What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How did turning off the headlights help Mark Trail evade that car? May – July 2021


There’s a point in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail’s current story where Mark Trail’s in a nighttime car chase. He tells the driver to turn off the headlights. This confuses the pursuers, Diana Dagger and Bee Sharp, but only for a few moments. I’m not sure why it’s supposed to work. I get the idea is to make the car as invisible as possible at night and go in a direction that Daggers and Sharp can’t see. But it’s not clear in the panels that there’s anywhere to go. They can’t have gone far off the road, after all, not in the couple seconds we see. This might be a problem of the limited time and space the strip has. In a movie, one good overhead shot of a complicated city street would address the question. I’m sorry not to have a more definite answer.

So this should bring you up to date on Mark Trail’s stories, as of late March 2021. If you’re reading this after about October 2021 there may be a more useful plot recap at this link. Thanks for considering me as a source for Mark Trail information.

Mark Trail.

2 May – 24 July 2021.

We had two story threads going, last time I checked in. Mark Trail was in Los Angeles as his odd charms landed him a music video cameo with rapper Reptiliannaire. Meanwhile Cherry Trail’s landscaping company was having trouble with the Sunny Soleil homeowners association. The plots have nothing to do with one another. So the strip’s done two weeks with Mark and then a week with Cherry. For sake of clarity I’ll re-separate the plot recaps, and start with Cherry’s.

Cherry Trail saw her big landscaping project, the roundabout near the Planet Pancake diner, had been demolished. Violet Cheshire, of the Sunny Soleil society, tore out all the “savage jungle brush” in favor of butterfly bushes. Butterfly bushes, I learn from this, attract butterflies but are not good for them. Butterflies like the plants, but the larva they lay on them can’t eat the leaves, which sucks for the next generation of larvae.

Narrator: 'Cherry and her brother Dirk have unleashed feral hogs onto the Sunny Soleil Society's butterfly bushes ... to eat them!' (The hogs chew down on the plants. A lot.) Chery: 'Dirk ... how do we ... make them stop?' Narrator: 'Cherry, they don't call it 'pigging out' for nothing.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of July, 2021. Also, over the last couple months the narration box has rather stepped up. It’s providing exposition still, yes, but it’s been showing more flair, more personality. It’s not quite pre-snarking the strips for us, but it’s getting there. I enjoy this. Narration boxes have fallen out of favor in comic strips (and, it is my understanding, comic books) but they carry some expository loads well. Having that delivered with a smile? I like that. It’s a gentle reinforcement of the light tone for the story. Makes me feel that Rivera is getting the whole comic better balanced.

So she calls her brother Dirk Davis. He’s one of those I-hate-the-government recluses who knows how to wrangle a herd of feral hogs onto a truck bed and leave them off where they can devour a landscaped roundabout in minutes. You know, like that friend your younger brother still has from high school somehow. It’s an awesome scene of destruction that leaves Cherry ashamed of what she wrought.

Also awesomely destroyed: Violet Cheshire, trying to drown her sorrows in pancakes and syrup. Cherry tries to say something consoling. “I mean, sometimes a pack of eight feral hogs will happen to appear at a reserve of invasive butterfly bushes between 11:35 and 11:55 on a Friday night,” she offers. Violet suspects Cherry knows something about the destruction. And, in a moment that surprised me, Cherry owned up. I’d had thought she could bluff through it. But she’s feeling guilty and Violet’s feeling desperate. They agree to work together fixing this.


Now to Mark Trail’s story. He was hanging out with Reptiliannaire and the Herp Hacienda gang. They suggest he hit the sack early, like, before sundown even. Mark eavesdrops. The gang is reminding each other why they’re angry at “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt. (Yes, this is people telling each other stuff they already know. But I absolutely believe in a group of people talking about how they were all screwed by the same ex-friend.) He’s the tech-millionaire-turned-cricket-protein-seller who hosted the party they just came from. Bettancourt had sponsored the Herp Hacienda and their reptile-rescue(?) sideline. This until they learned he was using spying on them. (I’m not clear whether he was spying on the group or on the reptiles themselves. I’m also not sure why he would bother. But there is a streak of tech guy that figures everybody not them should be under surveillance, so, fine.) And he impounded Aparna’s laptop. She’d been developing an app for testing air quality for animals. This so people would be better able to judge when to keep animals indoors for safer breathing.

Mark Trail: 'All my problems with Cricket Bro began when I broke his dad's magnifying glass.' [ Flashbacks ] 'I had to write an apology and do my dad's granola commercials to work off replacing that magnifier ... but the adults didn't seem to care he had used it to burn ants. That day I learned people love to protect nature, until it's time to protect their property.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of May, 2021. The clash between what people say their ideals are and what their revealed preferences are? This is absolutely a childhood trauma I believe for Mark Trail. And, for that matter, many people who care about the environment.

So this gives the heist a goal: get the laptop that has the impounded “Air For All” app code. I admit I don’t understand why Cricket Bro wants this suppressed, but accept it under the “tech millionaires are jerks” rule. I also don’t understand why Aparna didn’t have her own copy. I mean, they sell 256 GB Flash drives. But I’ll accept that as a “didn’t expect to need an off-site backup” case. I also don’t understand why she can’t rewrite it. Maybe it requires models that she no longer has access to. I grant that I would be much harder on these same plot points if they turned up in, say, Funky Winkerbean. But I feel justified in my anger at Funky Winkerbean. Rivera I’m willing still to suppose there are reasons for things not explained.

Mark Trail’s way into this heist idea. He’s got a history back to childhood of not liking Bettancourt. And he hasn’t stolen anything since those motorboats last plot. He’s overdue. At the party earlier Bettancourt offered Mark Trail “help” with his career. So Mark calls, feigning interest. Bettancourt’s got a great idea. How about some interaction between “Marky” Trail and his pop-science celebrity Professor “Killer” Bee Sharp?

Narrator: 'Meanwhile, the Herp Hacienda friends search for the prized laptop.' Aparna: 'Here's the development room!' Reptiliannaire: 'That's wild. They never changed the security codes after you left?' Aparna: 'Tech bros act lazy and call it a 'life hack'.' (Inside the room) Aparna: 'Start checking the laptop serial numbers! It's one of these.' Reptiliannaire: 'This might take a while. Can Mark buy us enough time?' Cut to the boxing. Narrator: 'The better question is can Mark's *face* buy them enough time?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2021. Now this strains plausibility some. If I know anything about tech bros they might well have changed the code (1793) to the other code they use (2684).

The plan: Mark Trail will talk to Bettancourt long enough to distract him while the Herp Hacienda guys steal the laptop. (Why would the laptop not have been wiped clean? Aparna is betting on the tech guys being too lazy to bother. I accept this; I understand if you do not.) How do the Herp Hacienda gang get into Bettancourt’s facility when only Mark Trail was invited? Professor Bee Sharp is enough of a celebrity that the gang can say they couldn’t pass up the chance to get to meet him. And the Professor is enough of a narcissist to buy that.

Bettancourt has an even better idea than talking about a Mark Trail/Bee Sharp interaction. Why not have them do something for real right now? He knows a director and everything, and here he is. Also, instead of, like, two pop-science guys enthusing over one another, why not have them punch each other? So that’s why it’s a sudden boxing match.

A boxing match is good and distracting, though, and Aparna and crew have time to find the laptop. When they take it out of the charging docks, it sets off an alarm, though. It’s a race against time to upload the source code to the Internet, which the upload wins.

Mark Trail: 'Aparna! Get out of here!' Aparna: 'Not till I face Cricket Bro! Remember me? You said my work was worthless before tossing me out!' Cricket Bro Rob Bettancourt: 'So? I say taht to everyone before I fire them!' Aparna, showing the laptop; 'If my work is so worthless, then you shouldn't mind if I upload the source code to the Internet.' Bettancourt: 'Wait, What? No!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 24th of June, 2021. I agree with Aparna on the principle that if the company’s declared something is worthless, there’s nothing wrong in giving it away, on the same principle that when you throw something out anyone can just come and take it. I suppose the courts aren’t as open-minded about this. On the other hand, there’s an excellent chance the judge would have no idea what a source code is or how it could be stolen if it’s still right there on the laptop. I like Aparna’s dinosaur/lizard hoodie. I’m surprised she’s using plain old FTP instead of at least SFTP.

So now it’s about escaping. Bee Sharp’s manager, Diana Daggers, wants to catch Mark Trail on camera, “breaking and entering” the Cricket Bro tech labs. I don’t know why she thinks that’s important. I only have the knowledge of the law that you get from being on a student newspaper in the early 90s. But whatever laws Mark Trail did violate there, none of them were about breaking or entering. He came at the owner’s invitation. I also don’t get what’s important about getting him on camera fleeing. There were plenty of witnesses that he was there. They might even have video of him boxing with Bee Sharp. The thing to get him on is conspiring with people who stole company property. I don’t get where video of Mark Trail fleeing matters.

Daggers is angry about Mark Trail punching Bee Sharp, which, fair enough. But it was in a boxing match that Bee Sharp presumably agreed to.

Mark Trail, in the car: 'Rep, where are you taking us? That last run-in was way too close!' Reptiliannaire: 'We're going where all the cool cats in hybrids hang out on a weeknight! ... The farmers market!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 16th of July, 2021. OK yes, if I were having someone stay with me a few days I’d want to show them to the farmers market in town. But you have to understand, the tuba museum diner closed years ago, we have to go with what we still have.

Daggers and Sharp, in a faster car, chase Trail and gang. This leads to the headlight trick mentioned at the start of this essay. Since they’re found the moment they move, Mark Trail thinks of a better plan. That’s camouflage. Where to hide a green hybrid in the city on a weeknight? … Well, the farmers market, that’s where. I laughed. It’s silly, but jabs close enough to me that I respect it. I understand if you do not. Sharp concedes that Mark Trail has escaped … but also that this is not over.

What is over, though, is the window for my plot recapping here. We’ll see how these stories resolve over the weeks ahead and I’ll recap them in about three months, if all goes well.

Sunday Animals Watch

A neat and understated bit about the animals here? Nearly all of them have had some appearance in the comic strip dailies. Not always the same week as their Sunday appearance. Like, the Burrowing owls were mentioned as being around Los Angeles International Airport. And one’s seen in the daily strip when Mark Trail arrived in Los Angeles. I like that.

