Some Astounding Things About The Moon


You maybe heard NASA want to announce something astounding discovery about the Moon. I bet it’s something about water. They’re always astounded by discovering water on the Moon. If you put all the water they’ve found on the moon together you’d have, like, six ounces of water. I know that’s not much, but it’s a lot considering the Moon is made out of rock. Anyway, while we wait for them to announce how they’ve spotted four micrograms more water let’s consider some real astounding facts about the Moon:

Because of the way the Romans set up their calendar, and defined the ides at the middle of the month to lunar phases, it’s impossible to have a full moon on the 16th of a month. If it looks like the 16th is going to be a full moon anyway we insert leap seconds as appropriate. There’s a risk of a full moon on the 16th of September, 2800, despite all these corrective measures. Most experts think we’ll solve the problem by doubling up the 15th of September, the way we did with the More-15th of February, 684. Note, as the experts do, that the 15th is not the ides of September and if you make that mistake they’ll know you’re an impostor.

Ham radio operators are allowed to bounce any signal they like off the Moon. However, the operators are held responsible for any damages or for any settling the messages do while in transit.

The Moon has never actually listened to Pink Floyd. It acknowledges that Pink Floyd’s probably played on the radio at some point and they didn’t turn it off, so far as they know. But the Moon is more of a Strawberry Alarm Clock fan. At least the early days, when they got on stage riding magic carpets their roadies carried. The Moon claims to be a big fan of Walk The Moon, but still hasn’t listened to the copy of What If Nothing that it bought in 2018.

The Moon won $27,500 in the Rhode Island lottery in 2014, but never roused itself to collect its winnings. It’s still getting in arguments about this.

The Moon believes itself to have a great sense of humor. This isn’t so astounding since everybody does. But the Moon is in there trying. Unfortunately all it’s discovered, as a premise, is the antijoke and boy does it hit that button a lot. It’s not even good antijokes, either, just something that denies the premise of the gag as fast as possible. If you stick it out, and make the Moon carry on a bit it eventually digs into interesting or weird antijokes and there’s something there. But it insists that the first, instinctive response is the good one and it’s just, you know, you could do so much more.

The concave surface of the Moon is why it always seems to be looking at you.

The Moon insists on tipping 20%, which is fine, but insists on doing it to the penny. This is all right, but the Moon also has absolutely terrible group-check etiquette, insisting that it’s fine if everybody just tosses in money until it reaches a pile that is the bill plus 20% exactly. The protests of everyone that this is making it take longer, with more stress, and come out less fair, than actually figuring out who got and who split what with whom fall on deaf space-ears.

Monday was not named after the Moon. The day was named first, and then someone happened to notice the Moon on a Monday. Yes, this implies an alternate history in which we call the Moon “the Day”. That timeline must be quite confusing.

The Moon has heard about those Quiznos advertisements back in the 2000s that everybody found weird and confusing, but never saw them and thinks it would be a little creepy to go look them up now.

The Moon claims that when it finds those “disruptive” scooter-rental things abandoned on the sidewalk it picks them up and tosses them in the street. We can all agree that, if we must have dumb tech companies wasting investor money on “disruptor” technologies, they should be punished for leaving their litter in the sidewalk. But pressed on when the Moon last actually did this it turns out it never has, but it’s totally going to start next time it sees one.

The word “Moon” did not rhyme with “June” until the Tin Pan Alley Crisis of 1912. It had the vowel sound of “Mon” in “Monday” before then.

While in mythology there are rabbits living on the Moon, in fact the Moon is living on rabbits, who are still really upset about that lottery ticket thing. I can’t say they’re wrong, either.

Maybe it’s five micrograms more water. That would be astounding. We’ll see on Monday.

You Know What? I’m Just Going To Amuse Myself Here


I’m busy dealing with a thing at work where something that hasn’t changed in a year-plus and that I didn’t know was being used for anything suddenly stopped working quite right, and looking over the project I can’t figure out how it would ever have been working quite right based on the now not-quite-right scheme. So instead let me share this with you: It’s an Estonian blog dedicated to characterizing all the appearances of pigeons in movies and TV shows. Yes, it includes discussion of the pigeons’ symbolic import and relevance to the plot. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index shot up over 22 points today following a confusing dream in which Rhode Islanders seemed to have some broadly accepted conspiracy theory about how they were fomenting localized heavy storm cells? That doesn’t seem to add up. Rhode Islanders are used to storms, that’s why they’re there.

247

Statistics Saturday: Eight Statistics Saturday Posts


To close out Me Week, how about some of lists of stuff that I liked?

And because the world is confusing and hurt-y, here’s one more. The Ingredients List For Libby’s 29 oz Can of 100% Pure Pumpkin brings a refreshing calm and sense of place to everything. I hope this helps.

