Meanwhile, In Space …


Scott and Spock inside the Jeffries tube; Kirk somewhere far below.
I’m not actually sure which episode of Star Trek this is from, which would have brought intense shame to the 16-year-old me.

“What do you mean Engineering is voting to secede from the Enterprise?!”

“Furthermore, Captain, Mister Scott has requested that I inform you that he is no longer speaking to you.”

“Is this about stealing lines again? Because I keep explaining, I’m only thinking of the best interests of the show, that’s why!”

How’s This For A Science Fiction Story?


OK, so the protagonist volunteers to try out the diagnosed-with-multiple-controllable-conditions scientists’ new evolution-accelerating treatments. After several preliminary sessions seem to do little he finds that in subtle but key ways he’s been altered to a more perfect specimen for a human-like species in our environment, including:

  • The tissues within his knees regenerate their soft, padded material for several further decades, indicating he might reach his mid-90s before his knees start to ache.
  • His body produces virtually no cholesterol anymore, so that what he consumes in his ordinary diet is sufficient for membrane fluidity in his body’s cells and restoring his nervous system’s myelin sheathing, without the risk of building unwanted amounts in his blood vessels.
  • Now his skin produces so much vitamin D that despite living in mid-Michigan it’s no longer necessary to consider taking supplements during the long winter, although if he moved to a less cloudy area he might be at mildly increased risk of hypervitaminosis D.
  • There’s a slight notch in his thigh so that when he flies coach he can plug the earphone into the seat speaker plug without it digging into his leg.
  • He shows virtually no signs of repetitive strain injury while typing anymore.

What do you think? Can I build this into a six-volume mega-book series ready for movie franchising?

The Secret Of The Moon Sphinx


It's a sphinx! On the moon! And it's shooting lasers out of its eyes! At our spaceship! … Whoops.
Secrets Of The Moon Sphynx, as uploaded to DeviantArt by PeterPulp.

Apparently, the Secret of the Moon Sphinx is that it’s a bit of a jerk, really. Also, I understand the Ancient Egyptians were busy being Ancient Egyptians and building astounding stuff for thousands of years, but it seems like if they were building sphinxes on the moon to laser-eye spaceships they were kind of losing focus on their really important projects, like land-surveying and the Sothic Cycle and the Hittites. Of course, I do some things that the Ancient Egyptians would probably consider outside my real focus, so who am I to tell them they were wasting their time? At least they got a laser-eye sphinx up on the moon, while all I can do is look at those astronauts and think they’re monkeys in spacesuits until I look again and see once more that it’s just the things on their heads giving me that impression.

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.

Maybe We Should Just Skip To Second Contacts


A space alligator-cyclops makes ready to throw a boulder at things.
The cover to _Wonder Stories Quarterly_, Summer 1930, provided by PeterPulp of DeviantArt

The Peter Pulp account over on DeviantArt put up this cover, from the Summer 1930 issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly, and I guess it just shows how poorly we all handled First Contact back in the day. Obviously, I don’t know who started the fight, whether the wide-hipped spacemen with the guns or the alligator-cyclops, but as things stand now, the brave spacemen of tomorrow have to figure out a way to carry on their mission despite the near-complete destruction of their Bounce House. I don’t envy them their task. I’ve never been able to recover from more than a goat-hydra chewing on the restraint bar of my Tilt-a-Whirl car.

You know, I am guilty of assuming this is a matter of the alligator-cyclops throwing rocks at the Bounce House. But from just the still scene I don’t know if he’s actually busy removing rocks from it. He might be the hero of this scene, freeing trapped spacekids within, and what is he getting for his trouble? All the bullets he can eat. I bet that’s what happened; isn’t it always like that when you try helping spacemen with Bounce Houses, in your experience?

What You Notice In Old Videos


So, do you ever go back and look at episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation for reasons other than that you’re hanging out in a Star Trek forum and there’s nothing to do but go over each and every episode and review them all one more time in case someone forgot to mention something? It’s interesting because sometimes you do notice something you never saw before. For example, look at this scene, in a screen capture from the episode “Future Imperfect” where Future Riker looks at his old home movies.

While Riker watches his past self be attacked by a clown I can't help noticing he has a shiny ball on a glass table.

How many times might you have kind of caught this episode while you were doing something else before, like me, you noticed how much Future Riker was looking longingly at the time far in the past when he had a Giant Shiny Ball sitting on his glass table? “Those were good times,” you can imagine Riker thinking. “And it was just moments before the Space Clown attacked.”

Good times, really, good times.

Statistics Saturday for a Monday: July 2014 on This Humor Blog


And now to return to the very funny question of how well-read I was in the month of July. The answer is very well indeed: I had my most popular month on record according to WordPress. My total number of page views climbed from June’s 495 to fully 704, the highest on record, and the number of unique viewers rose from 181 to a just plain enormous for me 332. I’m stunned. There’s three months since I started the humor blog that didn’t have 332 views total, never mind unique viewers. (The views-per-visitor dropped from 2.73 to 2.12, but that’s still respectable, suggesting most folks who stop in find at least something else worth reading.) By the end of July I’d gotten a total of 7,187 pages read.

The countries sending me the most readers the past month were the United States (562), Australia (34), the United Kingdom (32), and Canada (20). I got only a single reader each from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Kuwait, Mexico, Oman, the Philippines. Indonesia and the Philippines were single-reader countries last month too. And India, which I worried about for sending me just one reader in May and June, found three people who could find me not perfectly repellant in the past thirty days. That’s not so good on a per capita basis as Portugal (two readers), but, really, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

The five most popular postings this past month were:

  1. Questions Inspired By Great Science Fiction Covers of the Past, which involves a lot of Lyndon Johnson.
  2. From The Technology Centers That Brought You Towels, about a patent pending notice I saw.
  3. Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail in The Indianapolis 500, always liked.
  4. Statistics Saturday: My Reactions To Everything After It’s Been Read, letting you know how much I like being liked, or not being liked, as the case may be.
  5. Theme Park Flashing from the Dream World, my subconscious giving out advice again.

