OK so I would totally be out of here and busy being rich, but it turns out my plans for a food planer ran into some problems. Like, you have to make one, and then you have to make millions, and then you have to sell them. And sure, everybody gets the idea. But then pressing something that smooths out the peanut butter and then going to smooth out the sour cream? That gets some mixes that just don’t go over well. I’m sure this can all be sorted out but honestly? I’m getting to think that being rich is just too much effort.
So you know about the speed of sound, right? Don’t worry, it’s easy to catch up. Turns out sound travels at some speed. It’s like 750 miles an hour at normal temperature and pressure. Slower at temperatures and pressures that make the speed of sound slower. Faster otherwise. I told you it would be easy to catch up.
But how fast can you make the speed of sound? I don’t mean you particularly. I know you’ve got enough projects, what with looking at the news and then screaming at the wall. I mean you as if you were someone who wasn’t you, and who had to do something about the speed of sound. I admit I don’t know what I’d do about making the speed of sound faster. Maybe drop a loudspeaker from a helicopter and check how fast that sound hits the ground. I know, you’d think, what if we just made the sound louder? But it turns out loud doesn’t convert into fast. Loud just converts into nervous.
So we need better schemes to make fastness. The trick is that sound works by the elasticity of the thing it’s moving through. You know elasticity well, from all the time you spend bouncing. Me, I know it from trying to get the elastic band off this bundle of radishes. I don’t know how but the elastic band winds through every stalk, so there’s no taking it off except by going into higher dimensions of space, from which the radishes are still banded together.
Here’s where I read that a bunch of people at the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge, and the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk worked out just how fast you could make sound. It turns out it’s about 36 kilometers per second.
This fastest possible sound happens if you send sound through solid atomic hydrogen. You don’t have any solid atomic hydrogen, I’m know, because that only exists when you have, like, a million atmospheres of pressure. And I checked. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is one atmosphere of pressure. Maybe physics works a little different in Troitsk. Probably it does, or why would they have a whole institute for the high-pressure physics of Troitsk? But I bet none of the people with the institute are reading this. They’re doing things like figuring out the fastest speed of sound. They don’t have time to read me going on like this.
Or do they? We have to consider some of the benefits of making sound really, really fast. Like, at 36 kilometers per second, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans would zip by so fast you could hear it a third time in your life. So there’s time savings involved. I know, you could just hit the thing on your iPod that makes songs play faster. You can. I can’t. My iPod is in the shop, being repaired. I hope it’s an iPod repair shop. I know you wonder why I didn’t check that first. The answer is that I have spent parts of five consecutive months now trying to get a Nintendo repair shop to repair a Nintendo Switch. No part of that process has gone well. You know that deep bone-weariness you experience when, like, you see “Suncoast Video” is Trending under Politics for some undoubtedly awful reason? That’s what I feel when considering consumer-electronics repair. Entering a storefront at random and wordlessly shoving my iPod at a person who turns out to be the hummus manager at The Pita Pit can not be worse.
What other benefits are there on the sound thing? Oh, I bet if you had sound the fastest it could travel, then inhaling helium would actually lower the pitch of your voice. I wrote that as a joke, but I think that would actually work? Except you have to start out encased in solid atomic hydrogen at more than one million atmospheres of pressure. I don’t know what you’d say in that case.
The article said it turns out the fastest possible speed of sound depends on the fine structure constant and the proton-to-electron mass ratio. The mass ratio is what you get from looking at how often protons and electrons are commented on compared to retweeted. The fine structure constant is a general agreement about how nice it would be to have some direction in our lives these days. How this gets back to sound I’ll never know.
Yeah so I had the idea for the invention that’s going to make me rich beyond all reasonable dreams. It’s a food planer, so you can use it to level out the surface of your ice cream or peanut butter or, heck, even sour cream, and get the experience of breaking the nice smooth surface every single time. Thanks for being with me in my journey through life up to this point, where I get fame and wealth and the acclaim and thanks of the millions, but obviously now I need to drop all this blogging foolishness and go into doing whatever it is wealthy people do all day. Rebalancing portfolios or something. Been fun writing; see you later!
I couldn’t think of a clever subject line for this short. This happens, now and then. This week’s short is two minutes, 11 seconds, and is padded out with reruns. These include Scramble For The Egg, which is worth the watch.
Does Bluto need a sidekick? He hasn’t usually had one. The handful of times he has needed a second Wimpy’s done service. But Wimpy is this lightly supernatural figure, no more invested in the plot than any fae folk would be. But this is a short where Popeye-and-Olive-Oyl are on their own, and Bluto is on his own. The storylines are parallel. I liked Bluto’s machinations. It seemed like he would do well with someone to react against.
