Statistics Saturday: Vice-Presidents of the United States Serving Two Full Terms, By Century


A note about methodology: Thomas Jefferson is counted as an 18th-century Vice-President and wouldn’t affect the count either way. Garret Hobart is counted as a 19th-century Vice-President but that hardly matters since he was dead at the time of the 20th century. Al Gore is counted as a 20th-century Vice-President and he would’ve affected the count one way or the other. Future Disgraced Former Vice-President Mike Pence is not counted as it’s too soon to tell when he’ll leave office. David Rice Atchison is not counted as Vice-President for good reason. John Adams is counted as having a full term despite the 1789-1793 Presidential administration being that far short of four full years. Ditto John Nance Garner although for the 1933-1937 term. Also hey, Daniel D Tompkins, good job pulling that off. I completely forgot about you so I’m glad I looked it up. Shut up, you’re the person who knows an unsettling amount about 19th-century United States Vice-Presidents for someone who isn’t a 19th-century United States Vice-Presidential historian.

18th Century: 1. 19th Century: 1. 20th Century: 5. 21st Century: 2.
Further note on methodology: While presented as a spot of whimsy the whole of it is factual and the only apparent comic value is in staring hard at Vice-Presidents of the United States. While there is some whimsy involved in that, it all amounts to things like Henry (1873-1875) Wilson’s servant not knowing he was Vice-President, or Thomas (1913-1921) Marshall’s working a side job roasting the uselessness of his office. None of this is on display here. Although it’s a little freaky the 19th century had such a lousy time keeping a Vice-President around, isn’t it? They had 23 of them, compared to 21 for the 20th century and hey, you know, if he were still alive Gerald Ford would be 103 years old. That’s something to make you go “huh”, isn’t it? Well, maybe it should be. Wait, so everyone agrees Dallas County, Texas, was named for George (1845-1849) Dallas, but there’s dispute about whether the city of Dallas, Texas, was? The heck, even for Texas?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose by nine points today after a good look at the weather forecase and how nice it was looking and we really need it after the week we just had, don’t you all agree?

127

On This Date: March 25


March 25th is the 90th day of the year or so. Something like that. Good grief, is the year that little done? It feels like more. Anyway there are some six days remaining in the month unless we find a stray Tuesday that rolled under the couch? Something like that.

1409 — Opening of the Council of Pisa following the belated discovery of the can opener. In resolving the Western Schism between the popes in Rome and Avignon the council settles on the innovative approach of declaring everyone who passes by the front door, including four stray cats and a flock of pigeons, to be Pope. The problem is left unsettled but it is still a major holiday in Rock Dove Orthodox Catholicism.

1584 — Sir Walter Raleigh receives a patent to colonize Virginia, catching him off-guard. “I thought I’d get a copyright or maybe a service mark on Virginia, but you know, I’ll make do with what I have,” he says in a telephone interview by Bob Newhart. Unfortunately unsettled trade conditions and unstable capitalization foil his efforts to make money in the manufacture and trade of Virginias, and by 1792 he admits it isn’t working out nearly like he figured. Today only the prototype Virginia and one late-run production model Virginia still remain, preserved in a special museum-grade display with inert gas.

1802 — By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, France and England resolve to stop fighting and never go to war ever again for all time except for this one more time for last licks, that’s fair, right? Sure it is.

1821 — Traditional start of the Greek War of Independence, which actually began over a month before, but they say it’s this for symbolically important reasons, and that isn’t even me making a whimsical joke but just how things are really done if Wikipedia isn’t fibbing me.

1894 — Coxey’s Army begins its march on Washington to establish that unemployment is a failure of society to provide for its citizens and not the result of personal immorality among the jobless. Oh lord we’re not living up to the moral standards of the 19th century, what are we even doing?

1950 — 25th anniversary of March 25, 1925.

1979 — Delivery of the first fully-functional space shuttle, Columbia, to the Kennedy Space Center, although the vehicle is not launched for over two years owing to the keys being locked inside and nobody knowing how to get them out without breaking a window open. They ultimately have to wait for the completion of the space shuttle Discovery and hope the keys for that fit the first, and they do, with a little jiggling around. Discovery’s first launch is delayed while the space program finds a Two Guys that will grind out a duplicate set of keys. “Look, we just want to be sure someone else can open the trunk, all right?” explains Kennedy Space Center director Richard G Smith, reminding us how there used to be a whole different key for the trunks and why was that exactly? The past is weird, that’s all.

1995 — Establishment of WikiWikiWeb, the first user-editable web site, opens an innovative new way that people who read way too much of The Straight Dope as kids can argue about David Rice Atchison in the Talk page.

2000 — 50th anniversary of the 25th anniversary or March 25, 1925.

2017 — I’m like one day ahead of deadline.

Born On This Day:

Religious troublemaker John Calvin (maybe?), Army marcher Jacob Coxey (like a one in 365 chance), Vulcan inventor D C Fontana (Star Trek if I got lucky), probably some European royalty with a name like John IV or Jacob III or Katerina The Rather So (here I’m just playing the odds). You know what, let’s say Howard Cosell too, just so there’s a name that anyone can recognize if they’re not like four months younger than me.

Died On This Day:

Do we need this installment? It’s so depressing.

