60s Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl and a World Series winner


We’re back to another Larry Harmon cartoon this week. The director is again Paul Fennell, and the story by Charles Shows. Here’s 1960’s Crystal Ball Brawl.

You know the difference between the comic strip Popeye and the cartoon adaptation? Yes, yes, that BrutusBluto wasn’t an important figure in the comic strip. Not until the cartoons made him prominent. But the big thing in the comic strip is how much of its stories are driven by avarice. Not Popeye; he’s above greed. But he’s about the only one. Maybe Eugene the Jeep also avoids the struggle for wealth and status. But otherwise, everybody down to Swee’Pea will sell out Popeye for a bit of gold. For the most part, the cartoons avoid that. There’s some cartoons with a Macguffin of a gold mine or whatnot, but that won’t set Olive Oyl against Popeye.

So this cartoon teases a full embrace of the avaricious plot. Popeye’s magical uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra has died. The estate includes a crystal ball which Wimpy quickly discovers is giving stock tips. Also the forecast that The Bums will beat Boston in the World Series next week. Wimpy immediately acts on that and has a late-50s midsized convertible almost before Popeye and Olive Oyl have learned the premise. This is really on-brand for Wimpy. The current Thimble Theatre reruns on Comics Kingdom have been about Wimpy figuring out what he can do with the Sea Hag’s magic flute.

Brutus learns what’s up, finally, 3:11 into a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. And here we threaten to get a good multi-party conflict going. Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Brutus each trying to get the crystal ball, and Popeye trying to be the sane moral center? That would work.

We don’t get it, and that’s a disappointment. Brutus and Popeye fight for the crystal ball and that’s fine. Wimpy makes a couple attempts to get the crystal ball, but there’s no hint he’s keeping it to himself. He’s just securing it for its rightful owner. You know. Wimpy, the respectable, upstanding person who isn’t working a selfish angle. Olive Oyl forgets to even be in the cartoon. It’s all adequately played out. It spends way too long (about twenty seconds) on Brutus pranking Wimpy and Popeye into running into each other. But I would accept an argument that the joke is so basic that it only works if the buildup is very short or excessively long.

Wimpy, having delivered the telegram, holds his arms together and tries to look pleading and sad. Meanwhile Popeye's passed out, fallen over, nad has stars circling over his head.
Popeye’s less startled by inheriting his uncle’s estate than he is by Wimpy holding down a job.

The cartoon ends with, theoretically, the world changed: the crystal ball is there and working fine and Popeye has it. Of course it’ll never be seen or heard from again, but it’s interesting they don’t have the crystal ball get smashed or lost or lose its powers. Wimpy ends the cartoon still wealthy, too. Brutus ends the cartoon sitting on a cloud, asking “What did I did wrong?” in a weird French or French-Canadian accent. Why? No idea. I did entertain the possibility that for some unspeakable reason they grabbed an audio clip from a cartoon where Bluto has a French/French-Canadian accent. A quick review of Alpine For You and of Klondike Casanova didn’t seem to have it. I was looking for other cartoons where Bluto was, like, a logger when I realized this was not a good use of my time. It would still be baffling to pull a line from a decade-old cartoon when Beck is recording for the rest of this cartoon anyway. Maybe Jackson Beck was just having fun with a dull line.

And another tiny bit: Dead Uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra’s estate is being handled by Loophope McGraw, Attorney at Law. Popeye and Olive Oyl get the news that next month Loophole McGraw will be elected governor. Did the writer just not noticing he already used the funny name? Or should we suppose McGraw has used the crystal ball long enough to guide his own run for office? But is honest enough not to steal it? Not sure.

60s Popeye: Out Of This World and it’d be nice if it were


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for 60s Popeye this week. Once again the story is from Ed Nofziger, who’s given us some great fairy tale riffs and some general weirdness. The directors are Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, new names to me. So let’s have some thoughts about 1960’s Out Of This World.

First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.

It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.

Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.

This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?

Establishing shot of a City of the Future, with one apartment tower that's surrounded by a spiral walkway, and mousehole-shaped entrances all along its length. Other buildings have a similar style and the place is arranged without clear communal flow.
Hey, it’s the John F Kennedy tower back in Troy, New York! I loved the look of that building. … Do you suppose anyone lives in that Grandma’s Weird 50s Table Lamp in the background?

And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?

Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee'Pea emerge from the rocket ship. They each wear small propellers above their heads, attached by poles to a mechanism strapped to their chests, to float around.
Oh sure, you laugh. But you also laughed at that Segway guy when he said they were going to re-engineer whole cities to cope with how that gadget changed civilization and who’s laughing now?

Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.

We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.

So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The Future comic might be it.

60s Popeye, Invisible Popeye: the heck am I watching?


Settle in, kids. We got a weird one. I know, I can hear you getting excited. The weird cartoons are fun even if my review just becomes live-tweeting.

It’s another cartoon from the Jack Kinney studios. Hugh Fraser gets credit for the story and for the animation direction. Here, featuring Professor O G Wotasnozzle, is Invisible Popeye.

O G Wotasnozzle, inventor, was created by Elzie Segar to give us a reason to read his other comic strip, Sappo. He migrated to Popeye, bringing the strip the occasional wacky invention. In the King Features cartoons he showed up a fair bit, usually with the time machine that Olive Oyl dusts at the start. The cartoon does nothing to explain what this is or why it would do anything, but you know? When you’re seven years old? Somehow you never need anything explained. Each year I regret I can no longer follow the plot of Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. To a kid, it makes intuitive sense. Of course Olive Oyl should accidentally activate the time machine and get sent off to … somewhere.

Olive Oyl gets a cute line about how “scientists don’t seem to mind a little dust as long as it’s cosmic”. That is such a 1960 line. It’s not that space scientists have lost an interest in cosmic dust, but when do you ever hear about it anymore? Also Olive Oyl looks back over her shoulder at the camera. For this era of cartoon, it’s a subtle movement. This is also about where everything falls apart.

Wotasnozzle comes in and, using stock footage, discovers his time machine tampered with. And in other stock footage realizes that “they’ve” got Olive Oyl. Also that “they” are an entity that exists. Who are “they” and what do they want with Olive Oyl? … Great questions.

Professor Wotasnozzle smiling wildly while patting the input of his time machine, which is this big clock face with an eye, a mouth, some computer-y grids, a light bulb, and a satellite dish.
He has fun.

Wotasnozzle phones Popeye, who’s in what looks like stock footage of sleeping. His half of the call has something to do with something being “decontaminated”. And what was contaminated? Great question. Popeye rushes over to Wotasnozzle’s lab and eats his spinach right away. It’s the sensible thing to do, but raises the question why he doesn’t start every cartoon with the spinach power-up. Other than for fear of making the cartoons too short. Then we see the time machine as its stock footage normally works. Thus the gloved mechanical hand sliding Popeye through the air while Wotasnozzle runs merrily around the machine. Given all the work Wotasnozzle has to do to make this run it’s surprising Olive Oyl could get sent anywhere without help.

The time machine sends Popeye to my heart’s deepest desire, a great domed city. Apparently it’s in space for how Popeye flies around it. But he can’t break through, so Wotasnozzle hurries him back for more preparation. The tool that will make all the difference: invisibility pills. He swallows them in a cross-section animation. I recognize it from early-60s parodies of some indigestion-relief pill. I don’t know which. All I know is the parodies.

Does the invisibility work? Sure does, illustrated by using stock footage of Popeye doing the sailor’s hornpipe but leaving out parts of the animation cells. You have to animate invisibility somehow, and Fraser goes for having Popeye just not be seen. When we the audience have to know where he is, it’s footprints. It’s a workable answer. It doesn’t explain how Wotasnozzle can follow along on his viewscope, but there is a lot about Wotasnozzle’s lab that isn’t explained. Anyway this has all been a bunch of plot. Now it’s time for the cartoon to really sit on our heads and make us beg for mercy. There’s three minutes, 15 seconds left.

Back in the future(?), Popeye figures he can now sneak past the guards. What guards? Where did they come from? Wasn’t the problem an impenetrable dome? … Great questions.

He strides past a robot(?) guard to the civic center. He pushes through a crowd made up of the robot(?) helmets, without bodies, because to walk around he’d have to take two steps to the right. He reads that Olive Oyl’s on exhibit. Off to the monorail for a ride to the Palace Circle. This is important because it sets up a monorail chase that won’t make sense later.

A giant robot statue holds a vast opaque dome. Near it, a zig-zaggy glowing line forms a bridge-of-light between two short walls, one of which is attached to a ladder. The background, however, is the panel for an interior of a spaceship, with riveted panels and windows, wholly out of scale. It's disorienting to look at.
The thing is a bridge isn’t just about letting you get somewhere you couldn’t easily get otherwise. A bridge can be about getting there in style.