The short opens with Popeye dancing a version of the Sailor’s Hornpipe. I realized we haven’t seen Popeye do that in ages. It’s fun to see. He gets a package. It’s some kind of spinach-generating mechanical cornucopia? The purpose is obscure, but the instructions are baffling, and he calls on Olive Oyl to help.
The first iteration of this takes spinach through a funnel, whirs around an engine, and spits out garbage. The next iteration adds wheels and a chomping mouth. This releases a rampaging mechanical monster that chases Popeye and Olive Oyl to the top of the shipping crate. The music improves during this chase. It’s a bit more focused, more energetic.
That’s a good time to eat spinach, though. Popeye does. His spinach-induced body-transformative horror this time is turning his left arm into a giant net. This scoops up the contraption and hurls it out into the bay, and the problem is efficiently handled. Olive Oyl discovers there was a mistake: this was something meant for Bluto.
Then we go over to Bluto. He’s been attaching stuff to his submarine. It was supposed to add a cool turbine engine and chompers to his submarine. He’s got the parts for Popeye’s spinach-emitting thing instead. Once turned on, the thing starts shooting empty cans of spinach at Bluto. This knocks him into the water. And there he gets chased by the chomping machine that Popeye and Olive Oyl had assembled.
There’s a lot that’s likable in this short. I don’t know why I don’t like it more. I think once again the two-minute run time is spoiling things for me. Part of the fun of a mysterious contraption story is the rhythm of trying something, having it fail, and trying again. I mean, a Road Runner cartoon is made up of small jokes. It gets to be funny because Wile E Coyote has the machine explode on him, and crush him, and drop him off a cliff nine times in five minutes. This short is going that way, but there’s only two iterations of the thing Popeye and Olive Oyl build.
I wonder if it wouldn’t work better if they cut out Bluto, and used another twenty seconds to make another iteration of the gadget. But that might be impossible. There probably needs to be some explanation of what the device was supposed to be, and what happened to the thing Popeye expected to get. All told, I don’t know what I would do different, or if it would be better that way.
I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.
Learning to play the violin is a simple way to bring joy to many people, including violin instructors. It’s not just violin instructors, of course; you also bring joy to violin salesmen, manufacturers, and distributors. That doesn’t even get into the powerful Violin Marketing Board and its renowned publicity arm that each year puts violins under the chins of dozens of schoolchildren who were just yawning. Considering the number of people who’d be made happy by your learning to play the violin refusing to learn makes you sound perfectly antisocial. About the only people you make happier by not learning are the neighbors.
Much folklore says the violin comes from the medieval instrument of the viol, a violin-shaped musical instrument not used anymore. This is a folk entomology, however, a bug-filled derivation which mistakes two things as one on the basis of roughly similar-sounding names and shapes. Do not open the derivation if you’re the least bit squeamish. In the late 1830s, Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born instrument maker, used a violin-shaped metal template to carve a figure out of a piece of maple wood, opened up a hollow box, and given a neck, bridge, toll both, and frontage road in order to assemble the first violin. While filing for his patent he was heartbroken to discover he was beaten to the work by over two hundred years by Italian musicians. Sax went on to invent the harpsichord, the theramin, the Reuben sandwich, and the photoelectric diode before his friends finally wrestled him to his senses. He put his time more productively into creating the Adolphephone, at which point his family and friends said fine and called it that in front of him. And only then.
The violin is tuned in perfect fifths, so if you see any you should take the chance to tune your instrument immediately, even if you are on the subway. There’s no way of guessing when you’ll see your next perfect fifth. Some wild youths rejecting the wisdom of tradition will accept a marginally flawed fifth or even a pretty good sixth. If you do try this route elder musicians will point at you and snicker during quarter rests. To tune the violin, turn the pegs, which can be found in any music store next to the sheet music for popular tunes of the 1910s clockwise until the instrument sounds clearly out of tune, and then reverse the process by turning the violin over and repeating.
There are several ways to make the violin produce sounds. The most sociable is to simply ask it in a calm, respectful tone. Unfortunately many mass-produced violins are made with few social graces and will respond poorly to such requests. The next technique is to hide a small CD or MP3 player underneath the violin’s body, and press play when your performance is to begin. If you are the lead character in a teen-oriented sitcom this will work for most of the scene, and then fail in a way which forces you to confess in front of many people you wished to impress. It would be less embarrassing to play on your own.
A manually-operated violin, then, can make a sound by the pizzicato method, in which one pizzicatoes the strings in quick, clean motions, or by stroking a bow along a string. It is better form to make strokes perpendicular to the string. With four strings a violin can make four distinct tones easily. To produce a different tone you place a finger in the appropriate spot along one of the strings. If you should find out how, please share the secret with me. I always got stuck while trying. I’m pretty sure I was putting my fingers in the designated and officially correct spaces. The instructor could do this and get a nice clear note, say, B-flat above middle C. I would repeat the motion and get a consoling hug and, somehow, first-chair placement at the fifth grade winter concert (“A Collection of Songs You Don’t Have To Hold Down The String For”). If that doesn’t work you can try sticking to songs which have mostly the same notes played over and over, such as Baudot Code, invented in 1874 by Adolphe Sax, who was recovering from overhearing his friends talking about him by overachieving. You know how instrument makers will get.
