Source: Two Sides of the Moon, David Scott, Alexei Leonov, Christine Toomey.
WordPress used to make this nice little fireworks video to represent what blog readership was like over the year. It’d do a presentation with a firework for every post, spaced out the way your posts of the year were. And it’d compare your readership numbers and averages and peaks to the population that would fit inside various easy-to-understand concepts like baseball stadiums or buses full of people. If they did that for 2016 I missed the e-mail, and since I despair of them bringing it back this year I’ll just go ahead and report on the year’s statistics as I know them.
2017 was the year that I embraced what Apartment 3-G coverage had taught me: people want story strips explained. So this year I did that, rotating among the twelve syndicated story comics that appear in actual newspapers as far as I know. I’m glad to do it. It gives me reason to pay more attention while reading my comics. I like writing summaries. I especially like doing that while keeping to a low-daisy diet. Avoiding reflexive, unconsidered snark while reviewing comics is good for my development as a writer. It’s probably better for the reader too. Not to dismiss snark; it’s a great rhetorical tool. It’s just reflexive snark that I want to avoid.
I managed to post something each day in 2017 and I admit sometimes I had no idea how I would. That’s my fourth year straight posting something every single day, even if those somethings aren’t always big ones. Besides the What’s Going On In series I also stumbled into a review of all the available Talkartoons. I thought at first that might be a nice, easy, low-effort way to get something respectable posted once a week and that’s turning into a research monster eating me so, good work? I also brought the Another Blog, Meanwhile index to its conclusion after something like a year of drawing exactly two comments on it ever. One of them was from my love, who wanted to know what the heck it was even about. It was about me seeing how long I would find this random gibberish amusing. This turns out to be something like a year.
In 2017 I got 24,695 page views, says WordPress. That’s way above my second-best year, 2015, when Apartment 3-G turned into such a fiasco. And both are better than 2016, when I resisted embracing my fate. You know, I’m probably going to want to find this in a convenient form later on so let me make a little table.
|Year||Views||Visitors||Views Per Visitor|
2013 was the year I started the blog, in early February or so, and so that has a mere 335 posts. I’m curious about the steady decline in views per visitor, although I suppose with the large number of people apparently stopping in just to see what’s happening in one of the story comics there’s less reason for them to go archive-binging. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.
As I’d said, what people wanted to read around here was stuff about the story strips. What was most popular among that? I admit I was surprised. I guessed four of the comics that would be particularly asked about, but got one of the questions wrong. My top five essays, by page views, for 2017 were:
- What’s Going On With Judge Parker?
- What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?
- Why Does Mary Worth Look Different?
- What Is Going On With Mark Trail?
- What’s Going On In Prince Valiant?
Two of those essays were even posted in 2017! And yes, Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end? made the top ten. My most popular original-content longform piece of the year was Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know. Which I’m not sad about, since it’s funny. But it was more an act of recapping the crazypants backstory that pinball and video game artist Python Anghelo crated for the Popeye pinball machine. I didn’t have to bring much to it.
If I haven’t missed something the long-form original piece from this year that got the most views was … nothing I would have guessed. It was Probably Not A Good Idea To Get Them Playing Diplomacy Though, based on a book I read about one of the earliest murders we have good, detailed investigative records for, the 1407 murder of Louis of Orleans. I guess that’s more naturally funny than it sounds like considering the whole affair ended in great national tragedy?
Speaking of nations. I can do a list of countries by page views for the year. I make out that there were 128 countries sending me any readers at all. 22 of them were countries that sent out a single reader, and that was it, for the whole entire year. I wonder what I said to scare people off.
|Hong Kong SAR China||60|
|Trinidad & Tobago||18|
|United Arab Emirates||14|
|St. Kitts & Nevis||4|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||3|
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||2|
|Northern Mariana Islands||1|
|Turks & Caicos Islands||1|
Won’t lie; I’m curious just what the single page some reader in Bhutan felt like reading. Also whether they were satisfied. I suppose not, or there’d have been more than the one page viewed.
Oh, yes, and comparisons between page views and some easy-to-understand alternative. 24,695 pages is a lot of views. It’s more than the number of people who’d go on 8,231 Apollo-style lunar landing missions. It’s more than 69 times the number of people who flew on every space shuttle mission combined. It’s more than one times the number of people who lived in Rockaway Township, New Jersey, in 2010, although not so many as lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The 15,187 unique visitors is almost exactly equal to the 2010 population of Hopatcong, New Jersey, but not quite equal to that of Mantua Township.
