What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? And Is Any Part Of It Not Great? December 2017 – March 2018


Recapping the plots of the story comics has been good for my readership. It’s also good for my spirits. There’s usually something delightful going on in the strips. They’re not always as glorious as, say, Mary Worth on a cruise ship or that dopey mob kid in The Phantom Sundays. But there’s usually something. And some comics just keep delivering glories. Among them is Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. I reliably look forward to recapping this strip’s plots.

This is the recap for the end of March 2018. If I’ve had another post about it since then look at or near the top of this page. I’ll try to have it there. And, yes, if there is news about Stan Lee — who’s been reported to be in bad shape — I’ll share what I do know. His name’s always been attached to the newspaper comic strip, although there are people who wonder how much he writes it himself.

The Amazing Spider-Man

31 December 2017 – 24 March 2018.

There was a spectacular super-crossover going on last time I checked in. While visiting reformed rampaging monster supervillain Dr Curt “The Lizard” Connors in the Everglades, Peter Parker met up with Bruce Banner. Banner hoped that Connors might cure him of hulking out. But an alligator attacked Connors and Banner hulked out. While the immediate alligator-bite problem was passed, Connors was losing a lot of blood and maybe his remaining arm.

So the challenge was getting him to a hospital as quick as possible. Spider-Man’s plan: grab the severely injured man suffering massive blood loss and carry him, leaping across traffic, to Miami Metro Hospital. You know, the way you safely move a critically injured person. At the hospital he barges through the emergency room and into an operating theater. You know, the way you get medical care in an emergency situation as efficiently as possible.

There’s a complication. Even before Connors had been a rampaging lizard-monster he had a weird blood type. Bruce Banner has the same weird blood type, but he’s making his way through traffic while warning traffic not to make him hulk out. With Connors going into emergency surgery Spidey plot-drops that he’s O-negative and could be a universal donor if that’s still a thing. Fortunately, Bruce Banner, with Mary Jane, arrive. So they can start a glorious two months of blood transfusion follies.

Nurse: 'I should've called in a DOCTOR before I took blood from you.' Spidey: 'You know there wasn't TIME, nurse!' Mary Jane, thinking: 'Spider-Man's blood --- going into the body of the man who becomes the Hulk! Will it save Bruce --- or do something STRANGE AND TERRIBLE to him?'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 16th of January, 2018. Just kind of idly wondering how they did the body-temperature check with that mask covering Spidey’s mouth and ear and all that.

I understand that I may sound like I’m being sarcastic here. But there’s a bunch of blood-transfusion-based plot complications that are just gloriously Silver Age Nonsense in their workings. And I love that. The science may be nonsense and it might be hard to fathom why people would act like this. But that they act like this is great fun. It’s what I hope for in this sort of goofy-science superhero tale.

Because here’s what happens. The hospital staff recognizes Bruce Banner’s purple stretchy pants as those of the Incredible Hulk. But they go along with the transfusion anyway. It seems to help Connors, but this knocks out Banner. Spidey’s hypothesis: being the Hulk probably requires a lot of blood. Maybe Banner can’t donate as much of it as a normal person could without crashing his body. This far, I’m with Spidey; that works for me. So Banner just needs more blood, right? … And since his body was exposed to gamma radiation he’s probably got all sorts of weird irradiated stuff in there. You know who else has radio-active blood? Look out, here comes your Spidey-Donor.

So there’s the first stage of wackiness. It makes a nice goofy dream logic, mind, and that’s why I enjoy the storytelling even as I don’t buy it.

Mary Jane: 'So why does a transfusion from you stop Bruce from hulking out --- while Bruce's blood made the Lizard bigger and stronger?' Spider-Man: 'Bruce and I barely understand what radiation did to our blood. There's a big difference between being bombarded by gamma rays and getting bitten by a radioactive spider.' Banner: 'At least I've always liked to think so.'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 16t of February, 2018. So this makes me wonder how snobby superheroes get when they compare origin stories. ‘Oh, you’re a superhero because your mob associates shoved you into an open vat of industrial chemicals and then a kindly monk rescued you? Well, it’s so brave of you to carry on. Now Ken here, he got a tattoo from a crashed alien spaceship that was actually the body of a 17th-century Dutch nobleman both of whom are actually his son from the future. Don’t let him at the pricey beer.’ Anyway I leave this observation for a needy improv troupe.

