After Kind Of Watching The First 45 Minutes Of Moonraker


So, like, after the events of the movie there had to be some investigations about how the Drax Corporation got the contract to build space shuttles, right? Like, there’d be some 70s Congressional Hearing, on TV, with people’s names identified in little white Helvetica chyrons. And you’d have the Deputy Director of Manned Space Flight or Whatever explaining, “Yes, well, the Drax Corporation’s project to eliminate all life on earth we rated as a task separate to and not reflecting on their ability to build or operate space shuttles. Our selection guidelines, as published by law in the Federal Register and I can provide you with the exact page reference, placed more weight on their operational ability. And every selection committee member gave them the highest possible marks for their task-management and organization computer-interface-system. Furthermore, their estimate for the first four years of annual operations management costs was only $17,250 above the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate. For all four years combined, that is. That alone was so dramatically better than Boeing, North American Rockwell, or Grumman’s proposals as to decide the matter. In any case we will in future requests for proposals include `not deliberately trying to provoke global extinction’ as soon as the NASA Office of General Counsel finishes advising us on the wording.”

So I’m not saying that that should have been the sequel, but I’d kind of like to know how the whole scandal played out is all.

Everything There Is To Say About Eclipses


Eclipses are an amazing phenomenon. There’s almost nothing else that can unite so much of the planet with an overcast day. Eclipses happen pretty near any time something gets in the way of something else. The Moon gets in the way of the Sun. The Earth gets in the way of the Moon. Jupiter gets in the way of Venus. Venus emits a elaborate string of subtweets. Triton, misunderstanding, gets hopping mad. The Trojan asteroids, who find angry Triton the funnies Triton, stir things up. Before you know it there’s a rain of meteors being sent every which way. This is why we try not to have Jupiter eclipse Venus anymore. We’ll just stick with the two biggest eclipses, solar and lunar. People wanting more exotic stuff can fundraise for it themselves.

A solar eclipse is when the Moon gets between the Earth and the Sun. This means that large portions of the Earth aren’t being pushed away from the sun by the pressure of sunlight anymore. However, the Sun’s gravity remains exactly the same. This means that the surface of the Earth underneath the eclipse drops towards the Sun more than it usually does. This is usually not a problem. If it starts to be one, we take care of it using leap seconds. During a leap second everyone on the affected hemisphere is supposed to get up on top of their tallest chair and leap to the ground simultaneously. Shame on you if you haven’t been doing your part. You can make up for it during a skip minute. These are rare than leap seconds, but run longer, and involve more skipping.

Each year the Earth experiences at least two but not more than 110,575 solar eclipses. You’d think we could narrow that range down a little. It’s hard. There’s a lot of mathematics involved figuring out eclipses. Be kind to the eclipses. It’s not like eclipses are the only things in our life trying to understand what they’re doing.

Still, there are only a finite number of eclipses each calendar year. Use them wisely. Any given spot on Earth can expect to see only one-370th of an eclipse per year, too. This explains those weird moments when it’s the middle of a bright day, then it gets dark a second, and then it’s bright again. No, different from how it looks when you blink. This is more when it looks like you’re worried someone went and broke the sun again.

This highlights one of the major uses of eclipses. During the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project back in 1975 the astronauts and cosmonauts and testtronauts actually created an artificial solar eclipse. They used this to switch out the Sun with a new fluorescent-based lighting fixture. It promised to save incredible amounts of energy, important during the oil shortages of that decade. So much so that it was even worth leaving the Sun on all night. But there were problems, of course. For one, people insisted they heard this irritating buzzing. And this even from people who insist they can hear it when old-style computer monitors are turned on, even when you know the computer monitor was turned off.

The more serious problem is what it did to colors. With the alternate light spectrum, you had to change the way you did colors, and that’s why the late 70s looked like that. We were doing our best under weird circumstances, which again, you are too. But the original Sun, which had been put back in its wrapper and was in great shape after some time off, was replaced during the STS-9 space shuttle mission. People got their first look at what colors they had been using the past eight years and there was a lot of screaming. Again, different from how we’re screaming these days. And anyway then we went on to produce the fashions of the mid-80s anyway.

