Mysteries Found While Strolling The Neighborhood


Set by the curb: a trash bin, a recycling bin, and a good-sized rock that probably belongs there.
I understand throwing out the big green recycling bin. You have to set a hard line on those things; they keep coming back again and again.

Why would somebody throw away a perfectly good rock? You know I bet this is how this community lost that lump of coal “as big as the front seat of a car” that was on Grand River avenue somewhere.

Meanwhile on my humor blog, I’d like to share the past week’s mathematically-themed comic strips and talk about them. But there weren’t any! The newspaper-grade comic strips I read didn’t give me anything to talk about there. I talked anyway, but good luck making sense of that.

Can I Believe In Iowa?


You know what I haven’t talked about in a while? The flame wars going on in the Star Trek web forum where I like to hang out and find myself in oddball flame wars. The best one going right now concernes the 2009 movie, where you might kind of remember in an early scene the young James Kirk drives an antique car over the edge of an enormous rock quarry, establishing the important point point that he’s a incredible jerk who doesn’t know how brake pedals work.

Anyway. One of the posters in the forum is quite upset about the depiction of a rock quarry in Iowa. You might think this is because there aren’t rock quarries in Iowa, if you have less knowledge of the rock-quarrying industry of Iowa than the poster thinks I should have. Here I confess my ignorance: you could make nearly any claim about the rock-quarrying industries of Iowa, ranging from “there is none” to “it is entirely owned and operated by packs of robot wallabies made of wood, and is focused on the pulling up of agates which can be eaten by tactical assault pillows” and I would barely be able to say where you had gone wrong. But, no, the complaint is that rock quarries in that part of Iowa are not nearly so large as the one depicted, which apparently was an actual Vermont-based rock quarry digitally inserted in corn fields meant to represent Iowa. And that it’s as ridiculous to show a Vermont-sized rock quarry in Iowa as it would be to, say, pass off the Empire State Building as part of the skyline of Wichita, Kansas.

So now I’m left with the question of whether, in this story of time-travelling Romulans using liquid black holes to make Spock feel very, very bad for not stopping a supernova, I can swallow the idea that three hundred years from now Iowa could have rock quarries somewhat larger than it has today. It’s a tough decision.

The Shrinking Mountain of New Zealand


I’d like to start out with a proof that I haven’t been to New Zealand. I feel like if I’m going to bring stuff like this to people’s attention I should have a ready alibi. Unfortunately, the fact is that I haven’t ever been to New Zealand — the closest I’ve ever been to New Zealand has been some emotional closeness with imaginary squirrels based out of there — and it is sadly impossible to prove a negative. At least, I think it’s impossible to prove a negative, although I don’t suppose I have seen that demonstrated. Well, it’s probably true enough.

What’s got me on this is that apparently New Zealand’s tallest mountain has come up about a hundred feet shorter than everyone thought it was. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I also don’t want the hassle of being suspected by New Zealand police or, worse, angry geologists. They’re people who are very skilled with rocks, and I’m very bad at flinching, so all I can do if they’re going to be riled up is not be the person they’re riled at. But according to a survey by the University of Otago in November 2013, Mount Cook, also called Aoraki, comes in at 3,724 meters tall, whereas it used to be figured at 3,754 meters tall, and they’re using the same old meters both cases so don’t go thinking that’s the problem.

So if we’re all agreed that I’m not to blame for shrinking any mountains anywhere near New Zealand, and if we’re not then I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to have a civil conversation and must face the prospect that we’ll learn how well we can flinch from rocks, we can get to wondering where the mountain height went. I guess the first thing to check is if maybe they shrank the typeface they’re using to label the thing “Mount Cook, also called Aoraki”. Maybe someone figured instead of mixed case it should be put up on the mountain in small caps instead, and that makes the whole name just run out too long and they had to make the letters less tall to compensate. You might ask how this could possibly make a difference; I say, don’t underestimate typeface enthusiasts. They’ve got to have been looking at that “r” in Aoraki and thinking how magnificent it would look in capitals, even small capitals. There are some lovely things to be done with a “k” as well, if it’s balanced right. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped a “W” into the name, regardless of what it does to the ordering of New Zealand mountain heights.

And apparently it hasn’t done anything about New Zealand mountain height orderings, if I understand right. The second-tallest mountain, Mount Second Tallest Mountain Or Something, is still second-tallest and doesn’t seem to be gaining any. This, of course, rules out a couple possibilities for how Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, might have shrunk. Apparently people weren’t swiping height from the first to boost other mountains that anybody’s caught, for example. I guess we can rule out that everyone’s just standing a little bit taller so the mountains appear to be shorter, since that would affect all the other mountains just as much and we’d be seeing widespread reports of New Zealanders discovering stuff they forgot was on top of the refrigerator.

Of course, wouldn’t it be something if someone were swiping height from Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, and were turning it into extra width or depth of other mountains by the simple process of rotating it in three-dimensional space? Has anyone done a careful measurement of just how fat the mountains of New Zealand are lately? If they haven’t, can we be positive this isn’t what’s going on? And before you go chuckling that of course the people responsible for mountain checking would notice and report on any mountain fatness before announcing the mysterious loss of height, consider that these same mountain-checkers didn’t notice exactly when their tallest mountain went and shrunk some. There’s obviously plenty of chances for mischief.

It just struck me I shouldn’t say the mountain has come up a hundred feet shorter. I should probably do something about that.