I should say, though, there’s 21 different posts which got at least ten viewers the past month, which I believe is a high but I didn’t track that before. This is just something else I can start neurotically following, isn’t it?

Some popular search terms bringing people here include:

  • “ron|russell mael”
  • charles boyce compu-toon
  • captain future block that kick
  • mark twain a medieval romance
  • can a snail race in the indy 500 (people have got to be looking this up as a lark)
  • transdimensional dream other worlds
  • melies films with spider

Unintended Results: Books About Movie Musicals Edition


Stimulus:

Just Imagine was a million-dollar musical comedy set in the far future of 1980, with futuristic gadgets, a trip to Mars, and a Sleeper-like shlub waking from a fifty-year coma. Unfortunately, and not infrequent in 1930, the good ideas were mitigated by workaday routine, a wan score, and not quite enough wit. It starred a Swedish-dialect comic called El Brendel. Remember the name and tremble.

Footnote in the book Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter, Richard Barrios.

Response:

Seeing Just Imagine is the most important thing I can do this week and I must know everything there is to know about the work of Swedish-dialect comic El Brendel.

Questions Inspired By Great Science Fiction Covers of the Past


So, over in the world of DeviantArt, the Peterpulp account has been posting various cleaned-up images of old magazine and book covers. A couple days ago he posted this cover, to Brian Aldiss’s Bow Down To Nul, which I never heard of before either though I’ve heard of Brian Aldiss. Naturally it raises questions, to follow.

Seriously, isn't that Lyndon Johnson fighting off an alien by using a fish?
Peterpulp (of DeviantArt)’s posting of the cover to _Bow Down To Nul_, by Brian W Aldiss.

So:

  1. Is that Lyndon Johnson in the spacesuit there?
  2. Is Lyndon Johnson trying to stab the alien monstrosity by using a fish?
  3. Why?

I suppose the last is the easiest to answer, though. Obviously Lyndon Johnson’s plan is to offend the alien by making it think that he’s not taking the invasion the least bit seriously. The alien will stew over this and feel so offended it’ll go off and invade Vulcan or Endor or someone who’ll try to fight back with something that’s a serious weapon instead. I bet it ends up commiserating with an alien that quit an invasion when the resistance met it with yarn and bags of raked leaves.

Statistics Saturday: Subjects I Go To The Library Looking For A Book About Versus Subjects Of Books I Come Out With


Subject I Go In Looking For A Book About Subject Of Book I Come Out With
Amusement Parks Madame Blavatsky
The Taiping Rebellion Muzak’s Contributions to World War II
Niagara Falls Containerized Cargo
The Gemini Program The History of the Accordion
Oxygen Alexander von Humboldt
The Oort Cloud Comic Strips
Science Fiction, Criticism The Cherry Sisters
The Cherry Sisters Lawns
Dictionaries Languages for Extraterrestrial Squirrels
The Great Migration Public Swimming Pools
The Customs Wall of India Wood
Magnetism The Grand Canyon

PS: You would be shocked to know how much of this is not joking.

Felix the Cat: Trifles with Time


For today’s video offering let me go back to Felix the Cat, a 1925 short from the Pat Sullivan Studios. It’s a fairly tightly-plotted story in which Felix becomes disgusted with the way cats are treated in the modern day and bugs Father Time to send him back to sometime better for his species, like, the Stone Age. This doesn’t go quite as well as Felix might have hoped, especially considering that the previous year he had been in The Bone Age and might have known what he was getting into. Still, this cartoon has got a pretty good storyline, a fair number of good jokes and one really disturbing bit of the kinds of thing you could do in animation where it didn’t hurt so much.

Baffling Compu-Toon Of The Week


I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you’ve never heard of the comic strip Compu-Toon, by Charles Boyce, because it’s one of those comic strips that somehow I’ve come to read and that other people can’t believe exists. Those people are correct. It’s a panel comic strip, the sort that gives you a picture and a caption and together they yield some sufficiently joke-like construct for the newspapers to run. I don’t know if any newspapers run this. I don’t even know who’s supposed to run it. Let me show you a couple so you can see why I’m just … confused.

`You would think this Dove soap looking logo for Twitter would prevent me from getting nasty text messages like this one' for some reason.
Charles Boyce’s baffling Compu-Toon comic strip for the 3rd of June, 2014.

There’s the Compu-Toon for the third of June: “You would think this Dove soap looking logo for Twitter would prevent me from getting nasty text messages like this one.” Part of me wants to edit that caption so that it has any kind of flow. Part of me wants to say, “You would? Why?” And another part of me wonders, “The Twitter logo looks like Dove soap? Or Dove soap’s logo? Really?” The overall effect is one of confusion and vague disquiet.

`Passwords are not just waiting around for you to call them up' for some reason.
Charles Boyce’s baffling Compu-Toon for the 4th of June, 2014.

And then the next day. “Passwords are not just waiting around for you to call them up.” I can’t dispute that, since all the passwords I know are just sitting quietly in the back of the room for me to forget them, and to find the notes that I left for myself don’t mean anything (“Amex: Tweedlioop no ? $”), but that’s got nothing to do with passwords’ social life. What does a “password party in chat room 214” even mean?

Overall, I’m pretty sure the target audience for this comic is: you know that aunt you have who’s not on the Google herself but knows other people like it, and who sometimes sends e-mails consisting of 128 kilobytes of forwarding headers? Now we have something to send her back and say, “Thanks for the mail; did you see this? Hope you like it”. Which is a valuable service, certainly. And, of course, I’m hooked.

