More Thoughts While Doing My Daily Walk Around Town


Is that … snow? Yes, that’s snow. I’ve seen snow before, although not so much this winter. Who ordered snow? My parents better not hear about this.

Oh, hey, the place that used to be the 24-hour diner. Then the new owners figured instead of being the diner everybody went to because it was 3 am, they could just open for breakfast and lunch. Then they fired the staff and closed entirely. And forgot to get the social media passwords from the staffers. Then they tore down the diner because they figured the vacant lot was worth more than a diner-filled lot. Well, that turned out great. Hey, this has to be the spot where J— discovered his eyeglasses had gouged ridges into the side of his head. Good times.

This … was a lot warmer, like, a week ago. We are going into spring, right? We couldn’t be going right back out of spring again, not with how much everybody agreed on having a spring.

That’s a nice clearly-marked bike lane that comes into existence and runs nearly the length of a full block before fading out again. Probably a story there. Probably also an angry Facebook group.

Oh, criminy, it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. That would be nice and timely. I did that thing for Apollo 11 and forgot to do anything for Apollo 12. Let me see if there’s anything there, let me think a while and see if I can come up with like three jokes, that’s enough to build a piece around. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s a dumb idea.

So that’s a lone coffee mug six feet from the sidewalk on the torn-up field that used to have a convenience store and now just has the telephone pole with an ‘ATM Inside’ sign on it. This seems to be the setting for some short story with too poignant an imagery to actually read.

Oh, but remember how angry the Usenet group sci.space.history got over the From The Earth To The Moon series, when its Apollo 13 episode wasn’t just doing the movie all over again but on way less budget? Everybody was so angry about it being how reporter Jay Mohr won over reporter Cranky Old Guy. I mean, not so mad as they’d be when the Apollo 16 episode. They got so mad the episode was about the astronaut wives instead of how the Apollo crew drank too much orange drink and passed gas the whole flight. Boy, but the Internet used to be fun to be angry on. What happened?

If I just took that coffee mug how much would I have to clean it to use it again? I’m kidding, I would never stop cleaning it.

Well now I’m just thinking about that report where the Mars Curiosity team had shifted over to working remotely. It’s just, like, they already kind of were. They probably get that a lot. If I ever meet anybody on the team I’m going to have to not tell them that one.

Ooh, hey, the hipster bar left their Wi-Fi on even though they’ve been closed a month now. Good grief it has been a month now. All right. Well, that’s going to be great if my iPod does that thing again where I pause my podcast and it decides to throw away the file and I have to re-download the whole thing. … And I do that when I happen to be right next to the bar. Well, they left the curtain up front open just enough that if I press my face against the window and stare I can kind of make out what have to be the pinball machines. I can stop around to do that a while.

Still thinking about how the Lansing airport listed they had four flights arriving today and only two departing. That’s got to be atypical, right? They can’t be stocking up on two extra planes a day, indefinitely. They’d fill up the parking lot.

All right that’s … nine … ten … twelve pairs of sneakers lined up on the curb, and with a locker mirror and a $4 yard sale price stick on it. There’s probably a good explanation for all of this and the only way I’ll ever know is to knock on the door and ask. They probably get a lot of people knocking on the door asking about the shoe lineup and mirror, though. Maybe I’ll check if they have a web site instead.

Oh, the guys who practice drums four hours a day are still doing that. Still … sounds like drumming. It’s nice to have that to rely on.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Did Mark Trail leave Harvey Camel for dead? December 2019 – March 2020


I don’t want to say Mark Trail left Harvey Camel for dead in a Nepalese avalanche. But he didn’t spend a lot of time looking, either. He had fair reasons not to look, in what we saw on-panel: it has to have been too dangerous to try right after the avalanche. But we don’t see this explained, and we don’t see, like, the day or two after the avalanche either. It’s some unsettling stuff.

Thanks for reading this to catch up on the story comics! I should have another look at James Allen’s Mark Trail at this link around June 2020. So if you’re looking for a story recap and you’re that far in my future, that link might be more helpful. Also, I look at comic strips with a mathematical theme over on my other blog, which you might like to see sometime.

Now to a little more detail about what Mark Trail has been doing.

Mark Trail.

16 December 2019 – 7 March 2020.

Renowned Twitter cryptozoologist Dr Harvey Camel had brought Mark Trail to the Himalayas. Mark Trail’s editor approved. Camel is following the real-world news of an Indian Army unit reporting a Yeti footprint. Mark Trail figures there can’t be a Yeti, but there’s interesting life in the Himalayas, and a crocodile’s already tried to eat them. And a dzo, a water-buffalo/yak hybrid, came around to mock them. Mark Trail’s tired of rooting around looking for a thing he doesn’t believe exists. And Harvey Camel is one of those exhausting online people. He can barely talk for how he’s putting this all on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Myspace and Livejournal and Cu-SeeMe. He’s got a freaking gateway to Bitnet, somehow.