The Hulk blood in Connors’s body causes, first, his lost arm to start regrowing. Then his tail grows back in. Then his scales and snout and pointy triangular teeth and forked tongue. He then leaps off the operating table and starts to rampage, promising the destruction of humanity beneath the onslaught of his telepathically controlled reptile army, while he himself keeps growing into a larger and more muscular super-beast. This is a rather faster than average recovery for injuries of this type, must say. The Lizard barely has time to knock Spider-Man out before Bruce Banner agrees Spider-Man is helpless and he’ll have to become The Hulk. But, infused with Spidey-blood, Banner now has the proportional haplessness and ability to whine of a Spider-Man. While he’s quite angry and says he is so several times over, he can’t summon the transmutation into The Incredible Hulk. He just stays … a large, poorly-shaved shirtless man in torn purple pants. So there’s the second stage of wackiness.

Now and then you have to wonder if the story comics are trolling their ironic fan base. James Allen has slipped stuff into Mark Trail for his friends on the Comics Curmudgeon. There’ve been bits of wry self-awareness on Judge Parker since Francesco Marciuliano took over writing. And here? Connors gets blood from the Incredible Hulk and turns into a giant rampaging monster. I see the internal logic there. And Bruce Banner, after getting blood from the Amazing Spider Man, and he becomes helpless and a little whiny. Core to Spider-Man’s character is how the universe doesn’t give him any respect. But this is also kind of the joke we’d be making about the comic strip while reading it only partly in earnest.

Lizard: 'With the Man-Spider hurled to his death, there is nothing to concern me here. I must launch upon humankind --- the Reptilian Revolt!' Spidey, clinging from a flagpole and thinking: 'Reptilian Revolt? I don't much care for the sound of that. Right now, though, I'm just lucky I grabbed this flagpole --- and that he didn't notice --- or he'd have finished me off before I could catch my breath. All I've got to do is --- ' [ the flagpole crack ] '--- FALL RIGHT ON MY HEAD!' [ In a waiting room ] Bruce Baner: 'Shouldn't you see if Spider-Man's all right?' Mary Jane: 'I'm sure he can handle the Lizard!' Neither notices Spider-Man outside the window, plummeting.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 4th of February, 2018. I am again genuinely, truly delighted by the last panel. It’s the blend of action, adventure, and comedy that I like in this kind of superhero story, especially a protagonist like Spider-Man who lives that adage about not having bad luck.

The Lizard climbs to the top of the hospital, declaring the launch of the “Reptile Revolt”. Spidey climbs up the building, gets knocked off, climbs up and up again, and gets thrown — with Banner — over the edge. Spidey actually saves them this time, with his spider-like powers of holding on. (His web-slingers were crushed somewhere in his fights with The Lizard.) But The Lizard escapes to the Everglades.

Spidey, Banner, and Mary Jane go off towards Connor’s swamp laboratory. And then we visit a plot point mentioned early on in this story and forgotten since then: J Jonah Jameson! He’s skipped the newspaper publishers convention along with some other publishers(?) who don’t really like him to putter around the swamp. They notice lots of pythons and alligators swimming in the same direction, toward The Lizard. The other publishers turn their boat around and flee fast enough to knock Jameson overboard and they don’t make the slightest attempt to rescue him. But Spider-Man’s swinging into action. (He must have got replacement web-slingers somewhere.)

Spider-Man, wrestling a python: 'You want a piece of me too, luggage-jaws? Here! Waltz around with him instead!' [ He throws the python at an approaching alligator. ] J Jonah Jameson: 'Have I really sunk this low --- to be rescued by you?' Spidey: 'Hey, man, I can always throw you back!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 7th of March, 2018. Hey man, also, who rescued you that time you bought an old Iron-Man super-suit that “fell off the back of a truck” and that some supervillain was controlling to make you the object at the center of a skyscraper-smashing rampage? Was it Spider-Man? … I think it might have been Doctor Strange, actually. But Spider-Man was in the vicinity while a lot of the rescuing was being done so let’s not you be too snooty here.

He rescues Jameson from a python. They banter the way the leads in an 80s action-romance comedy do, sniping at each other while waiting for the moment they can start making out. Also being swarmed by alligators under The Lizard’s telepathic control. Bruce Banner shows up and spends several weeks of strips explaining how he’s angry but he can’t change into the Hulk. And then, finally, this past week he explained he was angry but he did change into the Hulk, the better to throw telepathically-directed pythons and alligators around. And then he charges for The Lizard, reasoning that it’s better to do the boss battle while he’s powered up and maybe he won’t even have to deal with the minions after.

And that’s where we are as of the 25th of March: with two giant irradiated green monsters in purple pants trash-talking each other in the swamp. I am so happy with where we’ve gotten. To sum up, no, no part of this has not been great, even by my ridiculous standards.

