And Now I Am Deeply Amazed By The Moon


I’m sorry not to have seen this before yesterday because it would absolutely have been the most amazing Moon fact ever. But I just watched the Moon ask the woman working the can-recycling room at Meijer’s to repeat whatever advice she was giving three times because the Moon just was not hearing or was not understanding it. Three times. Can you imagine the reserve of self-confidence needed to ask that much?

I’d tell you what the woman’s advice was but I couldn’t get my iPod to stop playing this podcast about the Empress Maria Theresa even when I asked her to repeat herself — once — so I left without any idea what this was about. But the Moon, man. Three times. That is just beyond human ability.

Some Astounding Things About The Moon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fast New Sound


So you know about the speed of sound, right? Don’t worry, it’s easy to catch up. Turns out sound travels at some speed. It’s like 750 miles an hour at normal temperature and pressure. Slower at temperatures and pressures that make the speed of sound slower. Faster otherwise. I told you it would be easy to catch up.

But how fast can you make the speed of sound? I don’t mean you particularly. I know you’ve got enough projects, what with looking at the news and then screaming at the wall. I mean you as if you were someone who wasn’t you, and who had to do something about the speed of sound. I admit I don’t know what I’d do about making the speed of sound faster. Maybe drop a loudspeaker from a helicopter and check how fast that sound hits the ground. I know, you’d think, what if we just made the sound louder? But it turns out loud doesn’t convert into fast. Loud just converts into nervous.

So we need better schemes to make fastness. The trick is that sound works by the elasticity of the thing it’s moving through. You know elasticity well, from all the time you spend bouncing. Me, I know it from trying to get the elastic band off this bundle of radishes. I don’t know how but the elastic band winds through every stalk, so there’s no taking it off except by going into higher dimensions of space, from which the radishes are still banded together.

Here’s where I read that a bunch of people at the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge, and the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk worked out just how fast you could make sound. It turns out it’s about 36 kilometers per second.

This fastest possible sound happens if you send sound through solid atomic hydrogen. You don’t have any solid atomic hydrogen, I’m know, because that only exists when you have, like, a million atmospheres of pressure. And I checked. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is one atmosphere of pressure. Maybe physics works a little different in Troitsk. Probably it does, or why would they have a whole institute for the high-pressure physics of Troitsk? But I bet none of the people with the institute are reading this. They’re doing things like figuring out the fastest speed of sound. They don’t have time to read me going on like this.

Or do they? We have to consider some of the benefits of making sound really, really fast. Like, at 36 kilometers per second, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans would zip by so fast you could hear it a third time in your life. So there’s time savings involved. I know, you could just hit the thing on your iPod that makes songs play faster. You can. I can’t. My iPod is in the shop, being repaired. I hope it’s an iPod repair shop. I know you wonder why I didn’t check that first. The answer is that I have spent parts of five consecutive months now trying to get a Nintendo repair shop to repair a Nintendo Switch. No part of that process has gone well. You know that deep bone-weariness you experience when, like, you see “Suncoast Video” is Trending under Politics for some undoubtedly awful reason? That’s what I feel when considering consumer-electronics repair. Entering a storefront at random and wordlessly shoving my iPod at a person who turns out to be the hummus manager at The Pita Pit can not be worse.

What other benefits are there on the sound thing? Oh, I bet if you had sound the fastest it could travel, then inhaling helium would actually lower the pitch of your voice. I wrote that as a joke, but I think that would actually work? Except you have to start out encased in solid atomic hydrogen at more than one million atmospheres of pressure. I don’t know what you’d say in that case.

The article said it turns out the fastest possible speed of sound depends on the fine structure constant and the proton-to-electron mass ratio. The mass ratio is what you get from looking at how often protons and electrons are commented on compared to retweeted. The fine structure constant is a general agreement about how nice it would be to have some direction in our lives these days. How this gets back to sound I’ll never know.

What You Could Get Me To Read


I mentioned last week how if you want to buy me something, any nonfiction book will be quite nice, thank you. I want you to understand this is not exaggeration. Before the pandemic shut down the libraries I sought out a book about the building of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Why? Because I felt I didn’t know enough about it. I knew only what anyone growing up in a Mid-Atlantic state might know about postwar bilateral water route management. Surely I should know more.

Gary Croot, whom I hardly need explain is the Associate Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation’s Operational Headquarters in Massena, New York, called to reassure that no, I already did, but he thanked me for my interest. Still, I went on to read the book and learned that, in fact, building the Saint Lawrence Seaway went about like you’d imagine. A whole lot of digging and a lot of people agreeing this would have been swell if they’d done it like eighty years earlier. Well, they can’t all have the drama of the Mars candy company. I still say it was a good choice.

