In Which I Am Surprised How Little Time British People Leave Tea Bags In


I’d been reading Marcus du Sautoy’s The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life because I still haven’t decided whether to make an inter-library loan request for Martin Albrow’s Bureaucracy or just to give up on the idea of fun altogether. Or whether I mean David Beetham’s Bureaucracy instead.

Anyway, de Sautoy gets going in a right jaunty chapter about how tea bag shapes were revolutionized in the 1990s when Tetley thought to try “circular” and it was incredibly popular. And PG had to think very hard about a shape not so fusty and old-fashioned as “mostly square I guess”. But the book mentioned part of the design challenge was how long the average British tea-maker left the bag in the hot water. Apparently it’d be as little as twenty seconds, short enough that in the mostly-square-I-guess bags not even all the tea leaves would get wet.

It’s left me stunned. I grew up with the American fashion of making tea, which is to put the bag into the water and leave it there forever. The only reason we ever throw out a mug is because it’s gotten stuffed full of spent tea bags, jammed into a dense mass of compressed diamond-like sourness. But I know that’s extreme. I hadn’t realized that the British way of making tea was so extreme on the other side. It’s left me wondering how tea was ever rationed, back in the day. It seems like even in the heights of wartime and Austerity Britain rationing they could’ve satisfied everyone’s tea tastes by just shipping a cardboard box labelled “tea” with instructions to bump it against the teapot three times before serving.

This is the eternal joy of learning: it makes you realize how little you understand the world.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Investor confidence returned today when traders found a bunch of pictures of capybaras, including a bunch that are all other animals resting on top of capybaras that don’t seem phased by this at all, and now everybody also wants to be a capybara.

215

In Which I Am Insulted By My Reading


So I was enjoying some of my light early-summer reading, Carl B Boyer’s The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, 1939’s feel-good hit of the mathematical history book trade. And early on in the second chapter he had this:

Pythagorean deduction a priori having met with remarkable success in its field, an attempt (unwarranted, it is now recognized) was made to apply it to the description of the world of events, in which Ionian hylozoistic interpretations a posteriori had made very little headway.

Well, I mean, good grief, how did Dr Boyer even figure that sentence was needed? Is there anyone who goes around saying, “boy, but the Ionian hylozoistic interpretation a posteriori is a fantastic description of the world of events”? We’re not savages. My father — Dad, back me up on this one — I remember sitting me down, before he ever took us up to see Santa Claus at Macy’s in Manhattan for the first time, pointing out the unwarranted nature of applying Pythagorean deduction to the world of events. I don’t even know who those parentheses are for. It’s like he has no conception of his audience. Ionian hylozoistic interpretations, sheesh!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor was consumed today with a hypothetical question. Consider there must be some part of the United States government that works out plans just in case an extraterrestrial alien is found on Earth; it’s a remote possibility, but one of such enormous historic import that at least a working plan ought to be in mind. Anyway, they surely have some name to designate the lifeform and what it might do and who’ll be responsible for showing it a good time. Well, what if in the 1980s they designated the thing as “Alien Life Form” and then the sitcom came along and made it just impossible to use that name and be taken seriously? Huh? Anyway, when they were all done pondering that secret government agency having to change a name they found the index had risen 23 points, which has got to be the most it’s ever done in one day but who can tell?

204

Why I’ve Been Busy Smiling


So my love mentioned that one of the special Patreon-subscribers-only episodes of bad-books podcast I Don’t Even Own A Television reviewed a modern Hardy Boys book. It’s one where the Hardy Boys investigate the local hip-hop scene. And you remember the DMV sloth in Zootopia smiling? That stuff happens in real life too. My love told me about this Wednesday and I’m still only in the first half of that smile. And I think, the more you think about it, the more you’re going to start smiling and keep on smiling even through the day as it is. You’re welcome!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

the index fell today, confirming everyone’s fears about how we can’t have good stuff and nothing ever really lasts and there’s just no sense to even caring if everything is just going to turn on you and inspire misery in you. Really seems like an overreaction to dropping, like, one point. People.

