Statistics Saturday: Things You Forgot Happened This Year


  1. The guy who directed Batman And Robin died.
  2. We were sharing pictures of people cutting open stuff to reveal it’s cake inside.
  3. “At this point I ran out of magnets.”
  4. Series finale of Steven Universe.
  5. The impeachment trial.
  6. “A large boulder the size of a small boulder.”
  7. The failure Fyre Festival amused and delighted the world.
  8. The death of David Bowie shocked the world.
  9. “Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom SNAKE.”
  10. Woodstock ’99.
  11. The Canter and Siegel Green Card spam on Usenet introduced the Internet to mass unsolicited commercial advertising.
  12. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 2,000 points for the first time.
  13. The world’s longest Monopoly game reached into four days, with Parker Brothers sending emergency supplies of cash to keep the game going (despite the game rules specifying that the bank shall issue scrip when the official cash runs out).
  14. A scandal in salad-oil inventory storage endangered the American Express corporation.
  15. A giant panda was brought into the United States for the first time.
  16. W.C.Fields made his screen debut in the silent comedy shorts Pool Sharks and His Lordship’s Dilemma.

Reference: The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television, David Weinstein.

Today in shocking discoveries from looking at a thing


I don’t put much stock in the so-called Mandela Effect, where you discover you remembered something entirely wrong and figure the universe is broken instead? But I am shaken by this. You ever look seriously at the guy on the Monopoly Board, that I think everyone called Mister Monopoly but Parker Brothers wanted to call Rich Uncle Pennybags, which isn’t a bad name either? OK. Think hard about your mental image of him. Now look at the picture of him on any of the Monopoly sets or playing cards. Notice something missing? That’s right: he hasn’t got a fish tail! Not only is the Monopoly guy not a mermaid, he has never been depicted as a mermaid, except in the fan communities on DeviantArt. I know! That’s exactly the amazement I feel.

Statistics Saturday: King Kong, Perception vs Reality


King Kong perception: Tiny sliver: boring stuff in 30s nasal voices. Good-size wedge: Fay Wray tied to that giant wall. Enormous wedge: King Kong fighting airplanes atop the Empire State Building. Good-size wedge: Twas Beauty killed the Beast. King Kong Reality: one-third of the pie, 'OK the *characters* are racist but the *move* presents the Islands acting sensibly with respect and even sympathy for their needs and ... oh yeah, the Ship's Cook. Oof.' Nearly all the rest: 'King Kong fighting dinosaurs! Lots and lots of freaking dinosaurs!' Tiny wedge: 'Empire State Building, airplanes, Twas Beauty, Etc.'
Not pictured: that guy who falls in love with Fay Wray’s character and I guess she loves him back because even as you stare at him you focus on all the people with personalities around him.

Reference: Something New Under the Sun: satellites and the beginning of the Space Age, Helen Gavaghan. Bonus fun fact according to Gavaghan: for a while in the mid-50s rocket designers talked about something that could launch to earth orbit as an “LP rocket”.

A Follow-Up About Mnemonics


My love read over that my Everything There Is To Say About Mnemonics essay and found something I had failed to say. I hate when it turns out I missed a thing to say. But it is important to note to call them “mnemonics” and not “pneumonics”. “Mnemonics” is the thing about remembering stuff. “Pneumnonics” if that were anything would be something about vapor-propelled actions. Or possibly a New Wave band with two hits, one of them about romance during nuclear war and one of them about radio. I’d love to help people keep this straight but I don’t know a way to make it easy to remember.

In Which I Am Stumped By A Household Malfunction


Me: “That’s funny. Why isn’t the garage door opening?”
[ I re-enter the PIN for my library card from 18 years ago. ]
Me: “Did the circuit breaker trip or something? No, the waterfall pump is still going. So there’s no possible way to explain this.”
[ I enter the library PIN again. ]

Everything There Is To Say About Mnemonics


Remembering things used to be a great pastime. It’s obsolete these days. We only need to remember things anymore while we’re recording special “live” episodes of our podcasts. And that just if we feel rude checking our phones in front of the audience except to check our notes. For the rest of us it’s an affectation, like learning how long division works or how to spell “carburetor”. But it can be a fun one. Please remember I think there’s a swell video game to be made out of drawing time zone boundaries. I’m not trustworthy in judgements of “fun”. I could be coaxed into stopping at a roadside attraction promising the state’s third-most-average ball of twine. That even before finding out whether they have miniature golf.