I hope that makes things easier to understand.
- November 17th
- November 31st
- Kevin’s Birthday (Kevin was born in February)
- November 9th
- Maundy Thursday
- The Feast of St Ailbe
- The New Jersey Big Sea Day (second Saturday in August, Manasquan, New Jersey)
- November 0x2AAth
- Black Friday
- Other Kevin’s Birthday (Other Kevin was born in December)
- It’s not tomorrow is it? We can’t go to the farmer’s market today, it’s going to be madness!
- September 4, 476 AD
Recently I got to visit Story Book Land, a small nursery-rhyme-forest and amusement park in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Also there’s a place called Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Yes, it has that name for the reason you’d expect: it’s a township. Story Book Land is a grand place, lots of displays of fairy tales. So this Santa Claus’s Workshop scene caught my eye:
Clearly I’m not in a position to tell Santa how he should run his business, and I shouldn’t disparage anybody’s qualifications before I know what they’re good at and what they like doing. It just seems a little cruel to give a lot of writing duties to a species that hasn’t got fingers. And I’m not too sure it’s considerate to put a reindeer on adding machine duty either, given, again, the whole hoof issue. Maybe Santa knows something I don’t. I just expect there’s all kinds of dropped … things, and probably shouting, involved.
Also I wish I had the courage to go to work wearing outfits like these reindeer do. And I work from home.
If anything characterizes what I think is funny, it’s “slightly over-researched stuff”. So here’s some pieces that exemplify that. When Time Came To New Jersey was somehow not that week’s long-form piece, but rather just a little something dashed off because I got to thinking about the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. And the question it raises I still haven’t answered, although I also haven’t asked any of the many people I in principle could to get some kind of answer.
In Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already I get thrown off a book about usury and debt by a casual line about what the Secretary of the Treasury was doing in 1853. So I’m not just a person who reads about a history of usury and debt but also thinks about the change of office between Secretaries of the Treasury that happened in 1853.
And then in What Causes People To Sometimes Read About Canada there I go again, reading about the prelude to the British North America Act of 1867 (oh hey, happy birthday and stuff there) gets me thinking about the nature of boredom.
If you needed something else to read, here Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World and I thought I had read a majority of them. Huh.
Also including the District of Columbia because, heck, what does that cost me?
|State Or District Of Columbia||Thickness|
|Alaska||20,310 ft / 6191 m|
|California||14,783 ft / 4506 m|
|Washington||14,417 ft / 4394 m|
|Hawaii||13,803 ft / 4207 m|
|Nevada||12,665 ft / 3860 m|
|Arizona||12,565 ft / 3830 m|
|Idaho||11,954 ft / 3644 m|
|Utah||11,354 ft / 3461 m|
|Oregon||11,249 ft / 3429 m|
|Colorado||11,123 ft / 3390 m|
|Montana||11,003 ft / 3354 m|
|Wyoming||10,709 ft / 3264 m|
|New Mexico||10,323 ft / 3147 m|
|Texas||8,751 ft / 2667 m|
|North Carolina||6,684 ft / 2037 m|
|Tennessee||6,466 ft / 1971 m|
|New Hampshire||6,288 ft / 1917 m|
|South Dakota||6,276 ft / 1913 m|
|Virginia||5,729 ft / 1746 m|
|New York||5,343 ft / 1629 m|
|Maine||5,270 ft / 1606 m|
|Georgia||4,784 ft / 1458 m|
|Oklahoma||4,686 ft / 1428 m|
|West Virginia||4,623 ft / 1409 m|
|Nebraska||4,587 ft / 1398 m|
|Vermont||4,300 ft / 1311 m|
|Kentucky||3,887 ft / 1185 m|
|South Carolina||3,560 ft / 1085 m|
|Massachusetts||3,489 ft / 1063 m|
|Kansas||3,361 ft / 1025 m|
|Maryland||3,360 ft / 1024 m|
|Pennsylvania||3,213 ft / 979 m|
|North Dakota||2,757 ft / 840 m|
|Arkansas||2,698 ft / 822 m|
|Alabama||2,413 ft / 736 m|
|Connecticut||2,379 ft / 725 m|
|New Jersey||1,803 ft / 550 m|
|Minnesota||1,700 ft / 518 m|
|Missouri||1,542 ft / 470 m|
|Michigan||1,408 ft / 429 m|
|Wisconsin||1,372 ft / 418 m|
|Iowa||1,191 ft / 363 m|
|Ohio||1,094 ft / 333 m|
|Illinois||955 ft / 291 m|
|Indiana||937 ft / 286 m|
|Rhode Island||811 ft / 247 m|
|Mississippi||807 ft / 246 m|
|Louisiana||543 ft / 165 m|
|Delaware||447 ft / 136 m|
|District of Columbia||408 ft / 124 m|