And he keeps insisting stuff is evidence of Yetis. Whistling? Yeti. Destroyed hiking station? Yeti. Four rocks by the side of the hiking path? Yeti. Early-morning rain showers? Yeti. Goldbach’s Conjecture? Yeti. “You can’t just keep pointing at things and calling them Yetis,” cries Mark Trail. Camel posts this to TikTok, declaring, “You’re the meme now, dog.” So with this history in mind, you can understand why Mark Trail might leave him for dead.

Mark Trail: 'Harvey, let me ask. Let's say we actually find the Yeti. What do you intend to do? You going to approach it while you livestream the entire thing? Get a selfie with it?' Camel: 'Don't be ridiculous, Mark. I brought you along to photograph our journey and experiences. Besides, I don't think we'll be able to get that close!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of December, 2019. I understand the plot reasons we didn’t see a lot of Mark Trail photographing the expedition. It would undercut Mark Trail’s pique at Harvey Camel photographing everything if he was doing the same. And, strange as it seems to say for a story which went on for a half year, it’d make things drag out to stop the action for Mark Trail to photograph stuff.

Also a Himalayan red bear attacks. It’s the fourth Attack of Nature this story. Pemba, one of the Sherpas they’re hiring, has bear repellent, so it’s okay. And Camel opens up about his motivations. He doesn’t want the Yeti captured or brought to zoos or exploited by humans. He wants to show the world that such an astounding things exists. And, yeah, the fame and fortune would be a pleasant reward.

In a hiking station for the night, Mark Trail presses Camel. Why is he so sure there’s one to find? Camel has a heck of an answer: when he was a child, a Yeti ripped his leg off. He’d been hiking with his father, and a Yeti broke into their cabin, tossed his father around, and grabbed him by the leg. And now Camel reveals his prosthetic leg. This pays off the “why does he walk funny” question Mark Trail asked Genie back in November.

Camel, recounting a teenage encounter: 'That night, the Yeti burst into our cabin ... my father took a gun and fired at it. The savage brute sent him crashing to a corner!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of January, 2020. So another good question is why the art in Mark Trail seems weird lately. Commenters on the Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen’s had to go help a family member through illness, and has been working away from home and the usual studio. So he’s had to make experiments with different drawing setups. I have not seen a statement from James Allen directly, so I can’t confirm that. But it seems a reasonable explanation.

Later, Mark Trail asks Genie, like, seriously? Camel’s assistant says she believes in his trauma. But whether it was a Yeti? How is she to know? Unless she’s been his friend for decades and taking care of him and helping him with his trauma? Anyway, they turn in, and Mark Trail sees something inexplicable: Genie going in to Harvey Camel’s room. At night. It makes us wonder whether sex exists in the Mark Trail universe. Before you say that’s obvious since Mark has a son? Remember that Rusty Trail was adopted. Still, yeah, of course people in the Mark Trail universe have heard of sex, and may even enjoy it. It’s not like they’re in Luann.

Mark Trail: 'I suppose I'd better turn in, too!' (He sees Genie going into Camel's room.) 'What th' ... What's she doing going into Harvey's room?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2020. One occasionally suspects that Mr Allen might be setting up a panel now and then to delight his ironic readers.

They get back to hiking, Mark Trail still prodding Camel, “Yeah no but really?” At night they set up camp. And Camel hears something. A whistling. Genie insists it’s the wind. Camel says it’s the Yeti. He runs out of the tent, into the snowstorm.

And the avalanche.

Harvey Camel running out into a heavy snow; then, there's an enormous RUM-M-BLE!! and a mountain of snow flows down at him.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of February, 2020. “Wait! No one said let’s get ready to this!”

Mark Trail, Genie, and the Sherpas are all right. Mark Trail suggests maybe Camel made it out the other side of the valley? Genie hopes so. But … they don’t look.

In the circumstance, at that hour? That’s defensible. Yes, Camel is lost and likely wounded. But it’s also the middle of the night, immediately after an avalanche, and there’s only four people who could start searching. Waiting for daytime, contacting authorities, getting an organized rescue together is sensible. But this reasoning is never made on-screen. Mark Trail, or better the Sherpas, could explain that searching for Camel right now is likely to fail and get more people injured or killed.

Genie: 'Harvey began to relish his alter ego, broadcasting his adventures on the Internet! [ Picture of him taking a selfie from atop an elephant. ] He wanted each adventure to be bigger and more exciting than the one before it. His audience's hunger reached a fever pitch when he announced his next big adventure.'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 14th of February, 2020. All right, so the adventures we know Harvey Camel got up to were catching a fish and now taking a selfie from on an elephant. Can see why he didn’t have anywhere to go but “Yeti”.

Instead what we see is Genie explaining Camel’s life story. Camel lost a leg to juvenile diabetes. They became friends shortly after he lost his leg. She caretook him. And Camel got onto social media, becoming an adventurer with a worldwide fanbase and niche fame. And, needing to make ever-bigger adventures for his audience, going finally to the search for the Yeti. Mark Trail nods, thinking of this as a lesson in the search for online fame. And we see how this quest ends. Unless, of course, Camel did make it out alive.

