In Which I Remember The 90s For A Change


I don’t know why, but my thoughts have been drifting back to around November and early December 1994. I had tickets to go see a taping of Late Night with Conan O’Brien for the first time, over the break between semesters. They were real tickets, but I didn’t take pictures of them because we had film cameras then, so we could only take 22 pictures a year and hope one turned out in focus. Sorry. One of my apartment-mates wanted me to know that they tape the talk show segments all out of airing order. But I was sure that, except when some schedule problem requires, the late night talk shows record live-on-tape. I pointed out trip reports people had made to support my contention. No matter; he was sure that I had to understand it was going to be all different from what got on air.

Over the winter break I did get to the show, though. And it was recorded live-on-tape, everything in airing order. Even the breaks between segments were about the same length as the actual commercial breaks.

I never got to tell the apartment-mate that, though. He didn’t come back for the spring semester and I never knew what happened. If he got a new place to live or didn’t come back to school or what. Whatever it was, it seemed like a lot of effort to go to not to be told he was wrong about the typical production routine of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. And, like, Conan O’Brien in 1994. This was a couple months after that stretch when NBC left the show on the air because they forgot to cancel it. Who could care if your roommate knew you misunderstood its taping routine?

So it’s me remembering that some people will always be unknowable.

That’s not the only unknowable roommate I have from back then. Although the others it’s less that I can’t know them because of deep mysteries and more that I’m not exactly sure of their names. I feel bad about forgetting the names of old roommates but in my defense, it’s been a quarter-century. Since then I have met, without exaggeration, dozens of people. I have forgotten all their names too.

I am sure that year someone one of our other roommates was one of a set of identical twins. I remember because I thought he was telling a joke when he first mentioned being a twin. Fortunately when I finally, so far as I know, met the other twin I had that year’s moment of good social grace. Even though I was a mathematics grad student I knew not to blurt out, “Wow, really? I thought your brother made you up! As a gag!” If my old roommate, or his twin, is reading this, uh, oops? But hey, how about that other roommate, the one who didn’t think Conan O’Brien taped his show in order? Remember that guy?

Still there’s a great chance they don’t remember me, either. I say this because I don’t ever expect to be remembered, in any context, ever. If the dental hygienist steps out of the room for two minutes I expect to have to remind them who I am. And I’m pretty sure they have my name written down. That’s so they know which teeth they’re cleaning and can remark on what a good job I did flossing for the week leading up to my exam.

But I do know that at least one time with that roommate, or his twin, I met another guy. And that guy I remember because I met him again, only online, the next year. And he remembered meeting me, only offline, afterwards. We’re still friends. I mean, not friends close enough to talk about what we’re doing or whether we exactly remember how it is we became friends or where he lives anymore, if he does. I mean friends in that I’ll see him online after a gap of like three months, and he’ll be quite happy there are otters in the world. I bet you’d like to know someone like that. Some of you, the people I’ve been friends with online for a quarter-century, maybe already have. The rest of you, well, I’d like to tell you how to meet someone like that. The secret is to, years ago, have a roommate who’s in the fencing club with him. Or possibly a roommate whose twin is in the fencing club. Maybe both twins were in the fencing club and my friend just hung around them for the sword action. That’s the part I don’t remember.

How I Overcame The Face In My Room


M J Wright was writing about the tendency of people to see patterns where there aren’t any. It’s put me in mind of something from back in my days as a teenage boy. I also spent my nights as a teenage boy, back then. It seemed the best use of my time. But you should bear in mind that as a teenage boy, I was nevertheless a teenage boy, so my judgement was bad. I don’t mean it was the kind of bad judgement that leads to stories which include non-metaphorical uses of the word “plummet”, or leave one barred from joining a military service or entering any Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips ever. My judgement was an ordinary, low-level sort of bad.

