No, The Space Whale Probe Can Hold Off, Too


Remember back when the world was young and Star Trek IV: The One With The Whales first came out in theaters? Me too. There’s this scene where Kirk and Spock are riding a bus because it’s the mid-80s, and there’s this young punk playing annoying music too loud. So Spock neck-pinches him, and he falls over, knocking his boombox off. Everyone on the bus applauds because, hey, so far as they can tell this man wearing a bathrobe in public has choked a kid to death for being snotty! And everyone watching the scene chuckles too because, hey, don’t we all want to choke the youth to death? Yes.

What’s haunted me, as an annoying Star Trek fan, is the lyrics for the punk’s music. They run like this:

Just where is the future, the things we’ve done and said
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead

‘Cause I hate you, and I berate you
And I can’t wait to get to you too

The sins of all the fathers been dumped on us, the sons,
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?

Thing is, in the universe of Star Trek, that kid on the bus is less than a decade away from the Third World War. So is whatever British Punk Band That Works “Berate” Into Its Chorus that recorded the song. (In the full version they let “eschew” into the verse. My music tastes run more towards “sounds like that theremin’s calving”, but I can appreciate solid punk writing when I hear it.) And I keep thinking: what did that kid, and what did that band, think later on when The Bombs were falling?

(Yes, yes, I am very aware that as this was an Original Series movie the Third World War that bus punk would experience was explicitly non-nuclear. It was conventional warfare that killed 37 million people and that’s better I guess? It wasn’t until the more optimistic and utopian Next Generation that they rescheduled the Third World War to the mid-21st-century and killed over a half billion people.)

We’ve been thinking about a civilization-wrecking nuclear war for a long time. Or at least we’ve been thinking we’re thinking about it. We don’t really picture nuclear destruction, though. We don’t even picture ordinary destruction. What we imagine is a tense half-hour listening to news anchors trying to keep it together while the camera keeps drifting off-center, and the newsroom is weirdly quiet apart from off-camera voices sometimes shouting. Also taking phone calls from estranged friends with last-minute repentances for wronging us. Good luck those getting through. Even if the phone lines weren’t jammed apparently we’d all be having consequence-free sex with people we’d never see again anyway? Or so you all might. I’d be busy trying to download my Twitter archive so I could re-read some choice digs I got in on someone back in May.

We’ve got vague thoughts about what happens after, too. Post-apocalypse planning works out to be thinking we’ll get to pick the best stuff out of the landscape. Maybe go into business as a local warlord, trading supplies and shelter with trustworthy-looking stragglers. This from people who can’t handle there not being a dividing bar on the checkout conveyor belt at the farmer’s market. What if the guy ahead of us gets my two bunches of curly parsley? These aren’t the thoughts of someone up for handling the thirtieth day in a row of eating cream-of-celery soup. It was the only thing left that better scavengers didn’t get to first at the Neighborhood Market that mostly sold cell phone cards and lottery tickets. It’s reconstituted using water from where the now-former paint factory is leaking toluene into the aquifer. And it’s cold.

We’d need help, that’s all there is to it. And I don’t know what to do. On my bookshelf alone I have enough World War II books to teach how to win the war, except for how to fight. But they all end with lots of people in rubble-strewn cities. Even the ones about the postwar situation skim over what there is to do in it. There’s dramatic photos and talk about people clearing away rubble. Then it’s 1948 (for Europe) or 1950 (for Japan) and the United States decides the rubble cities should have an economy again. That’s over three years of people clearing away rubble. They had a lot of rubble, yes. But they also had to agree on where to put the rubble. And that takes social organization. And I don’t know where that comes from either.

This may be controversial, but I say ending civilization and destroying the world is a bad move. We should tough out our problems as they are and try fixing what we can. Thanks to YouTube you’ve seen all the footage of news anchors trying not to lose it that you could possibly need, and it’s about the same every time. Trust your estranged friends when they drop hints that they’d take an apology happily. Drop your estranged friends a hint that you’d take an apology happily. Stop looking for consequence-free stuff to do with or to people. For me, I’m going on TrekBBS to yell that they do not build the whale tank out of transparent aluminum. They build it out of the six-inch-thick plexiglass they traded the transparent aluminum formula for. Come on, people, watch the movie you’re watching. We can at least get that right.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eleven points today as traders started getting all giddy thinking about how they used to be at, like, 80 points and now they’re up so way high nobody can even see 100 or even 200 anymore, which doesn’t sound at all like the sort of hubristic declaration that leads to incredible pain.

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Things It Is Acceptable To See Trending On Twitter


Instead of city names, especially your city name. Or the name of a beloved celebrity who’s either died or declared that the people complaining about an incredibly racist thing he said are the true racists.