Frankenstein 1910


I’ve had something of a running theme of humorous movies running on the Friday night/Saturday morning entries around here and I was casting about for one for this week, and got diverted. This isn’t a funny movie, but, it captured my attention and my interest and this is my blog so I’ll post to it anyway.

Over on Movies, Silently, a blog dedicated to silent films, they’ve posed the 1910 Edison production of Frankenstein, which was thought to be lost forever. It’s a fascinating production, partly because of its age, partly because it shows a filmed Frankenstein that stands independent of the Boris Karloff version. The Creature doesn’t look like Karloff’s, nor like something designed to not be Karloff’s.

It’s also got two particularly interesting scenes in its twelve-minute runtime. One is impressive just on its technical prowess: the forming of the Creature is done in a visually striking way that I think would still be effective in a modern production, even if the audience would more quickly recognize the trick. The other is more one of framing: the Creature intrudes on Frankenstein in his lounge, and is first seen opening and entering in a mirror on the right of the screen. The Creature then appears on-screen from the left, which is surprisingly unsettling, and so effective. I’m surprised that staging hasn’t been used more.

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know


The 1994 pinball game _Popeye Saves The Earth_, as photographed by Allen Shope at the Internet Pinball Database.

Popeye Saves The Earth was a pretty mediocre 1994 pinball game designed by Python Anghelo, the famous game designer behind Joust, one of the leading early 80s video games about bludgeoning people with ostriches. Recently I acquired a document purporting to be Anghelo’s proposed theme for this pinball through the elaborate process of looking up the game on the Pinball database. It’s a mere nine-page document and yet it’s the most wonderfully deranged Popeye-related thing I’ve seen in weeks. I recommend you read the whole thing, so let me share the good parts, so you can go on to be disappointed.

Anghelo observes that based on King Features’ strips it “became very obvious to me that Popeye The Sailor has not kept up with the times”. This is true. After a long and successful run, Popeye left pop culture after 1985, when creation of the Fox Network meant there weren’t independent TV stations running two-hour cartoon blocks of his work anymore, and he hasn’t been let back in since. How does Anghelo set up a new adventure for the sailor man?

He sets Popeye as 50, comfortable and bored, watching “the Simpsons, reruns of the Flintstones”, even Mickey Mouse, as we all did in the early 90s, but “consuming too much spinach brew”. Olive Oyl is his “still faithful wife”, tending one of the world’s largest seashell collections, and Swee’Pea is in his early 30s, having retired as a Navy pilot and facing the tough job market by considering a degree in astrophysics, which has always been a license to print money. Bluto’s now an oil tycoon, despite a recent oil spill, and “The Sea Hag runs and owns a Japanese/Norwegian fishing fleet that kills whales [and] porpoises”. I kind of appreciate a multinational just being open about it. I imagine its Chief Financial Officer appearing on CNBC — no Indiegogo for an outfit this organized — to say, “Hi. I’m Jeanene Evil. Give us money and we will kill whales.”

Anyway, Popeye goes fishing and finds nothing but plastic bags, tires, styrofoam cups and all that. Olive, seashell-hunting, gets gobs of tar from Bluto’s oil spill all over her feet, tangled in a drift net, and “stung by a discarded syringe that washed up on the beach”, because if you’re playing pinball, it’s because you want to see a tarballed, net-stuck Olive Oyl jabbed by a discarded syringe. Popeye heads to the United States for some answers, and finds pollution in New York harbor, a devastated shrimping industry in New Orleans, and depleted tuna stocks in Los Angeles, and sees Jacques Cousteau, Diane Fosse, Carl Sagan, Peter Moyers, and Greenpeace calling for a stop to the insanity, so, he calls in some favors from Vice-President Al Gore, sells the rights to show Popeye cartoons in 1994 for enough scratch to buy Howard Hughes’s Glomar Explorer (“the biggest ship on Earth”), and mounts it atop eight shuttle boosters as Popeye’s Ark 2000. I should warn you, from here the proposed backstory for this pinball game gets a little nutty.

So Popeye goes to all the continents, gathering, for example, from North America two buffalos, two bald eagles, two chipmunks, two manatees, “and the last 2 condors in existence”, which makes him sound like kind of a jerk, because we might need those chipmunks. Somehow, Popeye’s plan to launch chipmunks into outer space on the Glomar Explorer is “heavily ridiculed”, but Popeye answers everyone’s doubts “in an extraordinary two-hour telecast underwritten by Texas billionaire Ross Perot”, because the one thing that absolutely shuts down widespread ridicule of an insane plan is the timely intervention of any billionaire Texan. Also they blast off right away.

Popeye “heads for Saturn — the biggest planet in the solar system, and enters its orbit to use as a sling out of the solar system”, which suggests that despite his game-design prowess Anghelo had only a layman’s understanding of orbital dynamics and couldn’t develop it into something realistic. That or maybe Jupiter was stolen by a space chipmunk? I don’t know.

As the good Professor Holkus-Polkus warned Popeye “over Spinach Schnopps”, out past Pluto the Ark enters a “terrible river of space storms … a spatial gulfstream of whitewater rivers that flow between solar systems and galaxies”, so soon, Popeye’s Ark “travels in one week to places that comets and pulsars travel in 100 billion light years”, which is pretty good for the Glomar Explorer weighted down by manatees and chipmunks.

On the 99th planet they set down, in one of the ten seas, to discover the planet stinks. The leader has “three eyes, a huge mouth, and no nose. Popeye notices no one has noses, or a sense of smell! The planet is Odorsphera”, and as people who have noses and visit Odorsphera suffer and die “from unknown causes”, the inhabitants helpfully kill them first. Rather than have his nose chopped off Popeye relaunches into space, with a pair of three-eyed tarantulas as a gift.

