How Pinball League Went Last Night


I don’t want to get into too much detail about last night’s pinball league out of fear for wearing out the term “super-sucktacular” so let me focus on the one high point. We were playing the hipster bar’s newest machine, Ghostbusters, which just got put in the last couple days and hadn’t even broken yet. I put up a couple million points, nothing exciting, on the first ball and waited for the other players. Second ball, I stepped up, player two, and through the kind of gentle, soft plunge that new players never realize is what you really want to do, got the ball just where I wanted it. I got the “We Got One!” mode started and even completed, and got a ball locked toward Storage Facility Multiball. By the time the ball ended I had built it up to about 46 million points, a pretty respectable score especially given that nobody in the league really knows how to play the game.

Then I remembered: I had started the game as player three. I had played someone else’s ball. The president of our pinball league’s ball, in fact. But apart from that little mistake it was a great performance.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose in several hours of trading when it was set under a clean tablecloth and left on the counter while the yeast did its work.

133

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Oh Yeah, That’s How To Live Like This


So that Star Trek forum finally came back up and everything’s fine. And in the Original Series subforum I’m now stuck in a pretty vicious squabble over NASA Associate Administrator for Space Transportation System John Yardley’s famous May 1978 memorandum on standards for the naming of space shuttle orbiters, so I can’t wait for the forum to go back down again. I mean it’s like some of these Star Trek fans don’t even understand the concept of primary versus secondary documentation or something. Furrfu.

Robert Benchley: Thoughts On Fuel Saving


The specific points of this Robert Benchley essay, reprinted in Of All Things, may be dated. The spirit of them, I think, is still with us. I know I feel Benchley’s impression of whanging a shovel into a fire box every time I have to figure out why iTunes is acting like that.

THOUGHTS ON FUEL SAVING

Considerable space has been given in the magazines and newspapers this winter to official and expert directions on How to Run Your Furnace and Save Coal — as if the two things were compatible. Some had accompanying diagrams of a furnace in its normal state, showing the exact position of the arteries and vitals, with arrows pointing in interesting directions, indicating the theoretical course of the heat.

I have given some time to studying these charts, and have come to the conclusion that when the authors of such articles and I speak the word “furnace,” we mean entirely different things. They are referring to some idealized, sublimated creation; perhaps the “furnace” which existed originally in the mind of Horace W Furnace, the inventor; while, on the other hand, I am referring to the thing that is in my cellar. No wonder that I can’t understand their diagrams.

For my own satisfaction, therefore, I have drawn up a few regulations which I can understand, and have thrown them together most informally for whatever they may be worth. Any one else who has checked up the official furnace instructions with Life as it really is and has found something wrong somewhere may go as far as he likes with the results of my researches. I give them to the world.

Saving coal is, just now, the chief concern of most householders; for we are now entering that portion of the solstice when it is beginning to be necessary to walk some distance into the bin after the coal. When first the list of official admonitions were issued, early in the season, it was hard to believe that they ever would be needed. The bin was so full that it resembled a drug-store window piled high with salted peanuts. (As a matter of actual fact, there is probably nothing that coal looks less like than salted peanuts, but the effect of tremendous quantity was the same. ) Adventurous pieces were fairly popping out of confinement and rolling over the cellar. It seemed as if there were enough coal there to give the Leviathan a good run for her money and perhaps take her out as far as Bedloe Island. A fig for coal-saving devices!

But now the season is well on, and the bad news is only too apparent. The householder, as he finds himself walking farther and farther into the bin after the next shovelful, realizes that soon will come the time when it will be necessary to scrape the leavings into a corner, up against the side of the bin, and to coal his fire, piece by piece, between his finger and thumb, while waiting for the dealer to deliver that next load, “right away, probably to-day, tomorrow at the latest”.

It is therefore essential that we turn constructive thought to the subject of coal conservation. I would suggest, in the first place, an exact aim in shoveling coal into the fire box.

By this I mean the cultivation of an exact aim in shoveling coal into the fire box. In my own case (if I may be permitted to inject the personal element into this article for one second), I know that it often happens that, when I have a large shovelful of coal in readiness for the fire, and the door to the fire box open as wide as it will go, there may be, nevertheless, the variation of perhaps an eighth of an inch between the point where the shovel should have ended the arc in its forward swing and the point at which it actually stops. In less technical phraseology, I sometimes tick the edge of the shovel against the threshold of the fire box, instead of shooting it over as should be done. Now, as I usually take a rather long, low swing, with considerable power behind it (if I do say so), the sudden contact of the shovel with the threshold results in a forceful projection of the many pieces of coal (and whatever else it is that comes with the coal for good measure) into all comers of the cellar. I have seen coal fly from my shovel under such circumstances with such velocity as to land among the preserves at the other end of the cellar and in the opposite direction from which I was facing.

