An Apology In My Dreams


So to the seagull in my dream who was trying to apologize by delivering a fully functional rocket to my backyard: I appreciate the gesture. It’s a most impressive gift. And I do appreciate the work gone in to getting a Saturn I — not a V, not even the more hip I-B but an actual Saturn I as used in flight testing and development from 1961 through 1965. It’s a true connoisseur’s choice of rocket vehicle. Nevertheless, while I’ll accept presents as tokens of reconciliation they are not, by themselves, reconciliation. It is harder to deliver a simple “I’m sorry” from your own beak, but it would mean something that no present ever could, and I promise to accept it with as much grace as possible given our history. And I do thank you for the gesture.

Still, on another level, I can’t see any way to launch the blasted thing from my backyard, what with how the goldfish pond isn’t nearly deep enough a water trench for the necessary sound suppression. Not to mention not being deep enough for the goldfish to come out well afterwards. Plus who’s got a launch gantry in mid-Michigan anyway? I’ve got too much stuff just hanging around to show to accept something that hasn’t got practical use.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders showed a sharp loss of confidence today when they learned that contestants on The Price Is Right are not drawn randomly from the audience but are instead screened while entering to see if they’d probably look good on camera and have a bunch of people cheering specifically for them.

128

Probably Wouldn’t Know What To Do After The End Of The World Anyway


So It was something of an anxiety dream, all the frustrations of running around the house packing our rocket ship with everything we’d need after the end of the world. It’s hard enough getting ready to move, and when you figure you’re going to have to leave stuff behind and never get it back you know there’s going to be no end of double-checking that you have all eight hundred kinds of USB connection. I mean, once the world comes to an end when do you expect to visit a Best Buy again? Plus there’s getting my parents’ cats to behave and not go running into debris piles. And then the tension just ratchets up and up until the moment comes where we launch, escape the end of the world, and then it turns into a road trip to Baltimore. Which is its own kind of hassle because, you know, I’ve been to Baltimore and I’ve never been to the Udvar-Hazy Center and it would be so easy to go there, wouldn’t it? Why can’t we go there instead? But I’m too shy to insist, even in my own dreams, because of course. There’s no justice. I leave behind my camera’s USB cable.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped four points as the start of the post-Valentine’s-Day sales on both shares and on the chocolate shop down on Michigan Avenue. Also, ooh, are they going to get the three-foot-tall chocolate bunny for Easter out soon? Hold on, I’m going to go check myself.

99

Parking Ourselves To Death


I was reading the DC Comics Showcase of Metal Men, a band of 1960s superhero robots who are constantly explaining their premise to each other. Anyway, they take a blind kid from The City on a trip in space, the way superheroes just did in the 60s, and they find an amusement park on an abandoned planet, because again, it was the 60s. You just had Coney Islands on every cosmic body.

Anyway it turns out the Space Amusement Park is completely automated, but its automation accidentally space-glitched and got stuck on “evil” (or to be precise, “Space Evil”) and now all the rides are trying to kill you. They work out this must be what happened to the population: the whole world got killed by an evil Space Amusement Park.

Now, I understand the appeal of an evil amusement park. And even the appeal of one that threatens life and limb, because I grew up in New Jersey and we had Action Park. Everyone in my generation from New Jersey would like to tell you how we narrowly avoided death at Action Park, usually by drowning or smacking into something, sometimes just by bursting into flames after buying a hot dog or getting hit by a meteor while in the parking lot. A tenth of us will tell you how we technically speaking died there.

Thing is, as uproariously reckless as Action Park was, it didn’t come close to killing even North Jersey, never mind the whole world. If Space Coney Island really did kill its whole planet I think the park has only partial responsibility. At some point the local Space Ride-Inspection Space Agencies (“Spagencies”) fell down on the job. Also the Space Newspapers (“Spacepapers”) failed their public when they didn’t report on, like, the first 2.5 billion people killed by a wicked Space Ferris Wheel. I don’t think the Spacepapers would be needlessly spreading Space Panic at that point.

Anyway, the Metal Men escape the killer roller coaster and make it back to Earth, in the process curing the kid’s blindness two times over, because that’s just what the 60s were like. Better living through Space Chemicals.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Another five points down and the trading floor is really sick of this, thank you. They’re ready to jut pack it all in if some good news doesn’t turn up sometime soon. They’re being petty, but just because they all bought at 152, a number they get really angry if you bring up anymore. They also don’t want “148” or even “135” mentioned so it’s all been merry calling out numbers to see what people are willing to put up with. Well, the short sellers are merry but they’re also getting kicked a lot.

101

Some Thoughts Not Keeping Me Awake At Night


I want it clear that I am not being kept awake at night by this thought. I have better things to steal my precious and sorely needed moments of rest from me. But I do have this thought coming. You know how the Voyager spacecraft have some gold-printed records with sounds of Earth, everything from children laughter to greetings from Jimmy Carter to Chuck Berry music, on them? Suppose it is ever picked up by aliens who figure out what the record is and the basics of how to play it. How do we keep them from playing the record backwards?

