I mentioned last week how if you want to buy me something, any nonfiction book will be quite nice, thank you. I want you to understand this is not exaggeration. Before the pandemic shut down the libraries I sought out a book about the building of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Why? Because I felt I didn’t know enough about it. I knew only what anyone growing up in a Mid-Atlantic state might know about postwar bilateral water route management. Surely I should know more.
Gary Croot, whom I hardly need explain is the Associate Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation’s Operational Headquarters in Massena, New York, called to reassure that no, I already did, but he thanked me for my interest. Still, I went on to read the book and learned that, in fact, building the Saint Lawrence Seaway went about like you’d imagine. A whole lot of digging and a lot of people agreeing this would have been swell if they’d done it like eighty years earlier. Well, they can’t all have the drama of the Mars candy company. I still say it was a good choice.
So here’s some books you might pick up for me, if the bookstore employees don’t believe your “find me something more dull than that” request:
J: The Letter That Shifted Pronunciation, Altered Etymologies, Made Electrical Engineers Cringe, and Changed The World. Of course, I have a partisan interest in the letter ‘J’. But who isn’t fascinated by the way a letter can take on vowel and consonant duties and then gradually split between them? Or how it is we get to pick letters? And whether we are going to finally see the alphabet accept double-i and double-j as letters too? Why should u get to be the mother of letters? Perfect for people who want to be angry about things that not in fact unjust. 296 pages.
Hey-Dey: the Forgotten Amusement Park Ride that Saved Amusement Parks, Earned Fortunes, and Changed The World. Who doesn’t love the Hey-Dey? Everybody because who’s heard of the thing? But there we are, some old pictures of what sure looks like a ride what with how it has a platform and advertisements and stuff. How popular was it? What did you actually do on the ride? It seems like spinning was involved. Maybe a lot of spinning. Why doesn’t anybody know about it anymore? And does it have anything to do with the Lindy Loop? Includes a sweeping view of history including the discovery, in 1896, that people would pay reasonable sums of money to do things that are fun. 384 pages including 20 glossy pages reprinting black-and-white pictures of things we can’t make out anymore. Also 40 pages of the author cursing out Google for assuming that they wanted every possible six-letter, two-syllable string other than “Hey-Dey”.
Humpty Dumpty: the Nonsense Rhyme that Delighted Children, Befuddled Scholars, Made Us All Wonder Why We Think He’s An Egg, and Changed The World. There’s a kind of person who really, really wants Humpty Dumpty to have some deep meaning. Like, saying it’s some deep political satire or is some moral fable about buying on credit or maybe it’s just making fun of the Dutch? No idea, but that’s no reason to stop trying. 612 pages. Spoiler: we think Humpty Dumpy is an egg because both his parents were eggs, and they say their only adoption was his littlest brother, Rumpty Dumpty. Rumpty Dumpty is, as anyone can see, a shoe.
Busy Signal: the Story Behind the Tones, Chimes, Rings, Buzzes, and Beeps that Tell us the State of Things — and Changed The World. An examination of how humans use language and turn a complicated message like “that phone number is busy” into a simple buzz instead. That seems a bit thin to the author too. So then we get into other audio cues like how sometimes construction equipment makes that backing-up beeping noise even when it’s not moving. 192 pages.
So, I mean it. If you want to buy me something, look for any nonfiction book explaining a thing. If it seems like a boring thing, great! 568 pages about the evolution of the NTSC television-broadcast standard? Gold! You are not going to out-bore me in a book contest like that. Look, I know things about the Vertical Blanking Interval that I have no business knowing. And that is everything I know about the Vertical Blanking Interval. And yet I want to know more. Find a topic dull enough that it’s putting neighboring books to sleep, and you’ve got me set. Thank you.
Jiminiy [ as in Jumpin’, and pronounced with the Scandinavian accent of a minor Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation character; following it with “by gum” or “golly gee” is allowed but deprecated since 2006 ]
Lawn India Golf
Reference: The Unknown Dominion: Canada and her People, Bruce Hutchison.
1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.
