The poster warns: “If it costs $250 to collect your prize it’s probably a scam.”

It’s the “probably” that gets me. Someone with the Post Office No Scam Bureau looked over the records and found, yeah, these first 88 money-for-prizes deals were frauds, but then here came two ones where they legitimately turned the prizes over, and the copy went from “it’s a scam” to “it’s probably a scam”.

Also, boy, you have to figure the guy running the cash-for-prizes scam who was charging just $247.85 was looking at those posters and thinking, “Whew! Under the wire! Nobody’s going to suspect me yet!”

Bookstore Numbers


14: the average number of minutes you have to hover around the History section of a bookstore before hearing some fully grown-up man explain in all sincerity to another fully grown-up woman that, actually, the United States was justified in getting involved in World War II. This is down one minute from the same statistic as measured last year.

Some Autocomplete Joys of Life


This is one of those wonderful little things that really exists and that I just ran across. If you go to Google and type “www” into the search bar, it comes up with auto-complete suggestions of http://www.google.com, http://www.facebook.com, http://www.yahoo.com, and http://www.youtube.com. At least it does for me. I can’t explain why but the Yahoo auto-completion particularly makes me giggle. Enjoy!

More Comics (still not all of them)


For the folks who liked my last head-sup over to the mathematics blog, because I talked about comic strips with mathematical themes, I have another roundup of some of the comic strips which, in the last ten days, also found reasons to try telling jokes about mathematics. It won’t be on the quiz, but this will be.

Misconstrued Poetry Restorations


The North American Council on Poetic Quality has issued the following guidelines of words that can no longer be used in consumer- or industrial-grade poetry. Exemptions will be applied for cause. The Council also reminds all that National Haiku Pedantry Month starts the first of November, so be ready to help them enforce the rules about cutting words and nature imagery by leaping up on desks and shaking golf clubs about while insisting it’s everyone else on the Internet that has the issue and they should go write limericks instead.

O: as a particulate extrapolation that fills in those little bits where it feels the sentence hasn’t quite got started yet, the word-letter “O” has suffered from extreme overuse and fatigue, bringing the population of the word-letters to the brink of extinction. Therefore the word-letter “E” is to take its place, as the stocks of this are much more robust and have a tendency to get into the garage if not thinned out some. Use with abandon, the long E only.

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What It Means To Be A Math Major


Primarily, it means I just can not believe these people who go out memorizing the value of e — the base of the natural logarithm — to only five places after the decimal point. I mean, come on, the second through fifth digits are repeated in the sixth through ninth positions! If you’ve bothered to memorize the first five digits past the decimal point then you’ve got the first nine down. Why deny yourself the free fruits of your mental labors? And don’t go telling me that it’s because you memorized it in base two or base sixteen or one of those silly other bases absolutely nobody needs. If we were talking about memorizing the value of e in base twelve then we wouldn’t have talked about the decimal point, would we? We’d be talking about the radix point. Sheesh.

Secondarily, it means I believe in the existence of people who’ve memorized the value of e to a mere five places past the decimal point.

Musical Confession (A Note)


After a conscience-wracked night I’ve decided to come clean. I told a joke about the deli guy whistling the opening of The Towering Inferno yesterday, and that’s not actually so. I disguised the name of the movie so as to protect his privacy, but now I think I was doing a disservice to the historical record, which hasn’t been released in MP3 form yet. It was actually the first fourteen notes to The Poseidon Adventure.

I am, of course, fibbing about this too.

Musical Breakthrough


Forensic musicians have announced a major breakthrough in trying to figure out what exactly the guy at the delicatessen has been singing all this time. Computer-aided analysis indicates he probably has been whistling what was originally the first twelve notes to the theme of The Towering Inferno, somehow. Also it turns out there was a theme to The Towering Inferno, which goes far towards explaining why it’s been so hard to figure out what it was. Further research into just why anyone would be whistling this tune must wait for a researcher brave enough to actually ask the guy, for crying out loud.

I Must Have Overheard This Wrong


“They also scroll, like proverbial butter”? I don’t offhand know any proverbs about butter scrolling. Granting that I did hear it wrong, though, what should I have heard instead? “They also roll, like proverbial butter”? That isn’t much of an improvement. “They also butter, like proverbial rolls”, now that parses, but the other way around is just absurd. Clearly I’ve just got to go back around and try this whole listening thing again, from the start.

Franklin P Adams: Poesy’s Guerdon


[ Please let me draw another bit of verse from Franklin P Adams and the Tobogganing on Parnassus collection. ]

( *   *   * I do not believe a single modern English
poet is living to-day on the current proceeds of his
verse. — From “Literary Taste and How to Form it,”
by Arnold Bennett.)

What time I pen the Mighty Line
Suffusëd with the spark divine
As who should say: “By George! That’s fine!”

Indignantly do I deny
The words of Arnold Bennett. Why,
Is this not English verse? say I.

And by the proceeds of that verse —
Such as, e.g., these little terc-
Ets — is not filled the family purse?

