So I agree that it’s hard to define what exactly is the best in life. That granted, you know? That summer vacation when I was about eleven and had nothing to do except work on this box that was like two feet by two feet by one foot tall and was filled with tagalong rejects? That’s got to be somewhere in the top five of bests ever.
Anyway I’ve Never Had Reason to Seriously Think I Might Not Be Neurotypical
Just sitting up, quietly fuming about that assignment in third-grade history class where we had to take a map of the outline of New Jersey, where we lived, and draw something that it looked like. And, like, I like New Jersey sure. There’s a lot of nice things to say about it. But it does not look like anything. Classmates were doing stuff like drawing it as a face looking west or something and just, no, it is not, stop pretending that it does, classmates from a very long time ago who probably aren’t sitting up thinking how they put one over on little Joseph Nebus like that. Maybe a sock that fell on the mattress, that’s the only thing the state kind of looks like.
Statistics Saturday: Beloved-Enough TV Shows Already Made Into Movies You Never Knew About, So Far As You Know
- Car 54, Where Are You
- Sargent Bilko
- The Honeymooners
- The Archies
- Just The Ten Of Us
- Mr Belvedere
- Gilligan’s Planet
- Space Precinct
- Early Edition
- The $1.98 Beauty Pageant
- I Love Lucy
- Password Plus
Reference: The Triumph Of Numbers: How Counting Shaped Modern Life, I B Cohen.
Fortunately Since Realizing This My Mood Has Been Stable
But in the shower this morning I realized that in all probability, they went ahead and turned fondly-remembered-but-not-rewatched TV show Mister Ed into a movie that even the people who worked on it don’t remember ever seeing. There’s an excellent chance they made a sequel where Mister Ed goes to New York or the Olympics or something too. What else are they getting up to while we’re paying attention to other stuff?
Mostly I Enjoy Being Part of My Age and Demographic Cohort
However, it does mean that now and then I spend all morning haunted by the memory of some 1980s commercial promising that in case of (something) you could have “Chicken Diane in less than thirty minutes!” I don’t know if that’s a good time for chicken Diane, or if it was a good time for it in the 80s but we have more sophisticated techniques of chicken today. Or of Diane-ing chicken. I don’t even know what chicken Diane is like. I don’t think we ever had it, or at least it wasn’t announced as such. And I don’t know why it’s lasting so in my mind but, there it is, just in case I need chicken Diane in under thirty minutes and can go back to the 1980s sometime and find out.
Statistics 2022: Top Fads Of 2022
- Hollering about “Quiet Quitting”
- Re-requesting the multi-factor-authentication code be texted to us
- Taffy pushing
- Agreeing that animated Christmas specials these days move too fast and edit too much, all right-y
- Re-launching your Patreon
- Sea Shanties on TikTok? That was this year, right?
- Struggling to remember why everyone was that angry about “Bean Dad” without looking it up
- Nodding about how the weather isn’t supposed to be like this, all right-y
- Goldfish swallowing telephone booths
- Slumbering for ten times ten thousand eons until time has made mockery of all contemporary woes, finding they’ve still got as many woes left over, all right-y
- Minor-chord acoustic covers of New Wave hits
Reference: The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939 – 1941, Warren F. Kimball.
PS: the code was 560142. Please use within the next — sorry, it’s expired.
To Help You Understand What Life Used to Be
So I was thinking about the younger generations and how they’ve never known a world without the Internet. I’ve known both kinds of worlds and thought folks might like to know something of what it was like. What I’ve got, though, is that we used to do stuff like laying awake at night, trying our best to remember the name of Paul Reiser. So this is a problem we’ve solved. Yay us! Anytime we like we can say, “Hey, Siri, tell me the name of Paul Reiser” and get an answer right away. I’m not saying everything is better today. But some things are, and among those things are the greater openness about gender diversity and that if we struggle to remember the name of Paul Reiser it’s for recreational purposes only. That’s something good.