164

Everything You Need To Know About Me In One Paragraph


The scene: the university library. The time: earlier today. The person: me. The books: on the shelves.

While looking for a specific book about rust my eye was caught by something. “Is that,” I thought, “another book about the history of containerized cargo?” I’ve already read, and bought, two such, but I am hardly going to refuse a third book just because I would not be able to buy it from the library without first losing it. “Oh, no, it isn’t,” I thought, “it’s about containerized cargo as a current and living industry. That’s great!” And I had a book I didn’t figure on borrowing to borrow.

So if you also remember that I’m still reading Usenet, you know everything necessary to prepare your own simulation of me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped nine points after closer inspection revealed the book was not specifically about containerized cargo but was instead about all manner of wrapping a thing in some other thing and the reasons one might do such a thing. Which isn’t bad, mind you, but it isn’t all about the container shipping.

127

The October 2016 Scraps File: Some Stuff I Didn’t Use Last Month


As ever, free to a good home.

“Changing your mind’s a good thing to do occasionally. The newest model minds are compatible with 1080 i, which is apparently good for some reason. I understand some of them are able to let you get as many as five songs stuck in your head simultaneously. Not forever, of course, just until they all end at the same moment, which will never happen.” — cut because I did some further investigation to the 1080 i-compatible brains and it turns out it’s really only four songs plus a jingle. Hardly seems worth it, does it? But maybe you see something there that I don’t.

“If it’s warm enough then your ceiling will be a semi-molten surface which holds back oceans of liquefied lead and clouds of sulphuric acid vapor. This is a sign that your room is on Venus.” — cut because I can’t find evidence that anyone from Venus reads my blog. Maybe someone with a broader audience can use this, which I think was supposed to be part of a string of house-cleaning tips. That sounds like me anyway.

“Ours is the leading open academy for teaching people to be a bit more uncomfortably warm. Any school can give you the experience of being unpleasantly hot, simply by pouring any academy-certified lava down your throat. But we specialize in a simple warmth that makes you feel like you should have stopped dressing sooner than you did. It’s a rare talent.” — cut when I realized I had no idea where I was going with this even though it’s been sitting around in my scraps bin for like half a year now. It seems like it ought to be something more than that and maybe it could, who can say. If nobody uses this in the next, say, two months I might bring it back in the shop and try it out again.

“No matter what time it is there’s someone in the world who’s dizzier than anyone else in the world feels dizzy. And there’s someone in the world who’s been dizzier longer than anyone else in the world has been dizzy. And if those traits are ever manifested by the same person, just watch out! And clear some space so the poor person doesn’t trip. Someone could get hurt.” — It’s all true enough, but is this going anywhere funny? I don’t want readers to think I lack empathy for folks who trip over stuff even if they are holders of current dizziness records.

“The door is a domesticated version of the `wild’ or `undomesticated’ door. The wild door evolved in southern India, where the naturally solitary but not unfriendly creatures would often stand upright and swing just enough to let people and animals walking at night crash into the side. Almost uniquely among home furnishings (only lighting fixtures and half-walls share this trait) the door is warm-blooded, and so never truly falls into torpor even in the hottest or coldest weather, which explains its usefulness in all climates.” — cut because I did some fresh research and learned many more home furnishings are warm-blooded than was believed as few as two years ago, when I last took a course in this stuff. Doors still don’t truly hibernate, but they’re happy to perpetuate the rumor they do in order that people leave them alone. It’s fascinating stuff, certainly, but requires more research than I’m able to do this week.

“It’s never easy to say just how long the biography you write should be. To make the respectable kind eligible for prizes it should be at least ten pages for each year of the subject’s life, or 532 pages, the winner to be decided in a best-of-seven contest.” — cut when I learned there’s not even close to agreement in writing circles about what contest should be used to establish the biography’s length. I like baseball, myself, although not so much that I think to go see games or watch them on TV. I guess I like the principle more. But I know there’s people who would root for basketball or hockey or one of those weird sports that the sign at the town border says the high school team won two years ago. I suggest someone with strong ideas about what to use as a contest might use this.