And … the heck? Because this is good enough exposition. It fills out character and explains motivations and actions. But it leaves new questions. Like: so was Harvey Camel a legitimate anthropologist who turned into a celebrity? Or was he always a showman, with enough science in him to get respectable magazines like Woods and Wildlife to finance him? And: so … did Harvey Camel, as a child, travel with his father to Nepal and have some encounter that he could remember as a Yeti attack? It’s all right if the characters don’t know answers. But a reader can, fairly, ask whether James Allen has answers in mind. A storyteller always has the right to change their mind about characters’ histories. If the revision makes for a better story, it’s a brilliant twist. If it confuses the audience, it’s a mess.

So this time spent in revelations threw a lot of people off the story. We go from that night, and Genie revealing what she knew about Camel’s history, right to Mark Trail readying to leave Nepal. Mark Trail talks about how they need to inform the authorities. And I suppose we can take as implicit that there was a search. But what counts to the audience is what the characters spend time on. Especially in comic strips, which get read and thought about for seconds per day.

[ Tumlingtar, Nepal ] Mark Trail: 'Genie, I'm sorry this trip didn't turn out as we had hoped!' Genie: 'I understand, Mark --- although I believed in Harvey, I knew it was a long shot! I just didn't think it would end like this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of February, 2020. Yeah, but let’s talk seriously here: no corpse? No death. Especially since James Allen is a reader of adventure strips where the impossible escape from certain death is mandatory. More Harvey Camel is just so incredibly well set up.

Subtlety is great for rewarding careful audience members. It can add nice plot symmetries or shadings of character. It sucks for establishing things like “would our hero prefer to rescue someone from certain death?” A reader can be forgiven for thinking Mark Trail saw the avalanche as a chance to get away from Harvey Camel. And this, right after a story in which Mark Trail didn’t spend much screen time searching for JJ Looper after a flash flood, makes a bad pattern.

(There are more interesting patterns, though. That earlier story also involved the search for something Mark Trail didn’t think existed, in this case a Vanishing Gold Mine. And had Mark Trail be as suspicious of JJ Looper as he would be of Harvey Camel. Looper would justify Mark Trail’s suspicion, but Mark Trail didn’t have anything but a hunch to go on there.)

Mark Trail heads home. He admits not knowing whether Harvey Camel died in the avalanche. But what are the chances of Camel surviving certain death, and then teaming up with “Dirty” Dyer to seek revenge on Mark Trail? Anyway, Mark Trail explains that his article for Woods and Wildlife won’t mention the Yeti. The crocodiles and bears and all are enough. Which … is … a decision I’d want to bounce off the editor. I would think a failed search for a Yeti alongside a preposterous minor celebrity would be a great story. Of course, I’ve written like two thousand words making fun of this story so far this essay, and I have two other essays about this story.

Mark Trail: 'The Internet can also bring out the worst in people!' Cherry: 'I worry about that too! Especially with Rusty reading the online comments about his favorite comics!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of February, 2020. You may see this as another case of the cartoonist forcing characters to care about their own pet peeve. But, you know? If you can use your creative forum to work out your complaints? And get paid for it? Great for you. And you’re part of a long artistic heritage. And we can all still laugh morbidly at the Mallard Fillmore guy spending what seemed like eighteen years straight whining about cops stopping people for nothing more than drunk driving.

Anyway then Mark Trail warns Cherry and Doc about how the Internet can bring out bad stuff in people. Cherry agrees, talking about Rusty Trail reading the comments of online comics-reading communities. All right. With that, the story ends. The avalanche brought the Attack of Nature count up to five.


The new story started the 29th of February. Cherry Trail got a call from Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. They do nature outings for kids, particularly ones considered “troubled children”. Mark Trail figures he’ll do an article on the Forest Explorers. He and Rusty can join them a trip. So we’re still meeting everybody right now. There hasn’t been a plot to start yet. We’ll see where things go over the next few months.

Sunday Animals Watch!

So you know your headcanon where the Sunday panels explaining animals are articles that Mark Trail writes? Turns out everybody thinks the same way. I don’t know that it’s what James Allen or his predecessors thought they were doing with it. But everyone agrees that’s what it should mean. Anyway here’s what Mark Trail’s been writing about while lost in the Himalayas:

  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re neat; give them a look.
  • Myrrh, 22 December 2019. It’s one of many resins that you might like to know about.
  • Bear attacks, 29 December 2019. Mark Trail recommends you not be attacked by a bear. But if you are attacked with a bear, try to have bear repellent.
  • Tasmanian tigers, 5 January 2020. Extinct for 85 years now. But there’ve been sightings, and now and then someone who thinks genetics is easy says they’re going to clone the animal back into existence.
  • Saffron crocuses, 12 January 2020. The amount of work it takes to make saffron causes me to feel like I’m putting a lot of people to bother if I get anything that uses any.
  • Leatherback turtles, 19 January 2020. With a mention of other marine turtles.
  • Silver-backed chevrotains, 26 January 2020. A species not spotted for thirty years. This as part of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Search for Lost Species” campaign. This tries finding evidence for animals not spotted in a long while.
  • Dumbo Octopus, 2 February 2020. Which are amazing, and which live so deep in the ocean with so few predators around that they don’t even have ink sacs.
  • Bats, 9 February 2020. Leave hibernating bats alone, they’ve got enough problems.
  • Coyotes, 16 February 2020. Leave coyotes alone, they’ve got enough problems.
  • Tapetums, 23 February 2020. Those are the eye layers in nocturnal animals that cause their eyes to do crazy things at night or undre flash photography.
  • Saber-toothed animals, 1 March 2020. A surprising number of animals make this work, and if your day is dragging, do an image search on “musk deer”.
  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. It takes a lot of training to get a dog to bark at something, somewhere, when the cop bats the trunk of the car with the Abolish Prison Labor bumper sticker.

