Me Week: How To Write Out Numbers

When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.

How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.

Some Giant Kids Tromping Around, Plus Mathematics Comics

I don’t mean to brag but over on my mathematics blog I’ve recently had two roundups of mathematically themed comic strips. The “Hatless Aliens” Edition let me reveal that Einstein’s paper introducing “E = mc2 doesn’t actually contain the equation “E = mc2”, so please go over there to read about that. The “Trapezoid” Edition let me introduce someone to Percy Crosby’s classic comic strip Skippy, which I also count as a public service.

To give folks who stick around here something to read, though, might I offer a pair of installments from Winsor McCay’s classic comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland? The backstory is a little involved and hard to summarize since, well, it’s dreamland, but in the installment from September 29, 1907, Nemo and company are sneaking around, best as giants can, Manhattan. In the installment from October 6, well, the sneaking has really advanced to knocking the city over. These things happen.

Nemo and Impie watch as Flip rampages accidentally through the city.
Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland for the 29th of September, 1907; reprinted on Gocomics.Com on the 28th of April, 2015.

But it all shows off McCay’s style: incredibly gorgeous artwork drawn with stunning precision — in the second strip look at how consistent the city buildings are between panels 1, 2, and 5, even though it wouldn’t make any difference if they were to vary — and with the loose dreamy narrative that the title of the strip implies. It’s not the kind of comic strip that I could imagine running in the newspapers today. Partly that’s because weekly narrative strips are, except for Prince Valiant, dead; partly that’s because this sort of whimsy is a very hard thing to create or to sustain.

Nemo, Impie, and Flip try to douse the burning city, and are shot by the Navy.
Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland for the 6th of October, 1907; reprinted on Gocomics.Com on the 30th of April, 2015.

I feel I should say something about Impie, but I don’t know what. The character was picked up earlier along Nemo and Flip’s adventures and I don’t know what I can say.

Statistics Saturday: The Whole Numbers Zero Through Twenty, By Length

  • 1. 1
  • 1. (tie) 6
  • 1. (tie) 10
  • 1. (tie) 2
  • 5. 5
  • 5. (tie) 4
  • 5. (tie) 9
  • 5. (tie) 0
  • 9. 8
  • 9. (tie) 7
  • 9. (tie) 3
  • 12. 11
  • 12. (tie) 30
  • 12. (tie) 12
  • 12. (tie) 20
  • 16. 15
  • 16. (tie) 16
  • 18. 18
  • 18. (tie) 14
  • 18. (tie) 19
  • 18. (tie) 13
  • 22. 17
  • 23. 21
  • 23. (tie) 26
  • 23. (tie) 22
  • 26. 25
  • 26. (tie) 24
  • 26. (tie) 29
  • 29. 28
  • 29. (tie) 27
  • 29. (tie) 23

Love Was … (Also: Math Comics, Sadness)

So in all the anticipatory fuss about the comic strip The Better Half coming to its kind of noticed end after 58 years, which is nine years longer than Peanuts, is that another longrunning comic strip you kind of remember seems to be vanishing.

The past week, Bill Asprey’s Love Is…, which is not just a Simpsons joke about two naked eight-year-olds who are married but is actually a thing that exists in the real world, has been rather less obviously existing. It used to appear on, and stopped about a year or so ago; it’d since been appearing on comic sites for newspapers with the right Comics Kingdom subscription, but now that’s gone too. Their official web site still exists, but it’s useless, and if it contains any daily comics I can’t find them.

The comic strip began as a set of love notes that Kim Casali wrote her future husband, Roberto, and it emerged into the newspapers in early 1970. When Roberto was diagnosed with cancer Casali brought in Bill Asprey to work on the strip, and he’s been producing it since 1975, facts which I think add a useful bittersweet touch to a comic strip that’s otherwise very lightweight. Of course, the strip has been running for 44 years now, 17 years longer than Walt Kelly’s Pogo originally ran, and trying to think of something like 13,700 illustratable one-panel expressions of love (the strip doesn’t run Sundays) is a pretty difficult task.

I have no idea what’s happening with it: whether the strip is going out of production, whether its Tribune Media Services syndicate is repositioning it, whether it’s changing syndicates, whether it’s becoming self-syndicated, whether something else is happening.