“all sorts of squirrel Instagrams” — cut from a conversation I overheard while entering the library because while it’s not my conversation, I like the notion of there being a wide variety of squirrel Instagrams. I only follow two squirrels on Twitter so I don’t know how representative those can be.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped a point in trading and blame that on the World Series ending in such thrilling form. Analysts are pretty sure it just rolled under the counter and as soon as they get there with a broom they’ll find it again. You don’t think they’re fooling themselves, do you? We remember when the index dropped to numbers like 94 or 90 or 91 or other dreadful things and why isn’t anyone worrying about that?

96

Thrown For A Curve


When I went to the library it was to return a book. I went in saying, “thanks kindly for having so many books available but I don’t need any new ones just now and wait, a book about the history of fast-pitch softball? Yes, I should read that”. It’s Erica Westly’s Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. I recommend it, as it’s a pleasant and breezy history. It’s got a bit more focus on major people and less on the policy-setting and organizational challenges than I’d like, but do remember, I’m a person who has a preferred author for pop histories of containerized cargo. If that isn’t enough, well, I’ll let my dad tell you what he thinks of it. I’m guessing my dad’s read it, as we have eerily similar tastes in nonfiction. And he only reads more fiction because he’s the guy in his book club that actually reads the book.

Anyway, the cover blurb is from Lily Koppel, “bestselling author of The Astronaut Wives Club”, which I’ve heard good things about but somehow not read because I guess my dad hasn’t got around to it yet. But Koppel says:

Fastpitch is A League Of Their Own for the softball set.

Good recommendation, if you liked A League Of Their Own, which I think I do even though I only remember the scene about there being no crying in baseball. But the thing is, A League Of Their Own was about the women’s fast-pitch softball league. The book talks about it in several chapters. I suppose there really aren’t any other movie references to softball, fast- or slow-pitch, that anybody remembers at all, but it’s still weird. It’s got me wondering about other Koppel book recommendations, like, “Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon is Apollo 13 for the Space Race set”, or “Team Of Rivals is Lincoln for the Civil War”. “The Longest Day is The Longest Day for D-Day”. Dad, you have any thoughts about books?

Statistics Saturday: Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World


  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky.
  • Banana: the Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel.
  • Symbols of Power: Ten Coins that Changed the World, Robert Bracey, Thomas Hockenhull.
  • In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart.
  • Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan.
  • Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, Gillian D’Arcy Wood.
  • Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, Chris Lowney.
  • Legends, Icons, and Rebels: Music that Changed the World, Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot.
  • Indigo: The Color that Changed the World, Catherine Legrand.
  • Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano that Changed the World, Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe.
  • Tea: A History of the Drink that Changed the World, John C Griffiths.
  • Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World, Jim Lacey, Williamson Murra.
  • Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, Douglas Wood, Barry Moser.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World, Penny Colman.
  • Mauve: How one Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield.
  • Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events that Changed the World, Phil Mason.
  • Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Jack Kelly.
  • The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, Bill Eppridge, Adrienne Aurichio.
  • Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Laura C Martin.
  • Nasdaq: A History of the Market that Changed the World, Mark Ingebretsen.

Not listed: The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester.

Also counting the Winchester I’ve read at least seven of these. That Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe volcano book wasn’t about Tambora, don’t be silly.

Robert Benchley: Confessions Of A Chess Champion


It’s always fun to read a review of a book that amused someone in ways they didn’t intend. Here, from Love Conquers All, is a review Robert Benchley wrote of a chess memoir.

CONFESSIONS OF A CHESS CHAMPION

With the opening of the baseball season, the sporting urge stirs in one’s blood and we turn to such books as My Chess Career, by J R Capablanca. Mr Capablanca, I gather from his text, plays chess very well. Wherein he unquestionably has something on me.