So if you’re like me, and I think you are, when you go to a hotel you use the tiny bottles of shampoo they give there? And in those circumstances there’s plenty of shampoo to clean your hair using that little dabby dot that you get out of that? And it’s not a large dot. It’s about half the size of a tear, if a tear were half the size of the dot of shampoo you get out of that bottle. And somehow this little blop of shampoo, that’s less than one-quarter of the size of itself, is plenty. And yet at home it takes way more shampoo. I mean, I get the cheap shampoo, because I never look at myself so I have no idea my hair looks like that, so it’s easy to do this. I’ll use enough shampoo to cover myself to a depth of eight feet, and still wonder if I need to repeat. (No.) So there’s clearly some difference in hair-cleaning pressure between hotel showers and home showers and I just think there’s some way to exploit this to make a new and very clean, manageable, vibrant, and bouncy source of power.
While I’m busy you can read my mathematics-comics stuff over on the other blog. That’s content, so that’s exactly as good as something here.
PS: Um … Okay, so, no, this shampoo power thing won’t work. Sorry for the inconvenience.
[ Edited the 24th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, fans of Gasoline Alley looking for summaries of the plots. I’m glad to provide what I have. This post might be out of date, though. My most recent report on what’s happening in the strip should be at or near the top of this page. The rest of this essay is about what was going on as of February 2017, which it no longer is, and is becoming less so every day. Thanks for being around.
I, too, thought I was done with story strips. And then I realized I’d forgot one. And what a one to forget: it’s, I believe, the oldest syndicated comic strip that isn’t in perpetual reruns. Coming to us from the 24th of November, 1918, it’s …
If you know anything about Gasoline Alley you don’t need me to tell you anything about Gasoline Alley. It’s one of those comic strips that’s been around forever even though the last child to grow up enthusiastically reading it went on to fight in King Philip’s War. Have to admit, a someone who only started paying attention to it in adulthood, the kids are missing something. That something is a lot of old-time radio references. I honestly wonder how artist/writer Jim Scancarelli wasn’t hired to draw the Lum and Abner comic strip.
So the comic strip is a slice-of-life serial comic. Its big gimmick, and the thing that’s let it last nearly a century, was the day in 1922 when protagonist Walt Wallet discovered the orphan Skeezix on his doorstep. Since then most of the characters in the strip have aged more or less in real time. People get born, they grow up, they move off, they move back, they marry, they have careers, they bring new people into the strip, they retire. The whole cast is impossibly vast and interconnected in ways that only Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury compares to.
Walt Wallet is still around, even though the progression of time makes him something like 115 years old. I imagine Scancarelli is a little too sentimental to kill the comic’s original star, even if there have been like four whole generations of plausible lead characters since then. He doesn’t even have to kill Walt. Scancarelli embraces a bit of magic whimsy in the comic (a lot, really), and one of the conceits is the Old Comics Home. It’s the boarding house for all the characters from the classic old comic strips. They have a visit every year or so. I can’t imagine anyone objecting if Walt, and maybe Skeezix too, were to pay their annual visit to Mutt and Jeff and Buster Brown and Smokey Stover or whoever and just … not come back.
But Walt Wallet does come back. And the current storyline, begun the 16th of January, stars him. He’s inspired by a newspaper advertisement offering “big bucks for your inventions”. After several days sleeping on it he has an inspiration. It’s a combination freezer-fridge-stove-grill-microwave-TV, the sort of thing you might create as a dubiously practical all-in-one contraption for a 60s sitcom. Wallet admits he got the idea from thinking about how in Dick Tracy the B.O. Plenty clan had a stove with a built-in TV set. I don’t know that this actually happened, but I believe it. Scancarelli shows a love for this particular kind of pop culture. He is not so reference-crazy as the actual current staff of Dick Tracy, but then neither is the writing staff of Family Guy. Still, he could hold his own in a highly referential conversation with them.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of January, 2017. There’s an optional TV also. No, it isn’t connected to the Internet, because there is no non-ridiculous reason to connect your refrigerator to the Internet. Will say that’s a pretty good example diaram considering so far as I know Wallet hasn’t been trained in graphic design and he’s also older than graphic design.
Wallet’s idea underwhelms Skeezix and his nurse. But he attracts the attention of Gasoline Alley TV’s Shark Bait. So he goes to the TV studio to pitch his idea — or really the novelty of a 115-year-old inventor — to the jury of millionaire investors. He gets to the studio and meets, who else but Frank Nelson.