I know, I know, there’s supposed to be instructions on how to play it that we think aliens clever enough to grab a space probe will be able to work out. But I also know that humans are fantastically sucky at coming up with instructions for things. There’s packages of macaroni and cheese with instructions I find intolerable ambiguities in. Communicating how to set up and play a record to creatures with presumably no understanding of human norms? There’s no chance we’ve gotten that anywhere near right.

And all right, so it won’t be a big problem if a quarter-million years from now some aliens we don’t even know yet hear Chuck Berry backwards. And even if they play the record the right way around we won’t know that they won’t mishear things and come to Earth looking for more Chuck Barris. That’s at least something we get for the bother of being mortals.

Also, you know what? You could use a little Sparks in your life. Enjoy.

Handwriting And How To Cure It


Handwriting was a once-popular way of committing stuff to a written record. For centuries it ranked just ahead of “chiseled into Stonehenge blocks”. But it was slightly behind “made in dry macaroni glued to construction paper” as an informal record-keeping method. It began falling off in popularity with the rise of personal computers, which having risen up to about arm-height were easier to reach. It was lost entirely in 2013 when the new model Glossy Black Rectangle came out.

But handwriting has been lost before. Nothing got written by hand for the two centuries before Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance began when he got people not to stick their hands out the bus window where they might get lopped off. It also got lost during the Age of Exploration, when it was washed overboard near the Bay of Bengal. And in 1943 handwriting was accidentally left in an unlatched briefcase on the Sixth Avenue El train in New York City. Police and FBI agents were able to recover it, except for the cursive capital Q. The War Production Board immediately issued a “Victory Q”, made of chicory and surplus Z’s. This was extremely popular except how nobody liked it. The prewar Q went back into production in 1954, but old-timers still complain that the new version doesn’t taste anything like the old. What does?

To revive handwriting you need only a few things. Other people can do with more, because they lack self-confidence. First you need a hand. Second you need a write to get written by whoever is in control of the hand. Next you need a writing surface. Third you need a writing implement. You can organize these pieces in any order. The trick comes in the final step. Using the writing surface and writing tool use your hand to write whatever it was that’ll be written at the end. Now that you’ve tried put it aside until you’ve got enough emotional distance to review what might have gone wrong. Here are a couple common handwriting problems:

A big old scribble that turns into the Turner Classic Movies logo.
Figure 1. Actually better than my usual notes. It also made me realize the TCM logo would look a little better if it bowed outward the way Cinerama movie screens did.

Wandering Baseline. In this case there’s no attention given to the lower edges of the letters. They’re allowed to just drift up and down and around and over to the living room to watch Turner Classic Movies’s “Underground” non-classic movies. This can be well-handled by a stronger drum beat. If we hadn’t replaced all drummers with percussion machines. The machines have good rhythm but nothing interesting to write about.

Another big old scribble that turns into a lightning bolt and a 'boom!' and 'Zap!'
Figure 2. Every slinky I’ve ever had, day four. Actually I like how the lightning bolt turns out.

Capital G. Under no circumstance should you attempt to write a cursive G. The last person who knew how to make it has been in hiding since 1998, when she met up with the last person who knew how to make a capital Z. If you need either of these letters you should do as on the right and make a little lightning bolt figure. This will add some vital force to your writing. After coming to life it can stomp around the German countryside. Then it makes its way somehow to the Orkey Islands and the North Pole in a framing narrative everybody forgets about. Most of us will not see such impressive results.

It looks like a bunch of vertical squiggles but there's clearly a + and maybe some kind of 'z' in there.
Figure 3. Baseball lost in the tall weeds.

Kerning. Kerning is the act of making sequences of letters kern. They are best kerned when, in the words of grammar maven E B White, “that’s all they ken kern and kan’t kern no more”. This means something.

It looks like every other Gemini capsule, admittedly.
Figure 4. Gemini IX capsule as photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan during his spacewalk.

Gemini IX. Gene Cernan’s physically demanding 1966 “walk around the world” spacewalk was an ambitious project. It was undertaken without the underwater training experience later flights used. The shortage of handholds and grips made the Manned Maneuvering Unit impossible to test. Furthermore his spacesuit visor kept fogging up. This made for a most frustrating expedition. But it was only the second spacewalk the United States had attempted, and only the world’s third ever. One shouldn’t be surprised by the discovery of operational difficulties.

Bunch of waves that tie onto a dog's foot.
Figure 5. Dog recklessly let outside without a collar and identifying tag on.

Spacing. Here the pleasant, uniform spacing of letters breaks up and descends into a sketch that’s a cute little doggy. This disrupts the flow of writing as the reader will want to toss a ball at it, or maybe just think about dogs instead of the world, for which you can’t blame it. This one handles by adding a little doghouse, so the doggy has somewhere to go while the reader works.

Like before only with a cute little doghouse.
Figure 5A. The dog has a house that itself has satellite TV reception so she’s not doing too badly. Still needs a collar.