Now, this is obviously a waste of coal. It would be impossible to stoop all about the cellar picking up the vagrant pieces that had flown away, even if the blow of the shovel against the furnace had not temporarily paralyzed your hand and caused you to devote your entire attention to the coining of new and descriptive word pictures.

I would suggest, for this trouble, the taking of a “stance” in front of the fire box, with perhaps chalk markings for guidance of the feet at just the right distance away. Then a series of preparatory swings, as in driving off in golf, first with the empty shovel, then with a gradually increasing amount of coal. The only danger in this would be that you might bring the handle of the shovel back against an ash can or something behind you and thus spill about as much coal as before. But there, there — if you are going to borrow trouble like that, you might as well give up right now.

Another mishap of a somewhat similar nature occurs when a shovelful of ashes from under the grate is hit against the projecting shaker, causing the ashes to scatter over the floor and the shoes. This is a very discouraging thing to have happen, for, as the ashes are quite apt to contain at least three or four pieces of unburnt coal, it means that those pieces are as good as lost unless you have time to hunt them up. It also means shining the shoes again.

I find that an efficacious preventive for this is to take the shaker off when it is not in use and stand it in the corner. There the worst thing that it can do is to fall over against your shins when you are rummaging around for the furnace-bath-brush among the rest of the truck that hangs on the wall.

And, by the way, there are at least two pieces of long-handled equipment hanging on my cellar wall (items in the estate of the former tenant, who must have been a fancier of some sort) whose use I have never been able to figure out. I have tried them on various parts of the furnace at one time or another, but, as there is not much of anything that one on the outside of a furnace can do but poke, it seems rather silly to have half a dozen niblick-pokers and midiron-pokers with which to do it One of these, resembling in shape a bridge, such as is used on all occasions by novices at pool, I experimented with one night and got it so tightly caught in back of the grate somewhere that I had to let the fire go out and take the dead coals out, piece by piece, through the door in order to get at the captive instrument and release it. And, of course, all this experimenting wasted coal.

The shaker is, however, an important factor in keeping the furnace going, for it is practically the only recourse in dislodging clinkers which have become stuck in the grate — that is, unless you can kick the furnace hard enough to shake them down. I have, in moments when, I am afraid, I was not quite myself, kicked the furnace with considerable force, but I never could see that it had any effect on the clinker. This, however, is no sign that it can’t be done. I would be the first one to wish a man well who did it.

But, ordinarily, the shaker is the accepted agent for teaching the clinker its place. And, in the fancy assorted coal in vogue this season (one-third coal, one-third slate, and one-third rock candy) clinkers are running the combustible matter a slightly better than even race. This problem is, therefore, one which must be faced.

I find that a great deal of satisfaction, if not tangible results, can be derived from personifying the furnace and the recalcitrant clinker, and endowing them with human attributes, such as fear, chagrin, and susceptibility to physical and mental pain. In this fanciful manner the thing can be talked to as if it were a person, in this way lending a zest to the proceedings which would be entirely lacking in a contest with an inanimate object.

Thus, when it is discovered that the grate is stuck, you can say, sotto voce:

“Ho, ho! you * * * * * * * * * ! So that’s your game, is it?”

(I would not attempt to dictate the particular epithets. Each man knows so much better than any one else just what gives him the most comfort in this respect that it would be presumptuous to lay down any formula. Personally, I have a wonderful set of remarks and proper names which I picked up one summer from a lobster man in Maine, which for soul-satisfying blasphemy are absolutely unbeatable. I will be glad to furnish this set to any one sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope. )

You then seize the shaker with both hands and give it a vicious yank, muttering between your teeth :

“We’ll see, my fine fellow! We’ll see!”

This is usually very effective in weakening the morale of the clinker, for it then realizes right at the start that it is pitted against a man who is not to be trifled with.

This should be followed by several short and powerful yanks, punctuated on the catch of each stroke with a muttered : “You * * * * * * * * * !”