You know Frank Nelson. OK, you know that guy on The Simpsons who goes YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess? That’s Frank Nelson they’re impersonating there. He appeared in a lot of Jack Benny Program episodes as the clerk or ticket-taker or information desk guy or anyone at all that Benny would have to get information from. And he’d instead get “YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess” and “OOooOOOoooh” and insults. This may sound like thin stuff, but, again: character actor. And done for one or two minutes a week, two weeks a month, the character doesn’t exactly get old. It gets familiar, the way a fun running gag does. Frank Nelson’s reappeared in Gasoline Alley to torment Walt Wallet because, like I said, Jim Scancarelli’s an old-time radio fan. The comic probably reads fine if you have no idea what’s being referred to here. If you know how the lines should be read, I imagine they’re funnier.
But I don’t know what it reads like to someone who doesn’t get the references. Scancarelli likes them, and will keep making them. Even if they’re a little baffling. A while back he introduced Molly Ballou, radio reporter. Who’s carefully introduced as the sister to Wally Ballou, famously mis-cued reporter for Bob and Ray. And shortly after that he introduced Polly Ballou, Wally and Molly’s other sister. I understand wanting to do a little Bob and Ray fanfic because who would not? And it’s simple professionalism to do it with your own character, because that way, if you screw up nobody’s qualified to tell you you’re wrong. (Frank Nelson’s appearances have, I believe, avoided coming right out and naming him, allowing for some deniability if the character goes completely wrong. At the cost of confusing people who realize there’s a reference to something here that they don’t have enough stuff to Google.)
But why make them Wally Ballou’s improbably young-looking sisters? In the comic strip that defined “comic strip that passes more or less in real time”? Why not make them his daughters, or granddaughters? And why Molly and Polly, when it seems like one would do? Maybe it’s pure self-indulgence. As cartoonist self-indulgences go this seems quite tolerable to me. Or maybe I just like that I get the references.
So, as of this week, Walt Wallet’s gotten onto Shark Bait. It’s going out live because Gasoline Alley TV just does that. You can roll with it or you can read something else, okay? There’s an odd bit of confusion in the show’s opening about whether the jury is a panel of millionaires or billionaires and that might be a hint there’s some mischief up. I make no predictions for how it’ll resolve except that at the end of it Walt Wallet will not be a millionaire. The strip doesn’t break reality that much, plus, think of the biographies of every inventor you know. How many of then end with “died in poverty after long court fights with the companies that ripped off his/her patents”? Yeah.
This is the storyline running Monday through Saturday. On Sundays the comic strip runs separate gags. They’re usually one-off panels, not connected to any storyline. And they’re usually the sort of big dumb old-school sketch comedy stuff that was old when old-time radio was new. And Scancarelli draws it in this warm, friendly, very gentle style. It works for me. I like that kind of comedy. Don’t know that it communicates today.
November 2016’s scrap file, free to anyone who didn’t feel like just scrapping the whole month and doing it over:
that unsettling feeling when you see an out-of-town news van driving into your neighborhood — cut because while I was waiting at the light a news van for Channel 8 drove on down Saginaw Avenue. There isn’t a Channel 8 here. I’ve never lived anywhere that even had a Channel 8, and I always knew deep down if I were someplace that had a Channel 8 it was some weird moon-man possibly alternate universe like, I don’t know, mid-Connecticut. I don’t know what’s happening and I’m afraid to go and check because, sheesh, Channel 8? That’s gotta be from some fictional town like Kalamazoo or something. I can’t handle that, not this year.
because what I really was looking for in a box was one that was smaller than the thing I hoped to fit in it — cut from a letter to whoever it is makes Meijer’s plastic storage bins for making a storage bin whose linear dimensions apparently refer to the maximum width of the overhanging lip rather than what can actually be fit inside. Really, it’s my fault, what with thinking I could fit a punch bowl that’s 14 inches across inside a plastic bin with dimensions given as 14 7/8 inches by 18 1/2 inches. The more fool me, right? Anyway it’s probably easier to just return the stupid thing and go looking at cardboard boxes since what are the chances the next cardboard box for it is going to get ruined by rainwater? I’m sorry to even bring it up. I bet I sound like I’m whining.