Next Week!

How did Alley Oop’s cold work out for him, and has it wiped out prehistoric humanity or what? And what about the rich idiot? We’ll check in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the start of April, all going well.

Advertisements

What We Can Learn From The Squamous Among Us


Consider the green iguana. It is known taxonomically as the genus Iguana, species iguana. The species Iguana iguana belongs to the family Iguanidae. The family Iguanidae belongs to the suborder Iguania. From this, students, we learn that the iguana was scientifically classified by a bunch of people who were ditching work four hours early. It’s a minor miracle we didn’t get dogs classified as doggo doggo of the family doggy, suborder puppos, order goodboys.

Statistics Saturday: Reuters’ Science Headlines All Jumbled Up


  • Kepler telescope finds tiny Utah human origins
  • Moroccan fossils provides new technique to size up skin, hair in pigs
  • Einstein’s theory making ‘preliminary’ preparations for NASA astronaut corps
  • In major breakthrough, firm for manned lunar mission makes breakthrough
  • China’s quantum satellite regenerates Mars rover scientist, SpaceX engineer
  • China shake up understanding of life-friendly planets
  • 10 more possible stars in secure communications
  • Join

OK, that last one doesn’t make sense but I had the word left over and it seemed like cheating not to use it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped twelve points which was so much of a relief that it jumped back up another six points again, and then slacked off two points since it was so close to the end of the day.

266

In Which Reuters Spoils My Weekend Plans


From the science news:

Crustacean revelation: coconut crab’s claw is stunningly strong

By Will Dunham | WASHINGTON

It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. Its claw is a mighty weapon.

Scientists on Wednesday said they measured the pinch strength of this large land crab that inhabits islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, calculating that its claw can exert up to an amazing 742 pounds (336.5 kg) of force.

The coconut crab’s pinch strength even matches or beats the bite strength of most land predators.

“The pinching force of the largest coconut crab is almost equal to the bite force of adult lions,” said marine biologist Shin-ichiro Oka of Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Foundation, who led the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

OK, so, I admit I was looking for an excuse not to wrestle any coconut crabs this weekend. Call me a coward if you will. I’ll be over here calling a Patagonian Cavy names until it starts whining.

But three things caught me by the end of that third paragraph. The first: next time I make a mind-bogglingly stupid science fiction move set in the dystopian future I’m going to name something in it PLOS ONE. Maybe the megacity everyone’s trying to escape. Maybe the computer-god-supercorporation ruling everyone. Maybe the spunky talking motorcycle the hero rides to save the day. But something.

Second: the dateline. Reuters wants us to know that Will Dunham reviewed PLOS ONE while writing for the Washington office, I suppose. It would have totally different connotations if the story were filed from New York, or Lisbon, or New Delhi, or Buenos Aires.

Third: “It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab”. May not. May not. Dunham is willing to concede there are circumstances in which it is wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. He can’t think of any himself, but he’s aware of his fallibility. He grants there are people whose lives bring them to the point of scrapping with coconut crabs, which are ten-legged monstrosities as much as three feet long. And he’ll allow there are people for whom that is a wise and even good path for their lives to take. I appreciate the open-mindedness. Someone might look back on their life and say, “It all turned around for me when I wrestled that giant crab”, and wouldn’t you like to know how that came about? I mean, you don’t want to know that so much as you feel you feel you ought to find out how Norman Borlaug had the idea of ending world hunger. (“Well, what if people had something to eat? I thought that might help.”) But still you’d like to know. I’m still using the excuse to avoid Saturday’s scrap myself.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index, the mainstream one, rose sharply six points today. And that would be fine and dandy except for once the alternate index did something different, rising only five points to 105 and that’s scrambled all the plans to merge the mainstream and alternate indices back together. Seriously, the two indices were doing the exact same thing for like ever and now that it doesn’t matter anymore it breaks? It’s not right, that’s all there is to it.

106

Meanwhile In Cyborg Spinach News


While we were all busy with whatever it was keeps us busy BBC News had this article: ‘Bionic’ plants can detect explosives. And while all we children of the 70s are thinking of a field of grain waving in extremely slow motion while that na-na-na-na-nanananana sound effect somehow suggests … speed or strength or something the lede tops us:

Scientists have transformed the humble spinach plant into a bomb detector.