|Florida||345 ft / 105 m|
Source: Wikipedia from which I learn there’s only two states that have spots below sea level? That’s weird. Like, I understand Colorado not having any spots below sea level, but there isn’t one rocky crag somewhere in, like, North Carolina that runs below the ocean level? And like how has someone not dug a big cement-lined pit somewhere on Long Island to set it underneath the sea level just to show they can do something pointless like that? You know? Also, I guess mines and stuff don’t count for lowest elevations, which is fair enough, but wouldn’t they start counting if the mine’s ceiling collapsed? It seems like states could totally rig their thickness rankings if they wanted. Plus, like, I know for a fact that New York State claims sovereignty over the seabed of the entire Hudson River; doesn’t that count as the lowest elevation in the state? I’m saying while I give you this list I think there’s a lot of pointless argument to have about what the lowest points of elevation in states such as New York and Delaware are and yes that is because I’m from New Jersey and angry about the implications of colonial-era borders.
You know, you never really think of Kansas as having more of an elevation change than Pennsylvania does. I feel a bit weirdly defensive about it myself.
I forget what exactly got me looking up the “Matawan-style” Texaco gas stations of the 60s, although it’s probably a sense of home patriotism. I grew up not far from Matawan, New Jersey, famous for … being the namesake of this one kind of Texaco gas station. Also for two of the shark attacks of 1916. Anyway I wasn’t sure what made something a Matawan-style Texaco gas station of the 60s as opposed to, say, a Manalapan Texaco or a Manahawkin Texaco. There’s a lot of places in New Jersey with names that sound kind of alike, because we paid the Leni Lenape three thousand dollars back in like 1804 to go away and leave their places behind and stop making us feel guilty about it, and this is what we’ve got.
Anyway, the Matawan-style Texaco design question led me on an Internet voyage that revealed, wonderfully, there are enthusiasts of different gas station design who gather in communities that talk about, say, spotting where a Matawan-style station got mutilated but was still identifiable in Benton Harbor, Michigan. And then sometimes interrupt to explain how the Teague was a more versatile design anyway. And all this stuff about gas station architecture fandom has me feeling like the world might just be a good idea despite it all.
- Floriemel, Carmela, and Margarita Coati. Cohanzick Zoo, Bridgeton, NJ. February 1. The animals come out and eat fruit to predict how many human-interest features will explain what the heck coatis are. They’re what Belize has instead of raccoons.
- Punxsutawney Phil, Punxsutawney, Totally Oughta Be Philadelphia. February 2. Groundhog famous for predicting whether we’ll get the place spelled right.
- Woody the Woodchuck, Howell, Michigan. February 2. Predicts whether spring will come to the lower peninsula in six weeks or whether spring will be like normal and arrive sometime late May. No forecast for the upper peninsula as spring has never come to the upper peninsula.
- Shrieking Sam the Shreveport Clam, Louisiana. February 4. Will holler up a storm about whether a storm is coming in. Does not count own hollering storm as a storm.
- Jormungandr, Low Earth Orbit. February 5. Rises early in the morning to determine whether this will be the year he eats Scandinavia. Spoiler: hasn’t for the last 876 years, starting to think he never will. Dress warmly anyway.
- Chris Squirrel, London. February 7. Adorable fluffy-tailed character in a computer-animated funny-animal movie about the Yes bassist. Forecasts whether the coming year will feature lasers.
- Kenny Kangaroo, Pittsburgh, February 8. Forecasts whether the Kennywood amusement park would close for the day at 8:00 or 9:00, if it were open in the middle of winter like this. Mostly a public-relations thing, unlike the other weather-forecasting animals.
- Carl, Des Moines, Washington, February 10. Oversleeping groundhog that makes us wonder why we need a Des Moines in Washington when the one in Iowa would seem to sate all our Des Moines needs, really. Forecasts whether eastern Washington state will have a quarter-inch of rain this year or whether it’ll stay dry.