Crazy Harry reminds the characters: they've barely moved out of high school, just like they dreamed.
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 30th of November, 2014, keeps your depression fully stocked with this reminder: every one of his characters had the happiest days of his life in high school.

Since I don’t want to just point you to the lastest roundup of mathematics comics over in my other blog without something that’s also entertaining, let me give you this Sunday’s Funky Winkerbean. Every time you think Tom Batiuk’s produced the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever, along he comes with the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever.

The Last Half, Plus Math Comics

There’s a rumor going around that at the end of the month Randy Glasbergen’s comic The Better Half will end; at least one newspaper’s already asked readers to tell them what to replace it with because they don’t want to have to make this difficult editorial decision. (Spoiler: they’re going to replace it with a box ad saying people should advertise in the newspaper because newspaper ads are effective, like the one the Trenton Times’s been running as a full-page ad on the back of section one every day for the past six years.)

Five panel jokes that are pretty much what The Better Half is all about.
Randy Glasbergen’s The Better Half for the 16th of November, 2014. The rumor is the strip’s ending with November, so, enjoy while it lasts.

I imagine the strip ending, if it’s true it is, won’t wreck many people’s lives; to the extent they think of the strip at all it’s probably as “that weak-tea imitator of The Lockhorns,” although actually The Better Half came out first; it debuted in 1956, a dozen years before The Lockhorns got going. But it’s always a bit of a loss to see a comic strip ending, especially one that’s been going since Eisenhower’s first term. I have to admit what I always thought about it, growing up, was that it had that certain indefatigable nature that got it doing five panel jokes on Sundays in addition to the strip-a-day load, although since The Lockhorns did that too it doesn’t even make this strip stand out.

Wikipedia says that a pilot for a sitcom based on it, starring Lily Tomlin and James Coco, was made in the early 70s. I actually would kind of like to know how that turend out; comic-strip-to-live-action adaptations are pretty rare. I know there was a Skippy movie in the 1930s, and a couple Li’l Abner and Barney Google movies, and a string of Blondie films. Dennis the Menace made a successful TV series. I can’t think of successful live-action adaptations since then, though, except for the one you’re right about to name and which I’m going to feel stupid not saying first.

In the meanwhile, my mathematics blog has a bunch of comics to discuss, because comic strips decided Friday the most important thing they could possibly do is say something that inspired me to talk mathematics. I don’t know either.

Math Comics Plus a Compu-Toon I Found Funny

It’s only fair to say when Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon is not a strange and baffling comic strip with humor only vaguely discernable, so, here it is: the strip from the 6th of November, a panel I understand and find funny. There’s still nothing happening in Apartment 3-G, but it’s a different kind of nothing from what wasn’t happening before, focusing on different characters who aren’t doing anything.

'In order for Irving to defeat a slimy non-vertebrate monstrous beast, he had to become one,' which is unmistakably a joke.
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 6th of November, 2014.

Meanwhile, over in my mathematics blog, there’s a bunch of comics reviewed, and two of them even include pictures.

Compu-Toon Is Compu-Toon Today. Also: Math Comics

Really, all that the Compu-Toon of November 5th needs to be perfect is for Charles Boyce to have spelled it with an “h”.

Oscar was having trouble writing his blog page that was neighboring a blog site about marijuana. No, honest, that's what the caption says.
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 5th of November, 2014.

Since there is so much nothing that can possibly be said about that let me point readers over to my mathematics blog, where I talk about some mathematics comics that let me get out of the usual rut and into things like infinity, the continuum, cross products, and animal legs. Enjoy, please.

Comic Strips I Don’t, Do Understand

I haven’t mentioned Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon, the technology comic strip for that aunt you love but who wants you to stop making Google’s logo change into weird stuff for holidays or the birthdays of logicians or stuff, for a while but please be reassured that it still exists and is a thing that carries on. As proof of this I offer the installment from the 19th of October, which clearly means something, although I don’t know what. My best guess is very specific subsets of furry fandom.

Murphy was stunned that some of his friends have a link to a wolf in sheep's clothing web site. ... *What*?
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for Sunday, the 19th of October, 2014.