I bet they’ve also made it not so humble either. I can picture spinach plants now calling out to other plants in the area. “Yo, eggplant over there, you ever save lives and protect property? Huh, how about that. Hey, broccoli! You ever detect a bomb? I thought not! Ooh, you sprig of lemon balm! You — oh, wait, never mind,” it says, falling back, as it remembers lemon balm’s courageous service for spinach’s father in the Clome Oven Wars. So it’s not completely full of itself. But it’s lost a certain natural humility too.

Researchers said they meant this as a proof of concept, that concept being that they can now get lunch to message their iPhones. This could see a future in which the whole process is fully automated and none of us have to interact with the salad courses ever again. Should be a great future we’re making somehow.

Here is the necessary link to that crazypants Popeye pinball game backstory. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points, bringing it back to the 100 that it started at so very long ago. Now traders are split on whether they should call the whole thing off as a near catastrophe narrowly averted or whether the whole sub-100-era should be written off as a learning experience and they’ll do much better now. Ah, but imagine if we were able to learn from experience. What would be totally different, wouldn’t it?

100

Meanwhile In Science Designed To Sound Like Jokes About Science


So Reuters asked me to pay some attention to them with this headline and I did.

Apes show complex cognitive skills watching ‘King Kong’ videos

Turns out they’re not investigating whether the great apes have feelings about movies, which is a shame. I bet they’d have some interesting thoughts about how the Dino De Laurentiis version slapped the original premise with a Seventies Movies stick by making sure we knew everyone in the movie, including the natives on Skull Island, ended up depressingly worse off. Instead:

As individual apes were shown videos featuring a human actor and a costumed ape-like King Kong character, researchers tracked their eye movements. In the video, the human watches King Kong hide an object in one of two boxes. When the person leaves, King Kong moves the object to a new location.

When the person returns to find the object, the apes looked intently at the original spot in anticipation of the person searching there. Even though the apes knew the object had been moved, they understood that the human thought it was still there, said study co-leader Fumihiro Kano, a comparative psychologist at Kyoto University in Japan.

This is an important result for studying the theory of mind, because now we can know that our fellow primates can tell when someone’s being fooled. I bet it won’t be long before we have great apes who can watch three-camera sitcoms or beer advertisements for us. Then we just have to find the ones who want to.

Still, I worry that over on Ape Twitter there’s a bunch of Ape Tweetstorms where they’re all about how hilariously fake the King Kong costume are. I bet the researchers didn’t include that in their report. It would look bad to the funding committee that for all they spent on the outfit the apes still weren’t buying it. Or worse if they spent so much on the ape costumes that the actual apes were buying it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

At this point the Another Blog, Meanwhile index is feeling pretty sure about the world and would like to grab passers-by and proclaim how awesome everything is. The only warning sign is someone just published a quickie book titled Another Blog, Meanwhile Index 300 proclaiming how high it was going to go by the end of the year. We just can’t see that happening, no, but that sort of wild enthusiasm is what always happens right before a crash and now we’re just feeling so very tetchy. Ooh, hey, it’s October 8th this Saturday. We should have made a Dave Barry reference or something.

152

What Socks Needed


I was going about my business minding it as best as I’m able and then Salon dropped this headline on me:

Researchers fashion self-healing clothing — out of squid teeth

Here I had been almost ready finally go to learning about the history of socks and now they’re giving me some self-healing squid-toothed socks? Thank you, no, I have a list of garments I will allow to be squid-toothed and they are all squid mouth costumes. I’m assuming here squids have mouths. If they don’t, and they have teeth anyway, I do not want to know about it and I will refuse to hear if you carry on anyway.

The subheadline warns self-healing squid-tooth clothing “can be produced on easily and on the cheap, but don’t expect to see them on shelves any time soon”. I agree. We will be seeing them in nightmares to come for years now, that’s something, but not shelves. They’ll be sneaking up on us in the bathtub if I know anything about squid. I don’t know anything about squid, except that I stopped eating calamari a long while ago because no matter how good someone promised it was going to be, it tasted and felt like that. And there’s no point my putting the octopus or squid to that kind of hassle for an experience I’m not going to enjoy either. But I have enjoyed the experience of wearing clothes on many occasions, in fact every occasion including during showers. I don’t want that messed with.

Ions On The Prize


Spotted a bit of science news the other day. According to the journal Science Advances some physicists have made the hardest-known metallic substance compatible with living tissue. It should be good for implants because it’s tough having that stuff in the body.

They did it by making an alloy of titanium and gold. That’s exciting. I had not realized materials scientists had been working from our fourth-grade secret lair designs. I’m looking forward to results in laser-giraffe, pizza-wallpaper, and force-field-silverware technology. I admit I added the last to my plans in sixth grade. Other kids might have been more advanced, though.