Statistics Saturday: Units Of Length Organized By Length


  • 1. Ell
  • 1 (tie). Rod
  • 3. Foot
  • 3 (tie). Inch
  • 3 (tie). Mile
  • 3 (tie). Yard
  • 7. Chain
  • 7 (tie). Cubit
  • 7 (tie). Meter
  • 10. Fathom
  • 10 (tie). League
  • 10 (tie). Micron
  • 10 (tie). Parsec
  • 14. Furlong
  • 15. Angstrom
  • 16. Kilometer
  • 17. Centimeter
  • 17 (tie). Light-Year
  • 19. Bohr Radius
  • 20. Light-Second
  • 20 (tie). Rhode Island
  • 22. Nautical Mile
  • 22 (tie). Planck Length
  • 24. Football Field
  • 25. Astronomical Unit

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered


A while back I talked about the backstory Python Anghelo designed for the pinball machine Popeye Saves The Earth. I hesitate to call the backstory “crazypants”. I don’t want to wear out a good term by overuse. Also “crazypants” is inadequate to describe it. “Crazypants, crazyshirt, crazysocks and crazyshoes, crazyblazer, crazysheltered from the crazybuckets of crazyrain by a craizywaistcoat and crazyumbrella” gets more at it. Somehow Anghelo, most famous for Joust, had a strange vision for Popeye. Joust you’ll remember as the “medieval knights in space using ostriches to bludgeon pterodactyls” game.

The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?

Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.

Cute picture of Popeye, Bluto, and a number of animals looking concerned or indifferent on a ship, with the Earth and Moon in the background.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I do not know how Popeye (right) accidentally sailed to translunar space.

But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.

Animals bunched up on a space-going ship. At the back of the ship Bluto is being whalloped by various animals including a monkey.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. Far right, Bluto is whacked by a monkey.

There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.

Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.

And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?

Fun play field art of animals in comic action, mostly. Lion- and tiger-men playing shuffleboard with turtles, an iguana sprawled out over the 'Special' score light, that sort of thing.
Playfield detail on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I’m not sure the penguin in the center at the bottom is doing a fan dance with a tablecloth but cannot rule it out.

The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.

Koala on the edge of the ship, staring down. I may be reading a sense of despair into its expression that the artist didn't intend.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. The koala contemplates the complicated ways of fate while sitting at the prow of a space-going ship.

So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.

Statistics May: Or, Statistics April, Continued Again


Finally I have a window to explore the strange state of my readership statistics. I’d had a weird, catastrophic drop in my readership, from 1,053 views by 483 visitors in march down to 808 views by 303 visitors in April. That trend … well, in May the number of views dropped to 759, though the number of unique viewers rose back to 359. I don’t know what to make of this. The number of views per visitor was more in line with what I’d expect. That was 2.11 in May, compared to April’s anomalously high 2.67. March was 2.18, which is about what I expect.

Still, the number of likes received over the month dropped again: from 443 in March, to 402 in April, to 380 in May. The number of comments similarly fell, from 113 in March to 108 in April to 81 in May. Perhaps I just didn’t have subjects that lent themselves to cross-chatter? Or that might reflect the end of the First Betty Boop Cartoons project, since listing all the previous firsts was counted by WordPress as a comment for reasons that make sense to WordPress’s statistics team.

If I’m reading it right stuff was basically fine except for the third week in May (the 18th through the 24th) when people just didn’t come around. I don’t see anything odd about that week’s selection of articles and cartoons and stuff, though.

Well, the month of June started at 17,231 page views, and 568 WordPress followers. Ten of them added in the month of May, so, hi there.

Now on to the popular business of listing stuff. The most popular articles in May were:

As for the popular listing of countries: the greatest number of readers in the reader-deprived month of May came from the United States (542), with runners-up the United Kingdom (33), the United Canada (28), and the United Australia (20). Sending me a single reader each were the United Belgium,
the United Bulgaria, the United Chile, the United Egypt, the United European Union, the United Finland, the United Hong Kong, the United India, the United Italy, the United Norway, the United Saudi Arabia, and the United United Arab Emirates. United Finland United is on a three-month streak of sending me a single reader. I don’t know how a reader can be coming from the United European Union considering there’s countries in it that are already listed.