Special Observances:

This is the earliest day on which Seward’s Day can fall. Seward’s Day is the day when Alaskans observe William Seward. It should not be confused with Alaska Day, but I bet it is all the time and is fed up with it. It is observed as Wright Brothers Day by confused aviation enthusiasts. Until 1752 it was the start of the New Year in England, Wales, Ireland, and the American Colonies, which raises disturbing implications about just how many days there were between March 27, 1751 and March 22, 1751. Don’t stare to hard into that one. You won’t like what you find.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points today as everyone was busy watching the trailer for the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 and torn between bits that made them figure this was going to be as good as they needed it to be and bits that made them figure it was going to be off in all those ways that non-hardcore-fans can’t understand. The mood on the floor is described as “hope mixed with a sense that, really, the children of the original Mads is the fullest re-thinking done? But there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and maybe the Ready Player One guy can be harnessed to a good cause?”

125

Probably Not A Good Idea To Get Them Playing Diplomacy Though


I was reading Eric Jager’s Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection In Medieval Paris, about the murder in 1407 of Louis of Orleans and the criminal investigation headed by Guillaume de Tignonville, provost of Paris. It’s one of the earliest criminal inquiries for which we have really good documentation, like, depositions and all that. We can follow Guillaume de Tignonville’s careful investigation all the way through to when John, Duke of Burgundy, called the other dukes over to say he did it and then fled Paris. At that point the investigation was considerably simplified apart from John getting away with it. Anyway, in part of the backstory to the murder comes this event from January 1393:

… One of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting was to be married, and, to everyone’s delight, the king offered to host the wedding feast and the dancing to follow at the royal palace. A young nobleman, a friend of the king’s, proposed privately to Charles [VI] an entertainment to add excitement and pleasure to the ball: He and the king, and a few friends, would beforehand and in great secrecy put on linen costumes covered with pitch and stuck full of fine yellow flax that looked like the hair of beasts. Sewn into these close-fitting garments and completely disguised from head to foot as wild men or savages, the king and his friends would burst into the ballroom during the dancing to surprise and amuse the guests. The king thought it a splendid idea, and they set the plan in motion, telling only a few servants whose help they needed.

It all ended in tragedy, because everything in that era ended in tragedy, including for the person who thought to warn folks not to let the torches get too near the people dressed in linen with straw pasted all over them by oil and tied together by ropes. But what’s got me is that the King of France thought this sounded like great entertainment. And apparently the guests did too, just thrilled by how much fun it all was, at least until the tragedy started and spread out to help the nation plunge into civil war because everything in that era eventually plunged the nation into civil war.

So this was grand entertainment. Everybody thought a couple people dressed in linen and flax and tied together and running around was just the best idea. These people were starved for entertainment. One good parlor game could have changed the whole course of what tragedies plunged the nation into civil war.

There’s a longstanding tradition in science fiction stories where someone from the present falls into history and makes his fortune “inventing” new technologies. OK, I think there’s like four of them, one of which I refuse to read. And another of which debunks the whole story idea. Anyway, I realize now this inventing-future-technology stuff is useless. Even if I could figure out how to make a transistor there’s no market for it in 14th-century France. Plus the era was centuries away from even Alessandro Volta’s most basic prototype of the mini-USB plug that doesn’t fit any cord you, or anyone else, has ever had.

But the era still needed amusements. They had some, yes, but in impossibly primitive and needlessly complicated form. The chess board, for example, was three by forty squares wide, yet it held only five pieces, and four of them were bishops. And they weren’t allowed to move. All they could do is excommunicate the Patriarch of Constantinople. You could only take three turns per day, except days that allowed five turns, and none at all on Feast Days, except one after sunset. The game innovator who first introduced the “rook” was branded a madman and sentenced to live in Gascony. “That’s all right, I’m from Gascony,” he said (in Gascon French), so that at least had a less-tragic-than-usual ending, but still, it took his reputation decades to recover. They had backgammon boards, but hadn’t yet invented its rules. They just moved markers back and forth until they got bored, which is all I know about backgammon too. And the video games were none too good, what with the screens being embroidery taking upwards of sixty weeks to render a single frame.

So what I need to prepare for in case of being lost in the distant past is to be able to “invent” some games that don’t involve open flame. Even with my scattered brain I bet I could reconstruct a basic Yahtzee set or put together a minimally functional Connect 4. Paper football matches could change the whole course of how the nation plunges into civil war. And if I spent some time preparing? Think what society could do with eight centuries and the plans for Hungry Hungry Hippos. You may call this problem ridiculous, as long as I’m not in earshot, but I like to think I have this one solved, and that’s at least something going well right now.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points nobody has any good ideas why and so they’re all very doubtful that this is the way anything should be.

121

In Which It Turns Out I’m Just A Fool Who Got Fooled, Foolishly


So the other day I mentioned the English sport of competitively dancing while the opposing team throws a beer-soaked rag at you and I supported that by linking to Wikipedia’s entry about the English sport of competitively dancing while the opposing team throws a beer-soaked rag at you. There I figured the matter rested, since England has all sorts of things to do and they will include things like hitting each other on purpose. Also I swear I saw this show where there was a football match that had gone on at a public school for over a century now without either team scoring or being expected to score, but I can’t find the reference now and for all I know somebody’s gone and scored.

Anyway, my love came across this and figured that can’t possibly be. And then went and actually read the article and came to the conclusion that it didn’t make any sense, and the more you looked at it the less sense it made. And read the citations, all of which made very little sense and the less the more you looked at them. And the comments, which in the least sensible thing of all, don’t make the reader despair of the concept of humanity.