There are no plans to tinker with the Sun during any of this year’s solar eclipses. But do remember, one of the other major uses of solar eclipses is by desperately unprepared time-travellers who hope to set themselves up as wizards or gods to unsuspecting peoples. If you spot anyone promising to make the Sun go away if their friend isn’t released soon, be wary! They might not return the Sun and we’re still using it sometimes.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo Missions By Length


  1. Apollo Six (no crew)
  2. Apollo Ten
  3. Apollo Four (no crew)
  4. Apollo Five (no crew)
  5. Apollo Nine
  6. Apollo Seven
  7. Apollo Eight
  8. Apollo Eleven
  9. Apollo Twelve
  10. Apollo Fifteen
  11. Apollo Sixteen (yes crew)
  12. Apollo Thirteen
  13. Apollo Fourteen
  14. Apollo Seventeen
  15. Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Not listed: Skylab 1, Skylab 2/1, 3/2, or 4/3, as those were generally regarded as Skylab rather than Apollo missions.

Reference: Tudor Historical Thought, F J Levy.

What I Mean By Space Nudity


I have already received a number of queries about what I mean by “space nudity” as mentioned in yesterday’s essay. By “space nudity” I mean such nudity as you might encounter, develop, or learn from adventures in space. I had mistaken the term for one being in such common use as to need no further explanation. It turns out to be a term of art within the nude industry, and I should have been more careful with its use. I apologize for the confusion.

Some Astounding Little-Known Facts About Apollo 11


Most of us know three or even four astounding facts about Apollo 11. And yet these do not exhaust the subject. There are over twelve different things about this legendary space mission. Let’s review some of them.

Did you know, for example, that Apollo 11 had the first automatic dishwashing machine brought into lunar orbit? The Westinghouse corporation was proud to make the cramped Command Module at least as livable as an efficiency apartment is. Unfortunately the system failed shortly before the first midcourse correction burn. This was after breakfast but before full testing. Still, we owe the development of dishwashing gel packs to NASA’s need not to have powder floating all over the cabin. Thanks, Moon landing!

Many of us think of the poignancy of Michael Collins, remaining alone in lunar orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface. But do you ever consider poor Ronald Evans, who had to remain in earth orbit on the S-II stage while the rest of the crew went on to lunar orbit? Do you remember Ken Mattingly, who had to stay behind on the launch pad while everyone else from the mission went on to earth orbit? And that just because he wasn’t willing to split the tolls. And then there’s poor William Pogue, who had to stay behind in the room where they put all their spacesuits on, because he misunderstood the question. He felt awful about that for years. He can’t even remember what he thought they were asking at the time. “What could it have been, besides `do you want to come to the moon with us?’ he said, in the 1974 debriefing. `Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid’.” Well, live and learn.

The date for the landing was not settled until late in mission planning. The later the landing, after all, the more chance to train, although the less time to launch another mission in case something went wrong. All they knew was it had to launch before the 31st of December, 1969. And for that there was a heated debate about whether that meant Washington, DC, time or Houston time. “What if we need that extra hour,” was the point of contention. Anyway the date was set in May of 1969 when someone pointed out they had already inscribed on the plaque that men first set foot on the moon in July 1969. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that settle the hardest questions.

Do you know what held the crew and some people exposed to lunar dust for three weeks after the end of the flight? It was the Mobile Quarantine Facility. And it’s still out there. It’s still roving, too, and no one can stop it. If you encounter it, know that you are not in specific peril. But you aren’t going to have any in-person encounters for 21 days except for whoever else it’s caught. The facility got Wi-Fi in 2004, but it’s not good enough to stream HD video.

Not a single one of the crew returned from space transmogrified in any way. Granted, nobody seriously expected major changes. Like, someone coming back as a cool gelatinous blob. Something. There could be some cool field of strange energy. They could pass through and grow these cool retractable antennas. Maybe eyes some weird, brand-new color like neopurple or techneteal. I know what you’re thinking and no. We know they weren’t a weird color only while they were in space and we were watching in black-and-white. They were checking.

Also a disappointment: while, again, nobody was seriously expecting it? A lot of people hoped the astronauts would make contact with some incredible species of, they don’t know, magic otter aliens. Beings with technology and concepts of space nudity as much as five centuries ahead of anything known to Earth science and pants. No good, though. Despite the breakthroughs of the early 70s we still just have taking off clothes.