Statistics Saturday: 15 Things You Can’t Believe Happened Earlier In 2021
- Bean Dad
- Sea shanties on TikTok
- Like three probes orbited or landed on Mars and one of them had a helicopter
- Balloon Boy
- The Kellogg’s strike
- That morning we all found a box of Peak Freans on our counter even though they haven’t made Peak Freans since like 1989 and nobody could explain where all these Peaks Freans came from
- That guy did that really good impression of Robin Williams learning of John Belushi’s death
- Culture Club released the hit song “Karma Chameleon”
- The imperatives of state bureaucracy drove European governments to impose family names on all their inhabitants, without regard to local culture or the lack of community need for such things
- The controversial “Rashomon” episode of Scooby and Scrappy Doo aired
- Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins died
- Ken Russell’s film adaptation of The Who’s Tommy uses rather a lot of beans, is unconnected to “Bean Dad”
- End of the Recombination era of the universe, when electrons and atomic nucleuses finally became cool enough to bind together into atoms, allowing photons to travel great distances, causing space to no longer be opaque for the first time
- Boss Baby 2 came out
- Audiences were enchanted by that “so good … but no lumps!” commercial but can’t remember, was it for gravy? For Alka-Seltzer? But Alka-Seltzer was that “Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball” commercial, right? That was like four years ago?
Reference: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, Nick Taylor.
One more last thought about Conan O’Brien as a late-night talk show host
Boy, you know, I remember how smug I felt back in September 2018. And I’m sure you all know why. It’s because of that crack on an episode of the UPN sitcom Platypus Man (1995 – slightly later in 1995) when a character and/or platypus described something as even more unlikely than “a Conan O’Brien 25th Anniversary Special”. Well, we sure and safely showed Platypus Man a thing or two. But just think — what if the writer had referenced “a Conan O’Brien 30th Anniversary Special” instead? Then who would be laughing at who, and regarding what?
Anyway if I know anything about Platypus Man it’s that we weren’t laughing at it, we were laughing at it.
From when it seemed the world could change
Just thinking back to that time when Windows 95 was coming out. And there were Microsoft fans, for some reason, and there were Apple fans, for some reason. And there were Microsoft fans, for some reason, insisting the Windows 95 user interface of the recycling bin was infinitely better than the Mac’s trash bin. After all, you don’t throw away your disk; you recycle the bits on it ito something new. And Mac fans argued back that you don’t recycle a file, you throw it out, maybe and maybe not replacing it with something new.
Anyway, considering how heated this debate got you can understand how we assumed we had used history up and nothing much would ever happen again.
Episodes of _Alice_ I still remember for some reason
Special thanks-I-guess to Thomas K Dye of Projection Edge and Newshounds web comic fame for getting me on this topic.
- The one where the waitresses go out on strike and they explain that to be a legal picket line the people in it have to stay in motion at all times, although it’s probably okay if Vera gets on roller skates so she can just slide around, even though she doesn’t know how to stop or steer and she goes rolling off into … traffic, I guess? It seemed bad for her, anyway. I think her injuries shamed Mel into settling the strike. Anyway it’s a good lesson to not learn US labor law by watching Alice.
- Flo leaves so she can start her own spinoff series, and she gets replaced with … uh … her cousin or maybe sister or someone who’s a lot like her except she doesn’t have that great “Kiss my grits” catchphrase to fall back on.
- There’s definitely one where a wrecking ball smashes through the diner, right? I couldn’t be imagining that of all things?
- There’s probably one where Alice’s kid gets to say No to having a Drug even though his bestest best friend forever who we never saw before or after is having them.
- Mel sells the diner for the last episode so everybody has to go and achieve their lifelong dreams now and what do you know but they do.
- I’m just guessing that there was one where a major character discovers like six seasons in that they never learned to read, so they learn now. But I don’t know for sure.
Not listed: the Saturday-morning cartoon spinoff of Alice which pop culture theory tells us ought to have existed. The most generally accepted hypotheses suppose that they would all be working their way around the world selling stuff from a funny Wienermobile-like contraption with astounding powers, possibly including flight and the ability to operate as a submarine, and meanwhile there’s spies after them for some reason. They might have a zany pet or it might just be Alice’s flying submersible Wienermobile has a talking computer.
And if I may bring things down with a little harsh reality here: how is it that every season of Alice has been released on DVD while only three-fifths of The Muppet Show have? Well? Huh? You know?
Reference: The Unknown Dominion: Canada and her People, Bruce Hutchison.
What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What did happen for Skeezix’s 100th birthday? February – April 2021
I’d delayed my last Gasoline Alley plot summary a couple weeks back in February. This so I could say what was happening for Skeezix’s centennial. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep changed the strip and made it into something that would last a hundred-plus years. And I was startled that nothing particular did happen.
That did change. We got a story revisiting a few moments in Skeezik’s life. This from the perspective of Walt Wallet, a fair choice. The retrospective was shorter than I expected. This both in its duration, which was only a week for the readers, and its scope, which only covered up to World War II. But it is an observation, albeit late, of Skeezik’s centennial.
