How Dry I Am


I know how I got to thinking about antiperspirants for a big weekly piece and it isn’t because I got to 5 pm Thursday and realized, “Oh! I have a big weekly piece due!” and grabbed at the first thing that I saw. And, I guess, was in the bathroom or maybe taking stuff out of the supermarket bag. Or was in the supermarket, in which case I’m glad I wasn’t lost in the pet care aisle. I don’t know that I could do 250 words about aquarium gravel, never mind 700.

It took me time to get to using antiperspirants. I didn’t use them when I was a kid because kids are supposed to smell like that. I think it’s how parents track where we are when we aren’t screaming or crying or knocking something over. Anyway people don’t object to that, or they figure it’s hard enough getting us to wash any part of the body so why add to the pile of things we should be doing but aren’t?

As a teenager I started to realize I should wear something because by then I was a teenaged boy. That’s a fun time full of insecurity and defective judgements. One of the less defective judgements does come from an insecurity, though, wondering if everyone else thinks you smell like obsessively rewatching The Wrath Of Khan on VHS, cheap pizza flooded with enough garlic powder to soak up all the grease, and masturbation. It encourages one to try doing something to have less of an odor, although not necessarily showering every day because who wants to get up early enough for that? And who wants to shower at night when The Wrath Of Khan isn’t going to rewatch itself? I suppose technology might have changed that some, since there’s probably, like, Twitter feeds entirely built of Wrath of Khan characters watching movies at each other. But they’re definitely not watching the pan-and-scan version.

When I reached this point I was intrigued by Mitchum, because their commercials promised it was so effective you could skip a day. I’m up for doing anything that allows me to skip a day. I got really good at skipping a day. I also liked the part where they sold a little jar full of cream to slather on my body, instead of just a roll-on or stick or spray. There aren’t many scent-altering creams people get to put on and I suppose there’s probably reasons for that. I don’t want to know, though.

For a long time I looked for deodorants instead of antiperspirants because I was a science-oriented kid and so kind of stupid. My reasoning was that what is really objectionable about sweat is the scent, not the mere fact of sweating. And besides sweating serves some purpose; it’s not something the body does just to be impish and annoying. I was young and didn’t yet realize how much stuff the body does exclusively to be annoying, especially with joint pain. Anyway, this is the kind of thinking you get when you let kids grow up to be physics majors. Be more responsible!

That attitude changed when I got a job in Singapore. It’s a fine country, but it has the climate of the interior of a boiling tea kettle. I learned whenever I stepped outside for any reason to bring along a bottle of water or soda or tea or anything, replenishing my fluids as fast as they poured out my whole epidermis. I suppose I smelled all right, for all that I looked as if I’d been used to mop up a food court. Finally I came to admit that while the body might sweat in order to maintain its cool, it’s not actually good at that, and we have air conditioning now, and I switched over to antiperspirants maybe two years after I left Singapore.

I don’t notice Mitchum on the shelves anymore, nor any kind of cream in a jar as antiperspirant. Maybe we’re not trusted with creams like that anymore for which I don’t blame anyone. I instead buy whatever antiperspirant catches my eye and is probably on sale. This has worked very well except that time some careless shopper abandoned a tube of Parmesan cheese next to the Arm and Hammer. It was the same week I picked up a misplaced bottle of spaghetti sauce from the shampoo aisle, so everything worked out as well as it possibly could. What more does anyone ever want?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell a point today as investors watched Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown for the first time in decades easily and noticed (1) it’s really bad, (2) yet was somehow nominated for an Emmy for some reason?, and (3) that Charlie Brown says “honey shot” way too many times for anyone to be the slighted bit comfortable with all this. Really, we’re impressed they got this much done, considering.

98

And What I Find


Uhm … hi? I guess?

Oh. Oh, yeah, right. Monday. Mondays I usually spend telling people my mathematics blog did comic strips again. All right. My mathematics blog did comic strips again.

Why are you all looking at me like that?

Oh, sheesh, right. Yeah. Usually I have some kind of funny picture or a screen grab or something to put up and coax people into reading this anyway even though they’re not all that crazy about hearing about the thing they maybe already read. Where did I … um. I don’t know where I have one this week. No, Compu-Toon today parses too.

All right, I can work this. I’ve got like eighty thousand pictures, I just have to pick any of them and there’ll probably be something interesting going on. Let’s see.

The Clementi MRT station as photographed at night from the 14th of October, 2006, because that's when I happened to be there.
The Clementi station on Singapore’s East-West subway line. The station is above ground because you know subways are complicated things anyway. Not depicted: the great mass of warm, muggy air that makes walking around outdoors in Singapore so much like swimming through a heap of down comforters.

There, see, that’s got … uh … I can point out how … well, anyone should be able to make a good joke about …

Oh, this is bad.

Wait a second.

Hold on.

Computer, enhance. Again. Enhance.

Close-up on the train-arriving monitor as it shows some advertisement, surely, that involved some big alien-ish monster sprawling out.
You never really appreciate at the time that but you take a photograph of some boring scene there’s going to be something not boring in it.

On the information screen there. That’s almost clearly some kind of giant monster-y creature sprawling across the whole highway. This means something. Send our agents out right away!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped eight points in trading today. Investors had started to hope it would drop a clean ten points so they could joke about having scored a safety. The joke doesn’t quite make sense, but it won’t be usable at all until whenever football season gets started again in like July or August or whenever that is and they didn’t want to have to wait that long.

102

Statistics Saturday: Contents Of My Phone Numbers


Digit Occurrence (Percent)
0 6.48
1 10.19
2 21.30
3 11.11
4 1.85
5 6.48
6 7.41
7 14.81
8 7.41
9 12.96

Notes On Methodology, which is always the fun part: phone numbers which had the area code changed under them are counted multiple times. The phone numbers I had my first three years as an undergraduate are not included because I don’t remember what they are either. My fourth year as an undergraduate I didn’t get a phone because I figured I could just use the phone for the unread campus weekly I spent all my time working on anyway. The phone number I had when I lived in Singapore is counted too, with the area code of ‘6’ because when I was there there was one area code, ‘6’, for land-line and another area code, ‘8’, for mobile phones and don’t you just love a single-digit area code? Anyway the country code of ’65’ isn’t included because I don’t think it’s fair to include that as part of the phone number. Also I never really felt sure I knew what I was doing dialing internationally back then but I loved putting a ‘+65’ in front of my phone number the couple times I had to share it with anyone then. I once had the phone number 266-0001 and that was great except if I ordered something delivered they thought my callback number was a fake. Also I kept getting calls from the rent-to-own-scam place from someone who gave them a fake number for a couch. I liked the number anyway.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

You see? You see? We just knew there was going to be a collapse. All right, it’s just four measly points and we’d barely even notice them in ordinary circumstances but if things don’t go up tomorrow we’re going to have to cancel so many orders for consumable frivolities.