Sometimes reading the news leads to the suspicion the world is becoming alarming. A headline could read “Leapfrogging mayor injures woman dressed as tomato”, which may fairly describe the event, but it’s still bizarre. Or you might come across a three-column headline “World Denies Sneaking Up On You”, subhead, “UN Rep: `That’s No Blindfold And Gag Either’.” It’s certainly not a gag, as you’ll find out if you don’t retreat to your bedroom and lock the door, but you have to admit it’s sporting of them to warn you. — cut from a bit of odd-news reporting because while I like the flow of it, (a) there’s nothing going on in the world that isn’t alarming and (b) the paragraph isn’t really about anything. You could put that paragraph in front of absolutely any little essay inspired by odd news and it won’t fit any better or any worse than before. I need something more definite. Also I don’t know if I made up that leapfrogging mayor story anymore. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I might make up. I’d make up a woman dressed as a hippopotamus, maybe. Unless I realized “duck” was punchier. And I’d write it so it was clear whether the mayor, the woman, or both were dressed as tomato ducks. Really the whole paragraph is badly flawed and I should take it out back to have a serious talk about whether to even include it in this scrap file.
Saturn enters the house of Aries, only to find Aries is not present. It playfully rearranges the dishes so they and the coffee mugs are on the wrong sides of the cabinet. It leaves undetected. — Cut because it comes all to close to being a spoof horoscope/zodiac column and have you ever read one of those that was funny? Have you read a second one, after your high school paper ran the “Horrorscopes” for its edition your junior year? Yeah. Seriously flawed premise to the whole joke. I was off my game all November.
zippered banana sleeves for reclosing an opened one — cut from the notepad on my bedstand where I figure I’m bound to have a billion-dollar idea. This clearly isn’t it. I’m sure there’s a market for banana-resealing technology, but I can’t see that netting me more than about $2.25 million once all the startup work is done and I get through with all the court costs against companies stealing the idea from me. And at that point is it really worth doing? I’m just going to keep the banana underneath a tea towel until someday I clean the kitchen and lift the towel and find a dense gravity-warping nebula of fruit flies. This will be followed by my screaming, which is certainly a better use of my time.
If you find anything useful in all this please, do. I just want to be remembered fondly.
- Inventing the “float glass” process for inexpensive and very uniform transparent glass.
- Eliminating smallpox.
- All the theatrically released Mister Magoo cartoons.
- Establishment of the Ottoman Empire.
- Disestablishment of the Ottoman Empire.
- Domestication of guinea pigs.
- The Third Punic War.
- Composing the epic poem The Song Of Roland.
- Laying at least six trans-Atlantic telephone cables.
- Development of Metropolis-Hastings Monte Carlo algorithms.
- Inventing hotels, California.
- Landing people on the Moon and returning them to the Earth.
- The invention of photocopiers.
- Final adjudication of the “wedge” of territory west of Delaware’s Twelve-Mile Circle and claimed by Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
- 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.
We haven’t heard from Robert Benchley in a while, have we? Here’s a piece from Love Conquers All, from the section that consists of book reviews. Benchley found in books of facts almost exactly the same thrill that I find in them. The reference to the Treaty of Breda makes it possible to say confidently that this essay was first printed in 1920. The student of post-Great-War America might have figured that out from the gently pointed social commentary near the essay’s end. A fascinating thing about the Treaty of Breda which Benchley doesn’t mention is that since it was to end the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which included fighting all over the world in a time when communications were slow and clumsy, it specified different dates on which the hostilities would officially end for different parts of the world.
MR PHILIP R DILLON has compiled and published in his American Anniversaries a book for men who do things. For every day in the year there is a record of something which has been accomplished in American history. For instance, under January 1 we find that the parcel-post system was inaugurated in the United States in 1913, while January 2 is given as the anniversary of the battle of Murfreesboro (or Stone’s River, as you prefer). The whole book is like that; just one surprise after another.
What, for instance, do you suppose that Saturday marked the completion of? . . . Presuming that no one has answered correctly, I will disclose (after consulting Mr Dillon’s book) that July 31 marked the completion of the 253d year since the signing of the Treaty of Breda. But what, you may say — and doubtless are saying at this very minute — what has the Treaty of Breda (which everyone knows was signed in Holland by representatives of England, France, Holland and Denmark) got to do with American history? And right there is where Mr Dillon and I would have you. In the Treaty of Breda, Acadia (or Nova Scotia) was given to France and New York and New Jersey were confirmed to England. So, you see, inhabitants of New York and New Jersey (and, after all, who isn’t?) should have especial cause for celebrating July 31 as Breda Day, for if it hadn’t been for that treaty we might have belonged to Poland and been mixed up in all the mess that is now going on over there.
I must confess that I turned to the date of the anniversary of my own birth with no little expectation. Of course I am not so very well known except among the tradespeople in my town, but I should be willing to enter myself in a popularity contest with the Treaty of Breda. But evidently there is a conspiracy of silence directed against me on the part of the makers of anniversary books and calendars. While no mention was made of my having been born on September 15, considerable space was given to recording the fact that on that date in 1840 a patent for a knitting machine was issued to the inventor, who was none other than Isaac Wixan Lamb of Salem, Massachusetts.