So this should catch you up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for late April, 2021. If you’re reading this after about July 2021, or if news about the strip breaks, I should have a post here.
On my other blog, I do write up comic strips with mathematical content sometimes. Yesterday, for example, I got to bring up a 1948 panel of Barnaby. You might like seeing that.
And now, what has been going on in Gasoline Alley since February?
14 February – 26 April 2021.
A lot of stuff at the supermarket. Gertie, Walt’s live-in caretaker, stops to help Mim, a woman who’d lost her glasses. Gertie can’t find them, but throws her back out searching the floor. She pulls on a shelf to straighten up, knocking over bottles of floor wax. And then we get a bunch of slapstick as characters fall over, drawing in more bystanders to slip and fall over, drawing in — Well. We are fortunate the slipping wave stops before it encompasses all humanity in the dreaded Global Pratfall Event. And in comes Tim, who’d found Mim’s glasses when he got home. He surmises that they fell into his basket and he hadn’t noticed. Since they’ve met cute and have matching names, they need to go off and date and reappear in stories to come.
So, come the 10th of March, Gertie heads home and into the next story. She calls Walt to let him know she’s running late, but gets no answer. She fears the worse, speeding home. A cop stops her for speeding, but concedes these are good reasons to rush home and check on an unresponsive 115-year-old. They call in the fire department and the ambulance and find … that he was just watching the TV and couldn’t hear the phone.
From the 24th, Walt talks about the lost stamina of his youth. He goes to bed, and wakes up the next morning … looking and feeling 20 years old. He’s dreaming, of course, but chooses to enjoy that.
He talks with Baby Skeezix. Relives going on the first drives with a 15-year-old Skeezix in a mid-30s jalopy. Waves Skeezix off to the Army, and back from World War II. And, while he’s feeling young, goes for a run. It’s a moment that touched me. I don’t yet have the experience of being old. But I did used to be quite fat. When I was losing that weight there was one day I realized I could go from walking quickly to running, and that the transition felt good, and the running felt good, and I imagine Walt’s dream felt like that. I hope everyone gets to experience that good feeling.
But it is a dream, and only a dream. He wakes the next morning with the usual sorts of aches and indignities of age.
Walt wakes back up the 13th, has breakfast, and they discover they’re out of eggs. While Walt naps, Gert goes back to the store. She’s been trying to find a box of eggs without any cracked, without success. The egg delivery guy is handling the packages roughly. Also she sees Mim again, who’s there with Tim and contact lenses.
Hollywood glamor! Rappers! Childhood bullies! Homeowners Associations! Viral videos! It’s Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, if all goes as planned. I still don’t know how Mark Trail didn’t get arrested after stealing that boat in Florida. Sorry.
Also, if you’re a little curious somebody built a Smokey Stover web site … I’d estimate in summer of 1997 … updated the copyright notice in 2003, and forgot about it ever since. So please enjoy some vintage comic strips on a very vintage web site. It’s got an image map for its front page, if you can imagine.
In Which I Wish to Blame This on the Synthesizer but It Was Really Just Me
Sorry, was just thinking about how I spent all my elementary and middle and high school education in special magnet programs for the unusually special-magnet-program-bound, and yet it took me like three years to realize that G.I.Joe nemesis Cobra Commander and the same voice as the Starscream the Transformer.
Some nostalgic thoughts about a path not taken
Just idly thinking back to that time around 1989 when Tiny Toons debuted. And I thought it would be a fun episode if they did a spoof of Back To The Future, starring Plucky Duck, that they’d call Duck To The Future. Never worked out what all would happen with it, except that the final scene would definitely be whoever the Doc stand-in is warning Plucky, “It’s your sequel! Something’s got to be done about your sequel!” That’s not a lot of anything, but, you know? That’s probably all about as much as the premise needed.
Statistics Saturday: Tunes I Remember Learning For Introductory Violin In Elementary School
Part of my recurring series, On Reflection I Don’t Understand My Childhood At All.
- Mary Had A Little Lamb
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Jingle Bells
- Memory (from the musical Cats)
- Tomorrow (from the musical Annie)
- Theme from Masterpiece Theater (from the not-necessarily-musical Masterpiece Theater)
- I Love Rock and Roll
- Daisy, Daisy
I think it was even in that order in the music instruction book too.
Reference: Asimov’s Chronology of the World: The Story of the World From the Big Bang to Modern Times, Isaac Asimov.