  • Change a word so a title means something else.
  • Fit a pop culture thing into some other pop culture thing and maybe say it’s just like your workplace.
  • Here’s a real word given a fake definition.
  • Assonance Day Of The Week!
  • Making Something More 80s, possibly by adding that crashing-synthesizer-piano sting from Yes’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
  • Dogs are awesome. Look at this one!
  • A sports team has traded a person for something that seems at first odd, like the promise of a future person or the chance to name a dog or perhaps a large bowl of tapioca. Maybe some carpeting. I don’t know. Someone with more characters to explain can explain why this makes perfect sense for everybody involved and two-thirds of the people who aren’t but it’ll still sound odd.
  • Somebody found a stream of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon from 1985 and we can’t stop talking about that because good lord is this episode really titled Ali Bano and the 40 Geeks? Oh, this is gonna hurt.
  • There’s something in space and we know about it!
  • Yeah, dogs are great but look at this bunny! Seriously!

Peeking In On The ThunderCats


I can’t tell you why I was looking up ThunderCats episodes, not without being ashamed. But there was a time when I was like thirteen when the show was really extremely kind-of important-ish to me and I wouldn’t miss an episode. It was a good show for not missing an episode. It centered centering on a small band of cat-people refugees on a planet the show could never quite decide was or wasn’t Earth. They’d have adventures in seeing whose voice actor could most awkwardly place the stresses in their line readings. Also there was the episode which made it clear the ThunderCats, and galactic society at large, had lost the technology of “soap”. This suffices to explain why they never went to restaurants. There’s no way Galaxy County’s Board of Health would allow anyone to prepare food under those conditions. It makes me wonder where people go to have awkward parties after business hours with co-workers.

I don’t remember anymore why I stopped watching the show. I don’t think I lost interest in the basic premise. I mean, it’s cat-people refugees who manage to talk the local cyborg teddy bears into building an impractically large cat-shaped fortress for them. That’s the sort of thing everybody wants to see. And they go on to build a high-speed tank and, later, a spaceship. These are things to admire. If I were one of a half-dozen refugees of humanity thrown onto an alien planet I’d be hard-pressed to finish building a vacuum-based pasta extrusion machine. These guys would extrude one without even calling on the guy whose legs are rotary drills that I’m pretty sure I didn’t just imagine. I must have just got busy what with progressing in age to like fifteen and being very busy keeping everybody out of my room.

I kind of knew they kept making the show even after I stopped watching. I should have written to tell them they didn’t need to bother. Maybe they would’ve anyway; they had got the hang of making these episodes. I seem to have wandered off from the show sometime in its second season. They finished out that season and made two more after that. They kept adding new characters, and new toys, and at one point they even gave the characters a whole new planet to putter around in. Two whole planets seems like a lot for a dozen cat-people to share, but I understand the logic. Planets were popular back then. You maybe remember how for Christmas 1986 people were lining up for days in the hopes Toys R Us would have even a measly Kuiper Belt Object on the shelves.

“Shoo! Get Out!” Toys R Us store managers, dressed as giraffes, would say as they came in to face a line of shoppers in the morning. “We’re selling Amigas this year, if Commodore can ship any that aren’t on fire!” But they wouldn’t listen. It would be madness to ignore that sort of demand. So everybody just bought a Teddy Ruxpin, and tried to make that cyborg teddy bear build them an impractically large cat-shaped fortress, and lost it (the teddy bear).

One of the episodes I never saw has its start, says the overwritten-yet-uncommunicative Wikipedia episode guide, when “Vultureman escapes from exile by hijacking a bookmobile”. And now I have a new favorite episode summary for anything. I assume Vultureman snuck into the Exiles Bookmobile by disguising himself as a 75-cent pocket book of crossword puzzles. If he didn’t, I don’t want to know.

It can be heartbreaking to go back to the dumb stuff you loved as a kid. They’re the crushes of youth. They’re best left as the occasional mysterious smile until you’re remote enough. When the shaky animation, the many stock shots, and the nearly fourteen bars of background music are about you instead of the show then you can watch. But bear in mind, the episode guide says there’s one where annoying nephew Snarfer gets Mexican takeout from the cyborg teddy bears.

That bookmobile episode was written by Matthew Malach. The Internet Movie Database credits him for writing the 1993 or possibly 1996 cartoon Stone Protectors. This was a series about how buff troll dolls use magic alien crystals to become a competent rock band and, um, samurai wrestlers or something. This might not sound like much, but many of its episodes did get released on videotape. I hope it brings someone joy to know that.

In The Aftermath Of 80s Night


I’m going ahead and guessing you want to know how the 80s Night came out. For me it was more dignified than the actual 1980s. It involved less weeping and much less Destro on my part. I was never in the running for the 80s Costume Contest. I did dress pretty much as I did in the actual 1980s, what with finding a shirt and a pair of pants that fit and wearing them around the correct limbs and segments of my torso. The contest was won by a women who came in a sweater so blue and puffy that it broke through previous cognitive barriers to find new yet somehow vintage colors of blue and textures of puffiness. It challenged well-known conceptual theories of blue puffiness. Everyone was outclassed, but I was outclassed the most.