It’s true that the Lunar Module touched down with less than a minute of fuel remaining. They avoided this problem on following missions by launching them a minute later. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of that sooner,” said Buzz Aldrin in the 1989 debriefing. “But, hindsight, you know?”

While Apollo 11 was seen as quite the big deal at the time, the opinion of space historians has changed. While it’s still seen as important, that’s less for what it was by itself. Most in-the-know now see Apollo 11’s real legacy being its service as full dress rehearsal for the legendary Apollo 12 mission. So we’ll come back in November and do this again.

Everything There Is To Say In Explaining How Computer Graphics Work


This office has received a number of letters asking it to explain computer graphics. “What about computer graphics,” they’ll say. “Explain yourself, if you are a computer graphics. If you are not a computer graphics, then why or why not?” It’s a bit stressful. I had thought we were to take a multiple choice question. “But,” reads one follow-up letter, “an essay answer is a multiple choice; there are just a Borgesian infinitude of possible answers.” Who among us would dispute this charge?

The first images produced by computers were by our standards low-resolution affairs. The earliest known images used the technologies of old-time radio, or as they knew it in the old times, “time radio”. In this the computer would just describe what the image should be, trusting to the “theatre of the mind” to fill in the details. “It’s a calendar for February 1949, but with Snoopy beside it,” would come the voice from the warm glowing hearth of a Harvard Mk II. The listener could fill in all the perfect little details of which days of the week were in February, and which Februaries were in 1949, and what this Snoopy fellow was all about. It extended naturally to more serious applications. “Here’s a wireframe cube rotating as if it were three-dimensional,” UNIVAC famously reported on Election Night, 1952. It was so plausible that critics came to ask whether the demonstration was rigged. It was not, precisely, but UNIVAC was warned ahead of time that the topic of shapes in dimensions would come up.

The first digital images were formed by taking photographs of the pointer fingers of the lead programmers and aiming them in different directions. This finger was chosen for the ease of indexing. It was a great format for pictures of fingers. It was also decent, if you had a big enough screen, to make for pictures of strange-colored grasses. Maybe the fur of some animal that had a lot of jointed fur with the occasional fingernail. So resolution was a bit of a problem.

Everyone understood this to be a transitional phase, just something to prove out the technology that would let them use numbers instead. Well, everybody but Ray, but you know what he’s like. Which numbers were a great debate. 1 was an obvious choice, since it already looked so much like a finger. It would need almost no new code worth mentioning, especially if you used a font that was easy on the serifs. The other number, though? That took a lot of fighting. 0 seems, today, to be the obvious choice. But a good argument was made for -1, on the grounds that then they could keep using fingers for both the 1 and the – sign. The dispute continued until a standard was finally agreed to, last year, in which everyone uses a 3 and a 4. The argument took some weird turns. Vestiges of the old system remain in how computer systems do not speak exactly of a three, but rather of a “quarter-dozen”, or “quatre-vingt” as they say in French, incorrectly.

A fascinating variation developed in the 1960s when research indicated there were maybe six things we needed a computer to show anyway. So why not set up a computer with a filmstrip containing six or, for deluxe systems, seven images, and simply have it show whatever seemed most relevant? People were indeed happy with this, especially if they got to work the projector, and doubly so if they were allowed to make a “beep” noise whenever it was time to move to the next slide. These slides were: Abraham Lincoln, a brontosaurus, a Mercator projection map of the world, a diagram of the heart, Snoopy, the Pioneer 4 space probe, and in the deluxe system, Times Square.

This is still at heart how computer images work. A modern computer image is a gathering of millions of colors, represented. Admittedly, some of the colors get reused. But to keep all these sorted out and in the right locations we have to simplify some. A classic organization or “compression” scheme is to break the original image up into millions of pieces, then individually wrap each piece in a protective medium, and then forget where they were. This is known as a “lossy” image format. When called on to show the image, the computer panics and puts together what it can using the same original seven base images, plus — since 1989 — that picture of astronaut Bruce McCandless spacewalking using his cool rocket backpack. There are also “lossless” image formats, but these are annoying to use because every time you do beat them in a game they insist that it was best-three-of-five, or best-four-of-seven, or best five-of-nine, and on and on until you give up.

Further questions to this office may be sent in care of this office at this address. Thank you.