Not to Name Names
I was struck with a bizarre fact about the young me. Like, younger than middle-school me. When I was in early elementary school — before even Laverne, on Laverne and Shirley, had gotten her job at that aerospace company — we were expected to bring valentines for everyone else in our class. And I did that too. Thing is that means I knew the names and faces of everybody in my class. That’s like thirty people and I kept them all straight. I couldn’t name thirty people today, much less match their names with their faces, even if you spotted me the core cast of Peanuts.
They must have sent home ditto sheets with everyone’s name on it, right? That’s the only way this sort of makes sense. But then how did I get cards to everybody correctly? Maybe I didn’t, and everybody I messed up was trying to get mad at me, but they weren’t sure who I was? And maybe, like, they got mad at Michael Bellaran instead? Well, if that’s what happened, Michael, I’m sorry. I’d make up for it by buying you lunch if I ever see you. But that’s going to depend on you recognizing me. Sorry.
Statistics Saturday: Things You Forgot Happened This Year
- The guy who directed Batman And Robin died.
- We were sharing pictures of people cutting open stuff to reveal it’s cake inside.
- “At this point I ran out of magnets.”
- Series finale of Steven Universe.
- The impeachment trial.
- “A large boulder the size of a small boulder.”
- The failure Fyre Festival amused and delighted the world.
- The death of David Bowie shocked the world.
- “Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom SNAKE.”
- Woodstock ’99.
- The Canter and Siegel Green Card spam on Usenet introduced the Internet to mass unsolicited commercial advertising.
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 2,000 points for the first time.
- 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).
- A scandal in salad-oil inventory storage endangered the American Express corporation.
- A giant panda was brought into the United States for the first time.
- 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.
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.
A Follow-Up Thought
I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.
Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.
But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.
It’s one of the most baffling school experiences I remember. It’s up there with the time they took us to the Garden State Arts Center and instructed us to clap with our hands cupped. I think we were also there to have music played at us, but I remember the clapping instruction.
But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.
What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.
This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.
In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.
Given the choice I wouldn’t have been up before noon on a Saturday that early June of 1989. But it was the day for Senior Class Photos, for the yearbook and all. My father, taking time from his birthday, drove me there, to one of a hundred identical New Jersey towns, the ones one or two layers of municipality in from the Shore. I don’t know why that was the high school’s designated photo studio, but it was, and there we went.
Somehow there was extra time, and a comic shop nearby, that I had never been to before nor would ever visit again. I picked up the Marvel Age promotional comic, and got a rare bit of news. I had been a reader of the New Universe comic books. This was a series that Marvel Comics started in 1986 as protection against some incomprehensible creators-rights problem happening. The books ran, unloved except by me, for two years before the problem evaporated and all the titles were cancelled. It was supposed to turn into a series of graphic novels, advancing the whole world, but I only ever saw one of them. The issue said that a new four-part graphic novel had been published, though, and in the current issue the New Universe Earth had a nuclear war.
I would never see the books, and I gather that the story more complicated than that. But the slug line promised that it was a stunning and realistic-for-superhero-comics depiction of global thermonuclear war. I’d liked the setting and had to conclude that it was unrecognizably gone, now. It would come back, of course, as some writers slipped it into the mainline Marvel continuity. And even do a reboot of the premise. But how would I know that at my young age? All I could know is that a fictional world I’d had a strange fondness for had burned itself up, for what (best I could gather) were stupid reasons.
And along the way — I forget whether driving there or driving home — came a breaking story on the news radio. We always listened to in the car. It was a dividend of my growing up in the last decade of Cold War, afraid there’d be a nuclear war I wouldn’t hear about ten minutes ahead of the event. The Chinese government had enough of the peaceful gatherings in Tiananmen Square, and was sending in troops to terrorize its people into compliance. It crushed the hopes for democratic reforms for a country that sorely needed them. It was a moment of needless misery and horror, out of all place in a year of liberations.
And it felt personal. I felt outraged that my father’s birthday was ruined, by this disaster. This sense of personal offense at a global outrage is part of our family’s heritage. My father’s father was born on the 1st of September, and for the last five decades of his life felt a personal grudge against Hitler for invading Poland that of all days. (No great epoch-making disaster has happened on my birthday yet, but it has at least once been too close.) History has given my father a break, recording the crackdown and terror as happening the day after; by local time, it was. But for me living it, it was all these terrible things, some petty and personal, some obviously of world important, and all arriving on a day that deserved to be reserved for small pleasantnesses and thoughts about someone I love.
Happy birthday, Dad. I’m sorry that the times suck.
