Everything There Is To Say About Decorating For Christmas


I’m flattered you come to me for advice about Christmas decorations. Don’t go thinking I’m happy about it. If you take my advice it won’t turn out well. The best we can expect is groups of people huddled together, in the snow, too tired from yelling at each other to resume yelling at each other on a nice day like this. That day is probably Groundhog Day or something like that.

See, the first reason I shouldn’t really be trusted on Christmas decorating advice is that I procrastinate. It’s not that I don’t ever want to get around to doing things. I feel this complete lack of urgency about getting stuff done. This is great for stuff that doesn’t really need to be done, like preventative maintenance. It’s not so good for stuff with inherent deadlines, like making dinner or Christmas. But deadlines are flexible things. What does it matter if we have dinner now or fifteen minutes later? Or a half-hour later? Or early next morning? Similarly, when we think carefully about the problem, do we actually know when Christmas will be? December seems likely enough. But we do hear talk about Christmas in July, which suggests we were trying to get things six months wrong and were still late. You can’t convince me that there isn’t plenty of time to start decorating, even if it’s already well past 4 pm on Christmas Day, whenever that may be.

But if you’re still looking for advice from me? … Really? All right. I should warn you that I’ve decorated things in my life and you probably don’t want to take up my example. I used to be a teenaged boy, you see, and I’ve been struggling my whole life to overcome that background. I fully accept responsibility for the dumb things I’ve done, and I think I know better now. But consider that I used to think it was acceptable to line the walls of my bedroom with Star Trek comic books in plastic bags. Yes, they had cardboard backings. I wasn’t a savage. And it did express an element of actual good decorating. Good decorating should say something. And a wall of bagged Star Trek comic books says: “This is easier than ever knowing a person who would want to visit me”.

Still even as a teenager I knew Christmas would come, sooner or later. One year I got possession of the family’s old artificial tree. By fair means, I should add. Our parents got a new artificial tree and as the largest brother I was able to punch my other brothers more. But now I could set up in the corner of my room an artificial Christmas tree. It was at most ten years old and there were many branches that weren’t yet crumpled up by having been put away for ten years by pre-teen boys in-between their punching sessions. Add to it a couple strands of older lights, no longer needed for front-line service, that were enough for at least the third of the tree not facing the wall. And you had this awesome sight: an ancient artificial Christmas tree, strung with a couple lights trying their best in the circumstances, sitting in the corner, backing a wall of the existing Star Trek comics of the 1980s. It was the hot new look for the summer, based on what the guinea pigs I kept in my room said about it. They said, “Wheep”.

At one point it struck my teenage-boy mind that it would be a good idea to take down the bows, but leave the two-foot-tall conical top of the tree up. This solved the problems of not really having enough lights and of blocking access to the Star Trek comics behind the tree. It just meant I had a bare, five-foot-tall metal pole sitting in the corner of my room. My recollection is that at one point I also managed to lose the pitiful remnants of this tree, and was startled to rediscover it. I have no idea what it could possibly have hidden behind. It’s not like I had tall stuff in my room other than me. I mean, this was when I was going through the mattress-on-the-floor phase of my life.

I hope that this has answered every possible question. If it has not, allow me to offer “North Dakota in the year 1822”. I don’t know what question that answers, but it must be something.

Looking Back: Guinea Pigs


I used to keep guinea pigs. Sometimes I’d have said I used to breed guinea pigs, but truth is, I just kept them. They did the breeding themselves. Despite that I keep today, decades later, learning about them. I had the guinea pigs in the 80s, when nobody knew how to take care of any animal that wasn’t a dog, a cat, or something bred with the intention of being eaten. So here’s an essay about my journey learning some astounding things about guinea pigs. And if you question whether there can, legitimately, be an astounding thing about guinea pigs let me point this out to you: there were no guinea pigs in Zootopia and there was a reason. My essay doesn’t say what it was.

Also here’s an old Statistics Saturday piece about taxonomy and the problems with anything being called a rodent. That’s also fun. Promise.

