Reference: Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist, Julian Symons.
Reference: Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist, Julian Symons.
I apologize for being distracted lately, all. I’ve been working hard on a new random number generator. That’s “random” in the 90s webcomic sense of “Random!” though. So a typical output run looks like this:
0.318723 0.060458 WEASEL NOSTRILS 0.693668 0.142229 TELETUBBY JANET RENO SPLEEN NINJA 0.711829
I think it’s about ready for use.
Reference: Under the Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates, Don C Seitz.
Emotion-Sensitive Switches. It’s fine having the lights come on or go out depending on whether the room is moving. But what if you want the lights to stay on even when you’re just puttering around in place? Or you want the lights to go out because it’s really important to be sneaking up on the cat? Emotion-Sensitive Switches allow for electric control tuned to various moods, including: cheer, frustration, the nagging sensation you left the car trunk open, overwhelmedness, feeling just how much butter is “too much” butter, and the joy of finding a twenty-dollar bill you forgot existed.
Contact Information. If we know anything about the recent system update, it’s that it has made something worse. Not a major thing. Some tiny, little thing you didn’t even realize used to happen until now it doesn’t. Somebody decided to change that. Someone broke that. For a reasonable fee, you can find out who! And how to get in touch with them! And when to show up at their home to get an explanation. (Author’s note: I’ve already ordered this, selecting for me the person who decided that when I paste a URL in Safari’s address bar and hit return, the web browser reloads the previous page and deletes the URL I just posted in. That’s such an innovative way to just screw things up!)
Dog Flume Ride. This exciting amusement park ride comes home to you, in form convenient to assemble requiring no more than ordinary personal welding equipment. It’s worth it as you settle into the car, float your way forward to the lift hill, and at the top are set upon by a pack of enthusiastic Labrador retrievers and licked all over. Also available in golden retriever, water spaniel, mastiff, were-poodle, and non-vampire beagle.
New Roman Numerals. The Roman system of using popular letters for numbers and having rules about adding and maybe sometimes subtracting them was fun, but it doesn’t begin to handle all the complexities of mathematics since the discovery of multiple-entry bookkeeping. With highly original numerals we can handle digits the Romans never dreamed of, like 75,000, as well as negative numbers, decimals, and transfinite quantities. Finally the Praetor can work on his MA!
Inaccurate Lyrics. What’s more annoying than finding a tune stuck in your head? Not being able to get it out, certainly, but another annoying thing is not knowing what the lyrics to your song are. This leaves an unresolved, semi-complete tune wending its way hopelessly through your mind drowning out all thought. Thus the solution: given the tune, get lyrics that have nothing to do with the original song but will surely match well enough that you can’t get the tune or the new lyrics out again. This will help you more rapidly go mad. It’s also a particularly efficient way to lose the friendship of people who really know and love the song.
Special, Improved Hours. Nobody gets enough sleep anymore, not since the exciting example set by Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom it got him exiled to a desolate island in the South Atlantic Ocean. If you want to avoid that fate you’ll need to cut back your policy of invading every European nation real and imaginary, yes, but you’ll also need more time to sleep. Yet it’s almost impossible to find more hours for sleeping. The solution? Hours with more minutes in them. You may only be able to sleep from 1 am to 6 am, but if each of those hours has upwards of a hundred minutes in it, isn’t that just as good as sleeping over eight hours a day? Sure it is. Don’t worry about what happens to the seconds. Warning: do not get up in the middle of the night to pee.
Self-Propelled Halloween Countdown Calendar. It’s great tracking how long we have until Halloween sets in. But isn’t it better to have the holiday track itself down? Thus this calendar, which will zip around the house letting you know how many days it is until the end of October. Go ahead and try to catch it! Also available in Thanksgiving, Easter, and New Jersey Big Sea Day editions.
There’s little question about whether gas prices are rising. You can check whether the gas station signs are getting taller. But are the prices increasing as well as rising? Those varied collections of digits don’t grow on trees, not anymore. The last grove of wild price-berry trees grew in Maine’s upper peninsula until 1914, when spoilsport geographers pointed out Maine hasn’t got any upper peninsula. An effort to transplant them to the New Hampshire panhandle failed for similar reasons.