So there we have it. The whole thing looks to be a hoax, more or less. At least, it started out as a prank perpetrated for the comedy show It’s A Square World and it’s sort of stumbled on from there. I should have known, since the whole of England is pretty much a prank that got going so successfully that sometime around when they pulled the “Parliament of Bats” and nobody called them on it they realized they were stuck holding an actual country. I suppose dancing while the opposing team throws a beer-soaked rag at you isn’t likely to have such far-reaching global implications. Still, I feel a fool for not going and actually checking and I can only thank my love for showing where I was fooled. It was called the Parliament of Bats because attendees weren’t allowed to take their swords in with them, not because they were small flying mammals, which is all the more shame.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

New pen day! It’s new pen day! Everybody has new pens and they’re feeling so good that even thought we called off work early the index was up something or other, who cares, it’s new pen day and everything can be all right with the world!

105

Some Myths about Carrots


  • Carrots are good for the eyes. Myth started by the British during World War II as cover for radar’s abilities to detect airplanes.
  • Carrots are good for the ears. Myth started by the British during World War I as cover for sonar’s abilities to detect submarines.
  • “Carrot” the plant is the same word as “carrot” the vegetable. These are etymologically completely separate words that happen to be spelled alike, much like “bear” the animal and “bear” meaning to-put-up-with, that were merged in the one act of simplifying English that anyone was ever able to agree on.
  • Carrots are good for the sense of touch. Myth started by the British during the Franco-Prussian War just in case they had to get involved and needed cover for their long-stick technologies.
  • Carrots are naturally orange. They were bred to be orange; in their natural state they are polka-dotted.
  • Carrots are good for the sense of taste. Myth started by the British immediately after the Battle of Austerlitz because apparently you can get Germans at war to believe anything about carrots.
  • Carrots are kind of long, tapered candle-shaped things. They are actually five-dimensional spheres and this is just how they appear projected into our three-dimensional Euclidean space.
  • Carrots are good for the smell. Myth started by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War because they wanted in on this fun too as long as they had to deal with Hessians.
  • Carrots have never started forest fires. Well, often myths have an element of truth to them. In fact carrots have never put out forest fires, but not for want of trying.
  • It’s interesting whether Mel Blanc liked carrots or not. He was an actor hired to play someone who liked carrots.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped nearly ten percent in trading due to panic from the discovery that the DVR has suddenly stopped recording The Price Is Right and nobody knows how to get it through its head that these are so new episodes that it should be recording.

85

On Tour with P T Barnum


I picked up a biography of P T Barnum because, I don’t know, I had some strange desire to read about a renowned showman and humbug artist who chose to go into public service and did his best, despite hardships, to stand for the working class without compromising his Universalist faith. I don’t know. Anyway, in chapter seven of A H Saxon’s P T Barnum: The Legend And The Man came this, from his first tour of Europe, which just delights me so:

While they were in Brussels, Barnum decided to visit the site of the Battle of Waterloo, to which he and a friend set out one morning at the early hour of 4 am. He could not help being impressed by the brisk traffic he saw there in reputed “relics” of the battle and by the whopping lies told by the guides who swarmed about them. After one of these had pointed out with great authority the place where Wellington had his station, the spot where Sir William Ponsonby fell, etc, Barnum asked if he could show them where Captain Tippitimichet of the Connecticut Fusileers was killed. This the guide promptly did. The precise spots where some twenty other fictitious officers from such exotic locales as Coney Island, Hoboken, and Saratoga Springs had fallen were also obligingly pointed out, following which the showman could not resist asking where “Brigadier General James Gordon Bennett [ editor of the New York Herald and an unshakeable Barnum-hater ] had given up the ghost”. This time the guide, who claimed to have been present when Bennett died, excelled himself and recalled the famous general’s last words: “Portez-moi de l’eau!”

… Or so Barnum told the newspapers back home.

Also, hey, mathematics comics, there were some more of them. Maybe the last Jumble I’ll be able to run. Don’t know yet.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index reached the psychologically baloney level of 100 today as the traders compromised on buying the new, larger, George Foreman grill and tabling the panini press issue. Supporting the decision is it turns out the sale on panini presses ended last Sunday so spending all this time on it was kind of dumb.

100

In Your Houses Late At Night Sit Down Cozy, Kill That Light


What’s on TV when I’m feeling a little lonely and drifting between channels as they in turn disappoint me.

Oh No, The Contractors Sent The Wrong Kitchen Cabinets. As seen in the lounge at the Toyota dealership waiting for the mysterious tire-pressure problem to be diagnosed as “mysterious” and “something to do with the beads”. Charmingly white couple buy a house and then demolish all its interior surfaces. Then they wait for the contractors to do something wrong, usually with the kitchen cabinets. Sometimes it’s simple: they send cabinets too big for the house, ones that overflow the kitchen, the dining area, the living room, and reach out into the street, proving a hazard to taller traffic. Sometimes it’s also simple: they send cabinets too small. These wrong cabinets could fit one of those old-style coffee mugs grandma had, the ones that are smaller than the teaspoons you’d stir sugar into them in. Most often they’re the wrong shade of white, shades of white that the TV show host says he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. He seems in earnest. They’re going to have to make severe cuts in their $625,000 renovation budget, which means they use a cheaper tile for the splash area behind the kitchen counter.

That’s A Lot Of Informercial About Some Collapsible Ladder Thing. And it’s on like half the channels? What even is this?