Because The Season Has Come Again


Baseball! And with a word (baseball) you’ve summoned a spirit (of baseball) renowned for its ability to talk about baseball. There are many rivals for the attention of American sports enthusiasts out there, but none come close in getting people writing rhapsodic essays about baseball. The average baseball game inspires fourteen essays about its greatness. The average football game barely gets more than two essays about the greatness of baseball written. The average hockey game does even worse, inspiring just five people to stand at the window and shout “I like baseball gloves!” And that’s before we start tracking those silly made-up sports they put in science fiction shows or movies that never look even faintly like someone plays them.

It’s easy to understand baseball’s appeal. It fuses two elements: the desire of people to hit a thing with a stick, and the desire of people to not run all that far before stopping. The bases are baseball’s greatest innovation since they promise that you have a built-in reason to stop running. People are a lot like guinea pigs that way, and vice-versa. I bet guinea pigs would love playing baseball if they had some effective way to bat. I know what you’re thinking: couldn’t they hold the bat in their teeth? I say: good luck to that. No guinea pig I’ve ever known (there’ve been like 22 of them) wouldn’t chew the bat to pieces.

Oh, maybe if they had aluminum bats. Yes, that would work. Now the question shifts to why it is we don’t see leagues of guinea pigs playing baseball. Or why we don’t if we look down, since guinea pigs aren’t all that tall. My guess: they have trouble pitching. So if we could just adapt the technologies of tee-ball to guinea pigs their play could sweep the nation. At least I bet it would get like thousands of views on YouTube.

The origins of baseball are shrouded in mystery and are imponderable and unknowable as long as nobody looks them up. When we do look them up we find that people thought baseball grew out of an English game called “rounders”. Rounders, it turns out, is just what they called baseball when the guy who first said baseball grew out of rounders was a kid. Anyway, the whole baseball/rounders thing got muddled up in the late 19th century when followers of Madame Blavatsky tried to mythologize an anti-English origin for the game and found a suitable Theosophist in Abner Doub … wait, am I doing a bit here? I can’t have this right. I mean, Madame Blavatsky? What am I even doing there? You know what this is? This is what stuffing in an allegedly hi-larious word to shore up a dull sentence looks like if you’re a know-it-all type. I don’t know how to recover. Maybe something about Madame Blavatsky contacting the spirits of baseball.

If you’re plagued by baseball spirits know that you can handle many of them by retiring a number. Originally only baseball teams themselves could retire a number, but it turns out the way the rules are worded you can do it yourself. I understand if you’re not sure about this. I never feel sure about anything I do for the first time. If you want to practice try retiring a number that won’t be called on for a while. That way by the time they even notice your pick it’ll have been retired for so long they won’t have the courage to change it. The National League was stunned last year to learn that someone had retired 32,054 on them back in 1942, and while they still grumble about it they don’t even consider reversing the decision.

You can retire a number simply by writing it on a big circle and then sticking it to a green or blue wall. Face the number side out, lest galvanic corrosion (the most corrosive of the galvanics) weaken the joists or halberds or whatever it is holds a wall up. Fo’c’sles? Something like that. Note that this has to be done with a real circle and wall. I know you’re tempted to just whip something up with a web site or maybe an app. Try that and your retirement will count, which is exactly what you do not want a retired number to do. Ask your spirits. Most of them have retirement all worked out, and it’s nice chatting with anyone who’s done worked out anything.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped two points despite confirmation from someone who drove past it on the way to the bookstore yesterday that the ice cream place is too open this early in the year.

124

Auto Care Center Sign Descending Further Into Despair


First, the non-despairing part: comic strips over on my mathematics blog! Includes twice as many Carpe Diem comics as you might have guessed, if you knew that was a comic strip.

And the signs on that auto care place on the corner? After what I thought was its message board going through a long, slow breakup? Well, it spent a month appealing for food donations and there’s nothing to joke about regarding that. But I guess they got the food donations and now have gone to this:

Auto Surgeon Inc sign: 2017 BELIEVE THAT WE WILL BE OK - HAPPY HOLIDAYS
No, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that the first letter in ‘WILL’ is a letter M hung upside-down. Why are you constantly asking about this? And there’s something going on with that ‘7’ but I have no idea what. I’m relieved it isn’t an upside-down ‘L’ is the important thing.