- Cooler and overcast with flurries in the evening leading to arguments on I-195 about why everybody is there exactly.
- Clear skies but brisk and extremely windy. Wear extra layers and have an anchor ready in case of more extreme gusts than are good for you.
- Wintry mix giving way to showers of tiny hard pretzels and the unpopular ones of an assorted peanuts jar. This might be less the weather and more you tripping into the office party’s snack bowl.
- Though it’s enough above freezing you think it’s all right to run to the car without your gloves on, there’s just enough freezing rain to destroy the structural integrity of your skin if you try. Note: you can’t get your keys into the car door if you have your gloves on.
- Sharp drop in the temperature reminds you that somehow you only ever look at http://dogeweather.com when it’s really lousy out.
- It’s going to be 65 degrees at noon and drop to 22 by sunset? Did somebody forget to pay the sanity bill again?
Just like the title reads. My love got curious and looked up just what people could do at Michigan Secretary of State offices and it turns out it isn’t merely the ordinary Department of Motor Vehicle-type services you can do there. You can, for example, register to vote. Sure, you can do that at a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission office, but — and here’s the thing — only as part of Motor-Votor plans. That is, you can do it only if it’s at the same time as doing some motor-vehicle-related business. If you just wander in to a New Jersey DMV office with the intention of registering to vote, you’ll be turned away by DMV-paperwork-inspectors. They’ll look over your itinerary and tell you that, no, the only thing you can do in their offices without any connection to motor vehicle paperwork is to sign up for an official state non-driver identification. Oh, and go to the bathroom, they’re okay with that.
But not so in Michigan. Here, you can go to what I had thought of as just the quirkily-named local version of the DMV and sign up to be a notary public. I mean, you could do that at a New Jersey DMV office, but only because you brought the form in to the bathroom with you. You couldn’t expect anyone to process it. Also at the Michigan Secretary of State office you can submit papers to have the Great Seal of the State of Michigan affixed. I’m pretty sure you just give them to the office and they send it in to be Great Seal affixed. I mean, they can’t have a Great Seal in every Secretary of State office since that makes a mockery of the whole Great Seal concept. But in case you need a Great Seal affixation, well, there you go. It’s to the Secretary of State office. Pretty sure what they do is send your document over to the Office of the Great Seal, which is a thing that exists, to be affixed there, and then you get it back somehow. Oh, you could just mail your thing in to the Office of the Great Seal directly, at a mailing address that is not the physical address of the Office of the Great Seal’s office. My point is just that if you go to a New Jersey DMV office you’re not going to get any documents affixed with that state’s Great Seal.
So while I had carelessly thought of this Michigan thing as a bit of quirkiness, that’s just because I had failed to investigate the matter. It’s entirely on me for not knowing this. At a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission office the only non-motor-vehicle business you can transact is getting a non-driver state ID and go to the bathroom. At a Michigan Secretary of State office you can carry on all the business a person might expect to conduct with the Department of State. Except that you can only get the Great Seal affixation-submission business done from one of the six Secretary of State SUPER!Centers, which are like regular Secretary of State offices except you giggle when you see their name put out like that. Also I imagined that the Secretary of State office I went to wasn’t a SUPER!Center, since it’s on the east side of Lansing and the Office of the Great Seal’s office is like two miles west on the same road. But no, it is, and now I have that bit of trivia to deploy on some unsuspecting documents-authentication group sometime. So, you know, this has been a fruitful weekend overall.
Also the jury duty people called back and said as it happens they didn’t call my number anyway so no harm done when I forgot to check in for three days. I still feel awful about that.
There’s this amusement park in Clementon, New Jersey, called Clementon Park. Any questions so far? It’s a fine little place that survived a financial crisis that should’ve wiped it out and I’m glad it’s on the upswing. Quite good wooden roller coaster too.
I have a T-shirt from it. It’s the classiest amusement park T-shirt I own. It’s dark blue and has this nice diamond pattern down one side and it has a faux-heraldic shield with the park’s name and some of its rides and the letters N J on diagonal squares of the shield. If you didn’t know better you’d think it was for someplace where you couldn’t plausibly expect to buy a batter-dipped plastic fork.