A very little video game I remember from the 80s
You know something I got with some pack of cracked 80s video games? A Smurfs game. I’m not sure what genre it was. It was like a platformer, except that nothing happened. All that you had to do was not step on a dangerous spot. The thing was, the cracked version had this thing where you could turn off one or both of the sprites that made up Generic Smurf. One of those sprites was the upper half of his body, and the other the lower half. So if you turned off the lower half of his body, you wouldn’t ever hit the dangerous spots. You could just have the torso and arms and head of Generic Smurf floating over very many slightly different terrains, all while the tra-laaaaaa-lala-lala song plays over and over and over again, until you go mad.
Remembering the home computers of the 1980s
I wanted to share my experiences in home computing in the 1980s. I may not remember it quite right, but I remember it at all. You, I can’t trust to remember my experiences at all. I mean apart from my dad, who tells me he reads these things. But as I remember it, what he would remember is I disappeared into my room for up to 84 hours at a stretch. I’d emerge just because the groceries needed to be put away. And by putting them away myself I could put things in the freezer correctly, unlike everyone else.
Also I could get dibs on the microwave fried chicken. The microwave fried chicken was awful, understand. But it was convenient. Also the thighs would taste weird, which is not to say the same as good. But if I didn’t get away from the computer, someone else might eat that first. I don’t know whether my dad remembers this, but it’s got little to do with my computer experience. It would have looked the same to him if I spent all that time in my room re-reading the Star Trek comic book where the Excalbians went to Space War with the Organians because they were bored.
Big thing to remember is that how you got software was different. There were all these magazines that offered the promise of neat stuff, like, going around riding a dragon. And anyone could play this, if they just typed in six pages of three-column column text and didn’t get too much of it wrong. Then it turned out to be fun for maybe one-fourth the time you spent typing it in. Not everything was games, no. If you had a Commodore 64 you could type in programs that would let you use the graphics and the sound on the Commodore 64. It wouldn’t help you have anything to draw or … sound out. But if you ever thought of something, you were ready. Sometimes we would swap out the ROM version of the computer’s operating system for a RAM copy that was identical, except it didn’t throw a fit if you tried to find the ASCII value of an empty string. There were reasons this was important.
Still, games were great, because the only other software out there was spreadsheets and word processors. It still is, but now the spreadsheets and word processors are in a web browser so annoying ads can flash at you. But if you didn’t want to type in a game, you could get a professionally made game.
Thing to understand about computer games back then is that nobody ever bought them. You just … got them … somehow. Not really clear how, or who from. But they came on tape cassettes or on discs that a friend loaned you and that you copied, or that they copied and gave you. There were stores that claimed to sell software, yes. They had welcoming names like Professor Technofriend’s Software Empori-fun. Doesn’t matter. They never sold anything. The top-selling game of the 80s, Broderbund’s Karateka, saw sixteen copies sold in stores. There was never a game for the Amiga that sold. Game companies didn’t even try. They just gave the gold master disc to someone who knew this guy who worked(?) somewhere (??). He’d crack the copy protection and then make a kabillion copies with a fun message on the first screen. Every playground would have copies, although there was only one kid in school who had an Amiga. So that oversaturated the market.
The traded tapes, though, they’d have like 428 games on them. This seems like great value, what with them being free. The drawback is the games were mostly boring. There’d be, like, tic-tac-toe only it’s a grid of four rows and columns. Or Blackjack, except there’s no graphics or placing bets and you can’t do that thing where you split a hand when you’re dealt doubles. You’d just press space and watch numbers come up in a row until someone busted. In hindsight, I don’t know how it is I spent so much time on this. Oh, well, there was a Wheel of Fortune game that was great. It was even better after I memorized all six puzzles and could start solving puzzles after five letters. I typed it in from a magazine.
I know this all sounds ridiculous. But if it weren’t ridiculous we wouldn’t have done it. This is still true.
In which I talk back to the clickbait
I am sorry, YouTube clickbait promising the “top ten moments of Transformers The Movie (1986)”, but that would be the entirety of Transformers The Movie (1986). Though I have not seen Transformers The Movie (1986) since college I am certain it is exactly as awesome as I remember and has no segments that are now really embarrassing or painful.
OK, Wheelie was bad. But otherwise every bit of Transformers The Movie (1986) was the greatest thing humanity has ever done, not excepting the extinction of smallpox, Voyager’s “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, and every scene where a Simpsons character gives a false name.
Notice From The Nostalgia Bureau
It’s looking like it’ll be in the 70s all weekend. It’ll creep up into the 80s on Monday, but then it’s going to drop into the 50s and stay there the rest of the week. So you might want to look at getting your poodle skirts out of the attic since there’ll be plenty of chance to wear them. And that’s your time forecast for the week ahead.