Since it’s kind of dismal to talk about nothing but comic strips I dislike let me bring up Michael Fry’s Committed, which ended years ago but is rerunning something from 1999 and that hasn’t aged a day in the past fifteen years. OK, it’s funny in the way people from 1964 dissing the Beatles as this month’s flavor of boy band is funny, but it kind of makes me wonder what’s going wrong with pop culture that kids are still into Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers. I know they have some new stuff that wasn’t around back then, but, I mean, we’d thrown out pretty much everything from 1984 by the time 1999 rolled around.

In 1999, Pikachu is warned of his pop-cultural ephemerality by a Power Ranger and a Ninja Turtle.
Michael Fry’s Committed, originally run 1999, rerun on the 27th of October, 2014.

So if that’s all things I don’t understand, fine, but let me share some things I do understand, in the form of comic strips that discussed mathematical topics, and that I discuss over on my mathematics blog. Enjoy, won’t you please?

Comic Strip _Momma_ Descending Into Madness

By everything I have ever heard on the topic, Mell Lazarus, the cartoonist for Miss Peach (which I have heard endlessly praised but never, ever seen, except in parodies of it) and Momma, is one of the sweetest persons to know. Having him in your set of acquaintances is reportedly a minor but noticeable blessing of life. I haven’t got any reason to disbelieve this. But whatever his greatness as a person is, there is the point that his comic strip is Momma, and like many comic strips that have been running since the era of the Petticoat Affair, it’s really not all that funny. You can make out the outlines where it was funny once upon a time, or should have been, but it seems to be around mostly because once a comic strip has been running for ten years nothing will ever stop its running.

On October 13, Mr Moon is a fan of Columbus. Someday he might grow up to be a planet. ... What?
Mell Lazarus’s comic strip Momma for the 19th of October, 2014. Good luck telling me what it means.

Lately, though, it’s taken a weird turn, to the point that I have to wonder if the comic really is descending into madness. The most recent baffling example of this comes from this past Sunday’s strip. I have nothing but love for the mock-factual comedic form; it’s always been one of my favorites. And I appreciate a comic strip delivering information with a light humorous tone; Tim Rickard’s Brewster Rockit, Space Guy! often does this for Sunday strips. But this … this just approaches the Dadaist weirdness of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, except for leaving me confused about “On Oct. 13th [Mr. Moon’s] a fan of Columbus” is even supposed to mean. At least Zippy I know is just stringing amusing syllables together.

Meanwhile, if that’s not enough for you, my mathematics blog has a couple of new comic strips up for discussion, although this time, none of them are actually pictured. You can just imagine what happend in them, or you’d rather, can follow the links. They’re in there somewhere.

Math Comics and Dave Barry

My mathematics blog has got a fresh bunch of comic strips to talk about, thanks largely to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and Eric the Circle, but there’s also The Little King, if you have a vague memory of seeing that somewhere.

Meanwhile, today is after all the 8th of October, an important running joke in Dave Barry Slept Here, a truly grand mock history of the United States. So I’d like to not explain that and instead point to “The Chuckletrousers Decades”, about a moment of the early Popular Internet and Dave Barry’s role in it. Thank you, won’t you?

Math Comics and Mind Melds

I’m not looking particularly to cause trouble, I should say, but Comic Strip Master Command decided everybody had to tell jokes about mathematics so my blog over that way has another article gathering them. Please consider reading, won’t you? It’s literally just one browser tab over to the left, at least the way I make it out.

In the meanwhile I was figuring to go back to hanging out and talking on this Star Trek forum that I mostly like, even if the technology talk sometimes gets a little fractious, and then I see someone started up a post asking people to list their favorite mind-melds, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be doing something else with my time. I should, but that seems like too much work, too.

Why I Am Not Talking About Apartment 3-G

Over on my mathematics blog (sorry, LFFL) there’s been a fresh round of comic strips that I can talk about. I also found reason to talk about Robert Benchley, who so long ago provided the only productivity advice you’ll ever need. It’s just that good.