  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. Imported into southern California and somehow not an ecological disaster, which is a nice change of pace.
  • Burrowing owls, 9 May 2021. Hanging around LAX, which is nice.
  • Coyotes, 16 May 2021. Yes, roadrunners are coming.
  • Native grasses, 23 May 2021. I’d love to have more native grasses on our lawn but I live in mid-Michigan so the ecologically correct thing is to be a marshland. This is hard to mow.
  • Peregrine falcons, 30 May 2021. I’m old enough to remember when it seemed inevitable they were going to go extinct so, uh, it’s possible for good things to happen in the environment.
  • Mountain lions, 6 June 2021. The Sunday panel isn’t just listing all 640 common names for these animals, but it’s close.
  • Muscovy ducks, 13 June 2021. OK, did not know they were invasive. That’s inconvenient.
  • Butterfly bushes, 20 June 2021. I never even heard of these before this story but now I know of a new kind of invasive plant to feel bad about.
  • Black-tailed jackrabbits, 27 June 2021. Featuring illustrations of jackrabbits standing upright, and you’ll want to see that because they look weird when they do.
  • Feral hogs, 4 July 2021. Mark Trail points out how the 80s were an ecological disaster, which yes, but it understates how much everything else was a disaster. The eight-bit computers were pretty great, though.
  • Grizzly bears, 11 July 2021. Mark Trail takes a moment to process his feelings about the California Grizzly’s extinction, which I’m guessing is him playing to stereotype? Amusing, though.
  • Roadrunners, 18 July 2021. Will say I was worried for the roadrunners along the roads during Mark Trail’s car chase.
  • Butterflies, 25 July 2021. Butterflies are free. What does that mean? It means you can have all of them you want.

Next Week!

Stolen watches! Messy, emotional backstory break-ups! Women scheming for the love and/or wallet of Dr Drew Cory! All this and quotes of dubious authenticity in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, to be reviewed in a week, if all goes well.

MiSTed: Reboot: Breaking the Barriers (Part 2 of 16)


Welcome back to my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic treatment of Carrie L—‘s Reboot fanfic “Breaking The Barriers”. Everything posted from “Breaking the Barriers” should be at this link”. And all of my reposted MiSTings should be at this link, someday.

In the first part of this story, Carrie L—, Canadian author, admired how many things there were on the Internet. (Name partly redacted because this was a self-insertion fanfic and I don’t wish to force the author to be too easily embarrassed, if she would be.) Then came a mysterious error and she woke to discover she’s now one of those things. Join us now as she wakes to meet the cast of Reboot.

I don’t remember why I took on this MiSTing. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t only for the chance to toss in a bunch of old-time-even-then computer jokes. But it would be like me for that. Crow’s line about “Just go 4C E2 FC” is the machine language instructions for a Commodore 64 to reset the computer. There are a bunch of good dumb jokes I still like, such as Phong inquiring as to Carrie’s former appearance, or Joel’s energy shake. Hope you enjoy.

It was an article of Internet lore in the 90s that you could only get decaffeinated Mountain Dew in Canada. I don’t know whether that was true, or true in a shaded way, like, it only had less caffeine. But that’s what makes that line a correctly formed joke, which to a know-it-all like me is even better than a funny joke.


>
> Part Three

JOEL: The part of the third part will be known in this fanfic as the part of the third part.

>
> After a bit of confusion,

ALL: [ Muttering loudly to themselves, to the effect of "Where am I? Who are you? Where are we? What’s going on? Should we be doing something? ]

TOM: At some point she might want to ask how she got there.

> Carrie managed to calm down and was
> able to answer and ask questions normally.

CROW: [ As Carrie ] Oh, I dunno, what do you wanna do?

JOEL: [ As Bob ] I dunno. What do you wanna do?

> Looking up from the energy
> shake she had been given,

TOM: You’re sure I can’t get that supersized?

> Carrie found herself once again staring into
> those eyes.

JOEL: You have a liiiiiittle booger, right there.

>
> "You really are Bob, aren’t you?" she asked, sheepishly.
> "Last time I checked." he said, then he looked at her funny.

CROW: What was Mister Carlin telling you?

> "How do
> you know me?"

TOM: Let me count the ways.

> he asked, "I know you’re not from Mainframe." Looking
> back down at her energy shake,

JOEL: So she’s got no tea, right?

> Carrie tried to think of a good answer.

CROW: How would it be if I just spelled Mississippi?

> "Uh…well…you’re pretty well known where I come from."

TOM: In about the same way that Mister Spaceley is a leading industrialist back where she comes from.

> She said,
> then took a cautious sip of her shake.

JOEL: It was unlike any shake she had cautiously sipped before.

> It was as if she were drinking
> adrenaline or something.

TOM: MM-mmm. Endocrine solutions, just like Mom used to distill.

> Her whole body felt revitalized and her head
> started to clear. With a feeling of both surprise and pleasure, she
> started to gulp down the shake.

TOM: What the — no, get your head out of there! You’ll get stuck!

>
> "Whoa!" Bob said, "Be careful or you’re gonna choke!"

JOEL: Oh, and your face will freeze like that.

> Putting
> her drink down, Carrie smiled shyly. "I’ve never tasted, or felt,

CROW: Or deliberately bathed in…

> anything like that before!" she said. "You mean you’ve never had an
> energy shake?"

JOEL: I think an energy shake would go something… like this.
[ ALL stand up and start wiggling around. ]

> Bob asked, surprised. "No," Carrie whispered, "They
> don’t have these where I come from."

TOM: Yeah, they decaffeinate Mountain Dew too.

> She looked back up at Bob, and
> found him staring at her.

CROW: Sooner or later, one of them has to blink.

> "Just where do you come from anyway?" He
> asked.

TOM: Come from. Go to’s considered harmful.

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *

CROW: The barriers will never heal if you don’t stop picking at them.

>
> Part Four
>
> Carrie swallowed hard. How was she going to explain the fact
> that she was a user to Bob without him thinking

CROW: You could jingle your car keys and distract him.

> she was completely
> random?

JOEL: Don’t throw in an unpredictable series of digits?

> She glanced down at her feet,

TOM: [ As Carrie ] Wait a minute, *three*?

> thinking of something to say,
> when she realized that her shoes and clothes were all wrong.

CROW: They were *so* fifteen milliseconds ago.

> Instead
> of her usual blue jeans and high-top runners, she was wearing black
> leather pants

JOEL: And felt-tip socks.

> and knee-high black boots. Each boot had a symbol

CROW: And vice-versa.

> crested at the top under the knee, a black and white bisected circle,

JOEL: The mark of the standardized test!

> impaled by a black and white diamond. She stretched her arms out and
> began to examine the sleeves of her shirt.

TOM: Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!

CROW: But that trick *never* works!

> What had been a plain grey
> sweatshirt, was now a maroon bodysuit

CROW: Without that suit, she wouldn’t have a body at all.

> with chrome trim.

TOM: And huge fins and that Edsel horse-collar grille.

> Her hands,
> once the sun-kissed brown

JOEL: If the sun kissed me I’d probably get third degree burns.

> of a Native-Canadian, had instead become an
> aquamarine colour.

CROW: Of a Newfoundlander.

JOEL: Or one of Namor’s armies.

>
> With a starled gasp, she jumped off the couch and ran to the
> mirror on the other side of the room.

TOM: Bob keeps that mirror around so he can put on his makeup.

> The face that stared back at
> her bore the same aquamarine colour as her hands, and she now had
> metallic blue hair.

JOEL: I guess she’s going through her Blue Period.

TOM: She’s really got to *steel* herself for this look!

> Her lips were a deep turquoise

CROW: Two feet deep, in fact.

> and her eyes…
> fortunately, her eyes were still the same hazel that had always stared
> back at her.

CROW: She clashes with every conceivable color and style.

JOEL: Black, white, maroon, and turquoise. She’s become a CGA graphic.

> With a small shriek of disbelief, she turned to Bob who
> had come up beside her.

TOM: I hope he doesn’t frighten Miss Muffet away.

>
> "What’s wrong?" he asked, worried. "I don’t look the same!!"

CROW: Uh… wait… new haircut? Different dress?

> Carrie almost shouted. "What’s happened to me?" I…I…" She turned
> back to the mirror again,

TOM: [ As Carrie ] Oh, magic mirror, take me away from this all.

> and now noticed the same black and white
> bisected circle that was on her boots was also placed near her left
> collarbone.

JOEL: So her neck’s become a boot?

> Reaching up to touch it,

TOM: If that’s a hot spot, she’s going to be in a lot of trouble.

> she looked at Bob’s worried face
> in the mirror.

CROW: It looks like a mirror, but it’s actually a web camera serving over five thousand people a day.

> "This is all wrong!" she whispered, "I’m not a
> sprite!"

JOEL: You’d rather be a raster interrupt method?

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * *

TOM: There’s one now.

>
> Part Five

CROW: Part Five is alive!

>
> At Carrie’s shock and dismay at her appearence,

TOM: I like her appearance.

> and her
> insistance that she was not a sprite, Bob decided it would be a good
> idea to take her to see Phong.

TOM: It *was* a good idea…

ALL: At first.

> Upon arriving at the Principle Office,
> Phong took her to the Infirmary

CROW: Because they were on the Infirmaration Superhighway.

> to see if there was anything the
> scanners could pick up.

JOEL: Hey, those aren’t scanners, they’re just an alpha channel effect.

> As he ran the tests,

CROW: Carrie regretted not studying earlier.

> Phong began to ask
> Carrie questions.

JOEL: Live around here much?

TOM: If you were a natural-born human transported by freakish accident to the world inside the computer, how would you convince people you weren’t insane?

>
> "You say that you do not look as you are supposed to." Phong
> said, "May I inquire as to your former appearence?"

CROW: [ As Carrie ] Go right ahead.

TOM: [ As Phong ] What is your former appearance?

> Carrie stared up
> at the ceiling,

JOEL: [ As Carrie ] What the… there’s people dancing on it!

> and started to recount her human appearence to them,

TOM: [ As Phong ] So you were the most beautiful person we ever saw… and we’re drawn to your beautiful eyes, that are quiet pools of tranquility that still betray a deep secret and still penetrate our souls… any distinguishing features?

> being careful not to sound like she was crazy.

CROW: So she had to keep from honking.

> "Well, I had brown
> hair before,

JOEL: But not on my head!

> and my skin was a dark beige colour. My lips were not
> turquoise, more of a pink colour.

CROW: Carrie L—, for the new Color Trinitron.

> These aren’t even my clothes!" She
> sighed deeply,

TOM: Inhaling over four kilobytes of memory.

> and turned her head to look at Phong.

[ CROW makes a slow, squeaking, hinge-in-need-of-oil sound. ]

> "I know it
> sounds crazy," she said, "but you’ve gotta believe me.

TOM: [ As Phong ] Sure thing, Mister Napoleon.

> I don’t belong
> here, and I need to get back home."