There is only one sure way to remember a thing. That’s for it to be the lyrics you’re pretty sure you heard wrong from a song you can’t get out of your head. And you’re not sure you have the melody right either. It’s great and reliable but there’s almost no way to pick what you remember. It’ll never help you remember, like, what model your car’s engine is long enough to get something from the auto parts store. It’ll just leave you asking your musically inclined friends, “what’s that song I heard in the 80s or early 90s that’s like, `dahdah dah dah dah, chipmunks and kangaroos dahdah’?” while they back away, through the wall if need be. You can try hooking some phrase you want to remember up to a song you like, but that just ruins the song for you. You’ll be in the middle of humming this book title about the French and Indian War you wanted from the library and realize that you’re Ray Davies and you’ve gone way off script performing “Waterloo Sunset” on live TV. It’s humiliating.

Which comes to the next great way to remember a thing: feel humiliated by it. You can have many things to ponder in life, but the last will be that weird, involuntary, somehow squeaking-bark laugh that your second-grade teacher emitted when you said “molecule” like that. Again, great reliability, lousy selection. Who needs to remember wrong ways to say words, anyway? Again, only podcasters doing the part of the show where they respond defensively to their e-mails. Many of us got to be this many years old without ever having to say “unguent” out loud and that’s not evidence of a mis-spent life, all right?

Next to humiliation is stories, though. The average person can remember over twelve stories, which gives us plenty to talk about again while on a long car ride. We can make up stories about stuff we want to remember and then we’ll never get it out of our heads again, so make sure you get this right. Here, it helps if the stories are dumb. This way every time it works you feel humiliated something that stupid helped you, strengthening the memory.

For example, the highway near me is flanked by a one-way northbound service road and a one-way southbound service road. One of these is Homer. One of these is Hosmer. This is a mistake. Hosmer is a road several blocks away from all this. The other of the service roads is Howard. Which one goes north and which one goes south? It would be great if Hosmer went south, since it’s got that ‘s’ in there, but Hosmer has no part in this. Stop remembering Hosmer already.

But then I had a great idea: that prominent ‘m’ in Homer is the clue. If I can just remember “it’s called Homer because it runs morth” I would never get that stupid idea out of my head. And now good luck you getting it out either. There’s only two problems. One is, isn’t Morth the name of Jonathan Winters’s character on the last season of Mork and Mindy? Second, why am I trying to remember which one is Homer and which is Hosmer anyway? What problem in my life will that ever solve?

So if anyone has an idea how I can remember that I’m not responsible for Homer or Hosmer streets and don’t need to know which one runs which way, please write in care of this address. Thank you.

What My Brain Has Been Doing To Me Lately, A Quick Complaint


So my brain has been trying for two weeks now to convince me to write a follow-up note to that essay about the axe-throwing business in town. Particularly it wants me to riff on the “scurrilous rumor” that I have some responsibility for mysterious thuds outside Quality Dairy headquarters. My brain, which is working hard at making sure that I can be a humor blogger but never, ever a successful humor blogger, is convinced I should make some kind of squirrel joke here. This is because my brain is convinced I can do some oblique multi-lingual and taxonomic pun built on how scurrilous sounds kind of like “sciurrilous”, which seems like it ought to be a sciencey word for “squirrel”. And it will not be convinced otherwise. “Knock it off, brain,” I tell it, in the shower. “There is not a successful pun to be made out of this and you’ll only hurt yourself if you keep trying.” Then my love asks what I’m mumbling about in there, and I have to insist I’m not, and follow it up with an alarming coughing fit to cover up what I’m doing.

The punch line to this is there isn’t anywhere in the essay I talk about a “scurrilous rumor”. The first draft did, but I realized I had put the words without thinking, and rewrote the sentence to be better-considered easily minutes before deadline. So my brain’s been busy two weeks now trying to make me form a joke that could not possibly have worked in order to follow-up a joke that did not actually exist except for a couple-hour stretch of time on the 10th of January, 2019. I’m glad I have perfectly resisted the urge.

How To Remember A Fact


Remembering things used to be an essential skill. But these days it’s only really needed by podcasters who are recording in front of a convention audience a live episode where they discuss whether Star Trek V was a bad movie or not. Everyone else can mostly just look stuff up or decide that they don’t need to remember a thing after all. In the old days, you needed a certain kind of person who could tell you, oh, what the code words were to trigger Shipwreck’s hypnotically suppressed memory of a formula to make water explode in that one episode of G.I.Joe where he wakes up seven years in the future. Today, we have Google to tell us whether water ought to be exploding. It ought not.

But it remains a fun hobby, among a certain kind of person, to have things that they just remember. And there are different kinds of things to remember. There are things that you are expected to do or to not do. I don’t mean to talk about that, even though it seems like that covers everything possible. That breaks down quickly when I ask if you’ve ever written a note to yourself so that you potholder. I repeat the admonition to your confused face. Then we get into a debate about whether ‘to pothold’ is a verb and, if it isn’t, then is ‘potholdest’ a comparative? In the confusion I can sneak out undetected.