He arrives at a giant robot statue holding an enormous dome. It looks like the cover that snooty waiters use to bring food to the Marx Brothers. And then we jump to the completely wrong background. We’re supposed to see Popeye trying to figure how to get over a moat to the Olive Oyl exhibit. But since what we see is a giant interior of a monorail car. So good luck figuring out why Popeye can’t walk across what looks like as open a plaza as anything on the Brutalist college campuses I attended. Also how do we know this is Palace Circle? How do we know Olive Oyl is here? Where do those two guards blip to when they disappear? … Great questions.

Popeye frees Olive Oyl from her captivity, a chair that doesn’t have armrests. Also a ball and chain. He tears off the ball and chain, throwing it at the guards to get them fighting. His invisibility starts to wear off, giving him the chance to use the sailor’s hornpipe stock footage again, this time with bullets shot at him. Then he swallows the other invisibility pills Wotasnozzle gave him for just this sort of emergency. There’s a curious glow around where Popeye’s chest should be here. It’s a neat effect, suggesting maybe that he’s supposed to become visible again. But there’s so little of this cartoon that seems like it was animated on purpose. I can’t rule out that it’s a long-lived compression artifact in the YouTube file. The glow starts about 20:46, though, which probably means it’s just some weird effect.

Two short robots shoot bullets at the feet of Popeye, whose legs are the only visible thing in frame. Popeye is doing the sailor's hornpipe dance. There is a weird patch of light about where Popeye's chest would go.
Even allowing that they’re shooting at an invisible guy it seems like they shouldn’t be missing.

Popeye ties the guards’ antennas together, which starts them electrocuting each other, which seems like a design flaw. Olive Oyl warns they’re calling out the guards and what do you know, but the giant robot statue in the Palace Circle orders the guards called out. Also the statue is itself a robot, I guess. It could be the robot king. Who knows?

They make a getaway in the monorail, which is brilliant except for being stupid. It turns out that cars behind and ahead of them converge on Popeye’s car. Popeye declares that he’ll “bam-bobble them with me invisible muscles”. By this he means he’ll have his car go on the underside of the monorail, which is a thing that monorail cars can do. The pursuing cars collide. Also Popeye’s car crashes into the robot statue back at the Palace Circle, which is an occurrence that makes sense. Popeye and Olive Oyl climb out from right where they started and Wotasnozzle remembers he can just bring them back now.

Popeye’s got one of the robot(?) helmets stuck on his head. Still, he knows they’re home safe and sound. While sneezing, Olive Oyl inhales two invisibility tablets right off the counter, which is a thing that happens, and she blips out of the cartoon. Well, she kisses Popeye some. The Sailor Man declares, embarrassed, “this invisibility has ruined my visibility”. The declaration seems like it meant something to somebody at some point.

Two cars on the top of a monorail track race toward each other. A third car races away, clinging to the underside and racing toward a support pylon.
Try this one weird trick to make your railroad friend hate you!
… Of all possible features for Future Space Robot Mars why is the church the one we can make out?

This cartoon invites us to ask many questions, but most of them are versions of “the heck am I watching?”. It’s not that this has to be an incoherent story. The premise is good, and up to Popeye’s return to the future it’s presented well. But then we’re hit with what seem like missing scenes, such as establishing that there’s a guard for Popeye to get past. Or that the giant robot statue is not just decoration but can bark out orders. Or that the robots even speak: they’re mute for so long that it’s weird when the robot starts to speak. Add in the animation glitches and what should be a straightforward cartoon loses coherence.

It’s also a disappointing vision of the future. It’s basically a domed city, a monorail, and the light bridge. These are good props but there’s not much done with them. And the background error makes the introduction of the light bridge seem pointless. Certainly having Olive Oyl get lost, and Popeye get sent after her, demands a good chunk of the five-minute run time. But why not have Popeye interact with a local instead of push his way past a crowd they don’t want to really draw? Popeye having a false start and having to return to Wotasnozzle is a nice bit of business, but would the cartoon have been better if we met the Future Robot(?) King instead?

But if they didn’t have some good jokes about of future-life to, it’s better not to force it. I’m content with a weird cartoon where everything falls just short of being motivated. It’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do.

Meanwhile, How My Day Job Doing Computer Stuff Is Going


Me, today: putting a thing that’s currently a single line used a single time into its own function, because I know from experience this is going to grow into a thing that’s a bunch of pieces doing similar but not identical things and that has to be called from eighteen different spots in the code.