Rebooted Season Of A Cartoon I Liked In The 90s. Oh, it’s Flash-animated now. And they redesigned the characters so they all look like they were caught in an airport baggage carousel and squashed flat by one of those weird huge cardboard boxes taped shut that someone has on every flight somehow. Also they changed two of the voice actors. And they can say “poop” now, or maybe have to. And everybody’s a lot meaner than they were before. Raises questions about whether the original was quite this obviously gender-essentialist too. Or was it just obliviously sexist? Were we that awful in the 90s? A quick check. YouTube has an episode of the original, only the proportions are weird and there’s some unearthly station logo in two corners. Yeah, the original kinda was. Should not have checked.

Two Guys Laughing At How They Totally Said A Thing. They’ve got a great show tonight and their first guest will be Seth Rogan, they say, evincing a confidence in the inevitability of events that doesn’t seem less obnoxious to me just because it was true, since they taped the episode this evening and now know how things turned out.

Old Timey Movie With Actors I Kind Of Recognize From Bugs Bunny Cartoons. Black and white. Something about a man and a woman who live in San Francisco and have a wonderful time even though they go to bed wearing more clothes than we use today to venture to Antarctica. Features numerous montages during which they walk though multiple-exposure scenes and don’t make eye contact with anything, especially not each other. Also even the driver gets into the car from the passenger’s side. I think maybe one of them is trying to kill the other, possibly because the other thinks the first is trying to kill them and it seems like a violation of trust not to reciprocate. Worth watching for how well everybody articulates in the middle of a heated life-or-death fight.

Simpsons Episode All About A Character I Never Saw Before. I guess he got to be important after I kind of forgot to watch regularly again? Also did Homer always get battered like this in the old days? And deserve even more injury?

History Explored By Wide-Eyed Astonished Guys. Might be about the fabled “Money Pit” of Oak Island. Might be about that World War II plan to make icebergs into aircraft carriers. Might be about the shooting of President Garfield. Doesn’t matter. A couple of guys have eager interviews to do with experts who’ve heard there’s an artifact related to it somewhere in the area. And when they ask another expert they hear about how it’s totally the case that artifacts are things that exist after historical events. Someone at the historical society confirms that historical events happened and some of them even involved other places than the historical society building. The hunt for the artifact drives them to hold up grainy old photographs in front of new buildings and then go inside. The building is being renovated. The floors are all torn up. None of the people working on it know anything about the historical event but they say they didn’t see anything suspicious, just some water-damaged old floorboards. There’s a subbasement they can crawl into if they like, though, and the wide-eyed astonished guys think that’s even more awesome than their old tree fort. I bet the contractors are about to deliver the wrong cabinets. It would be just like them.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders brought the Another Blog, Meanwhile index up nine points today when they settled on that old-timey movie as the thing to watch. There’s this surprisingly tense scene where a wind-up toy dog is walking off towards the woman hiding in the closet and they don’t make movies like that anymore.

110

Where Do We Get These Thanksgiving Traditions From?


A great many Thanksgiving traditions have origins. Don’t you? Let’s review.

To Eat Turkey. Of course everyone knows the Pilgrims, who didn’t think they were, didn’t have turkey on the Original Thanksgiving. They were short on food. All they could do is each take a lick and pass along a cobblestone they’d gotten from a street in Leiden. By the time of that first Thanksgiving the stone was getting pretty worn out. And it still tasted like a regression from the grace with God they wanted. Mostly the attendees at that First Thanksgiving had to listen to the raccoons pointing and calling them “turkeys”. And that insult wouldn’t reach full potency until the late 1970s.

But that did give the Pilgrims, unless they were Puritans, an idea. And for the Second Thanksgiving, which we don’t know when it was, they made a deal with the turkeys to take turns, humans eating turkeys and turkeys eating humans. This was lousy for the Puritans, unless they were Separatists, since the turkeys took their turn eating humans first. Oh, how the Pilgrims squawked at that. The turkeys were satisfied though. The second time, for the Third Thanksgiving, which we also don’t know when it was, humans took their turn eating turkeys and called no backsies. That’s all pretty rotten dealing and I’m glad to be having Tofurkey myself. We haven’t double-crossed tofu on anything nearly that major in decades.

To Notice We Have Like Six Half-Empty Bottles Of Store-Brand Windex. This is not in fact a Thanksgiving custom. It is associated with Thanksgiving because of the major house cleanup done then, but this happens at every major house cleanup, like that at Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving, or the one that other time we mean to do, or at Thanksgiving. As such its origins have no place here.

To Watch The Detroit Lions. This dates back to the earliest days of football, back before the sport had decided that having an actual ball was the way to go. Many thought they’d do better using the honor system of everyone agreeing where a ball should go. Back then the Detroit Lions weren’t yet in Michigan, and were still the Fort Wayne Zollner Lions. “Hey,” one of the players said, “Detroit is in Wayne County. Is that named for the same General “Mad Anthony” Wayne that Fort Wayne’s named after?” This sounded plausible, but nobody could look it up, as this was literally over two months before the invention of Wikipedia.

While talking it over they got a bit giggly about where they could use “wayne” in place of some other word. This started out tortured. They’d, say, use it for “when” and say “Wayne are we going to get a football to play?” Or “Wayne [ we’ll ] meet you there!” The Lions went on like this for about three weeks before the locals shared with the Lions their brooms and many shouts of exasperation. This is how the Lions moved to Detroit. Fort Wayne residents promised to keep an eye on the Lions in case they got near town again and vowed never to forget. They forgot and settled the Lions-watching down to two days a year, Thanksgiving and the New Jersey Big Sea Day. Football decided to start using footballs in 1973, to make Monday Night Football games show up better.