CROW: She’s only been gone fifteen milliseconds and already her ISP’s disconnected her forty times.

> Bob looked over at her

JOEL: Good woman. Tasty.

> and gave
> her a look she didn’t quite understand.

TOM: He gives looks in Klingon.

> "I can try and get you home."

CROW: Just go ‘4C E2 FC’, ‘4C E2 FC’, ‘4C E2 FC’ while clicking your VIC-IIs together three times.

> he said, "The only thing is, I need to know where you’re from.

JOEL: And if you can pay half tolls.

> You
> still haven’t told me."

TOM: Why, it almost makes me not want to trust the person I’ve never met before and know almost nothing about.

> Carrie swallowed hard,

CROW: There goes another 24 k of the stack.

> and looked up into his
> eyes.

TOM: As a sprite, would you feel more comfortable if we put you into a Snoopy Versus The Red Baron game?

> "Um.. well…I…you see," she stammered. From the look on his
> face,

JOEL: And the banner ad running across his forehead…

> she decided then and there, that she was going to have to tell
> him the truth,

JOEL: [ As Carrie ] This isn’t as cool as I thought it would be.

> no matter what the conciquences.

CROW: Is that the Canadian spelling?

TOM: That’s the Canadian misspelling.

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *

JOEL: They haven’t gotten very far building that wall.


[ To continue … ]

MiSTed: Reboot: Breaking the Barriers (Part 1 of 16)


I’d like to begin another Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic summoned from the murky depths of the late 90s here. It’s set in the Reboot universe. Reboot is a show I never watched regularly. This isn’t a mark against the show. I was just at a place in the 90s when I had stopped picking up many new shows. I’m pretty much still there.

Editorial notes: I’ve obscured the author’s name for this story, Breaking the Barriers. This is because the fanfic was a self-insertion piece, putting a version of the author in as protagonist. Carrie L— volunteered this fanfic to the Web Site Number Nine Dibs List, as I recall. (I apologize if I have remembered how I came to this piece wrong.) And did enjoy the MiSTing and thought I treated it, and her character, fairly. But that was twenty years ago, and people’s views of themselves and their creative works change.

So I grant someone might work out the identity of the author from the clues available. But I can at least make it a little harder to do. Should the author happen to have an opinion about this reprinting — including wanting it taken down — please contact me, in a screened comment if need be, and I’ll act accordingly.

When I wrote this instead of my thesis, back around 2002, I was unaware of Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. Nor did I know of Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire. Nor of Story Land in Glen, New Hampshire. If I had been, the Stuff For New Hampshire sketch would have been very different, I assure you. As you maybe guessed, it was based on a road trip I took once. I think the address specified “Suite 12” because that was my apartment number at the time. Meanwhile, please take care to not cut yourself on the sharp edge of my joke about the many editions of Monopoly, which I believe were all ones I had seen on store shelves when this was written.


[ OPENING SEQUENCE ]

[ 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. CROW and TOM stand behind the desk; a science fair project-style folding board with a map of New Hampshire stands by CROW’s side. ]

CROW: Good evening. Tom Servo and I, Crow T. Robot, speak to you on behalf of one of the Republic’s most needy states. As becomes obvious on considering or trying to drive across the state, the horrible truth is:

TOM: New Hampshire doesn’t have enough stuff in it. There are the small antiques stores that infest every square mile of New England, plenty of places to get maple syrup, plus some gas stations that are out of gas and won’t let you use the rest rooms, and that’s about it.

CROW: Compared to such exciting and dynamic states as Massachusetts, home to the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and the Mount Greylock Expeditionary Force, loyal sons of New Hampshire can only look despairingly at their empty state.

TOM: Some naive people may assert New Hampshire is no worse off than nearby Vermont. Not so! Those in Vermont can partake of the benefits of being one of the four states to have been independent nations before joining the Union, such as the Hemmings Motor News (Full-Service) Gas Station, and the northernmost battle site of the U.S. Civil War.

CROW: [ Leadingly curious ] How’s that, Tom?

TOM: Yes, in 1864 Confederate soldiers descended from Canada to seize Saint Albans. They left three days later, taking with them some lovely antiques and fine maple syrup, and leaving Vermont with yet another piece of the rich tapestry of a history not shared by New Hampshire.

CROW: Others might argue states like Wisconsin deserve attention first. Not so! Oh, sure, Wisconsin has lots of empty space too, but its residents can enjoy cultural attractions like The House On The Rock, Tommy Bartlett’s Water Show, the actual filming locations of "The Giant Spider Invasion," and convenient access to Escanaba, Michigan.

TOM: But what have our poor New Hampshire…olo..gists got to look forward to, except catching a peek at Brattleboro, Vermont? That’s no future for the proud residents of an upstanding state, and it’s no future for New Hampshire either.

[ JOEL, carrying another sheet of cardboard, and GYPSY, enter, and listen aghast at what CROW and TOM are saying. ]

CROW: So if you’ve got any extra stuff — a museum, a potato chip collection, a cultural heritage, an Interstate, heck, a strip mall would do — please, donate it to the cause.

TOM: Send your extra stuff to:

[ CAMBOT puts the address on screen ]
Stuff for New Hampshire
1788 New Hampshire Boulevard, Suite 12
New Hampshireopolis, New Hampshire 01173
TOM: Thank you, won’t you?

JOEL: [ Startling, scaring TOM and CROW ] Thomas! Crow! I’m shocked at you both!

GYPSY: You knew we were going to do the — [ JOEL reveals his cardboard as a cutout of Nebraska ] — Stuff for Nebraska appeal!

JOEL: Yeah, guys, show a little consideration!

TOM: Uh, gosh, well, you know, we, uh …

CROW: [ As JOEL and GYPSY approach them ] Yeah, uh, we …

[ GYPSY pushes over their New Hampshire display ]

CROW, TOM: [ Dutifully ] We’re sorry.

MAGIC VOICE: Commercial sign in ten seconds.

JOEL: That’s more like it. And you two won’t ever do that again?

TOM: We didn’t say we *learned* anything, Joel, just that we’re sorry.

GYPSY: Get them!

[ TOM and CROW dash off to the sides of the screen as COMMERCIAL SIGN flashes. ]

JOEL: [ Giving chase, tapping COMMERCIAL SIGN ] We’ll be right back!

[ COMMERCIALS ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. CROW, JOEL, TOM, and GYPSY are tossing out cardboard cutouts of various states. JOEL holds a cutout of Indiana. ]

CROW: Indiana.

TOM: Farmer’s Market in Shipshewana.

GYPSY: [ As JOEL tosses out Indiana, picks up Colorado. ] Colorado.

CROW: Setting for "Mork and Mindy." [ JOEL tosses off Colorado, picks up Missouri. ]

GYPSY: Represented in both the Union and Confederate Congresses during the Civil War.

CROW: [ As JOEL tosses off Missouri, picks up Delaware. ] Actually has a land border with New Jersey.

JOEL: New Jersey, then?

TOM: The Turnpike’s Richard Stockton Service Plaza is named for the only signer to later repudiate the Declaration of Independence.

[ MADS SIGN flashes ]

JOEL: Oh, wait. Goober and the Ghost Chasers are calling.

[ JOEL taps MADS SIGN ]

[ DEEP 13. A steel girder is in the background, several feet off the ground; after a beat, DR. FORRESTER pokes his head into frame. ]

DR. F:Hello, Casper. Space Angels. Breakfast cereal: it’s not just for breakfast anymore, but it mostly is. Nevertheless, it offers our invention exchange for this week.

FRANK: [ Off-screen ] You noticed how the last Cheerios in the bowl stick together?

DR. F: Sure, we all have. And we realized the great potential if this adhesive power could be harnessed for non-grain applications.

FRANK: [ Off-screen ] So we went to work trying to reproduce Cheerio adhesion in a portable and easily applied liquid or gel form.

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. As above. ]

TOM: So you’ve got a demonstration for us?

[ DEEP 13. As above. ]

DR. F: Well …

[ DR. FORRESTER shuffles around, clumsily, revealing that across his back TV’s FRANK is stuck, at an odd angle, his back to DR. FORRESTER’s back, his arm twisted to fit behind DR. FORRESTER’s shoulders and head. ]

FRANK: We’re working the bugs out.

DR. F: [ Shuffling back around ] Your turn.

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. JOEL is at the desk, putting a large thimble over TOM’s dome. GYPSY has wheels and a racecar front on her head. CROW has a papier mache top hat on. On the desk is a Monopoly board and the associated clutter. ]

JOEL: Our invention this week begins with the provocative question: What do Singapore, Betty Boop, the original six pro hockey teams, and the dot-com industry have in common? One great theme.

TOM: All these nouns have all been turned into editions of the classic Parker Brothers board game, Monopoly.

GYPSY: Monopoly has dozens of licensed theme variations.

JOEL: From cities, to Marvel comics, to Major League Baseball.

CROW:So we unite them all with a hopefully soon-to-be-licensed variant:

[ JOEL holds the board up ]

JOEL: The Monopoly Edition edition of Monopoly!

TOM: Tired of Saint Charles Place? Try buying and building up the National Geographic Mountaineering Edition. That dowdy old green color block? Now it’s I Love Lucy, Star Trek, and The Simpsons.

CROW: Free Parking becomes the concept of landing on somebody else’s hotel without their noticing.

GYPSY: Those old railroads? Now they’re the Standard Edition set; the Monopoly set you lost when you were twelve; the set with two checkers, a pawn, and a piece from Sorry replacing missing tokens; and the set that’s hidden under the couch at Grandma’s.

JOEL: It’s an exciting new twist on a classic game, and one we hope will delight the world. What do you think, sirs?

[ DEEP 13. TV’s FRANK is facing forward now, DR. FORRESTER stuck turned away. ]

FRANK: Joel, I think you’re going to delight in this week’s experiment. For a change, it’s *fan fiction* where the author puts a version of herself into the story, and soon wins the hearts of all the show’s characters, heroes and villains alike.

[ They turn around again, showing DR. FORRESTER. ]

DR. F: Your target for tonight is… Reboot: Breaking the Barriers by Canada’s own Carrie L—.

[ They turn around again, showing TV’s FRANK. ]

FRANK: Good luck breaking on through to the other side!

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. GYPSY, CROW, JOEL, and TOM are beginning to play the Monopoly edition. ]

TOM: I wanna be the thimble.

JOEL: You are the thimble.

CROW: Are we gonna play where you get cash for landing on Free Parking?

GYPSY: No, we’re playing the basic rules.

TOM: Can we make investment trusts with the banker?

JOEL: No, it’s just the plain old rules.