It would be a hopeful message of tranquility and future promise, yes, if it weren’t coming after the slow-bitter breakup message. And if it weren’t coming off a year that ranks favorably compared to 1945, when atomic bombs were used as weapons of war, or the peak years of the Taiping Rebellion or the Black Death, but not much else. I’m going in tomorrow and offer everyone there a hug.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points after traders stopped in the pet shop and saw a baby guinea pig yawning. I’m surprised the index only went up four points after that. Have you even seen a baby Texel? And add to that one that’s yawning?

105

Statistics Saturday: Fifteen Things Humanity Got Around To Before The Writing Of ‘Hotel California’


  1. Inventing the “float glass” process for inexpensive and very uniform transparent glass.
  2. Eliminating smallpox.
  3. All the theatrically released Mister Magoo cartoons.
  4. Establishment of the Ottoman Empire.
  5. Disestablishment of the Ottoman Empire.
  6. Domestication of guinea pigs.
  7. The Third Punic War.
  8. Composing the epic poem The Song Of Roland.
  9. Laying at least six trans-Atlantic telephone cables.
  10. Development of Metropolis-Hastings Monte Carlo algorithms.
  11. Inventing hotels, California.
  12. Landing people on the Moon and returning them to the Earth.
  13. The invention of photocopiers.
  14. Final adjudication of the “wedge” of territory west of Delaware’s Twelve-Mile Circle and claimed by Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
  15. Every performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

On the one hand, many of these seem like much more important things to accomplish first. On the other hand, as swell a song as it may be, it doesn’t seem like “Hotel California” should have taken that much effort to create, does it? History is a curious thing.

What You’ll Be Sick Of This Month


So what’s coming to the Internet to make you sick of things being on the Internet this month? Here’s our exclusive sneak preview.

Baby Guinea Pigs. It’s two minutes and forty-five seconds of baby guinea pigs sneezing. It’s a cute video but isn’t there anything else to do the whole weekend of the 5th? It’s cute but … oh, awwwww, the long-haired one has like five inches of hair trailing behind her.

Fabio. Remember Fabio? Back in the 90s he was kind of a celebrity because he looked good on romance books. Romance books are a lot like regular books except that people read them. And this made him famous even for people who don’t read romance books, because they figure they would read better stuff than that if they had time. Anyway, he looked good and this made him famous for some reason and we never really understood it then. He didn’t seem to understand it either. He spent 1991 through 1996 looking into cameras with the smile that says, “I have no idea why I’m here but I’m happy to be invited”. You know, the way two-toed sloths always do.

We haven’t heard from him in a while. Has he started saying things that would make us sad? Will it spoil the memory of a fondly-for-some-reason remembered celebrity? Has he got himself into personal or financial crises that make us sad to hear about? We don’t know, so the Internet is figuring to spend about two weeks studying whether we do want to know. Maybe he’s been all right. I mean, Dolph Lundgren’s in good shape, as far as we know without looking. Anyway, you are going to be so sick of the “Should we check in on Fabio” question before the 14th.

Kiss-guises. You know that thing of people dressing up in outfits to sneak a kiss in public? Of course you don’t, because it’s not a thing. But starting this weekend a strong contingent of the Internet is going to try insisting this is a thing, so they can say what a stupid thing it is. It’s not a stupid thing. Kiss-guises aren’t even a thing at all. But we’re all going to get so sick of the attacks on kiss-guises that people are going to go out and start getting kiss-guises out of spite and to get kissed. Look for it the 17th through the 27th.

Podcasts. You know how to tell when your podcast edits out the little silence between when the hosts are all laughing at each other and when they start saying something else? “Wait,” you protest, “what do I care about the secrets of editing audio recording?” You don’t, unless you’re listening to professional sound-editor podcasts. But don’t worry, come the 20th through 25th the Internet is going to make sure you can’t avoid learning, and can’t stop hearing these edits on all your favorite podcasts. This will be followed by a search for the podcasts where they don’t edit. They’re 12 percent silence and “uh” by content. Not hearing your actual favorite podcasts is a small price to pay for not hearing the time when your favorite podcasts don’t have anything to hear.