The researchers say there might be applications in the drilling and sporting goods industries. I’m sure they mean it and aren’t just trying to get free drilling and sporting goods equipment for the mention. They don’t need goltanium that much.

Mostly I’m glad to know there’s still good work being done by our ninja turtle princess scientists. The movie-star pirate astronaut bajillionaires are going to have to work hard to match this accomplishment.

Nothing To Do With Grand Strategy Games, Really


Sorry, I’d like to say something funny about a grand strategy game, or something that’s going on around town. But I’ve been too busy kicking myself over a really lousy performance on my part at restaurant trivia night last night. Also that it’s possible to train fish to spit at certain people’s faces, which solves so many problems! But mostly that the satellite navigator thinks the word is pronounced “rester-aunt”, like, your mother’s sister who can be counted on to nap. I suppose I just don’t understand the modern world.

Some Fine Sentences In This Reuters Article About Sequencing the Carrot Genome


Without distracting from the interest in science stuff caused by this science news, and after taking a moment to tell you I did that comic strip thing again on my mathematics blog, I’d like to bring some excellent sentences to the reader’s attention. By the reader I mean you:

  • [Carrots] are familiar to everyone, and generally well-regarded by consumers, but like most familiar things, people don’t necessarily know the background stories.
  • The common weed called Queen Anne’s Lace is a wild carrot.
  • Worldwide carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and they now rank in the top 10 vegetable crops globally, the researchers said.
  • The earliest record of carrots as a root crop dates from 1,100 years ago in Afghanistan, but those were yellow carrots and purple ones, not orange ones.
  • Paintings from 16th century Spain and Germany provide the first unmistakable evidence for orange carrots.

I realize that it’s fully legitimate that carrots used to come in way more colors than they do now, and that they became orange because people deliberately grew them orange and that it’s all tied up with the Dutch War of Independence and all that. But I love the talk about searching for evidence of orange-ness in carrots. This is the sort of question that makes academia work. Also I had no idea (per a sentence that didn’t make the cut) that caraway was “a close relative” of the carrot, but I admit I didn’t have any better ideas what caraway ought to be a relative of. Also, so wait, like, Charlemagne had come and gone before anyone anywhere planted and ate carrots on purpose? That’s just weird, man.

Statistics Saturday: Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World


  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky.
  • Banana: the Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel.
  • Symbols of Power: Ten Coins that Changed the World, Robert Bracey, Thomas Hockenhull.
  • In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart.
  • Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan.
  • Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, Gillian D’Arcy Wood.
  • Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, Chris Lowney.
  • Legends, Icons, and Rebels: Music that Changed the World, Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot.
  • Indigo: The Color that Changed the World, Catherine Legrand.
  • Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano that Changed the World, Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe.
  • Tea: A History of the Drink that Changed the World, John C Griffiths.
  • Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World, Jim Lacey, Williamson Murra.
  • Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, Douglas Wood, Barry Moser.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World, Penny Colman.
  • Mauve: How one Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield.
  • Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events that Changed the World, Phil Mason.
  • Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Jack Kelly.
  • The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, Bill Eppridge, Adrienne Aurichio.
  • Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Laura C Martin.
  • Nasdaq: A History of the Market that Changed the World, Mark Ingebretsen.

Not listed: The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester.

Also counting the Winchester I’ve read at least seven of these. That Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe volcano book wasn’t about Tambora, don’t be silly.

On Reasons Not To Visit Prehistoric Australia


Yes, I also saw that news report about Australia’s prehistoric “marsupial lion”. According to it, according to a study, the marsupial lion turns out to be a thing that (a) existed and (b) could climb trees. I don’t know what a marsupial lion would be doing in a tree. And it’s not actually any of my business. Why shouldn’t a marsupial lion climb a tree in Australia, if it can find one?

Except I know anything about Australian wildlife. And therefore I know the marsupial lion must have been poisonous, venomous, razor-tipped at no fewer than 68 points of its anatomy, and prone to exploding as a defense mechanism. BBC News’s report on it says they would have been “a threat to humans”. Not this human. I’ve never gotten closer than 1,700 miles to Australia, and I haven’t got closer than about 42,500 years to marsupial lions. I’d like to think I’m outside the blast range. If I’m fooling myself, don’t tell me. Let it be a surprise. I just know it’s coming.

Yet The Important Question Goes Unanswered


So here’s the lead paragraph in a bit of science news on Reuters:

In an ancient streambed on Kenya’s Rusinga Island, scientists have unearthed fossils of a wildebeest-like creature named Rusingoryx that boasted a weird nasal structure more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.