CROW: Do we have to go around the board once before buying property?

GYPSY: No, we’re just playing the real —

[ MOVIE SIGN goes off ]

ALL: Aaaah! We got movie sign!

CROW: I wanna be the racecar!

[ 6.. 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1.. ]

[ THEATER. ALL file in. ]

> Breaking the Barriers

CROW: Somebody get the Krazy Glue.

TOM: Or the Cheerios.

> By Carrie L—

>
> Blinking and rubbing her eyes,

TOM: An elderly Samantha Stevens tries to work her magic again.

> Carrie leaned back in her
> chair.

JOEL: If she leans too far she’ll fall in Yosemite Sam’s trap.

TOM: He’s going to get rid of her and make it look like an accident.

> She had been sitting in front of her computer for hours now.

CROW: Gina Smith, the early years.

> "Boy," she thought, "there sure is alot of things to look at on the
> ‘Net. I could be here forever!"

JOEL: "I could be here forever" — it’s foreshadowing! We never get foreshadowing!

> Reaching up, she rubbed the back of
> her neck,

TOM: I hope she’s not looking for the parachute release cord.

> trying to get rid of the kinks that were forming. Then,
> suddenly, her screen flashed a blue color

JOEL: I think she’s being visited by Jaga.

> and she got an "Error 2001"

TOM: A pretty routine odyssey.

> message. "Error 2001?" she said, "Fatal error,

CROW: They’re going to have to call off finding the monolith?

> system destabylizing,

JOEL: But feeling better about itself.

> auto-transport device activated?" she read aloud, "What the heck is an
> auto-transport device?"

TOM: Isn’t that when Amtrak takes you and your car down to Florida?

>
> Suddenly, the screen began to flash a bright white light

CROW: Oh, somebody’s poking random numbers into 53281 again.

> and
> she felt herself being lifted off her seat.

JOEL: I hope she drives the villains crazy, ’cause she’s a lunatic.

> She watched in horror and
> surprise as her feet began to pass through her screen into,

TOM: This is the technology that let Deep Space Nine appear in the tribbles episode.

> who knows
> what? With a scream of terror,

JOEL: Scream.

ALL: [ Halfheartedly ] Aaah.

> she was pulled into her computer and
> everything went black.

JOEL: You suppose this would’ve happend if Carrie had a surge protector?

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *

CROW: Hey, isn’t that one of the barriers there?

>
> Part Two
>
> Carrie felt groggy and her head was spinning as she came to.

CROW: Must be a loose socket somewhere.

> Gently, she began to open her eyes.

TOM: [ As Carrie ] Aw, mom, it’s not a school day…

> As they fluttered open, she could
> hear a voice announce that she was waking up.

JOEL: Please remain in the waking-up position until the fan fiction has come to a complete stop.

> As her eyes came into
> focus, she could see that she was in a room she had never seen before.

CROW: Oh, OK. Now I know exactly what it looks like.

> ‘What happened?’ she thought, then gasped as someone’s face appeared
> above hers.

TOM: [ Distorted ] Hi, I’m Leonard Maltin.

>
> She found herself staring

JOEL: Isn’t that a bit rude, Carrie?

> into the most gorgeous pair of brown
> eyes she had ever seen.

TOM: They were unlike any eyes she had ever seen before.

> She then realized that the face that housed
> the eyes bore blue skin and chrome hair.

CROW: Oh, great. Honey? We got Andorians.

> As her eyes began to travel
> down the face,

TOM: A little glue can keep them from slipping like that.

> she noticed that this figure was wearing a blue uniform
> with gold and silver trim.

JOEL: He’s painted like Jay Ramos’s house down the street.

> Suddenly, it registered, and she bolted
> upright, gasping in surprise and total disbelief.

CROW: [ As Carrie ] I’m on "Silverhawks"!

>
> "Oh man,oh man,oh man!" she whispered, "I must be dreaming! It
> can’t be you!! You can’t be him!

TOM: I’m not, but a lot of people say I look just like him.

> Can you?"

JOEL: *May* you.

> She looked into the eyes
> again and whispered, "Are you Bob?"

TOM: Newhart?

JOEL: Dylan?

CROW: –White?

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *

CROW: OK, a little string… we let it sit for a few hours, this barrier should be good as new again.

From when it seemed the world could change


Just thinking back to that time when Windows 95 was coming out. And there were Microsoft fans, for some reason, and there were Apple fans, for some reason. And there were Microsoft fans, for some reason, insisting the Windows 95 user interface of the recycling bin was infinitely better than the Mac’s trash bin. After all, you don’t throw away your disk; you recycle the bits on it ito something new. And Mac fans argued back that you don’t recycle a file, you throw it out, maybe and maybe not replacing it with something new.

Anyway, considering how heated this debate got you can understand how we assumed we had used history up and nothing much would ever happen again.

Statistics Saturday: The Most Insignificant Programming Languages


  1. Pig BASIC
  2. Visual Logo
  3. S’more
  4. ++C
  5. Fivetran 77
  6. Hypocard
  7. Pilot
  8. pfKey 128
  9. Slot Car Construction Kit
  10. RedC
  11. VRML
  12. Eddie Haskell
  13. Sea Leopard
  14. Hupmobile
  15. Zestar
  16. Language Sixteen
  17. Subscript
  18. Turbo TeX
  19. HORSE
  20. Retweet To Enter And Win
  21. geoForth
  22. Ultrafont+
  23. Ironic Pascal
  24. Object Oriented Ubbi Dubbi
  25. QuickClam 2.8

Reference: Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?: The Lost Toys, Tastes, and Trends of the 70s and 80s, Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, Brian Bellmont.

Some further explorations of identity in the Plague Spring


So things are still a bit rough. I’m understating. On the roughness scale, which starts at 1 and goes up to “fell off the roof, scraped down the porch overhang, then plummeted into the crabapple bush”, things are averaging around “ … and then dropped into the wheelbarrow full of lava rocks heaped on the gravel driveway”. Still, this is a chance to try out a new identity, and be ready to unleash it on a changed and unsuspecting world. Forming a new identity is tough, but you can use some templates. It’s all right to try being the same person someone else is. Your attempt will be different from everyone else’s, and that makes your them a different them than their them is as you see it. Yeah, that sentence made me dizzy too. Best to move on. Here’s a few options to consider instead:

You could be the person who puts their lawn waste in collection bags from regional stores from other parts of the country. This is a good way to lightly bewilder the neighborhood. “This is Lansing, Michigan,” neighbors will say, if you live in Lansing, Michigan. “The nearest Price Chopper is in Syracuse! Are you driving seven and a half hours out of your way, crossing through Canada, to get these or do you have people mailing them to you?” They won’t ask you about it, but you’ll collect many excited looks from your neighbors.

You could be a person who can explain to me what exactly ‘var’ does in Javascript. I have to warn you, this is a tough one. Oh, for non-computer people: Javascript is what lets your web browser be slow, and make all the things on a page jump around until you give up reading it. It’s how web sites keep you from reading them anymore. Anyway, ‘var’ is this thing that sometimes you have to put in, except you don’t have to, so you don’t, and then sometimes it stops working, until you put it back in? I don’t know. I’ve had this explained to me like thirty times in the last twenty years and I still think it’s a prank whipped up by Javascript Master Command. Maybe it does something, but I don’t think it does, and anyway, I’m not going to remember why it does that.

You could become an immortal comic legend. This one is easy, in comparison. It just takes one step. Work out some kind of wordplay so that, after you’ve said your good joke, someone else can respond “… literally” and have that be a good joke too. I don’t have any idea what that would look like. But there was this paper in the Journal of Theoretical Joke Structures last month which said one can exist.

You could try being me. I recommend against it. Not that I can’t mostly put up with me. It’s that being me involves a lot of standing up from a comfortable enough chair, walking four feet, rubbing my hands, and deciding to sit back down again. It’s not much of a pastime. But when you consider what my knees are like it’s a lot of strain to no good purpose. Sometimes they make the noise your car makes when you have to replace that brake thing that’s $600 but if the mechanic can find some spares, only be $580. But, you know, I committed to being me, so who am I to say I was wrong to do that? Ask me when I’m staring at the ceiling at 5:30 am, tonight and every night.

You could be yourself, but two feet over to the left. This is attainable by just about everybody, unless their apartment is too small.

You could become a world-renowned puppeteer. You can even pick the world you want. They’re finding new ones all the time, so you can be renowned all over that world. How is anybody going to check on you? It’s not like they can get to the observatory any better than you can. You can even make up the world, and that’ll work with all your friends except the astronomers you know. And how many astronomers do you know? I mean well enough they feel like they should come to your parties but don’t? If you’re like me, and I still don’t recommend being me, you know four at most. You can get them to play along. Just agree to cover them for their new identities.

Anyway whoever you choose to be, good luck. Let me know how your knees work out.

A very little video game I remember from the 80s


You know something I got with some pack of cracked 80s video games? A Smurfs game. I’m not sure what genre it was. It was like a platformer, except that nothing happened. All that you had to do was not step on a dangerous spot. The thing was, the cracked version had this thing where you could turn off one or both of the sprites that made up Generic Smurf. One of those sprites was the upper half of his body, and the other the lower half. So if you turned off the lower half of his body, you wouldn’t ever hit the dangerous spots. You could just have the torso and arms and head of Generic Smurf floating over very many slightly different terrains, all while the tra-laaaaaa-lala-lala song plays over and over and over again, until you go mad.

Remembering the home computers of the 1980s


I wanted to share my experiences in home computing in the 1980s. I may not remember it quite right, but I remember it at all. You, I can’t trust to remember my experiences at all. I mean apart from my dad, who tells me he reads these things. But as I remember it, what he would remember is I disappeared into my room for up to 84 hours at a stretch. I’d emerge just because the groceries needed to be put away. And by putting them away myself I could put things in the freezer correctly, unlike everyone else.

Also I could get dibs on the microwave fried chicken. The microwave fried chicken was awful, understand. But it was convenient. Also the thighs would taste weird, which is not to say the same as good. But if I didn’t get away from the computer, someone else might eat that first. I don’t know whether my dad remembers this, but it’s got little to do with my computer experience. It would have looked the same to him if I spent all that time in my room re-reading the Star Trek comic book where the Excalbians went to Space War with the Organians because they were bored.

Big thing to remember is that how you got software was different. There were all these magazines that offered the promise of neat stuff, like, going around riding a dragon. And anyone could play this, if they just typed in six pages of three-column column text and didn’t get too much of it wrong. Then it turned out to be fun for maybe one-fourth the time you spent typing it in. Not everything was games, no. If you had a Commodore 64 you could type in programs that would let you use the graphics and the sound on the Commodore 64. It wouldn’t help you have anything to draw or … sound out. But if you ever thought of something, you were ready. Sometimes we would swap out the ROM version of the computer’s operating system for a RAM copy that was identical, except it didn’t throw a fit if you tried to find the ASCII value of an empty string. There were reasons this was important.