148

In Which I Explain The Nathan-Nebus Conversation


Singapore’s Former President S R Nathan died this week. So this is a fitting time to record for posterity my understanding of our relationship. It’s also the last time I can share this story without my being inhumanly dull. That’s all right. I’ve been using this story to be a bit dull for twelve years and that’s not bad for a standard-grade anecdote. It doesn’t measure up to the styrofoam peanut computer monitor incident of 1999, but not everything is.

Back in the day (2004) I was working at the National University of Singapore, in the Department of Computational Science. This was a department that did physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics from a computer science perspective. “Wait,” you ask, “how is that different from ordinary physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science, what with it being literally the 21st Century and everything being done on computers?” Our department would say that LOOK THERE’S A BIG DISTRACTING THING OVER THERE and run out to the Science Canteen to regroup. We were disbanded the next year.

It was the start of the school year. It was time for the Commencement ceremonies. Last year’s graduates officially received their diplomas and I realized all the time I had spent in United States academia had been a lie. “Commencement”! The word is right there in the name of the thing. WHY DO WE PUT IT AT THE END OF THE YEAR? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? This was enough to send me to the Science Canteen and drown my sorrow in tuna buns. These are a Singaporean food thing where you take a bun and put tuna in it. Well, they put tuna in it. You just eat it. Someday this is going to hit the United States big. Corn buns ought to too, but that’s probably not enough meat for the typical American. Chocolate buns may be just a little too weird. Too bad.

The department needed someone to be on stage for Commencement, one of those professory types in dignified robes watching the proceedings without nodding off. I’d volunteered for one of the school Commencements. The University ran two or three commencements for the various schools over the course of like two weeks because maybe they had too many subdivisions. He thought, from the doomed department. That led to the whole “Dubiously Wanted Pants” Affair but that’s another story. Then I got an invite to attend the main commencement, if I responded before the actual letter was sent to me. I checked and they told me that sure, they’d have a chair for me if I got there for 9:20 am. That’s like my third-best 9:20 of the day, but all right. I wore the pair of dubiously wanted pants and everything.

My participation got me marked for VIP treatment. This ran hard against my general level of self-esteem. I won’t brag about my low self-esteem because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do it. But to have actually well-dressed ushers ushing me off past velvet barriers and stuff encourages the feeling of accidentally stumbling into a Nikolai Gogol play I never actually read or saw or anything. Also somehow all us faculty misunderstood something the first time we went out on stage so they had to call us back and send us out again. That’s just reinforcing so many stereotypes.

The ceremony was different from United States university commencements in that they only played like eight bars of Pomp and Circumstance at the start. They had to save time at some point. There were like twelve more school commencement ceremonies later that day. At this one they just blasted through the doctoral and master-degree candidates and presented them all to the University Chancellor, President Nathan. (Remember him?)

At the reception afterwards they still wanted me around and among the VIP section even though honestly. And our department didn’t have any doctoral or masters-degree candidates. So all I had to do was wander around the packed hallway, filling my plate with kueh (any of hundreds of desserts made by compressing sugar into Singaporean Hyper-Sugar) and bee hoon (the tastiest part of the bee) and then emptying it. And then I sneezed. I wasn’t yet skilled at sneezing into my elbow and I just managed to sneeze into my right hand instead. Not too messy but still, sneeze.

I saw a little clearing of people, off in the general direction of the bathroom, and I charged directly into it. It was a little open gap of people in front of President Nathan. He smiled at this fat, tall person who had just sneezed into his hand in front of him. I had always assumed President of Singapore to be a pretty easy gig. The country’s got a Westminster parliament scheme but with only one really organized political party. So there’s not even the occasional bit of choosing to approve a coalition government or proroguing parliament or anything for the Head of State to do. But he proved me wrong about the job’s easiness. He reached out and shook my booger-laden hand. I could never do something like that.

And then we had a conversation that, to the best of my recollection, was exactly this majestic:

“Good day,” he said.

“Good day … I’m honoured to meet you, sir.” (I would do my best to approach the Singaporean accent without sounding like I’m making fun of myself.)

“Where do you come from?”

“New Jersey. Um. The United States.”

“Ah. Are you a graduate?”

“Faculty, actually. I’m a teaching fellow.”

“Ah.” And he nodded and moved on to people not threatening to smear nasal goop over him.

This would prove to be our final conversation, for which I don’t blame him.

What, Just For This?


A six-storey industrial building photographed as fire spills out of several floors.
“A raging fire broke out at My CK building in Tampines on Wednesday (Aug 17). (Photo: Calvin Oh).” Tampines is a neighborhood in Singapore and the name is three syllables, tam-pin-ease, so now if you go visiting you won’t go calling it “tam-pines” and sound like a tourist in your head. Few of us go touristing in our own heads anyway since the landscaping is pretty dull there.

Aren’t you afraid of overreacting, BCA, whatever your initials stand for? I mean, they think the fire’s out and everything.

Well, it took a week but my mathematics blog is on about comic strips again. I write about stuff that isn’t comic strips too, but that takes more work.

How To Wash Your Hands Or Someone Else’s If Things Have Come To That


Let’s suppose you’ve decided to go along with last week’s advice and wash your hands. If you’re not willing to then I’m afraid we aren’t going to do anything useful here. Maybe we should meet again next week when I’m going to talk about how movies get made or some other nonsense like that. While I admit I’m responsible for most of what goes on around here, I can’t do absolutely everything. At some point you have to read it or in some sense neither of us exists. That sense is foolish.

To wash your hands you need a couple of things, which is how they make their money. First is your hands, or the hands of someone who’s entrusted them to your care. If they are someone else’s hands do be sure you don’t return them to the wrong person. Returning hands to the wrong person can lead to embarrassing situations. It throws off their typing and they send text messages to incorrect people. If you take anything away from this essay it should be the importance of good inventory management practices. Bring them back when you’re done.

