How To Get Ready To Go Someplace By Car


Before setting off on your car trip there are some things you should check. The first is to check that you have a car. While it’s often permitted, it’s socially awkward to just be running along in the middle of a highway without any kind of vehicle. Not least because you have to signal all your turns using your hands instead of with electric lights. This is great if you want to feel vaguely like you’re in a cartoon about wimmin drivers from the 1950s. But do you really want to feel like that? Yes, if it’s a heartwarming cartoon about being part of a family of cars. But otherwise no.

Similarly you want to check that you don’t have more than one car. I mean that you’re driving at one time. It’s fine to keep a second car in reserve, ready to leap into action when it turns out the first one has mysterious buttons on the door with labels like ‘ASW’ that don’t seem to do anything. But you only want to operate one at a time, unless you have extremely long arms and legs. Similarly you want to include yourself in the car trip. There’ve been great developments lately in self-driving cars. But these fully autonomous vehicles won’t take over the purpose of a car trip until they’re able to get to a spot, deal with whatever it is you were going to deal with, and drive home, and get annoyed that their podcasts are ten minutes too short or five minutes too long for the journey. There’ve been some great developments in this field lately, with research going in to how to make podcasts a prime number of minutes long. But the work isn’t yet complete.

If the relative count of cars and you’s turns out matches up well you can go to other checks. The first is that you’ve locked the house door. The second is that you’ve gone back and made sure you’ve locked the door. You can be confident you’ve gotten the door locked by no method known to humanity. But it’ll clear the issue up when you start pulling out of the driveway and realize you left your phone in the house and don’t have your podcasts with you. This will be a chance to run back into the house and go through the door-locking all over again.

Anyway before you do set off you should do a safety inspection of the car. This includes walking the entire circuit around the vehicle, looking for any signs of damage or wear or other problems, such as a tire being flat, a body panel being cracked, a muffler dangling loose, an animal hiding in some part we’re just going to go ahead and call the “manifold”, or any part of the electrical system being on fire. Responsible drivers have done this walk-around inspection an estimated four times since the invention of the automobile. You should also check that the mirrors are attached and showing the areas behind the car. If they are not, try taking them off and putting them on upside-down. This will not help matters, but making the effort will reassure you that you’re doing all that one could hope for. Really it might be easier to be an irresponsible driver.

It’s also worth checking that there aren’t traffic problems along your projected route. The radio could be a good source for information. The news station, for example, will happily let you know that there are delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge. They’re always reporting there are delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge. This gives you the chance to ponder the question: how often does there have to be a delay before the delay stops being a delay and just becomes normal? And wait, didn’t they replace the Tappan Zee Bridge years ago? In fact, didn’t they tear it down? (They did not. They just stopped hoping it would not fall down while anyone was watching.) Also, the Tappan Zee Bridge isn’t anywhere near you. You live somewhere like San Jose, California, such as Louisville, Kentucky. And in what ways is San Jose like Louisville? In what ways is it different? Can you answer in 700 words or fewer?

The wind has blown the house door open.

Advertisements

Uncle Chuck on How To Get Three Cars To The Same Place At The Same Time


I was figuring to take it easy for the start of the new year. So I’m reprinting a piece that originally ran when this feature was written by my great-uncle Chuck for the Perth Amboy News Tribune. I’m pretty sure he was my great-uncle. I hate to admit, but I do get mixed up some. The best I can follow all our male relatives on that side of the family were named “Chuck” or “Al”, as if the family were afraid we didn’t really know how to pick names and might get in trouble so we just went with whatever worked last time. I’m sure we could sort this out if we asked my father, Joseph. Or, if we had gotten to the question sooner, his father, Joseph. Anyway here’s an essay that first appeared in this column in 1955. Enjoy!


There have been a great many enquiries to this office about how to get three cars to the same place at the same time. Perhaps the number is not that great, but they make up for it with persistence. “But madam,” I protest, “This is the water-commissioner’s office!” They are unmoved. They are certain I have answers. “Have you considered that it is because of the drought?” I offer. This hasn’t anything to do with the issue, but it promises a useful distraction. Still, let us consider the question in its original spirit and try to answer it fairly, two falls out of three.