Statistics Saturday: 80s Computer Magazine Titles, So Far As You Know
- Pet Finder (1978 – 84)
- TI Times (from 1982, TImes)
- Adam’s Friends
- bits (1976-86; BITS2000 1986-93)
- P.O.W.E.R. (1981-84; P.O.W.E.R.plus 84-86)
- CompuMonthly’s Apple IIGS Galleria
- Lotus 1-2-3 Gazette
- Transputer WorkLife
- CompuPlus (1980-84; P.O.W.E.R.plus 84-86)
- Maryland 8 Bit Computer User Group Quarterly (1982?-85?; disputed 87?, possibly M16CUG Quarterly 1989?-??)
- TRS-81 (1979-81)
- ML Express
Omitted for clarity: Hires and STart which I thought I was making up but turned out to actually exist.
Everything There Is To Say About Programming A Computer In The 80s
The earliest personal computers begged you to program them. Or they would, except the earliest personal computers weren’t sophisticated enough to do that. They’d print out a line like ‘OK’ and hope you picked up the hint. It wasn’t much to go on. It was like the computer wanted to say “WhatEVER”, except the computers didn’t have enough memory to be snide. Please remember back then it was spiffy that the computer had sixteen colors, three of which were grey. Anyway there was fun with programming.
You could write your own programs. These programs would print out the word ‘POOP’ and then repeat forever, filling the whole screen. This took under a second and then continued until you got bored. If you became a more advanced programmer, you’d add spaces to the end of ‘POOP’. This way as the screen scrolled you saw lines fluttering around instead of a long, static, column. This was less boring. Some of us got the chance to be forced to use Logo in school. This was a graphics programming language that let you draw a square. If you were an advanced Logo programmer, you could draw a square and then another square at an angle. Sometimes computer magazines would run an article about the language PILOT, which was a hoax.
If you didn’t want to write your own language there were magazines with programs you could type in. I mean computer magazines. Well, maybe there were computer programs you could type in from, like, Tiger Beat or Family Knitting ’83. I never checked. Maybe I am prejudging the situation. Anyone with specific information otherwise I ask to write in to Mister Food care of your local TV station.
But the type-in programs were great. You could flip open the magazine, set it in front of your computer, and then have the magazine close right back up again. Oh, there’s an ad on the back cover for some game that’s like Wheel of Fortune except all the contestants are aliens. I’m sure the graphics looked as great as the advertisement’s airbrushed art, only with more grey. Well, you flip open the magazine again, weight the edges down with some other magazines, and get to typing! It would be hundreds, maybe thousands, of lines, but that’s all right. If you typed anything wrong it would only make the entire thing not work at all.
Some of the magazines tried to help you out. They came up with these automatic proofreader programs. This make a little checksum appear each time you enter a line. The magazine listed what the right checksums were. So when they didn’t match you could complain the automatic proofreader was broken. I know what you’re thinking: since you had to type in the automatic proofreader how did you know you got that right? We didn’t. We had to hope. In hindsight we probably should have spent more of the decade crying.
You didn’t have to type programs in. You could load them in from a storage medium. Trouble is the storage medium we had was cassette tapes. For short programs it was faster to type them in again. For long programs it was faster to hold your computer up to the night sky and let cosmic rays randomly trip memory cells into the right patterns.
The typing could get to be fun. In like 1987 I typed in SpeedScript 3.2. It was a word processor that included advanced features. If you ended a paragraph by hitting shift-return, it put in a return, a blank line, and a tab to get the next paragraph off to a rousing start. I’ve spent the last 32 years looking for another word processor that would do this for me. It had other features, I assume.
A couple months later I found the magazine with SpeedScript 1.0, a worse version. And spent an afternoon typing that in because, hey, what else am I going to do? Not crush my median nerve against the carpal tunnel? But it was all worth it: after typing in SpeedScript 1.0 I could see for myself that it was kind of like SpeedScript 3.2, but not as good. I think it still had the shift-return thing, though. And I know what you’re all wondering: Wait, where was SpeedScript 2.0? I’ve spent 32 years fuming about that.
But don’t think all this typing didn’t have lasting effects, even if I haven’t yet completely destroyed my wrists. To this day, when I open a program and then close it right away I think about if this were 1988. I’d have had to spend like eighty minutes typing in that program and I just threw it away, only the modern version of it was good at its job except for the shift-return thing. Then I feel guilty.