So here’s some books you might pick up for me, if the bookstore employees don’t believe your “find me something more dull than that” request:

J: The Letter That Shifted Pronunciation, Altered Etymologies, Made Electrical Engineers Cringe, and Changed The World. Of course, I have a partisan interest in the letter ‘J’. But who isn’t fascinated by the way a letter can take on vowel and consonant duties and then gradually split between them? Or how it is we get to pick letters? And whether we are going to finally see the alphabet accept double-i and double-j as letters too? Why should u get to be the mother of letters? Perfect for people who want to be angry about things that not in fact unjust. 296 pages.

Hey-Dey: the Forgotten Amusement Park Ride that Saved Amusement Parks, Earned Fortunes, and Changed The World. Who doesn’t love the Hey-Dey? Everybody because who’s heard of the thing? But there we are, some old pictures of what sure looks like a ride what with how it has a platform and advertisements and stuff. How popular was it? What did you actually do on the ride? It seems like spinning was involved. Maybe a lot of spinning. Why doesn’t anybody know about it anymore? And does it have anything to do with the Lindy Loop? Includes a sweeping view of history including the discovery, in 1896, that people would pay reasonable sums of money to do things that are fun. 384 pages including 20 glossy pages reprinting black-and-white pictures of things we can’t make out anymore. Also 40 pages of the author cursing out Google for assuming that they wanted every possible six-letter, two-syllable string other than “Hey-Dey”.

Reproduction of a vintage amusement-park-ride catalogue proclaiming 'The Smack of the WHIP, the Speed of the ROLLER COASTER, the Terrific Skid of an Automobile on a Greasy Road --- All Are Experienced in a Ride on the HEY-DEY', and showing two pictures of the installed ride where it's not clear what the ride actually does. But 'Records show that the HEY-DEY Repeats 10 to 25 per cent of its Riders --- a most unusual record'.
I for one have always enjoyed the experience of automobiles skidding out on greasy roads so I’m sure I’d be in the 10 to 25 percent of people who repeat the ride. (My own photograph from the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, New York. The Hey-Dey was actually made by Spillman but you would not BELIEVE how tied together Herschell and Spillman were.)

Humpty Dumpty: the Nonsense Rhyme that Delighted Children, Befuddled Scholars, Made Us All Wonder Why We Think He’s An Egg, and Changed The World. There’s a kind of person who really, really wants Humpty Dumpty to have some deep meaning. Like, saying it’s some deep political satire or is some moral fable about buying on credit or maybe it’s just making fun of the Dutch? No idea, but that’s no reason to stop trying. 612 pages. Spoiler: we think Humpty Dumpy is an egg because both his parents were eggs, and they say their only adoption was his littlest brother, Rumpty Dumpty. Rumpty Dumpty is, as anyone can see, a shoe.

Busy Signal: the Story Behind the Tones, Chimes, Rings, Buzzes, and Beeps that Tell us the State of Things — and Changed The World. An examination of how humans use language and turn a complicated message like “that phone number is busy” into a simple buzz instead. That seems a bit thin to the author too. So then we get into other audio cues like how sometimes construction equipment makes that backing-up beeping noise even when it’s not moving. 192 pages.

So, I mean it. If you want to buy me something, look for any nonfiction book explaining a thing. If it seems like a boring thing, great! 568 pages about the evolution of the NTSC television-broadcast standard? Gold! You are not going to out-bore me in a book contest like that. Look, I know things about the Vertical Blanking Interval that I have no business knowing. And that is everything I know about the Vertical Blanking Interval. And yet I want to know more. Find a topic dull enough that it’s putting neighboring books to sleep, and you’ve got me set. Thank you.

In which I am cranky about an honestly impressive thing someone else did


So I just happened across a news item from 2006. I don’t promise I didn’t run across it before, but I ran across it again, all right? It’s about a pretty neat stunt, the first flight of a human-carrying airplane powered entirely by batteries. Dry cell batteries. In particular, powered by AA batteries. So that’s a neat accomplishment.

It took 160 AA batteries. And now I’m annoyed because “they needed a hundred sixty AA batteries” is precisely the easy, hacky joke I wanted to make about it, and then there it was in the second paragraph of the article. Why can’t I have painted the picture of unwrapping all those annoying blister packs of batteries and trying to load them in and finding you can’t tell whether the positive end is supposed to go to the right or to the left? Where’s the justice?

