To Answer Your Question About The Road Trips


No, I did not notice yesterday how awkward it is to have a string of essays titled “Stages of the Road Trip: Stage [ Number ] ” now that it’s too late to do anything not-awkward about it. I have not spent thirty hours staring at the ceiling working out what to do about a thing everyone has barely noticed and would never bother mentioning. I’m handling it all very well.

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.)

Will Style Guide Writers Take Over Michigan?


My love and I went to the Clearly Used To Be An Arthur Treacher’s Fish And Chips a couple blocks away, because a bunch of restaurants that have been around forever closed recently and we didn’t want to miss this one. While reading the newspaper there we got to the summary of recently-introduced state legislature bills, so you know what kind of fun people we are. I remind you, I’m a person who owns multiple pop histories about containerized cargo. But among recently introduced pieces of legislation is Michigan House Bill 5770. If passed, it’ll change some state law references regarding the Department of Community Health to the Vital Records Office. The blockbuster bill would also change “Department of Human Services” references to “Department of Health and Human Services”, reflecting some department mergers and renamings. Also if I’m reading it right they’re changing a reference to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers” to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers”. I think that was put in to see if anybody was reading closely. I was skimming.

I don’t mind the state legislature bowing to the forces of Big Copy Edit like this. Of all the special interests that might have their way in the capitol, the fearsome Blue Pencil Squad is one I’m not so afraid of. Sure, I’d like the roads to get fixed too, but I understand that takes money. This just takes fixing the web site listing state laws.

What gets me is that this bill has seven sponsors. Why? What was the controversy someone was hoping to squelch by showing the bill started with broad support around the state? Is it the bit where the use of “pursuant to” is changed to “under”? I bet it’s that. I know the kinds of people who say “pursuant to” and they will put up a heck of a fight to make other people say it.

I don’t mean to make this a political blog. But put me down in favor of correcting references to government departments in order to reflect the current names or the mergers of agencies into new administrative structures. And I don’t care who I’ve offended by saying this, unless it’s my love or the guy making my fish and chips meal. To them I say I’m sorry and remind them of my deep and long-held moral cowardice. Thank you.

Me Week: How To Write Out Numbers


When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.

How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.

Senior Physicist Sought!


I try to read the local alt-weekly, the City Pulse, every alt-week. I keep finding wonderful things in it. That’s not even counting how the architectural critic for the Eyesore Of The Week column is out of control. He’s taken to insulting fine enough houses that have too large a picture window next to the driveway.

One of this week’s wonderful things is in the classified ads. These are normally almost one-third of a page of shakily formatted ads. Some of them aren’t even for the newspaper itself. This week, literally next to the ad for Lawn Mowing Service (“Ask for Dave”) and the appeal to “Donate plasma and earn $$$!” (to earn three $ and a whole factorial is a special treat), was an ad for physicists. Here’s how it starts:

Physicist: The Michigan State University National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory seeks qualified candidates for the following full-time positions: Senior Physicist (East Lansing, MI).

Senior Physicists wanted! Act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager.
Job listing in the Lansing City Pulse from the 23rd of June, 2015. Say, you don’t suppose that in asking for someone to “Act as [ … ] Manager” they mean they don’t want an actual manager, just someone who can pretend convincingly, do you?

Sure, who isn’t seeking qualified candidates for the position of senior physicist? Well, besides the newspaper. They need an advertising sales representative and a route driver. And I know what you’re thinking. “You have a math blog, Nebushumor or whatever your actual name is [ it’s Joseph ], you should apply!” I’m flattered. Thank you. But the listing says they’re looking for someone with:

exp in the design, construction, system integration and commissioning of a hadron linear accelerator with a beam power of an order of 1 MW, including electromagnetic and mechanical designs of accelerating cavities, beam focusing elements and vacuum systems for use in an accelerator.

As a mathematician naturally I have exp all over the place. I would imagine sweeping it out periodically except — you know what? Just trust me that this was heading in the direction of a mathematics joke. Mathematics and some physics majors were already giggling in anticipation. Forgive them. Anyway, I’m weak on the mechanical design of beam focusing elements for use in an accelerator. Whenever they were the lecture topic I was staring out the window at the campus’s albino squirrel.

Yes, I’m excited by the invitation to “act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager responsible for the integrated design and commissioning, and coordination of construction of the driver linear accelerator segments 1, 2, and 3 technical systems”. I’m so excited I didn’t even notice they used the Oxford comma inconsistently compared to the one quoted above. It spruces up the back pages of the newspaper. That’s the neighborhood where they run an ad for themselves showing Dave boasting how he got fifteen calls in April from his classified ad for lawn mowing. I assume it’s Dave. They don’t actually say.

I have to wonder how many applications the advert is going to get, though. Sure, anyone might be qualified to “design, fabricate and install complex superconducting accelerators”. But how many of them happen to read the classifieds in the alt-weekly any given week? There’s only so many people going into the hipster bar and the bagel shop at any moment.

It’s possible they already have someone in mind and are only posting the advertisement for form’s sake. They do specify they need candidates with “a PhD in Physics or a closely related field + 5 years exp. as a Research Scientist or any related physics research position”. But that seems like a fair requirement for an aspiring FRIBLSA Manager. It’s so reasonable that I didn’t even notice they were inconsistent about including a dot after abbreviating “experience”.

But what if they don’t? What if this is the best idea they’ve got for finding FRIBLSA Management talent? Maybe they got plenty of applicants interested in research and integration of linac segments from the normal physics-job channels, but still felt something missing. Maybe all the CVs got to looking the same. And then the head of the FRIBLSA Management Search Committee threw up her hands and said, “We need new talent!” And someone looked up from checking whether the new Hideous Art Museum was named Eyesore of the Week and pointed out they had the classifieds section.

I’d love to know if it works. I’d love to see a picture of a physicist saying “I received 15 calls in June from my City Pulse Pulsified for senior physicists.” Wouldn’t you?

Also if you are a Senior Physicist and get this job because I mentioned it let me know since my placement fees are reasonable.