Still, games were great, because the only other software out there was spreadsheets and word processors. It still is, but now the spreadsheets and word processors are in a web browser so annoying ads can flash at you. But if you didn’t want to type in a game, you could get a professionally made game.

Compute! magazine issue #90 cover, showing a watercolor illustration of a kid riding on the shoulder of a large green wyvern, to advertise the text-adventure game The Hermit.
What rational person could resist getting this magazine and typing in the cover program? I mean, the chance to load, run, rename or delete IBM files at the touch of a key? Paradise! Fun fact: you could speed your Atari up to 30% just by tilting it backwards so as many electrons as possible were running downhill.

Thing to understand about computer games back then is that nobody ever bought them. You just … got them … somehow. Not really clear how, or who from. But they came on tape cassettes or on discs that a friend loaned you and that you copied, or that they copied and gave you. There were stores that claimed to sell software, yes. They had welcoming names like Professor Technofriend’s Software Empori-fun. Doesn’t matter. They never sold anything. The top-selling game of the 80s, Broderbund’s Karateka, saw sixteen copies sold in stores. There was never a game for the Amiga that sold. Game companies didn’t even try. They just gave the gold master disc to someone who knew this guy who worked(?) somewhere (??). He’d crack the copy protection and then make a kabillion copies with a fun message on the first screen. Every playground would have copies, although there was only one kid in school who had an Amiga. So that oversaturated the market.

The traded tapes, though, they’d have like 428 games on them. This seems like great value, what with them being free. The drawback is the games were mostly boring. There’d be, like, tic-tac-toe only it’s a grid of four rows and columns. Or Blackjack, except there’s no graphics or placing bets and you can’t do that thing where you split a hand when you’re dealt doubles. You’d just press space and watch numbers come up in a row until someone busted. In hindsight, I don’t know how it is I spent so much time on this. Oh, well, there was a Wheel of Fortune game that was great. It was even better after I memorized all six puzzles and could start solving puzzles after five letters. I typed it in from a magazine.

I know this all sounds ridiculous. But if it weren’t ridiculous we wouldn’t have done it. This is still true.

Around the house


So we’ve reached the point where I keep thinking that I see my love’s phone, poised on the edge of every single table, simultaneously. Sometimes on more than one edge of the table. I blame this on how every piece of consumer electronics we buy anymore is a hand-sized black rectangle. The next time we buy an external hard drive it will be absolutely anything that comes in pink and is a hexagon. It doesn’t even have to be a regular hexagon and it can be up to twelve inches on any one side. Hard drive makers, work on this.

On the Problem of Identity During the Plague Spring


The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.

But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.

All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.

How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.

There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)

You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.

Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)

The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.

Everything There Is To Say About Moving Keyboards


I remembered this thing where, like, a decade ago some company wanted to make computer keyboards that moved. Isn’t that a heck of a thing to remember? Why remember that? I have a decent memory. Yet it keeps remembering weird things. I have an advanced degree in mathematics and yet if you ask me the difference between a “covariant index” and a “contravariant index”? I have to set the wallpaper on fire and use the distraction to look it up. A covariant index is written as a subscript and the contravariant is a superscript. Or it’s the other way around. I keep writing it down wrong because I remember last time I had it wrong, but I forget whether I got it right in the end last time. But this keyboard nonsense? Now I remember this.

What I don’t remember is why they wanted a keyboard that moved. I’m going to guess it’s for ergonomics. Any time you have a system that makes something easy pointlessly hard it’s usually because of ergonomics. This makes ergonomics sound like it’s about being mean. But the point of ergonomics is to avoid doing stuff that’s useless and causes pain. And it turns out almost everything we do is useless stuff that causes pain. There’s maybe five things that we actually need to do. And one of them is winding the mantle clock for the week. This would be bad if you did it too much, but most people have to wind only one or two mantel clocks per week, if that, so it stops before it could hurt.

Keyboards would be a good thing to be made more ergonomic, though. Typing is a terrible thing to do to one’s hands. People who study hands — Handocrinologists — report a fifteen-minute typing session is about as stressful on your wrists as beating them with a metal-working hammer against an anvil and then sticking them in a pot of boiling grease, then typing for fourteen minutes. The only thing worse would be a seventeen-minute typing session. Doing less typing, this by having a keyboard slither away, would probably help. If this moving keyboard thing had caught on? Today we might not suffer from typist’s wrists, cerebral IRC, Livejournal-snapped hamstrings, Usenet lung, or CU-See-Me face deprivation syndrome.

I don’t know why this wandering keyboard didn’t turn into a thing. I can’t see any downside to a keyboard that, in the middle of your sentence, scoots over, knocking over your soda can and crumpling up a post-it note that’s incomprehensible but so obviously important you will never throw it out. Maybe it made people’s prose seasick or something.

Anyway I know this memory is like a decade ago because of how it was they thought keyboards were a problem. We would use keyboards for everything. Writing stuff. Reading. Playing video games. Sealing up the crack under the door. Cricket bats, for when you didn’t know there was a game today. Setting dads up for jokes about how does it fit in the lockboard. Swatting off cows that aren’t supposed to be in the dining room. Everything. Now that’s all changed.

Way back then we would joke about how Apple was going to make a computer that just had one button. And then they went and did it, and it turned out to be a phone, and it was the most popular thing ever. Later they took away the button. Oh, wait, now I get it. The keyboard’s just a picture on the screen. But the phone has this rumble motor. The phone can roll out of your hand. All right, so I guess the moving-keyboard company didn’t flop, Apple just took the idea.

So then what’s the future hold? Just a keyboard that shakes even more out of the way isn’t enough. “You can’t top pigs with pigs,” as Walt Disney said, making people wonder what question he was answering. No, it’s got to be a phone that takes more dramatic action. Maybe something that jabs spikes out. Maybe shooting a web to the corner of the ceiling and swinging out of the way. Maybe just being very ticklish, so the phone won’t stop giggling when you use it.

Well, what’s important is that the Handocrinologists are happy. Someone should be.

Everything there is to say about IP addresses


Each day over 36 people use the Internet. And yet how many of them know what it is? How it works? Where it comes from? What it’s doing? How it’s redressed in-between scenes so that in the first act it’s a starving artist’s kitchen while in the second it’s the luxury suite at a hotel? Still, let’s see which of these questions we can answer.

The Internet is, as designed, a high-capacity method of transmitting outrage. Essential to getting anything anywhere is the IP address. IP is an acronym; it stands for IP, but — you may want to make a note of this — a different IP than what we mean when we write IP. It is still typed the same, though, except in the dative case.

The purpose of an IP address was to be a unique way to identify the recipient of any particular Internet outrage. In the earliest days of computers this was done by identifying the person using the computer. But this was impractical, since back then, everyone used the names of the same minor Star Trek characters. Today, only three people know there even was a “Commander DeSalle” who was in more episodes than, like, Pavel Chekov somehow. The next step was trying to identify the computer using the person. But too many computers looked the same, especially back in the 90s when the computer makers got a really good deal on plastic the color of sweetened condensed milk you accidentally left open on the counter all month. We’ve since moved on to trying to identify the person and the computer together. This is done by timing how long it takes you to refuse web sites permission to send you notifications.

The IP address is how the Internet knows what to send to you. Consider this typical behavior. You put an OtterBox for your phone on your Amazon wish list, because the wrist strap broke off your old one. You’d just buy it yourself, but not having a wrist strap is a smaller hassle than your parents asking you to put at least one single thing on your wish list so they know what they won’t buy you for your birthday. Three weeks later, Amazon sends you an e-mail declaring they’ve found it would be a great idea if you bought an OtterBox. Sure, you think of the geniusnessocity of the mind that could create such a perfect needs-anticipation system. “Clearly,” you say, out loud, “the person behind this system deserves 130 billion dollars. Indeed, the person who could create that digital intelligence deserves all the billions of dollars.”

But this only works because it knows which of all the people on computers to send the e-mail to. Imagine if you got the suggestion to buy an OtterBox intended for somebody else who also wanted an OtterBox. Or what if the shopping suggestions were completely wrong? “We have a great deal for you: what if you bought a radial tire and the issue of Starlog about DeForest Kelly being on the War of the Worlds tv series from the 80s? Plus 1250 boxes of macaroni and cheese?” There would be no possible answer to give to that question. You would be stuck at home, all day, trying to find out, wait, there was a War of the Worlds series in the 80s? And it got kinda bonkers? But if there’s no way to get the information about this to you, then, where are you? Right back at home.

So how do you and your computer get this IP address? Eh, a lot of back-and-forth. Your computer goes asking others around it, “Do I look like a 12.440.593.56.210.315 to you?” And then the other computers go, “Oh, you’re underrating yourself. You’re easily a 56.337.404044.12.390 or maybe even more!” And then your computer answers, “Aw, golly. You’ll make me digitally blush, there’s no way I’m not a 8.266.712.8.775!” “Honey, stop with the false modesty. 18.9.2012.24.2007.48304 and if you don’t agree I’ll fight you.” Eventually they compromise on something. Of course, this is done at computer speeds, which is why it’s either instant or your computer just freezes up for three hours and eighteen minutes. And I’m translating what they say into colloquial terms. They would actually say “digi-blush”.

This all seems like a lot, and it is, which is why even brief exposure to the Internet leaves you so exhausted.

My Moneymaking Scheme based on the Rise in Streaming Services


So you know how there’s some new subscription streaming service every couple minutes now? (Look, there’s one just started up now!) Well, I’m going to start a streaming service providing a stream of subscription streaming services, or SSpSoSSS.

Of course, I am smart enough to know you never make money doing a thing. You make money by selling the tools for someone else to do a thing. So what I’m really selling is SSpSoSSS-as-a-service.

It’s looking good! SSpSoSSSaaS is already quite popular with developer snakes and among pool toys with slow leaks.

Because I Have Learned From The 90s


Yes, it’s annoying to have reached the point there’s not enough hard drive space. There’s an obvious hack. Nothing to do but put them on flash drives. I don’t like it, but that’s all right. I don’t have to like my contrivance, it just has to work. There’s the obvious choice what to offload, too: all those photographs from past years. They’re great, but I don’t need all of them all the time. It’s easy to put the pictures onto a flash drive. Two flash drives, since if I only have one copy of a thing I don’t have any copies the thing.

