What To Do With Leap Day


I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with my Leap Day. I know, confessing that makes me sound like I can’t make decisions before the last minute. It’s not like we haven’t known it was coming. The leap day’s been scheduled for thousands of years now, and here we are maybe hours away, and I still don’t have an idea in mind.

Anyway there’s not much point my making plans too far ahead. I’ll end up forgetting them anyway. I’m so good at forgetting plans that I can forget my plans while I’m making them. It’s only months after the plan would have mattered that I’ll have any inkling of the idea. I’ll sit bolt upright in bed — dropping a conversation mid-sentence, if I have to, to rush back home, change into my sweatpants, and hide in bed, to sit up in it — and slap my head. It’s enough to make people think I’m not that good at interacting with them.

I also don’t know what other people are going to do with their leap day. I figure most are just going to take it as the 29th of February. It’s kind of cliche, but it’s got a lot of public support. And there’s almost nothing else to do with it. In 1996 I tried putting my leap day into my checking account. By the time I took it out again, in June when it would do me some good, the monthly fees had reduced it to 23 hours and 46 minutes. I don’t mind losing fourteen minutes from my day if I’m doing something useful with it, like ping-ponging between Nathan Rabin’s web site and Son of Stuck Funky, trying to figure if there is a new article, while waiting for whatever Javascript monstrosity they’re running to finally crash my web browser. But that’s my choice. I don’t want it lost because the bank is nickel-and-daying me. Also, “nickel-and-daying” is a phrase that I like, and yet I know not a single other person in the world is ever going to like it. Not even a little bit. It’s not even not funny. It exists outside the realm of possible amusement. It’s the writing equivalent of a blot of ink on the wall too small to care about repainting. It just is, and barely so, and will never be more than that. And yet I have already wasted fourteen minutes today grinning at it.

Anyway, after that experience I’ll probably take Leap Day as the 29th too. It can be fun having this sort of exceptional day. We all know how it exists outside the normal bounds of time and space. None of the ordinary laws of time exist. You can sleep in until 3:30 pm and still be in time to catch the sunrise, four times over. You can spend an hour on the phone talking with your parents and finally hang up two minutes before you call them. You can watch one of those two-minute Popeye flash cartoons and have it fill eighteen hours of the day. You can spend 57,500 years trapped in amber and be broken out and it’s still not 10:30 am. You can return library books that were due the 28th and not get charged late fees. You can turn on broadcast TV and catch an all-new episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s everything that’s fun about Daylight Saving Time, only twenty-four times as much of it, and no whining. If you want to declare it’s outside the whole seven-day week experience, that it’s actually happening on “Thworbsday”, nobody can protest. That’s just how the day works.

And yet for all that, my imagination fails me. I used to know what to do with a free day. I would play Civilization II, trying to repeat cool experiences like conquering the entire world without ever building a boat. Today? I don’t know. There’s stuff that I could usefully do, like spend a couple hours deleting e-mails from the Amy Klobuchar campaign. But, jeez, I could do that anytime. I could delete them as fast as the campaign sends them to me. Well, OK, no I couldn’t. But still: the day doesn’t come up much at all. It really seems like I could have something more special going on.

In Which It Turns Out The Collapse Of Western Civilization Could Be Surprisingly Easy To Avert


I mean, if anyone still wants to at this point. I understand if you’ve just decided to write off the whole project. I’m not convinced that starting from scratch wouldn’t be less work myself. But then there’s this letter just run in the local alt-weekly:

Your August 22 issue highlighted an amusing dichotomy in Lansing City finances: on page 6 you report that residents of various neighborhoods are upset with the City’s continuing failure to enforce its overnight parking ban, and that the Mayor says, “We don’t have the resources to have a police officer dedicated specifically for overnight parking.”

Yet on page 5 you note that the City budget this year is giving the money-sucking black hole that is Common Ground Music Festival $140,000 — easily enough to fund TWO parking enforcement positions.

We recall that in the heyday of the Roman Empire, there was a reliance on bread and circuses to keep the rabble pacified. It’s heartwarming to see that over the millennia, a few things have not changed.