But I don’t. I want to discuss remembering facts. Any literate, well-informed person could encounter nearly 96 facts worth remembering by their age and decaying range of knee mobility. But how to keep them available? How to keep them from turning into this, a typical remembered fact:

By the time he was 42(? 44? 32?) years old, Ludwig von (van? van der?) Beethoven had been part of over (nearly? under?) 120 (20? 220?) without once [ something ] except for the ~one time(s?) in [ Bonn / Vienna / ^W with E T A Hoffman ].

Reference: Harpo Speaks!, Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber.

There are two good ways to ensure you will never forget a fact. The first we know from that time you were in fourth grade, and were prepared to give the most thoroughly awesome presentation on “water” that your science class had ever seen. And you even had real actual cubes of ice stored in the thermos bottle to show off alongside some water you got from the one water fountain in school that didn’t just dribble a tiny trickle of warm, indistinctly smelly water down the spout. And how you began by declaring how aitch-two-oh was the technical name that scientists gave the water “molly-cah-loo-la-lee”. And how since that day you have known the generally agreed-upon pronunciation of “molecule” with the thoroughness that somehow everyone else in your class knew because why would they laugh so much? And you know it with such thoroughness that you feel jabs of embarrassment whenever you see the word “molecule” in print, or hear someone talking about molecules, or you make use of a molecule of something.

So tying a fact to embarrassment lets you remember it easily. Indeed, oppressively, to the point that you cannot possibly forget even facts you wish to. This is what makes mnemonics work. Bind a fact you wish to know to something too dumb to let anyone know you know. Once you’ve composed:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sulfuric acid is
Formula aitch-two-ess-oh-four

The terror that someone will learn about the meter of that last line will ensure you’ll never mistakenly put roses in your heap of “things which are blue”.

You don’t need to use embarrassment to commit facts to memory, no. But the second way to sear a fact into your eternally-present memory is to tie it to shame. And, you know, look around your country. Whichever country you’re in right now. There’s enough you’re ashamed of as is. We don’t need to add to that heap of shame by trying to use it to remember which chemical element is abbreviated Ci. It is cinnamon. You’re looking at a “periodic table” of spices. Stick to embarrassment.

Shipwreck’s hypnotic activation phrase was “frogs in winter”. I’m not going to try to convince you Star Trek V was good, but I will insist William Shatner’s directing was solid. If you find your water starting to explode try smothering the blast with the good, stern look your fourth-grade science teacher gave the class after she finished smirking. That’ll help.

Me, In Two Memories, One Of Which Does Not Exist


Me: vividly remembers precisely the way the then-younger he mispronounced “chimichangas” for like three weeks after first being introduced to them at Chi-Chi’s, which obviously must have invented this wonder food of tomorrow of 1982 and no you may not ask what it was and expect an answer.

Also me: could not convince myself, either by memory or appeal to reason, that I had washed my hair in the shower, a mere thirty minutes after taking it this morning and so there was nothing to do but repeat the whole process. Spoiler: it turns out I had washed my hair, as I had for every shower since 1982.

Statistics Saturday: Beatles Songs You Do Not Recognize From Their Title Alone


  • Flying
  • The Inner Light
  • Love Me Do
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • All You Need Is Love
  • Yesterday
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • Eight Days A Week
  • Michelle
  • Nowhere Man
  • Paperback Writer
  • I Am The Walrus
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • The Long And Winding Road
  • Back In The USSR
  • (We All Live In A) Yellow Submarine
  • Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Hey Jude

Reference: Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, Gaby Wood.

Statistics Saturday: Names That Get In The Way While You’re Trying To Think Of That Guy From _My Fair Lady_


  1. Ron
  2. Rob
  3. Rob Petrie
  4. Robert
  5. Ron Petrie
  6. Ron Stoppable … no, no, not Ron.
  7. Reg
  8. Roger
  9. Roger Goodell
  10. Rex Carlton
  11. Rex Stout
  12. Rex, Rex, Reggie. Reginald!
  13. Reginald Van … Gleason?
  14. Ron something
  15. Reggie … from … Archie Comics?
  16. Reggie van Dough?
  17. Roger … Daltrey?
  18. Roger Dean
  19. Roger Waters
  20. Rex Harrison! oh thank goodness.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose slightly on after-market trading today following how generally happy everyone was with the launch of the index and how there was almost enough for everyone, but not quite enough, so the people who got there late could feel anxious about it. That sort of situation makes people feel so glad things turned out the way they did.

104

Remembering Dustin Hoffman, Who Is Fine As Far As We Know


So you know that thing people do, when they’re cranky and set in their ways and don’t have smart phones, where they try remembering stuff themselves? My love and I were trying to do that the other day. Specifically we were trying to remember stuff about Dustin Hoffman. Mostly we were trying to think what he’s been up to lately. This is maybe presumptuous because he probably isn’t busy thinking about us, and we don’t have any reason to think he’s trying to sneak up on us or anything. If you know otherwise I’d appreciate a warning. I understand if you are Dustin Hoffman and are sneaking up on us and decide not to warn us. It’s only fair if you take your innings in secret.