Everything There Is To Say About Landing On An Asteroid


So you want to land on an asteroid. That is you, isn’t it? It looked like you from a distance. If it’s not you, keep these notes until you encounter someone who looks like you from afar. For now I’ll suppose it is you, and congratulate you. That’s the sort of public-spirited ambition that we don’t see enough in these troubled times. It’s the sort of ambition that is sure to get you somewhere. That somewhere is landed on an asteroid. If I have anything to do with it, anyway.

The first and most essential thing is to check that you have an asteroid to land on. If you don’t have anything to land on you’ll get stuck at the last step. Your foot will go swinging around freely and you’ll worry you look like a fool. You might, but who’s going to know? But let’s suppose you have something to land on. Make sure that it’s not a meteorite. That would land you, not on an asteroid, but on a dull argument with pedantic sorts who want you to know it’s very important to tell the difference between a meteor, a meteoroid, a meteorite, a meteoroceros, and a meteorostomy.

Even if you surrender and admit that it’s important to use exactly the right word all the time they might not stop. The truly dull know-it-all will continue to harass you for ever have been fool enough to get the terms wrong. As a recovering know-it-all I can give you this diversionary maneuver. Ask whether it’s better to say “three dollars and forty cents is your change” or “three dollars and forty cents are your change”. Whatever answer they give, point out the change was actually four dollars and fifteen cents and they’re out the difference. If anyone other than me mentions “minor planets” poke them with your largest regulation stick.

(Note that “other than me” slickly put in there. I know how some of these sentences are going to end!)

Suppose you’re already comfortably near the asteroid. Start with a clean desk and spread a tablecloth neatly across the surface, smoothing out any folds as you do. With this tidy workplace inspect the asteroid. You want to see any distinguishing marks or hazards, such as rocky terrain, a thin crust of ice over a great gaping nothing, or 30-minute parking spaces. Stuff starts happening when you’re satisfied you have a clear landing spot and that no competing spacecraft are trying to get to the same place.

Turn the spacecraft around and extend the landing legs. (Don’t tell me you forgot the landing legs! Fib if you must!) Back in slowly. Don’t worry about the warning beeps, which can’t be heard in space. It’s hard to tell how far you are above the surface of an asteroid, so look for clear signs of when to stop. These include the contact light coming on, the landing legs feeling stiff resistance, the landing party yelling that you’re on their foot, the spaceship going right through to the other side of the asteroid (this is really bad as your crew will be joking about you all the way home), or seeing a victory screen and credits listing all the people who worked on this space program. When you get to a stopping point, stop. Going any further will complicate your life and not in the good ways.

Just because you’re landed doesn’t mean you’re done. Most asteroids don’t have very much gravity, what with the cost of importing it all the way from Jupiter. It could be years before any new gravity comes in. Until it does, make sure your spaceship doesn’t hear any hilarious jokes that cause it to reflexively jump and slap its forehead and potentially drift away. Also discourage the crew from doing things like synchronized jumping jacks. Yes, they’ll want to synchronize doing something. Suggest they try out synchronized laying still, or if need be, synchronized worrying about how it has all come to this. They might be doing that already and just need the reassurance that to carry on doing this is as all right as anything can be in these troubled times and on an asteroid.

Anyway, once you’re there go ahead and take care of whatever you needed on that asteroid. I don’t know your business. You’re doing pretty well if you do.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo Lunar Landings, By Day


I certainly hope this clears up some things!

There've been two times Lunar Modules with people aboard were on the moon the 20st and 21st of a month. There was one time a LM with people aboard was on the moon the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 11th through 14th, 19th, 22nd through 24th, 30th, or 31st of a month. There's never been one the 3rd, 4th, 7th through 10th, 15th through 18th, or 25th through 29th of the month.
Source: Oh, come on, like anyone couldn’t rattle off the dates that (say) the Apollo 16 Lunar Module was on the surface of the Moon with its complement of astronauts, Commander Astronaut Commander Guy, Lunar Module Pilot Pilot Person, and Command Module Pilot Ed Harris aboard? This hardly needs sourcing. We’re not savages.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose four points, no thanks to Lisa who’s still walking around and mentioning stuff about “deal memos” just loudly enough that everybody knows what she thinks she’s doing. We’re not taking her bait on the intimations of some kind of Dutch TV producers being involved either.