A friend pointed out to me that the shirt was backwards, and I didn’t get it, but finally realized he meant instead of having it monogrammed J N. Well, I usually go by JFN when I need to go in initials. The F stands for what you would assume it does, assuming you assume it stands for my middle name. I smiled that this was a cute coincidence that hadn’t occurred to me and that was it until ten hours later when I thought of the response. “Oh yes,” I should have said, “I put my shirt on inside-out”, which doesn’t make sense but sounds enough like it should to qualify as a joke.
So now all I have to do is wait for some time when I’m wearing this particular T-shirt again, and someone happens to make a joke about the N J on the t-shirt matching two-thirds of my own initials in the wrong order, and then I’m set to sound all spontaneous! So I hope you’ll forgive me writing this here so I don’t forget it. I can’t sound effortless without this kind of work.
So here’s the upper-right-corner of Sunday’s edition of the Asbury Park Press, suggesting some of the fun things you might do on the Jersey Shore this weekend.
You might get your beach tag and wander around on sand that’s surprisingly hot considering. You might drop a computer’s “on” switch into water. You might enjoy a strawberry festival. Or you might take in the classic beach movie Jaws, about a shore community’s 4th of July celebration that ends in a bunch of people bloody and dead because of the need to draw tourists to the beach. Also this weekend, read the Asbury Park Press report on the centennial of the 1916 Jersey Shore Shark Attacks, the series of tragedies in that area that inspired Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws. This didn’t make the cover on Sunday.
I suppose I can’t really say this is “too soon”, what with the start of it all having been a hundred years ago. But it does remind me this is the community that ran sightseeing tours to the wreckage of the Morro Castle before the authorities had even finished finding someone who looked Communist to blame for the disaster.
Anyway, ah, mathematics comics: here’s some. There’ll be more tomorrow, it’s that kind of week. Thanks.
New Sweden was established in the Delaware River valley, in what is now southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania and the Twelve Mile Circle of Delaware, by exactly the nation you’d imagine, in 1638. It carried itself along for just under two decades. In 1655 the colony was conquered by, and absorbed into, the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands. But this expanded New Netherlands, with outposts along what they termed the North River (the Hudson) and the South River (the Delaware), would stay in Dutch control for barely a dozen years. In 1667 the whole colony was conquered by the English, New Amsterdam famously surrendering without firing a shot. History moves on: in 1673 the colony would be reconquered by the Dutch, New York less-famously surrendering without firing a shot. But they would be returned to England a year later, in the peace treaty which concluded the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The settlement would be exchanged for various East Indies spice islands, including Run, the legendary fount of nutmeg.
The many states of Europe adopted Pope Gregory’s reformed calendar — our modern calendar — at different times, mostly based on the religious politics of the state. Sweden held fast to the Julian calendar until 1700, when it made an attempt to switch over which went so wrong they had to create a February 30th to clean up the mess. (They would finally adopt the Gregorian Calendar successfully in 1753.) The states of the Netherlands switched to the Gregorian calendar or stuck, ten days behind, with the Julian calendar, depending on the religious preferences of the state. The colony of the New Netherlands was settled by the West Indies Company. The company was organized in the Catholic state of Holland, and so would be on the Gregorian calendar. England stuck it out on the Julian calendar through 1752 while telling itself it was so Protestant that the other Protestant nations couldn’t even see its Protestant-ness from where they were.
Presumably at least some part of the conquest of territories by new powers is to adjust the calendar for the residents. The courts, the tax assessors, all the business of government will naturally cling to the time which the regent keeps. North America may be far from Europe, and farther in the 17th century, but it would be intolerable to have European outposts not even agree what day the 21st of April is.
Therefore a resident of New Sweden should have seen her calendar switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar sometime after the Dutch conquest in 1655, losing ten days but getting a spring that actually starts in mid-March. And then she would have to see ten days stuffed back into the calendar somehow in 1667, with the English conquest. Possibly the Dutch would take the ten days back out again in 1673, if they didn’t have bigger problems to tend to what with being at war with both the English and the Anglos. If they did, then the resident had to stuff ten days back into her calendar as it switched back again a year later.