Besides the costume contest there was music. If it weren’t for the music the night would just be people wearing unfashionable clothing, staring at each other, and wondering if the hipster bar wasn’t supposed to be closed that day anyway. It was and for some reason it wasn’t.

Still, running alongside the music was dancing. My love was happy to dance. I was willing to go along but am at rather a disadvantage. My love has learned such sophisticated dancing skills as “how” and “when to”. I’m still working on the part of dancing where I don’t look as though I’ve been pulled out of bed, stripped to my underwear, and shoved out onto an unfamiliar podium to give the State of the Union address. It is strong but faces great challenges if we are to remain great.

There was probably some point when I should have learned dancing. I guess when I was a teen and going to parties. Here I have to plead higher priorities. When I was in high school it was most important that I spend every Friday and Saturday night watching The Wrath of Khan. And, you know, while I was doing all that the movie didn’t change one bit. It would go on not changing for like fifteen years after that, when I was busy with other stuff and they released DVDs. I did as much as I could. I had similar results on Saturday and Sunday nights with The Search For Spock.

But my heroic sacrifice means I’m stuck for what to do when dancing. I understand that I should be moving my body, both wholly and in parts. Some part of me understands, for example, I should do something that coordinates with the movements of my love, who’s dancing in front of me. The obvious thing is to do what my love is doing. This could be in mirror — my love moves left, so I do too — or in rotation — my love moves left, so I move right. This leads me to think about the kinds of symmetry operations that are valid in dancing partners. How do they vary with dancing quartets, or trios, or arbitrary large groups of people dancing around a circle? Are they necessarily discrete symmetries or are continuous ones allowed too? This is what happens to people you let grow up into mathematics majors. By the time I’ve worked it out the DJ has finished with the Pet Shop Boys for the night.

But I’ll carry on trying anyway because I want to be a good sport. My basic move is what I learned from doing the step aerobics move on WiiFit. I don’t want to unnecessarily brag about my abilities there, but in two and a half years of daily exercise on that I got “perfect” scores on their two-and-a-half minute step aerobics literally more than four times.

None of this should imply that I raise my hands, by the way. I grant it’s theoretically possible to raise my hands above the level of my pockets while dancing. I don’t believe the rewards could be worth the risk. If I raised a hand how would I know someone wouldn’t try to shake it, or hand me the leash for a pack of werewolves harnessed together as sled dogs, or try to high-five me, or something? No, I’ll just be over here, shuffling at the steady beat of WiiFit Step Aerobics whatever the song’s beat is, circling around my love until I get dizzy and fall down. It’s what I can do well.

Dressing the Party


There’s an 80s Night at our local hipster bar. It’s tonight, Sunday night. The bar had been closed Sunday nights since about March, and, this is true, finally got ‘CLOSED SUNDAYS’ painted onto the back door underneath its hours. So you see why this is the sort of place where I fit in.

The trouble is the dressing-up portion. After decades I finally learned about dressing myself. So I don’t try picking anything that I think looks good. A solid color for a shirt, and a different solid color for pants, plus socks. It’s a fashion I like to call “minor character in a lazily designed comic strip”.

What happens if I pick clothes for myself? Well, take any picture from any group of the 1970s or 1980s. You see the person dressed most regrettably? I used to have that outfit. I still would if it hadn’t worn it until it had multiple significant holes. So all that is to say that once again, I can’t pick out clothes to look like I belong.

How I Overcame The Face In My Room


M J Wright was writing about the tendency of people to see patterns where there aren’t any. It’s put me in mind of something from back in my days as a teenage boy. I also spent my nights as a teenage boy, back then. It seemed the best use of my time. But you should bear in mind that as a teenage boy, I was nevertheless a teenage boy, so my judgement was bad. I don’t mean it was the kind of bad judgement that leads to stories which include non-metaphorical uses of the word “plummet”, or leave one barred from joining a military service or entering any Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips ever. My judgement was an ordinary, low-level sort of bad.

For example, I would spend hours typing in the programs listed in Compute!’s Gazette for the Commodore 64. See, back then a major draw for computer magazines was they’d give you the code for programs to do stuff like play versions of Arkanoid but with worse graphics and no sound. All you had to do was type in hundreds of two- or three-digit binary codes perfectly. Compute!’s Gazette was a really special magazine, because it insisted on putting an exclamation point just before the apostrophe s. I just know that offended copy editors, back when there were copy editors.