365

MiSTed: Galactic Federation Update, Part 4/4


Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

OK, so, MOS Burgers: at the time I was living in Singapore and they had the Japanese(?) chain there and I really got into their whole style. Not just a good variety of burger and burger-like patties, and the choice to have a rice bun instead of a bread-based one, but also, like, advertising copy about being in touch with nature and all that. The reference to someday getting to be Head Beagle is from Peanuts, of course, and a storyline that they reran earlier this year that made Charles Schulz seem impossibly timely. Seriously. Scarily timely.

I suppose it’s inconsistent with my opening-sketch claim that Professor Bobo was good with forms that he misreads one in the closing sketch. The idea that he would be good with forms was ripped off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter had some weirdly specific moments of supreme competence. (Knowing who had won every local-TV award ever, for example, or being able to do arithmetic instantly as long as he imagined it was about money.) I like idiot characters with narrowly-defined fields of competence.

The closing line about Heidi Klum refers to a cranky person who used to haunt the late-night talk show newsgroups on Usenet. He had the idea that the aliens guiding human destiny left clues to their plans in the news about Heidi Klum. Sounds ridiculous? All right. He was incredibly happy to answer any and all questions you had, indefatigably. He eventually promised his wife and therapist he’d stop promoting his Heidi Klum theory, and as far as I know he did. But boy did he leave a deep impression on everyone who saw his work.


>

> Today, we have discussed segments of our shared history that

> explain your origins and the basis of your present condition of

> consciousness.

MIKE: Next week, remember, we’re doing the Polish-Lithuanian monarchy,
so read up chapter eight and be ready with questions, people.

> We ask you to use this awareness to examine how far you

> actually have come!

CROW: I’m suddenly more aware of my tongue.

TOM: You don’t have a tongue.

CROW: Then I’m suddenly confused and distressed.

> Your liberation and new world service are truly

> within reach!

TOM: As soon as you pay up your library fines!

> We now take our leave.

MIKE: [ As Groucho ] I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

> Blessings, dear Ones! Know, in

> your Heart of Hearts,

CROW: In your Diamond of Diamonds,

MIKE: In your Spade of Spades,

TOM: In your Club of Clubs..

> that the eternal Supply and perpetual Prosperity

> of Heaven is yours!

MIKE: This reads like the advertising materials for MOS Burgers.

> So Be It! Selamat Gajun! Selamat Kasijaram!

CROW: They’re either Malay or the Klindesteron beademungen.

> (Sirian

> for Be One! Blessed in Love and in Joy!)

TOM: And there’s some fine print where you sign up to buy two CDs
each month for a year.

>

> Planetary Activation Organization

MIKE: Somebody check the Earth’s batteries. Venus was dead
three months before we noticed.


> http:
//www.paoweb.com

>

> This copy was reposted by Robert E. McElwaine

TOM: The `E’ stands for `Extra.’

CROW: Robert E. McExtralwaine?

> PAO Member

> Eckankar Initiate

MIKE: And a good friend.

> B.S., Physics and Astronomy, UW-EC

CROW: Hah … Mike?

MIKE: Not my fault, guys.


> http:
//members.aol.com/rem547 PLUS

> http:
//members.aol.com/rem460

TOM: That adds up to rem 1007.

>


> See also http:
//www.paoweb.com/sn122600.htm ,

CROW: A URL actually created by a snore.


> http:
//www.disclosureproject.org .

>

> P.S.:
PASS IT ON !

MIKE: You’ll never guess which of your close friends is waiting
for this very message!

>

> ok

TOM: OK? Is that all you have to say for yourself?

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. GYPSY, TOM SERVO, and CROW are there, with
many papers scattered on the desk. A pencil is wedged into
CROW’s hand. ]

GYPSY: You need line 17 from form 8-E.

CROW: I know, I’m just — look, how many amiable characters from the
movies and shorts we watch have visited us on the Hex Field View
Screen this year?

TOM: 28, including four visits from Marrissa Picard.

GYPSY: You have to tell them how you made Jay Gordon cry.

TOM: Tell them 35.

CROW: I’m not cheating on these forms!

TOM: Oh, like they’ll check?