From here Anghelo’s proposal gets a little sketchy, suggesting the exact play of this pinball game hadn’t quite been worked out. On the next planet, the King is spotted on the front, striped on the back, and everyone is either spotted or striped, while Popeye and his crew are neither and so feel the eye of striped/spotted-on-plain prejudice. “Next planet — red planet — everything red”, which tries to bridge the gap between innovative pinball design and haiku.

Next, at the top of page eight, comes a paragraph I must quote in its entirety:

Alternative planet — unisex — gay — do not want pairs of heterosexuals. Jeremy, explore this one.

I do not know what Jeremy discovered. I imagine that if I were Jeremy, my report on exploring this one would have been, “We’re trying to design a pinball game based on Popeye”, with maybe a mention that Popeye’s traditional strengths have been more in the fields of “sailing” and “eating spinach” and “punching things” and less in “chipmunk-bearing spaceflights to Unisex Gay World”.

Other planets include Canibalia, where animals are extinct and higher mental beings use lower mental beings as servants and protein; one with a “high society of animals — eagles” that don’t allow people; “no water planet, 3 moon planet, female planet, planet with 2 suns — never nighttime” and the admonition, “Jeremy, go crazy with these”. Were I Jeremy, my response would be: “Go?”

Anghelo’s proposed pinball narrative goes on to note Popeye’s been travelling too long, the animals are multiplying, the ship needs repair and, oh, yes, “Somehow incorporate Bluto and Sea Hag in the ship’s adventures”.

So, the game would have Popeye “leave the cosmic river and return on a cosmic shortcut through the Pavronian system of interstellar gaseous storms” back to Earth, a polluted, oily, cloudy Odorsphera-like planet with no animals and widespread death, disease, and cannibalism among surviving humanity, which really captures the heart of both Popeye and pinball. The animals are released back into their natural habitats, where they had been taken from before all their species were extinct in the wild, “and there is great joy!”, naturally.

I admit this is staggering, and I can even kind of see where elements of this might have made it into the final produced machine, which folks managed to play nearly two-thirds of a game on before finding it was too dull to continue. But it’s also impressively wild, and I have to wonder what the backstory is like for his other games, specifically, Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Ball.

Also, somewhere in the multiverse, someone — I’m thinking maybe even Jeff Wayne — has turned this outline into a prog-rock opera, and I’d like to see the album art Roger Dean made for it.

The Numbers And What They Were For April 2014


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:

  1. Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail in The Indianapolis 500, which really is going to outlast me. I had a friend run across it this month, while he was looking for facts about Turbo for some reason, and he was delighted to find he knew the author.
  2. The Record Offensive, helped into popularity, I think, because of its captivating central image of parachuted record players and also of the good-quality comments.
  3. Bunny Snacking, which had some strong appeal to the bunny community, I believe.
  4. Statistics Saturday: Country Populations Versus What I Thought, which I’m guessing got a lot of people who thought there was actual geography at work in there.
  5. Quarks of nature, a rare reblogging for me of A Labor Of Like’s writing.
  6. How To Write Out Numbers, which I dearly hope is being used as someone’s writing guide, but I know isn’t.

Terms that have brought viewers to my blog this past month have included, besides the abundance of Turbo search terms:

Warnings From The Dream World: Trans-Dimensional Travel Edition


So, yeah, apparently I’m getting warnings about possible troubles while I’m dreaming again and I share this one with you because it seems like it could be of use to pretty near anyone. I’m breaking up what is really one sentence into a couple paragraphs for easier reading. You’ll thank me when you see the wisdom my subconscious is depositing on you.

Suppose that you should happen by some means to fall into an alternate timeline and are in the San Francisco of a much more totalitarian, police-state United States.

If the only way you have of getting home is to make a desperate cross-country trip to New York City, with your only real guidance a crude, placemat-type mat that promises if you head far enough north from San Francisco you’ll meet I-75, which in this abomination of a timeline then goes more or less due east towards Manhattan …

And if you reason that before setting out with precious little of the cash currency for the alternate-United States that it’s worthwhile stopping in to a relentlessly average San Francisco-area shopping mall to take in a movie at the multiplex …

And if you try to pay for the movie using your credit card from this your home timeline and the cashier keeps fingering it curiously and ultimately has to go back to discuss it with the manager and this sets off a long series of negotiations among the multiplex’s staff about the validity of this curious negotiable instrument …

Then you should really cut your losses and just give up on seeing the movie, because the argument with the multiplex staff about it after they’ve swiped your card and whether your payment is in a valid tender or whether it’s even remotely compatible with the credit card swiping devices of this alternate history is not a productive use of your time. Bluntly, even if you argue yourself into the theater, the kerfluffle is just going to attract the local police — as it likely would even in our non-dystopian timeline given how heated it is getting — and their report is just going to call attention to the really terrible secret police, and the movie just is not worth it. Seriously. Let it go. Save the argument about the negotiability of a credit card from another timeline for something worthwhile, like the gas station.

I probably shouldn’t have to explain all this, but believe me, it’s very frustrating especially when you realize that the movie ticket argument is not the one you should be having right then and there.

Maybe Guys Just Grimace Themselves Clean?


I don’t go in for most stereotypically guy behaviors, because they’re nearly all terrible, based on finding a thing and doing so much of it that someone is made to weep. Pretty much the only guy behaviors I’ll hew to are bringing all the bags of groceries in from the car in a single trip, and feeling like I should spend more time in auto parts stores. I can just look up what kind of windshield wiper blades my car takes one more time.

But I did get a pack of Dial For Men, because we kind of needed soap sometime in the none too distant future, and it’s kind of delightful how they went and took a product that in principle anybody might use (“soap”) and tried to target it more towards my immediate gender. The key elements, as best I can tell:

  1. It’s got “For Men” imprinted in the bar of soap, so as to scare off any women-types with fancy ideas of washing their hands.
  2. It’s got little hand-grippy inset bars embedded on the side so as to look more like some kind of silly gadget people stare at in the kinds of action/science-fiction movies where you kind of hope you don’t recognize any of the actors because you’d feel bad for them having to appear in this kind of movie.
  3. It’s grey, so it looks that little bit more like you dropped it in the muddy snow outside.
  4. Instead of vaguely smelling like flowers or strawberries or cream, they’ve made it smell just generally less pleasant, to match the important guy trait of wanting to smell not quite pleasant.