Everything there is to say about seeing comets


This is a good time to share tips with people about how to spot comets. You might protest there’s no visible comets in the sky. We had NEOWISE hanging out there for a couple weeks. That there’s no comet to see is no reason you can’t try anyway. Most of the time there’s no comet anyway. Every couple years the world’s astronomers all feel lonely. So they go telling people, “Oh, hey, comet D/2495 Q1 Rococo-Compsognathus is passing by the sun for the first time since Pangaea was a thing! The vapor trail will wrap over a thousand degrees of sky, looping almost three times from horizon to horizon! At its peak it could be up to 36 times as bright as setting your face on fire!” That “up to” covers a lot of possibilities.

Then they find a field or the top of a building, scatter some telescopes around, and wait for the crowds to come rolling in. I’m not saying it’s a sinister conspiracy. At heart, it’s a conspiracy to get strangers to ask them about their Cassegrain reflector. They’ve spent a lot of time learning the word “catadioptric” and you understand their wanting to do something with it. The word means “cat of the day of the ptrics”. The day of ptrics is April Fool’s or Halloween, depending on context.

Astronomers can’t help explaining things like this. They grew up as nerds. And as nerds, we hated being in school. We liked the learning part. It’s just we hated having to be around other people teaching stuff. This is why now that we’re out of it, we spend all our time teaching other people stuff. This is also why nerds are always angry with each other over declarations of things like “this was a good episode of a TV show”.

In principle there’s just a few things you need to study the night sky, among them:

1. Night.
2. Sky.
3. You (very important).

The ‘sky’ and the ‘you’ are pretty easy for you to come up with. The night could be hard. You can tell it’s night by how vividly you remember every relationship you ever screwed up by saying one wrong thing.

To get to see anything in the sky you’ll want a good dark area. This can be found by going into the basement without turning on the lights, but there are house centipedes down there. Out to the field it is, then! This is a good way to discover how badly your town is light-polluted. There’s an excellent chance that ten miles outside of town you can still read this week’s updated privacy policy from your Discover card.

What you want is a good quality dark, but that’s hard to come by. The great dark mines of the upper midwest were exhausted by the 1920s and we’ve had to make do with reclaimed and processed dark since then. Really it’s easier to go gather around the astronomers and let them ask you if you can name the nearest star to Earth. This takes you to the astronomers, yes, but they know where it’s dark enough you can’t see the bats.

Out in the field you get to see families who aren’t particularly amateur astronomers, trying hard to get anyone else to look at the same thing. “Do you see that star?” “The red one?” “Stars aren’t red!” “Then why is it red?” “You must be looking at an airplane.” “One of those famous stationary airplanes you see all the time.” Tempers grow short. You get packs of people, one pointing up at a tree. “Look! Is that Cassiopeia?” “YOU’RE Cassiopeia!” responds someone who’s fed up with how much fun everyone else had learning there’s a constellation called Puppis, the Poop Deck. Someone in the group has a solid memory that you just “arc to Arcturus”, but not where you arc from or why you want Arcturus in the first place. You want Arcturus because it’s the most prominent star in the constellation of Arctoo. The astronomers could explain that, if you don’t accidentally get them explaining what a Dobsonian telescope is. It is a telescope made by Dob and Sons, of Telescope Alley in London.

Anyway the most amazing thing you can learn is that there are obsolete constellations, just like if stars were recorded on VHS tapes or something. Also that one was called Turdus Solitarius as if astronomers weren’t all twelve-year-old boys.

Everything there is to say about the creation and use of tools by rooks


Animal researchers were surprised in the last couple years to learn that rooks will make and use tools. Here I mean humans who research animals. The animals researching people were surprised that this was surprising. I don’t know what the people who research animals who research people were surprised by. I can’t take all that much surprise, not in a single sentence.

The thing to remember here is that the rooks are birds. These are variant models of the crow, with a moonroof and power aelerons, not the chess pieces. These are often confused, what with how surprising and confusing a time it’s been. Also with how many of them are members of the International Federation of Chess-Playing Animals, an organization that’s properly known in French by basically the same words in a different order. In the wild, rooks actually don’t depend much on rooks. They play much more on bishops, which leaves them vulnerable to badgers, who like the little horseys. “How are we losing to you?” cry out the rooks. “You call them `little horseys’!” Chess is, as the immortal plumber says, a game of deep strategy.

The thing I don’t know is how anybody can be the least surprised by animals making and using tools. Yes, we used to think humans were the only people who made and used tools. But that came to an end with the historic ruling in 1996 that animal researchers — again, the humans doing the researching of animals — were allowed to sometimes look at the animals they were researching. It made for exciting times in the animal-research (by humans) journals. Top-tier journals published breakthroughs like “Kangaroos not actually large mice”, “Mother opossum just, like, wearing a coat of babies”, “Mice not actually tiny kangaroos”, “Is that red squirrel yelling at me?”, “Medium-Size kangaroos or mice just nature being difficult”, and “Look how happy this mouse is eating raw pasta!”.