Next Week!

Did Estelle take Wilbur back? Why? Did Iris screw up her relationship with Zak? Why? Is Dawn screwing up her relationship with real French guy from France, Hugo Franceypants? Why? Did the auto care place at the end of the block finally update its sign with a new inspirational-yet-somehow-despairing thought? Yes! Will I belatedly work out the “Mark Trail joined Mastodon but left because he couldn’t find any” joke I’ve been trying to make fit into this all week? Could be! Join me for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth in one week’s time, if things go like I plan. Thanks for reading. Like and subscribe me on Orkut, Ping, Yo, Ello, and Apple eWorld, please.

In An Imperfect World


So you don’t live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. Over eight percent fewer of us do than you’d imagined. There are many ways that the world is pretty good, despite everything we’ve been through. The world has capybaras, for example. And if that weren’t enough, we keep inventing new social media by which other people will send us pictures of capybaras. So that’s the baseline; as long as we have that, the world isn’t beyond hope.

But any of us can see ways the world might be better. It might be a little harder to spill things on shirts, for example. Or we might think of some quasi-verbal utterance other than “uh” and “uhm” to mark time while we’re speaking. For the variety. Maybe we could arrange for the first coffee mugs we drop and break to be the ugly ones with only-ever-funny-once jokes on them, instead of the souvenir ones from places that are gone. There are probably other things that would make life better, but those would see the most dramatic improvements.

It’s natural then to want to make the world a better place. It’s a dangerous pastime. You should think hard before you continue on in it. Consider: to make the world better, there has to be something wrong with it. If it would make the world better to have a more interesting variety of cupcakes available, that implies there aren’t enough interesting cupcakes already. Don’t go telling me there’s already plenty of interesting variety in vegan cookies, because while there may be, they’re still not cupcakes. And even if we have got the best imaginable state of one thing that doesn’t say anything about other things. Again, imagine we had our full complement of capybara photo access, but we never got to hear the theme to Secret Agent Man on the radio at the bagel shop ever again. Even happiness would be forever tainted by the thought of what was lost.

So fine if you figure something can be made better. The danger is there’s something already around that keeps it from being as good as it could be. Maybe that thing is already someone’s responsibility. Then trying to fix it means you’re telling that person they’ve screwed up so badly that someone has to come in and try fixing their mistakes. I don’t blame them wanting to slug you for that. How would you feel if someone pulled that on you? Exactly. Having to get within slugging range of someone to fix them has historically tempered the activity of people trying to fix up stuff, and made people think hard about what’s really worth improving. Advances in stick and other long-range poking and hitting technologies would have moved the balance of power to the status quo advocates. Or they would have, if the poking-and-hitting technologists didn’t see why they needed to make any advances in their product line, thank you. Internet activism makes it possible to try doing something about stuff that’s wholly outside of slugging range, which is why it’s so controversial and the results so mixed. On the one hand, people can be made instantly aware of what their state legislature is planning to do. On the other hand, what we mostly react to is a sassy put-down by the Instagram account of Jo-Ann’s Fabric.

And then there are things that could be better but that nobody’s actually responsible for. This is even more dangerous to try improving. If a particular person’s responsible for a thing, at least trying to improve it is only an attack on that person. If nobody’s responsible, then trying to improve it is an implicit declaration that everybody has failed to address the shortcoming. Everybody has reason to feel attacked by you. And you can’t stay outside of slugging range of everybody forever. They can catch you when you try to pick up your mail at least.

If you enjoy the life of danger, then, go ahead. It can be thrilling stuff and maybe you will make something better. But it’s going to cost you some happiness too. And this is the great thing about living in a non-utopian society. You can be sad about the thing that’s not right, or be sad about trying to make it right. It’s up to you how you break your heart.

Now that I’ve explained it, do I hope that’s made anything better?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose another ten points today as analysts missed that now there’s somehow two houses on the block throwing out sofas now and how do they get all these sofas to put out on the street? Whatever’s going on can’t be any good and yet somehow they’re not worried about this. Yet.

262

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? April – July 2017


Greetings, high school-ish sports-like fans. If you’re looking for a recap of what’s happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp good news! You’re in a reasonably right spot. If you’re reading this much later than July 2017, then there’s a good chance they’re on to a new story and one that I might have recapped yet. The most recent essay describing plot developments should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you not in the playdowns.