The history of gas prices traces back to the Babylonians. One fragmentary parchment a scant three cubits by five reads “DXXXIX OCTANE .XIXIX”. This shows how thousands of years ago, before not only the invention of unleaded but before leaded was a thing, it was cheaper to get 89-octane regular. The meaning was unclear to the Babylonians, because they hadn’t invented Roman Numerals yet. (Roman Numerals were invented by early Renaissance mathematicians to make their early work look more classy.) The Babylonians were pretty hazy on the concept of Rome and whether it would go anywhere too. It’s more sort of sprawled than gone anywhere.
Even once they found out what Roman Numerals were there was still confusion . For example, everyone was pretty sure that “D” is how the Romans wrote “500”. “Fifty” should be something else, like a letter φ. The sad thing is there’s no way to find out. We have to stumble through and tell ourselves if we’re confused it’s probably because we missed something. Maybe it’s a letter ‘T’. That seems like it ought to be a Roman Numeral for something.
Today, gas prices are generally obtained through mining. Most 9’s come from three former mountains in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Even digits, most often, are taken from Kentucky or the Ozark Mountains when the owners aren’t looking. The odd numbers 1, 3, and most 7’s are dug from former silver veins in Nevada. Other 7’s come from the lower Mississippi region, the onetime “breadbasket of numbers that look random-ish”. The mighty 5 is produced by the one remaining open plant at Washington state’s Hanford Nuclear Plant. This is a highly industrial process. It creates 5’s by fissioning off either a 2 from existing 7’s, or a 3 from an existing 8. A project in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in early 1994 fused a 2 and a 3. But the operation wasn’t practical, just pretty. There’s still sometimes talk about reviving the project and hoping it works out better. It’s nice to hope for, but don’t count on anything.
As long as gas prices have been for sale people have been trying to find ways around paying them. One one approach is to use prices that are not actually written down but are on electronic signs instead. These are easy to change, so gas station owners can respond to things like the crisis in vanadium. I’m assuming there’s a crisis in vanadium. It seems like the kind of element that’s always having crises. But there are disadvantages. A physically written price needs to be paid for once and then used however long the gas station owner wants. With electronic prices you keep owing typeface royalties to either the Caslon family or the Mergenthaler heirs. Cross them at your peril.
What of the quirk of ending gas prices with a 9/10? The United States has not minted a 9/10-cent coin except briefly in 1831. This was when the Second Bank of the United States was feeling all sarcastic towards President Andrew Johnson. It was a great moment of pettiness, but they looked foolish when they remembered Johnson wasn’t in office and they meant to snipe at Andrew Jackson. The modern uses of 9/10 traces to the Second World War. A War Production Board order of January 1943 restricted the use of the fractions between 91/100 and 99/100. For the duration prices went from ending in 99/100 down to 9/10. Then people got so comfortable with that they didn’t feel like changing back when fraction rationing ended in March 1945.
Many non-United States countries sell gas by the liter, rather than the gallon. Thus they use the same prices but at different times. This inspires curious feelings of nostalgia or a sense of peeking into the future, depending on when one happens to be overseas, and when one should be otherwise.
I like starting months with a look at how popular my humor blog is, since I like to think it is. And I like sharing that with my readers, as part of my plan to keep myself from being too popular. I joke, which is a good sign. As best I can tell, these review posts are at least as popular as everything else I write. I’ll have to just make up a “monthly” review like this sometime when I’m out of ideas.
If you do like my writings, I’m glad to have you as a reader. You can get these pieces to appear in your WordPress reader by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the page. Or you can use the RSS feed to get all the page’s content without being tracked. I’m also on Twitter as @Nebusj, for those of you who like being tracked. Now on to how many of you did get tracked in March.
It was a well-read month. I credit this to all of March’s comic strip news. People have found I know more about Gasoline Alley than normal mortals do. But here we go. There were 3,565 page views in March 2019. That’s far more than in February, when only 2,428 pages got attention here. And it’s even better than January, when 3,343 pages got viewed. March had my greatest number of page views since April of 2018.
The unique visitor count was astounding, though. There were 2,165 unique visitors, says WordPress. That’s well above February’s 1,429, or January’s 1,830. Indeed, it’s more than any single month in 2018. That is not quite at my all-time record high — the 2,308 unique visitors from November 2015, the final collapse of Apartment 3-G. Also this month I figured out how to get visual representation of more than the last two years’ worth of readership statistics. I might even remember for the start of next month.
There were 176 likes given to various pages here in March. That’s better than February’s 156, in line with January’s 183, and really back to the 165-to-180 range that I was in most of 2018. So that all seems good. Where things did drop was in comments. There were 24 comments given around here in march, down from February’s 34 and January’s 70. It was the slowest month for chatting around here since October 2017. Hm.