You’ll need water, which can be found by turning on the faucet. This you do by turning the handle or pressing it down or pushing a button or something like that if it’s the kind of faucet that works. Or you might be at one of the city’s numerous weekend jazz street festivals. They’ll have those things where you step on a partly deflated rubber bladder so the spout spits a mouthful of tepid water at you. You don’t have to support the city in its weekend jazz street festival habit, you know.

If you have one of those sensor-driven faucets then you get water by punching it. At least I do. I have a skin condition which results in my being invisible to hand sensors. In public bathrooms I have to stand helpless by the sink. Then I have to wait for someone to come near and then shove their hands under the faucet, scrub swiftly as possible, and flee before they can identify me.

Identifying me is easy considering how often I wear t-shirts for obscure amusement parks and how I am taller than every person in Singapore. That last was more identifying back when I lived in Singapore. Now it’s only a solid identifier if the person I’ve technically-speaking committed battery against happens to know Singaporean demographics. You get less of that in mid-Michigan than you’d think. Not a lot less, only maybe six percent less. Still, less is less. Oh, I might also have technically committed a kidnapping across urinal lines. Anyway, I’m tall and I guess there have to be some drawbacks for how great it is otherwise.

Besides water you’ll need soap. Soap comes in solid form if you want to touch something that’s been repeatedly rubbed by strangers who needed to wash their hands. It also comes in liquid form if you want to not be sure you have enough of it. And finally it comes in a foamy form that smells great but never seems like enough even if you have a foamy puddle large enough to conceal a guinea pig. I bet someone’s working on another kind of soap even more generally inadequate. Maybe it’s a sensor-driven spray of ultraviolet waves that might not even exist. They’ll get called particles because it makes the diagrams of how to use the thing more cute. You just know they’re going to do that. Punch the ultraviolet-particle soap dispenser now, before it even exists, and don’t stop.

To clean the hands apply water and soap to your hands or the hands of those in your cleaning custody until cleaning is done. Drying your hands afterward used to be optional but not required. Many of us liked doing without this step. It let us brush a slightly-soapy water film over the whole world, one or two hands-widths at a time. But with the rise in smart phones there’s no doing that anymore. The water gets underneath your phone’s protective screen layer somehow and screws up everything, even tapping stuff nowhere near the trapped water bubble. Such are the ways new technology ruins old lifestyles.

A squirt of hand sanitizer is an excellent way to turn hands you’re not sure are clean into hands that feel gummy and unclean. I recommend it. Time things right and you can spend the whole day washing your hands, and wouldn’t that be an improvement on whatever you were otherwise up to?

Something Believable In The Vending Machine


I can’t be alone in being intrigued by the headline Food for thought: Vending machines to dispense novel food items from September. It’s specifically about vending machines in Singapore, where I used to have a job. I liked the city, even if it was always hot and muggy and if I’m still, nearly a decade on, coming to terms with the Tiger Balm Gardens statuary.

Anyway, the news report starts off talking about a new generation of vending machines that can serve boxes of food with bar codes on them. That’s all exciting, I suppose, for people who are on the new high-bar-code diets. And then it goes on to point out that it’ll soon be possible to buy a shampoo or hand soap or thermometer from a vending machine. They mean one where you buy it just by picking it up off a shelf, instead of the old-fashioned way you get this stuff in travel centers, by pressing the buttons 4 and G before the machine rejects it and you have to enter G and then 4 instead, even though there can’t be a semantic difference between letter-number and number-letter order.

And now I realize that a city I lived in for five years did not have the ability to buy shampoo anytime, day or night, from a vending machine, and it’s only getting that ability sometime next month. Travel never really ends; there’s always something new to learn about a place you’ve been. Or maybe the breakthrough is just being able to buy enough shampoo to actually use it, instead of buying one of those single-use bottles that’s got almost enough shampoo to overcome its own viscosity and emit a tiny bubble of shampoo that you lose in the shower. That would be a breakthrough too.

A Name To Be Reckoned With


I saw that Sports Authority didn’t get any bids for its stadium naming rights. Somebody else brought it up. I wasn’t prying. I was vaguely sad about Sports Authority going bankrupt, what with how I kept thinking I might go buy one of those nice slick-looking exercise shirts for years without doing it. I didn’t think I had the figure to wear one just yet and I didn’t want to go buying two of them, one for now and one for when I could look good wearing it. But I don’t blame myself for Sports Authority going bankrupt since I don’t think I’m to blame. It would be at least four shirts and a pair of ankle weights that they needed to sell to make the difference. And I already got ankle weights, back in 2010. They’ve been satisfying. They fit well on the shelf in the basement where they can fall onto my toes when I’m trying to get a can of fossilized paint. I forget where I bought them. Anyway, I was willing to let them go to wherever expired companies go without further action.

It was Consumerist.com that told me an asset auction turned up no bidders for their stadium naming rights. Also that they had stadium naming rights, for Mile High Stadium in Denver. I hadn’t heard the Broncos had sold their stadium name but that figures. Corporations like to graffiti just like any of us do. By paying an exposition authority they can get away with it just like the rest of us don’t. Here I have to divert for a real thing that I saw when I was living in Singapore years ago. I didn’t notice any noteworthy graffiti for months which is not a tautology because shut up. When I did spot one, it was spray-painted on a steel girder at a construction site. It read, “I Love Singapore”. Nice trolling, whoever you were.

Maybe I’m numbed to the selling of naming rights to everything. It’s hard to avoid, anyway. Sports venues and like got named for the team that got them built. Or at least the union-busting rich people that bought the place after the team went bankrupt. Or for lumps of matter you could put in your mouth and chew. If that didn’t suffice you could name them for geographical features, which is how we got Madison Square Garden or Mile High Stadium. I’m not saying the geography names were all that good. Madison Square Garden hasn’t been near Madison Square since Coolidge was President. I assume that’s because of a primitive 20s form of Gentrification. Mile High Stadium is actually only eight feet above ground level, owing to the high cost of stilts. But they offered a kind of certainty. They were named for places and you could be pretty sure about places being around. This was before we discovered continental drift and marketing.