Oh, yes, the other bit thing they did was give upon selling it, because it was on clearance for $1.58 for three bars. Apparently, Dial-type men don’t use soap, and goodness knows if they’re even into water. They just let the auto parts store smear them with some kind of wax and call that clean. And it’s not a very nice-smelling wax either.

Mathematics Comics and Robots With Knives


I know this is sudden, but I had a bunch of other mathematics-themed comics over on the mathematics blog, where you can see again about how cartoonists keep finding something funny, almost, about an infinity of monkeys for some reason. Go figure.


Flash Gordon easily defeats a KnifeBot.

Meanwhile, in 1959, for all those of you who were curious how Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon was making out against the StabBot, I’m happy to report that Flash swiftly defeated the Knifeketeer’s robot minion, and did so with style and grace, by which I mean he passed up the clearly-marked target of the robot’s groin.

I have no important updates on how Mary Worth is doing with her casserole, although Iris and Tommy do continue to look terrified.

Do alien armies really spend all their time in close-up knife-brawls with robots? We could make a fortune selling these people laser pistols.

Unintentional Laughs


This isn’t going to be a particularly sophisticated little installment. What sets it off is that I was reading the story comics. I didn’t think much of the story strips when I was a kid; they were just this inky-black column on the left side of the Star-Ledger‘s comics page where there were never any jokes and nothing seemed to happen. There’s still nothing happening, albeit at a much slower pace than back then, but I’ve come to understand the charms of their storytelling structures.


Mary Worth uses a casserole to squeeze her way into Iris's apartment.

That’s not to say I won’t giggle where it’s really not meant as a result of the strip not doing what it wants. For the first, here’s Wednesday’s Mary Worth, by Karen Moy and Joe Giella, which is the usual setup in which Mary is using a tiny casserole to shove her way into someone else’s life. It’s just the looks on Mary’s and then Iris’s faces that makes me laugh. The two of them have plastered these wide-eyed stares and are looking any any direction except at the person they’re talking to. And then you notice in the second panel either Mary’s falling over backwards or else she’s thrusting her hips at Iris, and either way, well.


Flash Gordon is introduced to a knife-wielding (welding?) robot.

The other is from back in the day when they knew how to introduce and run through a story in a reasonable time. From April 1959 it’s Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, and in this story Flash has been impressed into an alien army’s suicide squadron and is being put up against a training robot which … well, perhaps there’s a time when I would have taken “this knife-fighting robot — it plays for keeps!” in utter seriousness, but that time was before Futurama introduced us to robot criminal Roberto.

I laughed so at the reveal of the knife-fighting robot that my love called downstairs to ask if I was all right. I swear.

(Again I apologize for the comics being small on the page. If you click on them you should see a wider version, and appreciate the strips in more of their glory.)

And, the comics


Over on my mathematics blog there’ve been another set of mathematics-themed comics, which gave me the chance to talk for like 1,800 words about things they mention, which is pretty impressive considering it’s mostly about π and some name-dropping.

If you’re not interested in all that, I’m hurt. Really. I thought we were friends. But, anyway, the mock history of comic strip Working Daze has reached the point where it’s folding into its actual history, so they describe less death and doom for its cartoonists, and do show some of what the strip looked like before the current artist and writing team got together. I have to imagine the series ends next week, unless they want to do a future-history projection. This isn’t necessarily absurd, as the indefatigable writers do write produce the comic strip Zachary Nixon Johnson, based on their series of comic/science fiction/mystery novels.

Marvels of Science Fiction


I really like there’s this streak of science fiction stories where the protagonist can be dropped down on some planet, discover that the tippity top ultra super duper secret organization he works for went and stopped being organized while he was in transit, and so he sets out and by page 188 has overthrown the local government and set himself up in charge of the liberation of society from whatever the organization was sending him out over for. (I think there should be some more prepositions at the end there; please season to taste.) This is all starting without any contacts, no money, and no possessions but the clothes he’s wearing and maybe a return ticket good for being stuffed into a sack of space-rocket mail and pitched overboard somewhere near another planet. And here I can’t figure out how to network my way into a couple days of consulting on stuff, even though the competent people in my family can barely send out a snarky tweet without getting an offer for a two-week cross-country trip and four-star hotel lodging in exchange for a ten-minute talk. I just marvel at it.

The tippety top ultra super duper secret organizations are pretty lucky their trained secret agent protagonists spend most of their time taking over the space colonies instead of taking over tippety top ultra super duper secret organizations, come to think of it.

Something To Read


I understand that with the advanced sophistications in marketing today, where marketers can gather even bits of information about myself I had no idea about, they’re able to target advertisements and free trial offers with unparalleled precision, but they mostly just figure to try out “everybody ought to buy everything, all the time”. All right. But why are they trying to get me to subscribe to Bussiness Week: The Journal Of Fussy Old-Fashioned Kisses? Also how is that still going on while Starlog died like five years ago and nobody ever mentioned? You know?

Things I’ve Observed About Science Fiction


Providing lifehacks is all the rage among people who are precisely sure what it takes for something to qualify as a lifehack, and I’d like to offer some that I’ve figured out. They mostly involve talking about science fiction online, so here goes:

  1. You can save time when discussing Star Trek: The Next Generation by not bothering to look up the name of the Star Fleet Guest Character Who’s This Week’s Plot Annoyance by just referring to him as “Admiral Jerkface” instead.
  2. People who show off their knowledge of age-of-consent laws are doing nothing to help their argument that Piers Anthony’s Xanth books aren’t creepy.
  3. That first tip doesn’t actually save you more than like a couple seconds a year because everybody pretty much ran out of stuff to talk about Star Trek: The Next Generation back when we all didn’t go see Nemesis.