Do we not live on what I sell,
Sonnet, ballade, and villanelle?

     *   *   *
“We do,” She says, “and none too well.”

Getting To Yes


My dear spouse bought the new album by Steven’s Salute, and it was a bunch of downloads, because it was bought on the Internet. The only tangible goods ever bought on the Internet are Woot shirts, ammunition, and wooden carvings of chickens.

iTunes reported the album, particularly the second song, had a playing time of 372 hours (honest!). Possibly when Steven’s Salute was finishing their records they entered something in the info box and GarageBand wanted to double-check so it popped up a little box asking “Are You Sure? Yes/No” and since the instinctive response to an “Are You Sure?” dialogue box popping up is to hit “Yes” before it’s even read because they never actually stop you from doing something stupid, the software thought it was the prog-rock band and figured, yeah, fifteen and a half days isn’t that much longer than “The Gates of Delirium”, so it accepted everything.

It’s a pleasantly zippy 372 hours, for what it’s worth.

The Internet and Pumpernickel


You know how the Internet has changed things? Suppose that you like pumpernickel. In the pre-Internet days you’d probably just go along liking pumpernickel, eating it in appropriate amounts and wondering if you’re maybe the youngest English-speaking soul who still eats it on purpose. Certainly nobody you ever meet except your grandparents eats pumpernickel. This might be because you switched to a supermarket, away from the bakery that’s in the midst of downtown’s bustling Customers Pronking Into Traffic district because it closes fifteen minutes after you get out of work and there was that time you asked about what eight similar-looking loaves were and got into a painfully awkward conversation with them not understanding what it was you didn’t understand, and don’t ever have to talk with anyone to buy actual bread anymore.

Now and then something called pumpernickel turns up in the sandwiches Arby’s tucks into the weird subdivided parts of its menu board like they don’t want to have them but also can’t take them off without hurting somebody’s feelings. But mostly, you just like pumpernickel, the taste and the way saying “pumpernickel” over and over again makes you feel, and the store usually has sufficient pumpernickel for your immediate heavy-breaded needs, and the worst that ever happens is occasionally your brain is haunted by the idea that ABC’s classic “The Chomper” public service announcement supporting dental health might have shouted out to pumpernickel and carrot sticks as good things to eat, please hopefully not together. How pumpernickel can be all that good for teeth was still mysterious, what with it just being bread, but at least you could take in the message.

With the Internet, that’s changed. You can find all kinds of people who also like pumpernickel, which right away is a big change in your bread-based social interaction. Before any pumpernickel-based socialization you had was of a strictly practical kind: buying pumpernickel, eating pumpernickel, maybe answering the awe-struck questions of children who don’t understand why you’d go eating a kind of bread that’s the color and pattern of the decorative walkways in the garden paths in back of the boring restaurant their parents dragged them to once and swore never again.

Now there’s a theoretical aspect to the whole thing, having bread-themed social interactions in a setting that’s far removed from any actual bread, or possibly any other actual people. Certainly real people can’t be writing this much about pumpernickel, or as they spell it “pumpernickle” or worse, and why whatever it is you like about it is the wrong thing to like about it. Where would they find time to do the necessary things of daily life, like driving to the hardware store or being hissed at by squirrels?

And yet what they write is compelling, because it all leaves you miserable. You’ll learn, for instance, that your favorite brand of pumpernickel was created by a white supremacist, Euell M Pumpermeyer or whatever, who figured that by improving the yeast or rye or whatever used to make his bread products he’d be able to inspire wider eugenicist movements. He sold out decades ago to a big multinational conglomerate, and he’s been dead for literally a couple years now anyway, and at least he was an incompetent white supremacist who never noticed that yeast is just not among the top hundred things suppressing people. But still.

Worse, you’ll discover that the multinational conglomerate that makes that pumpernickel, only with not so much overt racism and more high-fructose corn syrup, is still a horrible, horrible company. Some in the pumpernickel forums try to argue about this, pointing out the company’s placement as one of the Top Ten Ethical Multinational Conglomerate Bread Manufacturers, but that mostly means they’re responsible for fewer than average maimings of low-level employees and there’s room to plausibly dispute their links to the Blood Caraway trade. And the supermarket isn’t any great shakes either because it’s sustained mostly by the profits derived from smacking cinder blocks with kittens. This earned the store a certificate for being in the top twenty percent of ethical supermarket chains before the ethics panel went into the shoe closet and started weeping and hasn’t stopped yet.

All these things were going on before, but you never had to know because you never learned anything about the pumpernickel trade beyond that you could buy and, if you chose, eat some. Now the Internet can reassure you that, yes, “The Chopper” does tell you pumpernickel is somehow important for your teeth.

The Competition


The Robert Benchley Society has put up its valid entries for the 2013 Humor Prize, on a web sit that safely anonymizes all the contributions. I know which is mine, I hope, though I reserve the right to change my claims about authorship if someone else’s gets through the preliminary judging. You’re free to find someone else’s better, but if you do please don’t tell me as I’m still recovering from that whole two- and three-star ratings issue.

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.

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”