GYPSY: It kind of goes against the spirit —

[ MIKE enters. They all hush up for a few seconds. ]

MIKE: So. Who wants to —

[ Simultaneously: ]

GYPSY: Crow.

CROW: Tom.

TOM: Crow.

MIKE: Well?

CROW: We realized we haven’t filled in our reports for the
Galactic Federation of Light this year yet.

TOM: You wouldn’t believe how many forms it is, either,
but it’s worth doing.

GYPSY: It’s an important part of bringing light to the universe.

MIKE: [ Playing along ] Plus you might get to be Head Beagle.

GYPSY: So we’re listing all this year’s light-bringing.

CROW: You got anything you want reported?

MIKE: I, uh, cleaned the burnt pizza stuff out of the toaster oven.

CROW: That’s good! What else do we have?

TOM: We played keep-away with Observer’s brain for like ten minutes.

MIKE: That didn’t really uplift anyone’s soul.

CROW: Well … what about that fun we had playing backgammon? That had
to bring something good into the world.

GYPSY: We just moved the checkers around randomly for five minutes,
got bored, then you threw them like ninja stars until
you broke the McVote McDLT glasses.

CROW: Oh yeah.

TOM: Well … we had to have done something, right?

GYPSY: We didn’t stop anyone from bringing light.

TOM: Yeah!

CROW: OK, I’m writing that in — Mike, you have any stamps? We
need to mail this to the Galactic Federation of Light Central
Processing Bureau in Menominee, Michigan.

MIKE: Oh, fresh out. Let’s check in on Pittney-Bowes, shall we?

TOM: Four, five — hey, does Sonic the Hedgehog still exist?

[ CASTLE FORRESTER. The stage is filled by shipping cartons of all
sizes, marked “LIGHT BULBS” and stacked precariously high.
BOBO, PEARL, and OBSERVER are squeezed in front, reading
papers on a business envelope. ]

OBSERVER: Dahdahdaaah … appreciate your filing early … blah de
blah … having reviewed your Federation of Light returns this
year … yeah, uh-huh … computed against withholding reported
in form 671-X …

PEARL: So how much of a light-bringing refund did we *get*?

BOBO: [ Pointing at a line ] Fifty-five thousand, three hundred
forty three!

[ A pause, as PEARL simmers. ]

PEARL: That’s our Zip code, you — [ She pinches his nose. ]

[ BOBO barks, Curly style; his left arm windmills around and hits
OBSERVER’s brain, which he drops, apparently onto PEARL’s
foot as she grabs her foot and hops. She trips into BOBO, who
bounces against one pile of boxes, sending it crashing. He
rebounds to knock PEARL and OBSERVER into their own huge stacks,
which sends off volleys of crashing and imploding light bulb
sounds through the credits … ]


                              \  |  / 
                               \ | /  
                                \|/   
                              ---O--- 
                                /|\  
                               / | \  
                              /  |  \ 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations
therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc. The essay “GALACTIC FEDERATION Update: August 5, 2003” comes to us from Robert McElwaine
and Sheldan Nidle. This MiSTing as a whole is the creation of Joseph
Nebus, who intends no particular ill-will towards Robert McElwaine,
Sheldan Nidle, or any nigh-omnipotent beings guiding humanity towards
a glorious new destiny in the stars, but does enjoy following Kansan’s
reports of how they signal their intents through the life and career
of Heidi Klum. Come back, Dr. Mike Neylon!

> Greetings, dear Hearts! We return with more interesting topics to

> share with you.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

With a rise of eight more points it’s starting to look like we’re never going to get traders off of this Belgian cricket diet bubble. We may have to resort to drastic measures.

229

MiSTed: Galactic Federation Update, Part 3/4


Part 1.

Part 2.

Write enough MiSTings and you pick up your own little habits and recurring jokes. One of mine was “if [someone] had gone straight to the police, this would never have happened”. Recognize the origin? You’re fine if you don’t. It’s from one of the very many very minor Woody Woodpecker cartoons of the 50s, Bronco Busters. I was really into Woody Woodpecker when I was a kid. Of all the not-actually-good cartoons I watched obsessively back then it was probably the best of the lot. Apparently in the cartoon the line is actually “if Woody had gone right to the police, this would never have happened” but please understand: I wrote this before YouTube was a thing. I had to remember what the line was from decades earlier.