His book is a combination of autobiography and pictorial examples of difficult games he has participated in and won. I could understand the autobiographical part perfectly, but although I have seen chess diagrams in the evening papers for years, I never have been able to become nervous over one. It has always seemed to me that when you have seen one diagram of a chessboard you have seen them all. Therefore, I can give only a superficial review of the technical parts of Mr Capablanca’s book.


His personal reminiscences, however, are full of poignant episodes. For instance, let us take an incident which occurred in his early boyhood when he found out what sort of man his father really was — a sombre event in the life of any boy, much more so for the boy Capablanca.

“I was born in Havana, the capital of the Island of Cuba,” he says, “the 19th of November, 1888. I was not yet five years old when by accident I came into my father’s private office and found him playing with another gentleman. I had never seen a game of chess before; the pieces interested me and I went the next day to see them play again. The third day, as I looked on, my father, a very poor beginner, moved a Knight from a white square to another white square. His opponent, apparently not a better player, did not notice it. My father won, and I proceeded to call him a cheat and to laugh.”

Imagine the feelings of a young boy entering his father’s private office and seeing a man whom he had been brought up to love and to revere moving a Knight from one white square to another. It is a wonder that the boy had the courage to grow up at all with a start in life like that.

But he did grow up, and at the age of eight, in spite of the advice of doctors, he was a frequent visitor at the Havana Chess Club. As he says in describing this period of his career, “Soon Don Celso Golmayo, the strongest player there, was unable to give me a rook.” So you can see how good he was. Don Celso couldn’t give him a rook. And if Don Celso couldn’t, who on earth could?

In his introduction, Mr Capablanca (I wish that I could get it out of my head that Mr Capablanca is possibly a relation of the Casablanca boy who did the right thing by the burning deck. They are, of course, two entirely different people) — in his introduction, Mr Capablanca says:

“Conceit I consider a foolish thing; but more foolish still is that false modesty that vainly attempts to conceal that which all facts tend to prove.”

It is this straining to overcome a foolish, false modesty which leads him to say, in connection with his matches with members of the Manhattan Chess Club. “As one by one I mowed them down without the loss of a single game, my superiority became apparent.” Or, in speaking of his “endings” (a term we chess experts use to designate the last part of our game), to murmur modestly: “The endings I already played very well, and to my mind had attained the high standard for which they were in the future to be well known.” Mr Capablanca will have to watch that false modesty of his. It will get him into trouble some day.

Although this column makes no pretense of carrying sporting news, it seems only right to print a part of the running story of the big game between Capablanca and Dr O S Bernstein in the San Sebastian tournament of 1911. Capablanca wore the white, while Dr Bernstein upheld the honor of the black.

The tense moment of the game had been reached. Capablanca has the ball on Dr Bernstein’s 3-yard line on the second down, with a minute and a half to play. The stands are wild. Cries of “Hold ’em, Bernstein!” and “Touchdown, Capablanca!” ring out on the frosty November air.

Brave voices are singing the fighting song entitled “Capablanca’s Day” which runs as follows:

    “Oh, sweep, sweep across the board,
    With your castles, queens, and pawns;
    We are with you, all Havana’s horde,
    Till the sun of victory dawns;
    Then it’s fight, fight, FIGHT!

    To your last white knight,
    For the truth must win alway,
    And our hearts beat true

    Old `J R’ for you

    On Capa-blanca’s Day.”

“Up to this point the game had proceeded along the lines generally recommended by the masters,” writes Capablanca. “The last move, however, is a slight deviation from the regular course, which brings this Knight back to B in order to leave open the diagonal for the Q, and besides is more in accordance with the defensive nature of the game. Much more could be said as to the reasons that make Kt – B the preferred move of most masters…. Of course, lest there be some misapprehension, let me state that the move Kt – B is made in conjunction with K R – K, which comes first.”