So to summarize, I understand why everybody treated me like that in middle school.
Some Unconventional Beliefs
Here are some beliefs it is fine to have, even if you will never encounter a group of hundreds to thousands of people gathering in a hotel in some affordable hotel space on the outer edge of town for a weekend of merriment and panels and cosplay and frustrated attempts to get a group of six people together to go to the build-your-own-burrito place.
- That if your mind insists on fusing the songs American Pie and My Brown-Eyed Girl into one massive, never-ending whole, that’s fine. Your mind is your own. You can put not just any songs but any experiences together you like. If you wish to merge Hotel California with the experience of hollering at the movie theater’s automated ticket booth because you just don’t care where you sit to watch Barton Fink reboot origin movie, that’s your right. I mean, of course, if you aren’t at your gig-economy job putting in a few hours being part of the collective massmind. But that’s a special case.
- That it is the year 2019. By this I mean the ninth or maybe tenth year of the second decade of the current century. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are instead in the nineteenth year, somehow, of the first decade of the current century. But consider: how is it that we still have eighties nostalgia? The 80s are now so long ago there’ve been, like, five movie Batmans since then? How can we possibly feel any warmth to a time so long ago? If we are still in the first decade of the 2000’s, then that’s just two decades in the past. It makes plausible how, say, people might have any specific warm memories of the Whammy. So let’s take that: we’re not in the year 2019 but rather in the nineteenth year of the 2000s.
- That you just don’t have the emotional reserve to hang out with your fossa pal. That’s all right. Fossas are great, everybody agrees. They also have plenty of issues. It’s all right to let your fossa buddy march off to whatever it is they’re up to. You can recover your mental energies hanging out with a quokka or maybe a binturong. It’s not selfish to take some time not dealing with somebody else’s bizarrely complicated situation that’s somehow a fractal hyperfiasco, where every part of their fiasco is itself some deeper fiasco that’s just as impossible to deal with. Don’t feel guilty just hanging out with somebody who’s sleeping a lot and smells like popcorn.
- All right, so the planet is a sphere. What’s so great about spheres? Maybe we just have a sphere because nobody involved in making it put any thought into the question. If we put our minds to it we could probably have a toroidal planet or maybe one that’s a great big Möbius-strip band. And it’d be fast, too. It would take, like, four days at the longest. There’s three-room apartments you couldn’t clean out for moving anywhere near that fast. Anyway nobody is saying this would solve all our problems, or any of them. It’s just an option we haven’t given serious consideration. No, we’re not doing Menger sponges. We’ve totally read the ending of The War With The Newts on Wikipedia.
- That it would be a heck of a thing if it turned out vampires didn’t mind garlic. Like, maybe one didn’t, and everybody assumed all vampires were repelled by garlic? But it was just that guy’s preference? So what if it turns out vampires see garlic the way anybody might see, oh, Brussels sprouts? Where some just won’t eat them, and some kind of like them, and some love how it looks like they’re giants eating whole heads of lettuce in one bite? And it turns out that vampires actually have an issue with horse radish instead, which is why they only have lunch at Arby’s when it’s part of a long, serious meeting with their financial planner? Anyway you can have that belief and if need be donate that to a needy improv troupe.
- That the messages that would be on the answering machine, if there were any, would be very interesting ones. They might even change everything, if they did happen to exist. It’s your answering machine. You can have any imaginary messages you like on it.
There are more things you can believe even if they are not commonly held. Good luck.
Something Else About the 1980s
Oh, you know, I thought of something I didn’t mention last week.
The people who made cartoons really liked the space shuttle. Every show had at least one space shuttle episode. The Jetsons made a space shuttle episode they really made for real in reality. There was an episode of the Pac-Man cartoon where every power pellet in the world was loaded into a space shuttle cargo bay. Then Pac-Man went and ate them all, when you’d think he would need one, maybe two at most. There’s an excellent chance there were four different space shuttle episodes of Kissyfur. Also I don’t know what Kissyfur was but I remember there were lots of ads for it in comic books. It was a heck of a time, but I suppose they all were.
Some Things To Understand About The 1980s
Here are some things worth explaining about the 1980s, or that are getting explanation anyway.
The decade was heralded by an argument between seven-year-olds who were friends, yes. But the question was whether the year following nineteen-seventy-nine would be nineteen-eighty or whether it would be nineteen-seventy-ten. And whether the decade would have to get all the way up to nineteen-seventy-ninety-nine before it flipped over to nineteen-eighty. The party taking the nineteen-seventy-ten side was very cross at the calendar-makers for not leaving the matter up to the public to dedide.