T E Klunzinger, Haslett

I had not seen the spotty enforcement of the municipal ban on overnight parking as a serious issue. I’m a little excited to hear that we do have law again. I’d like people not to be parked on the street if they’re going to be plowing the snow. But I live on a tertiary street. This means can only expect the snow to be plowed on the third day after the third storm of the third year after the last time our street got plowed. So it doesn’t matter whether there’s any cars in the street, not before February 2020 anyway. And I’m not complaining about this. I understand there’s higher-priority roads. I only need my street to get down to the corner anyway. (That line sounds like it should be a joke, but I can’t defend it. I think if you read it exactly the way I imagine delivering that line in my head it has enough of a joke shape to pass. I apologize if it’s not passing you.)

I also haven’t been to the Common Ground Music Festival in a couple years, but that’s just because they seem to schedule it when we’ve already got a week out of town planned. Maybe they’re avoiding us. I enjoyed it last time I was there. We watched the Violent Femmes performing their renowned album “Why Didn’t I Get To Have Sex”. We also heard, wafting in from over the gentle hill that divided us off from another pavilion, MGMT playing their instant classic “That MGMT Song That’s Always Playing”. Also a Michigan-area band named Flint Eastwood because that’s just the way we make band names anymore. Anyway if it’s not snowing, I don’t much care if people are parked on the street overnight, since I’m not on the street overnight either.

Still, if all it takes to avert the imminent collapse of civilization is cutting the city’s underwriting of the music festival and hiring two parking-rule-enforcement-cops? That seems like a small enough effort to make. Heck, I could even be coaxed into hiring a third parking-rule-enforcement-cop, as long as they understand they’re expected to issue, like, eight-dollar citations for parking, and are not to issue reasons they had to gun down that black person.

Except. This week one of the lights on our street fell down. It looks to me like it was knocked down. I would assume by a careless driver, but it’s just one house away from ours and I didn’t hear anything. This signifies nothing. Back in college I slept through when they set off fireworks in the dorm hallway, I am told. Anyway Tuesday I looked out the window and there was the lamppost, fallen over, with the glass dome rolled over on the sidewalk, and some guy at the next house over re-blacktopping the driveway. I don’t think he had anything to do with the lamp.

White lamppost that's fallen over, laying across the grass extension and a slight bit onto the sidewalk.
Oh yeah, I didn’t pay attention at the time but it really comes across in the picture how our street has this portal to the Darkside and some giant monster with glowing red eyes was curious about all this attention. Don’t worry. Giant monster’s cool. Having a giant monster with glowing red eyes is one of those signs a neighborhood might be getting ready to gentrify. It’s the step just after “guy on a recumbent bicycle putters past every day at 5:35 pm” and “having a coffee shop with a twee name and nitrogen-brewed coffee” but before “ukulele festivals”.

And here’s the thing. People keep going out and taking pictures of the lamp. I did. My love did, too, which is how we learned the glass dome covering it was actually plastic. This discovery left us feeling like we had been ripped off somehow. People walking up the street have been taking pictures. People have stopped their cars, parking on the wrong side of the street — of course, the No-Parking-This-Side sign was on the lamppost, so people can fairly claim there’s no way to know they were on the wrong side — to photograph this fallen lamppost.

So getting back to that bread-and-circuses thing. Our neighborhood must have a major circus deficit if a fallen streetlamp is this interesting. I’m not saying that we need to have MGMT coming around every few weeks. But it does look like we need some entertainments.

Anyway they’ve rolled the lamppost off the sidewalk, and put orange traffic cones on either side of it. And I’m figuring to set up a souvenir shop and go into business as my own little roadside attraction. I don’t figure the boom time for my street’s tourist trade will last, but there could be something good while it does.

The Unmaking


A friend was amused by something I said that alluded to The Kinks’ album Arthur. I went on to explain the album to him, something he consented to by not chewing his own tail off to make good his escape. I was kind. I just wanted to explain how the definitely best song in it was “Some Mother’s Son”, unless the best song was “Shangri-La”. In any case the most cheerily catchy song on it is clearly “Victoria” unless it’s “She’s Bought A Hat like Princess Marina”. Look, just listen to it, all right?

I started to explain whether it’s a rock opera before my friend tore my leg off and whacked me over the head with it. It’s a contentious issue. If you ask Ray Davies about it, he’ll explain that it was totally the first rock opera except for the ones that snuck out between when he had the idea and when he finished it. Also that of course it wasn’t an rock opera and he doesn’t know why critics call it that. Also that people only say it’s a rock opera to stir up trouble. Also that Dave Davies should get over here so he can punch him. Also that who cares about writing rock operas. I’m happy to let Ray Davies have whatever view on Arthur he wishes, in accord with my life goal of getting through it without being punched by him. So far, successful for 16,089 days running!