And it is marketing. Corporations figure they want people to like them more. I can sympathize. It’s hard liking corporations. They’re not really about doing things that serve any particular good. They’re mostly about holding the rights to leverage real estate transactions. And who cares for that? It doesn’t matter what a company says it is. It’s just an operating entity existing on behalf of a holding company that’s really in it for the leverage. So you can understand how a corporation would try to make itself look better. They pick hanging around professional athletes. That way they can tie their image to an event that will end with any given consumer’s preferred team losing about half the time, and failing to achieve a championship most of the time. This reminds us that corporations how we as people organize to justify doing dumb or offensive stuff. Some places are astounding at naming rights. Lansing’s baseball stadium sold the park’s name to a law school and the field itself to an insurance company. They don’t seem to have thought to sell the name for the stands, or I just didn’t notice. I can’t wait for them to sell the naming rights for the slow-moving line of confused people at the hummus vendor’s.

Still, I’m surprised to learn nobody wanted to buy the Mile High Stadium naming rights. I’d imagine someone to try just for the fun of it. I’m thinking of starting a collection. Between me and all my friends we could probably put up literally hundreds of dollars to the cause of buying me the naming rights for Mile High Stadium. And I know what you’re thinking, that we’d come up with some hilarious syllable goo and pretend that’s the name for the place. First level thinking. We need better. I’m figuring to name it after some other stadium, like, Giants Stadium at Mile High Stadium. Or the Boston Commons Candlestick Veterans Park at Mile High Stadium. It’s at least as good as any other name.

Hm. Maybe I need a little more. I should sell the idea rights to this name.

Picturing Me


So the new thing in the world of competitive pinball is not telling people the world of competitive pinball exists. That’s the old thing. It goes back to when pinball first started being competitive, which was about ten minutes after the second guy saw someone doing it. But the new thing is “Selfie Leagues”. This is a thing where they base your seeding in a tournament on your high score during some qualifying tables the weeks before the match. You prove your score by taking a selfie with the score displayed. And we know people can’t cheat because of that big, distracting thing over there.

I’m not a natural selfie-taker. I have no objection to them. It’s just I’m not much on taking pictures with people in them at all. I’m one of those people who can somehow photograph a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore at the height of summer and catch the one moment everybody’s ducked inside for a frozen custard. Or at least is looking away as if embarrassed. The height of summer is 14 feet, two inches.

I have some photographs of people. Most I took on dares. And I have a couple pictures of myself too. Most of those are from the early 2000s, when I lived in Singapore, and per request I got some pictures of myself in front of local landmarks. This was to prove to my parents that I was in Singapore and not just slow about answering their e-mails. I should probably send them some pictures sometime. But those were old-fashioned pictures of me, done with a camera tripod and a timer. Oh, I could have asked someone to take a picture of me, but that would involve me talking to a person and I went from 2003 through 2005 not doing that.

When I look over the pictures I took of myself I notice a couple things. The first is that I don’t look good. I couldn’t help that. I was quite fat at the time. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned sometimes, somewhere around age eight I realized that instead of eating a bagel I could eat two bagels. Also that instead of eating a bagel smeared with a little cream cheese, I could eat a bagel smeared with as much cream cheese as I could load up on before my parents caught me. And, now, I’m from what we regard these days as a large family; nearly all of us are over nine feet tall. (My little brother is the only one who’s not, and that’s because the rest of us kept pressing his head down while we were growing. He makes up for it in other ways, such as by punching us in the shins.) Large-family folks learn to make and eat food as fast as possible, before anyone can catch us. I’m not saying I’m an Olympian-class competitor for eating the 25-meter bagel. But I could go on to regionals and hold my head high, as long as I held my upper lip higher.

But the thing about being fat is if you’re also tall, then you don’t look fat. You just look badly proportioned, like you’re drawn by an art student who’s not quite good enough not to use references, or maybe by an elephant working on her MFA. So I have pictures of me standing beside, say, the sign at the Cavenagh Bridge as the unrealistic part of the scene. The Cavenagh Bridge is this small downtown pedestrian bridge that has an old sign warning about how it just looks like you’ve spelled the name wrong but you haven’t. (It’s named for Major General William Orfeur Cavenagh, so the committment to looking like it’s not spelled right goes back a long way.) If you visit Singapore you’re required to get a photograph of it. I was able to stretch a two-year contract into four years by “happening” to forget my camera when I went downtown that way.

Police notice: Cavenagh Bridge: The use of this bridge is prohibited to any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3 cwt and to all cattle and horses. --- By order, Chief Police Officer.
Singapore’s Cavenagh Bridge, photographed by me. Me nearly wholly omitted for clarity. Elbow awkwardly poking in from the right: me. Messenger bag I’m carrying: one of maybe a dozen identical ones my father picked up free from a company he did consulting for in like 2001. For a decade after every time one wore out, usually by the strap breaking, I grabbed the next off the stack.
The ‘cwt’, or ‘hundredweight’, is an old British measure for a weight which is not a hundred pounds.

I could improve a photograph of me by having less of me in it, of course. But that gets balanced by other problems. Particularly, the less you see of me the more you see of my face. I have three expressions in this kind of picture. One is, “Is the timer ever going to go off?” The next is “My eyes look closed, as if I’m asleep”. The last is “I’m trying so hard to not look asleep that I look as if I’m watching cattle transmogrify into flying saucers right here in the middle of the hipster bar! I don’t dare blink lest I miss the good part”.

But since those days I’ve lost a good bit of weight. (I didn’t really lose it. I just tucked it all in these plastic bins I left in the cellar where nobody will see them, because they’re disgusting.) But the result is I have what pass for normal proportions. And with other people, folks who aren’t me, taking the picture I can focus on better facial expressions. If I’m just off thinking about whatever, I have the look that says “the water bill’s been uncharacteristically low the past three months. I wonder if the metering system is faulty”. If I’m really interested what’s going on, paying attention to it all, my face expresses, “the FOOLS! I shall crush them all!”

Despite all this progress I’m not good at being photographed. Which all ties back to my original point which was … wait, let me check. Pinball? … This was about pinball? I … huh. Well, that’s what it says up there, isn’t it? Weird. I’m going to have to think about this and come back next week with an update.

A Partial Review of the Plants and Animals of Australia


Kangaroos. For this review I regard ‘Kangaroo’ as including all the variant models. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Potoroos, Wallaroos, Pottabies, Wottabies, Kangabies, plus any of the new 4th-generation-compatible variations to come out the last month. Doesn’t matter. They’re great all around. Fine body plan. Fur that can feel surprisingly like my sideburns when they get the most bushy and out of control. They anthropomorphize well by just adding a vest and maybe a pair of glasses. They’ve got everything under control. Rated A. The only thing keeping them from an A+ is the sloppy design job regarding the male genitalia. Granted that most mammals have design problems on this point. The only species that’s really got that handled with dignity are guinea pigs, the males of which keep their out-of-use private parts in safety deposit banks with an institution in Lima, Peru.