Pens. You know the bad thing about being the person who’s always got a pen? It’s the time you happen not to have a pen on you. Your whole social media microclimate will not shut up about how you’ve decided you’re tired of being the person who always has a pen to lend them. And you’ve figured to enact this decision in the most passive-aggressive manner possible. It’s not, OK? You just left the pen on the dining table for no good reason, it just happened. This one’s rolling out at different times all over the Internet. For me it’s this past week. I just forgot the pen, is all, it’s not anything more than that.

From our best projections the Internet should be at its peak tetchiness over all this from the afternoon of the 19th through the morning of the 22nd. You’ll maybe want to instead just take in a movie 36 times in a row. Or maybe the guinea pig thing 1,568 times in a row which isn’t enough.

Statistics Saturday: What Warren Buffett Is Warning Americans About


'Warren Buffett Just Gave Americans A Big Warning' ... also there's a tooltip warning there's a breakthrough causing people to lose too much weight.
I forget what the breakthrough was that causes people to lose too much weight.


Biggest ones: 'Nothing is happening in Apartment 3-G. NOTHING'. Also: 'handled in a facility that contains ingredients', and, 'That's no ordinary guinea pig!'
Just missing the cut: ‘You’ll find Fallen London a way more interesting game than you expect’.

So apparently I’m okay with using clickbait advertisements as inspiration. Not sure how knowing that makes me feel about myself.

Also, happy National Day, Singapore. That hasn’t anything to do with anything here, but how often does a nation observe its 50th National Day? Except the nations that claim they’re 50 years old every single year, like some of those Caribbean islands do.

Discovering Stuff About Guinea Pigs


A history of the local zoo mentioned that the place used to have a guinea pig mound. It supported this claim with one of those slightly blurry black-and-white photos you get in local histories, showing what is certainly a mound maybe twenty feet across and not so high in the middle. This inspires all sorts of questions, like, why don’t more zoos have guinea pig mounds? An individual guinea pig might not be a very exciting animal, what with it mostly wanting to stand where it is and stare back at you with the expression that says, “I have some projects I could get to too, if you wanted to leave”. But get a big enough mass of them together and at any time you’ll have maybe two of them scurrying along as much as two feet before deciding they could just stop and stand where they are instead.

Another question it raises is: so, guinea pigs live in mounds, then? And I don’t know. Back in middle school I bred guinea pigs (the guinea pigs did most of the breeding, while I did the hard work of explaining to my parents why their cages didn’t need cleaning, even as the odor melted my bagged Star Trek comic books off the walls where they’d been hung as horrible decoration) but that’s in the highly unnatural environment of ten-gallon aquarium cages. I now know ten-gallon aquarium cages are terrible places to keep guinea pigs, and I wouldn’t do it again, but that’s what the guide books back then suggested was perfectly all right. I should have known their research was suspect, since the books were published by leading manufacturers of rodent scuba gear, but I was young and the guinea pigs thought they looked great in wetsuits. Plus several of them said their favorite superhero was Aquaman. Who would be suspicious?

Still, do guinea pigs live in mounds? A friend wisely noted that of course they do, if all you give them to live in is a mound. But if a mound weren’t at least tolerable, the guinea pigs would have words with their keepers. Most of those words would be “fweep”, with a couple “wheep” phrases included for good measure, but it would get the point across, especially when the keepers needed to sleep.

In the hope of finding some dubiously sourced, not-quite-grammatical sentences that were almost but not quite on point, I went to Wikipedia. Their article mentioned how guinea pigs aren’t found naturally in the wild. They’re creatures of domestication. That’s a heady thought. There are things it’s obvious there would never be if humans didn’t exist — Saturn V rockets, Dutch stroopwaffel, competitive Rock-Paper-Scissors leagues, Elvira-themed pinball games, Phil Harris’s novelty song “The Thing” — but how many such items would you have to list before you thought to mention “guinea pigs”? I needed at least six.