Gurmit Singh’s a Singaporean actor and comedian whom I saw a lot when I was living in Singapore, as I was back when I wrote this. I had come to figure, why not make local references that refer to my locality, rather than to the Minneapolis-local references the actual MST3K crew knew and made? What do I know about Minneapolis-local references apart from what was actually on the show? Exactly. I don’t remember that anyone ever was baffled or curious enough about this to ask, ever.


> At times, these wars seemed endless.

CROW: It was like watching the History Channel.

> The

> devastation’s intensity was inconceivable. We were always astonished at

> the extent to which the star-nations of Anchara would go in order to

> ‘win’ these wars.

MIKE: Star-nations of Anchara? There’s galactic warfare about whether
to accept Captain Archer and Team Bland on `Enterprise’?

> Their fierce stockpile of weapons and unspeakably

> brutal military forces sparked a reign of terror across this galaxy.

CROW: Yet still they can’t explain John Ashcroft.

>

> Eventually, our growing alliances led to the Galactic Federation

> of Light.

TOM: And that’ll have to be enough for you.

> The Galactic Federation was one of a number of organizations

> – neutral, dark or one with the Light – operating in this galaxy.

MIKE: And all striving to become the Master of Orion.

> At

> any rate, the wars produced a vast number of ‘wandering’ star-nations

> that moved about according to the circumstances caused by the wars.

CROW: If the Galactic Federation of Light had gone straight
to the police, this would never have happened.

> From them, we learned a great deal about the hate and the needless

> actions and divisions caused by limited consciousness

MIKE: You know, like when you overdo the Robitussin.

> and its constant

> train of fear and wrongly-derived assumptions. We found this quite an

> eye-opener.

TOM: It was zesty, and it had a great minty taste!

> We also learned the extent of the Ancharites’ deception.

CROW: The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Dionne Warwick — none of them
ever really existed!

TOM: What?

> Although we were shocked, initially, at how dark this galaxy had

> become, we realized, deep in our Hearts, that this insanity would

> definitely end.

MIKE: Oh, yeah. Superadvanced cosmic being and I bet they just
whip out the Ritalin.

> Until that divine moment, we had to do whatever we

> could to stalemate the continuous wars.

TOM: But the Galactic League of Nations proved to be a disappointment.

> Thus, we created technologies

> and strategies that would bring about the required results.

CROW: That seemed too hard, so we started playing Europa Universalis II
for a couple millennia to kill time.

>

> Ultimately, just over two million years ago, these wars produced

> conditions that allowed us to colonize your solar system.

MIKE: And we’ve still got half our stuff in cardboard boxes.

> A new set of

> broad-based attacks by the Ancharites, nearly one million years ago,

> destroyed these first human colonies.

TOM: A million years these Federation of Light creeps float about
the planet and none of them remembers to not leave sitting ducks
all around.

> Later, a counter-attack by

> Galactic Federation forces culminated in the second Earth colony of

> Lemuria

CROW: So Joey the Lemur was a space alien?

TOM: Actually, yeah.

> and the destruction of the Ancharites’ main planetary world.

MIKE: The genocide was necessary, as otherwise some of the Ancharites
might have lived.

> Its explosive end produced the asteroid belt that now revolves between

> Mars and Jupiter.

CROW: Explosive ending! No one will be admitted during the
last five minutes of the Ancharites’ home world.

> Moreover, many of the smaller moons of Mars, Jupiter

> and the solar system’s other outer planets are the result of the

> carnage from these explosions.

TOM: A couple of them were just tchochkes we picked up at garage sales.

> Indeed, your solar system is a curious

> monument to the violence that was part of these wars.

CROW: Please observe silence while visiting the Solar System.

> It even extends

> to the outer layers of cosmic dust and larger particles that form the

> edge of your solar system.

MIKE: This is all related to Blue Kryptonite, isn’t it?

> Because these clouds were unduly charged,

> the outcome was a constant barrage of comets and asteroids.

TOM: But they do all look really festive come Christmas time.

>

> Even your Sun was not spared the degrees of violence of which the

> Ancharites were capable.

MIKE: And with our powers and a million years to try it was
too much work to fix it up again.