That’s about it, really. Sorry.

Another Warning From My Dreams


Do not “just slip out” a couple seconds during a science fiction convention centered around praising the guy who played George Jefferson on The Jeffersons, because everybody else at the con is just going to get together and build a satiric comic set-piece based on his work and it’s going to just rehash the most obvious, base jokes about The Jeffersons in a science fiction setting and it’ll have almost no artistic integrity at all, and you’re going to have a dickens of a time getting back in the convention hall past the defensive screen of people warning you that that’s the guy who played George Jefferson in there and he’s just killing with what you recognize as artistically bankrupt, pandering, fan-written science fiction convention activities. Be safe: go to the bathroom before the convention starts!

Here Are Some Numbers (June 2013)


I’m told statistics are all the rage among bloggers, because this way they can put in numbers where text might go, and that makes everything better. So, here goes.

According to WordPress this little humor blog got 441 views in June, the most it’s managed since it began at the start of February. It also had 227 unique visitors, again the most since it started. Also apparently 214 pages were just looked at by themselves, or maybe each other, to account for the gap there. Or I’m being viewed by people in other dimensions, which would be kind of flattering considering all the dimensions they have to look at.

My top five most popular posts for the past 30 days have been:

  1. Science Fiction versus Fantasy Explained, which I kind of expected might be popular.
  2. What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me, which is surprisingly just a little less popular.
  3. Jokes You Can’t Play Anymore, which I didn’t expect anyone would notice.
  4. S J Perlman’s “Captain Future, Block That Kick!” which is one of the great pieces of one of the century’s master humorists.
  5. What Skeuomorphism Means To Me (it doesn’t), which I also kind of expected to be popular what with it making fun of Apple and all that.

My top “recent” commenters have been Corvidae in the Fields (by far), then Chiaroscuro (following), BunnyHugger, Jim, Alyssa, and pouringmyartout.

In June, the countries which sent the most visitors to me were the United States (336), Canada (20), and Brazil (8). The countries that sent only one visitor my way included Poland, the Czech Republic, the United Republic of Tanzania, Bulgaria, Spain, Iraq, Moldova, Ireland, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Denmark, and Italy. I have not been to any of those nations. My parents honeymooned in Spain.

Science Fiction versus Fantasy Explained


When A Hard Science Fiction Fan Calls Something What He Means Is
Hard Science Fiction “I liked it. It had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Soft Science Fiction “I didn’t like it, but it had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Hard Fantasy “I liked it, but it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Soft Fantasy “I didn’t like it, and it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”

Don’t Go Back To High School


Don’t go back to high school.

Maybe you weren’t tempted anyway since high school contains so many high school memories. But based on a leading dream I just had, high school has gotten more worse than you imagined. For one, everyone insists on doing these interactive exercises instead of just letting you sit quietly in your seat and wait for college, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for grad school, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for student loans to come due, where you can sit quietly in your seat and weep. No, now you have to go up to the board instead of sinking underneath your desk.

Second, your physics teacher isn’t that kind but slightly odd Mister Gregor, with the huge backlog of Starlog magazines he’s trying to get someone, anyone, to take for the eighth year running. Instead he’s comedian and voice acting legend Stan Freberg, who remembers you very well, possibly from that time you had a report due on space. He’s just going to introduce you to the entire class, you know, and point out what an outstanding student you were and how glad he is to see you back, and you’re going to face the collective scorn of dozens of 16-year-olds who don’t want to hear about masses on springs and certainly don’t want to hear about how good you were with them.

Third, after you get back from the bathroom — now one of those annoying fancy hands-free ones where the toilets don’t work until you awkwardly shuffle back and forth, and then they don’t quite really flush, and the faucets don’t notice you at all until you punch them, which your middle school principal for crying out loud watches without comment — you’re going to get called right back into the classroom experience which is not about the masses on springs you thought Mister Gregor Stan Freberg liked you doing.

No, what this project is all about is going up to the board, one of those agonizing super-incredible touch-screen thingies that responds and draws stuff far beyond your ability level, the kind cable news channels keep buying instead of paying for reporting. And Mister Gregor Stan Freberg wants you to draw a cover for an impossibly complicated science fiction/fantasy novel and won’t take your excuses that you missed the entire description of the novel and you can’t even draw a tree without your drawing pointing at you and laughing as excuses. “You’ll be fine,” he says, “You’ll inspire the students,” one-seventh of whom agree in a shrugging groan.

Fifth (fourth was that you’re picked as inspirational) when you do try drawing, sure, the magic cable news screen takes your little scribbly Y thing and turns it into a great rendition of a tree, and turns your little scribbled Ewok-y figures into fur-perfect renditions of the ranwor-level hunters of the Culakly tribe from Ageli, the fourth planet orbiting Iota Librae, but your efforts to catch the moment before the klent-lead conspiracy sets ablaze the ceremonial dousti tower leading up to the top of the sacred grove is foiled when the picture springs to life and the entire dousti burns before your eyes, though not those of the class. At least, you think that’s what he wants you to show because Mister Gregor Stan Freberg insists on mumbling the plot to you no matter how many times you tell him you can’t hear what he’s saying.

Worse, while the fire and panic wouldn’t be a bad idea, the scene catches almost dead-center the 1988 silver Chevy Celebrity of one of the production assistants from the movie based on the book, which just ruins the scene because a Celebrity looks like what you put in the scene to later be replaced with an actual car, and you can’t get the monitor to take a reverse angle. In fact you look foolish ordering the screen to reverse view, and one of the xiple-beasts clearly snorts at you before running off to the trumia-bushes.