If you are short of wind, the force of this ejaculation may diminish as the yanks increase in number, in which case it will be well to rest for a few seconds.

At this point a little strategy may be brought to bear. You can turn away, as if you were defeated, perhaps saying loudly, so that the clinker can hear: “Ho-hum! Well, I guess I’ll call it a day,” and pretend to start upstairs.

Then, quick as a wink, you should turn and leap back at the shaker, and, before the thing can recover from its surprise, give it a yank which will either rip it from its moorings or cause your own vertebrae to change places with a sharp click. It is a fifty-fifty chance.

But great caution should be observed before trying these heroic measures to make sure that the pins which hold the shaker in place are secure. A loosened pin will stand just so much shaking, and then it will unostentatiously work its way out and look around for something else to do. This always causes an awkward situation, for the yank next following the walkout of the pin, far from accomplishing its purpose of dispossessing the clinker, will precipitate you over backward among the ash cans with a viciousness in which it is impossible not to detect something personal.

Immediately following such a little upset to one’s plans, it is perhaps the natural impulse to arise in somewhat of a pet and to set about exacting punitive indemnities. This does not pay in the end. If you hit any exposed portion of the furnace with the shaker the chances are that you will break it, which, while undoubtedly very painful to the furnace at the time, would eventually necessitate costly repairs. And, if you throw coal at it, you waste coal. This, if you remember, is an article on how to save coal.

Another helpful point is to prevent the fire from going out. This may be accomplished in one way that I am sure of. That is, by taking a book, or a ouija board, or some other indoor entertainment downstairs and sitting two feet away from the furnace all day, being relieved by your wife at night (or, needless to say, vice versa). I have never known this method of keeping the fire alive to fail, except when the watcher dropped off to sleep for ten or fifteen minutes. This is plenty of time for a raging fire to pass quietly away, and I can prove it.

Of course this treatment cuts in on your social life; but I know of nothing else that is infallible. I know of nothing else that can render impossible that depressing foreboding given expression by your wife when she says: “Have you looked at the fire lately? It’s getting chilly here,” followed by the apprehensive trip downstairs, eagerly listening for some signs of caloric life from within the asbestos-covered tomb; the fearful pause before opening the door, hoping against hope that the next move will disclose a ruddy glow which can easily be nursed back to health, but feeling, in the intuitive depths of your soul, that you might just as well begin crumpling up last Sunday’s paper to ignite, for the Grim Reaper has passed this way.

And then the cautious pull at the door, opening it inch by inch, until the bitter truth is disclosed — a yawning cavern of blackness with the dull, gray outlines of consumed coals in the foreground, a dismal double-play: ashes to ashes.

These little thoughts on furnace tending and coal conservation are not meant to be taken as in any sense final. Some one else may have found the exact converse to be true; in which case he would do well to make a scientific account of it as I have done. It helps to buy coal.

An Open Apology To Tina Fay


I do not know just how matters came to this, but the note from the Dream World is clear enough. Apparently over the course of nearly twelve years now I have been — and I want to emphasize that I did not realize this at the time — annoying her beyond the power of words to express. It seems that every single time that she tries doing some bold and showy performance in an elaborate and often sequin-bedazzled costume, she’ll have cause to touch my shoulders or something, and somehow I manage to have her costume gloves come off her hands and rest on me every single time. It may not always be gloves, it might be a scarf or bandana or some other piece of costume that comes off easily, but whatever it is, I’m just a jinx. And of course the staging of these sorts of things can’t be done to just avoid me, so I just make her performing life harder by adding a costume glitch to it.

Anyway, I am sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing that encourages it; I don’t mean to do it; I just hope that maybe we can find some safety pins or something while the show is on.

Statistics Saturday: Frequency of Various Stress Dreams


Stress Dream Average Time Between
Public Nudity 3 weeks
Can’t Even Begin To Understand How Hotel Shower Fixture Works 5 months
Public Speaking 5 weeks
Changing Work 4 weeks
Public Noticing You 7 weeks
Back In School 25 Days
Public Anything, Really 2 weeks
Moving 11 months
Traffic About As Bad As It Is At Rush Hour, Only It’s Not Rush Hour 65 days
Application You Never Heard Of Before Gets Permission To Update, Family Staggers From Ruins 200 days
Performance Under Review By Mysterious Figure From Childhood 50 days
Can’t Make People Move Out Of The Way Already 4 months
Have To Race Naked To Pants Department Of Elementary School In Order To Impress Colleague At Major Outreach Event In Order To Secure Promising New Position In Reading, England, And You Keep Finding The Shelves With Books And Stuff Instead Of Pants Maybe three times in your life but good luck being functional at all the next day
Car Won’t Start 6 weeks
Car Is Somehow Also A Naked Duck 14 months

How The 11:00 Conference Call Turns Out


10:45. You set your cell phone on the table. Turn it on. Stare at it anxiously.