Now I would be the last one to belittle the importance of knitting or the invention of a knitting machine. I know some very nice people who knit a great deal. But really, when it comes to anniversaries I don’t see where Isaac Wixon Lamb gets off to crash in ahead of me or a great many other people that I could name. And it doesn’t help any, either, to find that James Fenimore Cooper and William Howard Taft are both mentioned as having been born on that day or that the chief basic patent for gasoline automobiles in America was issued in 1895 to George B Selden. It certainly was a big day for patents. But one realizes more than ever after reading this section that you have to have a big name to get into an anniversary book. The average citizen has no show at all.
In spite of these rather obvious omissions, Mr Dillon’s book is both valuable and readable. Especially in those events which occurred early in the country’s history is there material for comparison with the happenings of the present day, events which will some day be incorporated in a similar book compiled by some energetic successor of Mr Dillon.
For instance, under October 27, 1659, we find that William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were banished from New Hampshire on the charge of being Quakers and were later executed for returning to the colony. Imagine!
And on December 8, 1837, Wendell Phillips delivered his first abolition speech at Boston in Faneuil Hall, as a result of which he got himself known around Boston as an undesirable citizen, a dangerous radical and a revolutionary trouble-maker. It hardly seems possible now, does it?
And on July 4, 1776 — but there, why rub it in?
Let me address the first question about my checking out Christopher Moore’s Three Weeks In Quebec City: The Meeting That Made Canada from the library. No, every other book was not checked out. However, it’s true the book I really wanted, a 288-page book about rust, isn’t due back until mid-October. I concede people might think 262 pages about the 1864 conference which laid down the principles for the British North America Act of 1867 would be a little dry. They’re mistaken. It was very rainy the whole first week. (I haven’t gotten to the second week yet.) And, hey, the meeting had not one but two people named John Hamilton Gray attending. They won’t be confused because John Hamilton Gray was from a completely different part of Maritime Canada than was John Hamilton Gray.
But it’s got me thinking about my reading. The kind way to look at it is I’m broad-minded. If someone’s gone to the trouble of writing a book about the modern pasta technology it’s only decent I read it, right? But I know deep down I go in skeptically, figuring, how could there be a book’s worth of material about this? It turned out well. I got to see baffling pictures of extruded pasta under a microscope, and got to see hundreds of uses of the word “extrude”. Is it a boring topic? Maybe, but at least I only borrowed the book from the university library. I own two books about the history of containerized cargo and have a distinct preference for one of them. And I’m a little sad that neither the city nor the university library have enough books about the sociology of bureaucracy for my tastes.
Am I a boring person? I don’t think so. Of course I have an interest in not thinking so. If I didn’t think I was interesting how could I bear to be with someone who’s sure there’s a snappy 4X video game to be made out of time zones? My love does it, so it can’t be just me. Well, 3X anyway. The best X’s.
But then is anything actually boring? Stare directly at the boring and you’ll find fascination staring back at you. You ever notice those big plastic signs stuck in the ground outside decaying strip malls, that tell you where to find prepaid cell phones? Those were manufactured. Someone made them. So someone either grew up wanting to make those, or else the twists and turns of that person’s life turned “making those things” into the sensible thing to do. Either way that’s a story.
More, someone invented that. Humanity was fine without those things for tens of thousands of years, then suddenly we weren’t. It’s easy to imagine making the first; someone had an odd impulse to make a nylon-or-something sign that would plunge easily into the ground. It needs no explanation to say why someone did that once. People will try all kinds of odd things and most of them don’t amount to worse than an explanation to the clerk at the emergency room admissions. But society was ready to pick up this idea and run with it. How did we get to that point? Again, this boring thing is fascinating.
But we shouldn’t mistake being bored with not finding stuff interesting. Boredom is the state where anything, anything at all, is interesting enough to pay attention to. A clock trudging clockwise? A squirrel berating a flower pot? A TV show about the making of how-to-make-stuff TV shows? That tuft of fur the pet rabbit can’t quite blow off his nose? That’s all it takes to hold your interest when you’re bored.
And bored is the natural state anymore. We aren’t busy on cell phones all day long because it’s all that interesting. We’re there because we’re in a boring room anyway, or bored waiting for the interesting thing to get started. Someone you kind of know who’s a friend of someone you kind of used to know sends around a page of philosophy quotes married to pictures of otters? A list of human tragedies immortalized as restaurant offerings? The surprisingly late date when car license plate sizes were standardized? Movies watched by Jimmy Carter while he was president? That’s as good as organizing the federal government of Canada.
Doubt me? Here’s a 6500-word essay about the history of disposable coffee cup lids. You can insist you’re ignoring it. (It’s got some jumbled text that looks like sidebars were poorly merged into the main.) But if you do, you’ll know there’s stuff someone wrote about the different eras in disposable lid design that you haven’t seen yet. The world may be boring us, but that doesn’t mean we can ever really look away.