To Have Big Arguments With Loved Ones. If I believe what I read in comic strips this is one of the major ways to spend Thanksgiving. But if I believe comic strips then I’d have to accept people are always tweeting Facebooks to their app instead of reading books. Also everyone is talking about whatever everyone was talking about eight weeks ago only less specifically. Anyway I’ve never seen this in the real actual world. Maybe it’s my family. Maybe we don’t happen to feel that emotional charge about the things we differ on. And we’re decent about talking out the things that irritate us. And we’re almost sure the time Grandmom set the table on fire it was an accident. Maybe we’re just better at family than you are? Don’t know. But I have to rate this tradition as “maybe completely made up” and so unworthy of an origin.

To Have A Parade With Giant Balloons. Let me summarize Professor Mi Gyung Kim’s The Imagined Empire: Balloon Enlightenments in Revolutionary Europe to explain this one. It dates back to the Age of Enlightenment, when the idea of giant balloons captured the European imagination. Little did the Europeans suspect they were about to be overrun with giant balloons. None could believe the speed and success of conquest. “They’re so lumbering and slow-moving,” civilians observed, “and you just have to poke them with a stick!” True, but they were also as much as ten feet higher up than anyone realized and so could not be reached by the sticks available to that semi-industrialized age.

The giant balloons had no taste for managing their conquests. They preferred their normal pastimes of drifting into streetlights and being featured in human-interest news pieces about parade setup. So in exchange for an annual victory triumph they let us go about our business the rest of the time. We got off light, which is the way the giant balloons like it too.

While we have many more Thanksgiving customs there are only the top few we’ve lost the receipt for and so can not send back.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Neither the mainstream nor the side Another Blog, Meanwhile indices had any trading activity today. They’ve wanted to have a holiday a while now, but I believe they really like those rare days when trading activity gets reported as “UNCH”. Also I don’t want to promise too much but I think something may be happening after they got stuck in that elevator yesterday. Just saying.

UNCH

A Happy Thought Ahead Of Thanksgiving (US Edition)


So I was reading Godfrey Hodgson’s pop history A Great And Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving. And there on pages 80 and 81 Hodgson writes about the first scouting expeditions in what would be Plymouth by the people we now call Pilgrims because they can’t hear us calling them that. This is three or maybe four days after their first landing, while they were trying to figure out just where they were and whether it was all right to be there and what the heck might be lurking ready to catch them:

In the morning they got lost in the woods, and found an Indian deer trap, “a very pretty device,” thought [ Edward ] Winslow, as artful as any English rope maker could have made, made by bending a sapling as a spring, and scattering acorns to tempt the deer. William Bradford came up to look. The trap gave a sudden jerk, and he was caught by the leg.

I don’t want to overstate things, but it appears that, yes, the earliest white settlers in Massachusetts were Warner Brothers cartoon characters. I feel so much better knowing this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped a point today in a scheduled half-day of trading ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Trading was extremely light, as everyone was watching the clock until they figured it was close enough to lunch to go home early. So when the — in this case — alternate index had a trade everyone stretched and said, “well, that traffic isn’t going to beat itself” which they then thought sounded vaguely dirty or something. They weren’t sure. But then all the traders from the mainstream index who had just the same sort of day had the same idea and they all got stuck on the same elevator. Well, serves them right.

85

Who’s Using Twitter Ads To Play Pranks?


So this turned up in my Twitter feed as a promoted ad:

An ad saying they've studied 1,438 claims against plastic surgeons and suggesting that surgeons and their staff spy on patients for noncompliant activities like smoking or other stuff. Kind of creepy, honestly.
I imagine they were figuring to do 1,440 claims but then someone pointed out hey, it’s like eight minutes until 5:00, why don’t we go home early? And then someone said “but why stop at 1,438 claims? Why not do the full set of ten gross claims?” And this turned into an argument about whether leaving out those two last claims would make a difference and what value there could be in counting something as “ten gross” like you’re an 17th century merchant-adventurer hauling firkins of butter and cod to the Hanseatic League and, long story short, over a year later they’re still not talking to each other.

I’m sure that this is a perfectly legitimate service aimed at helping plastic surgeons not get sued but I’m really more a mathematician than a plastic surgeon. And my day job is doing web stuff. Also, I’m really not a plastic. I’m proud to be almost entirely an amethyst carving with an enchantment that gives me powers to command thylacines, a really cool kangaroo-wolf creature that’s been extinct since 1936. So it’s not something that comes up every day. But this makes me think that instead of being targeted for advertisements based on my actual browsing and consumption patterns (“you just bought an weather radio! Would you like to buy an weather radio?”) there’s just this guy sending out ads to see if he can be funny. This is probably a better model for capitalism anyway.

Well, if you’d like to see me doing mathematics stuff, on my other blog I talk about comic strips mathematically and all that. You might enjoy. I liked writing it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose sharply in trading before the market opened, raising questions of how that can be possible and calling the very definition of “markets” into question. It’s like there aren’t even any rules anymore, not the way we were told there are supposed to be.

137

Handwriting And How To Cure It


Handwriting was a once-popular way of committing stuff to a written record. For centuries it ranked just ahead of “chiseled into Stonehenge blocks”. But it was slightly behind “made in dry macaroni glued to construction paper” as an informal record-keeping method. It began falling off in popularity with the rise of personal computers, which having risen up to about arm-height were easier to reach. It was lost entirely in 2013 when the new model Glossy Black Rectangle came out.