1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.
1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.
1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.
1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.
1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.
1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.
1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.
2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.
2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.
So years and years ago two then-friends played a little prank on me. One said hello to me, and we chatted a bit about the day and how it was going. Twenty minutes later the other said hello to me, and used the same prompts, and got the same conversation out of me without my noticing.
It’s the Vic and Sade episode of the 26th of September, 1944. And it’s got a classically simple premise. Uncle Fletcher has made Russell the present of a box of old letters. They start off magnificently mundane and petty. And then writer Paul Rhymer brought his absolute freaking genius to something that makes my anecdote something on point. I know that Vic and Sade isn’t to everyone’s taste — it’s not a program to listen to casually, and the comic style defies the picking-out of specific punch lines — but this one just sang.
(In other Vic and Sade podcast news, Jimbo over at The Overnightscape Underground has had a bunch of small episodes of the Vic and Sadecast the past couple weeks. I would like to share the URL for that, but iTunes isn’t letting me, because iTunes.)
After a holdout of just over four thousand and thirteen years, the Phoenician letter Sade has announced its return to the alphabet. The late-Thursday announcement took by surprise thousands of dictionary writers, spelling bee contestants, Linotype keyboardists, and font designers still recovering from sprained ligatures. It set off an hour of panicked spelling on the Amsterdam Diphthong and Fricatives Exchange. The markets are expected to return to normal if anyone remembers what normal even is anymore.
Speaking before the press Sade shook off questions about the start of its holdout. It said the source was “obscure and, now that I’m a wiser, silly arguments. In hindsight I should not have been so stubborn”. (The Palmyrene letter Samek insisted the problem was about Sade not paying back a loan of about 25 obolus cash.) Sade denied allegations its long absence had left it an irrelevancy. Sade went on to explain that “you’ve all carried on as best you could, and for some of you that’s been very good”. This was taken to be a reference to power-letter superstar E.
“But you have been overlooking the wealth of words that rely on me, or that could.” To support this claim Sade suggested a word starting with it, and appearing in all three syllables. It would express a mild worry that you’ve left the coffee maker to burn an empty pot even though the light is off, just because you can’t be completely sure you’ve ever noticed that particular smell from the kitchen before. “And you didn’t even know you needed to express that,” Sade added, as three reporters stared at the break room.
“And it’s not as if I’ve been completely unknown,” it said to multiple polite coughs. “I’ve kept enrolled in the official newsletter. And I do play at least two games each year in Worcester [Massachusetts], per the custom.” Residents of Worcester confirmed that it had been doing that. One expressed relief to find out what the games with the strange symbol were all about. Nobody had ever had an explanation that quite satisfied. It had been supposed to just be a quirky habit of a long-time New England resident. The way some will compose witty epitaphs on gravestones and others will make johnnycakes on purpose.
The head of Rhode Island’s Department of Motor Vehicles, assuming there is one, announced the state would recognize Sade as part of the alphabet. “With luck,” she or maybe he said, “we’ll get to reduce license plate length one or two characters.” The savings would be returned to car owners, assuming they can be found.
If the letter is to be generally accepted back in there will have to be adjustments. Asked where it might fit in the alphabet — records of its old position are ambiguous or available only on web sites you have to sign up way too much for — Sade said it would be happy anywhere. “But I think I’m at my best fitting between the Z and the Upsilon.” To the silent press room it said, “There’s a few linguistics majors out there chuckling, anyway.” They are. “Seriously, I think I’d fit in best near the D. But the important thing is putting in my part for the team. Remember,” and here it smiled as if it just thought of this, “you can’t spell team with ‘Sade’, if all goes well.”
The team seems to have mixed feelings. Rookie letters J and W were quoted as saying they “knew of” Sade but “never expected to be in the same word”. J, interviewed before quite waking up, admitted “I didn’t know Sade was even still alive”. There has been no comment yet from E, whose rise to dominance began with Sade’s holdout. E seems to have stayed in its house since the announcement, doors locked and curtains drawn. Its only tweets have been some apparently pre-scheduled photos of tripping squirrels, a regular feature of its feed.