The work-to-play ratio got a lot better about a year after I got a Commodore 64 that was basically fine but some of the keys were wrong. That’s because I finally got a Datasette. This was a tape recorder optimized for use by the Commodore 64 by having a plug the right shape for it. So I could finally type in a program once and then re-use it sometime later. I know this doesn’t sound like much now, but remember the times. It was an era when the computer had sixteen colors, and three of them were grey.

Sometimes I’d even use them. Not necessarily. I once spent an evening typing in the code for the word processor SpeedScript 1.0, even though I had already typed in SpeedScript 3.2. Why would I do this? Well, I had the magazine with the code for SpeedScript 1.0 in it and it was just sitting there waiting for someone to type it in. And it wasn’t like my wrists could be expected to pick up a repetitive strain injury on their own. As I say, I was a teenaged boy.

Anyway. I had a small television set with rabbit-ear antennas in my bedroom. I hung aluminum foil on the ends of the ears to improve the reception a tiny bit. Mostly I wanted the thrill of having rabbit-ear antennas with panes of aluminum foil on the ends. I thought that made it more rabbit-ear antenna-y. Remember, teenaged boy.

One night I noticed that, through the light from outside, one of the sheets of foil had a clear human face in it. I realize I know what face, too: it was pretty obviously Destro, from G.I.Joe. And this annoyed me because I knew if I tried to draw a face it wouldn’t be anywhere near so well-formed as that. I never tried drawing Destro much. I did, some, in making my own awful comics. I had wanted to point out ways that minor procedural changes would have allowed many of Cobra’s evil schemes succeed. But I figured out drawing comics was easier if I just drew landscapes, word balloons, and explosions. The people could be skipped. And eventually I figured out that I had no responsibility for correcting Cobra’s blunders.

Still, this aluminium-foil Destro was there every night, teasing me. All my powers and slight concentration couldn’t do a face nearly as realistic or as expressive as this thing created by breezes and fiddling with the antenna. It wasn’t all I thought about in bed, but it was something to nag at me every night.

So finally one day I crumpled up the foil and flattened it out again. This eliminated the face for good, and I can draw a better Destro that that, I assume. I think this was the right thing to do, but remember, I was that teenaged boy.

I know what this has you all wondering. Of course I never typed in SpeedScript 2.0, because that was only offered as a special bonus to people who bought the Compute!’s Gazette Disk. So far as I know there was never anything for the public to type in.

Dug It


I got to looking up the early-80s video game Dig Dug, which taught me how to better my enemies by wielding a bicycle pump at them, which has never worked for me. I’ve never got past the third board in the game, and a bicycle pump has done even worse at fending off my enemies in real life. But StrategyWiki delighted me by not just being able to tell me the names all the things in it, and revealing that among the “bonus vegetables” that pop up if you do far better than I have ever done are eggplants, pineapples, garlic, Galaxian, and green peppers, is that Dig Dug himself has a proper name and it isn’t “Mr Dug”.

Apparently his proper name is Taizo Hori, and he’s the father of “Mr Driller”, famed star of the Mr Driller series of video games that I never heard of before this. I don’t know why Mr Driller changed his family name. Maybe Taizo’s wife kept her maiden name, or they didn’t marry at all. Maybe Mr Driller wanted to get away from having a name that’s a Japanese pun, which it turns out his dad’s name is. “Horitai zo” apparently means “I want to dig”, although I’m not sure changing your name from “I Want To Dig” to “Mr Digger” isn’t just a lateral move, like going from “Mr Shepherd” to “Mr Fellow With A Keen Interest In Organizing Groups Of Sheep”. Obviously there are parts of the psychology of the Dig Dug universe that I don’t adequately understand.

It also turns out there’s backstory to Dig Dug that explains Taizo is digging around his own vegetable patch, which is why vegetables turn up, and it’s being invaded by those critters which is why he’s trying to blow them up, and now I kind of want to look up an explanation for how the Burger Time universe came to be, but I’m also afraid of finding out. I’ve almost gotten to the third board in that.

Also, garlic is a vegetable? I guess I can accept it as a vegetable. I suppose I didn’t have a clear notion of what it was, besides one of those things that comes chopped up in a bottle and that I put too much of on my burger. All right, so it’s a vegetable, then.

Did I Mention We’re Beaming You Into Beirut?


Tasha Yar, Worf, and two people we never saw before are dressed in shiny blue spandex.
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a movie in which “saving the neighborhood rec center” is the plot.

“If our historical databanks about the 1980s are any good, you’re going to fit in perfectly down there. Now go save that neighborhood rec center!”

Why I Missed So Many 80’s Movies


It isn’t that I was deliberately avoiding them, or that I was particularly avoiding social gatherings where they might be shown. It’s just that it was very, very important that I watch a videotape of The Wrath Of Khan 316 times while I was still in high school, just in case it changed on us all or something. Sometimes I’d have to watch it two or three times in a night, but I think you’ll agree the effort was worthwhile.