This is not all of the common handwriting problems. There are three more of them. If you spot any do send a note to Handwriting Master Command, which accepts text messages. They will be happy to explain how it is all someone else’s fault.

Oh Yeah, That’s How To Live Like This


So that Star Trek forum finally came back up and everything’s fine. And in the Original Series subforum I’m now stuck in a pretty vicious squabble over NASA Associate Administrator for Space Transportation System John Yardley’s famous May 1978 memorandum on standards for the naming of space shuttle orbiters, so I can’t wait for the forum to go back down again. I mean it’s like some of these Star Trek fans don’t even understand the concept of primary versus secondary documentation or something. Furrfu.

This Still Seems Like The Hard Way Somehow


So the United Kingdom’s astronaut Tim Peake, currently on the International Space Station (I trust; has anyone checked today? Could you double-check just in case?) recently used a remote-control device to drive a little robot car around a sandpit near London. And he succeeded, too, despite a couple of software glitches. It does seem like sending some from the United Kingdom all the way to space in order to drive a remote-control car in a sandpit near London is going awfully out of the way to get stuff done. But you do have to understand that it’s for good reason: it was to advance the cause of space stuff. Yes, that’s the purpose of all space stuff, but still, it’s nice to see done. Really, the only baffling thing is that it was a remote-control car and not a frighteningly elaborate model train set. Maybe they’re getting around to that.

About This Typeface


This book was typeset in Moins Michael. The typeface was first crafted by a now-unknown craftsman in 1540s Warsaw. We think he was well-liked in his circles at the time. It stayed behind to wait for the first typesetting machine to reach the Polish capital. This made a good laugh since at the time Krakow was the capital of Poland, and they’d had typesetting machines since like the 1470s. Good joke on everyone, wasn’t it?

The typeface was popular with authors who had much to write about fish. The descenders made for rather good hooks that didn’t tend to catch the boring kinds. This is a rare accomplishment for typefaces of the era. Even much later ones such as Caslon are known to attract interest from ugly and unattractively-named fish that we only catch and eat because we’ve already eaten everything else in the sea.

The typeface was implicated in various partisan struggles during the era of the English Civil War, the Protectorate, and the Restoration. Following a well-placed tip it fled London just ahead of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Though safe it did lose some of its less interesting letters, such as tet or cade. Though this would lose it much work in the setting of Phoenician texts, the typeface was now more slender and nimble. It enjoyed a reputation for hussling better and this would serve it well in the times ahead.

Moins Michael held out for a long while against an italic form, claiming that such a space-saving form was beneath its dignity. So it might be, but then you have to explain its blackletter variant. The best we can say for that is it was the 1740s. This explains all, to those who are sympathetic.

A major opportunity for the typeface came about in 1869, when it had a chance to appear in the evacuation-of-Moscow sequences in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s War And Peace. This was thanks to the help of some friends playing a prank, whom the typeface later forgave. One of them was only forgiven in 2010, so don’t go thinking it’s a patsy. It’s just willing to be reasonable when there aren’t any alternatives left.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for it, but you could say that about anyone. But, despite temptation, Moins Michael held on to its investment in selenium stocks an as a result had a nifty latter half of the decade. There were persistent rumors the typeface was bribing comedians to make jokes about electric eye and other photo-sensing technologies so as to boost its stocks. But no allegations were ever proven. And most of the investigators recovered from when they accidentally slugged themselves across the back with crowbars eighteen times.

The typeface returned to Warsaw in 1954, but couldn’t find anyone it still remembered and the restaurants didn’t seem any too good. It was being fussy and wouldn’t even talk to anyone. It apologizes for the wasted trip, saying it now understands how to be a good tourist and more open to promising experiences. Case in point, in its 2006 visit it had nothing but great times and in the suburbs found the “most unbelievable” Thai place in existence. We could not verify the most-ness of its unbelievability before press time.

A noteworthy quirk that many of the typeface’s advocates praise is that Moins Michael has no space. Historically typesetters would use spaces from a compatible font, such as Garamond or Bodoni Extra Spaces. Computer versions of the typeface include a space created by the foundry company. Piracy lawsuits are often settled by the tell-tale differences in the interpolated spaces.

Moins Michael had hopes of being the first Western typeface to orbit on a spacecraft. Though it performed well in all the physical exercises it got cut from the program in favor of a sans serif typeface. That was to save weight. It considered bringing a discrimination lawsuit. But the courts have always been unwelcoming to this sort of complaint, being as so many of their documents are filed in monospace. It asserted to have no hard feelings about the matter, and did buy a flight to the International Space Station for one week in 2002.

This text was set in 14 point. It may appear smaller than that, owing to the typeface’s habit of leaving two or three points in the junk drawer just in case.

Does This Actually Clear Up The Issue?


So Comics Kingdom has been running the Flash Gordon comics from 1961. In these stories, set in the far-distant future world of 1971, life is very different. There’s human colonies on all the good planets of the solar system. And on the moon, a guy’s homemade robot duplicate has swiped a flying saucer and he’s cleaning up on the quiz programs. And that’s not even the stuff I’m making up.