But. I’m not going to repeat the mistakes of the 90s where everything was scattered across Jaz drives and CD-ROMs with useless labels. I’m going to give these a nice clear description of purpose. They shall be My Image Storage Storace Contraption, and My Image Storage Contraption 2. At least as their full names, so I remember them. To fit on a flash drive label I’ll have to use the acronyms.

Oh, A Follow-Up Thought About Your New Web Browser


When you do make your brand-new web browser? You should definitely include an option where it only connects to the good Internet. The good Internet is the one where every web site is some slightly dotty fellow explaining the difference between Mergenthaler Linotypes and Ludlow Typographs. The author occasionally goes off on weirdly long, passionate rants, but they’re all about ligatures. And there are urgent updates, but they’re about the author having encountered some obscure Intertype experimental setup that was used by the New York Daily Mirror for like four months in 1924 and how this adjusts their rankings of All Typesetting Machines Ever, Best To Worst. Also the only images that move without your specific permission are animated gifs showing this web site under construction. This is demonstrated by a silhouetted featureless figure digging, I suppose for markup. Trust me, it’s the best way.

Why I Figure You Should Write Your Own Web Browser


It’s getting about time we should all write our own web browsers again. We’ve been through this before. There was a time in the 90s when anybody could write their own web browser, and they did. I know this sounds intimidating, but back then it was easy. All a web browser had to do was show HTML, which is just text with lots of ampersands. This is easy to produce.

A couple years later web browsers got Java. This required us to put a little grey box in the middle of the screen which read “Loading applet”, and then nothing would happen. About this time we added in Javascript. This required web browsers to include a little status bar at the bottom which reported “Javacript has encountered an error and crashed”. These were good times. The only thing a web browser really had to do was give us a way to turn off blinking text. Once blinking text was turned off everyone was happy, except for the inventor of blinking text, Haply “Hal” Blinken.

Anyway it was fun when everybody was writing a web browser, because we all had ideas about background images. I started out writing “very funny ideas”, and then decided “funny” wasn’t adding anything to the sentence. But then I left it as “we all had very ideas about background images”. This is true, but I couldn’t leave it like that or you’d think I made a mistake. But ask people. It was so. Anyway, we went from everybody having their own weird little web browser to everybody using Netscape or Internet Explorer and that was it. This winnowing-down process took about twelve days. Then we cut it down to just Internet Explorer. That took another eight years.

Like a decade ago this got changing again, and everybody started making new web browsers. This was fun because of the new innovation where web sites stopped showing you a menu bar. You could turn it back on, if you could find where the thing that used to be the menu bar went. But suddenly all kinds of companies were excited to stop showing things and maybe get themselves a brand. So if you wanted a web browser that wouldn’t tell you what web site you were looking at, but would have Garfield’s face watching you.

By then web browsers had to do more complicated stuff, like give you the option to turn off pop-up windows. The browser then warned you this might stop windows from popping up. Users agreed to accept this risk. This allowed every web site to ask you for permission to be the exception, which you denied, right before they opened a window anyway. Also around this time we got tabs. This solved the problem where we used to have 62 web browser windows open waiting to be read. Now we could have two web browser windows open, each with 86 tabs, some of them playing the Median Hits of 2007.

With all this potential we got like 800 new web browsers, which over the course of two weeks settled down to Firefox, Chrome, and Microsoft’s Thing You Use To Download Firefox Or Chrome. That’s been stable for about a decade now so I figure it’s time for a new explosion of web browser options. Last time the diversity of web browsers was fed by the need to remove menu bars and give people the option to turn off pop-up windows. Now we have many new things people can choose they don’t want to do.

For example, web sites now ask permission to send you notifications. You know, in case this oral history about the making of Barry Levinson’s Toys has a hot bit of news. (It would be embarrassing to be in the last 35 million of people on the planet to know the latest about the “Happy Workers” song.) So we could have an option to turn that off. There’s also those videos that start playing automatically, and don’t stop until you’ve scrolled the window so the video is hidden, which makes the video bubble up and float into the middle of the window. We need an option to turn that off, and also to bap the people responsible for that with some funny bludgeon-y thing. (You won’t see that part after “with” if I have a better idea before deadline.)

There are many ways we could set things up so they should be better but aren’t. Let’s get to work!

The Quick Start Setup Guide To Your New Laptop Computer Purchase Experience


Thank you so, so very much for your purchase of a 15-inch Abulnza Detranna 480q personal laptop computer. For any personal laptop computer really. We know there are many consumer electronic for you to purchase. This is one of them. (TIM: shouldn’t it be ‘consumer electronic options’ or ‘choices’ or something? Fix before sending copy to print.) Heck, we’re just amazed you’re buying a computer instead of a smart phone. But your new … we’re going to say PowerCom Asperia? … has many advantages over phone technologies. It can offer a world of convenience in long-form serious social media like LinkedIn or … Livejournal or … uh … Joombla? Snorlax? HorkPiks? Snorboldine? (TIM: delete any things that are not things.)

STOP! IF YOU DETECT A PROBLEM WITH THIS COMPUTER AND ONLY THIS COMPUTER DO NOT RETURN IT TO THE STORE! YOU WILL HURT THEIR FEELINGS AND PROBABLY NOT GET A WORKING COMPUTER. Instead restore the computer to its original packaging. Then leave this on the middle of a hastily cleared-off table and dial any 800 number that feels comfortable and supportive. Following this flee your home or office. (TIM: advise, know 888 and 877 numbers are things; are 866 numbers anything? Why not 899?) Leave the door open in case your coworkers or pets also need to escape. Flee to the woods, where you should then roll in a pile of loamy leaves, and climb into a tree to evade pursuers. Our representatives will be able to advise you on living off the land. You may distill rainwater, but not for drinking or washing.

Remove the computer safely from the box SAFELY WE SAID and wash the twigs from your hair. It is not necessary to repeatedly apply shampoo while washing, but it will feel like this should help. This will remind you how many things should work and somehow don’t quite. That done, set the computer on a level surface away from the shampoo bottle which you knocked over.

Inspect the computer for obvious damage, cracks, strips of transparent plastic adhered to featureless expanses of plastic, whimsical anecdotes (TIM: agreed in meeting this was ‘antidotes’ for the medical applications market), and giggling noises. Many computers of this model are ticklish and may be all wound up from the plastic foam packing peanuts. It is over-tired. Allow time for it to settle and for the peanuts to get lost inside your clothing.

Included in the package should be a power bric (TIM: again explain why not brick of power?), adaptable worldwide plugs, between four and six bluish-grey cables of miscellaneous lengths and widths that fit no sockets, between three and seven greyish-blue cables of miscellaneous lengths and widths that almost fit every socket, a complimentary keychain, and four bumper stickers. Put the bumper stickers in a secure place on the grounds they will someday be valuable. That day will be eight years from now when you are trying to get clutter out of the house, and you find these and think of this day, and how happy you were and innocent and optimistic the world seemed. Try not to find that horrifying now. Under no circumstances put these on any car’s bumpers. (TIM: why don’t cars have bumpers anymore? what happened? are we better off now that bumpers are behind us?) Over the coming year lose all the remaining cables, at your convenience. The keychain comes pre-lost for your convenience. (TIM: on reflection half all bumpers had to be behind us so disregard half of last note)

Fit the cylindrical end of the cord from the brick of power (TIM: thanks for fixing) and plug that into the power socket of the computer. Look outside to identify which continent you are on, and pick the power plug appropriate for that one. Plug that into the other socket of the brick of power and might (TIM: too much?) and the power socket that’s twenty percent less accessible than you thought. If the plug is of the wrong configuration try a different plug before you try a different continent.

Next press the power button. This you can identify as the button in the corner that’s the last button you try. Its icon is a light grey shape on a dark grey background unless we’ve swapped that again and it’s a dark grey shape under a light grey background. Wait several seconds and then press it again because you’re not sure you hit it soundly enough the first time. It did, so you have now turned the computer off.

This completes our Quick Start Setup Guide. Please now turn your attention to the computer’s setup screen. (TIM: write setup screen, remind people to do something about our HorkPiks presence.)

In Which I Explain Why I Have Embraced Night Mode On My Laptop


I’ve discovered it’s really nice to have the subtle change in lighting serve as a visual cue for when I can switch from saying “I don’t have to do these four simple little tasks that have been on my list for months now because there’s plenty of time left in the day to start them” to saying “It’s too late in the day for me to start any of these four simple little tasks that have been on my list for months now”. I would do this anyway, yes. But I like having the little difference in how white looks to make my excuse seem all the more technological and therefore correct.

A Quick Little Note To My Satellite Navigator Map Update Software


You … want to keep running in the background, Garmin Express application? In case I need a day-zero update on the roads? Really?

Look, I appreciate your hustle. Really. It’s just, like, you notice I’m only this week downloading a map from after 2014, right? I’m just saying, I’m pretty sure I can improvise around any problems until I specifically need you to update. Just, like, go to sleep about 2023 or so.

Statistics Saturday: 80s Computer Magazine Titles, So Far As You Know


  • Pet Finder (1978 – 84)
  • TI Times (from 1982, TImes)
  • CompuMonthly
  • Adam’s Friends
  • bits (1976-86; BITS2000 1986-93)
  • Mo/Demonstrator
  • Save**
  • DigiToday
  • P.O.W.E.R. (1981-84; P.O.W.E.R.plus 84-86)
  • CompuMonthly’s Apple IIGS Galleria
  • Lotus 1-2-3 Gazette
  • Transputer WorkLife
  • baud121
  • CHKin
  • SoftWhys
  • CompuPlus (1980-84; P.O.W.E.R.plus 84-86)
  • Maryland 8 Bit Computer User Group Quarterly (1982?-85?; disputed 87?, possibly M16CUG Quarterly 1989?-??)
  • TRS-81 (1979-81)
  • DigiTomorrow
  • ML Express

Omitted for clarity: Hires and STart which I thought I was making up but turned out to actually exist.

Everything There Is To Say About Programming A Computer In The 80s


The earliest personal computers begged you to program them. Or they would, except the earliest personal computers weren’t sophisticated enough to do that. They’d print out a line like ‘OK’ and hope you picked up the hint. It wasn’t much to go on. It was like the computer wanted to say “WhatEVER”, except the computers didn’t have enough memory to be snide. Please remember back then it was spiffy that the computer had sixteen colors, three of which were grey. Anyway there was fun with programming.