Small kangaroo, possibly a wallaby, staring right at my camera. From the Singapore zoo.
This kangaroo was not in Australia when I photographed him. Neither was I.

Koalas. Generally adorable, with great ears. But they have been coasting on past fame since the mid-80s. They’ve done nothing to freshen up the line to respond to the rise of fennecs for the status of “oh such adorable animals they look like plush toys only they’re alive!”. Nostalgia acts are fine but we should make way for new innovation. B.

Alpine Tasmanian button grass. Much-needed bit of flora with the sort of name we have the word “mellifluous” for. As plant life goes these are plants that live while not dead. Button grass looks like the hair of a minor Peanuts character with a name like “Leland”. Shows good imaginative use of the “long thin stuff with beady tops” motif. B+.

Platypus. You figure the platypus came about from someone hearing a jumbled description of a griffon and going wild with what they had. And that’s great. Some awesome stuff comes about from trying to follow a jumbled description. It’s how we got centaurs and Cincinnati chili and Chinese lion costumes and some other things that don’t start with ‘c’. All that’s fine and this blend has a nice self-assured weirdness to it. And then it sweats milk. That’s getting into strange-for-the-sake-of-strange territory. C+, would accept resubmission. Not of milk.

Wombats. Are real things? Huh. I thought they were made up so cartoons could do stories about Australian wildlife without getting into hassles from the real species over inaccurate depictions. You know, the way they make a movie about “Charles Foster Kane” instead of William Randolph Hearst, or a political TV show will do a story about going to war with a fake country, or people will vacation in “Florida”. OK, if they’re real then. C, get your brand identity under control. Next.

'Resembling something from a monster movie, Clathrus archeri has been mysteriously emerging in yards and shocking homeowners across America' and it GETS WORSE FROM THERE. And it's Australia's doing.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2016, doing us the public service of reminding us to never have anything to do with nature, ever, under any circumstances.

Octopus Stinkhorn. I just learned about this on Sunday thanks to Mark Trail and WHAT THE HECK, Australia. WHAT THE FLIPPING HECK? You know when we other continents talk about the problem of Australian species THIS is the sort of thing we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about spiders that have enough toxin in each of their fourteen venom sacs to knock unconscious 6.25 billion people and every raccoon in North America. We’re talking about snakes that spontaneously detonate with the force of a malfunctioning Saturn V rocket smashing into a xylophone Daffy Duck rigged with dynamite to make getting rid of Bugs Bunny “look like an accident”. And now we’re talking about octopus-tentacled corpse-smelling alien-egg fungus. REALLY? What is even WRONG with you? I mean, you give us a tree kangaroo, a kangaroo that literally lives in trees, and you follow that up with this? Stop, go back, redo this entire disaster from the start, and by redo I mean “never do anything even remotely inspired by anyone who has thought this a possible idea again”. This doesn’t even get a grade because we need to invent whole new letters to deal with how flipping WRONG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS. I mean, just, I mean. The flipping heck? I mean. Just. UGH.

Microbats. Microbats! Australia’s got lots of microbat species and they’re exactly what you think, bats that are small. Everything great about bats only little. This could get us back on Australia’s side. Even the name of the grouping is so adorable we don’t worry about whether they’re flying into the nostrils of everyone in Canberra. Microbats! B+ and not just because we’re getting them right after alien egg octopus corpse fungus. Seriously, Australia.

Marsupial tigers. OK, so, they’re kind of dog-shaped, and they have kangaroo heads. They have pouches, males and females. They’ve got tiger stripes down their back and tail. Oh yeah, and they’ve been extinct since Joseph Lyons was the prime minister. Great job piddling away an easy win, Australia. Check the backs of your closet and anywhere else they might be hiding and you can re-submit for an A-. I just … honestly.

Raccoon lounging in a tree, in the Singapore Zoo, and looking like she's got the world pretty much figured out.
Included for contrast: a non-Australian animal which was not in Australia when I photographed her.

Editorial note. While reviewing Wikipedia’s entry on the flora of Australia I encountered this sentence. “The dominant Acacia species varies with the location, and may include lancewood, bendee, mulga, gidgee and brigalow.” The page is clearly still subject to rampant vandalism. Fix and re-submit.

Also, 2015 And All That


Since I shared this for my mathematics blog it’s only fair I share this for the humor blog too. WordPress put together a little fireworks-display statistics report for what happened around here and if you’d like to see it, please, go ahead and enjoy.

I did have a very popular year around here, with about 18,000 page views. That’s more than double 2014’s total of about 8,600. That growth mostly because of my incessant and unstoppable reporting that Apartment 3-G had gotten really bad. But it’s something. Surprising to me is that I put up 150 pictures over the course of the year, about three a week. I’d have guessed one, maybe two a week.

The number of countries to send me readers went up from 81 in 2014 to 89 in 2015, so that’s a trend, surely. That’s an even more impressive growth when you consider that in 2015 I got no page views at all from Kazakhstan, a nation that sent me two page views the year before. I don’t know why Kazakhstan is upset with me, but that does mean I picked up ten countries at least. Also the WordPress map of countries doesn’t zoom in close enough to see Singapore.

Click here to see the complete report.

Body-Sculpting The Betty Boop Way


A while ago this year I was on an amusement park cartoons-and-TV-shows-and-stuff kick. It started with a Betty Boop cartoon. Grampy’s Indoor Outing has Grampy work out a way that Betty Boop and Junior can have a day of amusement park fun despite the rain. I noted that many sources speaking of the cartoon identify the kid in it as Little Jimmy, even though he’s clearly called Junior by the other characters in the cartoon. But I also could see where people were coming from. Let me talk about that.

In February 1904 the cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton started a comic strip, as was normal in those days. What wasn’t normal was that he kept making the comic strip. The days before World War I were ones in which comic strips popped into and out of existence like, well, web comics do. Little Jimmy would stay in the papers until Swinnerton retired in 1958. To give that perspective, that’s five years longer than Peanuts ran before Charles Schulz died. Hagar the Horrible is (currently) twelve years younger than it is, and Funky Winkerbean eleven. For Better Or For Worse ran only 29 years.

