How To Swim In Some Other Way


With all the talk these days about spring starting soon — please disregard this message if spring isn’t due to start soon — it’s a good time to learn some new swimming moves. You’ll want to do this before the swimming pools get to opening. In the fast-paced world of competitive recreational swimming if you wait for the pools to open you’ll be swarmed and overwhelmed by people who think they know what they’re doing. Nothing’s a greater threat to getting anything done than swarms of people who think they know what they’re doing. If anyone ever did know what they were doing they’d reconsider doing it in the first place.

And there’s no sense waiting for the pools to close. Getting your swimming-learning in then just leads to awkward questions and sometimes a court appearance. And not the good kinds of court either (basketball, tennis, or stuffed-doll kangaroo). If you find yourself somewhere after the pools close you could pretend to swim. Get into your shower, say, and make the appropriate motions. This will knock the shampoo over and send half of it down the drain. This will give some much-needed bounce to the hair clot that’s about two months away from causing a critical plumbing malfunction.

Now there aren’t any of these swimming strokes designed for efficiency. We already know the most efficient way to get across a swimming pool. First approach the pool at its narrowest end, making soft cooing noises without any startling motions. Then, having strapped a jet engine to your back, jump in at no less than 80% full thrust. Bring it up to 105% nominal full thrust before you hit the water and with luck you’ll be across without even getting wet, and you just might beat the falling boulder to that pesky roadrunner. No; what we want here is a full swimming experience, which is what these are about.

First: The Ladder Climb. Start from the top of a ladder which leads into the pool or other body of water. You might need to bring a ladder with you, in which case be sure to mark your name on it somewhere, yes, even if your name is “Mark”. Stand securely with both hands on the railing and both feet on a step, and make your way one step at a time down. When your body is mostly in the water you can then shift to hopping down, both legs taking one step. For the final step hop away from the ladder while describing this as one small step for a man or woman as appropriate but nevertheless one giant leap etc. Advanced swimmers might try a more obscure line such as “Whoopie! Man, that may have been one small step for Neil.” Or try working up your own lunar-landing quote, possibly delivering it imitation of some 1930s comedian you know only from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Try Ben Turpin. Nobody will know if you’re doing it wrong.

Second: The Vertical Drop. Place your arms and legs together to descend rapidly to the bottom of the water. With your eyes closed (if you’re anything like me, you have to do this before you even get started) reflect on how nice it is to be there. It’s warm enough. The light leaking through your eyes is diffuse and nonspecific. Children squealing sound like they’re thousands of miles away. Lifeguards blowing whistles sound like alien life forms. The cries of people evacuating the pool are barely audible. The siren warning about sharks in the area is as nothing compared to the weird, not-exactly-grippy surface nosing you around. Remember to not breathe until you’re done with your business down below.

Third: The Twist. Start from a horizontal pose within the water. Select one arm (the wrong one) to move forward as it’s above the water line, the way you would for a crawl or for that other crawl. Meanwhile using the other arm (the right one) move backward, similarly. With your legs kick left and right simultaneously, producing a lurching motion that immediately propels you into the person in the next lane. With your full measure of grace apologize and pledge never to do it again. Then using the second arm (the right one) forward and the wrong arm backward (the other one) try again. This will propel you into the person in the other lane. In case you are swimming where there’s not any lanes bring along some ropes and string them up yourself. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

While these may seem obvious to do, it is worth practicing so that you look up to four percent less silly when you can go swimming again. Put the shampoo bottle on the sink. Sorry, no idea how the shark got into this.

Beach Fun Time!


So here’s the upper-right-corner of Sunday’s edition of the Asbury Park Press, suggesting some of the fun things you might do on the Jersey Shore this weekend.

Features in the Sunday _Asbury Park Press_: the water and land temperatures, the ultraviolet index, the movie poster for Jaws, and a teaser about the strawberry festival.
Upper right, front page, for the Asbury Park Press of the 3rd of July, 2016. I got it from Newseum’s newspaper-front-page viewer. Yeah, it took me nearly forever to figure out what the deal with the logo was too. But I also don’t like how they made the logo normally a big blue box with “app” in it and I’m apparently just never going to let that go.

You might get your beach tag and wander around on sand that’s surprisingly hot considering. You might drop a computer’s “on” switch into water. You might enjoy a strawberry festival. Or you might take in the classic beach movie Jaws, about a shore community’s 4th of July celebration that ends in a bunch of people bloody and dead because of the need to draw tourists to the beach. Also this weekend, read the Asbury Park Press report on the centennial of the 1916 Jersey Shore Shark Attacks, the series of tragedies in that area that inspired Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws. This didn’t make the cover on Sunday.

I suppose I can’t really say this is “too soon”, what with the start of it all having been a hundred years ago. But it does remind me this is the community that ran sightseeing tours to the wreckage of the Morro Castle before the authorities had even finished finding someone who looked Communist to blame for the disaster.

Anyway, ah, mathematics comics: here’s some. There’ll be more tomorrow, it’s that kind of week. Thanks.

Comics, Plus Other Comics


On my other blog is another roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips. It features one of the handful of anecdotes worth sharing from my time working retail. It doesn’t rate inclusion on any blogs about how awful customers are, mind.

So folks who hang around here have something to read, I’d like to bring up a couple of comic strips I like and suggest people try reading. It’s easy to despair about the state of syndicated newspaper comics. There are always reasons to not.