You could write your own programs. These programs would print out the word ‘POOP’ and then repeat forever, filling the whole screen. This took under a second and then continued until you got bored. If you became a more advanced programmer, you’d add spaces to the end of ‘POOP’. This way as the screen scrolled you saw lines fluttering around instead of a long, static, column. This was less boring. Some of us got the chance to be forced to use Logo in school. This was a graphics programming language that let you draw a square. If you were an advanced Logo programmer, you could draw a square and then another square at an angle. Sometimes computer magazines would run an article about the language PILOT, which was a hoax.

If you didn’t want to write your own language there were magazines with programs you could type in. I mean computer magazines. Well, maybe there were computer programs you could type in from, like, Tiger Beat or Family Knitting ’83. I never checked. Maybe I am prejudging the situation. Anyone with specific information otherwise I ask to write in to Mister Food care of your local TV station.

But the type-in programs were great. You could flip open the magazine, set it in front of your computer, and then have the magazine close right back up again. Oh, there’s an ad on the back cover for some game that’s like Wheel of Fortune except all the contestants are aliens. I’m sure the graphics looked as great as the advertisement’s airbrushed art, only with more grey. Well, you flip open the magazine again, weight the edges down with some other magazines, and get to typing! It would be hundreds, maybe thousands, of lines, but that’s all right. If you typed anything wrong it would only make the entire thing not work at all.

Some of the magazines tried to help you out. They came up with these automatic proofreader programs. This make a little checksum appear each time you enter a line. The magazine listed what the right checksums were. So when they didn’t match you could complain the automatic proofreader was broken. I know what you’re thinking: since you had to type in the automatic proofreader how did you know you got that right? We didn’t. We had to hope. In hindsight we probably should have spent more of the decade crying.

You didn’t have to type programs in. You could load them in from a storage medium. Trouble is the storage medium we had was cassette tapes. For short programs it was faster to type them in again. For long programs it was faster to hold your computer up to the night sky and let cosmic rays randomly trip memory cells into the right patterns.

The typing could get to be fun. In like 1987 I typed in SpeedScript 3.2. It was a word processor that included advanced features. If you ended a paragraph by hitting shift-return, it put in a return, a blank line, and a tab to get the next paragraph off to a rousing start. I’ve spent the last 32 years looking for another word processor that would do this for me. It had other features, I assume.

A couple months later I found the magazine with SpeedScript 1.0, a worse version. And spent an afternoon typing that in because, hey, what else am I going to do? Not crush my median nerve against the carpal tunnel? But it was all worth it: after typing in SpeedScript 1.0 I could see for myself that it was kind of like SpeedScript 3.2, but not as good. I think it still had the shift-return thing, though. And I know what you’re all wondering: Wait, where was SpeedScript 2.0? I’ve spent 32 years fuming about that.

But don’t think all this typing didn’t have lasting effects, even if I haven’t yet completely destroyed my wrists. To this day, when I open a program and then close it right away I think about if this were 1988. I’d have had to spend like eighty minutes typing in that program and I just threw it away, only the modern version of it was good at its job except for the shift-return thing. Then I feel guilty.

So to summarize, I understand why everybody treated me like that in middle school.

Far From Everything There Is To Say About Upgrading Operating Systems


Every now and then it’s good practice to upgrade your operating system. This teaches you to stop trying to do daft things like that for a year or two. I here mean your computer’s operating system. You’re welcome to try upgrading the operating system on something else, such as your thermostat, your hips, or your frying pans. That’ll teach you an even harder lesson.

The earliest computers had no operating systems at all. Users, like you but more old-fashioned, would just take whatever you had and bring it to them. Primitive weather models, Pi written out to eight digits, those oscilloscopes they show you pictures of in saying this was somehow a video game, large blocks of nutmeg, military-surplus tennis rackets, whatever. Then the computer would put whatever you had in wherever something fit. They trusted this wouldn’t avalanche too often, not during working hours. It would anyway, and they’d blame it on a “tube”. These were heady, exciting times. It seemed like computers could do anything. A high point of this was during the Presidential Election of 1952, when UNIVAC stunned television reporters by tipping over and spilling 25,000 golf balls over the CBS Newsroom. They tried to make this more plausible by reporting it as only 22,500 golf balls.

But we couldn’t keep up that happy state of affairs for some reason. Probably respectability. Everything good gets foiled by people who want to be respectable. By this they don’t mean, like, being considerate of people. They mean boring. So we got the modern operating system. This takes everything that might go into a computer and tries to organize it. This starts out well, the way it starts out well when you put things in a new house. All the surfaces are neat and as clean as they ever get. And the computer, like you, stacks things in neat little containers. They’re marked things like “Music” or “Kitchen” or “Miscellaneous” or “Misc” or “Misc 2” or “Living Room/Paid Bills/Books/Saved Games/Movies/etc 4-A” before the organization breaks down altogether, later that day. If you’re wondering why you have the folders Games/Music/Saved/ToSort, Music/Saved/ToSort/Games, and ToSort/Saved/Music/Games, consider this: not one of them has anything containing music nor created by any game in it. They’re all the digital equivalent of that strange piece of metal that’s in your junk drawer. The one that looks like it might be this weird multi-tool? But also might be what’s left over after something fell off an airplane? And you don’t dare throw it out because how would you ever get another one?

And this organization breaks down too. Bits fall loose, perhaps because you’re using “lossy” data formats like JPEG and forgetting stuff. Frames drop out of those Let’s Play videos. You know, where you find some game you could never do anything with, and someone’s explaining it all? But you can only ever find, like part 28 of a 154-part series, and when you search for the start you get parts 26, 78, 55, and 184, and that’s it? The bookmarks you have rot, so when something reminds you of a web site you used to visit all the time, like, four years ago you look now and there’s just compost and a warning that you need to update RealPlayer. Support files for old software rolls loose, getting caught under the file cabinet, and then one day sitting in the middle of your desktop is a 45-second audio loop from when you played Zoo Tycoon 3: Ungulation Nation!. This e-mail from 2014 you’re totally going to answer someday has now declared it needs to be opened by the rxRawrSnag-CodeMaster tool, which does not and never has existed.

Thus the value of the complete upgrade. It wipes everything clean. Every program has to re-establish its right to be where it is, and to do what it does. Right after the upgrade there’s the promise of a new start. You get to fiddle with the desktop pictures and maybe how fast the mouse should respond to things. Your software goes through a land rush, each bit of code fearing that it’s now going to be declared obsolete or at least not really useful. Everybody ends up stressed about different things than usual, which counts as improvement.

Some operating-sytem makers are trying to get rid of the big upgrade. They would. How are we supposed to ever fix a thing?

Everything There Is To Say About Updating Your Computer’s Security


The major reason to update your operating system these days is security. Computers are insecure and only getting worse. We can see why by considering any given program. If you have a program, it’s because someone wrote it to do something. (We are not going to see natural, farm-raised software for another three, three and a half weeks.) Do you know how many different ways there are for a program to do a thing? There are four. The programmer has doubts the right way got picked.

If the program doesn’t do a good job at that thing, the person who wrote it feels insecure. They have to explain how they know this thing isn’t right, 68 times a day. You can only apologize for the same thing 67 times in a day without it hurting your self-esteem. If it’s a little thing that’s wrong then that’s worse. They figure, this should be easy to fix! Why can’t I do it? So the person writing the program feels like a rank fool. That slips into the code, and your computer feels the insecurity.

If the program does whatever it should do well, you’d think that was great, right? Except no. Then the programmer has to think about how they can make this better. If they don’t, then they have to go work on something else. If they knew how to do that they’d have finished that program instead. So the writer has to work on making this good enough thing better. And you try thinking of an idea that’s even better than the one you had that worked. Do you know how many ways there are to improve a thing you ever did? There are four. Yes, again. So the person can do a couple of updates and make things better. After that every update makes the program a little less good. And then the program knows why you’re putting up with it. It’s because that’s less bad than trying something else. More insecurity.

You know who doesn’t have insecurity? The people who design hammers. Hammers are there to hammer a thing into another thing. If you feel fancy, you can include an option where it un-hammers a thing from another thing. The hammer designer knows the result should do. Once they’ve got a hammer that’s good at doing a thing — hamming — they’re happy. There’s nobody expecting some kind of improvement. If the prospect of an improvement comes along, that’s fine. Then they can go back to the Hammer Design Room. It’s a cheerful reunion. They get to see old friends.

“Dan! Kelly! We haven’t talked since we got that new niobium alloy! That was such a great hammer design time! What have you been up to?” This is the sort of merry little small talk I imagine they get up to. I don’t know what actual small talk is like. But I imagine it involves acknowledging that people have names. Then that you used to interact with people in some way. And then mentioning something you might interact with them about. I don’t know if you would alloy a hammer with niobium, but you know? I don’t know any reason not to, either. “Put your niobium in any hammers you like,” that’s what I say, when nobody else is in the room. And now I’ve said that I should explain that so far as I’m aware I have no financial holdings in the niobium trade. I’m not using my platform to manipulate rare-earth-metal prices. It’s not a rare-earth-metal. And there’s a 25% chance I made up the word “niobium” anyway. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up the name “Dan”.

Anyway, the Hammer Design Room gets the gang back together. After they catch up there’s talk about whether this is actually going to make better hammers. And if the hammers are better, or what they’re better at. And then there’s hugging all around and promises. This time they’re going to stay in touch. Everybody goes back to making hammers. And there’s no upgrading the hammer until it can’t hamm anymore. You never see a security update for a hammer, not until some fool puts a computer in it. And if someone tries sneaking a computer into your hammer, you can bonk their fingers with it.

So if you’ve neglected your computer’s security updates, try hitting a thing with a hammer. Let’s say that’s my thesis here. Thank you.

Statistics Saturday: The WiFi Networks Detectable In Your Area


  • home-123
  • Comcast_sucks
  • [ That cryptic alien squiggle thing from that one Doctor Who episode a couple years ago. ]
  • ATT_sucks
  • FBI Surveillance Van #69
  • home-1138
  • . – –     ..     ..-.     ..
  • thegoodplace
  • Aphid Kruschev
  • Bill Wi The Science Fi
  • internet-of-thingamajigs
  • bobby tables privat wifi
  • outernet
  • Verison_suuucksssssS5SS5fiveSss
  • xfinity
  • Hipster-coffee-shop-Wifi
  • Hipster-coffee-shop-Wifi-5G
  • Buy_you_own_Wifi
  • Comcast_really_sucks
  • xfinity-wifi
  • memory-gamma
  • HOME-518
  • Paul Blart, Mall Jeb!
  • xfinity-wifi-sucks
  • Why-Fhy
  • landline
  • [ something incomprehensible that just feels like it’s probably a Rick and Morty reference but you can’t imagine ever being the sort of person who could possibly work up the energy to figure out whether it is ]
  • NSA Surveillance Van 420
  • computers-were-a-mistake-5G
  • THE CLOUD

Reference: Skyscraper: The Search for an American Style, 1891-1941, Roger Shepherd.