The space parking lot sign warns, 'NO PARKING AFTER MIDNIGHT (EARTH TIME)'
Also, never, ever get your spaceships wet.

So here’s a panel from the strip from Saturday, the 22nd of April, 1961. This ran ten days after Yuri Gagarin’s flight. And now … just … “No Parking After Midnight (Earth Time)”. Does the qualifier “(EARTH TIME)” simplify matters any? And if so, how?

Some guys in a flying saucer are amused by a robot who's cleaning up on the quiz programs.
Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon for the 22nd of April, 1961. It’s uncanny how perfectly they foresaw 1971.

If that’s not enough to think over, well, why not look over some mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog? Also why not read the Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z glossary that I’ve been building? I’ve gotten to write about stuff I sometimes even understand.

I Am Certified As Breathing


I had a little medical test recently. It wasn’t anything big. I don’t have any big medical issues. To date the only medical emergency in my life was when I was a toddler and managed to hoist a spare tire enough that it could roll over and break my pinky toe. That might raise the question of how a toddler could hoist a spare tire, let alone move it enough to hurt anybody.

But parents know that toddlers have supernatural abilities to move things they’re not supposed to. Look away from an eighteen-month-old for ten minutes and there’s a fair chance they’ll have tipped the detached garage over onto their cousin. NASA’s original plans for the Mobile Launcher Platform that rolled Saturn V moon rockets to the launch pad for it to be dragged by a pair of 24-month-olds who’d be told they were “over-tired” but that the rockets had “Halloween inside”. The toddlers were replaced with pairs of 2,750-horsepower diesel engines only when the necessary launch windows implied rolling out to the launchpad in the late morning, when even kids wouldn’t buy the over-tired line. And yet there was still thinking as late as 1968 that they could keep some kids in artificially lit caves so they wouldn’t know they could not be “over-tired” at 10:35 am. Even so one rogue 16-month-old made off with the SA-500F structural facilities test article rocket and it hasn’t been seen to this day.

So past that exceedingly minor emergency room visit I’ve had a boring medical history. That combination stomach flu and back pain a couple months ago was my biggest health news in decades. But I did decide finally to talk with my doctor about an ongoing little issue. I’ve had this nagging cough for a long while. I’ve had it so long I don’t really notice it. But my love did, and pointed out that when I get up I’ll get into these coughing fits that last for up to twelve hours and that get loud enough to rattle fur off our pet rabbit. In my defense, our pet rabbit sheds a lot of fur and I’m not sure we could attribute any particular cloud of fur to any stimulus.

I saw the wisdom in asking about it, though, and the doctor thought it conceivable I might have a mild asthma. It’s also possible I just have too much postnasal drip. Or it might be that I kind of want attention, but without saying things or interacting with people. Coughing a lot is a way to get public acclaim without having to actually feel anything for other people. It’s not so acclaimed as it was in the days of vaudeville, when you could have professional coughers, and I’m not even sure I’m making that up. I know there were sneeze artists on the vaudeville circuit and that totally happened. One was even in one of those Gold Diggers Of Year Here movies. Probably someone held audiences spellbound with their coughing prowess.

Scheduling my appointment got a little weird, since the original appointment last month got cancelled when someone (not me) drove his car repeatedly into the entrance of the medical center. The local news speculated he was angry with the medical center for some reason, and I suspect they’re right. But I admit I haven’t heard his side. He might insist they were the ones running their medical center into his car over and over. I wouldn’t argue, not while his car’s still running. My pinky toe’s still recovering.

The breathing test was done by breathing into this gadget about the size and shape and color of an off-brand Commodore 64 disc drive. They’d hooked up a rubber mouthpiece to it, so I’m sure they didn’t really just recycle my old Excelsior 2000 for this. The guy running the test did ask if I’d ever smoked, which I haven’t, or if I’d been exposed to second-hand smoke, which is a silly question. He could see on my form that I was born in the 70s. Back then you walked through clouds of smoke in every restaurant, office, movie theater, library, microchip-manufacturing clean room, Apollo space capsule, and anywhere within 25 feet of any street or highway. Also we used blocks of lead dissolved in benzene for automobile fuels.

But while the results haven’t been fully analyzed and the doctor hasn’t made his report yet, the first impression was that my breathing looks good. My breathing results were close to expectations. And they were very repeatable except for the time I coughed mid-test. I don’t expect mild asthma to have been the problem. Maybe I am just needy.

A Follow-Up Note To My Seven-Year-Old Self, Who Still Doesn’t Believe It’s Me


But before I get to the update, my mathematics blog had another Reading the Comics post, and I get to talk a lot about reciprocals. Trust me, this is thrilling if you go in willing to be thrilled.