Thing is I’ll go along with saying Arthur wasn’t the first rock opera, or even a rock opera at all, especially if Ray Davies is looking for someone to punch. Unless he really wants it to be a rock opera because, again, 16,089 days and counting. It was created to be the soundtrack for an unmade TV movie. And that’s what’s caught my imagination. Not calling it a TV movie. I’m used to that idea.

What’s got me is the phrase “unmade movie”. They want to express it was a never-made movie. But it’s got me thinking of what it would take to un-make a movie. You’d have to start with a made movie, sure. Let’s say something like 2006’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which was as slightly made a movie as has been the least mediocre choice of in-flight entertainment since the Disney Radio channel was still doing the Hamster Dance song somehow. I should be clear, I didn’t hate the movie or anything, it was just on and a little annoying up to the point that the in-flight entertainment system crashed and couldn’t be brought back up. Could be any movie.

You’d start, I guess, by taking any prints of the film and rinsing them clean, bringing them back to a faint silver-tinged cloud of colloidal particulate matter. And I don’t care if that isn’t what unexposed film is like. It’s too much fun to write “faint silver-tinged cloud of colloidal particulate matter”. Go ahead. Try coming up with a better phrase that seems like it ought to have something to do with film stock.

I don’t know if it existed in digital form any, but I suppose we can write new stuff, I’m thinking saved games of Civilization II, onto whatever they came from. I’m thinking USB Flash drives. Very large ones, to be able to hold films. Like, they’re on keychains, but for those novelty-size Keys to the City. Really big ones. Have to play a lot of Civ II to fill those up, but I can do that.

Unmaking the movie would go farther, sure. I suppose you’d bring all the cast and crew back together so everyone could go through the scenes backwards, undoing it all. I’m not sure if you’d have to undo the alternate takes or unused scenes. I guess it depends how busy the people are. Unmaking the movie can’t be their whole job. Probably it’s not necessary to unbuild the sets, since they do that anyway.

There might be some outfits that could be unstitched and turned back to pieces of cloth. I don’t imagine that we’d take, like, any bits of wool and restore them to the original sheep, as most film companies don’t keep records in sufficient detail for this. Similarly there’s no sense at all restoring any cotton used in the outfits to the original sheep, because sheep only produce cotton if they’re looking for a little extra income as poorly-paid farm workers. There’s limits to how much you’d have to do to fully un-make a film, is all I’m saying.

Again, I don’t want the people whose lives brought them to the point of making My Super Ex-Girlfriend to think I’m picking on them. It’s just a movie I’m holding up as an example of something we could unmake if we really tried. If we needed some different unmade movie I’ll take suggestions. Thank you for your time considering the problem.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Um. All right. Traders aren’t looking to panic or anything here but what the flipping heck, guys? Fourteen points in one flipping day? Where did that come from? Where did they go? When are they coming back? Analysts disagree about why the sudden drop happened except for that one who’s being all smug about how she knew this was inevitable. We don’t need that stuff just now.

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The Future Will Really Arrive When We Don’t Have To Do Odds And Evens Anymore


So if you’re like me you got around to thinking about rock-paper-scissors, because you saw somebody wearing a Big Bang Theory-inspired T-shirt reading rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock and were trying to remember how the rules to that went, only to remember that while you kind of respect The Big Bang Theory for getting its nerd jokes accurate you also feel a kind of vague dissatisfaction whenever the show comes on, or up, the kind that inspires you to take the broom out and start a sweeping project that might reach as many as four houses up the street before the energy burns out. I might be over-generalizing from my experience.

But what I was thinking particularly about it is there’s a robot out there that’s able to reliably win rock-paper-scissors contests. And I mean really, seriously win, beating even champion rock-paper-scissors players, the kind of people who insist they’re champion roshambo players because when they tell people they’re champion rock-paper-scissors players they get all kinds of snarky resistance. “Oh yeah,” they hear, “and I knew a guy in college who was one of the world’s top coin-flippers.” “Shut up,” they answer, and start to explain the details of human psychology and discerning choice patterns which lend themselves to long-term strategic insights, and the conversation soon passes the “nuh-uh” phase and turns into a brawl. By using a more obscure word everyone enjoys a more peaceful existence, as it’s easier to get along than admit you don’t know what someone is talking about, and when you think about it this explains about twenty-two percent of all human interactions.