All Mister Gregor Stan Freberg offers as advice is to whisper to you that the name of the novel is something like “Cumumburumbubmlemun” and that you should figure where to set the title for best aesthetic value.

Overall, the lesson is: don’t go back to high school. You’ll look like a total drell.

What We Have In Common


There’s many things each of us have in common and in these trying times (before 11 pm, although I note that before 8:15 am is an extremely trying time) I thought it worth reviewing some of them. We each believe that we’re in the last group it’s acceptable to ridicule and stereotype in public. We all believe that we’re better-than-average at Skee-Ball. We each think that we must have missed the day in middle school where they explained how to grow up to become a Muppet, which is a pity as we’re pretty sure we would have been a good one. We all think it’s kind of amazing that people talk so little about that time a couple years ago when the continents were depopulated by people using that exotic device on Jupiter to turn into giant telepathic monsters living on the surface of that world, giving whole nations over to the dogs and robots. And we’re all horrified by how many pictures of random groups of people from the 70s include some terrible, terrible thing we used to wear, possibly as late as 1994. That’s about everything.

S J Perelman: Captain Future, Block That Kick!


S J Perelman’s another of the great voices of 20th century humor. It’s easiest to find his writing as the scripts for the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, and for the 1956 Around the world In Eighty Days. My selection today is his review of the debut issue of Captain Future, Wizard of Science,. That magazine was created in 1940 by Mort Weisinger, who would go on to edit those Silver Age comic books that all seem to involve purple-caped gorillas claiming they’re Lois Lane and asking Superman why he has to kill them, and largely written by Edmond Hamilton, one of the greatest early science fiction writers. Perelman’s essay also reminds us that carefully reviewing, half in awe, the goings-on of pop culture’s lowest rungs would inspire hilarious writing long before the Internet made it so easy.


I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws. You’ll have to leave my meals on a tray outside the door because I’ll be working pretty late on the secret of making myself invisible, which may take me almost until eleven o’clock. Oh, yes, and don’t let’s forget one more thing. I’ll need a life subscription to a new quarterly journal called Captain Future, Wizard of Science, a bright diadem on the forehead of Better Publications, 22 West Forty-eighth Street, New York City.

As one who triggered a disintegrator with Buck Rogers and could dash off a topographical map of Mongo or Dale Arden with equal facility, I thought in my pride and arrogance I knew all there was to know about astronomical adventure. It was something of a shock, therefore, to find out several days back that I was little more than a slippered pantaloon. Beside Captain Future, Wizard of Science, Flash Gordon and the Emperor Ming pale to a couple of nursery tots chewing on Holland rusk.

The novelette in which this spectacular caballero makes his bow to “scientification” fans opens with no fumbling preamble or prosy exposition. Into the office of James Carthew, President of the Earth Government, staggers a giant ape, barely recognizable by the President as John Sperling, his most trusted secret agent. The luckless investigator had been ordered to Jupiter to look into a complaint that some merry-andrew was causing atavism among the Jovians, but apparently had got badly jobbed. Before Carthew can intervene, a frightened guard drills the ape man with a flare-pistol, and in his dying breath the latter lays the blame for his predicament squarely at the door of a mysterious being he calls the Space Emperor. As you may well imagine, Carthew is all of a tizzy. He immediately instructs his secretary to send for Captain Future in the ringing phrase, “Televise the meteorological rocket-patrol base at Spitzbergen. Order them to flash the magnesium flare signal from the North Pole.” Personally, I think Carthew might have softened this whiplike command with “And just for the hell of it, why don’t you try the Princeton Club?” but perhaps I delve too deeply. In any event, the perpetual uranium clock has hardly ticked off two hours before Captain Future (or Curt Newton, to call him by his given name) appears on the escarpment with one of the most endearing speeches in my experience:

“You know my assistants,” Curt Newton said shortly, “Crag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright, the Living Brain. We came from the moon full speed when I saw your signal. What’s wrong?”

Fiction teems with sinister escorts and everybody has his favorite, but Captain Future’s three-man mob leaves the worst of them kissed off and frozen against ths cushion:

A weird shape had just leaped onto the balcony. It was a manlike figure, but one whose body was rubbery, boneless-looking, blank-white in color. He wore a metal harness, and his long, slitted green unhuman eyes peered brightly out of an alien white face. Following this rubbery android, or synthetic man, came another figure, equally as strange— a giant metal robot who strode across the balcony on padded feet. He towered seven feet high. In his bulbous metal head gleamed a pair of photoelectric eyes. The robot’s left hand carried the handle of a square transparent box. Inside it a living brain was housed. In the front of the case were the Brain’s two glittering glass lens-eyes. Even now they were moving oh their flexible metal stalks to look at the President.

At this juncture I took time out to moisten my lips with the tip of my tongue, retrieved my own eyeballs, and plunged on. Captain Future himself was somewhat more tailored than his comrades, in fact quite swagger. “His unruly shock of red hair towered six feet four above the floor, and his wide lithe shoulders threatened to burst the jacket of his gray synthesilk zipper-suit.” In pulp fiction it is a rigid convention that the hero’s shoulders and the heroine’s balcon constantly threatens to burst their bonds, a possibility which keeps the audience in a state of tense expectancy. Unfortunately for the fans, however, recent tests reveal that the wisp of chiffon which stands between the publisher and the postal laws has the tensile strength of drop-forged steel.

To acquaint the reader more fully with “that tall, cheerful, red-haired young adventurer of the ready laugh and flying fists, the implacable Nemesis of all oppressors and exploiters of the System’s human and planetary races,” the author interrupts his smoking narrative with a brief dossier. In the year 1990, the brilliant young Earth biologist Roger Newton, aided by the living brain of Simon Wright (“the greatest brain in scientific history”), had unravelled the secret of artificial life. Now, certain dark forces headed by one Victor Corvo were determined to appropriate Newton’s secret. To confound him, Roger Newton proposed to Elaine, his wife, and the Living Brain that they conceal themselves on the moon.