If you wish to get three cars to the same place at the same time the first question you must answer is: why? Is this really worth your doing? What I’ll bet you want is to get three cars’ worth of people to the same place at the same time. And the most efficient way to do that is to find some reason not to go there. Two-thirds of your party would be up for that anyway, and are secretly hoping someone will offer. But there’s that stubborn remainder that will have you all going out, come what may. “I don’t care that we could roller-skate in the basement, if we moved the garden furniture out of the way,” they’ll hold. “I want to go do it where there’s more space and we have to pay for popcorn.” Fine. Let them learn.

The best way to be sure everyone gets to the place is to give everyone the address and the meeting time. Then take out every map available, including that one of the Old Northwest you got intending a joke that never worked right, and review the course and three alternate courses. Then let everyone go off on their own and hope for the best. The best is two-thirds of the party gathering while the third that insisted on going out instead somehow ending up at the Perth Amboy YMCA.

But even with this clear plan and good will in mind, the cars will set off, attempting to convoy. The cars stick as close together as they can, the first two turning right at the end of North Feltus Street and the third turning left. This inspires a right jolly conversation among the passengers. It ends with sore throats and sorer feelings, but at least an agreement to catch the other vehicles and tell them they’re going the wrong way. Meanwhile the other two cars have come to a stop where they can just see the funeral home, waiting for their lost partner, which goes past without noticing them. They try to catch up, and are foiled by the traffic signal, which separates the now-second car from the third. The second car honks furiously, getting the attention of the first, and they agree to wait outside the accordion place in fond hope of regrouping.

And this is taking the simple way there. The other way would have taken the party through the triangle of streets inside the larger triangle of streets, planned out by the city fathers in order to demonstrate Book VI, proposition 8 in their Euclid. There is no chance of the three cars making it through. History teaches us at least one car will be nudged away from the convoy by a German submarine, and its passengers will be interned in Ireland for the duration of the conflict.

But we have set off on the less treacherous path. From here it should be a left turn at the KoC. But the sense of the party has decided it’s the left turn just after the KoC. Doing this brings everyone back around to the other side of the accordion place and agreement to try a right turn instead. From here it should be not more than a quarter-mile, everyone stopping before they get to the train tracks. Four other cars somehow get between the three voyagers.

The roller-skating rink is closed today.

Uh-Oh.


So I got this in the mail.

There’s a chance that it’s completely harmless.

Trivial, even.

I mean, we’re getting to about the time when my car registration needs renewal.

And I haven’t had a proper fiasco putting on the licence plate tags in, oh, three years now.

Still, though, given what I was just writing

Level with me, kind readers.

Did one of you snitch?

Letter from the Michigan Secretary of State, with the demand that I open immediately.
I did NOT open immediately and now let’s see if one of you reports me for THAT.

In Which I Have To Take Back Nice Stuff I Said About Michigan’s Secretary Of State


So, I know that the last time I expressed thoughts about Michigan’s Secretary of State I made a fool of myself. Secretary of State offices around here fill the role that other states have a Department of Motor Vehicles for, and I thought that was just a quirk of terminology. And I learned that I understimated the office. At any of these offices you can do all the work that you might do by visiting the Secretary of State herself, without any necessarily awkward conversations or having to answer questions about how you broke into her home and whether you know it’s 1:45 am.

And that’s fine but recently I discovered what they need to issue a replacement driver’s license, in case you lose yours, something that I haven’t done in fourteen years and in another state anyway:

Michigan Secretary of State web site listing what is needed to request a duplicate driver's license online. It requires: the last four digits of your social security number; your driver's license number; and your date of birth and eye color.
Eye color is an easy question for me. I have eyes that look as though the angels designing my body perused my nascent face and said, “Brown. Done. NEXT” and hit flood-fill as I was on the way out.

I’d like to ask the Secretary of State where I’m supposed to get my driver’s license number if I need to replace my driver’s license, but it’s too much work for me to leave the house at 1:45 am except to confirm my fear that I left the lawn sprinkler running since 3 pm Friday. I understand why they thought someone might have memorized their driver’s license number, if they thought that people were still seventeen and in the last age cohort that saw a driver’s license as something desirable, instead of something you need to get to avoid the civil penalties for failure to sufficiently car. But, yeesh. I’m good at remembering numbers and all I could tell you about my Michigan driver’s license is that it probably has some digits in it.