All these plans may be for nothing if spring training turns out to be too much for the long-inactive letter. Few forget how Qoppa had to retire 2,477 years ago after a wrenched serif. Sade is not worried. It noted such an accident could not happen now thanks to modern printing technology.
Sade noted how it was already available in Unicode, but what isn’t?
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
This time the alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index fell three points. At the end of the day they looked up and saw the main index had also dropped to 103. So now the rival traders are accusing the mainstream ones of just copying them. The quarrel is getting pretty nasty, although it’s all in the polite and snarky quasi-academic tone the analysts like to use. It’d be funny if not for whatever it was that’s presumably on the line being on the line.
I apologize for not addressing you by name, but we have yet to be properly introduced. I confess that after all this time passing through your ever-rebuilt web I don’t know how to get a proper introduction. We seem to move in different social circles. Perhaps some of the squirrels should know, but I admit I don’t know most of their real names either. We’ve just assigned them names for our convenience, based on their personalities or the ways they physically resemble Sir Patrick Stewart. In any case I trust that you are a spider and that you will understand my not knowing your name reflects only that I am ignorant, and ignorant of how to correct my ignorance.
I applaud your ambition in building this web across the side door. To snag either me or my love would be a tremendous accomplishment for you, and I understand the reasoning. With either — oh, let’s dream big, and say both — of us, it’s easy to suppose, your food needs would be met for ages. (I wrote “meat” there first, but erased it, because the pun is beneath me. You’ll notice I’m telling you about it, though. What must this say of me?)
This sort of great ambition is behind many of the world’s spider’s greatest accomplishments. It’s the sort of drive that led spiders to launch their first expeditions to the Moon. So it hurts that while I credit you for the bigness of your dream I feel I have to bring up the flaws. Well, remember what happened after the first spiders did land on the Moon. There was that horrified “yeep” and frantic hand-waving, and twitching about by the Moon. This did the spider no good, and it’s part of why the Ranger 3 space probe missed the Moon entirely and crashed into a Wawa co-op parking lot in Millville, New Jersey. There it was taken to be a piece of “Googie” architecture and put on trial for heresy. While it was eventually cleared of monophysitism we can’t say the same about the spider. We have no idea what became of the spider and that’s got to be a warning sign.
I say this without meaning to be cruel, but, your web really is not going to catch either of us. I know you’ve been fed a lot of stories about how spider silk is incredibly strong stuff and they might make space elevators out of it. That’s an incomplete story; it’s strong under tension and as we walk in and out of the house we’re not putting your silk under tension. We’re putting it under … some … other kind of … look, the thing is they can’t make space elevators either, so trying to catch us in the doorway isn’t going to happen. We use the door too much and you can’t put up enough web to catch us in-between uses. All you can do is get web into our mouths and while that’s not stuff we want to be licking — again, no offense, it’s just not our thing — that only slows us down a little bit. It’s not getting us even a tiny bit captured.
I want you to know I’m supporting you in your spider-ness. So here’s something you could easily catch and eat. We’ve been having a problem with bugs getting into our bedroom. We think they’re called shield bugs. They’re big, about the size of a volleyball, slow-moving and pretty stupid by all evidence. They keep bonking into solid objects and operating local governments in Texas. They don’t seem interested enough in people, but we’re getting tired of catching and taking upward of forty of them out of the bedroom every night. Apparently nothing much eats them; why don’t you come upstairs and be the first in the neighborhood? They’re both big and very stupid; you could probably catch some just by announcing loudly that they were caught, and you’d have all the meals you wanted easily. I don’t mean to insult you by suggesting you should eat very stupid things. But I do think a full belly makes it easy to forgive slights. If you did something about the shield bugs you’d be better off, we’d be better off, and we’ll not say anything about the shield bugs.