Up to about a century ago nobody had ever heard a beep. That’s not a staggering thought. It’s more the sort of thing that catches you while you’re getting to bed and keeps you from avoiding the wall. But it’s the kind of sound the universe got along fine without for billions of years, and then suddenly it didn’t anymore.
Consider a great historical figure, like Queen Elizabeth I. She went her entire life, prison and everything, without hearing a beep. What sound did anyone make when they touched her nose? A perfect silence would be terrible. She’d certainly make a noise, probably something like “quit that”. But there’d be no beep. The whole act of nose-beeping was wasted for all of human history. Did they realize something was missing?
People dreamed of having flying machines before they existed, so they understood there was something that could exist but didn’t. But who thought of “beep” as a sound we could have but didn’t have as late as, oh, 1900? Royal nose-beeping would seem to encourage people to notice the awkwardness of not having a sound. But what sort of genius would work out it was a “beep” they needed?
Could there have been some early genius who realized that even though the technology to make a “beep” didn’t yet exist, it someday would? Google’s Ngram Viewer seems to tease the idea it might, by showing off books from before 1900 that have “beep” or “beeping” in them. But those could be mistakes. Take for example Volume 26 of the Proceedings of the Iowa State Horticultural Society. It looks momentarily like they’re talking about beeping, with text like this:
In the South District the Duchess shall be the standard as to hardiness and productiveness of tree, and size of fruit, while the quality must equal Grimes’s Golden and its beeping capacity the Willow.
You could argue that the Willow has no beeping capacity. This would imply the Iowa State Horticultural Society worried about trees that have beeping capacity of less than zero. But if anyone would know about the beeping capacity of the Willow or other trees it’s them. I don’t know what a negative beeping capacity would be; maybe it would quiet authorized beeps in the area? Certainly the Iowa State Horticultural Society would seem to know what it’s talking about. Look at how neatly on that very same page they divide Iowa into two districts:
1. The North District shall include the counties north of the north line of Linn county, or the county lines nearest thereto across the state.
2. The South District shall include the counties south of the above line.
That’s top-notch organization. These are clearly horticulturists with a strong understanding of north and south. But looking carefully at the page I feel pretty sure it says “its keeping capacity the Willow”. The character recognition software at Google just got mixed up. That’s at least as possible, but it leaves unanswered the question: capacity at keeping what? If Willows have a lot of keeping capacity then this could revolutionize the self-storage industry. At the least it’ll make them look prettier.
A lot of the Google Books results for “beeping” in early 19th century texts are that sort of character error. This can be fun, like the bit in the 1866 Bradshaw’s Handbook For Tourists In Great Britain and Ireland where it looks like it says “Market Beeping (the church is ancient)”. I’m tempted to make up fake subway signs that point the way to Market Beeping. There are also a lot of old medical gazettes that Google Books summarizes as making references to “beeping cough”. That’s a jolly amusing one until you smack into the wall feeling guilty over that. Then you write it down as an ailment robots get in a cloyingly comic science fiction adventure.
So we have to conclude that “beep” caught everyone by surprise. This implies there are other sounds that nobody’s ever thought of that the universe is about to find, after fourteen billion years doing without, that it needs. What are they? No one can say, because logic works that way. If you don’t get why that is, don’t worry, it’ll catch you while you’re going to bed sometime.
(Oh, yes, I forget to invite people to follow my page here. In the current theme it’s a green box on the left side of the panel. Or you can watch what I write on Twitter, which is mostly shorter than this and is sometimes just outrage at the movie that’s on. Thanks for the attention.)
Betty Boop’s Grampy — I’m not committed to the idea he must be her grandfather, nor that he isn’t — appeared in ten cartoons from 1935 to 1937. They follow a clear template. Grampy gets put into a position with some problem, even if it’s just boredom. He puts on his thinking cap and, after some false starts has a flashing light and declares “I’ve got it!” and does a silly dance. Then the rest of the cartoon is spot gags of his innovations.
How interesting you find the cartoons — well, how interesting you find the second or third cartoon you watch — depends on how interesting you find the settings. The template can be quite flexible. I’m a bit sad they never thought to put Grampy in a really weird setting, like underwater or in outer space or the like, because I can imagine the kinds of exotic jokes he could have produced.
The Candid Candidate, originally release the 27th of August, 1937, is a fair example of putting Grampy in a setting that gives more room to play. After Betty Boop’s short rally he’s elected mayor, and then has to go about fixing the city’s problems. I admit it takes time to get going. Citizens complaining in rhyme is amusing enough, but it isn’t what Grampy does best. I think the cartoon also shows what makes a Fleischer cartoon just that extra dose weirder. Anyone could imagine protecting a city from the rain by using a giant enough umbrella. Who would have thought of Grampy’s solution instead?