Agnes has made a dress from a Fourth of July bunting, bleached her hair blond, and used a new blush, with red spray paint on other spots. Her friend Trout says 'You look like the mammal version of a parfait'. She is correct.
Tony Cochran’s Agnes for the 17th of May, 2015.

First, Agnes, by Tony Cochran. It’s a well-written strip in the wise-child genre, focusing on Agnes, her grandmother, and her best friend Trout. This makes it one of the too-rare kind of comic for which the lead characters are all strong girls or women. I’m drawn to the writing, though: Cochran doesn’t just make Agnes an imaginative and weird girl. Cochran brings great craft to the writing. A line such as “you look like the mammal version of a parfait” is not just funny but brings to mind how many ways a joke like this could be written that wouldn’t be so well-constructed (“you look like a human candy cane”, for example).

A raccoon and dog see in the clouds the Moon notice and race away from a cloud that looks like a shark. But it's too slow, and the shark-cloud takes a bite out, leaving the crescent moon behind. The raccoon says 'I've been telling people for years but no one believes me'.
Gustavo Rodriguez’s Understanding Chaos for the 17th of May, 2015. Also I’m fond of comic strips with raccoons in them.

Next, Understanding Chaos, by Gustavo Rodriguez. It’s set in the suburbs and divides time between the kids and their families and the animals and their lives. It’s funny, often surreal; but I’m particularly taken by the art. The drawings are evocative, but the compositions and the coloring are great. A comic strip about worms playing band in the flower-pot of a plant that’s actually an extraterrestrial scout would be funny enough. To do that in an illustration worth studying is accomplishment.

Escaping to Lansing


Disasters not afflicting Lansing: Hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanos, pop singers, scorpions.

The local newspaper mentioned that at South By Southwest a trade group from the Lansing area advertised to whoever’s interested in this sort of thing the proposition “Escape To Lansing”. The big selling point — and the one that’s on their web site — is that Lansing is free of many disasters which make it annoying to do business, to wit:

Hurricanes. True. Mid-Michigan is admirably hurricane-free, what with most hurricanes refusing to tromp over the Appalachian mountains and deal with trying to follow the highways around Toledo.

Scorpions. I can’t dispute that the Lansing metropolitan area has a pretty low number of scorpions, and most of those who are around are either in their designated pens within the pet shops or are work-study students helping make sure that visitors to the college or university library are briefly examined by eye and grunted at before they finish entering or exiting. I have to question whether scorpions are a major problem in most business districts, however. If they are then maybe startup businesses just need to buy screen doors.

Radioactive Gas. I hadn’t imagined that Lansing ever had a problem with radioactive gas emissions gathering to dangerous levels, but now that they’re going to the bother of telling people there’s no radioactive gas it’s started to make me worry. They maybe shouldn’t have raised the issue.

Earthquakes. Michigan has a very low earthquake risk, with the greatest hazard being earthquakes which other states or Canadian provinces hold and which spill over owing to inadequate soundproofing in the walls between states. The upper peninsula was subject to a series of earthquakes in the mid-19th century as the copper underneath it was dug out and turned into telephone wires in New York City and Boston, and the remaining crust collapsed over and over again, but the ground has mostly settled since then, and any attempt to get an earthquake going will be dampened by abandoned mining equipment. No serious risk there.

Justin Bieber. This seems petty. Pop stars are a fundamentally unpredictable, whimsical force of nature, prone to blowing into our lives and inspiring tiresome conversations about how we don’t like them and then blowing back out again, sometimes leaving us with a song we can’t quite get out of our heads. We have little to fear from them, and they pay for their existence by giving entertainment journalists something to talk about which isn’t lists of TV shows you won’t watch. They should be appreciated for how they enrich life’s tapestry of things we don’t really have to do anything about.

Tsunamis. Actually, the adorable little wave they use here makes me think of the original Bell Atlantic logo. While it’s true Michigan had very little phone service by Bell Atlantic before it changed its name and become a more annoying company, I don’t see why South By Southwest attendees would be particularly impressed by this. If they didn’t want to do business with Bell Atlantic they could as easily do that in Austin.

The 1984-era Bell Atlantic logo, with a little wave for the crossbar of the A.

Volcanos. Michigan hasn’t had an active volcano in about 2.5 billion years, but it seems presumptuous to say that companies would want to relocate to mid-Michigan just to avoid volcanos. Obviously companies that do volcano tours are going to be attracted by having volcanos, but what about places that hope to get in on something igneous? Maybe they’re figuring corporate headquarters can be away from the magma action and this will be somehow worth it in the end. I don’t know.

Sharks. I’m fairly sure there aren’t many shark attacks even in the business districts of coastal towns. I have to imagine a company that’s routinely losing key personnel or equipment to shark attacks, and isn’t in the shark-annoying trade, is screwed up in fundamental ways. If they relocated to Lansing they’d probably just get lost in the woods and see their business plan get eaten by squirrels.

I notice they don’t say a word about the ice storms causing blackouts or that stretch in early February when it got so cold all molecular motion ceased. Well, it was a harsh winter but we do generally have indoor heating. They also don’t mention that in Lansing you’re relatively unlikely to be surrounded by Texans, which I’d think would be a selling point in Austin. But they didn’t ask me to contribute promotional material.

Also, apparently Lansing has a 3-D Printer you can use, if you need it. Sold!