It is lucky that Mr Casablanca made that explanation, for I was being seized with just that misapprehension which he feared. (Mr Capablanca, I mean.)

Below is the box-score by innings:

1. P – K4. P – K4.
2. Kt – QB3. Kt – QB3.
3. P – B4. P x P.
.4 Kt – B3. P – K Kt4.

(Game called on account of darkness.)

In Support Of Pants-Wearing Animals


My love needed some books from the library. I went along because I like being places with my love. I did not go because I needed any books. I had several library books to read yet anyway. And I have a half-dozen or so books, some going back to summer, that I’ve bought and haven’t got to because I’ve been borring library books at a good rate (about one book per book finished) since then. I was there simply in a companionate role, smiling and being present and that was it.

What I’m saying is of course I borrowed Alan Abel’s The Great American Hoax, about the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. This was the early-60s satire of groups that go out caring about stuff. It proposed that all sufficiently large animals wear clothes. The story of how allegedly grown-up people were fooled into thinking it was real was bought by Paramount for adaptation into a movie, if you believe the jacket copy, which who would?

Why We Never Listen To My iPod On Shuffle


If I’m alone in the car I listen to audio books. I’ve got a lot of them because I don’t have to drive alone in the car much anymore. The current model iPod hides the things it knows to be audio books off in a different application because listening to music files is totally different from listening to someone reading. Fine. But with a bunch of audio book files I haven’t got around to setting the flag that tells the iPod that it’s an audio book, not music.

So. We tried my iPod on shuffle for a change because my love’s iPod that we normally listen to was low on battery and we forgot its cable. We were running about one-third “weird electronic music experiments from that time I bought an album of BBC Radiophonic sound products” to two-thirds “random chapters from Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. Which apparently is a lot longer in audio book form than I imagined because it just kept coming up. I should probably listen to it sometime.

That Moving Spirit


I had something remarkable happen. A friend asked me to help him move. I see this as a big deal. It’s not like I even own a truck. I’d never own a truck. If you own a truck you have to deal with a never-ending string of people asking for help moving. They’re not even people you know in the slightest. Travel sometime to a place where strangers gather, so far as anybody gathers anymore. A mall food court, or a town hall meeting, or a stunt organized by the radio station. You’ll encounter folks going up to strangers and saying, “Do you own a truck you could help me move with?”

But as a truck-less person the question has a different connotation. Someone would ask me to help them move just because they think I might be a tall guy who can probably hoist stuff. And they’re right. Even for a tall guy I’m pretty good at hoisting stuff and lugging it around. This is because I used to be a tall, fat guy, and I had to build up some serious hoisting and lugging muscles just to stand up and waddle over to lunch. I’ve lost most of that weight. You’d be surprised what you can throw in the dumpster behind a Shop-Rite before they catch you. But I’ve kept most of my hoisting and lugging muscles.

Really I kind of hope for chances to show off my hoisting and lugging prowess. But it’s awkward just asking people, “Can I help you move this weekend?” It has connotations of your hoping to get rid of them. They’ll let you ask once or twice, and then decide they’re never going to move, just to spite you. And just walking down the street, holding a cardboard banker’s box full of books is no way to go, because a cardboard banker’s box full of books weighs two and a half times what Mars’s moon Phobos does, and the cardboard will tear and they’ll all drop on your foot, denting some of the books. You have to just wait for an offer to lug stuff around.

Yes, this does sound like the kind of thing standard-issue guys would do. And yes, it’s a good rule of thumb that “stuff guys do should never be done by decent people”. Granted. But I’m not talking about lugging stuff around until somebody weeps. I’m just talking about, you know, here are some masses of things, and they could be somewhere else, and I am the kind of guy who can make that happen.

So I was glad to be asked, and to be able to say yes. But the really thrilling thing is that the question came from a friend of my love’s. He and I had gotten to be friendly, yes, but what we mostly had in common was knowing my love. We had some things to talk about, like how he beats me handily every time we play pool, and how I could beat him handily when we play pinball yet somehow do not, but we didn’t have any serious connection. And now we do.