“But the moon!” Elaine exclaimed, deep repulsion shadowing her eyes. “That barren, airless globe that no one ever visits!” Elaine’s dainty disgust is pardonable; Far Rockaway out of season could not have been more painfully vieux jeu. A few weeks, nevertheless, see the little company snugly housed under the surface of Tycho crater upon the moon, where its number is swelled by the addition of the infant Curt and Grag the robot, whom Roger and the Living Brain construct in their spare time of neurons and nails and puppy dogs’ tails. Eventually, still another fruit of this intellectual union — Otho, the synthetic android –— is capering about the laboratory. Just as Newton is on the verge of returning to earth, up turns Public Bad Penny No. 1, Victor Corvo, and slays him and his wife. When the Brain assures him vengeance will be swift, Corvo hurls the taunt supreme at the preserved scientist: “Don’t try to threaten me, you miserable bodiless brain! I’ll soon silence you–—” He stops throwing his weight around soon enough when Grag and Otho burst in, and, directed by the Brain, rub him out effectively if none too tidily.

Dying, Elaine Newton entrusts Curt to the care of the trio in a scene which must affect the sensibilities of the most callous:

“Tell him to war always against those who would pervert science to sinister ambition,” whispered Elaine. “I will tell him,” promised the Brain, and in its toneless metallic voice was a queer catch.

The guardians justify Elaine’s faith in them to a degree; by the time Curt has attained his majority, he is one lovely hunk of boy, a hybrid of Leonardo da Vinci and Dink Stover. From then on, as Captain Future, Curt ranges the solar system with his pals in an asteroidal supership, the Comet 7 avenging his folks and relentlessly waging war on what the author is pleased to call “interplanetary crime.”

But to return to our muttons, if so prosaic a term can be applied to the streamlined quartet. Speeding outward into space toward Jovopolis, chief Earthman colony on Jupiter, Captain Future plucks haunting music from his twenty-string Venusian guitar while Grag and Otho tend the controls and the Living Brain burrows into textbooks for a clue to the atavism. Their snug Kaffeeklatsch is blasted when a piratical black space-cruiser suddenly looms across the Comet’s bows and attempts to ambush the party, but Curt’s proton beams force the attacker down on Callisto, outermost of Jupiter’s four biggest moons. The boys warp in alongside and Grag prepares to rip open the jammed door of the pirate craft so his master may question the miscreants:

Grag’s big metal fingers were removable. The robot rapidly unscrewed two of them and replaced them with small drills which he took from a kit of scalpels, chisels, and similar tools carried in a little locker in his metal side. Then Grag touched a switch on his wrist. The two drills which had replaced two of his fingers whirled hummingly. He quickly used them to drill six holes in the edge of the ship’s door. Then he replaced the drills with his fingers, hooked six fingers inside the holes he had made.

The rest is brute strength, a department in which Grag is preeminent. Inside are Jon Orris and Martin Skeel, whose names instantly tip them off as wrong guys. Yet it is impossible not to be moved by Orris’s pathetic confession: “Skeel and I have criminal records. We fled out here after we got into a murder scrape on Mars.” They admit under pressure that they are creatures of the Space Emperor, though actually they have never seen him. “He’s always concealed in a big, queer black suit, and he speaks out of it in a voice that don’t sound human to me,” Skeel says.

Time, even on Callisto, is a-wastin’, and nimbly dodging a plague of creeping crystals which bids fair to annihilate them, the space-farers resume their course. On their arrival at Jovopolis, Otho the android disguises himself as Orris and repairs to that worthy’s hut to await the Space Emperor and overpower him so that Captain Future can steal up and clap the darbies on him. Arriving at the rendezvous, the Emperor promptly makes himself invisible and Curt leaps through him, only to sprawl on his finely chiseled beezer.

Recovering from this contretemps with his usual sunny equanimity, Curt hastens to the mansion of the governor, Sylvanus Quale, to reconnoitre. Here he encounters the heart interest, a plump little cabbage named Joan Randall, who is head nurse to the chief planetary physician. Lucas Brewer, a shifty radium magnate, Mark Cannig, his mine superintendent, and Eldred Kells, the vice-governor, are also at the mansion. It is apparent at once to the cognoscenti that any one of these worthies is the Space Emperor, and with no personal bias other than that his name had a particularly sneaky sound, I put my money on Eldred Kells. Fifty pages later I was proved right, but not before I had been locked in an atavism ward with Curt and Joan, flung into a pit by the green flipper-men, and nibbled by giant six-foot rats called “diggers” (a surprisingly mild name for a giant six-foot rat, by the way). But even such hazards, for all their jewelled prose, cannot compare with the description of the main street of Jungletown:

Here were husky prospectors in stained zipper-suits, furtive, unshaven space-bums begging, cool-eyed interplanetary gamblers, gaunt engineers in high boots with flare-pistols at their belts, bronzed space-sailors up from Jovopolis for a carousal in the wildest new frontier-town in the System.

And so, all too soon for both Joan Randall and myself, comes the hour of parting with “the big red-head,” as the author shakily describes Curt in a final burst of emotion. In the next issue, Captain Future and his creepy constabulary will doubtless be summoned forth again to combat some horror as yet to be devised. Meanwhile I like to think of his lighthearted rebuke to Otho the android, already chafing against inactivity:

“Sooner or later, there’ll be another call from Earth, and
then I hope there’s action enough for you, you crazy coot!”

There may be another call, Curt, but it won’t come from Baby. Right now all he wants is a cup of hot milk and fourteen hours of shut-eye. And if it’s all the same to you, he’ll do his sleeping with the lights on.