I always say that what people want around here is comic strip news. Here’s the five most popular articles from March. They are so much comic strip news. If I were smart, I’d just do comic strip talk, but I keep going on trying to do at least some original writing too. It’s hard resisting what your audience is making clear are your strengths, but I’ll do it. The top articles in March:
Of stuff that isn’t just me writing about other things? The most popular piece I had was Statistics Saturday: The Months Of The Year In Reverse Alphabetical Order. I don’t know. It’s always the weird little trifles that get to be long-lasting. I have the fear someone’s taking this list seriously. I mean, it’s correct, if you figured out the joke, but I don’t say what the joke is so are people understanding that the order is not what any normal person would mean by “reverse alphabetical order”? It was my most popular non-comic-strip piece last month too.
The most popular long-form piece that I wrote and that wasn’t about other people’s work was Everything There Is To Say About Grinding Coffee Beans. I’m glad to offer something of use into the world. We have gotten a replacement for our broken coffee grinder. I hope this settles the rampant speculation about why I had this essay to share.
Also if WordPress has this right, there were 420 separate pages that got at least a single view this month. Huh. I never thought to look at this figure before, so I don’t know whether it’s representative. I’ve had 2,250 posts in total, as of the start of April, for what that’s worth.
There were — all right, a certain number of you are going to think I’m making this up. There were 69 countries sending me page views in March. There, yes. I swear I didn’t make up these numbers and I’ll share the raw data with anyone who wants to look them over. I admit to telling hack jokes sometimes, but not like that.
Anyway, here’s the countries roster.
|Hong Kong SAR China||41|
|United Arab Emirates||7|
|Trinidad & Tobago||6|
Anyway there were 65 countries sending readers in February and 68 in January. There were 19 single-reader countries in January, 15 in February, and 14 in March. Hungary and Slovenia were single-reader countries last month, and Serbia has been one for three months running now.
I should share my story strip plot recap schedule. This is subject to change if a comic strip has some big event, and I realize I need to hurry up writing about it while people still want to know anything about, say, Judge Parker. But my planned schedule is:
And all my story strip plot recaps should appear at this link. If one’s missing, it’s because I tagged something wrong.
In all I posted 18,577 words here in March. This brought me, as mentioned, to a total of 2,250 posts. There were 117,868 page views from a total 65,179 unique visitors as of the start of April. There’ve been 141 total comments, for an average of 1.6 comments per post, in 2019. That’s holding at the start of March’s average. There’ve been 491 likes in total, for an average of 5.5 likes per posting. That, too, is the same as the start of March’s average. I’ve posted a total of 90 things in 2019 up to this post, and 53,903 words in total. That’s an average of 599 words per post, which is exactly what my average words-per-post was at the start of March. So it’s lucky I posted that thing meant to bring my average-words-per-post count down. Also but goodness six hundred words is a lot to write on the average day. I should be more careful. 1,423 words.
Many people have written here to the Department of English to ask about dividing numbers. We think they’ve entered some code wrong. But in the spirit of open-minded civic cooperation we shall try to help.
There are many reasons to divide one number by another. For example, one can use it to adapt a recipe so that you can make an amount for fewer people than the recipe figures on. Recipes often need to be divided, we guess. The person writing the recipe assumed you were excluding fewer people from your meals, because they were not on social media at the time.
You need to have an objective before checking a number’s divisibility. This keeps you from doing something absurd like finding out whether you can divide 96,133 by 251, considering that neither number is at all believable. By “number” we mean “whole number”. These are numbers which are at least two percent fat by volume. Skim numbers follow different rules, but are healthier, and taste more like watercolor paint.
Do check that your numbers are in base ten. This won’t often be a problem. Base ten is popular in places where people mostly have ten fingers per person. There are some people enthusiastic about other bases. Other bases let you do things like figure out what the 69,281st digit of π is in base 32. Or insist that it’s a funny joke to say “Halloween is equivalent to Christmas” and insist that’s true. Smile at these people and move on with your life. Do not bring up base eleven. They’ll start talking the history of the metric system.
Divisibility starts with 1. This is easy enough since everything is divisible by 1. This is the result of 1 winning a fourth-round bye in the Numeric Invitational Tournament. (The first through third-round byes won money instead.) 10 is also a pretty good number to divide by. If a number ends in zero you can divide it by 10, and for that matter by 5. This makes 5 sound pretty free-wheeling. 2 is a more needy number and insists that any numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, 10, 18, 64, 98, 144, or 69,282 divide by it. There is no point arguing with 2 about this point anymore. Let it have these. Do not let it have 251.