10:55. Wonder if there’s enough time to read all of TrekBBS before the call starts.

11:00. Watch entire minute pass without the phone ringing.

11:01. Elation: you have avoided being called into the conference call. Elation gone when you remember they probably haven’t excused you from the call, they’re just saving up to have you be even more in the conference call.

11:04. Realize that you have a need to go to the bathroom more intense and more urgent than any other need you have ever felt in my life. It’s the way you might feel the need to move your foot if it were underneath the rear tire of a truck holding a lump of neutron star, although with less of the mass of three Jupiters pressing down on your foot and more a wondering if you could hear the phone from all the way in the bathroom.

11:10. Wonder if they’ve forgotten you.

11:15. Send e-mail to someone supposed to be in the conference call to see if they’ve forgotten you. Kind of hope that they have, except that might encourage ideas of maybe they don’t need you for non-conference-call things. Wonder if maybe you should’ve been running March Madness pools so they’d want you around for that at least. It’s desperately far from March. It’d look odd if you started talking up next year’s anytime before June 22nd. The conference call will probably be settled by then.

11:25. Phone rings. This call is to warn you the real call is running about a half-hour late but they didn’t want you to worry.

11:32. You’re worried.

11:38. It may be preferable to explode from bathroom-related needs than wait for the call.

11:40. They call. The conference call is starting, except two of the participants have to finish up other calls that have been going since the late Middle Ages. These calls are cherished, handed down from a long line of mid-level management, to be someday handed down to levels of mid-level management not yet imagined. They cannot be discharged or dismissed lightly. You might be on hold. Suddenly you appreciate hold music: listening to something you don’t want to listen to provides reassurance that you are remembered to exist by telephone systems that are not aware you exist.

11:43. Everyone is able to talk with everyone else and would like to explain how glad they are that everyone else is glad to be there, and doing well, and all agree that it’s been far too long since we had a chat like this, and we’re looking forward to the way we’ll smooth out a couple of little issues.

11:46. The conference call enters that condition of being pretty much the same as guiding your parents through updating their digital camera’s device drivers only your boss is listening in.

12:02. The phrase “the button marked SUBMIT in the upper right corner” is proven to be either intolerably vague or to not refer to anything the other people on the call have ever seen.

12:05. logmein is summoned.

12:07. Emergency e-mails to people who thought they were going to lunch already establish that logmein would have worked except we had the password wrong, the capitalization wrong, and some kind of domain thing wrong.

12:18. You apologize for needing to step away for a moment, which they take to mean that you need the bathroom, which you do, but you use the moment to step outside and berate a chipmunk who proves to have a perfectly good understanding of the limits of Ajax-enabled web technology blah blah blah and why yes, it does have to have Internet to work.

12:29. All agree this has been about the greatest and most productive conference call since the idea of communication began and we’ve done enough of it, and hang up before anyone can suggest otherwise.

1:04. You emerge from the curled-up ball of yourself that was underneath the table weeping.

2:45. You finish editing the things you needed to get out of the conference call into a series of four questions, e-mailed to the other main party, with the explanation you need to know which of the two options for each question they want before you can do anything.

Three Days Later, 9:15. The e-mail is returned with the note, “That’s great, exactly that! Thanx for understanding.”

Eight Days After That, 3:23. The suggestion is floated that maybe we just need one more conference call to sort it all out.

Why It Is Known As Frontier Airlines


Apparently, the name is meant literally: the check-in desks have never known the touch of human civilization, there are wild packs of coyotes running on the baggage carousels and running a thriving illicit taxi service, and if you do insist on getting an agent you need to hew one yourself out of wood, using an axe, and primitive colorations you make from combining kerosene seeping from the ground with such lead or cadmium or other poisonous metals as you are able to scrounge from some manner of ore.

There might someday be a day I laugh about this, possibly when the time comes for them to cancel my flight next week.