So, seven-year-old me: We finished the pie. I ate the last piece of pecan right out of the tin plate. Also there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out sometime this month although I’m not really sure what weekend it is. That’s all right, you’re going to love the first when you see it at Eddie Glazier’s house. It’s going to be a lot better than Far-Out Space Nuts, because in Star Wars movies they make up all their spaceships. They don’t use an Apollo Lunar Module. So you don’t have to be bothered by all the ways Far-Out Space Nuts depicts the Lunar Module doing things it couldn’t do, like reentering through an Earth-like atmosphere and taking off again with the descent stage attached. I really should work out what weekend the new Star Wars movie comes out but I’ve been busy is all.

Bob and Ray: They Went To Venus, You Know


A lot of life is hanging out without anything particular going on. That’s generally omitted in dramas, of course. Just hanging out might establish the tone of normality before the Crisis comes in and disrupts things. Even comedies don’t much depict “nothing particular going on”; even genial hangout comedy usually gets some possibly slender activity going on. If nothing really is going on, you’re either watching Waiting For Godot or in the parts of a paranoia-suspense thriller where “nothing to talk about” becomes sinister.

One of the running Bob and Ray characters was Lawrence Fechtenberg, Interstellar Officer Candidate. Here you know the genre of show they’re spoofing. What might startle is how precisely they parody the tone and the production of the radio version of space-cadet and space-captain programs. (I’m still stunned by one show that briefly stranded the cast on Saturn, the solar system’s junkyard world.) Science fiction, or space opera, or similar shows are even less prone to showing the “nothing particular going on” than regular shows are. Futurama has a few episodes like that, but mostly even they had stories to get to.

Lawrence Fechtenberg, though, he had a lot of time fumbling around without getting to anything particular. If the tension created by mixing the signals of high drama and the fact of incredible slightness amuses you, then his holding forth on the topic of “what the food was like on Venus” will just keep getting more maddeningly funny.
I’m attempting again to embed it, but if that doesn’t work, just download the MP3 file. This is tagged as “600330LawrenceFechtenbergInterstellar” on archive.org.

That’s the center piece, yes, though not the whole of this 15-minute show. Most of the last five minutes is spend attempting to get a report from Washington. Like many Bob and Ray pieces, the central observation here is that it’s really hard to do anything quite exactly right. We all fumble about at our jobs, whether radio journalists or space navy officer candidates or meteorologists. These are universal moments that few people pay attention to.

Statistics Saturday: An Incomplete List Of People Who Were All Alive At The Same Time


  • Adolphe Sax
  • Albert Einstein
  • Alexander Woollcott
  • Thomas Henry Huxley
  • “Typhoid” Mary Mallon
  • Francis X Bushman
  • Alfred Nobel
  • Arthur Schesinger Sr
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • Casey Jones
  • Chester W Nimitz
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Conrad Hilton
  • Dwight David Eisenhower
  • Walt Whitman
  • Edward Everett Horton
  • Edwin Hubble
  • Elihu Root
  • Adolphe Menjou
  • Erle Stanley Gardner
  • Susan B Anthony
  • T E Lawrence
  • Ford Madox Ford
  • Franz Kafka
  • Garret A Hobert
  • Jules Verne
  • Avery Brundage
  • Georg Cantor
  • Grover Cleveland Alexander
  • Samuel Gompers
  • Gustav Klimt
  • Harpo Marx
  • Helena Blavatsky
  • Henry “Hap” Arnold
  • Herman Melville
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Joel Chandler Harris
  • Horatio Alger Jr
  • Willis O’Brien
  • Alexandre Dumas, fils
  • Irving Berlin
  • Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom
  • Jay Gould
  • Paul Reuter
  • Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II
  • Lady Olave Baden-Powell
  • John Maynard Keynes
  • Otto von Bismarck
  • Louis Vuitton
  • L Frank Baum
  • Frank Morgan
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Matthew Brady
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • George Washington Ferris, Jr
  • Maurice Chevalier
  • Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia
  • P T Barnum
  • Neville Chamberlain
  • Louis Pasteur
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Robert Benchley
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Rutherford B Hayes
  • Thomas Edison
  • Upton Sinclair
  • Walter Gropius
  • William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Winsor McCay

Popeye: Rocket To Mars


Previously:


I mentioned last week that “Popeye, The Ace Of Space” was a partial remake of an earlier, 1946, Popeye cartoon. So why not show that cartoon? Here’s “Rocket To Mars”.

It’s closer to “The Ace Of Space” than I had remembered, although I would say it’s also superior in most regards. Some of that is surely the sound design. After a functional opening, and a couple of the Looking at Heavenly Bodies jokes you’d expect from that era, “Rocket To Mars” features bombastic music, with a driving, well, martial beat that gives real power to the scenes of Mars, Ready For War. And Bluto as the Emperor of Mars gets a deep reverberating voice that fits nicely the slight redesign that makes him tall enough to really tower over Popeye.