That said, I don’t actually know much about the comic strip. Wikipedia says that in the strip Little Jimmy would routinely go off, forgetting what he was supposed to do, and getting in trouble. It supports this with a 1911 Sunday strip in which Jimmy doesn’t go off and forget what he was supposed to do. Wikipedia’s writers may be drawing their conclusions about the comic strip from this cartoon.

Betty Boop and Little Jimmy premiered the 27th of March, 1936. It was probably an attempt to see whether another comic strip character could be turned into an animation character. Popeye adapted brilliantly, after all, to the point the cartoon largely overshadows the comic strip. The Fleischers would make several attempts at launching new characters through Betty Boop cartoons — Sally Swing wasn’t the first — although they didn’t take. (Yes, Popeye debuted in what was technically a Betty Boop series cartoon, but the deal was already made. This is much more a testing of the character.)

With this cartoon you can see why. It’s pleasant enough but nothing happens. Betty gets in trouble on a mechanical vibrating belt, as everyone who ever uses one on-screen does, and Little Jimmy runs off, gets distracted, and bounces back. That’s it. I suppose his attempts at remembering he’s supposed to get an “electrician” should be funny or endearing but it’s a slender thread of personality. There’s not much to support or contradict the idea he might be Junior, seen in Grampy’s Indoor Outing, considering Junior has a similar build and similar soft, low-impact persona.

There’s interesting touches in the cartoon, though. The most prominent is that objects grow faces and voices in the midst of the singing. That’s unusual for a cartoon as late as this, from the latter half of the 1930s. The everything-can-be-alive motif was popular in silent cartoons and the earlier Fleischer work, but by the time they had those lovely watercolor backgrounds and three-dimensional sets (not on display here, incidentally) those had gone away as, I suppose, indiscretions of a more youthful art style.

This cartoon’s got some special meaning to me, by the way. It’s the first Betty Boop cartoon I distinctly remember seeing, back in the days of Cartoon Network’s Late Night Black and White segment. It isn’t first-rate Betty, admittedly, but it charmed me. I would probably inevitably have grown as a Betty Boop fan; my personality just lends itself to black-and-white and silent cartoons. But this is a milestone from how things happened for me.

The mechanical-vibrator belt thing Betty Boop uses — and that many, many other comedies mostly would use through the mid-20th-century — was designed to lose weight by shaking people. As best I understand, the thinking was that by shaking the body up it forces your muscles to contract a lot, and that’s the same as exercise, without the hard part of doing work, right? Yeah, it’s stupid, but for comic value it’s hard to beat.

And after all we’re not really past that. You can still buy silly vibrating belts that do nothing to help you lose weight. They’re just more portable now. When I was in Singapore there was a really catchy silly commercial for one that showed a model who needed no weight reduction wearing one on various parts of her body, while the disembodied voices chanted, “zap zap tummy, zap zap tummy, zap zap tummy” or the like. It’s a subtler silly than Betty Boop’s contraption, but it’s not different.

An Open Letter To The Department Of Winter


To The Department Of Winter, Michigan Bureau:

Hi.

So, let me start off by saying that while I’ve only lived in Michigan a smidge and two whiles, this is looking to be my fourth winter here. Also let me point out that I’m not some wimp who can’t take slightly abnormal weather. Weather-wise, I’m better-experienced than you maybe think. I lived almost my whole life in central New Jersey. There we get every kind of weather although not in such intense amounts as to be really inconvenient. Give or take the odd Superstorm Sandy washing away Ocean County. And I went to graduate school in upstate New York, with wholly different patterns of having an extra month of the lousiest parts of winter.

And then I even lived a half-decade in Singapore, which has a daily high of 92 Fahrenheit and a thunderstorm every afternoon between 1:30 and 3:00. If it doesn’t rain you can go to the Ministry of the Environment and get your hand stamped for a day’s free admission. Though if you tell them you’re there for a rain cheque they won’t smile. There, winter is kept in well-supervised ice-skating rinks. It’s available for S$6 the first half-hour and S$4 every half-hour afterwards. Or you can walk by a 7-Eleven because the doors are open and the air conditioning set to Popeye strengths. To find a 7-Eleven in Singapore first go to Singapore (critically important! Do this first!), pick a direction, and walk up to 250 paces in that direction.

But what I’m getting at is this has been a freaky December. I was expecting it to be a little colder than this. Like, I was expecting it to be cold at all. It isn’t that I have a particular love of the cold. The winter outside Albany for 1997-98, for example, was chilly enough that my toes still haven’t thawed out. And back the winter of 2013-14 Michigan put up a bravura performance of coldness, with a string of 84 days below freezing in January alone. The 16th of January that year (2014) was so cold the sun refused to rise because the lock to its heavenly chariot had frozen solid.

This December, though, has been bizarrely warm. The only time we’ve gotten near freezing was when I passed out from heat stroke over the ice cream counter at Quality Dairy. And while Mackinac Fudge Cider might be a great flavor, it’s just not wintery. It’s made a mockery of my putting up storm windows. And it’s hurt the feelings of my rushing to put the Christmas lights up outside when we had that nice day in the mid-40s. We’ve had date trees blooming into new fruits, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t even any date trees in Michigan. I think.

And it isn’t just making me feel silly doing household chores. It’s had major effects on the wildlife. For example, the squirrels are supposed to stuff themselves silly all autumn. Then they sleep it off through the coldest of winter. Then they sneak into the attic and try to burrow through our excess supply of Suave shampoo. But without a hint of cold weather they’re trapped in stuff-themselves-silly mode. It’s getting hazardous to step outside. Squirrels fattened up to sphericity keep losing their grip and plummeting. We have to take the groceries inside between cannonballs of angry rodents.

Even if we’ve waited for a good breeze to knock the squirrels out first we’re not out of danger. Red squirrels are cantankerous critters in the best of circumstances. When they’re stuck howling at the world for someone to roll them over onto their paws they get downright vicious, not to mention personal. I left middle school for many reasons, but mostly because I don’t need the kind of hurtful comments I’m getting from the red squirrel community. We’ve seen some similar results from the mouse community. And we suspect there’s a raccoon waiting for us to put the heater in the pond so he can hurl it back out of the pond and remind us who around here knows how to hurl stuff out of the pond.

That’s all stuff I suppose I can get used to. I mean, I got used to “winter” in Singapore, by knowing where all 42,000 island 7-Elevens were and maneuvering around the arctic blasts. What’s got me nervous is the sense of the other shoe waiting to drop. What kind of retribution is a month of outright balmy weather going to get us? Cold and snow is only going to go so far. This kind of weather earns us, like, a hail of frogs made of hail howling the things we’re afraid our loved ones secretly find disappointing about us.