Gil Thorp

17 April – 8 July 2017

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp typically runs in seasons, matching the major sports seasons. In April it began the softball-season storyline. This featured two plot threads: transfer student Ryan van Auken, who’s overcome his anger issues and large face to pitch rather well, and Dafne, reporter at the school’s Milford Trumpet, uncovering a school board official padding his expense accounts. Now on to the action.

Ryan pitches pretty well, closing out one win. Guys from the track and field team meet up with girls from Central High, who after some trash-talking their sport get into some light dating. And then action heats up when Dafne gets the anonymous tip to ask why it was Ryan transferred from a private high school to the public Milford.

Dafne: 'Sorry, guys. To me, the only thing more boring than Track is Field.' Track and Field Guy 1: 'Hey ... I resemble that remark!' Track and Field Guy 2: 'Can you believe she trashed our sport to our faces?' Track and Field Guy 1: 'Pretty cold. But give her credit --- it's a funny line!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 28th of April, 2017. While I don’t think it’s a funny line, I agree it’s the sort of line that high schoolers will think is funny, so I give it a pass. I will say the comic does, to me, a credible job in making high schoolers sound like high schoolers. Or at least people who could be high schoolers.

She finds the answer: he hit a girl, during an argument, and by the time the scandal shook out he had to transfer. Her editor is interested, but doesn’t think it’s a story they can run, what with Ryan being a high-profile athlete and his victim only being a girl or something. Well, her editor puts it in a better-sounding way: there’s no police report, there’s no charges, their whole idea of what happened comes from social media gossip at his old high school, and that’s not a lot to hang a story that could trash Ryan’s life on. I’m skeptical of the “won’t someone please think of the star athlete’s career prospects?” line of reasoning. I am open to the argument that it’s not obvious that whatever did happen between two underage people should necessarily be broadcast to the world.

Word of the story leaks out when she leaks the story out to friends who promise not to spread gossip. Protesters start popping up with banners showing the girl he’d hit and signs like “Remember Me?” When this rattles Ryan into completely blowing a game Gil Thorp sighs mightily and decides he has to ask what the heck’s going on and why it should involve him. Ryan’s parents explain: the pictured girl, Alyssa, was Ryan’s girlfriend at the private school. In a fight, according to his parents, Ryan tried to push her out of the way and caught her cheek instead. Ryan admitted he shouldn’t have done that; Alyssa agreed it wasn’t hitting, but by the time the story got around school it was battery.

Ryan Van Auken's parents catch Gil up on their son's troubles at his former school. Auken Mom: 'He and Alyssa were squabbling. He tried to push her out of his way ---' Auken Dad: 'Which he shouldn't have.' Auken Mom: 'And the heel of his hand caught her on the cheekbone.' Auken Dad: 'But he DIDN'T hit her.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of June, 2017. I have never been in a situation anything remotely like Gil Thorp’s here. So how is it that I know exactly the tone of Auken Dad’s voice here? … Also, I note that we the readers only know the story from Auken Dad and Auken Mom’s summary of it here. Ryan doesn’t say anything on-camera, and Alyssa hasn’t appeared in the story except as a picture on a protest sign. So far, anyway.

So, they moved to a new neighborhood, new school, and Ryan went to anger management classes and to counseling. Meanwhile, Dafne argues that the protests make Ryan’s past a legitimate story. When the editor quashes the story, Dafne quits the paper, which is the sort of principled stand I’m sorry I didn’t take when the editor of my middle-school newspaper wouldn’t run my detailed report of the student walkout that year. Well, it was the last month of eighth grade anyway; quitting wouldn’t even have had a symbolic effect. Still …

Student newspaper editor: 'If Ryan hit a girl and there's no police report ... how do you know he hit a girl?' Dafne: 'Social media. I know some people who know some people who go to Kingsbrook. It was big news there last year.' Editor: 'I bet. But does that make it news for us?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 22nd of May, 2017. I do appreciate that Mrs Student Newspaper Editor is asking serious, good questions that teach journalism even as she’s warning Dafne off the story. Dafne may not realize how slender the evidence is for what she knows, and doesn’t seem to have an answer to whether something being salacious (and maybe true) necessarily makes it news.

Anyway, Gil Thorp calls on Central High School’s Coach Skip Farrow to figure out who the protest ringleaders are, and since they’re all seniors they can rest assured the problem will cure itself and Ryan can have at least one trouble-free year. And then he calls the protest leaders to explain that they’re all quite sure Ryan made a mistake and is incredibly sorry about it, which is sure to clear up the whole sorry mess.

Dafne: 'You humiliated my BEST FRIEND so you could get next to ME? I'll tell you what you can GET. Get out of my way!' She shoves Jimmy. In a diner, Dafne consoles Carrie: 'See? I told you Gary Meola was out of my league.' Dafne: 'Trust me: you have that exactly backwards.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of July, 2017. Jimmy comes in later with a black eye and from this panel I don’t really know how he got it. Maybe he really did happen to run into a door like he says and all of this is just coincidence.