Also no fear for that license I lost fourteen years ago. I got a replacement, for which I did not need to know my license number, which I did have memorized. Several months later the original license reappeared, as you might expect, as a bookmark in my copy of John Steele Gordon’s book about the transatlantic telegraph cable.

Statistics Saturday: Which Side Of The Road Various Countries Of The World Drive On


Country Of The World Which Side Of The Road Is Driven On
Canada Top
India Top
United Kingdom Top
Australia Top
Mexico Top
Germany Top
Ukraine Top
Norway Top
Russia Top
Romania Top
Finland Top
Turkey Top
Hungary Top
South Korea Top
Brazil Top
United States Top
New Zealand Top
Greece Top
Serbia Top
Argentina Top
Vietnam Top
Bangladesh Top
Taiwan Top
Lebanon Top
Italy Top
Spain Top
Portugal Top
Israel Top
Philippines Top
France Top
Denmark Top

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 1: Physics and the Atomists, Stephen G Brush.

From The July 2016 Scraps File And Free To Good Home


Come one, come two, come at least a few of you and enjoy last month’s scraps file. I couldn’t do anything with these blocks of words. Maybe you’ll have some better luck. If not, you can get them at half-price in the August 2016 Scraps File in a couple weeks. Words are sold as-is and may not be turned into gerunds just because you didn’t have a better idea what to do with them.

and while you’d think that was good news you have to remember that noses, like all body parts, are terribly gross things — cut from riffing on this discovery of a new antibiotic produced by a bacteria that lives in the nasal cavity because while bodies are terribly gross things it’s not like antibiotics researchers have too easy a time of it and need some hassle from me. They know what body parts they have to touch all the time. I have to be responsible as a very slightly read blogger. I can be irresponsible later on if I metamorphose and I’ll try to keep you updated on that.

something something stray unattributed quote from Monty Python sketch something — cut from what was honestly a bit of comment-bait because I keep telling myself I’m better than that even though I’m not. I’d probably quote something from one of the lesser Monty Python sketches anyway, the ones the Internet hasn’t destroyed by endless quoting. Maybe the one where a bank robber goes into the lingerie shop. That one happened, right?

mandible — cut because it’s not really that funny a word, not when you’ve heard it already in the past three months, which I’m all but sure I have.

furthermore I do not know where your paranoid delusion that I am talking about you behind your back comes from; people think you incapable of telling the difference between “a good person” and “a person who flatters me endlessly” because of your own merry little band of sycophants and not my pointing this out to them — cut from that letter that really looks like it’s never going to be sent because while it’s not like I’m saying anything behind that friend’s back, I know the friend isn’t paying any attention here and that is PART of the WHOLE PROBLEM as I have said in many paragraphs cut already. Anyway, since I’m the one being honest in the whole fight I don’t want to descend to including stuff that’s merely technically true, even though, as has been the case this whole while, I’m right.

thatched — as above, it’s one of those words that sounds like it’s funny to start with, but really isn’t, not when you hold it up to close examination. I apologize for people who have fond memories of slightly famous mid-90s comic Thatch but there’s like four people who do and one of them is the guy who wrote it.

also where do we get off saying a dipper is a thing anybody recognizes anymore? Maybe there’s somewhere they deal with them, off where there’s all sorts of people keeping horses and stuff like that, but here in the city dippers faded away back when the “drinking fountain” came in. Drinking fountains were great. They were free, publicly available places to get tepid water dribbling a quarter-inch out of a metal receptacle. But we had them, and they made dippers obsolete. — cut from my thing about what constellation you’re looking at essay because I know with a rare metaphysical certitude that saying anything against dippers will bring down a force-two Internet Hailstorm of angry comments. And I’m willing to get into arguments online, don’t question that. It’s just I’m more inclined to put up with fights in which people insisting on one space after sentences try to get the rest of us to do it wrong. The dipper enthusiasts I don’t want to cross. For that matter, as much as I’ve riled up the constellation enthusiasts they’ve been willing to admit that I’m right about how we can’t see more than about six constellations anymore and I named all the big popular ones. I don’t want to get in trouble with their advocacy groups, Big Big Dipper and Big Little Dipper. Who would?

secret — removed from the phrase “my secret hope truckers appreciate how far ahead of them I get before moving back into their lane” as I can’t possibly call that secret now you’ve seen my explanation, can I?