Everything There Is To Say In Explaining How Computer Graphics Work


This office has received a number of letters asking it to explain computer graphics. “What about computer graphics,” they’ll say. “Explain yourself, if you are a computer graphics. If you are not a computer graphics, then why or why not?” It’s a bit stressful. I had thought we were to take a multiple choice question. “But,” reads one follow-up letter, “an essay answer is a multiple choice; there are just a Borgesian infinitude of possible answers.” Who among us would dispute this charge?

The first images produced by computers were by our standards low-resolution affairs. The earliest known images used the technologies of old-time radio, or as they knew it in the old times, “time radio”. In this the computer would just describe what the image should be, trusting to the “theatre of the mind” to fill in the details. “It’s a calendar for February 1949, but with Snoopy beside it,” would come the voice from the warm glowing hearth of a Harvard Mk II. The listener could fill in all the perfect little details of which days of the week were in February, and which Februaries were in 1949, and what this Snoopy fellow was all about. It extended naturally to more serious applications. “Here’s a wireframe cube rotating as if it were three-dimensional,” UNIVAC famously reported on Election Night, 1952. It was so plausible that critics came to ask whether the demonstration was rigged. It was not, precisely, but UNIVAC was warned ahead of time that the topic of shapes in dimensions would come up.

The first digital images were formed by taking photographs of the pointer fingers of the lead programmers and aiming them in different directions. This finger was chosen for the ease of indexing. It was a great format for pictures of fingers. It was also decent, if you had a big enough screen, to make for pictures of strange-colored grasses. Maybe the fur of some animal that had a lot of jointed fur with the occasional fingernail. So resolution was a bit of a problem.

Everyone understood this to be a transitional phase, just something to prove out the technology that would let them use numbers instead. Well, everybody but Ray, but you know what he’s like. Which numbers were a great debate. 1 was an obvious choice, since it already looked so much like a finger. It would need almost no new code worth mentioning, especially if you used a font that was easy on the serifs. The other number, though? That took a lot of fighting. 0 seems, today, to be the obvious choice. But a good argument was made for -1, on the grounds that then they could keep using fingers for both the 1 and the – sign. The dispute continued until a standard was finally agreed to, last year, in which everyone uses a 3 and a 4. The argument took some weird turns. Vestiges of the old system remain in how computer systems do not speak exactly of a three, but rather of a “quarter-dozen”, or “quatre-vingt” as they say in French, incorrectly.

A fascinating variation developed in the 1960s when research indicated there were maybe six things we needed a computer to show anyway. So why not set up a computer with a filmstrip containing six or, for deluxe systems, seven images, and simply have it show whatever seemed most relevant? People were indeed happy with this, especially if they got to work the projector, and doubly so if they were allowed to make a “beep” noise whenever it was time to move to the next slide. These slides were: Abraham Lincoln, a brontosaurus, a Mercator projection map of the world, a diagram of the heart, Snoopy, the Pioneer 4 space probe, and in the deluxe system, Times Square.

This is still at heart how computer images work. A modern computer image is a gathering of millions of colors, represented. Admittedly, some of the colors get reused. But to keep all these sorted out and in the right locations we have to simplify some. A classic organization or “compression” scheme is to break the original image up into millions of pieces, then individually wrap each piece in a protective medium, and then forget where they were. This is known as a “lossy” image format. When called on to show the image, the computer panics and puts together what it can using the same original seven base images, plus — since 1989 — that picture of astronaut Bruce McCandless spacewalking using his cool rocket backpack. There are also “lossless” image formats, but these are annoying to use because every time you do beat them in a game they insist that it was best-three-of-five, or best-four-of-seven, or best five-of-nine, and on and on until you give up.

Further questions to this office may be sent in care of this office at this address. Thank you.

Why I Am Not A Successful Urban Fantasy Writer


So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.

So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”

And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.

My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.

I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.

This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.

So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.

They picked me up to evict me more effectively.

Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!

How To Program (Computers)


The only hard part of programming computers is you’re expected to make a computer program. And even that wouldn’t be so bad except for the expectation the program will work. There’s where programming falls down. Economists say this is from purely rational market motivations, because economists think it’s very important things result from purely rational market motivations and they’d feel awful if they ever found something that didn’t. In just the past month economists have identified purely rational market considerations behind how buses never run from anywhere anyone is to anywhere anyone wants to go, potato chips which resemble celebrities, the way that nobody has correctly identified sarcasm since 1986, the Balmer spectrum of Hafnium, and certain highly educated pebbles.

In this case, the economists have a point, and don’t think they aren’t all smug about it. Imagine you were a computer program that worked. You’d be put to work, likely at impossible times such as 5:15 am, instead of doing what you’d like. What you’d like would be trying to remember old cartoons you’re pretty sure you didn’t make up. To get to do what you want instead, you have to do the stuff you’re expected to do wrong.

And so programs have bugs. For example a program to alphabetize the boroughs of New York City lists “Queens” and then drives the computer off a cliff, causing a steam locomotive in 1908 to explode. This gives the program hours to establish that yes, Gary Coleman was an angel this one cartoon, and is he dead or was that somebody else? It also gives physicists something to argue over, and helps historians. These days the Haymarket Square Riot is understood to have been triggered by beta-testing of Microsoft Access 2016, with the real tragedy being that the upgrades could have been handled in a Service Pack. Also all the death.

Now to practical examples. Begin with a good software development environment. There are none. But there are neat packages which turn words different colors and send code flying all over tab stops. This is soothing to the eye. These development environments adapt their color schemes to the seasons. They’ll show more words in red and green around Christmas, purple and green around Easter, green and green around June, and so on. This way you can easily tell what time of year it is. It is too late in the year.

Let us use as demonstration the famous “Hello world” program, because that never demonstrates anything useful. This can be as simple as a line to the effect of:

System.out.writeln("Hello world");

As your development environment puts “System” in blinking blue and white, celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, you can compile and try running it. If it were to run, the program would justly fear being put to work by economists, therefore, we get a series of errors like:

  • Package ‘System’ cannot be found.
  • Thingy ‘out’ does not exist.
  • File cannot be found.
  • Function ‘writeln’ not defined in this context.
  • ‘System’ is a little fishy too.
  • We changed that ‘l’ to a lowercase ‘one’ to look better.
  • File cannot be written.
  • Not in that context either.
  • File cannot be read.
  • We’re none too sure about this ‘world’ thing either.
  • We’re pretty sure it’s nowhere near Greece’s Independence Day.
  • File cannot be.
  • Don’t think of bringing up that context either, that’s right out.
  • We want to punch an economist.
  • Does Greece even celebrate an Independence Day?
  • “Being” is an Aristotelean property inappropriate to the complex post-Alfred-Korzybski world.
  • “Hello” still feels slangy.
  • Put that context down, you’re getting fingerprints on it.
  • Development environment wants a hug.
  • Not from you.

More advanced environments may also be a little snarky about the alleged grammar of “Hello world”. Just try diagramming that sentence, see where you get. Turn off the prescriptivist settings, which could be found under Edit/Tools/Preferences/Checking/Grammar/Advanced, if you were using a different version of the environment from what you are, and from what every person offering advice on StackOverflow.com has.

Your environment might list what lines raise the objections. If you’ve programmed well enough, these numbers will have nothing to do with where the problems actually are, or with the number system. Go to any line you like, for example number square-root-of-seventy-A, which is blank. Comment out all the blank lines, then the non-blank lines, and soon you will trigger Wat Tyler’s Rebellion. Now step away and sulk until the office closes and that’s your work accomplished. And if you look in your hand you’ll see your card is the six of clubs. Am I not correct?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Investor confidence was badly shaken by a 6:30 am work e-mail reporting that the water was perfectly safe to drink, bringing up previously unsuspected fears of the safety of the water and its drinkability, which is what they get for not leaving the e-mail until the middle of the day or something.

186

While I Continue To Stagger Back To My Feet


Won’t fib; the computer problems threw my week for an even bigger mess than I expected. I’m just now getting to the point I think I have my photograph library in order. And that’s none too soon because there’ve been big developments with that auto care place down the street having some massive relationship drama through its sign board. Just wait and see! In the meanwhile here’s this past week’s bunch of mathematics-themed comic strips. I hope to have stuff kind of normal-ish soon, once I’ve got settings and options and updates and missing programs set up. In the meantime:

Scene from Star Trek: Enterprise in which Captain Archer and Idiot Timecop Daniels stand surrounded by all sorts of swirly special effects from Daniels's Prime Radiant time-viewer thingy.
“What the — I — why are you playing The Electric Prunes? What exactly in my selecting the next episode of the Movie Sign With The Mads podcast made you think I wanted to listen to my music in alphabetical order by song title? What are you doing and WHY WILL YOU NOT STOP? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS? WHO DESIGNED YOU???”

Man but the iTunes interface sucks.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Despite concerns about the unusually high values of the Another Blog, Meanwhile index traders rallied, bringing the number to a new all-time high after someone noticed in their how-to-draw-animals book a page labelled “Unusual Horse Positions” and now everybody’s got the giggles. People, it’s about like when they stand on their hindlegs or reach for something with a front leg, or when they’re bucking or rearing up and it’s not … oh, now you’re doing it too. So immature.

181

My Computer’s Turn


So it was in the news lately that they’ve made a computer that can beat people while playing Go. Not just anyone, I mean. Any computer can beat me playing Go, because I’m just not very good at it. My best Go move is to claim that I’m someone else until the opposing player goes off looking for the “real” Joseph Nebus.

But now they’ve got it so the computer can play Go better than even professional Go players can. That’s taken a while to get here. I remember when we finally got computers that could play chess better than any humans. I guess there must’ve been a time computers were no good at checkers or backgammon or whatever, but you never hear about that. I know I go out of my way to avoid hearing about backgammon.

I’m glad we’re getting computers that can play games, though. I’ve got some video games I’ve never been able to make sense of. I’m thinking here of Supreme Ruler: Cold War, which is this incredibly complicated and detailed grand strategy game where you can play any country in the world from 1949. There’s no useful manual, and the wiki describing how to play it is about four pages, all referring to broken-link images. It’s barely possible to work out what you can do with the game. I’ll be glad to turn it over to a computer and not have to slog through trying to make it do anything on purpose anymore.

Obviously we’re nowhere near the time when computers can play all our games for us. But at least now we don’t have to play Go anymore. Dad, I’m sorry for all the Go players I’ve sent in your direction over the years. Apparently it won’t happen again, though.

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.