Or perhaps dramatic irony will: while hanging out Milford’s Gary Meola admits to Central’s Carrie Hobson that he’s only there so Jimmy can get some time with Dafne. Dafne’s furious that Gary was putting her on, and shoves Jimmy out of the way in order to comfort her best friend. This … somehow … results in Jimmy getting a black eye, which he excuses as “I ran into a door and shut up”. He passes along as many apologies as he can to Dafne and now we understand why the track-and-field guys are even in this story. And that’s about where events rest today.

Next week: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man in its first post-Rocket-Raccoon review.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point as trading spirits were raised by a series of videos of hamsters putting things in their mouths successfully.

209

Me Week: That Big Rainstorm Back in November


I’m still laughing about the end of the Silver Bells In The City parade last November, when it got really wet all of a sudden. Also I’m still drying out. So I wanted to give people another chance to read about it. Also after that I got to see how the event played on TV, and it wasn’t any less wonderful. Plus, hey, my continuing fascination with how it is that somehow calendars work. It seems to me there’s something weird going on there that someone ought to do something about explaining.

And then, here Writing To Be Read, my observations about ways to tailor one’s writing so that it can achieve popularity. Reading over it I realize how little I do to try to be easily read. Meanwhile two years later An Open Letter To, Really, Every Social Media Ever gets to be one of those social-commentary pieces I read while either chuckling or despairing and I’m not sure which. So you’re sure to love it!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell nineteen points as investors were finally convinced that no, that was legitimately a “Crazy Eddie pees his pants” joke made in Hagar the Horrible last week and didn’t there used to be, like, rules about that or something?

262

Things It Is Acceptable To See Trending On Twitter


Instead of city names, especially your city name. Or the name of a beloved celebrity who’s either died or declared that the people complaining about an incredibly racist thing he said are the true racists.

  • Change a word so a title means something else.
  • Fit a pop culture thing into some other pop culture thing and maybe say it’s just like your workplace.
  • Here’s a real word given a fake definition.
  • Assonance Day Of The Week!
  • Making Something More 80s, possibly by adding that crashing-synthesizer-piano sting from Yes’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
  • Dogs are awesome. Look at this one!
  • A sports team has traded a person for something that seems at first odd, like the promise of a future person or the chance to name a dog or perhaps a large bowl of tapioca. Maybe some carpeting. I don’t know. Someone with more characters to explain can explain why this makes perfect sense for everybody involved and two-thirds of the people who aren’t but it’ll still sound odd.
  • Somebody found a stream of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon from 1985 and we can’t stop talking about that because good lord is this episode really titled Ali Bano and the 40 Geeks? Oh, this is gonna hurt.
  • There’s something in space and we know about it!
  • Yeah, dogs are great but look at this bunny! Seriously!

An Open Letter To, Really, Every Social Media Ever


Dear Twitter Master Command,

Hi there. I wasn’t away. That’s the first thing. Also, you keep promising you’re going to show me fewer tweets like that. You need to shore up that wording. Do you mean you’re going to show me fewer tweets that way, as in that form? Where it’s four days after the original post and even the guy who wrote it can’t remember what he was making a sly, snarky comment about? Or do you mean fewer tweets like “the stuff my friends wrote”? I get the feeling you’re promising me that.

Because that’s the hip thing with social media. You all start out with a simple model: you have friends. Your friends post stuff. You read it. Sometimes you post back. Sometimes they post back. Their friends post back. The friends of your friends post. They’re whack jobs. Your friends’ friends keep posting. You come to like people less. You infer that your friend honestly sees no difference in morality or intellect or human decency between these people and you. The fight takes on a new intimacy. After enough of this you go outside, resolved instead to roll down a hill all day. You see a squirrel. That fact reminds you. You go back to answering your friend’s friend. Finally you stumble across an interesting discussion about whether Cringer remembers the experience of being Battle Cat, and vice-versa, and if so how. It has an exhausting pile of citations from the ramshackle He-Man canon. You come away feeling staggered but forgetting what you were angry about. Then you see it again. It’s a simple model and one that might work forever.

Except that’s never enough. If the social media works then it gets famous. And like Ian Shoales explained, once you’re famous for doing something you don’t want to do that anymore. So the media gets fussing around with algorithms and rearrangements of timelines. Instead of showing people what they said they wanted to see, you go and show them something they didn’t say they wanted to see. Maybe something they said they didn’t want to see. It’s a weird business model. Imagine if you were flying to Albany, New York, because you had urgent business there. You had to go to Huck Finn’s Playland and yell at the amusement park for it not still being Hoffmann’s Playland, even though Hoffmann didn’t want the Playland anymore and he was just going to toss it out.

But then the pilot announces that, you know, we’re going to instead fly to Columbus, the world-renowned “Albany, New York, of Ohio”. Would you feel well-served? I guess it depends whether you could find something to berate in the Columbus area. I’m sure there are. There’s at least two creepy houses in the suburb of Worthington, for example. I seem to be making a case for this. Maybe it’s other businesses that are missing out by just giving people what they wanted. (Do not berate the Worthington creepy house the guy lives in. He’s taken enough abuse.)