I’ll save you the click. None of the article says how they know the Rusingoryx boasted this. For that matter, it doesn’t even say who the Rusingoryx boasted to. The animal’s from about 55,000 to 75,000 years ago, so I suppose there might have been someone around to hear it. But how did we hear about their hearing about it? Writing hasn’t been around all that long, and 55,000 years is a long time to spend gossipping about some wildebeast-like creature from Kenya.

But maybe it really made a name for itself. Imagine if Rusingoryx turned everything into a chance to boast about its nasal structures. “Yes, it’s nicely warm for February. Warm spells are important when you have my kind of nasal structure, one more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.” “A new Portlandia episode? That feels extra-good when, like me, you have a nasal structure more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.” “Oh yes, I’d love to try the tomato basil cream cheese on my toasted everything bagel. I really appreciate novel combinations of tastes, what with my nasal structure being more befitting of a dinosaur than a mammal.” Yes, I could imagine someone acting like that becoming a creature you talk about for 55,000 years after all.

Robot Motherhood Update


So we’ve got this worrisome story courtesy Reuters: Robot mother builds and improves its own children. According to Matthew Stock’s report, researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Having Never, Ever Seen A God-Awful Movie developed a robot that builds its own “child” robots, tests them out, and improves the next design.

So far the MommaBot merely “constructs a design using between one and five plastic cubes that are stuck together using glue”. This isn’t too alarming, although I note my mother sent me to make stuff by sticking together styrofoam balls on toothpicks. These would immediately fall apart again, thus ending any peril from styrofoam-ball-robot technology. Glue is an obvious game-changer.

I suppose the saving grace is that since this is British researchers working on it, the immediate goal of all this robot-building-robot experimentation will be a robot that can build its own model railroad. Then on to a robot that can look at its own model railroad while telling everyone no, they may not play with it because they’ll disrupt the timetable. Eventually we’ll need almost no people to fret about model railroads at all, although who knows what we’ll do instead.

Cleaning Up Hamburg’s Nightclub District


If I did not occasionally check in on Reuters I would have no thoughts, one way or another, about the problems of public drunken urination in the nightclub district of Hamburg. I don’t think I’m being shortsighted in this, what with my not being in or near Hamburg and having no particular responsibility for the nightclub district. I suppose we’ve all got some responsibility for public drunken urination, supporting or opposing, but I come down on the opposing side because I’ve never figured how you would wash your hands properly afterward, using warm water, soap, and a good lather. The best I can figure is go in somewhere that has a bathroom and then the public-drunken-urination part of things seems like pettiness rather than real need.

But according to Reuters the drunken public urination problem in Hamburg has been getting worse, and I’m going ahead and assuming that’s because modern liquids are so much more moist and damp than old-fashioned ones are. I’m assuming we’re making liquids more liquidy than we used to, what with advances in materials science and how much blenders have come down in price. Apparently Germans even have a great name for people who go drunkenly urinating in public, “Wildpinkler”, which makes the whole phenomenon sound like it’s an aggressively whimsical musical microgenre, possibly including pianos.

So according to Reuters, Julia Staron, who organized a local interest group that I am from context assuming opposes the public drunken urination phenomenon, said, “Wild peeing has been a problem here for a long time”, which delights a side of me that’s more immature than even I imagined. In fact, this whole essay I know is going to ruin some people’s image of me as a rather mature, faintly stodgy person sitting in the corner and not wanting to get to close to all that foolishness over there. They’re never going to go back to seeing me as a person who literally and unironically responds to some things by going “teehee”.

Staron’s group thinks they’ve got a solution to the Hamburg public drunken urination problem, and it’s in what the article calls super-hydrophobic and oleophobic nano-coating, which isn’t a terrifying pile of words to throw against one another like that at all. But that’s because you’re making an understandable mistake: the oleo they’re phobic of is not the short bits vaudevillians did in front of the curtain while more complicated acts were set up behind. I’m glad to clear that up. Still it does sound like this is a kind of paint that just can’t get along with anybody. I hope it likes bricks at least.

But the result of all this hydrophobic oleophobic stuff is that it’s a kind of paint that liquids splash back off of almost perfectly, so someone trying to piddle on the wall ends up piddling right back on themselves. I can’t see any unwanted consequences arising from turning groups of drunken revelers piddling on buildings into groups of drunken revelers who tried to piddle on buildings and instead urinated on their own legs. And in fairness the plan is to have signs around the hydrophobic buildings that warn “Do not pee here! We pee back!” in all the key languages of drunk people in Hamburg’s nightclub district, so the drunken revelers will be able to use their good judgement about where to urinate after receiving a warning and threat from the local signage. My suggestion would be, maybe a step or two farther back from the building.