Things get tricky around 3, which should surprise nobody, given the number’s pointiness. But there’s hope. Take all the digits of your number and add them up. If that sum is divisible by 3 then so was your original number. Yes, we’re still stuck on whether some number can be divided 3, but it’s a different number. By keeping a list of all the numbers we’re considering divisibility by three we can show we’re working hard and taking this problem seriously. Later we can learn that we did the adding-up wrong, costing us one point but not much affecting our grade.
A number is divisible by 4 when the corresponding year is a Presidential Election Year in the United States. Unfortunately this means you might be waiting around for hundreds or thousands of years to check. Plus the rule is no good for anything below 1788. Maybe someday we’ll discover a different method that’s practical instead.
Nothing is divisible by 17, but who would want that anyway?
Simplicity itself is the test for whether something is divisible by 21. Start with the last digit of the number you’re testing. Now make a copy, in case the number needs to be remastered at some point. Add to that last digit ten times the digit to the left of the last digit. Then subtract five times the digit to the left of that. Once you’ve got that done, simply add four times the digit to the left of that one. From that sum subtract twice the digit to the left of that. If you’ve got any digits left over then add one times that. If anything is still left over, go back around the multiplying and subtracting or adding like before. And voila: if the new number you get is divisible by 21 so was the original! It’s amazing there are people who need this explained to them even today, but it was Thursday all day. We can’t expect too much.
If you should find your recipe contains a number that can’t be divided, then you can’t make the recipe until you start talking to people again. We don’t know how to help with that. You can leave a note that you’ll accept an apology when they feel courageous enough to offer one. This has never worked for anyone, ever. But hey, good luck to you!
Notes On Methodology, which is always the fun part: phone numbers which had the area code changed under them are counted multiple times. The phone numbers I had my first three years as an undergraduate are not included because I don’t remember what they are either. My fourth year as an undergraduate I didn’t get a phone because I figured I could just use the phone for the unread campus weekly I spent all my time working on anyway. The phone number I had when I lived in Singapore is counted too, with the area code of ‘6’ because when I was there there was one area code, ‘6’, for land-line and another area code, ‘8’, for mobile phones and don’t you just love a single-digit area code? Anyway the country code of ’65’ isn’t included because I don’t think it’s fair to include that as part of the phone number. Also I never really felt sure I knew what I was doing dialing internationally back then but I loved putting a ‘+65’ in front of my phone number the couple times I had to share it with anyone then. I once had the phone number 266-0001 and that was great except if I ordered something delivered they thought my callback number was a fake. Also I kept getting calls from the rent-to-own-scam place from someone who gave them a fake number for a couch. I liked the number anyway.
When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.
How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.
I’m a know-it-all. By this I mean simply that I assume you have an opinion about David Rice Atchison, and whatever it is I am prepared to argue that you are wrong. It’s amazing that I don’t spend more time running away from people meaning to slap me. But I credit that for my always loving the mock-explanatory essay. I love the real things, certainly, but the humorist who can capture the rhythms of explanation while producing nonsense — well, that’s wonderful. Robert Benchley in My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew provides one of the most perfect examples of this. From the fourth paragraph on there’s barely a misfired word or a weak sentence, and the first three paragraphs are a good warming up. The antepenultimate paragraph alone is worth learning what “antepenultimate” means.
I don’t know whether you care or not, but etymological circles are in an uproar. They have just discovered what the word “three” comes from.
They have known the derivation of all the other words in the number-table (as, for example, “two” from “Tuesday,” or the second day in the week if you don’t count Sunday as the first, and “five” from the god Woden, or Thor, or Buttercup, and so forth and so forth), but they have never been able to figure out where the word “three” came from.
A little fellow from the University of Welf discovered it. He doesn’t speak English himself, but he is awfully interested in people who do. It was during one of these periods (I should have told you that he has periods when he looks up words) that he found out about the word “three.” He was looking up the word “tree” and, not speaking English well, he thought that it was pronounced “three.” You can see how that might very well be.
The word “three” comes to us direct from the French, collect. The original word was (and still is) tri, which means a sorting, or, as in card-playing, a deal. Thus, one would say: “Give me a tri,” or “How is your tri?” meaning “Give me a deal” or “How is your deal?” If one were really speaking in French, of course, all the other words in the sentence would be French, too. (i.e., “Donnez-moi un tri” or “Votre tri, ça marche?”)