Here’s some of the search terms I got. Good luck working out what they mean:

Ridiculous Episodes Of History


Tamim Ansary’s book Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan describes the first time Afghanistan sent a diplomatic mission to the United States:

The Afghan delegation came to New York in 1922, but as it happened a ludicrous adventurer hit town at the same time: an old woman named “Princess” Fatima Sultana … She came festooned in jewels and looking like every New Yorker’s image of a Theda Bara-style exotic from the mysterious east. Her jewels included one particularly large diamond she called the Darya-i-Noor (River of Light). She was travelling with a rascal who called himself the Crown Prince of Egypt. …

To make matters worse, these two con artists fell victim themselves to an American con artist named Weymouth, who convinced them he was with the Department of the Navy and said he would present Fatima to the president of the United States — he had his eye on that diamond. The New York press didn’t know which was the real diplomatic delegation, and they picked the one they found more entertaining: Princess Fatima and her entourage.

Princess Fatima would lose her diamond and run out on her hotel bill. The actual Afghans got ignored. And we have to wonder how the United States lived through a bad episode of Top Cat. I don’t mean to make myself sound too intelligent. I was nine before I realized I was smarter than some episodes of Three’s Company. But I was definitely only eight years old before I couldn’t buy the fake-exotic-royalty-in-New-York plot. The heck, people?

But the incident reflects something historians hope you won’t ask about. Until about 1975 the whole world was so casually run that anybody could put anything over on anybody else, anytime they wanted. For example, from 1927 through 1931 the cash-strapped Soviet Union stayed afloat by selling counterfeit trains on the New York Central. Passengers would gather around a marvelous painting of what looked very much like a train. They’d only notice fourteen hours later that neither it nor they had gone anywhere. The scheme finally ended when the United States extended diplomatic recognition to the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to laugh about this, but they had just bought track rights through the Canadian province of “Roberta”.

In 1852 a group of Americans hoped to take over Cuba for the benefit of the Cubans, they kept telling themselves and everyone else. So they built a replica of the White House and the Capitol in Havanna out of some wood they had left over from another project, to lure the American government over. As it happens they only managed to fool the vice-president, William R King. He didn’t die of embarrassment at being fooled, but when he left for the real Washington he only got as close as Alabama.

In 1817 Great Britain annexed the Caribbean island of Saint Martin O’The Lee. Its exact location was unknown to everyone and the land was proven in 1932 to never have existed. Despite that, sectarian violence continues along the arbitrarily-drawn border known as Chamberlain’s Belch. That’s named for Neville Chamberlain, but not that Neville Chamberlain. Also not the other Neville Chamberlain you’re telling people you thought of right away because you want to seem smarter to them. It’s the other other one.

In the mid-30s a mysterious figure claiming to be another brother wormed his way into Popeye’s nephews. The hoaxer would appear in shorts for over a decade before vanishing, probably absconding, never to be heard from again. And the amazing thing is that five years after that another of the so-called nephews would vanish, revealing he had been an impostor all along too.

In 1645 an Italian lawyer presented King Louis XIV with a moon for Venus. Astronomers kept insisting they saw it for over a century. It wasn’t until 1762 that everybody involved admitted that they had to be dead of old age by then. And so it they were, and we went back to ignoring that big shiny moon-like thing hovering around Venus. Don’t stare.

Dozens of Rhode Island cities in the 19th century fell for groups of organized rowdies presenting themselves as the state government. The actual state government chased after them, wielding brooms and biographies of Roger Williams, for decades before the last of them finally set up in New London (“Mystic”), Connecticut as a government-in-exile. They’re still there.

We’ve tightened things up since those days. Today, anybody can still put anything over on anybody else. But they have to go through a metal detector and put their keys and loose change in a plastic bin first. It’s progress.

My Appropriately-Sized Rhode Island Terror


I just knew going in that describing the size of Rhode Island in terms of football fields was going to be a popular one, because it just had that certain xkcd-ish nerdly panache to it, by combining geodesy, sports, and things that other things get compared to a lot even if you don’t really know or care much about the things. So I was happy about all that.

But, and I know this is ridiculous: I was deeply worried about whether I would get this right. I knew that by giving stuff that could be not obviously wrong numbers I was potentially arousing the powerful Worldwide Nerdly Precision League. This is a shadowy group, communicating primarily by means of pun cascades and posts that convert things — any old things: speeds, fuel economies, lists of Vice-Presidents of the United States with their pets — into stupid measurements like “furlongs per fortnight” all the while trying to troll others into correcting mistakes they pretend to make. Rouse them and they will hound you past death, trying to pin down whether you meant the London firkin or some other non-London yet nevertheless English firkin, such as the Bristol firkin, and they will not accept that you could care less, an expression that they’ll also debate with you.