This cartoon has, to me, a real sense of menace behind it, and I wonder if that reflects it being made so near World War II. The cartoon was released in August 1946, but production was surely in production before V-J Day (it’s obscured in this cut, but the scene of Popeye spotting an 8-Ball in the sky originally featured a Japanese man ducking out from behind it; I understand having the scene during the war but it’s still surprising to me they bothered filming it after the Occupation began), and the slow multiplanar pans across fields of war plants feels informed by having living experience with a monstrously large war. For that matter, Jack Mercer, the normal voice of Popeye, only does the voice work for part of this cartoon; Mercer was drafted.

And I like the amusement park that Mars gets turned into, as the result of what seems like an earlier-than-average Eating Of The Spinach. It’s a shame that the premise of sending Popeye to Mars precludes giving the new place its obvious name: Luna Park.

Popeye, The Ace Of Space


Previously:


One of the 1960s King Features Popeye cartoons I was thinking about including in my review of the various studios’ efforts was a Larry Harmon-produced one titled Ace Of Space. I could find it online, but at a strangely distorted aspect ratio, the sort of thing that makes you wonder if people don’t know how to set their TVs to the right display settings.

The curious thing is that the same title was used for a 1953 cartoon. This cartoon has the same starting gimmick as its 1960 namesake, Popeye getting abducted by a flying saucer and fending off the aliens (a robot, that time); the 1960 version sees Olive Oyl brought along for the ride, though not to much good story purpose.

The 1953 Ace Of Space is a rather famous Popeye cartoon, as it was the series’s venture into 3-D cartooning. That was a fad as short-lived as 3-D movies in the 50s were, but it yielded an entry or two from all the major studios in which, well, they figured out a way to make the studio’s logo three-dimensional and then maybe did one scene with a panning background and that was about it. Famous Studios was not an exception; besides a scene of a Martian being thrown at the camera you’d probably never get a hint this was meant to be seen with 3-D glasses on.

In some ways this is about the last Popeye cartoon for which Famous Studios was really trying; the cartoons they made after this tend to be dull, remakes, clip shows, or blends of these. The artwork’s solid, the story moves along well, and if I’m not overlooking a case this is one is tied for the record of Popeye’s spinach consumption. Even so there’s hints of how the studio was slumping towards irrelevancy: the story draws a lot from the 1946 Rocket To Mars, which starts with a more extremely warlike Mars that gets punched by Popeye into a giant amusement park. The extremes here are watered down versions of those, as if the studio was afraid that the premise of “Popeye in space” demanded too much imagination.

But they’re still trying, and the cartoon’s drama shook me as a child, and still does (particularly, the Atom Apple Smasher scene). As a kid, I also didn’t understand the logic of how Popeye got out of the disintegrator ray aftermath; as an adult, now, I still think the cartoonists didn’t have a good idea themselves. Or they don’t know the difference between disintegration and invisibility, somehow. I’m just saying I see plot holes in this cartoon is all.

Statistics Saturday: Battle of the Network Starship Captains


Actor Starship Captain In Number Of Times Was A Battle of the Network Stars Team Captain
William Shatner Star Trek 4
Richard Benjamin Quark 1
Greg Evigan Babylon 5, if you’ve mistaken Greg Evigan for Michael O’Hare 1
Mark Harmon From The Earth To The Moon (1998), if you count Apollo 7 as a “starship” since he played Wally Schirra 1
Patrick Stewart Star Trek: The Next Generation 0
Avery Brooks Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 0
Kate Mulgrew Star Trek: Voyager 0
Scott Bakula Star Trek: Enterprise 0

I know what you’re all thinking: What about Telly Savalas, two-time captain for CBS and cohost of the November 1977 Battle? And I’m sorry, as while he did once portray Magmar, the leader of the evil faction of Rock Lords on the planet Quartex, Magmar was never properly speaking in control of a spaceship of any kind, much less a starship, so far as I can tell from reading the Wikipedia description of the plot of GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords, and thus does not qualify for this count.

Farmer Al Falfa: Magic Boots


For today I’d like to continue the Terry Toons theme that’s been going on around these parts with the 1922 short “Magic Boots”. This is another good example of the kind of loose and improvisational style that was so common in cartoons before sound. The action starts with some mice dancing, and turns to a bunch of cats, then cats at sea, then wearer-less boots marching around, and then before you know it things have reached Saturn and the Moon and … well, despite a weak ending that as far as I can tell isn’t set up at all, there’s steadily something interesting and weird going on. Do enjoy, please.

As good as 777,000 misses


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

A Labor of Like

As good as 777,000 misses

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

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

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

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

Since the asteroid is invisible, astronomers could not…

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Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know


The 1994 pinball game _Popeye Saves The Earth_, as photographed by Allen Shope at the Internet Pinball Database.

Popeye Saves The Earth was a pretty mediocre 1994 pinball game designed by Python Anghelo, the famous game designer behind Joust, one of the leading early 80s video games about bludgeoning people with ostriches. Recently I acquired a document purporting to be Anghelo’s proposed theme for this pinball through the elaborate process of looking up the game on the Pinball database. It’s a mere nine-page document and yet it’s the most wonderfully deranged Popeye-related thing I’ve seen in weeks. I recommend you read the whole thing, so let me share the good parts, so you can go on to be disappointed.