Me, two months from now: trying to figure out why none of my functions ever actually does anything, they just call other functions into this great impassible mangrove swamp of two-line functions.

The Long-Term Forecast


So Australia’s looking like they’re committed to not asking me to prime ministrate for them. Fine, all right. It’s time for some long-term planning. If you don’t agree it’s time for that, come back in ten minutes and see if it’s time then. If that still doesn’t work, come back in 1,425 years and then we’ll see who’s saying what. No, that’s not me tricking you into long-term planning. I’m thinking of something that’s really long term. Like, longer even than 1,430 years.

If we keep looking forward we find the Sun’s going to keep shining. This just makes sense. The costs of constructing the Sun have been nearly completely amortized. Replacing it with something else that would provide the same services would be fiscally irresponsible. Just complying with the changes in zoning regulations would make the whole project economically dubious. If you disagree I can put you in touch with the Comptroller, but do be warned, he’s a hugger.

The thing about the Sun shining that’s relevant here is that it puts out all sorts of light. A bit of it presses down on our ground. The rest goes off somewhere, we don’t know where. It’s probably harmless. But while light doesn’t have mass, it does carry momentum, as it had the idea that this would make it more popular in middle school. This worked as well as every plan to be more popular in middle school. Nevertheless, when light hits the surface of the Earth, it delivers this momentum, pushing down on the planet just like tennis balls hitting the ground would, only without the benefit of line judges.

Imagine the Earth were made of Play-Doh. This is a simplification for the purpose of planning. It’s really made of a Silly Putty alloy. Nevertheless, if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you’ll quickly get distracted by that weird not-exactly-polymer smell. Push past that, though. Roll the thing into a ball and set it on a table. It doesn’t stay round forever. The pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but that’s all right. You can let this run for billions of years, if that’s what it takes. You don’t have plans that far out, even though you somehow don’t have the time to do anything either.

The Earth isn’t just sitting on a table, which is a relief, since it would probably leave a stain on the tablecloth. But the pressure of that sunlight has a similar effect, except for going the opposite way. As the sunlight presses on the Earth, the planet’s also rotating, which implies we’ll eventually have the planet rolled out into a long and skinny pole, several inches wide and unspeakably long. It’s astounding enough to think of it twirling around the solar system like an enormous baton. But imagine the size of the matching cheerleaders and marching band. All Jupiter would barely be enough material to make the tuba.

What can we expect for life on this Pole World to be like? The obvious supposition is that it will serve very well the descendants of modern large cities. People who’ve gotten very used to standing on crowded buses and subway cars would be great at clinging to a pole for stability. This is too facile an analysis. It overlooks that, obviously, subway service will have stopped long before the Earth becomes a rod only a couple inches across. Bus service can continue a bit longer after subways become impossible, of course. But even that will have to end no later than when the Earth is a cylinder at most ten feet in diameter.

Without subway or bus service most large-city commuting will be impossible. This will require a major restructuring of the economy. But given how much demand there’s likely to be for hooks or straps that could catch onto the Pole World, for stability, this restructuring was probably going to happen anyway.

It’ll also be tough for burrowing animals. But they’ll evolve adjustments to these changes gradually. This means we will most likely not get a great moment where a groundhog shuffles off, confident it’s going to get away from whatever is annoying it, and starts digging, and then accidentally pops out the other side of the planet and looks stymied and confused. Reality does have a way of spoiling the cool stuff like that. But animals that cling to branches or vines seem set to do well. Two- and three-toed sloths may find the geography extremely comfortable except when someone’s trying to pass.

But who really knows? As the city-dwellers example shows, the full reality of something can have weird and counter-intuitive results. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future. Well, we can check back in a couple dozen gabillion years and see how it’s all turned out.

In A Perfect World


So you live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Maybe it wasn’t you that was embarrassed. Maybe it was someone who reminded me of you. It would help if we could get some name tags or distinctive ribbons or something. Anyway, even in a utopia there’s no getting away from some civic responsibilities. At any moment something like one-eighth of our population is busy introducing the place to an outsider. Are you ready?

Maybe you’re wondering where they come from. The answer is, all over. Some of them are people from before the utopia who got themselves caught in cave-ins, or were put into stasis until medical science found a cure for painting bricks. Some of them are from alternate timelines, like one where Belgian visionary Paul Otlet and his electric telescopes failed to manifest the Mundaneum in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1934. Maybe they’re dreaming, as far as they can tell, and there’s no sense waking them up before you figure out which of us is real. Ooh, maybe they’re aliens, so we can be their aliens, and add this neat little mirror-image chic to things.