Asking someone to help you move when there’s not truck ownership involved shows you think the friendship has reached a higher level. It marks the falling-away of a certain guardedness and reserve. Someone who’s asked you to help them move is saying, “I trust you to not freak out when you see how I arrange stuff in the moving van all the wrong way. It’s like, do we even recognize the same principles of spatial reasoning? No we do not but I believe you are a person who can accept that and not turn this into a quarrel, unlike some people we could name but won’t, like D----.” This is meaningful stuff.

This is also important to me because it signifies my forming a new real friendship. Most of my social circle is made of Internet friends. Internet friends are much like real friends, except that your Internet friends have a built-in excuse for not being able to help you move, and you’ll eventually break up with your Internet friends in a shockingly bitter fight that starts over which of you better exemplifies the ideals of the “Mane Six” characters on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I like my Internet friends, the ones who are left after I told them I don’t ever want to hear about any of the characters on My Little Pony. I feel a little dirty every time I encounter the phrase “Mane Six”. But getting to this fresh level of friendship with someone in real life is a wonder.

I hope the new place has an elevator.

Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already


The book isn’t stupid, to be exact. It’s Beggar Thy Neighbor: a History of Usury and Debt, by Charles R Geisst, who probably knows what he’s talking about overall. The book’s from a university library. It doesn’t have a jacket. These are all marks of book respectability. But then I run into a line like this — and it’s exactly like this, in chapter 4 — and I’m thrown:

In 1853 the secretary of the Treasury estimated that around 60 percent of the bonds issued by Boston and Jersey City and 25 percent of those issued by New York City were held by foreigners.

It’s a straightforward sentence even if it’s rated “very hard to read” and is too short to judge what its readability is like anyway. Yet I’m wondering things I know I’ll never get answered. Here’s some.

  1. Obviously, the big one: Thomas Corwin or James Guthrie? I mean, c’mon, this wasn’t even a boring change of presidential administration like in 1857. This was a major change in the political status quo. Why, Corwin and Guthrie were born in completely different north-central Kentucky counties. So which one was estimating?
  2. Why was Corwin or Guthrie estimating this? Did it come up as part of the daily work of Treasury Secretary-ing? What work, then? I know he can’t have just finished the work of signing every new-issued dollar bill early that day and gone casting about for some way to fill an hour and forty minutes before he could duck out for home in good conscience. Maybe he was quarreling with the State Department. Perhaps he figured if he whipped out some snappy numbers about city bond holding by foreigners then it would help. Or was he just idly working it out, the way you might work out how much of Florida would sink beneath sea level if all the elephants of the world were to stand on Kissimmee? Was his curiosity professional, I mean?
  3. If he was working it out for a quarrel with the State Department (or whoever), did the numbers help his case any? It’d be a fine thing to work out foreign bond holding for Boston, Jersey City, and New York City and then find the answer made you look like the bigger fool. I guess it helped or we wouldn’t have heard the answer, unless someone on his staff leaked the numbers to make him look bad. Read any history of the United States in the 1850s and you get all this talk about the runup to the Civil War. Nobody mentions what assistant secretary of the Treasury might be trying to make Corwin or Guthrie look bad in a quarrel with the State Department about foreign-held municipal bonds.
  4. Why study Boston, Jersey City, and New York City? What made that the short list and not some other cities? Was the foreign-held municipal debt situation of Novi, Michigan too boring to consider? What did Milledgeville, Georgia, do to not rate consideration? Were Corwin and Guthrie even aware of Batesville, Arkansas? I don’t quarrel with looking into the municipal debt situation of Boston and New York City, since they’re interesting towns. But why does Jersey City make the list? I vaguely like the place, since I’m from New Jersey and we’re deeply invested in insisting Jersey City is the next Hoboken which is the next Brooklyn which is a good thing we swear. And Jersey City has a lot to recommend it. For example, its Pavonia neighborhood is indirectly named for peacocks, and how many neighborhoods can you say that about? Besides the Peacock District that I’m assuming exists in Kaatsheuvel, in North Brabant in the Netherlands, I’m guessing not many. Plus Jersey City has the Pulaski Skyway, not a single square foot of which isn’t terrifying in every way. But why would that bring the city’s bond situation to the Treasury Secretary’s attention? In 1853 the Pulaski Skyway was literally less than 150 years away from being built. That can’t have attracted their attention.
  5. Why worry about foreigners holding municipal bonds, anyway? Was the Treasury scared the foreigners would do something disreputable with them, such as lick the bonds before redeeming them? But then why not have the finance department just open overseas mail while wearing gloves?