Anghelo observes that based on King Features’ strips it “became very obvious to me that Popeye The Sailor has not kept up with the times”. This is true. After a long and successful run, Popeye left pop culture after 1985, when creation of the Fox Network meant there weren’t independent TV stations running two-hour cartoon blocks of his work anymore, and he hasn’t been let back in since. How does Anghelo set up a new adventure for the sailor man?

He sets Popeye as 50, comfortable and bored, watching “the Simpsons, reruns of the Flintstones”, even Mickey Mouse, as we all did in the early 90s, but “consuming too much spinach brew”. Olive Oyl is his “still faithful wife”, tending one of the world’s largest seashell collections, and Swee’Pea is in his early 30s, having retired as a Navy pilot and facing the tough job market by considering a degree in astrophysics, which has always been a license to print money. Bluto’s now an oil tycoon, despite a recent oil spill, and “The Sea Hag runs and owns a Japanese/Norwegian fishing fleet that kills whales [and] porpoises”. I kind of appreciate a multinational just being open about it. I imagine its Chief Financial Officer appearing on CNBC — no Indiegogo for an outfit this organized — to say, “Hi. I’m Jeanene Evil. Give us money and we will kill whales.”

Anyway, Popeye goes fishing and finds nothing but plastic bags, tires, styrofoam cups and all that. Olive, seashell-hunting, gets gobs of tar from Bluto’s oil spill all over her feet, tangled in a drift net, and “stung by a discarded syringe that washed up on the beach”, because if you’re playing pinball, it’s because you want to see a tarballed, net-stuck Olive Oyl jabbed by a discarded syringe. Popeye heads to the United States for some answers, and finds pollution in New York harbor, a devastated shrimping industry in New Orleans, and depleted tuna stocks in Los Angeles, and sees Jacques Cousteau, Diane Fosse, Carl Sagan, Peter Moyers, and Greenpeace calling for a stop to the insanity, so, he calls in some favors from Vice-President Al Gore, sells the rights to show Popeye cartoons in 1994 for enough scratch to buy Howard Hughes’s Glomar Explorer (“the biggest ship on Earth”), and mounts it atop eight shuttle boosters as Popeye’s Ark 2000. I should warn you, from here the proposed backstory for this pinball game gets a little nutty.

So Popeye goes to all the continents, gathering, for example, from North America two buffalos, two bald eagles, two chipmunks, two manatees, “and the last 2 condors in existence”, which makes him sound like kind of a jerk, because we might need those chipmunks. Somehow, Popeye’s plan to launch chipmunks into outer space on the Glomar Explorer is “heavily ridiculed”, but Popeye answers everyone’s doubts “in an extraordinary two-hour telecast underwritten by Texas billionaire Ross Perot”, because the one thing that absolutely shuts down widespread ridicule of an insane plan is the timely intervention of any billionaire Texan. Also they blast off right away.

Popeye “heads for Saturn — the biggest planet in the solar system, and enters its orbit to use as a sling out of the solar system”, which suggests that despite his game-design prowess Anghelo had only a layman’s understanding of orbital dynamics and couldn’t develop it into something realistic. That or maybe Jupiter was stolen by a space chipmunk? I don’t know.

As the good Professor Holkus-Polkus warned Popeye “over Spinach Schnopps”, out past Pluto the Ark enters a “terrible river of space storms … a spatial gulfstream of whitewater rivers that flow between solar systems and galaxies”, so soon, Popeye’s Ark “travels in one week to places that comets and pulsars travel in 100 billion light years”, which is pretty good for the Glomar Explorer weighted down by manatees and chipmunks.

On the 99th planet they set down, in one of the ten seas, to discover the planet stinks. The leader has “three eyes, a huge mouth, and no nose. Popeye notices no one has noses, or a sense of smell! The planet is Odorsphera”, and as people who have noses and visit Odorsphera suffer and die “from unknown causes”, the inhabitants helpfully kill them first. Rather than have his nose chopped off Popeye relaunches into space, with a pair of three-eyed tarantulas as a gift.

From here Anghelo’s proposal gets a little sketchy, suggesting the exact play of this pinball game hadn’t quite been worked out. On the next planet, the King is spotted on the front, striped on the back, and everyone is either spotted or striped, while Popeye and his crew are neither and so feel the eye of striped/spotted-on-plain prejudice. “Next planet — red planet — everything red”, which tries to bridge the gap between innovative pinball design and haiku.

Next, at the top of page eight, comes a paragraph I must quote in its entirety:

Alternative planet — unisex — gay — do not want pairs of heterosexuals. Jeremy, explore this one.

I do not know what Jeremy discovered. I imagine that if I were Jeremy, my report on exploring this one would have been, “We’re trying to design a pinball game based on Popeye”, with maybe a mention that Popeye’s traditional strengths have been more in the fields of “sailing” and “eating spinach” and “punching things” and less in “chipmunk-bearing spaceflights to Unisex Gay World”.