The idea that a robot can now reliably beat humans at rock-paper-scissors suggests there’s been a real breakthrough in getting robots to fritter away time. Someday humans might be able to let robots do all manner of minor and marginally useful selection tasks, like one-potato-two or settling shotgun disputes ahead of a trip to PathMark, or maybe checking if PathMark is still a thing that exists and replacing it with, I don’t know, A & P if it doesn’t.

Then we might see robots finally come to their potential of saving us from the minor tasks that, if we really thought about them, we’d realize we don’t need to do. They might sneer for us at the satellite TV descriptions of shows on the channels we don’t watch, or maybe take over the whole of playing hopscotch. The savings in excessively minor time-consuming tasks would compare favorably to the time which would be saved if you never accidentally put your socks on inside-out ever again.

At least, that’s the promise you might think this all has if you don’t know how the rock-paper-scissors robot works. The reason it can beat anyone is it watches the human’s hand, and it can tell the difference between the first fractions of a second of throwing rock, or paper, or scissors, and then picks what it throws. In short, it succeeds by cheating. I’m not sure “cheating robot” is really that big a breakthrough in robot technology. The artificial intelligences behind Civilization games have been cheating for years because there’s no way the Aztecs build Michelangelo’s Cathedral right from under me, and the only thing you’d gain by putting a robot in to cheat at Civilization is you could punch it.

But that overlooks the interesting part, which is that a robot can now figure out in fractions of a second which of three ways you might extend fingers. Surely in time the computer will be able to figure out dozens, maybe hundreds of potential hand signs, each linked to some desirable behavior like “turn up the music” or “change the channel to something more sneer-worthy” or “order an appliance to send information over the Internet”, and they’ll be able to follow those directions before you even finish making the hand sign. By 2025 we could see the average home become a haven of quiet as everyone sits on top of their hands in the middle of an empty room, feeling too nervous to even twitch, because last time they sneezed and ineptly covered their mouth, then tried to shake it off, they ordered services from three online companies and sent a panic alert to the Coast Guard, and they don’t dare start that trouble again. Thus, as ever, does rock-paper-scissors bring life to a Ballardian nightmare. Can’t wait.

From The Technology Centers That Brought You Towels


I don’t want to alarm anyone but I have seen on the labels of a towel at a Holiday Inn the notice that it was part of the Holiday Inn Bath Collection, Patent Pending. There’s at minimum two things to wonder about in that fact. The first is that the Holiday Inn corporation believes it has somehow made an advancement in the technology of towels sufficient to be considered for a patent. The other is that apparently I am content to read the towel labels at a Holiday Inn. I have no excuse for this behavior. I’m sorry to have to make you all aware of it.

What would a towel technological innovation even be, though? I’m trying to picture it as I understand all technological developments by picturing how it would be explained in a little pop-up window in Sid Meier’s Civilization II, and it seems like towels have to fit in somewhere after “Mysticism” but before “Robotics”. But then we in the real world already have robots and Holiday Inn is putting forth more towel developments. So it’s not a perfect understanding, I guess, but it’s what I have.

Customs of the Goldfish


Some of the many customs of the goldfish:

  1. Grabbing a flake of food in the mouth and waddling around shaking it out to show off to everyone until everyone explains that they aren’t all that impressed by grabbing flakes of food, until you find out it’s rock candy.
  2. Calling up Glenn Beck just to make fun of him. (Not unique to the goldfish community.)
  3. Tri-dimensional do-si-dos. Or do-si-does. It includes some argument about what the plural of do-si-do is, anyway.
  4. Writing new lyrics to classic Paul McCartney songs and proclaiming them far better than what he produced for, say, “Freedom”.
  5. Explaining these freaky games they had of SimCity 2000 where they built the whole city without any roads or rails or this one time on Civilization II where they conquered the entire world, several continents worth, without ever building a ship because some city on a neighboring continent overthrew its rulers and joined their empire and they bought their way into world domination that way until everybody else in the pond loses patience.
  6. Talking about the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode “The Giant Spider Invastion”, with everybody in it explaining the guy who says “You been hittin’ the BOOZE again” also played the Klingon judge in Star Trek VI like any of them don’t remember it.
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