Really it doesn’t matter. Any visitor to utopia has some things they just have to know. And they have some expectations. Meet them, and they’ll be happy with the experience. They’ll need to be told they are in a utopia, straight off. Hide that and they’ll never be happy. And they’ll need a couple rounds of origin-shaming so they appreciate how their homes made serious dog’s breakfasts of things. That’s an easy sell because people find it charming to hear “dog’s breakfast” as a metaphor.

They’ll want to have a tour, once they’ve been electro-taught the universal language or just happened to know it anyway. You’ll want to take this on foot. It makes stuff seem bigger. I recommend taking them to one of those middling-size buildings made with that brick cladding that somehow looks like fake bricks even though they’re real bricks. Try to approach from the side that’s the least architectury. Then go into something about how it’s the administrative district’s largest facility for producing psychoneutral brick or self-motivated gelatin or fully interactive quadrophonic squirrels or whatever. To make a convincing presentation remember the important two elements:

  • A bunch of statistics delivered in obscure units. Try saying something like `modules over 20.38 centipoise per millikatal hectosievert’ or `response metrics as sensitive as 12.10 decatur-centidays’ until it sounds kind of normal-ish. `400,000 mease of herring each compline’. `0.2 adrianople-ceston-centiMcClintocks.’ Something like that.
  • A moving sidewalk. You can find some at most airports, many train stations, and the occasional shopping mall.

You’re going to get the occasional visitor who’s looking for social satire. By “social satire” people mean everyone talking about how their enemies were fools and their heroes visionaries. This is tricky to do before you know who their enemies and their heroes were. You can make some wild guesses and if they react with horror say that you were just testing to see if they were ready for the true order of things. You’ll want to practice that with friends before doing it live. Also bring some gift certificates for ice cream or something so you can act like you’re giving a special award for their figuring it out. Some weird flavor, something hard to like. They’re not coming all the way to utopia just to get fudge ripple. They’re looking for something with a bit of freaky to it. In fact, don’t just do this for ice cream. Every day try to find two or three little things to freak up a bit. It’s surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it and it makes their experience so much better. It’s kind of an important rule for life.

If you still can’t get a handle on them, try some patter about how gold and silver make the throw pillows of utopia all the more throw-pillow-ish. Your guests will make what they want out of this, and if they ask you to expand on it pull the old “what does that tell you about us?” routine. You’re not going to believe how well this works.

Sometimes you’re going to get the visitor who’s decided utopia is actually a dystopia. There’s no arguing them out of it. They’re going to figure they’re the only ones who see it, and they have a responsibility to destroy society, which is supposed to somehow help. So you’ll want to have contacts with some local theater group. They should have a bunch of costumes and a couple people who can do improv work as an underground movement. Set them up with something harmless like bubble wands. Tell your visitor these are futuristic pacification weapons so that nobody’ll get unnecessarily hurt while they’re busy destroying society.

Now you’ll need to set up a story where the organizing impulse for all society comes from, oh, whatever. That closed psychoneutral brick factory nobody’s got around to tearing down yet. Send them off to attack it and after all the foam has evaporated — well, you know joy? Not really. Not the kind of joy you’ll see after they figure they’ve gone and obliterated society. It’s pretty sweet, really. After you do go along with this you’re going to have to listen to them blathering a while about how they’ve opened everyone’s eyes and how society is really and truly going to work this time. And some of them can go on forever like this. But whoever said life in utopia was perfect?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose eleven points on word that if everybody was good we might just go to an amusement park for the Fourth of July. Skeptics protest that major holidays are the worst time to go to amusement parks because everybody goes to them then, but they were shut down by that time on the 4th of July that we went to Great Adventure and literally got to walk on to the front row of Kingda Ka, and when does that ever happen?

273

In The Long Term


It’s about time for some long-range planning, considering how well we’re doing with the short-range stuff. If you don’t agree, come back in about ten minutes and see if it’s time then. I’m thinking of really long term, not like those geology folks who think 1,625 million years is a fair stretch. I want something big.

As you go out long enough, the Sun is going to continue shining. This might sound controversial, but remember that we’ve almost completely amortized the costs of constructing the Sun. All we’re responsible for now is basic maintenance and upkeep. Even if we wanted to replace it with a more modern design it’d hardly be economical. And besides, the contemporary zoning regulations would make it really annoying to build the necessary falsework for a replacement to the Sun.

