Some Astounding Facts About Summer


  • The mean time from the summer solstice to autumn equinox is nearly a day longer than the mean time from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, and both are three days longer than the mean time from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, and that’s nearly a full day longer than the time from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. And what the flipping heck, Earth’s orbit? What are you doing with stuff like that? How can it be longer from spring to summer than from summer to fall? Longer from spring to fall than from fall to spring? Does this work in the southern hemisphere too? I’m getting dizzy thinking about this and I have to go lie down a while now.
  • The only common word in the English language that ends in s-e-d-e is “supersede” There are eighteen imaginary English words that do, too, among the most popular of which are “blockosede”, “snorsede”, “fluorosede”, and “logosede”. This has nothing to do with summer but I’m still working on that whole length-of-the-seasons thing. I feel like I must have written that astounding fact down wrong.
  • The sun appears to rise higher and higher in the sky until the summer solstice, which is triggered by the sun’s ever-greater fear of heights. Then it start sneaking down again until the winter solstice. That happens when the sun is as low in the sky as it can get without triggering its fear of heightlessness. “Wait, you’re being irrational,” the Sun’s friends tell it. “You get way lower than that around sunrise and sunset.” This causes the Sun to glare at its friends and insist they aren’t even trying to understand.
  • No, no, I went back and checked the book and that’s what it said about the lengths of the seasons. I just … sheesh, I don’t know, you know?
  • In the original Star Trek series episode And The Children Shall Lead, someone says “chocolate wobble and pistachio” and not a single person knows what exactly that’s supposed to mean. From context it’s got to be some kind of dessert but what’s a dessert wobble besides some joke about tripping when you’re carrying your turtle brownie over to the table?
  • Because of the differences between land distribution in the northern and the southern hemispheres … yes, yes, I know that thing above didn’t have anything to do with summer. I just needed to fill in something while getting another reference on this lengths-of-the-seasons thing. Look, they were talking about ice cream in that Star Trek episode, that’s mostly a summer thing, right? I mean apart from the peppermint ice cream we only get at Christmas because it feels so Christmas-y. That’s got to be the opposite for the southern hemisphere, right? Where summer-to-fall is shorter in Australia than winter-to-spring is? It couldn’t work any other way, right?
  • Although the solstice is the longest day of the year, the latest sunset may happen some other day, including in early July or even the middle of February, owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the analemma of time and what your latitude happens to be and oh this is even more crazypants than the length-of-seasons thing and I can just not right now.
  • Ah, right, here we go. The Ancient Athenians tried to start their new year with the summer solstice. They also tried to start their months with the New Moon. So there was this nasty stretch near the start of any year where they were trying to get the moon to hurry up to new-ness, or fall back to its last new state. Given the state of cosmological engineering at the time all they could do is try to toss people up and get them to push the moon in its orbit some. This resulted in lots of Ancient Athenians being tossed from the top of a really tall hill and plummeting right back down. (Don’t worry about them. They were much younger Ancients in those days, and could take it.) The year started as it was figuring to anyway. There’s a lesson in this but once again, heck if I know what it is.
  • No, no, the book still says that stuff about the season lengths. I don’t know.
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In Which I Must Ponder What Kevin Kubusheskie’s Singing Voice Is Like, Again


The host of 80s/90s Trivia asked, “Which child star of You Can’t Do That On Television would go on to be a major international music star?”

And I said, “How do we know any of them might not yet do it?”

I didn’t get the two points, but they’re hoping to get me in finals for the International Slightly Viral Meme Contest for April, motivational/inspirational-quotes division. It’s a long shot for for such an offhand quip but that’s all right. December 2017’s winner for Mot/Insp was itself a long shot, and it’s all about long shots like that winning the International Slightly Viral Meme Contests.

How To Know It All


Hi. I’m a know-it-all. I’m aware this might surprise you, since most of you faintly like me. You don’t like me enough to help me move a couch into a new apartment, I mean. You like me enough that you don’t particularly want to slug me. If you do it will be from a sense of civic duty. You might feel some pride. But it’s the pride of voting in the boring elections about whether to extend the municipality’s participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement for two years. This is the most socially welcome a know-it-all can hope to be. I decided long ago I wanted to be able to move in both know-it-all and likable-person communities. And now I’d like to share with you, the non-know-it-all, some secrets in how to be a know-it-all.

To set out being a know-it-all might seem intimidating. Even the name suggests you ought to know a bunch of facts about a bunch of things. This common misconception keeps millions of prospective know-it-alls from fledging. There are two things you need to do to be a know-it-all. The first to spot some commonly-agreed upon fact or amusing bit of trivia. Let’s see how you do with this sample. Which of these are commonly-agreed-upon facts or amusing bits of trivia?

  1. There’s a leap year every four years.
  2. North Dakota was the 39th state admitted to the United States.
  3. Stop, drop, and roll.
  4. No spider is ever more than three light-years away from you.

The correct answer is to be already writing a comment about how no, centennial years are not generally leap years in the Gregorian scheme of things. And that’s not even starting on the we-could-make-this-legitimate dispute about whether President President P Presidentson signed North Dakota’s or South Dakota’s statehood papers first. Because what makes a know-it-all is the second thing you need to do. Explain how, if you are being precise, some true thing can be argued in the right lights to be imperfectly true, which is the same as false.

So to know-it-all, recognize statements that nobody feels any need to dispute. Then dispute them. Be polite about it: start out by saying how “You know” or “It’s a common misconception” or “To be precise”. Follow up with anything. It doesn’t have to be correct. Just plunge in with the confidence of a white guy talking on the Internet. Bludgeon your conversational opponent into submission. Eventually, they slug you, and you’ve won.