Meanwhile I would kind of like-ish to update you with what’s driving me crazy about Apartment 3-G but you kind of knew that already: it spent all summer of nothing but Tommie and Some Other Woman talking to each other about how they were going to talk to each other without actually doing it. Finally after months of nothing going on a guy that I guess they were both kind of attracted to, in that Apartment 3-G form of attraction where “the guy appears on camera several times in a row, I guess”, now the strip has turned to This Guy and Some Other Woman talking about they have something to talk about, which they seem set up to say to each other over and over without actually doing it. This has got to be some Andy Kaufman-esque attempt to see just how far they can go without readers rising up in rebellion, which is going to fail, because Darby Conley has put Get Fuzzy in unannounced and unexplained reruns since last November without driving himself off all the comics pages yet, and Brooke McEldowney of 9 Chickweed Lane went completely nuts sometime around 2008 and his comic is still going.

Later That Same Afternoon …

Over on my mathematics blog, there’ve been a bunch of comic strips worth mentioning over there, and I like to think that’s worth mentioning over here, if you don’t think that’s me talking about myself too much.

If you do, well, I understand, but remember my exasperation at how Apartment 3-G just turned into two randomly-arranged heads talking about how they couldn’t talk about what they were going to talk about? And this had been going on with no exaggeration since chasing some green-shirted … woman that also looks like one of those forgotten signers of the Declaration of Independence … away with their hideous deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare, back on the 13th of July?

Well. I certainly don’t want to suggest something exciting happening after 59 days, since it is Apartment 3-G and everything, but the strip for the 9th of September kind of suggests that maybe sometime in the next week or two we might see a third person of some kind. Maybe.

There’s no sign of the strip actually having anything happen, and the most logical person to be turning up is someone who rode off back in June to “face his demons”, which I would have thought kind of interesting-ish to see, and apparently we didn’t. There’s also no sign of the strip getting back to the apartment, which we haven’t seen since, if I’m reading the featureless background correctly, the 11th of May, which is 122 days ago. But at least it’s suggesting that something might someday happen to someone, and we might hear about it from someone on-screen. Maybe.

Some Comics, Plus A Confession

Over on my mathematics blog is a fresh round of comic strips which have mathematical themes, or that I can drag in to having mathematical themes. I hope you enjoy.

If you don’t, please enjoy this utterly true confession: I laughed at Ziggy today. And on reflection, I believe that laugh to be correct and appropriate and I stand by it.

Math Comics and You Know What Else?

Once more my mathematics blog has gotten enough comic strips to talk about that I’m talking about it over here so you can go read my talking about it there. Does that seem fair to you?

Attached to these kinds of posts lately I’ve put up a bunch of comics to point out how Compu-Toon doesn’t make sense, or maybe some other comic strip does. I don’t want you to think I’m turning into one of the estimated every blogger in existence in reading the comics and complaining about them, though, so I offer you instead some space here in which you may consider the meaning of comic strips and what their significance in the modern information economy is. Please let me know if you turn up something interesting. Here goes:











(Anything come up?)

What It Means To Be A Math Major

Primarily, it means I just can not believe these people who go out memorizing the value of e — the base of the natural logarithm — to only five places after the decimal point. I mean, come on, the second through fifth digits are repeated in the sixth through ninth positions! If you’ve bothered to memorize the first five digits past the decimal point then you’ve got the first nine down. Why deny yourself the free fruits of your mental labors? And don’t go telling me that it’s because you memorized it in base two or base sixteen or one of those silly other bases absolutely nobody needs. If we were talking about memorizing the value of e in base twelve then we wouldn’t have talked about the decimal point, would we? We’d be talking about the radix point. Sheesh.

Secondarily, it means I believe in the existence of people who’ve memorized the value of e to a mere five places past the decimal point.

Over on the Other Blog: Comic Strips!

It’s not got quite so large a fan base — well, I post less, because it’s harder work — but I do keep up a mathematics blog where among other things I review comic strips that have touched on mathematical themes. I’ve just put up a fresh summary of this past month’s, and if you’d care for pointers to a bunch of comic strips and some mention of what they’re talking about, please visit.

I should warn you that this includes a lot of comic strips that you probably didn’t know existed, because somehow I keep finding comics like Rabbits Against Magic or On A Claire Day that nobody else has ever heard of or read. At least people have heard of Mutt and Jeff, although they stopped reading it back in the Coolidge administration, and maybe remember hearing about Wee Pals. It’s a talent I somehow have.

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