But handwriting has been lost before. Nothing got written by hand for the two centuries before Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance began when he got people not to stick their hands out the bus window where they might get lopped off. It also got lost during the Age of Exploration, when it was washed overboard near the Bay of Bengal. And in 1943 handwriting was accidentally left in an unlatched briefcase on the Sixth Avenue El train in New York City. Police and FBI agents were able to recover it, except for the cursive capital Q. The War Production Board immediately issued a “Victory Q”, made of chicory and surplus Z’s. This was extremely popular except how nobody liked it. The prewar Q went back into production in 1954, but old-timers still complain that the new version doesn’t taste anything like the old. What does?

To revive handwriting you need only a few things. Other people can do with more, because they lack self-confidence. First you need a hand. Second you need a write to get written by whoever is in control of the hand. Next you need a writing surface. Third you need a writing implement. You can organize these pieces in any order. The trick comes in the final step. Using the writing surface and writing tool use your hand to write whatever it was that’ll be written at the end. Now that you’ve tried put it aside until you’ve got enough emotional distance to review what might have gone wrong. Here are a couple common handwriting problems:

A big old scribble that turns into the Turner Classic Movies logo.
Figure 1. Actually better than my usual notes. It also made me realize the TCM logo would look a little better if it bowed outward the way Cinerama movie screens did.

Wandering Baseline. In this case there’s no attention given to the lower edges of the letters. They’re allowed to just drift up and down and around and over to the living room to watch Turner Classic Movies’s “Underground” non-classic movies. This can be well-handled by a stronger drum beat. If we hadn’t replaced all drummers with percussion machines. The machines have good rhythm but nothing interesting to write about.

Another big old scribble that turns into a lightning bolt and a 'boom!' and 'Zap!'
Figure 2. Every slinky I’ve ever had, day four. Actually I like how the lightning bolt turns out.

Capital G. Under no circumstance should you attempt to write a cursive G. The last person who knew how to make it has been in hiding since 1998, when she met up with the last person who knew how to make a capital Z. If you need either of these letters you should do as on the right and make a little lightning bolt figure. This will add some vital force to your writing. After coming to life it can stomp around the German countryside. Then it makes its way somehow to the Orkey Islands and the North Pole in a framing narrative everybody forgets about. Most of us will not see such impressive results.

It looks like a bunch of vertical squiggles but there's clearly a + and maybe some kind of 'z' in there.
Figure 3. Baseball lost in the tall weeds.

Kerning. Kerning is the act of making sequences of letters kern. They are best kerned when, in the words of grammar maven E B White, “that’s all they ken kern and kan’t kern no more”. This means something.

It looks like every other Gemini capsule, admittedly.
Figure 4. Gemini IX capsule as photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan during his spacewalk.

Gemini IX. Gene Cernan’s physically demanding 1966 “walk around the world” spacewalk was an ambitious project. It was undertaken without the underwater training experience later flights used. The shortage of handholds and grips made the Manned Maneuvering Unit impossible to test. Furthermore his spacesuit visor kept fogging up. This made for a most frustrating expedition. But it was only the second spacewalk the United States had attempted, and only the world’s third ever. One shouldn’t be surprised by the discovery of operational difficulties.

Bunch of waves that tie onto a dog's foot.
Figure 5. Dog recklessly let outside without a collar and identifying tag on.

Spacing. Here the pleasant, uniform spacing of letters breaks up and descends into a sketch that’s a cute little doggy. This disrupts the flow of writing as the reader will want to toss a ball at it, or maybe just think about dogs instead of the world, for which you can’t blame it. This one handles by adding a little doghouse, so the doggy has somewhere to go while the reader works.

Like before only with a cute little doghouse.
Figure 5A. The dog has a house that itself has satellite TV reception so she’s not doing too badly. Still needs a collar.

This is not all of the common handwriting problems. There are three more of them. If you spot any do send a note to Handwriting Master Command, which accepts text messages. They will be happy to explain how it is all someone else’s fault.

Me Week: Stuck in Ancient Greece


I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.

In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.

Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.

And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.

Me Week: What Philosophers Give Me


My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.

Back in September 2013, we got to talking about Pythagoras, who’s renowned for being a cult leader that might have done something in mathematics or philosophy or both. It’s hard to say. But in Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish I was enchanted by something I hadn’t heard about Pythagoras before. Yes, it’s got Olympics content, because of course, Pythagoras. You would.

If that hasn’t satisfied your interest in philosophers, here’s a little pop quiz you can take. No fair cheating!

What Is Battle Creek, Michigan Named For?


I’m over forty years old. I have an advanced degree in mathematics. I have lived in Michigan for four years. I have only just this weekend stopped to wonder: what battle is Battle Creek, Michigan, named after?

My best guess: French explorers named the spot for where they refilled their water stocks. Then when the English poked in they figured ‘Bottle Creek’ must be some crazy moon-man mistaken pronunciation and they fixed it to ‘Battle Creek’ and we’ve been stuck with that since. So, yeah, please lock that in as my answer, won’t you? Thank you.



And according to Wikipedia, it’s actually named for a battle in the winter of 1823-24 in which two of the natives got into a fight with two people from a federal government survey party. In the fight one of the natives was wounded. After the fight the survey party fled. So, yeah, it involved not quite as many people as were needed to play the classic game show Password Plus. Although I guess there is a folk etymology that the river’s native name, Waupakisco, itself is some kind of name meaning “battle creek”, for some battle they dunno when it happened or what over, which makes people who know the language roll their eyes and sigh. So there we go.