And we were trying to remember what he looks like nowadays. I think it’s only fair if he is sneaking up on us that we know what to look for. Anyway, the last thing I could remember seeing him in was Rain Man, and that came out a long time ago. If you remember when it came out, don’t go looking up how long ago that was. But then I remembered that we’d seen him in a much more recent movie, Sphere, which was not actually all that recent.

Also we aren’t really sure we saw Sphere because it was just kind of on in the background. Again as best we remember he was there as part of a team investigating a … time-travelling holodeck on the bottom of the ocean? Is that right? And they had like a room full of copies of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea where everything after page Like 182 was blank? Anyway, that’s not all that recent so it doesn’t give us much guidance about what Dustin Hoffman looks like anymore. I’m pretty sure he did not play the titular Sphere, anyway.

If I am mistaken about any of this, please let me know, before he pounces. Also, did I remember Sphere right? Or at least right enough? I guess it’d be nice to know.

Remember This! Also: How To


Whenever I get asked about what future trends I see I first suppress that sense of indignation whoever it was took so long to ask. I’ve had my answer ready for ages and was getting worried nobody was ever going to ask. I’m as good a trendspotter as any of the people getting on the trendspotting bandwagon. It’s a terrible burden having a clear picture of society’s future.

One trend I see going on is there’s going to be ever-more stuff to try to remember. Pop culture alone is expanding so fast we’re barely able to keep it updated on TV Tropes, and every thing in pop culture carries with it extra burdens of information-like constructs: not only the thing itself, but also stuff about how it was made, and what it’s referring to, and how it’s not as good as this other thing someone else made, and how it is too and if it isn’t how come you don’t make it yourself, and then how this sets off a highly entertaining flame war, and whose fault it is, and whose fault it isn’t, and who’s writing the fairest accounting of how the flame war happens, and how they do not, and why they couldn’t possibly even if they tried.

If it’s done properly just understanding a sketch of an apple someone left on the coffee table can require collating more information than writing a book about the Thirty Years War would. And even if you can keep all that new stuff straight, you’re stuck remembering the old stuff too. If pressed and facing a busy day way too early in the morning could you remember the full name of Snoop Doggy Dogg? Undoubtedly, but then how would you be on remembering what humorist I grabbed that joke from? See? I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t recognize it either.

The second trend is that we’re always going to impress people by doing stuff without the tools that make it easy and painless. Nobody cares about a person who can cut a board in half by using a sharp, well-maintained saw blade, but show around someone who can cut a board in half without even having a board and you can get a paying crowd. So if you can remember stuff without the Internet gadgets that do the remembering for you then you’re going to win acclaim for your impressive abilities in the trivia-stuffed world of tomorrow after about 6:45 pm.

So the problem is how to do this, given that there’s too much stuff to remember and there’s really no learning it, because we don’t have the attention spans long enough anymore to even get a decent earworm stuck in our heads. And this is where mnemonic devices come in handy. The best of them combine two points into one so after learning one you feel like you know at least twice as many things as you actually do. For example, George Washington was born in 1732, and he weighed 173.2 pounds. Just from reading that I know it’s going to pop into your head at some perfectly inappropriate time in the trivia-stuffed world of tomorrow, like maybe at about 5:25 pm. The links don’t even have to make any kind of thematic sense: once you’ve heard that there are both 82 constellations in the sky and 82 counties in Ohio you will never be able to fully forget either point, even though you have no responsibility for the constellations in the sky and even though you’ll never need to know how many counties there are in Ohio unless you have a job setting out chairs for the Ohio County Commissioners Annual Lunch, and you could just count RSVPs for that.

The effectiveness of these mnemonic devices are all the more impressive when you consider George Washington was actually born in 1731, at least at the time. I don’t even know that he ever weighed 173.2, or maybe 173.1, pounds, although I guess it’s possible. I mean, he was a big guy, and had the money to eat well enough when he wasn’t bunking down for the winter with hundreds of starved Continental soldiers in upstate New Jersey, but I dunno what he weighed. I’m comfortable with something in the 173 range, but I wouldn’t rule out 178.9 or even 179.9. And as for the counties in the sky, oh, no, there’s nothing like 82 counties in Ohio. You could remember that easily by recalling that 86 is number slang for “something negative or otherwise disparaging or something or other”, and there aren’t 86 constellations in Ohio either. Memorable, isn’t it?

I had some idea about what to do with defective mnemonic devices but I forgot to write it down. Sorry. Maybe someone out there has an idea? Please write in before about 6:30.

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.