> They attempted to permanently disrupt your

> Sun’s interaction with her planetary daughters,

TOM: By being vicious gossips.

> resulting in the highly

> elliptical orbits that still characterize the way your solar system’s

> planets circle your Sun.

MIKE: The tragic result of putting unbalanced loads in the washer.

> Initially, these orbits were almost circular.

> For that reason, a circle has a 360-degree arc.

CROW: Bake your circle at that 360 degree arc for fifteen to
twenty minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center
comes out clean.

> In your world, this

> commemorates the original solar year of 360 days, each lasting 24

> hours.

TOM: Is that mean solar or sidereal time?

> The first colonists of ancient Lemuria decided not to alter this

> situation,

CROW: This reminds me of a story that happened once in … Zobooland.

> and kept this anomaly as a sign to future generations of

> what had actually occurred in this once splendid and beautiful solar

> system.

MIKE: Nice of them to leave us such a hint.

> These wars also caused the conditions needed to plunge you into

> the morass that we know as limited consciousness.

CROW: So, the Federation of Light wants to bring Light to the universe
and does it by leaving a broken-down solar system and dropping
colonists on it who’ll be too stupid to do any Light-bringing?

TOM: It’s the Galactic Federation of Durrr.

>

> Clearly, the dispersion of humanity into your solar system – even

> your fall into limited consciousness – are by-products of these galaxy-

> wide wars.

TOM: As soon as you leave the solar system, though, you’ll figure out
how to travel interstellar distances.

> Furthermore, the Galactic Federation’s acceptance of a

> nearly ‘hands-off’ policy was the result of circumstances brought about

> by these same wars.

MIKE: That hands-off policy that did so well to avoid the war
in the first place.

> This policy allowed the Anunnaki to become your

> overlords, and their earthly minions to secretly control you for the

> past 13 millennia.

TOM: Oh, *good* one, Galactic Federation of Light.

> However, this situation was dramatically changed by

> your rise in consciousness and by the Anunnaki’s recent turn to the

> Light.

CROW: And, what the heck, nothing good on TV this week anyway.

> These events have made possible the Galactic Federation’s direct

> intervention in your affairs.

MIKE: The protection money we demand will be reasonable
and collected infrequently.

> It has also given us an opportunity to

> assist those forces of Light that are laboring to transform your world.

TOM: Unfortunately, the only agents they have on the scene are
Judge Reinhold and Gurmit Singh, so it’s taking a while.

> This has resulted in the agreements that are about to be revealed.

CROW: I’m betting they call for people to wear less black, though.

>

> Heaven and your collective self are co-creating your reality.

MIKE: You put it that way, I feel so *naked*.

> You

> are interconnected Beings who are sharing the same destiny. That

> destiny is to be returned to fully conscious Beings of Light.

CROW: Just two weekends a month, and two millennia a geologic age.

> The

> concluding phase, before this divine transition can be fully revealed

> to you, has taken much too long for our liking.

TOM: Frankly, you’re on the verge of failing this class!

> Finally, the last

> vestiges of the dark have begun to see that their continuing battle is

> truly in vain.

CROW: The movies of Jerry Bruckheimer will get more desperate.

> This acknowledgement has allowed a new energy of

> positive intention to envelop your beautiful, blue orb.

MIKE: Clean it every other weekend with a damp cloth, and keep it
out of direct sunlight.

CROW: This is what the Mirror Universe had instead of “Highlander 2.”

> This energy has

> provided additional courage to those who are enforcing the agreements,

TOM: This is all going to end up at the World Trade Organization somehow.

> which guarantee that a new reality can be manifested, now, upon your

> world.

CROW: Watch your doorknobs for signs of opening blue eyes.

> We thank all who have helped and, especially, convey our deepest

> gratitude to all Light workers. Your victory is approaching!

TOM: No, really. Going to be here soon. Can’t see it taking more
than another 375,000 years at the *latest*.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose thirteen points in trading excited by word of a Brussels startup trying to sell crickets as food to Belgians, even though we’ve been through this before and we’re just not doing the insect-eating thing, thank you. Not as anything but a novelty, and no it does not help if you’re going to make them garlic flavored. If they were garlic-flavored we’d be eating them for the garlic, not the cricket, and we can get garlic flavor from non-insect-based sources. Anyway, this can’t last.

215

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?