But the guinea pig article says that cavies, which is how people who want to sound like scientists but are not actually scientists refer to guinea pigs (scientists just say “guinea pigs” and giggle at people who say “cavies”), or their wild counterparts “are found on grassy plains” with no mention of mounds. So guinea pigs are perfectly camouflaged to live on mounds and not so perfectly for grassy plains. It also mentions guinea pigs “occupy an ecological niche similar to that of cattle”. It’s been days since a sentence delighted me so much.

Now my mind swirls with thoughts of herds of guinea pigs roaming the plains like ankle-high cattle. Itty-bitty cowboys, possibly costumed mice, watch over the herds, with lassoos made of dental floss and perhaps riding the backs of hares. All the cowboy-mice stay alert, listening for the sounds of mass “wheep”ing that marks the start of a guinea pig stampede. It’s a massive, thundering squirming of the critters that can get as far as four feet before all the guinea pigs remember that instead of running, they could be not running. And all this could be going on just underneath our line of sight, at least if we live near grassy plains or mounds. It’s inspired me to spend more time looking down.

Ferret Skepticism


At the pet store is a plastic cage full of ferrets, which the label says are “lively tubes of furry fun”. Thing is every time I’m in the pet store, the ferrets are sprawled out on their backs, sleeping, dozing tubes of socks that had a wee too wild a party last night. I’ll suppose they’re fun, but the evidence isn’t on stage there. Just as well. Right next to them are guinea pigs, whom I understand much better, because while they may not be tubes of fun or anything they are always looking around with an expression that says, “Are you certain I was supposed to be invited to this meeting?”

Why I’m In A Good Mood (Pet Store Edition)


I was in the pet store and after spending enough time watching the guinea pigs (who just had a litter of six! Six! Can you imagine?) I wandered into the aquarium supplies, to get food for our goldfish. There they had a gadget for catching snails, which apparently people need to do every now and then.

The Snail Collect was labelled, in English, as a “snail trap”. Fine enough. It was also identified on the box as, in French, “piège á escargots”, which is maybe better. And then in German it was “Schnecken-Falle”, and I can’t decide whether the French or the German is more wonderful. I have got to find out what this is called in Dutch.

Statistics Saturday: What Average People Think Are Rodents Versus What Biologists Think Are Rodents


Animals That Average People Think Are Rodents Animals That Biologists Think Are Rodents
Rats, mice Many things popularly called rats or mice
Squirrels Squirrels, chipmunks
Rabbits Guinea pigs, if you aren’t at least a little bit suspicious of their front paws having four toes while their back have only three. And how they give birth to cubs fully-furred, with open eyes that see perfectly well. Oh, and they get scurvy. If you don’t feel unease about calling something with that slate of anomalies a rodent, fine, guinea pigs are rodents.
Bats
Moles
Beavers
Jackalopes
Badgers
Skunks, ferrets, otters Capybaras, if we absolutely have to name something else.
Baby raccoons OK, and we’ll give you beavers. Did we say squirrels already?

The Shape Of Things (I’m A Thing)


I don’t want to brag, which is an opening that puts me at a disadvantage when I honestly don’t want to brag, because everyone knows what it means. Normally you only start a sentence “I don’t want to brag” because you feel like ending it with “but I am the youngest person to have won both a Nobel and a Pulitzer Prize in tweeting, and I only turned down the MacArthur Grant because I knew an adorably needy kid who’d be better able to use the money. Also, last month I put a video up on YouTube that’s attracted over two dozen comments that are relevant and that make you kind of glad there’s such a thing as human beings.” That’s so much bragging it’s not even a single sentence anymore.