But what we expect to see, or expect to not see, or who we expect not to get in bitter quarrels with, is beside the point. None of this is what we really want from social media, not even the stuff we know we want to see, like the Animals Wearing Glasses Daily Picture.

What we want is to find something that’s profound and breezy. We want to experience something insightful and whimsical. It should be eye-opening without ever entering unfamiliar intellectual and emotional territory. We want something epic while still being intimate. More, we want to be the sole true confidant of an enormous crowd. We want to say something un-improvable yet tossed off in a heartbeat. We want to go viral while being that single candle that alleviates some one person’s darkness. We want universal truths that still fit snug where we are in life. We want to do something that’s going to get put on millions of t-shirts, and we want to get a cut of each sale. We want to be reblogged by people we watched on TV when we were kids. We want transcendence with a glace at our cell phones. And then we want to hit reload and get another transcendent moment at least as good. Give us that and we’ll hit ‘like’ or ‘fave’ or whatever silly thing you want. We’ll even pretend to look at your advertisements for stuff we’ve never even known anyone who would ever want interspersed with ads for the thing we bought last week on Amazon.

And that’s what social media is all about, Twitter Master Command.

Hoping you will see to and remedy this problem swiftly I remain,

Yours truly,

Sincerely,

I mean it,

@Nebusj

PS: Do it right and we’ll even forgive you suggesting Every. Single. Day. that we follow a person we wouldn’t run over with a forklift exclusively for fear of getting repugnant-person-guts in the forklift’s machinery.

PPS: Obviously Cringer remembers the experiences he has as Battle Cat. The interesting question is whether he remembers it as a thing he, Cringer, does while affecting a character, or whether he remembers Battle Cat as a distinct entity using what is sort-of his body. Please see enclosed citations, omitted for clarity.

Driving With The Comics


And then I noticed this banner at gocomics.com. They’re celebrating National Golf Month. I only saw the banner ad once, and then haven’t seen it since. My assumption is the comic strips are celebrating National Golf Month by just going about their business as usual. If there’s one thing syndicated comic strip artists love, it’s making weeklong stories about how stupidly pointless it is to give kids souvenir trophies for participating in big events. But if there’s another thing they love, it’s making up creepily unnatural names for social media their characters use instead of Facebook and Twitter. But coming up soon after that is telling golf jokes, because deep down syndicated cartoonists think it’s still World War II and they can get in good with their officers by talking a lot about golf, the way the senior officers seem to. And then they get to characters having to do their taxes, even if it’s August and tax forms aren’t due for eight months.

'Happy national golf month - these comics are a hole-in-one!' Featuring a picture of Snoopy golfing, the way he did really quite a lot.
Which nation, by the way? Also which month, since this appeared like the 18th so they either started way late or fairly early.

Me, I just talk about mathematics in the comic strips, and in this case, I analyze one joke about entropy until it falls all apart.

Statistics Saturday: What I Worry Are All The Comments I Ever Write On Every Social Medium


  • Hey, that’s great!
  • Fantastic! Good luck.
  • Oh dear. That’s not right.
  • Criminy. That’s just horrible.
  • I guess I can understand what the person might be thinking, but I still wouldn’t imagine doing that.
  • It’s all right. Take care of yourself.
  • That’s awfully interesting. I’ll have to think about it some more.
  • You know, this reminds me of a movie from the 30s I will now tell you about.
  • Aw, gosh, thanks.
  • I’m stunned to think it could be like that.
  • Um … let me just click ‘like’ then?
  • Oh yeah, I saw that too. Neat, isn’t it?

I’ll try to do better, I promise. (This might be the next one on the list.)

Walking Through Novel-Writing: November’s Last Step


Hi again, folks. I suppose this is the last of the walkthroughs here before National Novel Writing Month ends. I’d like to think people who’ve made it this far in NaNoWriMo without declaring “look, it’s just been busy, all right?” are going to stick around after November’s over. But I know better. Still, hope this’ll be a good sendoff. Let’s see, where had we left last time?

Oh, yeah, protagonists. I’ve left them with the default names so far. That’s not because I like the default names, I just haven’t figured a name that fits them more exactly. When I have one, I just — here, see, you right-click above either’s head and there’s the option for renaming them. There’s first, last, nickname, familiar name, alternate nickname, there you go. If you’re doing fantasy you might want to use the option about True Name that does magic stuff.

Yeah, nobody ever spells out True Names in full, for the obvious reason. You don’t want an eleven-year-old reading the book to try ordering the character to appear. That just spoils the whole illusion that your magic scheme could be real and you don’t want to deal with a kid getting angry at you on social media. You never want to deal with anybody angry at you on social media, but against a kid? Mister Rogers could probably thread that successfully, but he’s been dead a long time. He lived back when tweets were sent by Morse Code to a back room of the local Post Office, where they were ignored.

Now, you see the option here of “no name”? Yeah, don’t use that. Nobody likes books where nobody has a name. The only time you can kind of get away with it is if you’re doing first-person. The logic of that works as long as nobody who’s standing behind your characters needs to get their attention. If you have characters who can sometimes not face each other then you’re stuck. No, it does not count if your character is a detective or spy and gets referred to by profession. Then, like, “Spy” or “Detective” or whatever is their name.