Today we should understand that basically any animal that can get one will use tools. The only unique part about humans is when we get a tool we’ll feel guilty for not filling out the warranty registration. In our defense, filling it out requires dealing with a web site, and those haven’t been any good since 2012. Also they want to be allowed to send you push notifications, so that anytime, day or night, you might be interrupted a fast-breaking update on the biscuit-joiner situation. It’s a great way to get out of a dull conversation, yes. “I’m sorry, I have to take this, it’s Milwaukee Sawzall telling me about a clamp meter” is a socially acceptable pass out of any interaction. “It’s of much greater precision!” will get you out of the next conversation, too.

Meanwhile we see animal tool use all over the place. Nearly two-thirds of all Craftsman tools sold in the 2010s were bought by tree-dwelling mammals of 18 inches or less in length. Nearly the whole world’s supply of rotary sanders have been obtained by squirrels. We don’t know what they’re doing with them, but we do notice the red squirrels spending less time yelling and more time rubbing their paws together while grinning. And this all does help us distinguish the smaller squirrels from chipmunks, who prefer belt sanders. See a Miter saw in the wild? There’s a badger no more than 25 feet away. Nobody knows how raccoons got wood routers, but it is why they’re just everywhere on the Wood Internet.

And animals have done much to give us tools. The inclined plane, for example, was nothing more than an incline before sea turtles thought to match it to the plane. They didn’t even realize they were creating a useful tool. They just hoped to advance to being sea-saw turtles, and did. The monkey wrench, as you’d expect from the name, was not invented by a monkey. It was a team of four monkeys working long hours for a period of ten years, at the end of which they had produced the works of Shakespeare, which they had been reading during breaks. Nobody knows how wrenches got into the matter.

Having said all that, now I’m wondering whether the animal researchers were confused between the chess rooks and the bird rooks. Wouldn’t it be just like life if they had meant to study the chess pieces and got onto birds by mistake?

Go Juice


Maybe you heard about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee. If you didn’t hear about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee, let me bring you up to speed. So, apparently there’s this way they discovered to make fuel out of coffee. When I put it that way it sounds like that’s all anyone is talking about.

It started out with an accident, when Dr Mano Misra at the University of Nevada, Reno, made coffee one night and didn’t drink it. Now I don’t normally feel envy at the achievements of real academics. I don’t really play that field anymore, and anyway, how many mathematicians do you know have opinions about the plots in Gil Thorp? But here, I realize, I could totally have made this discovery myself. I have a lot of experience in my life not drinking coffee. I used to be limited in discovering things in coffee I didn’t drink by how I didn’t make coffee before I didn’t drink it.

But this past decade? I’ve made a surprising lot of coffee. This is because there’s a complimentary coffee bar at this overgrowing farmer’s market on the west side of town. We go there to get our pet rabbit vegetables and to see what they’ve expanded to doing this week. It’s great. Gourmet popcorn? Sure! Fresh-pressed olive oil? Why not! Gelato? Yeah, they can do that, why not? There’s also a great wall of succulents that gets moved to a new place every time you step in, even if you only stepped out for three minutes and came back in because you’re looking for a lost hat. If you’re ever in town (Lansing) you should stop in. You can find it by looking for the massive parking lots that nobody can escape. Use the one on the west side of town.

Anyway, they have a complementary coffee bar, so for a long while there I started making coffee. What was I going to do, not get coffee just because I don’t much like coffee? Besides, they have all sorts of things to make coffee taste less like coffee. Flavored beans, for a start. Sugars, in real (sugar) and imaginary (Splenda) and complex (cinnamon maple sprinkles) versions. Creams ranging from light to dark to postmodern inquiries of the nature of whitening coffee. Whipped cream. You can put so much stuff in the coffee you don’t even need the coffee. And after seven years of going there nearly weekly I’ve realized: you know, they have some tea I could get instead. It’s boring tea, but then I have a deep, fundamental boringness to myself and so that’s right for me.

So there was this period I was making coffee, although instead of not drinking it I would drink it instead, because what was I going to do, waste coffee? And cinnamon maple sprinkles? I was raised in too big a family to do something like that. But if I had just used the coffee I was making and didn’t drink it, then this is a discovery I totally could have made, if I had noticed anything.