I would have sent a closed letter but I don’t think this can wait until you’ve sealed the door all the way up. Trusting you will take all this advice in the helpful spirit it is intended, I remain,
That guy who keeps walking through your web like four times a day,
The offering comes in the mail from a corporation, one of those big ones that I suspect is a multinational although I can’t work up quite enough interest to look it up. It had the odd size of the smaller greeting cards, and a brown envelope, and that lettering that looks like handwriting if you haven’t looked a lot at handwriting. Clearly, the company, which my Love has been a customer for for years, possibly a decade now, wanted to make sure we had the experience of something with the flavor of a personal connection, so as to convince us to buy something we didn’t want.
The letter got our name wrong in no less than two prominent ways.
Mind you, that’s partly our fault, since the name used to be wrong in only the one way, and getting it fixed resulted in introducing the second glitch. Extremely boring conversations about this have allowed us to determine that the easiest way to get the glitches fixed is to wait for the company to go bankrupt and be liquidated, to be replaced with another company providing similar services which aren’t quite as good but which cost more, at which point we’ll get a chance to have fake handwritten greeting-card type advertisements with even more parts of our names wrong.
I’m just not completely sure that we’re any good at things anymore.
Basic Computer Familiarity. The next installment of the Lesser Pompous Lakes Community Library and Media District’s course on Basic Computer Familiarity introduces timid students to the “Q” key as well as the one for increasing the volume, with explanations of how some keyboards don’t have the increase-volume key. Students comfortable with this will be then introduced to “mute”, as a concept, with the key to be introduced two weeks from now. Please alert the instructors beforehand if you are dropping into the course for the first time so they may make arrangements to bring you up to speed, by phone (preferred) or e-mail (snarky of you). Fledged Squirrel Room, 4th Fourth Street Library, Tuesday, 12:30 – 1:30, am or pm TBD.
It’s been a while since I went through all my mail. I have this tendency to let the mail pile up, I think out of a primordial urge to see a stack of letters reaching from floor to ceiling, able to intimidate even the crazed amaryllis. In less primordial urges I wonder whether, if I gather enough information as presumably contained in the letters it’ll achieve self-awareness and I’ll have a tame if pretty slow-moving artificial intelligence. If I do, it’s going to be one that thinks I’m the Current Resident or, worse, Currant Resident. They shouldn’t be firing their copy editors. Let’s see what’s on the pile.
Ah, I’ve gotten pre-approved by the Eastside Community Self-Esteem Development Center, and don’t think I don’t see right through them. Oh, the pre-approval sounds like a good thing what with indicating that they figure I can build my self-esteem up just a wee bit more. Goodness knows if I’m to blog regularly I have to get my self-esteem up to the point where I believe tens of thousands of people are waiting for every fresh post and working up the courage to ask me where they can send me money since I don’t have a donation box on the web site. Ha. I see the trap: I’m being invited to apply for more self-esteem, which means, if they simply turn me down then I’ll be in such desperate need of their services that I won’t be able to resist going to their front door and begging for admission.
So explanatory has the method of letter writing become that it is probable that if Odysseus were a modern traveler his letters home to Penelope would average something like this:
DEAR PEN: — I have been so tied up with work during the last week that I haven’t had a chance to get near a desk to write to you. I have been trying to every day, but something would come up just at the last minute that would prevent me. Last Monday I got the papyrus all unrolled, and then I had to tend to Scylla and Charybdis (I may have written you about them before), and by the time I got through with them it was bedtime, and, believe me, I am snatching every bit of sleep I can get these days. And so it went, first the Læstrygones, and then something else, and here it is Friday. Well, there isn’t much news to write about. Things are going along here about as usual. There is a young nymph here who seems to own the place, but I haven’t had any chance to meet her socially. Well, there goes the ship’s bell. I guess I had better be bringing this to a close. I have got a lot of work to do before I get dressed to go to a dinner of that nymph I was telling you about. I have met her brother, and he and I are interested in the same line of goods. He was at Troy with me. Well, I guess I must be closing. Will try to get off a longer letter in a day or two.
Your loving husband,
P.S. You haven’t got that bunch of sports hanging round the palace still, have you? Tell Telemachus I’ll take him out of school if I hear of his playing around with any of them.