So in my quest to get the measurement of Rhode Island right I discovered there are no two sources on the entire Internet that agree about how big Rhode Island is. A lot of them just round it off to the nearest ten miles, even though that risks rounding the state down to a slender twig blown about in the strong wind. Some of them give up altogether: Wikipedia just describes Rhode Island as being “larger than three elephants standing end to end, but not much. Not those elephants, a different three elephants”. Finally I gave up and found the United States Coast Guard’s Geographic Information Services depository and got a map of Rhode Island that if the Coast Guard is fine with I can live with. I trust the Coast Guard to keep track of Rhode Island even though it’d save them a lot of craggly little corners if they lopped off the whole island and went with those pretty straight borders on the east of Connecticut and south of Massachusetts instead. I guess that might risk their running a cutter or whatever they have into Quonset but the people of Quonset have dealt with worse. I imagine. They’ve done a lot of stuff, what with making huts and not being Woonsocket, I guess.

But this set off a new problem because the best GIS software I could find was QGIS, which is open source. Open source software is different from professional software because, when you want to get a piece of professional software, you download it and then run it. With open source software, you download it, and then discover that to run it you have to download something else. When you download that something else and try to run it, you find out you have to download some other thing. That other thing you can download, but to actually run it you have to resolve some package dependency issue. You Google for that and discover one StackOverflow page with somebody describing what sounds like your problem, except that when you describe your problem there’s antecedents and verbs and the sentences parse. It seems close enough, though, so you follow what you think is the best answer, as it’s the one in which all the sentences parse even though the paragraphs don’t, and the settings it describes aren’t exactly in your version of the software but some things described with imperfect synonyms are, even if none of them are under the described menu options, which are different anyway, that the StackOverflow answer says. This works, except that every time you start the program it pops up an alert box containing nothing but an exclamation point and three buttons marked “OK”, “Dismiss”, and “Cancel”, all of which do the same thing if you click them twice, which is to go away and let you use the program, except every now and then the software switches the typeface over to I’m going to guess Korean and you have to delete the preferences and start over. But it’s worth it because if you complain about it someone tells you to pitch in and help fix the problem instead of just complaining.

It was easiest to measure the lengths not at all because while you can turn on a grid to make measurements of stuff in QGIS, it’s open-source software, so while you can do pretty much anything, there’s no guessing how except that it won’t be anything like you learned from any other program you ever used, ever. But when I found how — it required three sherpas and a gyrocompass — it was easiest to measure the state in kilometers and I was going to accept that, because I could convert the size of a football field into meters and just do the stupid division like that. I finished all that and scheduled the article to be posted and went off to play pinball all day.

Except. Right about when the post was scheduled to appear I thought: did I convert “120 yards into meters”, or did I screw up and enter “120 feet into meters” instead? Did I make Rhode Island three times as big as it should be? Or worse did I somehow make it one-third its rightful size? I did my best to struggle on with making a shiny ball bounce against a diverse set of things a lot of times, but I kept thinking of how I’d get home to face dozens of comments from the New England Chapter of the Worldwide Nerdly Precision League, and I’d have to flee my home and move to some other country where they don’t play American football. And not a small country either, something that would take dozens of thousands — literally, scores of great grosses — of football fields cricket pitches to cross. I swear, I spent hours thinking I might just be an idiot for having come up with numbers like “1772” or “1999” or even “788”. At least the “4940” I was pretty sure about.

Anyway, mercifully, I got back home and checked my notes and it looks like I was wrong about being mistaken, and I had not messed up calculating this bit of nonsense. So there’s that. You’re welcome, all.

As I make it out by the way Rhode Island is about 86.4 kilometers east-to-west, about 97.5 kilometers north-to-south, and about 247 meters top to bottom because nobody’s told me about any part of the state that’s dry land but below sea level, so if you want to figure out what that is in terms of Canadian football fields or cricket pitches or pinball table sizes good luck.

Statistics Saturday: The Size of Rhode Island in terms of Football Fields


“Length” is here taken to be longitudinal, east-west, distance; “Width” that to be latitudinal, north-south, distance. “Height” is that normal thing.

The dimensions of Rhode Island as measured by an (American) football field, with the long dimension (120 yards) running east-to-west:

Dimension Football Fields
Length 1772
Width 888
Height 4940

The dimensions of Rhode Island as measured by an (American) football field, with the long dimension (120 yards) running north-to-south:

Dimension Football Fields
Length 788
Width 1999
Height 4940
A map of Rhode Island, with a grid spaced to roughly the proportions of a football field superimposed on it.
Rhode Island (yellow) against a grid of football fields (not to scale).

  1. Yes, I’m including Block Island.
  2. I’m including the end zones.
  3. Football field artificial grass is apparently 5 cm tall, so I’m supposing that to be the standard height of the grass on the field.
  4. Only land points of Rhode Island are being included, thus, the westernmost extent is at Napatree Point.
  5. If there’s any part of Rhode Island that’s below sea level I don’t know it.