So I want to say I’m enjoying the weather being so warm that it actually feels chilly, because it feels too silly to dress like it’s been December. But I’m afraid of what you have in store. I’d want to get out of this with retribution that’s nothing worse than, like, one blizzard they’ll be talking about for years and maybe a single weekend where the argon liquefies out of the atmosphere. Is there some way to get the winter adjusted so we don’t have anything worse than that coming up?

I know it’s a long shot, but I thought it only fair to ask. Thank you for your time and attention.

    Sincerely,

        Joseph Nebus

PS: Thanks for the help with that spider.

Cold Comforts


I’ve got a cold. It’s a small one, as these things go. I hesitate to even mention it. Not because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. If I thought people would listen to me I would. But I’ve learned people don’t want to hear where I have actual serious feelings about things, so I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t want to have them either.

The main reason I wouldn’t mention the cold is I have several friends very concerned I haven’t heard the Good News about Zinc. I know they mean well and I appreciate that they mean well. I try to brush them aside by explaining there’s a bad family history with zinc. Great-uncle Chuck got in trouble with the War Production Board in 1944 over allegations he was hoarding toothpaste. This joke always fails. It’s way too specific and incredibly over-researched for how short it is. Only the part about having a great-uncle named Chuck feels even remotely natural. They put zinc in toothpaste tubes back then because oh I don’t know. I have a cold. I’m pretty sure it was zinc. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you when they switched to toothpaste.

It’s just that zinc doesn’t do anything for me, and neither does anything else. All that really helps is to sit up very still hoping that this next time I blink it won’t hurt so much. I exaggerate. If my nose is stopped up, then some nasal spray will clear it out in seconds, which is worse. I don’t know why I do it except for the joy of doing something that definitely has an effect. I will try other cold medicines. But that’s just because I respect the rituals of doing things for a cold rather than because of any effect. The cold medicine industry goes to a great deal of effort putting out foul-tasting white pellets in white bottles inside white boxes. It would be ungrateful of me to ignore all that work.

The only cold medicine that did something besides transfer the ache from my eyelids to my fingernails was something I had while back in Singapore. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m kind of sure the name started with a soft consonant. It got me nice and drowsy right in the middle of Turner Classic Movies Asia showing Tod Browning’s Freaks. I went to bed and woke up eight hours later and turned the TV on and it was nearly back to the same scene I’d left off on. So I credit the M—- or maybe N—– something with making Freaks somehow even more primally unsettling.

Which serves to point out that colds aren’t all bad things. I appreciate some of good of this. For example, my voice is doing that thing where I sound, in my head, much more like Leonard Nimoy in the third season of Star Trek than usual. Combined with the acoustics in the shower and I can really perfectly hit some Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs songs, though I should not. The change in my voice’s timbre also warns me away from ever trying to sing anything that Sting might, including nursery rhymes. But I kind of knew to avoid that anyway. So I can’t credit the cold for that.

Another thing the cold offers: I have a socially acceptable reason to eat anything that I see. I used to have that reason, in that I used to be extremely fat. Society might like telling people they should eat less, but it also accepts that if a fat person feels like eating something they’ve got leave to. How else are they going to stay fat except by one of the 18,640 critical insights about nutrition that humanity doesn’t understand? Anyway, I got thin a couple years ago, and if I actually went and ate everything I felt like stuffing into my face I’d be the subject of scorn. But having a cold, well, everyone remembers you either starve a cold or you feed it. They won’t pick a fight over an aphorism that doesn’t mean anything useful that they aren’t sure they have right.

Still, the cold doesn’t have everything. In particular my throat isn’t doing that thing where breathing in and out makes a little rolling noise like a motor is lurching into action. So I can’t say I really approve of all this.

Maybe I Could Be A Generalist, Though?


Like most of us I’m looking for the sort of job where people give me money for no clear reason. So I have a couple web sites that send me their comic attempts at locating jobs and I think in seven years of having them set up none has ever sent me anything remotely plausible. But today I hit a grand new one. It’s for a “Specialist Sputtering Engineer”, in Singapore.

I never realized sputtering was the sort of thing needing engineering. I thought it just came from trying to get your point across with more exasperation and less time than you really need. Alas, I know I’m not qualified. I sputter only very rarely. If they needed a stammering engineer I’d be set. I don’t mean to brag but I can stammer even before I’ve really woken up for the day.

So if you know anyone looking for a world-class stammering engineer — freelance or fulltime — please let me know care of the address. Any address will do. I don’t know that I can qualify for a specialist stammering engineer right off the bat. But there’s probably some online certification I could get for it if I knew there was demand.

Statistics Saturday: Nations of Asia Ordered By Length


My grand project is drawing nearer completion! Can you feel the sort-of excitement-ish sensation? I know I can.

  • 1. Iran
  • 1 (tie). Iraq
  • 1 (tie). Laos
  • 1 (tie). Oman
  • 5. China
  • 5 (tie). Japan
  • 5 (tie). Nepal
  • 5 (tie). Qatar
  • 5 (tie). Syria
  • 5 (tie). Yemen
  • 11. Bhutan
  • 11 (tie). Brunei
  • 11 (tie). Cyprus
  • 11 (tie). Israel
  • 11 (tie). Jordan
  • 11 (tie). Kuwait
  • 11 (tie). Russia
  • 11 (tie). Turkey
  • 19. Armenia
  • 19 (tie). Bahrain
  • 19 (tie). Georgia
  • 19 (tie). Lebanon
  • 19 (tie). Myanmar
  • 19 (tie). Vietnam
  • 25. Cambodia
  • 25 (tie). Malaysia
  • 25 (tie). Maldives
  • 25 (tie). Mongolia
  • 25 (tie). Pakistan
  • 25 (tie). Thailand
  • 31. Indonesia
  • 31 (tie). Singapore
  • 31 (tie). Sri Lanka
  • 34. Azerbaijan
  • 34 (tie). Bangladesh
  • 34 (tie). Kazakhstan
  • 34 (tie). Kyrgyzstan
  • 34 (tie). Tajikistan
  • 34 (tie). Uzbekistan
  • 40. North Korea
  • 40 (tie). Philippines
  • 40 (tie). South Korea
  • 40 (tie). Timor-Leste
  • 44. Saudi Arabia
  • 44 (tie). Turkmenistan
  • 46. United Arab Emirates

Those Who Do Not Study The Pasta Are Sure To Reheat It


I know I’ve written several essays inspired by books I was reading recently. I can’t help it. I keep finding my reading inspirational, and that’s why I’m doing another one like it. This time the book is Pasta And Noodle Technology, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick, and published in 1996 by the American Association of Cereal Chemists. Yes, I read a book about the noodle technology of nineteen years ago. Maybe more than nineteen years ago. The book collects scholarly articles that probably weren’t written after the book’s publication.