The President had a press spokesman whose name was Larry Speakes, and it seemed like it was amusing that he had a first and last name that sounded like you were describing what your friend Larry did for his job. His middle name was ‘Melvin’, but nobody could come to an agreement about what it was to Melvin a thing, or whether ‘Larry Melvin’ was a credible name. There was similar but baffled delight when we noticed that Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was ‘Moon’. This was very important because lists of trivia about people and their names could point out that Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. And while it’s possible he walked on his mother, we’re pretty sure she wasn’t a maiden when he did it. There was also a bit of a flap about how if you took Neil Armstrong’s name and discarded the ‘rmstrong’ part, and then spelled it backwards, you got ‘Alien’. This seemed like it ought to have something to do with his job, although by the 1980s, Neil Armstrong’s job was “chair of a company that made drilling rigs”. This seems highly significant.
Although we had pop culture, it was seen as really swell to make a kid version of popular. Looney Tunes as kids. The Flintstone Kids. Scooby Doo, but a puppy. The trend reached its peak with the 1989-90 Muppet Babies Kids, the exciting follow-up adventures to the animated adventures of the toddler versions of the live-action-ish Muppets. The show was a computer game, because why not? You know? Why not?
With the advent of the pizza-on-a-bagel American society finally handled the imaginary problem of not being able to get pizza anytime. But by putting pizza-related toppings on a bagel we did finish off the problem of bagels not being terrible. I think the problem is bagels had just got introduced outside the New York City metro area. I mean, there was a little stretch in the late 30s when Fred Allen was talking about them. But that was in joking about people who mistook bagels for doughnuts as part of the surprisingly existent controversy about dunking doughnuts in coffee. So explaining them as a pizza-foundation technology let people understand bagels in terms of things we had already accepted, like putting pizza on French bread. Also we could put pizza on the bottom halves of French bread. We don’t know what was done with the top halves. There’s an excellent chance someone at French Bread Pizza headquarters is going to open a forgotten cabinet door one day and get buried under forty years’ worth of abandoned French bread tops. People will call for rescue, but however many times they explain it to 9-1-1 the dispatch operator hangs up.
We had movies, back then. They were a lot like movies today, except everybody’s cars were shoddier. I mean, not that they were 80s cars, although they were, but they were more broken-down 80s cars than you’d get in a movie set in the 80s now. It was part of the legacy of 70s New Hollywood. We might have gotten rid of the muddy sound and action heroes that looked like Walter Matthau, but we were going to keep the vehicles looking downtrodden until 1989. And there was usually a subplot about smugglers who’re after some stolen heroin diamonds. Anyway, when going to the movies it was very funny to observe the theater had, like, six or even eight whole screens. For example, you could say “I’m going to the Route 18 Googolplex” to describe how amazing it was you might see any of four different films that were starting in the same 45-minute stretch of time.
The decade closed with an argument between seven-year-olds about whether the following year was nineteen-eighty-ten or not. These were different seven-year-olds from before. It would have been a bit odd otherwise. You’d think they would have remembered.
Do not dunk bagels in coffee.
In Which I Have Doubts About A Novelty Song, the United Kingdom
I was wondering why it was CB radio got so big in the 70s, rather than some other decade, and so went to Wikipedia where I found nothing useful. But I did get to the article about C W McCall’s 1975 novelty song Convoy. And now, you might not have listened to Convoy recently and remember it only as a catchy yet dumb song. This might make you wonder how the distorting lens of nostalgia has made your recollection of the song drift from the actual thing. So I would like to let you all know that it is, in fact, a catchy yet dumb song. Sometimes nostalgia gets these things dead on right.
But along the way I discovered a 1976 novelty song, by “Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks”, Convoy UK. Here, its appearance on I’m going to guess the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, because the only other British music show I know of is that one about picking your records for being stranded on a desert island and this doesn’t seem like this could be it:
So, some thoughts.
First. “The biggest blooming convoy outside the USA”? Oh now come on. Let’s put aside there was surely some goofball Soviet prestige project to line the whole population of Tajikistan into trucks. There’s Australian truck-trains that have a single vehicle hauling a load that’s longer than the whole British Isles. One behind the other for any cause would be a longer convoy than could possibly fit on the M1. So the premise of the song is wholly implausible.
Second. Gads, Argentina has to be so embarrassed they lost the Falklands War to these people. I’d still be waking up three mornings out of seven fuming about it. I can’t imagine.