This surely annoyed and baffled the locals. It was confusing and frustrating enough in Europe where the calendar standards were fairly well-established and known for the whole 17th century. On what they regarded as the frontier these standards must have been even more whimsical and arbitrary. And yet I’ve never heard of any incidents involving the alternating calendars. I don’t even know when New Sweden’s calendars were changed, or New Netherland’s, or whether it changed for the Dutch interregnum. I know about the annoyances of 1752, since that’s renowned in calendar studies. It’s like hearing about the Beatles; if you haven’t, you just don’t know the subject at all. Of course, 1752 I know from the British perspective and people talking about William Hogarth paintings and whatnot. It’s just assumed that the North American colonies went along, things unfolding about the way they did in London. Or at least Sheffield.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the history of New Jersey or the surrounding states. I doubt I own more than ten histories of New Jersey, and fewer than half of them are academic texts. But I don’t remember it ever getting a single line of mention ever. The dates must have changed, but when, and how was it done? And what did the people living with the change think of it all? How much of a hassle was it, and what were people saying about the trouble, especially when it kept coming up over and over again? They must have told at least some jokes about the absurdity of this all; what were they?
So with this to ponder, I think you’ll agree I was right not to do a lick of work today, and I appreciate your understanding, boss. I can’t make promises for tomorrow either. But if you do have any contacts with the New Jersey Historical Society we just might be able to come to some arrangement. Isn’t that everything you could ask for?
I was at Taco Bell, which is a tiny bit interesting because until about two years ago I’d never eaten at one. It isn’t like I have anything particular against Taco Bell, even though their corporate overlords used to have the supervillain-corporate name of Tricon Global, and now have the faintly-Orwellian menace name of Yum! Brands, Inc. I just never got around to it before. I probably should have. I sincerely like their extruded burritos. But I’ve always liked extruded things.
What I want to get at is that besides the seven-extruded burrito and a cheese quesadilla I ordered a pop. I did this because I was thirsty and this was Michigan. One thing I’ve known since childhood about the midwest was that “soda” was called “pop” there. This I heard before the 90s, when everybody got on the Internet and started discussing how they call the same things by different names and how other places than home pronounce words wrong. (That was all anyone talked about online all 1997.) When I moved to Michigan, I found this “pop” thing was true. But the guy working the register didn’t understand me. I said a regular pop, and please, and still didn’t get my point across. So I gave up and said “soda” and that was fine.
Thing is, this keeps happening to me. Or at least around me. I ask for pop from people who should be used to people asking for pop, and they don’t know what to make of that. I’d understand confusion if I asked for pop from someone that would be unusual, such as in New Jersey, at a furniture store, from the guy the building code office sent to check on a crack in a load-bearing pillow. I couldn’t complain much if the guy chose to slug me. But why is this confusing?
I have to figure the problem is my accent. I come from New Jersey, and I’m not more defensive about that than average, and I must just say words like “pop” in ways they don’t understand. I don’t have a very strong New Jersey accent. I routinely surprise people when they hear where I’m from. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” is the sort of thing I get. “I’d have guessed you were from … ” and then they’re not able to pin down just where they were thinking I was from, and they knock over a pyramid of soda cans and run away in the confusion.
I know what people expect from a New Jersey accent. It’s a bit loud and fast, with touches of 1940s Movie Brooklyn in it. College football is unpronounced. The average sentence will have something that has to get beeped out. Instead of clearly pronouncing the “-ing” at the end of words, speakers punch something. Maybe a person, maybe a tree, maybe the shoreline, maybe the abstract concept of justice, maybe a vending machine. Just something that’s available. The New Jersey accent is a crossing of the basic Atlantic Midlands dialect with swerving across four lanes of heavy traffic to cut someone off. I haven’t got a strong accent, because I’m too shy to punch an extruded burrito in a Taco Bell in Michigan. Most of my accent expresses itself in referring to Bruce Springsteen as if we were on a first-name basis, taking a surprising amount of guff for talking about people in queues being “on line”, and in getting into tiresome arguments about how people in other states are forced to pump their own gas. Also I expect to be able to order pork roll, although not at Taco Bell. I like to think my natural speech is a good bit rhotic, but I have no idea what that means. I might just want to be rhotic for the attention.
Except that doesn’t make sense because I hate drawing attention to myself. I feel like I’m taking too much of the cashier’s attention just by ordering my food. Going back around and explaining that by a pop I mean a soda, which is how he would have said pop is just horrible. I want to curl up in a ball underneath the plastic packs of chili sauce and go unnoticed, except they’d probably catch me when I snuck off to the bathroom. Except what would I have to go to the bathroom for if I can’t get a pop to drink?