The story then is Dr Misra noticed a layer of oil floating on the coffee. That’s something I didn’t know coffee could do. I thought layers of oil formation were only done by fossils and peanut butter. I mean the peanut butter that’s so good you can’t use it for sandwiches because you’re always stirring the oil back into it. Misra found the oil, though, and didn’t think to stir it in. Using it for motor fuel is a breakthrough, though, and one I wouldn’t have made. I was pretty sure you only put mysterious fluids in cars if you’re in a low-effort Disney movie made between 1958 and 1982. So it’s not enough to observe a thing, you also have to have an idea what to do with it. So that’s something I wouldn’t have though to try.

What gets me is that if you can get oil out of coffee, then there must have been oil in the coffee to start with. Right? I feel like this has to be right. But then that means someone put the oil in. But who goes around injecting oil into coffee beans? I understand it happening once or twice, as a prank. But that wouldn’t stay funny forever. On the other hand, everything I know about this is a couple years old, so maybe someone was playing a nasty prank on the University of Nevada, Reno. Or maybe the oil really comes from the coffee cups, and the coffee is just a red herring. I bet they checked that possibility, though. I don’t know anybody who drinks herring.

A Stray Thought About That Black Hole Photograph


I would not say anything to detract from how astounding the photograph of that black hole is. It’s just got me thinking of the progress of technology. Think of the challenge facing when 18th century astronomers. When they wanted to record the image of a black hole 55 million light-years away they had to station people around the world and get them to all paint watercolor pictures of the hole at the same time. And, like, half of them had to grind their own paints because just buying ‘red’ was seen as some kind of being a poser or something. It’s amazing.

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.

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…

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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…

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What Prairie Dogs Do During Their Comeback


BBC News tells me — and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging; the truth is it’ll tell anyone who asks, although you have to know to ask, and I didn’t precisely ask so much as be around when it happened to mention — that animal researchers discovered prairie dogs can do The Wave. Even more than that, it turns out they do do it. I mean, prairie dogs might be capable of all sorts of things, like tennis or spackling drywall or calculating the libration of the Moon or doing itty-bitty pole vaults, but that doesn’t mean they get around to any of them, what with their busy schedules. Yet Robert Senkiw with the University of Manitoba, who is a qualified prairie dog research scientist, has videos of prairie dogs doing just that.

Now isn’t that wonderful? We keep discovering all sorts of new things about animals ever since the breakthrough 1995 decision that animal researchers were allowed to actually look at what animals did when they weren’t being bothered, and here it turns out at least some of them are doing The Wave.

You know, it just struck me what kind of chaos might be wrought if some unqualified prairie dog researchers were on the scene. “Look at that,” one might say, “They’re doing The Wave! No, no, this isn’t like last week when I said they were doing itty-bitty pole vaults. Yes, I know, I was totally misunderstanding their actions because I didn’t realize they were building bamboo scaffolding. Well, yes, if someone had told me I might have guessed at the time but, look, they’re doing The Wave right now! See? Well, not now, they finished. I don’t know, maybe they saw some really good soccer play. Well, why wouldn’t prairie dogs be as interested in soccer as any other rodent is? Well, my capybara friends say they are too soccer fans.” And it turns out he was staring at some nutrias all the time instead.

If they aren’t soccer fans, though, that leaves the question what they’re doing The Wave for. I don’t really know what prairie dogs think about most spectator sports, although I’d guess if they were gathered in any kind of stadium as an audience that would’ve been mentioned in the news. On the other hand, the article was filed under Science and maybe over in the Sport section there’s an article about science-y types crowding around the playing fields not being even a little interested when there’s a hat trick or an octopus thrown on the field or whatever it is people do at soccer matches when they’re prairie dogs. I checked and in mere moments was being asked to confirm my purchase of a Nautical Origami Kit. I probably clicked something wrong.

For what it’s worth, the article says that the scientists have a theory that prairie dogs are doing this so as not to get eaten, which I have to rate as a pretty good motive. The current thinking is that they occasionally hop up and yip and set off a Wave because there are potential predators around. This is a change from the older thinking, when they were believed to hop up and set off a Wave because there were no potential predators around. I wonder if sometimes the prairie dogs don’t just hop up like that simply to mess around, but that seems so immature.

Since the news article comes from a British source, instead of the Wave it’s called the Mexican Wave, which was named after Mexico but before vaguely remembered celebrity child Suri Cruise. I’m not sure what the adjective Mexican adds to the proceedings, unless it turns out that in Britain there are all sorts of other Waves, like, say, an Eritrean Wave where a row of spectators all lean forward and then sit back again before getting up, or a Bolivian Wave where people in turn cough, nervous, at how the people next to them seem to be coming down with something.

I think the best part of it is, knowing we have prairie dogs to work for us, the pressure is off the humans in the community to do The Wave.