Oh, *Honestly*, Grand Strategy Games


From the tutorial for March of the Eagles, a variant on Europa Universalis III that skips Ancient Rome and is all about the Napoleonic Wars, which I picked up because it was really cheap and why not?

It's a tutorial, and yet a box that says what you're doing is obscured by other boxes. Wild stuff, huh? Yeah, this was totally not a phoned-in daily entry.
I’m not sure what idea it is I’m even picking here, although I had clicked on “Naval Movement Ideas”, so I imagine it’s some national- and era-appropriate idea for the Royal Navy, like maybe having ships that move or something. Still, at least it has a nice reassuring ! to fill right margin.

So I expect the box there with the ‘OK’ button is supposed to be double-checking you really want to do this (which is pick a National Idea that gives you some benefits). But it’s hidden by the List of Ideas, which can’t be minimized or closed, and it can’t be brought in front of the List Of Ideas, and, oh, I don’t know. I guess that’s a picture of a guy with a bandage around his head on the top bar there, with a 0.88 underneath it, and not a water balloon being filled from a tap.

If you need me I’ll be over in Roller Coaster Tycoon III Platinum.

Why Grand Strategy Games Take Seven Freaking Years To Learn How To Play


From about the second tutorial screen to Europa Universalis: Rome, a grand strategy game variant I bought when it was on sale and only just got around to now that I got the mothership game done one time. And depending on how wide a screen you’re looking at this on it might be hard to see what I’m pointing to, so you might want to click on the image until it’s big enough you can read the text easily.

A panel tries to explain the menu bar items. There's four items in a vertical list, and they're connected to the horizontally-arranged items by thin white lines, most of which intersect each other. And the lines don't end at the correct points on the menu bar. Three of them point to *other* menu bar items not matching what's described in text.
I’m sure the interface won’t be any harder to understand than the ancient Roman calendar, in which you might specify that today was, say, the 22nd of June by declaring it was the “tenth day to the kalends of July”, or how you’d say that the 12th was the “first day to the ides of June”, because the ides are the 13th in most months and the 15th in a couple of months. And sometimes they’d just throw in an extra month between the 24th and 25th of February because what the heck, why not, and I’m not even making that up.

And I am just awestruck by the multiple levels of failure involved with this screen. I would like to know how they overlooked a few ways to make this even better, such as:

  • Make the text dark grey on a slightly less dark grey background, possibly one with a lot of very dark grey cross-hatching.
  • When you pause or unpause the game, have it shriek.
  • Make the images less directly representative, like, instead of a pile of coins for the treasury and money use a pile of salt, represented by a bottle of soy sauce, which can be quite high in salt; or perhaps represent research with a plain footlong hot dog.
  • Set the screen to occasionally strobe, and in the midst of the strobing effect, have the computer grab some manner of blunt instrument and poke you in the ribs with it, then punch you.

So in summary, I would like to note that when one of the trilithons making up Stonehenge fell in 1797, a report in the Kentish Gazette placed blame for the fall on the burrowing of rabbits undermining the wonder. (Pages 39-40). Thank you.

Why Grand Strategy Games Are Thrilling


I have a deep love of grand strategy video games. Let me explain the genre. You know Sid Meier’s Civilization, possibly from the guys who spent 1993 through 1998 sitting continuously at the computer mumbling weird things about taking on the Ruso-Aztec alliance? It’s what that grew into. Civilization is still around, but it’s not nearly complicated enough a game for me. I prefer the Europa Universalis line of games, by which I mean, last week I just finished my first-ever complete game of Europa Universalis 3, a game I bought in Like 2009 and hadn’t yet understood. I did win.

Anyway. I was playing China, and along about the early 18th century came this exciting bit of pop-up news:

Spread of Discoveries: We have learned about CONNECTICUT. We must find a way to exploit this knowledge.
This is noteworthy because my China didn’t have the naval explorers to go poking around the world. Apparently someone just came up to the Imperial Mapmaker and said, “Hey, you wanna know something the rest of the world hasn’t been letting you in on? Oh, you’re going to love it. This is finally going to make sense out of those weird rumors you’ve heard about New Haven and Saybrook and fill in that gap to the west of Woonsocket!” … … I’m kidding, of course. Why would the Ming court have heard about Woonsocket, Rhode Island, at that stage in history? But, hey, access to Danbury, that’s something!

And I just haven’t stopped giggling about the potential wonders that alternate-history 1722 China hopes to find now that they’ve got an “in” with Connecticut.

In other stuff, my mathematics blog gave me reason to talk about comic strips yesterday. Also, Apparently Frank Page’s comic strip Bob The Squirrel has observed some problems similar to mine.

Some Fine Sentences In This Reuters Article About Sequencing the Carrot Genome


Without distracting from the interest in science stuff caused by this science news, and after taking a moment to tell you I did that comic strip thing again on my mathematics blog, I’d like to bring some excellent sentences to the reader’s attention. By the reader I mean you:

  • [Carrots] are familiar to everyone, and generally well-regarded by consumers, but like most familiar things, people don’t necessarily know the background stories.
  • The common weed called Queen Anne’s Lace is a wild carrot.
  • Worldwide carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and they now rank in the top 10 vegetable crops globally, the researchers said.
  • The earliest record of carrots as a root crop dates from 1,100 years ago in Afghanistan, but those were yellow carrots and purple ones, not orange ones.
  • Paintings from 16th century Spain and Germany provide the first unmistakable evidence for orange carrots.