Yeah, there’s novelists who tell you withholding names gives characters a sense of universality. Or it conveys a sense of modern society’s detached atmospheres, or an unsettling air of unreality or whatever. Nobody likes it. You’ll never get to be the subject of a coherent book report if nobody’s got names. You won’t get to be anyway. But that’s no excuse to add another reason you won’t get to be to the ones already there.

Now — oh, good grief, now these guys are flashing back. That’s a mistake. They only just met earlier this story, though, and I don’t want it revealed they used to know each other. Couple fixes for this. First is in the flashback change the name of the secondary lead. Then I can make something out of how the primary lead keeps attracting the same kind of person into his life. You see where that builds a score on thematic resonances and cycles of life stuff. On some settings that also gives you points for deep background.

You can swap deep background points out for fan bonus content, though. Like, here, if I snip out this whole flashback? OK. I put in a line referring to it, and then dump the scene on my book’s web site as bonus content. This way readers can discover this and feel like they’re in on a secret. That’s how social-media networking works. You want to put something out so everybody thinks they’re in on something nobody knows about. An accident like this is perfect. It doesn’t even have to fit logically the rest of the book because it’s an alternate draft. If you do it right any scrap text you can’t use, you can use. It’s a great time for writing.

OK, I suppose that’s about everything important for this step. Before I let you go let me name the Comment of the Week. That goes to ClashOSymbols for his funny dissection of every author-reader interaction on the Internet, everywhere. He’s not getting any less wrong about second-person. But remember what I said about engaging with eleven-year-old readers? That’s explained in great detail under section 4.4. Enjoy and catch someone later, sometime. But when can’t I say that truly?


About The Author: are a couple of pillows, a John McPhee book he’s had to renew from the library already even though he hasn’t started reading it, and several glass vases he’s worried he’s going to knock over if he sits up or back even the teeny-tiniest bit differently from how he’s sat every single time in the past.

2,038 Sentences With Numbers In Them


The Off The Leash blog recently mentioned how one of the top social media tips is using numbers in headlines. I could use some social media top … ish-ness, certainly, and since I’ve got a mathematical background I shouldn’t have any trouble including numbers in things. So here’s some sentences that have a number (2,038) put in them:

  • “This set of lectures and their subsequent study of the mockups and trainers gave the [ Apollo ] astronauts a better feel for the Soyuz flight control systems and onboard displays and the environmental controls for oxygen 2,038 generation, temperature levels, and food, water, and waste management. ”
    — originally from Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell’s The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, NASA SP-4209.
  • “If you think that nobody would know that a girl in the company had 2,038 married a baronet who was a member of parliament and expected to be in the Cabinet in a few years, you’re wronging him!”
    — originally from P G Wodehouse’s Jill The Reckless.
  • “Only the Neptunian’s grasp on the controls had kept the cylinder heading down through those currents, and now, as he leaped 2,038 away from the controls for the moment and drew his tube, those currently immediately seized upon the unguided cylinder and in the next moment had whirled it over and sidewise with immense speed and power!”
    — originally from Edmond Hamilton’s The Universe-Wreckers, as printed in the June 1930 Amazing Stories.
  • “I really tried, but every place I went they 2,038 slammed the door in my face!!”
    — originally from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip of the 26th of May, 1973.
  • “He [ Dutch writer Adrianus Romanus, in his 1593 text Ideae Mathematicae pars prima ] uses this notation in 2,038 writing his famous equation of the forty-fifth degree.”
    — originally from Florian Cajori’s A History Of Mathematical Notation and writing about unknown quantities being raised to powers.
  • “They might just as well have settled that he [ Saint Dunstan ] was a coach-horse, and could just 2,038 as easily have called him one.”
    — originally from Charles Dickens’s A Child’s History of England.
  • “During that beautiful eulogy seen where there about to launch Spock into the stars Kirk says `of all the souls I’ve encountered… this was the most … human‘, is this unintentionally insulting Spock 2,038, because in the series he repeatedly states that he is not human and one point states that he felt insulted by the implication of Doctor McCoy.”
    — originally from a TrekBBS discussion about The Wrath of Khan.

How’d I do?

Checking In At The End Of The Internet


So my brother — not that one, the other brother — was explaining Swarm to me. Also that there’s a thing called Swarm, and that it’s what used to be Foursquare before Foursquare split itself into Foursquare and Swarm. Also, Foursquare split itself into Foursquare and Swarm. Foursquare I understood because my father would use it to check in almost daily at the Tip Tam Campground, a place he never set foot in, and I felt reassured knowing my father was pretending to be somewhere he wasn’t. But now apparently the one thing is two things, one for telling people you’re at the Tip Tam Campground when you’re not, and another for … I guess not telling people you were at the Tip Tam Campground. I don’t know. The more I hear about it, the more I’m looking to have myself declared legally cranky so I don’t have to have an opinion about it anymore.

Anyway, my point is, hi, Dad. Hope the Tip Tam Campground is OK, and I’ll call later to explain how to leave a comment here by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” link.