For example, I would spend hours typing in the programs listed in Compute!’s Gazette for the Commodore 64. See, back then a major draw for computer magazines was they’d give you the code for programs to do stuff like play versions of Arkanoid but with worse graphics and no sound. All you had to do was type in hundreds of two- or three-digit binary codes perfectly. Compute!’s Gazette was a really special magazine, because it insisted on putting an exclamation point just before the apostrophe s. I just know that offended copy editors, back when there were copy editors.

The work-to-play ratio got a lot better about a year after I got a Commodore 64 that was basically fine but some of the keys were wrong. That’s because I finally got a Datasette. This was a tape recorder optimized for use by the Commodore 64 by having a plug the right shape for it. So I could finally type in a program once and then re-use it sometime later. I know this doesn’t sound like much now, but remember the times. It was an era when the computer had sixteen colors, and three of them were grey.

Sometimes I’d even use them. Not necessarily. I once spent an evening typing in the code for the word processor SpeedScript 1.0, even though I had already typed in SpeedScript 3.2. Why would I do this? Well, I had the magazine with the code for SpeedScript 1.0 in it and it was just sitting there waiting for someone to type it in. And it wasn’t like my wrists could be expected to pick up a repetitive strain injury on their own. As I say, I was a teenaged boy.

Anyway. I had a small television set with rabbit-ear antennas in my bedroom. I hung aluminum foil on the ends of the ears to improve the reception a tiny bit. Mostly I wanted the thrill of having rabbit-ear antennas with panes of aluminum foil on the ends. I thought that made it more rabbit-ear antenna-y. Remember, teenaged boy.

One night I noticed that, through the light from outside, one of the sheets of foil had a clear human face in it. I realize I know what face, too: it was pretty obviously Destro, from G.I.Joe. And this annoyed me because I knew if I tried to draw a face it wouldn’t be anywhere near so well-formed as that. I never tried drawing Destro much. I did, some, in making my own awful comics. I had wanted to point out ways that minor procedural changes would have allowed many of Cobra’s evil schemes succeed. But I figured out drawing comics was easier if I just drew landscapes, word balloons, and explosions. The people could be skipped. And eventually I figured out that I had no responsibility for correcting Cobra’s blunders.

Still, this aluminium-foil Destro was there every night, teasing me. All my powers and slight concentration couldn’t do a face nearly as realistic or as expressive as this thing created by breezes and fiddling with the antenna. It wasn’t all I thought about in bed, but it was something to nag at me every night.

So finally one day I crumpled up the foil and flattened it out again. This eliminated the face for good, and I can draw a better Destro that that, I assume. I think this was the right thing to do, but remember, I was that teenaged boy.

I know what this has you all wondering. Of course I never typed in SpeedScript 2.0, because that was only offered as a special bonus to people who bought the Compute!’s Gazette Disk. So far as I know there was never anything for the public to type in.

In Which I Am Doomed, Doomed I Tell You


I don’t figure this week’s big piece is going to be another massive composition based on what I happen to be reading. This is because I’m reading Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation by Michael Harris. I had thought it was a mathematician’s memoir and thoughts about explaining mathematics to people who aren’t necessarily students. I realized by page fourteen that this is some completely different kind of book, because there it laid this on me:

Be assured that this is not a series of clippings from my autobiography. “When the studies of a philosopher, and especially of a mathematician, have been described, his discoveries recorded, and his writings considered, his history has been written. There is little else to say of such a man: his private life is generally uninteresting and unvaried.” 20 Too true! I can’t even begin to imagine what might make for an interesting private life. The “I” of this chapter’s title [ How I Acquired Charisma ] is not the hateful “I” of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées but rather the hypothetical “I” of a Weberian ideal type. “Type of what?” Maybe we’ll know by the end of this book.

That wasn’t even the end of this paragraph! And I haven’t dared look to the endnotes to see what the 20 is.

I realized this was going to be a more challenging read when a couple pages before that the book laid “apodictically” on me, but since my love is a professional philosopher I was warned about words like “apodictic” existing and meaning something. But this … this ….

I may not make it through the book alive, I’m sorry. That’s all.