I realize that it’s fully legitimate that carrots used to come in way more colors than they do now, and that they became orange because people deliberately grew them orange and that it’s all tied up with the Dutch War of Independence and all that. But I love the talk about searching for evidence of orange-ness in carrots. This is the sort of question that makes academia work. Also I had no idea (per a sentence that didn’t make the cut) that caraway was “a close relative” of the carrot, but I admit I didn’t have any better ideas what caraway ought to be a relative of. Also, so wait, like, Charlemagne had come and gone before anyone anywhere planted and ate carrots on purpose? That’s just weird, man.

The Most Wonderful Sentences In Wikipedia’s Entry About The Red Imported Fire Ant


This is regarding the species Solenopsis invicta:

The specific epithet of the red imported fire ant, invicta, is Latin for “invincible” and “unconquered”. This derives from the phase Roma invicta (“unconquered Rome”), used as an inspirational quote until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. This symbolic statement was printed on minted coins.

Only fair to stop using “Roma invicta” after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. I mean, yeah, there’s that whole other part of the Empire to consider but who does that? Not us from the west. Still, that’s got me thinking. There must have been someone who was carving “Roma invicta” into something — a brass pin, a building stone, something — just when the news of Rome being conquered came in. What’d the person do? I suppose edit things over to “Roma invicta for the most part” or “Roma invicta-ish” or, if the news came early on, “Roma pretty darned near invicta all things considered”. Anyway I don’t know why the coins come into play given we were talking about ants. And we were talking about ants because I heard the phrase “economically important ants” and wondered what that would be. It sounds like ants that are major supporters of microlending operations or something. There’s somehow still things I don’t understand about ants despite reading several paragraphs and skimming the rest of an article about one kind of them.

When Time Came To New Jersey


New Sweden was established in the Delaware River valley, in what is now southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania and the Twelve Mile Circle of Delaware, by exactly the nation you’d imagine, in 1638. It carried itself along for just under two decades. In 1655 the colony was conquered by, and absorbed into, the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands. But this expanded New Netherlands, with outposts along what they termed the North River (the Hudson) and the South River (the Delaware), would stay in Dutch control for barely a dozen years. In 1667 the whole colony was conquered by the English, New Amsterdam famously surrendering without firing a shot. History moves on: in 1673 the colony would be reconquered by the Dutch, New York less-famously surrendering without firing a shot. But they would be returned to England a year later, in the peace treaty which concluded the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The settlement would be exchanged for various East Indies spice islands, including Run, the legendary fount of nutmeg.

The many states of Europe adopted Pope Gregory’s reformed calendar — our modern calendar — at different times, mostly based on the religious politics of the state. Sweden held fast to the Julian calendar until 1700, when it made an attempt to switch over which went so wrong they had to create a February 30th to clean up the mess. (They would finally adopt the Gregorian Calendar successfully in 1753.) The states of the Netherlands switched to the Gregorian calendar or stuck, ten days behind, with the Julian calendar, depending on the religious preferences of the state. The colony of the New Netherlands was settled by the West Indies Company. The company was organized in the Catholic state of Holland, and so would be on the Gregorian calendar. England stuck it out on the Julian calendar through 1752 while telling itself it was so Protestant that the other Protestant nations couldn’t even see its Protestant-ness from where they were.

Presumably at least some part of the conquest of territories by new powers is to adjust the calendar for the residents. The courts, the tax assessors, all the business of government will naturally cling to the time which the regent keeps. North America may be far from Europe, and farther in the 17th century, but it would be intolerable to have European outposts not even agree what day the 21st of April is.

Therefore a resident of New Sweden should have seen her calendar switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar sometime after the Dutch conquest in 1655, losing ten days but getting a spring that actually starts in mid-March. And then she would have to see ten days stuffed back into the calendar somehow in 1667, with the English conquest. Possibly the Dutch would take the ten days back out again in 1673, if they didn’t have bigger problems to tend to what with being at war with both the English and the Anglos. If they did, then the resident had to stuff ten days back into her calendar as it switched back again a year later.

This surely annoyed and baffled the locals. It was confusing and frustrating enough in Europe where the calendar standards were fairly well-established and known for the whole 17th century. On what they regarded as the frontier these standards must have been even more whimsical and arbitrary. And yet I’ve never heard of any incidents involving the alternating calendars. I don’t even know when New Sweden’s calendars were changed, or New Netherland’s, or whether it changed for the Dutch interregnum. I know about the annoyances of 1752, since that’s renowned in calendar studies. It’s like hearing about the Beatles; if you haven’t, you just don’t know the subject at all. Of course, 1752 I know from the British perspective and people talking about William Hogarth paintings and whatnot. It’s just assumed that the North American colonies went along, things unfolding about the way they did in London. Or at least Sheffield.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the history of New Jersey or the surrounding states. I doubt I own more than ten histories of New Jersey, and fewer than half of them are academic texts. But I don’t remember it ever getting a single line of mention ever. The dates must have changed, but when, and how was it done? And what did the people living with the change think of it all? How much of a hassle was it, and what were people saying about the trouble, especially when it kept coming up over and over again? They must have told at least some jokes about the absurdity of this all; what were they?

So with this to ponder, I think you’ll agree I was right not to do a lick of work today, and I appreciate your understanding, boss. I can’t make promises for tomorrow either. But if you do have any contacts with the New Jersey Historical Society we just might be able to come to some arrangement. Isn’t that everything you could ask for?