Also the cartoon amuses me because its Wikipedia article, as of this moment, describes the start in this way:
Betty Boop campaigns for Grampy for Mayor, and wins by one vote (despite the fact the town’s paper says it’s a landslide).
The sentence has everything wonderful about Wikipedia. The dry facts are basically correct, but the sentence has been edited to something grammatically dubious, and one of the jokes got earnestly explained. All it needs is a dubious citation and it’d be perfect.
Popular cartoon characters attract relatives. It’s mandatory. Donald Duck has his nephews, Mickey Mouse a gaggle of orphans that cling to him. Popeye got nephews and a father, and in the comic strips even his grandmother. Betty Boop also picked up some relatives. The best-known of them is Grampy.
At least, I assume Grampy is Betty Boop’s grandfather. It’s not actually said. While she calls him Grampy, so does everybody else. On the other hand, there’s only one cartoon in which he appears without Betty Boop, and he’s typically present to solve Betty’s problems or to entertain her. Apparently Betty Boop’s official license-minders consider him her grandfather, so I guess that’s as definitive a word as we can expect. This isn’t the only mystery of Grampy’s nature. It’s not known who is voice actor was. Jack Mercer — the voice of Popeye and many other characters from the studio — is most often listed as Grampy’s actor, but I’m not sure that sounds right to my ear. But there’s no known contemporary documentation of who it was, just post facto attempts to place the voice.
Betty Boop And Grampy, released the 16th of August, 1935, sets the pattern for Grampy cartoons. We see Grampy, and he sets up an array of Rube Goldberg contraptions, that we get to see come to life. It’s a simple form, and it’s charming. Grampy cartoons tend to be a string of spot gags, free of tension or drama, just a steady sequence of amusements until some big contraption gets shown off. His is a world of fake-outs and sight gags, and if you find using an umbrella skeleton to slice a cake amusing you’re in good stead.
The cartoon is from 1935, and the artwork is continuing to improve amazingly. Most of the backgrounds are wonderfully precise but fluid drawings with watercolor washes, just beautiful to look at. And the Fleischers show off one of their tricks as Betty walks down the street. They had worked out a camera rigging to place animation cels in front of real, model backgrounds that could move with the camera, for uncanny realism. The sets are made to look cartoony, so that the whole project has an animated-universe existence unlike anything before the era of computer-animated cartoons.
Back in the days before the Earth’s crust had solidified, when Usenet was a thing, grew an art form called the MiSTing. The practice developed in the news groups dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was our modest imitation of the show: take some original posting and intersperse it with comments, along the line of the of the riffs that Joel or Mike and the robots (collectively, The Brains) would. The first MiSTing I’m aware of was called “Hopping Mad At MST3K”, a person’s rant about how those rotten kids these days won’t even watch an old movie without talking through it and this was obviously MST3K’s fault.
Rants would be one of the mainstays of MiSTings, back when the newsgroups were active and I was in touch with the MiSTing culture. Fan fictions were another mainstay; I firmly believe that MiSTing would not have had a culture if not for Stephen Ratliff’s notorious “Marissa Picard” Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. Surprisingly uncommon back in the glory days of Usenet MiSTings were examples of this group: the slightly pompous expository lump. This one is from the magazine Modern Mechanix, originally printed in 1937, and I only know of it because the Modern Mechanix blog summons old articles, some interesting, some funny, some both, to its pages.
The Thanksgiving season has always been a kind of unofficial Mystery Science Theater 3000 holiday: it’s the anniversary of when the show first debuted, and many of their movies were dubbed turkeys, and Turkey Day MST3K marathons were shown first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel, and today get done in organized online gatherings that I won’t participate in because our ISP doesn’t offer enough bandwidth to watch videos online. But the text form is pretty easy to enjoy at your leisure and I hope you do.
(This one is a slightly unusual form of the classic MiSTing; there’s no host sketches involved. The original material was too short to justify sketches. But a full-length MiSTing might be unreadable in WordPress form. We’ll see. Consider this an experiment.
What do you suppose the hamster community thinks of the person who invented the hamster wheel? It’s not an obvious invention, the way the cat motorcycle, the gerbil paddle steamer, or the wallaroo Quadricycle are. You need to have a vision of wheels alongside rodents, if hamsters are still rodents. They keep finding out different animals aren’t actually rodents. Just last month a report in Nature showed that the horse was definitely not a rodent, following an investigation by biologists who didn’t want to work too hard that day.
The first hamster to make the wheel work was some kind of genius among hamsters, too, though. I imagine hamsters to this day squeak her name when they want to talk sarcastically about the smart one in their group.