Just how the word tri got into the French language is a mystery which occupies practically nobody’s attention at the moment. It is supposed to have come from the Creole patois of New Orleans, and was used to signify hurry or lethargy. The old form of the word was blo, which gradually was shortened into tri. Later the whole word was dropped from the language by a rising vote.
The Normans brought the word into England just before the Norman Conquest. In their use of it an extra syllable was added, making it triouille, meaning white-bait or Roger crab. We still are no nearer than we were to finding out how it came to mean three of anything. Don’t think that I’m not just as worried as you are.
With the advent of water-power and the subsequent water-pistol, Luke (Luke was the fellow I was speaking of a few yards back) didn’t know what to do. Unless I am greatly mistaken, this paragraph belongs in another article.
Well, anyway, the people who are making up the English language found themselves with names for every digit except “three.” And, as there were three of quite a lot of things (Marx Brothers, blind mice, wishes and cent stamps) it got increasingly embarrassing not to have a word to express “three.” They tried using the word “four,” but it ended only in confusion, especially when addition or subtraction was at stake.
Suddenly someone said: “Why don’t we take the word tri from the French? They’ll never miss it, and they owe it to us anyway.” This seemed like a logical plan, and everybody but one man agreed to it. He later committed suicide when he found out how successfully it had worked out. “I was a blind fool,” he wrote.
As it sounded rather common to say tri, they put in an h and substituted a double e for the i. This made as pretty a “three” as you could wish, and from that day on it was a part of the language. They tried it out in a little rhyme: “One-two-three—buckle my shoe,” and it went so well that soon everybody was saying it.
Frankly, I don’t know whether I like it as a word or not. It still sounds a little slangy.
Rome’s city council has decided to phase out the use of Roman numerals on street signs, official documents, identity cards, and the like. This is being done to standardize and simplify the numerical system in use. This brings a neat bit of timeliness to this Robert Benchley essay collected in Love Conquers All.
There is a growing sentiment among sign painters that when a sign or notice is to be put up in a public place it should be written in characters that are at least legible, so that, to quote The Manchester Guardian (as every one seems to do) “He who runs may read.”
This does not strike one as being an unseemly pandering to popular favor. The supposition is that the sign is put there to be read, otherwise it would have been turned over to an inmate of the Odd Fellows Home to be engraved on the head of a pin. And what could be a more fair requirement than that it should be readable?
Advertising, with its billboard message of rustless screens and co-educational turkish-baths, has done much to further the good cause, and a glance through the files of newspapers of seventy-five years ago, when the big news story of the day was played up in diamond type easily deciphered in a strong light with the naked eye, shows that news printing has not, to use a slang phrase, stood still.
But in the midst of this uniform progress we find a stagnant spot. Surrounded by legends that are patent and easy to read and understand, we find the stone-cutter and the architect still putting up tablets and cornerstones, monuments and cornices, with dates disguised in Roman numerals. It is as if it were a game, in which they were saying, “The number we are thinking of is even; it begins with M; it has five digits and when they are spread out, end to end, they occupy three feet of space. You have until we count to one hundred to guess what it is.”
Roman numerals are all right for a rainy Sunday afternoon or to take a convalescent’s mind from his illness, but to put them in a public place, where the reader stands a good chance of being run over by a dray if he spends more than fifty seconds in their perusal, is not in keeping with the efficiency of the age. If for no other reason than the extra space they take, involving more marble, more of the cutter’s time and wear and tear on his instruments, not to mention the big overhead, you would think that Roman numerals would have been abolished long ago.
Of course, they can be figured out if you’re good at that sort of thing. By working on your cuff and backs of envelopes, you can translate them in no time at all compared to the time taken by a cocoon to change into a butterfly, for instance. All you have to do is remember that “M” stands for either “millium,” meaning thousand, or for “million.” By referring to the context you can tell which is more probable. If, for example, it is a date, you can tell right away that it doesn’t mean “million,” for there isn’t any “million” in our dates. And there is one-seventh or eighth of your number deciphered already. Then “C,” of course, stands for “centum,” which you can translate by working backwards at it, taking such a word as “century” or “per cent,” and looking up what they come from, and there you have it! By this time it is hardly the middle of the afternoon, and all you have before you is a combination of X’s, I’s and an L, the latter standing for “Elevated Railway,” and “Licorice,” or, if you cross it with two little horizontal lines, it stands for the English pound, which is equivalent to about four dollars and eighty-odd cents in real money. Simple as sawing through a log.