It’s a fairly expensive paint, coming in at about eight dollars per square foot, so I guess we’re not going to see water towers painted with it just for the fun of making the city’s water supply feel insecure. And the news article reports that the urine-reflecting paint was developed by Nissan, in a research project that I feel must’ve been pretty far under way before someone asked, “Paint to make German nightclubs less attractive to drunken revelers? Aren’t we supposed to be making cars?” And then everyone slaps their head and says, “Cars! Oh! Right! We were confused.” But by then they were far enough along it was silly to stop. If I’m wrong I don’t think I need to know.

When Philosophers Roamed The English Countryside


So I’ve been reading Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies, about the chapbook and pamphlet reporting of paranormal or supernatural events during the era of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, because why would you not read a book like that? I want to share one of its reports, from 1647’s The Most Strange And Wonderfull Apparition of Blood in a Pool at Garreton.

Apparently, for four days the pond water in the town of Garreton in Leicestershire grew ever-darker, turning, some thought, to blood; cattle would no longer drink from it, though fish from the pond tasted fine. And then, the pamphlet-writer reported, “philosophers” were called in.

I know, I know, I know what the original author meant by philosophers. And yet I can’t help figuring the decision to bring philosophers in went something like this:

John Thwapper: “The water hath turned to blood! Quick, summon a philosopher!”

Jake A-Plummet (whose family got the name for an ancestor renowned for his ability to fall): “Kantian or Neoplatonist?”

Jack O’Wort: (looking up from his meal of blood-water fish) “We … we need the cattle to drink the water, so that’s a utility. Best summon a utilitarian, eh?”

Mary Chortle: “We need the water to change. Obviously there’ll be no help for us save from a Pre-Socratic.” And when everyone around her just looks confused, she scowls at what a lot of idiots are in her town and cries out, “Thales of Miletus, ye fools!”

And I realize you’re probably not laughing at that, but somewhere I’ve made a philosophy major giggle, so this is all worth it.

Anyway, the book doesn’t say what the philosopher was able to do about it, but the pamphlet-writer concluded — with some grumbling that philosophers distracted from the wonderfullness of the event, so apparently only after they got involved did the water turning to blood kind of suck? — that the real thing to be learned from this apparition was that the English Civil War caused a lot of people to die, and more of his countrymen needed to understand this, which suggests he figured a lot of the English people had somehow missed the War. Maybe they thought it was some unusually fertile year for frogs or something.

What I Retained From Fifth Grade


I learned a number of things in fifth grade. The number’s surely no smaller than 28, just based on how many days I went and that it was a pretty respectable school and all. But to summarize what I’ve most retained from fifth grade I must say it’s: glacial moraines.

Glacial moraines are this feature of fifth-grade education which, at least back in my day, appeared prominently in the form of little silent filmstrips which we were supposed to look at during our personal learning times in science class, which they had these little Bakelite individual projectors you could slide a filmstrip through and look at without bothering anyone. I especially liked the part where you didn’t bother anyone. I think my happiest moments even today are the ones where I don’t bother anyone, and I can pretty much tell my day is going downhill when I realize there’s a person in it and that I’ll have to be a bother, like by interacting with this person in some way. Oh, people may smile and say they’re it’s nice to see me and they hope I enjoy my day, but I know what they really mean: “Oh, I suppose it’s marginally less revoltingly unpleasant to have you buying a Boston creme and diet Vernor’s from me than it is to be trapped in an earthquake that sends me hurtling between walls of exposed, jagged shards of broken glass and rusty knife blades, but only as long as you aren’t paying for this with a twenty — oh, you are, then? Too bad.”

Science filmstrips on a tiny Bakelite individual projector don’t bother anyone, except, I suppose, whoever it was actually did the inventing of Bakelite and surely got ripped off when he tried to patent it. But he was probably dead by then anyway, what with me not being all that old, considering, and his bother would be more directed at the mighty Science Filmstrips Corporation than me particularly. Of course that left me participant in a corrupt system, but come on, I was ten. I couldn’t very well promote moral capitalism at an age when I was still working out kickball.

Anyway, what I’ve retained from glacial moraines is, first of all, that this is just one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. Let its syllables wash over you: glacial moraines. All the tension the world might inflict on you, by having people who have to be interacted with, washes away in consideration of these words. I don’t even care how you pronounce the “glacial” part of this, because put it in two syllables, three, even go a little fancy and stick a fourth syllable in there, and you still have a heavenly music going on.