Statistics Saturday: The Hardest Things To Understand In Old Movies


The racial and ethnic stereotypes are hard to understand, especially the obsolete stereotypes, but what throws more people than you might imagine is how they used to pronounce 'robot'.
Also hard to get used to: how they said ‘Los Angeles’ with a hard g, the way Bugs Bunny did when he was affecting a manner or something.

Robert Benchley: Keep A Log


In my occasional travels I have not taken the advice of Robert Benchley in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, but I should have. Also, while this whole essay is a buffet of funny meaningless syllables, the thing Benchley reports finding at Lurding — itself a great name — is one of my favorite nonsense phrases. Made-up funny words are difficult for the writer, and harder for the reader, but Benchley shows off his deft touch from East Mipford on.

Keep A Log

In planning that automobile trip upcountry this Summer don’t forget to consult those notes you made last year when going over the same route. They’re in that combination log-book and Japanese fan that you took along for just that purpose.

These notes, most of which were jotted down en route, seem to have been made with the wrong end of the pencil. They are part lead-markings and part wood-carvings. It would be fun to dig up that pencil today, just to take a look at it and see where the lead stopped and the wood began.

To make things harder you apparently made the notes while taking part in a hill-climbing contest, when the car was at an angle of forty-five degrees. They are the work of a man in rather desperate straits to keep himself in his seat, to say nothing of indulging in the luxury of writing. You couldn’t have been as drunk as that.


The first one, jotted down with great difficulty, was made opposite the name of the town, East Mipford, fifteen miles from your starting place. It says, as nearly as you can make it out, simply “East Mipford.” This would seem rather silly. Presumably you already knew the name of the town, as it was right there in the map in plain letters. Why jot it down again in that round, boyish hand of yours? Possibly you were just practicing handwriting. God knows you needed practice!

Anyway, there is “East Mipford” and, opposite it, “East Mipford,” so East Mipford it is. It’s a good thing to know, at any rate.

The next bit of puzzle work was jabbed into the paper at Orkington. Here you saw fit to write “No sporfut.” Either this was meant as a warning that, at Orkington, one can get no “sporfut” or that it is dangerous to “sporfut” in or around, Orkington. If you had some clearer idea of what “sporfut” was you would know better how to regulate your passage through Orkington this year. The lack of “sporfut” last year must have been quite a trial to you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made a note of it. Well, better luck this time!


At Animals’ Falls you had what was designated as “lunch,” which is pretty easy to figure out. After it, however is written “Gleever House—Central Hotel—Animals’ Falls Spa.” It must have been a pretty good “lunch” to have included all three restaurants, and, as you made no designation of which was best, the only thing to do is try them all again this time.

Perhaps you will remember, after ordering at the Gleever House, that it was the Central Hotel which was the best. Perhaps you meant that all three were rotten and that you should go on to the next town before eating. The only way to find out is to try.

From then on you are confronted by such notations as “fresh cob” at Turkville (which may mean “fresh cop” or good “fresh corn on the cob”), “Emily” at North Neswick (which may be where you left Emily off), and “steening chahl” at Lurding, which obviously means nothing. You arrived at your destination, according to the log, at “27 o’clock.”


That is the value of a log-book. It makes the second trip seem so much more exciting.

Some Dangerous Kangaroos


  1. The Western Middling Light Grey (not particularly dangerous in itself, but it smells so very much like a fried clam dish from that stall in the mall food court that nobody, nobody, has ever been seen eating from as to be distracting)
  2. The Razor-Beaked Wallaby
  3. Gorndrak, the Marsupial-Spirit of Unproductive Workdays
  4. The Antilopine Gossiping Kangaroo (its passive-aggressiveness can drive people mad)
  5. Red Kangaroos Driving Without Their Prescription Eyeglasses
  6. Trinitrootoluene