But it takes time. That’s the big trouble with it. You can’t do the right thing by the office and go in for Roman numerals, too. And since most of the people who pass such inscriptions are dependent on their own earnings, why not cater to them a bit and let them in on the secret?
Probably the only reason that the people haven’t risen up and demanded a reform along these lines is because so few of them really give a hang what the inscription says. If the American Antiquarian Turn-Verein doesn’t care about stating in understandable figures the date on which the cornerstone of their building was laid, the average citizen is perfectly willing to let the matter drop right there.
But it would never do to revert to Roman numerals in, say, the arrangement of time-tables. How long would the commuter stand it if he had to mumble to himself for twenty minutes and use up the margins of his newspaper before he could figure out what was the next train after the 5:18? Or this, over the telephone between wife and husband:
“Hello, dear! I think I’ll come in town for lunch. What trains can I get?”
“Just a minute—I’ll look them up. Hold the wire…. Let’s see, here’s one at XII:LVIII, that’s twelve, and L is a thousand and V is five and three I’s are three; that makes 12:one thousand…. that can’t be right…. now XII certainly is twelve, and L … what does L stand for?… I say; what—does—L—stand—for?… Well, ask Heima…. What does she say?… Fifty?… Sure, that makes it come out all right…. 12:58…. What time is it now?… 1 o’clock?… Well, the next one leaves Oakam at I:XLIV…. that’s …” etc.
Batting averages and the standing of teams in the leagues are another department where the introduction of Roman numerals would be suicide for the political party in power at the time. For of all things that are essential to the day’s work of the voter, an early enlightenment in the matter of the home team’s standing and the numerical progress of the favorite batsman are of primary importance. This information has to be gleaned on the way to work in the morning, and, except for those who come in to work each day from North Philadelphia or the Croton Reservoir, it would be a physical impossibility to figure the tables out and get any of the day’s news besides.
CLVB BATTING RECORDS
|YOU CAN’T DO RIGHT BY THE OFFICE AND GO IN FOR ROMAN NUMERALS TOO.|
On matters such as these the proletariat would have protested the Roman numeral long ago. If they are willing to let its reactionary use on tablets and monuments stand it is because of their indifference to influences which do not directly affect their pocketbooks. But if it could be put up to them in a powerful cartoon, showing the Architect and the Stone-Cutter dressed in frock coats and silk hats, with their pockets full of money, stepping on the Common People so that he cannot see what is written on the tablet behind them, then perhaps the public would realize how they are being imposed on.
For that there is an organized movement among architects and stone-cutters to keep these things from the citizenry there can no longer be any doubt. It is not only a matter of the Roman numerals. How about the use of the “V” when “U” should be used? You will always see it in inscriptions. “SVMNER BVILDING” is one of the least offensive. Perhaps the excuse is that “V” is more adapted to stone-lettering. Then why not carry this principle out further? Why not use the letter H when S is meant? Or substitute K for B? If the idea is to deceive, and to make it easier for the stone-cutter, a pleasing effect could be got from the inscription, “Erected in 1897 by the Society of Arts and Grafts”, by making it read: “EKEATEW IZ MXIXLXIXLXXII LY THE XNLIEZY OF AEXA ZNL ELAFTX.” There you have letters that are all adapted to stone-cutting; they look well together, and they are, in toto, as intelligible as most inscriptions.
(I drew this from an online source. I haven’t had the energy to track down the original book and see whether that shouldn’t be the Society of Arts and Crafts instead, although I like the G construction. It might not be a joke Benchley meant to make, is all.)
This means something, but I don’t know what.
Investigation into this problem revealed that while most people would call the number 100 “one hundred”, there are ambiguities about whether, say, “106” should be “one hundred six”, “a hundred and six”, or “one-oh-six”, and whether it should be “a hundred and thirteen” or “a hundred thirteen” or the like, and therefore different alphabetizations are sensible. Therefore selected alphabetizations are provided for your convenience.
I’ve been tracking my statistics around these parts, and the start of a month is a good time to review neurotically how unpopular I am, so, here we go. According to WordPress, the humor blog here had 396 page views in April 2014. That’s down from March’s 468, but it’s still the third-highest monthly total I have on record. There were a relatively meager 167 unique visitors, down from 199, but that means the views per visitor grew imperceptibly from 2.35 to 2.37. That’s also the third-highest views-per-visitor for a month that I have on record, so, that’s something.