Also, the book is not at all clear that quotes from around 1820 from the New-York Daily Times are not from the New York Times we know today. There were like six New York Timeses between the 1820s one and the modern one. I’m comically impotently enraged by all this.

And the book goes on for hundreds more pages. How can I finish? (I finished reading it on Monday.)

You Won’t Believe What I’m Reading Now


I am in some ways never happier than when I’m in a library. It’s just a natural place for me, somewhere it makes sense for me to be, and I think anyone who knows me would agree that if I were to shed all my worldly possessions and set up camp somewhere not particularly needed by other people, like around the oversized, falling-apart books about motorcycles, they would say they kind of saw that coming.

Among other problems I have terrible impulse control in libraries, and will notice books and decide that if someone went to the bother of writing it there must be something interesting worth reading in it, and, well, what I’m saying is this is why I borrowed Pasta and Noodle Technology, a collection of papers and monographs on the title subject published by the American Association of Cereal Chemists, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. And the book was published in 1996, so it’s not even a book about the current state of pasta and noodle technology, but is instead about the state of pasta and noodle technology from the days when having an online community devoted to Spaghetti-o’s was just the distant dream of some madmen in alt.fan.pasta. What I’m saying is I think I need librarians to save me from myself.

Stickering Around


I don’t know about you but for me the Christmas run-up isn’t really started right until I’ve spent a couple hours trying to peel the price sticker off the back of books. This is impossible to do, because those stickers adhere to the book cover by means of a polymerized black hole and they’ll weld in place, and the binding is the most powerful right over the book’s price. You can kind of scrape off the bookstore’s name and the sku number and department information, and kind of scrape off enough of the sticker so as to make it a little tricky to read the price, but mostly you leave the book looking like the cover was victim of a focused tactical assault by a team of miniature badgers.

Still, it’s all worth it to make it a tiny bit harder for the recipient to know what the price of the book is, as long as the recipient has never actually looked at books and noticed that the price is given in somewhere between twelve and eighty-four places on the cover. But it’s the thought that counts, and if you know what the thought is, please let me know because I’d kind of like to stop doing all this but I don’t dare.

Statistics Saturday: Robert Benchley Book Titles, By Length


As this is the final weekend to prepare submissions to the Robert Benchley Society’s 2014 Humor Contest, I offer some data about the great humorist’s writings.

  1. Of All Things
    (1921)
  2. Pluck And Luck
    (1925)
  3. The Early Worm
    (1927)
  4. Inside Benchley
    (1942)
  5. Love Conquers All
    (1922)
  6. Benchley–Or Else
    (1947)
  7. After 1903 – What?
    (1938)
  8. The “Reel” Benchley
    (1950)
  9. Benchley Beside Himself
    (1943)
  10. Chips off the Old Benchley
    (1949)
  11. My Ten Years in a Quandary, and How They Grew
    (1936)
  12. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, or David Copperfield
    (1928)
  13. No Poems, Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways
    (1932)
  14. Benchley at the Theatre: Dramatic Criticism, 1920-1940
    (1985)
  15. From Bed to Worse, or Comforting Thoughts about the Bison
    (1934)
  16. The Treasurer’s Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing
    (1930)
  17. The Athletic Benchley-105 Exercises from The Detroit Athletic Club News
    (2010)
  18. Robert Benchley’s Wayward Press: The Complete Collection of His the New Yorker Columns Written as Guy Fawkes
    (2008)

Titles published after 1945 were posthumous. Titles published before 1889 are prehumous. Titles not listed can very well fend for themselves.