It’s not the most exciting thing we have around the yard — that would be our pet rabbit being let out in his pen to frighten squirrels — but we do have a bird feeder out back, which we use to get angry at squirrels who are passing up the perfectly good squirrel feeder that’s on the tree they can actually get at. Anyway, it’s fun looking up at the window and seeing that every sparrow in the world is visiting at once.
And then there’s the occasional surprise visitor. We just got a Cape May warbler visiting. There was one here last year, too, and it delighted me first because it’s not so much bigger than a sparrow but is far more interesting to look at, what with looking like it’s been dipped in lemon sauce before heading out for the day. It’s named, if we believe in Wikipedia these days, for Cape May, New Jersey, where it does not live and through which it does not migrate, but where it was spotted one time by George Ord, who swore he wasn’t making it up, even though another one wasn’t seen in Cape May for a hundred years after that, and where it still doesn’t get seen much. I am just delighted that the world works out like that sometimes. Imagine if you could apply that to people. I might be named something like “Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport Shuffler-To-Connecting-Flight”. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport meanwhile is properly named after World War I pilots Ernest Groves Wold and Cyrus Foss Chamberlain, but the “Wold-Chamberlain Field” apparently is not much seen, and I like to think that’s because the name has moved to Cape May to retire.
|County||Number Of Municipalities With “Egg” In Their Name|
 Egg Harbor City, Egg Harbor Township.
 Little Egg Harbor Township.
No two “Egg Harbor” municipalities share a border.
Apparently for its sesquicentennial Rider University in New Jersey got people organized to set the Guinness World Record for the “longest line of fruits”, by stringing together 10,036 cranberries. I don’t question the wisdom of this, naturally. I don’t know a better way to celebrate a sesquicentennial than setting a fruit-string record. I’m reminded of how Piscataway, New Jersey, celebrated its sesquicentennial by placing in a line an estimated twelve tomatos. (It was founded in 1666, so its sesquicentennial was in 1816, so it was harder to get fresh fruits back then, so lay off. Also it was only Piscataway.)
And I don’t argue with the choice of cranberries. If you want to set a record that’s going to stand you’re going to need a lot of fruits, and cranberries are pretty good because you get a lot of them from wherever it is cranberries come from and they’re all small, so you’re not going to have to up all your storage space for cranberry depository needs. If you were trying to string together over ten thousand watermelons you might well have a line that runs out of New Jersey, through Pennsylvania, and into a little bit of Kentucky before someone checks the map and says that’s not possible.
Plus, and I don’t want to sound too enthusiastic about the state of my birth, but New Jersey is a great place to get cranberries. It’s not obvious from the toll roads, but nearly three-quarters of the land area that isn’t toll roads, outlet malls, or that little bitty mountain range in the upper left corner are cranberry bogs. There’s so many cranberries in New Jersey that you can’t toss an otter into a cranberry bog without getting a lot of cranberries tossed back at you by otter-defending cranberry beasts. Compare this to the in-state availability of, say, durian and you can see why cranberries are almost inevitable.
It’s the number that’s got me: why did they stop at 10,036, instead of the obvious round number of 10,030? Why not go on to a clearly more attractive 10,044? It’s not that the previous record was 10,035; the article I read about it said they broke the old fruit string record by over four thousand pieces of fruit. Possibly they ran out of cranberries, although I’d imagine for the cause of getting to a lofty number like 10,054 someone could have run to the store and got another can, or taunt a nearby otter. Maybe they ran out of string. I could see that stopping the whole project dead. They could resort to twine for the end, although that might get them in trouble, and besides any ball of twine anyone thinks they have is always, always, purely notional. Nobody has had the twine they thought they had since 1942, which wasn’t any particular anniversary for Rider University.
Rider’s director of media relations, Kristine Brown, pointed out that Guinness requires that food used for records be “used in some way”, so apparently when all the record-certifying is done, and someone goes home knowing that their career has caused them to take a trip for the purpose of verifying a string of cranberries, “we’re gonna string them on the trees around campus so all the birds and the squirrels and everybody can enjoy them”. And this offers another clue why cranberries were used, because you can see obvious problems in trying to decorate a university campus with strings of some other fruit, such as squash: I don’t think squash is a fruit.