312 of the viewers came from the United States this past month, with nine each from Canada and the United Kingdom, and lesser counts from other nations of the world. Sending me a single visitor each were Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, South Korea, Sovenia, and Spain. Pakistan’s the only repeat from last month. Nobody came here from Gambia, the Central African Republic, nor from Turks or Caicos.
The most popular posts this month were:
Terms that have brought viewers to my blog this past month have included, besides the abundance of Turbo search terms:
Here are some rules for writing numbers.
For whole numbers under ten, write them out as words. For ten, 11, and twelve, discuss the matter with your copy editor, engaging in a long-running and frank exchange of typographical views that will, as always, end with at least one of the parties arrested for stuffing a body part into a toaster on the “bagel” setting that is itself stuffed into a composting pit, and might bring in some other parties who will discover they can not believe these other people are allowed to vote or hold sharp objects such as hula hoops. If the argument is not productive enough bring up the matter of zero and what results will surely end with arson. For numbers larger than twelve use digits, as they’re too tedious if given the chance to be words. Exceptions: googol googolplex either neither fimble flumble seizure leisure sixty-four caffeine.
When writing a string of numbers it’s important to alternate between digits and words for clarity, as for example in the famous aircraft being the Boeing “seven40seven” or the less famous aircraft the Boeing “7.thirty.7”. In addition to reading clarity the graphic design potential is powerful, and if you can’t imagine a trendy club writing its address this way you’ve failed graphic design class and probably can’t even recognize Futura when you see it, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person but does mean we’ll have to have someone watching whenever you walk into the campus’s Fine Arts Library.
Percentages should never be referred to in print, as they make the reader suspect this is a word problem and the reader will go off to the bridge column. They may be used in PowerPoint slides only if the percent symbol is animated, rotating around one or two axes but not the third.
Negative numbers require special protection so as not to startle skittish readers. Besides being denoted with a minus sign they should be preceded by a man on foot waving a large red flag, and followed by another man ringing a bell. It is good practice to surround the number in parentheses, in case of spilling, and to be printed in red ink, lest the supply of red ink get noticeably too large. At that, you’ll want to have your copy reviewed by trained professional mathematicians. Do not rely on the untrained kind, as they will try to clean up spilled negative numbers by having them (the numbers) eaten by a goat. Trained professional mathematicians will call in something from accredited accounting ungulates.
Imaginary numbers may be written any old way you like, as the non-mathematical reader thinks you’re just making them up anyway, while the mathematically inclined roll their eyes and sigh knowingly whenever the subject comes up. Really, you probably don’t even have to do that much. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the whole subject, even if you have to change the essay’s subject from the history of polynomials into, oh, lumps of putty.
If you need to pluralize a number go wild and add an apostrophe before the s or es, as in: 7.thirty.7’es. In fact, nobody’s ever lived to regret adding apostrophes where they’re not needed, so, what the heck, toss in something so, like, this year is known as 201’4, or the population of the United States as 317′,84’2,’000. Apostrophes are also cool if you need to omit the part of the number that’s boring. Why not try writing the volume of your refrigerator in cubic inches as 14’82 and leave the reader to work out the omitted numbers for their fun and mental exercise, other than that if the reader finds out where you live they might jab you with an apostrophe in front of the toaster?
Know the difference between ordinal and cardinal numbers! If mixed they will fight until one is stuffed into a toaster and the other sneaks off to make long-distance calls on your land line. In cases of ambiguity remember that cardinal numbers are nearly invariably Rh-positive while ordinal numbers are afraid of bats, owing to the longstanding resentment of ordinal numbers for vampire novels after their manuscripts were rejected.
If you don’t like those rules, try some other ones. That’ll go well.
You know, thinking about it, I can’t figure how monthly calendars are even supposed to work. “I don’t know what day it is, so let me look at a grid of up to 31 days that it might conceivably be. Oh, that helps!” If we advanced this scheme about, say, long division we’d never buy it. “286 divided by 13? Oh, it’s something between 15 and 45 — of course! 22!”
And yet it does work, and I know it works because I’ll put up monthly calendars, sometimes, and not cross off dates as they’ve arrived and I can still work out what day it is from looking at all these options. That can’t happen, so I guess I have to conclude that I don’t exist, which could explain a lot of frustrating interactions I have with the Internet service provider.