Ahead Of The Yard Sale


So my love looked over my list of reasons I was not putting a book into the yard sale, and asked if they were all true reasons. I admitted that no, actually, some of them were made up.

“The one about inspiring a fanfic was real wasn’t it?” Actually, no, there aren’t any books that got me to actually commit to writing fanfic so that’s technically speaking a pure joke.

“You made up the one about the Family Ties book though?” Well, no, that’s real and true: I have a book that’s an original adventure based on the beloved-yet-not-actually-watched-anymore series Family Ties.

“Why do you have a book based on Family Ties?” Why would you not buy a book based on Family Ties if you saw one in the used book store?

“Well, you might have bought it back when it would make sense to buy a Family Ties book.” When would it ever make sense to buy an original novel based on Family Ties? Even when the series was on the air it’d still be a novel based on Family Ties.

“Hold on. You have an ironic book collection?” Well, not if the yard sale succeeds.

Make an offer. You can only get books like this by trying.

Unintended Results: Books About Movie Musicals Edition


Stimulus:

Just Imagine was a million-dollar musical comedy set in the far future of 1980, with futuristic gadgets, a trip to Mars, and a Sleeper-like shlub waking from a fifty-year coma. Unfortunately, and not infrequent in 1930, the good ideas were mitigated by workaday routine, a wan score, and not quite enough wit. It starred a Swedish-dialect comic called El Brendel. Remember the name and tremble.

Footnote in the book Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter, Richard Barrios.

Response:

Seeing Just Imagine is the most important thing I can do this week and I must know everything there is to know about the work of Swedish-dialect comic El Brendel.

Questions Inspired By Great Science Fiction Covers of the Past


So, over in the world of DeviantArt, the Peterpulp account has been posting various cleaned-up images of old magazine and book covers. A couple days ago he posted this cover, to Brian Aldiss’s Bow Down To Nul, which I never heard of before either though I’ve heard of Brian Aldiss. Naturally it raises questions, to follow.

Seriously, isn't that Lyndon Johnson fighting off an alien by using a fish?
Peterpulp (of DeviantArt)’s posting of the cover to _Bow Down To Nul_, by Brian W Aldiss.

So:

  1. Is that Lyndon Johnson in the spacesuit there?
  2. Is Lyndon Johnson trying to stab the alien monstrosity by using a fish?
  3. Why?

I suppose the last is the easiest to answer, though. Obviously Lyndon Johnson’s plan is to offend the alien by making it think that he’s not taking the invasion the least bit seriously. The alien will stew over this and feel so offended it’ll go off and invade Vulcan or Endor or someone who’ll try to fight back with something that’s a serious weapon instead. I bet it ends up commiserating with an alien that quit an invasion when the resistance met it with yarn and bags of raked leaves.

Statistics Saturday: Subjects I Go To The Library Looking For A Book About Versus Subjects Of Books I Come Out With


Subject I Go In Looking For A Book About Subject Of Book I Come Out With
Amusement Parks Madame Blavatsky
The Taiping Rebellion Muzak’s Contributions to World War II
Niagara Falls Containerized Cargo
The Gemini Program The History of the Accordion
Oxygen Alexander von Humboldt
The Oort Cloud Comic Strips
Science Fiction, Criticism The Cherry Sisters
The Cherry Sisters Lawns
Dictionaries Languages for Extraterrestrial Squirrels
The Great Migration Public Swimming Pools
The Customs Wall of India Wood
Magnetism The Grand Canyon

PS: You would be shocked to know how much of this is not joking.