Other planets include Canibalia, where animals are extinct and higher mental beings use lower mental beings as servants and protein; one with a “high society of animals — eagles” that don’t allow people; “no water planet, 3 moon planet, female planet, planet with 2 suns — never nighttime” and the admonition, “Jeremy, go crazy with these”. Were I Jeremy, my response would be: “Go?”

Anghelo’s proposed pinball narrative goes on to note Popeye’s been travelling too long, the animals are multiplying, the ship needs repair and, oh, yes, “Somehow incorporate Bluto and Sea Hag in the ship’s adventures”.

So, the game would have Popeye “leave the cosmic river and return on a cosmic shortcut through the Pavronian system of interstellar gaseous storms” back to Earth, a polluted, oily, cloudy Odorsphera-like planet with no animals and widespread death, disease, and cannibalism among surviving humanity, which really captures the heart of both Popeye and pinball. The animals are released back into their natural habitats, where they had been taken from before all their species were extinct in the wild, “and there is great joy!”, naturally.

I admit this is staggering, and I can even kind of see where elements of this might have made it into the final produced machine, which folks managed to play nearly two-thirds of a game on before finding it was too dull to continue. But it’s also impressively wild, and I have to wonder what the backstory is like for his other games, specifically, Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Ball.

Also, somewhere in the multiverse, someone — I’m thinking maybe even Jeff Wayne — has turned this outline into a prog-rock opera, and I’d like to see the album art Roger Dean made for it.

The Record Offensive


I’ve been reading Kenneth Bilby’s biography of David Sarnoff, the pioneer in organizing multinational corporations to enthusiastically crush inventors who foolishly develop critical radio and television technologies, and came across one of those passages in Chapter 7 (“Chapter Seven”) that just captivates a mind like mine:

The tools that [ Sarnoff ] proposed for winning [ the Cold War ] were electronic, to be made available at cost by American manufacturing concerns, led by RCA. Tiny record players, costing less than $1 to manufacture, would be parachuted in clusters inside Russia along with small vinyl records. The recorded messages in Russian would tell the populace that America was their friend and call upon them to overthrow their Marxist masters. [ … ] The idea of parachuted phonographs was dropped as too hazardous, and thus possibly counterproductive.

Imagine the world if come the late 50s RCA had cranked out millions of cheap record players that were parachute-dropped into the Soviet Union, carrying messages of friendship and goodwill and apologies for any record players that hit someone on the head as they landed, which would probably be the counterproductive part. “We love you,” I can picture the recording of President Eisenhower saying, “Sorry about the bumps on the head! Overthrow your masters!” Well, maybe that doesn’t exactly capture Eisenhower’s voice, since he was born in Kansas or something in the late 19th century, where they only used exclamation points for weirdly passionate arguments about silver coinage. So imagine something with those sentiments, then, but expressed using his own punctuation.

Of course, on top of the counterproductivity of bonking Russians on the head with record players of love and rebellion there’s also the potential for retaliation. Surely something fewer than two billion record players could be dropped onto Moscow before the Soviets would decide it’s time to retaliate, and they’d start whipping up their own record players for dropping into Western Europe, increasing the rate of head injury from the Oder to the English Channel, and maybe a bit farther, if the winds are up to it. By 1962 West and East Germany could be covered hip-deep in one-dollar record players, and traffic in anything smaller than a bulldozer would be impossible.

Since by this point it’d be clear the record-player-drop wasn’t working the only thing to do would be to step it up, with even more record players and far more discs plummeting onto the East European Plain when the Central Siberian Plateau turend out to be too hard to find. The President couldn’t possibly have time to record all the messages, and probably wouldn’t even review them after a couple dozen times. The record-makers would start slipping in popular music, comedians, maybe read some stuff from the newspaper they thought was neat and the only people to suspect would be the actual Russians, who, if they understand English, would naturally wonder why the United States was going to all this effort to read them Charles Henry Goren’s columns about playing bridge, or why anyone plays bridge.

To achieve better market saturation bombers would give way to rockets, and by the mid-1960s the Soviets and the Americans would have hundreds of Intercontinental Ballistic Muzak weapons, ready on a moment’s notice to shower the population with enough Ferrante and Teicher to background the world with music twelve times over. The contest would leap inevitably to space, where the first long-playing rockets threaten to light up the entire ionosphere with an inescapable mass of Mexicali Singers, at what risk to the ozone layer we can only imagine. (And none of this even considers how the Non-Aligned Movement might react to a blanketing of Vaughn Meader.) The first men on the Moon could well look back to Earth and remark how from that distance there are no 45’s, no 33 1/3’s, no 78’s, just a universal matrix message of brotherhood.

So aren’t you captivated by this? And yet the real world decided this was maybe one Cold War scheme too many. But that’s probably just as well. If we were making record players for a dollar to parachute onto unsuspecting people, how much would we be spending on the parachutes? I grant a cheap parachute isn’t necessarily a bad one, but, would you want to take that risk?