The thing is that I’ve got a body that’s in pretty good shape, considering. I don’t mean that I’m in great shape: on my best-shape-day of my entire life I’m going to be measurably worse off than soccer star Pelé will on the worst day of his life, for example, but soccer star Pelé is a pretty high standard of fitness. Even his name outranks the fitness of my name. I imagine you could probably set a pretty substantial dead weight across that capital P and that l without compressing either letter. Yeah, that ‘N’ in my name looks like it should be load-bearing, but I bet if you tried you’d find all its structural integrity has been eaten away by my having kept too many old videotapes of Cartoon Network stored underneath it for like a decade after I even had a VCR anymore.

Still, my body is in pretty good shape considering that by rights it ought to be much worse off. The most serious complaint I can make about it is that I look awkward when I’m standing still or moving. I don’t blame you for thinking I’m just exaggerating my general social awkwardness, but please consider that the funniest thing I can ever do, based on how my love irresistibly laughs, is be the subject of a series of rapidly taken photographs of me standing still or doing a thing. We have a photo collage of me drinking an extra-medium size malted milk that we keep in a special box in the laundry room, as reserve against the most depressing days, like when the plumbing can only be repaired by tearing out the fireplace and gathering two dozen woodland creatures to be publicly mocked, or downbeat stuff like that.

But, for example, I’m not fat anymore, which is doing pretty well because I used to figure, say, I like poppyseed bagels, so for breakfast, I should have two poppyseed bagels so that I’m warmed up for the second, and I should finish it off with an onion bagel, and then maybe also eat a wedge of cheese the size of a guinea pig. I had good reasons for this: I wouldn’t be so cruel as to eat a guinea pig that was made of guinea pig. By rights, I should have reached the diameter of a minor planet, but I never did, and I’ve lost most of the weight by now thanks to what is technically abuse of the coat- and baggage-checking rooms at the renovated music hall downtown. (Don’t tell them. The lost-and-found notices they put up about it are great reading.)

And then there’s aches and pains. Again, I can’t boast about reaching an extreme age, but I am old enough it would be normal to suffer some pains after strenuous effort or after sitting still or lying down or standing up, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be spared that. I don’t have any serious pains, now that I made the executive decision to tell my doctor that the pain in my chest isn’t actually a pain but more a kind of friendly reminder about not twisting so very much.

To what do I attribute my remarkably good physical shape? Is it anything that I can share with people who hope to come away like I do without much to complain about? I have no idea, but if you’d like to suggest anything that might’ve been a cause I’ll accept nominations in care of this department.

But What If I Can’t Stop Watching?


I use dental picks, as dental picks, because shut up I am not old and I like the smile that truthfully saying — and showing — that I’ve been picking grit out from between my teeth brings to my dentist’s face when I see him for this decade’s appointment. But I only just noticed that my bag of dental picks invites me not just to follow them on Facebook and Twitter but also to see their YouTube channel.

I like to think that I’m a curious fellow, by which I mean I’m open to learning about things other people would write off as dull and discover they’re deeply fascinating once you start thinking about them, by which I mean without any sarcasm or exaggeration that I own multiple popular histories of the containerized cargo industry and I would be willing to buy more. And I can imagine making an informational video about dental picks.

What I can’t imagine is making a whole series of informational videos about dental picks. After about halfway through the second I’d be reduced to standing there humming and maybe pointing out how any guinea pigs you have around the house could use them as slingshots, or how you could put a piece of wax paper across the prongs and give them to squirrels to use for lacrosse. They’re surely not going to be publishing that.

So now I’m doomed again: I’m curious to know how many different things of substance they could possibly have to say about dental picks, but, what if I find it all really interesting and just have to watch more?

Also I’m wondering how many tweets they could have about dental picks. This just makes it worse.

Improving How You Draw


If you’ve been stuck trying to improve the way you draw things, and/or people, and/or how you caricature Richard Nixon and found yourself stuck, have you considered giving a try at drawing guinea pigs? They make good practice if you’re having trouble on the details of shapes, because guinea pigs really don’t so much have shapes. They’re more sort of there and have fur all right, and maybe a bit of general nervousness about how you seem to be expecting them to do something, but as result you really can’t go wrong with them. If that fails, you might try drawing some invisible characters, if you don’t think that’s too likely to get you caught by ghosts.

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