Now the thing about the Sun shining is that all that light falling down exerts pressure on the ground. Light hasn’t got any mass, being possessed of low self-esteem as a child when it might have formed some. But it does carry momentum, being unable by temperament to say no when asked to carry some momentum somewhere. When the light hits the ground and is absorbed or bounces off it pushes the ground down as surely as hitting it with tennis balls would, only without line judges. This is never a lot of push, but it is there all across the daylight half of the globe, and that adds up to a fair-sized push.

Imagine the Earth to be made of Play-Doh. This is a metaphor: it is actually made of peanut butter. But if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you can lose all focus while you absorb that strange plymer smell. Please try to be productive through that. While enjoying the smell roll the Play-Doh into a ball and then set it down. It will not stay a round ball forever. Even before other people in the house take it to build their own projects, the continual pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but we have that time. There’s probably billions of years of time you haven’t scheduled anything for yet, but still won’t be able to get around to writing that novel you have in mind.

Earth isn’t sitting inactively on a table. This is a good thing as the temptation to hit it with a giant pool cue would be nearly irresistible. Nor is it sitting in a giant chicken nest, again good for everyone who worries about stuff hatching from underneath them. But while the pressure of sunlight is flattening the Earth, the Earth is also rotating. This implies all that sunlight has the same effect of rolling a ball of Play-Doh on the ground: it’s going to roll out into a long, thin pole.

There’s no denying this is a long-term fate, but I warned you about that four hundred words ago. As the rolling effect will continue eventually the Earth with be a pole world. Long enough at this and the Earth will just a few inches wide and enormously long swinging around the solar system like a baton. Imagine the size of the matching cheerleader.

What can we expect life on this Pole World Earth to be like? Narrower, for one. There will be evolutionary pressures towards plants with very shallow roots, which means we may at last be free of those impossible-to-remove lawn weeds. It will be difficult for trees to grow tall, but those which manage will find to their photosynthetic delight that spreading their branches even a couple inches to either side means they get sunlight all day long. Probably that’s good for plants. You can’t imagine them getting worn out from too much sunlight and sneaking off to a corner, exhausted and panting from all that sugar-making.

While burrowing life forms will find life difficult, those which are comfortable living on vines or branches will be in good shape. Two- and three-fingered sloths may find the climate most comfortable except when someone wants to pass.

Humans will need to adjust as well. Those with long experience in grabbing poles, as they may have on buses or subways, will have an advantage, of course. Thus we see in large-city mass transit systems as evolutionary pre-adaptations to the future Pole World Earth. Subtle foreknowledge of this fate and the privileged position city-dwellers will have may account for the smugness often held against the urbanized.

Yet subways will have long since ceased to run by then, probably by the time the world is a pretty long rod only about fifty feet in diameter since trains need more clearance than you would have guessed. Not a lot more, just like another two feet or so more. But that’s still more. Without subways we can expect the economy to be radically different and generally much more cylindrical. Strong but lightweight straps could reasonably be in demand, but on the other hand people may just grow steeper arches in their feet. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index continued to rise as traders discussed how they could adjust their lifestyles to be more like a capybara’s, and word that it involved a lot of staying in comfortably warm pools of water really worked for people.

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Unintended Results: Books About Movie Musicals Edition


Stimulus:

Just Imagine was a million-dollar musical comedy set in the far future of 1980, with futuristic gadgets, a trip to Mars, and a Sleeper-like shlub waking from a fifty-year coma. Unfortunately, and not infrequent in 1930, the good ideas were mitigated by workaday routine, a wan score, and not quite enough wit. It starred a Swedish-dialect comic called El Brendel. Remember the name and tremble.

Footnote in the book Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter, Richard Barrios.

Response:

Seeing Just Imagine is the most important thing I can do this week and I must know everything there is to know about the work of Swedish-dialect comic El Brendel.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

History In The Making


I bet you didn’t realize this is an historic year, what with most of it still being in the future. But it doesn’t do to say this is “an futuric year”, as the particle just doesn’t fit there at all. It should be a long-lived neutral kaon instead. That’s the sort of kaon which lives for as much as fifty nanoseconds before it expires, at the hands of natural kaon predators such as the lesser Malagasy snarking W+ boson or to creeping deforestation. This reminds of us why it’s important for pop historians to keep informed on group theory and the value of gauge invariance.