“But wait,” you may ask, “Joseph, why would you pick up such a book?” I give my permission. You may also note, “While you’re most interested in eating food, you almost never have any interest in where it comes from.” Go right ahead. If you like, point out the time some people in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district set up a trailer-home exhibition dedicated to some athlete, and passed out waffles, and I took and ate one without considering how odd every piece of that scene was. But I had good reason to pick up the book: I have absolutely no self-control while in a library. Put any book at about shoulder height on a shelf near the space history books and I’ll take it.

But the book rewards its reading. Just on page two we get this:

The legend [ of Marco Polo bringing spaghetti to Italy ] published in the year 1929 in The Macaroni Journal, the magazine of the American Association of Pasta Makers, still survives today.

I don’t know how rough your week has been. But I say that it’s better now that you know there is an American Association of Pasta Makers. And you probably grinned at learning there’s a trade publication called The Macaroni Journal. And it’s surely delightful to know that magazine still exists today, in 1996, even though that isn’t quite what the text says. The week is better still because of what came before. The text had just described the legend that the muse Thalia “kept secret for years” how to make macaroni but finally shared it with the mermaid Parthenope. Parthenope shared it with Naples, who shared it with everyone else. It adds a whole new dimension to the muse Thalia, who I thought was just the muse of comedy. Apparently she was the muse of comedy and macaroni, and now “muse of comedy and macaroni” is my new dream job.

Another discovery is that the Minolta corporation even today in 1996 makes chromatographs which pasta-makers use to make sure noodles are colored correctly. I’m not clear whether Minolta was hired for pasta-color-validation technology. It could be the pasta-makers kept their intentions secret. I’m entertained by imagining someone rushing in to Minolta Master Command and crying out, “I just found out what those maniacs at San Giorgio are using our chromatographs for!” Gasps all around, and then she tells them what the use is. They shake their heads and say, “There is no recovering. Close up the business.” I guess it’s closed up. I never hear about Minolta anymore.

Another valuable discovery from the book: pasta-making requires a lot of uses of the word “extrude”. I like “extrude”, as a word. It’s faintly funny-ish without being worn out the way “nostril” or “moist” are. If you want to use the word “extrude” a lot without people thinking you’re deliberately being a clown, then get into pasta scholarship.

The articles include many close-up photographs of noodles that have long since rotted away. For example, in Figure 11 (Figure 1, scanned best I can) a close-up picture shows what spaghetti produced in a vacuum looks like compared to spaghetti not and … I don’t know. I think the point is that vacuum spaghetti is better, but I have no idea what I should be looking at. I can’t even swear there’s a difference.

It appears to be two strands of spaghetti set next to one another. That's it. If there is a difference I do not know what it is.
Figure 1: Figure 11. Appearance of spaghetti produced without vacuum (left) and with vacuum (right). From Pasta And Noodle Technology, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. 1996.

But this shows how untrained my eye is. The many charts of variables plotted against one another also show how untrained my pasta brain is. The lesson I draw from this is that pasta is too complicated for me to understand. If I were thrust into a non-technological world there are many things I might be able to rebuild by myself. I don’t want to brag but I’m very good with inclining planes. But I would never manage even a primitive kind of ravioli. It’s humbling, and isn’t being humbled the best reason to read about pasta technology?

Another Round Of Dream-Based Apologies


Obviously, I have to apologize first to the President of the United States In My Dreams for my stunning inability to just deliver a birthday cake to him. But in defense of my failure I want to note:

  1. This whole cake-delivery responsibility was thrust on me at the last possible minute, and during a time when I didn’t have a car so I was wholly dependent on the bus situation.
  2. There wasn’t even a real container for the cake, but I had to hold it on a couple paper plates with tin foil kind of hanging somewhere near the cake vicinity.
  3. The bus driver, who was shockingly like Gilbert Gottfried in most ways, was not as helpful or as sympathetic as should be expected in these cases.
  4. While the bus was clearly labelled as one going to Singapore’s Jurong East Bus Interchange it instead let me off in a large and poorly-signed college building in the middle of downtown.
  5. I might have made quicker progress but was saddled with that hideously-smelling blanket which obviously had to be dealt with before any other chores could be tended, and I was apparently the only person in the city who could even be in the same room as it.
  6. The blanket, contaminated I believe by you-know-who, possibly by being vomited upon to the point of stomach acids coming out, I would have happily dumped in a trunk or a storage bin or such if anyone had been willing to help in any way, but again, campus security and the omnipresent Gottfriedesque bus driver were totally useless.
  7. The cake was one of those ten-by-fourteen homemade things cut in half and turned upside-down for frosting anyway, so it wouldn’t stay level and it just looked horrible. Cutting a ten-by-fourteen homemade cake in half after baking has never worked, and can we please stop pretending it does? Also who puts a cake upside-down to frost it? How is that even supposed to work in theory?
  8. And I might have managed yet if somebody had bothered to tell me where the President even was before sending me off to deliver a poor cake from him.

So in short, I’m sorry, everyone who was disappointed, but I can not and will not take exclusive blame for the fiasco.

Close Cut Things


I haven’t had to mow a lawn in a long time. For some of that time I was a grad student, and the administration gets all tense when grad students are allowed near sharp objects. They’d rather we stick to harmless stuff like grading essays about the symbolism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was in grad school for math; I still don’t know why I was grading Uncle Tom’s Cabin essays. They were very protective about their lawns, which they buried in concrete back in the 70’s. Then I was in Singapore, where the lawns weren’t my concern, and they have special equipment anywhere where people go around with vacuum cleaners to suck the grass up to the correct height. You can see where you don’t want that falling into average civilian hands, ever since that accident in Choa Chu Kang (old town) where someone left the machine unattended for a couple hours and they got grass talks up to 8.5 miles high, menacing navigation and making Malaysia think Singapore was trying to pick a fight.