I really wanted to use this space to give a couple numbers about my readership for December 2013, but what with my living-ship for December 2013 I don’t have the chance to write that up so it’s actually correct, so, let me offer you this as a little placeholder while I try to catch up:
I’m sorry these aren’t very good numbers. It’s the best I can do right now.
You know, now that we have the whole idea of putting money in different denominations on the table, I realize there’s no need to reduce it to powers-of-two the way computer programmers think makes sense. Really any set of relatively prime numbers will do just fine in terms of being able to make amounts of money you really don’t need, because the charge at most convenience stores is $2.92 if you’re there at breakfast time, $11.25 if you’re there in the afternoon or evening picking up a few things, and at the fast food place is pretty much going to be $7.14 for lunch plus another $1.42 if you go back for a McFlurry after.
So since we’re completely free to choose, let me design a set of currency that comes in denominations of 3, 7, 11, 24, 31, and 55 dollars, with additional bills worth negative two, negative thirteen, and negative twenty-nine dollars to make the vending machines happy. That should fix things.
Numbers have been used for things for thousands of years, longer if we count stopping for lunch. But surely the greatest breakthrough was when people started to use numbers for numbers, instead of the other way around. So let’s take a chance to review some interesting and quirky facts about various numbers and avoid the people who make a big fuss about the difference between numbers and numerals.
-20. This the so-called “ambiguous point”, as for negative numbers less than this, it’s clear that “becoming bigger” means a more negative number; while for numbers greater than this, “becoming bigger” might mean becoming more negative or more positive depending on just how quarrelsome the person you’re trying to speak with is being.
-8. According to most historians of mathematics, this is the number which should properly be 0 so as to make the number line work wholly sensibly.
-4. This is of historic importance as -4 was the first expansion number ever to appear in the playoffs, and (three years later) was the first to win. This set off a “gold rush” as people sought easy success in other negative numbers and while the field has proved useful this pioneering number, as so often happens, saw its fortunes dwindle. In 1964 a statewide reorganization merged it with negative 5 and negative pi, but the need to establish a regional snow-clearing plan means that its administrative organization is equivalent to being a separate number in all but legal name.
0.78. Packing fraction for pretty much everything.
1.000000 … 00003. This is the smallest number that’s still larger than 1.
6. This is the average number of days the typical American will lose, per year, to chanting the drum parts of the theme from George of the Jungle. Of course, while you’re busy chanting it the day doesn’t seem lost at all; if anything, it seems to be picking up quite nicely and actually going into the lyrics feels like a mild step down.
4.587. This is a phony number slipped in as a copyright trap by the Hammond World Atlas Corporation. The four was based on a real number (seven), but the digits past the decimal are believed to have been selected by Caleb Stillson Hammond as the sort of whimsy for which he was so well known. It slipped into the regular number line following a famous yet confusing court ruling which determined that whatever Lieutenant Columbo’s first name was, it wasn’t “Lucius”.
8. This is a most popular base for numbers among people who are fans of base eight, such as those who are programming computers in the 1960s. Some adherents insist we should move to base eight, on the grounds of they have reasons, but they overlook the increased property taxes which combined with moving expenses make the prospect wholly uneconomical. Just nod vacantly and scuttle off to some important business, possibly in base five.
16. This is a fascinating number as it records the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully write the song “On Top Of Spaghetti”.
17.113. The most seventeen-est of numbers, according to a survey of leading mathematics departments who were kidding. There’s just no appreciation for good sarcasm anymore.
18. And this is the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully record “On Top Of Spaghetti”.
138. This is the smallest number (by avoirdupois weight) to never be used for anything except appearances in lists of numbers with some interesting or uninteresting property to them.
311. This is the number most convincingly prime-like of all the numbers people can’t be bothered to quite figure out whether is prime or not. 313 is a pretty good one too except that one really feels like it ought to be divisible by 17. We keep checking it to make sure it hasn’t changed its mind.
. This is a popular number among people who think they’re being puckishly whimsical about algebra or who have stumbled across the mathematical equivalent of “how do I know I’m not just dreaming I’m awake?” The answer is that if you were just dreaming you were awake, you would know whether the blue you see is the same hue as the red other people see. See also: Boltzmann brains.
. The scariest quaternion in the world.
[ Also, for the non-bots following me, and who like mathematics stuff, I do keep up a mathematics-focused blog, with less efforts on my part to be generally silly. ]