I’m not sure the exact biology of it but I’m pretty sure fruits are defined as “the plants that people eat because they like eating them, as long as candy bars aren’t available”, while vegetables are “the plants people eat because they feel they should be eating vegetables or because it’s winter and they retain oven heat like crazy”, and then there’s big leafy stuff like lettuce and spinach that people eat because they hold salad dressing. You couldn’t put even world-record-setting strands of squash around campus, not without getting caught or the string breaking.
Also, I had never before thought to frock a university campus in strands of cranberries for the fall, but now, I have a new prank to play.
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.
I honestly did not realize there were enough people trying to break news of their vampire-ness to other people that it should be one of the top autocomplete results to “how to tell someone you’re a”. I choose to imagine most people being told this say, “Oh, you sweet dear, we knew long ago. … How? Well, the fangs, the long cape, the Transylvanian castle you had transplanted brick-by-brick here to Mantoloking, New Jersey. They mean things.”
4:52 am. Passengers assemble at the East Lansing Train Station. Passengers will be screened for having gotten more than three hours of fitful, oft-interrupted sleep the night before. Those which have will be assigned a 25-page term paper on the subject of late 19th Century United States presidents and their understanding of how the emerging science of thermodynamics affects railroad painting, worth forty percent of the class, no makeups.
5:18 am. Passengers board the train to East East Lansing where the train service stops and they all get aboard a bus to take them to Toledo, arriving somehow at 3:12 am that same morning, only crankier. Through the bus trip the TV screens will be playing Something, Probably A Romantic Comedy Or Something, with the lower half of the screen glitched out and the audio just loud enough to hear the helicopters and explosions but not the dialogue. Three stars.
7:30 am. Bus arrives in Toledo to transfer to the train station, but immediately gets lost because the driver attempts foolishly to follow “Route 2”, a highway of legendary and purely notional existence.
2:18 pm. The Ohio Coast Guard retrieves the bus from Lake Erie shortly before the desperately paddling passengers manage to cross the border into Ontario and thus provoke an international incident as many of them failed to bring adequate supplies of Canadian currency and someone is trying to pass off a FunZone Game Token as money.
10:40 pm. The Ohio Coast Guard finally gets the bus paddled to shore and after hiring sherpas brings the bus to the train station, whence the train zooms towards Pittsburgh, stopping only after fourteen minutes in order that a freight train with higher priority can be constructed and loaded with freight, a cargo consisting of passenger train cars headed the other direction. On-train Internet WiFi service is reduced from “sluggish” to “laughable”.
Day 2. 2:15 am. The train arrives in Pittsburgh and is immediately taken out over the Monongahela River and dangled by its couplers or whatever they have until every passenger has been subject to a review of the stuff left in the backseat of his or her car to be cleaned out “later, when it’s convenient”. The winner is the one who has the most obviously later-inconvenient item, with bonus points awarded if it is some kind of mould for the fabrication of solid metal objects.
3:20 am. The train just sits outside the Kennywood Amusement Park for a couple of hours to make everyone feel bad that they’re at an amusement park and they can’t go in, plus everything’s closed up. A conductor goes around reminding people they have 23 and a half pages to go and have barely thought about paint.
6:75 am. The train discharges its passengers that they may catch their connecting service, at the far end of the railway terminal in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or maybe Charleston, West Virginia. Check signs for details.
8:26 am. Connecting service on the line to New York City departs wherever, with the conductor reminding people they have 22 and three-quarters pages and the font may not be larger than fourteen point. New sound-dampening cushions allow most of the ride to be soft and quiet except for the guy ranting about you’re not sure what except it’s definitely political and somehow it gets into what you do for your career and he gets that so wrong it’s hard to resist answering.
9:14 am. Thorough investigation of the train establishes that nobody is actually producing the rant. Clearly the problem is a quarrelsome ghost of annoying conversations gone by. Internet service upgrades to “pages load, but only the banner ads and that swirling dot pattern web sites started doing like two years ago in place of showing stuff”.
11:57 am. Start of a four-hour delay so we can sit by the side of a large pile of rocks. Inspires several passengers to include a section about presidential rocks, which falls apart when nobody can remember the name of Gustav … uh … Mount Rushmore Guy without the Internet.
6:12 pm. End of the four-hour delay.
8:55 pm. Train approaches Hoboken, pauses so that passengers can be dangled sideways until the blood rushes to their wrists.
10:10 pm. Arrival, Penn Station, New York City. Technically, legally part of New Jersey because of the lease NJ Transit has on that platform. We are given extensions on the paper.