Ah, but what are glacial moraines? As I remember glacial moraines involve a process of four or maybe even five pictures of those nice 60s-style science book illustrations. In them, nearly all the color drains from the world, leaving behind that red that looks like when you stretch the last dust in a Kool-Aid jar for a whole glass, plus some blue. In the early stages there are fields of snow and I’m pretty sure they come from Wisconsin, or at least they come from the same era when there were glaciers in Wisconsin, or at least one of the ages when there were. The glaciers get formed where there’s a preexisting moraine that gets to be more glacial, or maybe it’s the glaciers getting together that forms a moraine. I believe the moraine is checked against the master reference glacial moraine found somewhere in Wisconsin, but I don’t believe the Science Filmstrips Corporation mentioned what town when we were in the fifth grade. So it can’t be from Madison, because we’d know what that was, because we did state capitals in fourth grade. Maybe it’s Eau Clair. I know it’s not Menominee, because that’s in Michigan. In the end, the glaciers leave, and the moraines remain.

I’m pretty sure there were no glacial moraines in New Jersey, where I was in fifth grade, because I’m sure I would have insisted we go to see one. And now as a grown-up I could go to any moraines I wanted, glacial or otherwise, but I’ve never dared risk it. What if they aren’t as fabulous as fifth grade taught me they were? No, I’m satisfied with what I know of them, which is, that there is a thing called a glacial moraine, and as long as there is, some of the world is going to be just fine.

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.

As good as 777,000 misses


I’d just wanted to point folks over again to A Labor of Like, who’s got a nice piece about the discovery of yet another asteroid that isn’t going to strike the Earth and end life as we know it. I don’t want to sound disappointed about the not-ending-life-on-Earth. Mostly I appreciate the proposed standard for measuring the potential impact of asteroids in terms of their cheesecake equivalents and imagine you might too.

A Labor of Like

As good as 777,000 misses

In subjunctive astronomy news, scientists are warning that some kind of dot nobody can see would probably cause problems if it hit the Earth, which it won’t.

Asteroid 2014 HQ124 — the HQ stands for “Hardly Qualifies” — will be a mere 777,000 miles away at its closest approach to our planet.  That’s just over 10,500 times the distance from Providence, RI to Hartford, CT; a close shave by Rhode Island standards.

Astronomers have nicknamed the asteroid “The Beast” because of its blue fur and oversized hands and feet.

Observers assure the public that there is no chance of a collision with either Hartford or Providence, but they do say this fly-by illustrates that it’s a slow news day in Tampa.  “This one would definitely be catastrophic if it hit the earth, which it won’t,” according to Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories.

Since the asteroid is invisible, astronomers could not…

View original post 151 more words

Quarks of nature


And for this morning I’d like to offer a pointer/reblogging of “Quarks of Nature”, on a Labor Of Like’s WordPress blog. Labor of Like writes a good number of pieces using a comic mode that I’ve somehow avoided in these parts, that of the mock news article. Labor of Like also works heavily in the science-news stream, which is a tough kind of humor to write: there’s a terrific drive to write informationally if you start talking about subsurface oceans of gas-giant moons or superlatively weird constructions of quarks, if nothing else to make sure the average reader has a hope of knowing what’s being talked about.

This bit, about the discovery of a bizarre kind of quark construct dubbed Z(4430), gives I think a fairly good sense of what the blog’s humor style is like and so, if you like science-news-based-humor (and done in the style of stuffing each sentence full of jokes, a style that I can find exhausting to write, but which if it works evokes the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films with jokes piled on top of jokes) then this could be something fresh that you’ll enjoy.

A Labor of Like

padme_amidala

In matter-that-doesn’t news, the recent discovery of a four-quark something or other has triggered a new round of physics gang warfare.

The new particles go by the name Z(4430).  Physicists give these particles names starting with the letter Z because all the good letters, like M and G, are already taken.  The number is derived from the fact that the particle showed up sometime between 4:00 and 4:30, while scientists were out having afternoon tea.  “I just came back, and there were these 4 quarks laying on the floor of the collider.  They weren’t there when we left, but we’re not sure exactly when they showed up.”

In 2008, the Belle Collaboration*, a street gang of Hot and/or BrightDisney heroines, announced it saw the world’s first evidence of Z(4430) in Japan.  Then another group, led by the elephant king BaBar, ran its own experiments in California. BaBar said their…

View original post 338 more words