The biggest danger, besides to your face, is if there’s another know-it-all ready to jump in the conversation. You might need several layers of technical points before your opponent gives up. That’s all right. There’s only a couple topics that know-it-alls really specialize in. One of the great ones is David Rice Atchison, who often hits trivia lists as having been Acting President for one day in 1821. The incoming President wouldn’t take the Oath of Office on a Sunday, and so the office devolved upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. But wait, you say. Yes, the President’s term had expired, but so had the Congress’s, and so Atchison wasn’t the President Pro Tempore of anything. My counter: ah, but until 1890 the Senate customarily chose a President Pro Tempore only when the Vice-President was absent from Washington City or on the final day of a Congressional session. Thus they believed they were choosing a potential successor in case of a vacancy between sessions. Fine, you might answer, but then Atchison never swore the Oath of Office and therefore did not act as President. I retaliate: granted the Oath of Office might be necessary to exercise the powers of the presidency. But Atchison’s accession is covered by his oath as a member of Congress to uphold the laws of the nation. And those laws would include the Succession Act of 1792 then in effect.

At this point, I should explain, we are furious in our debate. There’s people trying to pull us apart. People are emerging from their houses to see what all the excitement is. People shouting about offices “devolving” upon people is pretty exciting stuff even in these troubled times.

You’ve got more nitpicking to deploy. If taking the Oath of Office isn’t necessary to merely be President then the actual President took office at noon on the 4th of March regardless of whether he was sworn in. There was no vacancy for Atchison to fill. I answer. Before the 20th Amendment there was no constitutional specification to when a non-acting President’s term of office began. Stymied? You can ask how Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, could be an Officer of the the United States, which the Constitution specifies as the only people eligible for the succession. And then I point out David Rice Atchison was 13 years old in 1821. Not all of 1821, but in March of it anyway. The question of whether he was President for one day was about the time in 1849 that the new President didn’t want to take the Oath of Office on a Sunday. And then you slug me.

And I win.

I can’t tell you why you’d want to be a know-it-all. All I know it’s the best.

Statistics Saturday: Some Obscure Football Rules


  1. After three overtimes the game will be settled by a fifteen-word spelling bee.
  2. A regulation field is 120 yards in length, 53 and 1/3d yards in width, and 1.16 light-seconds in height, extending six feet, two inches below the surface of the ground.
  3. Any kind of zebra, whether talking or not, is specifically prohibited from playing in the Super Bowl.
  4. Team uniforms are not allowed to be chroma-key green.
  5. The zebra’s also prohibited from the Pro Bowl, Conference Championships, and the Divisional Rounds.
  6. No licking the ball after the two-minute warning.
  7. Yes, a zebra is allowed to play in the wild-card round, but only as a field goal kicker.
  8. All players must exist in no fewer than three dimensions of space and one of time.
  9. If by some chance the offensive team gets to a 7th Down that’s automatically one point.
  10. It’s a 20-yard penalty and loss of possession for four or more players on the offensive team to blep their tongues out simultaneously while behind the line of scrimmage.
  11. No player is allowed to wear his helmet either backwards or on either foot during the game. (However, this rule has never been enforced at the professional level.)
  12. It’s prohibited to use the player’s bench as a workbench for light carpentry projects.

Source: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

And a Christmas Thought I Forgot To Have Like Two Weeks Ago


I really should’ve had this thought the 15th but I lost the slip of paper its inspiration was written on. My love and I went to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s a grand, wonderful place. It’s a huge building, the kind you could host a good-sized flea market in, and it’s filled with Christmas decorations (plus some bits for other holidays). If you ever need a variety of guinea pig ornaments this is the place to go. If you ever need to fill a tree with different peacock ornaments, this is the place to go. I’m not saying a large tree filled with unique peacocks. But still, a tree of any size with only peacock ornaments is amazing.

They pass out a little trivia card about how big the place is and how much Christmas it merchandises and how many people it employs and how far away they advertise and everything. (They advertise all over Michigan, including Florida.) Here’s the one that would have been great to think about like two weeks ago:

Movie star John Wayne ordered a Santa suit from Bronner’s by telephone on December 15, 1976.

I don’t fault them clinging to a celebrity encounter from four-plus decades ago; I’m still telling people about that pizza party I attended alongside Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello in 1995. And I absolutely love this piece of trivia because the claim is both exact and vague. What were the machinations of Fate which caused John Wayne to wake one day and say, “I’m movie star John Wayne! Today, the 15th of December, 1976, I want a Santa suit! I should phone Bronner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan, to order one”? I assume this is a direct quote. How could the Hollywood-area costume and holiday shops be out of Santa suits already? Or was he just in Michigan for something, maybe poking around Bay City to see if he had to do anything about it, and realized he was Santa suit-less? Did he know someone at Bronner’s who could get him a discount? If so, how much? So those are the exciting thoughts racing around me and I’m just sorry I didn’t schedule them for the 15th when they would have been kind of timely-ish.

Bronner’s doesn’t give out enough trivia for me, but I don’t blame you for thinking Broner’s gives me too much trivia.

Do I Know Too Much About The XFL?


My love argues that I know a startling amount about the XFL, the short-lived attempt by pro wrestling to create something that was like football but would be cheaper for NBC to air back in 2001. Do I? Let me share with you what I do know about the XFL:

  1. They tried some weird kind of scramble for the ball instead of doing a kickoff to start the halves.
  2. They made the sports reporters sit in the open weather instead of in a press booth so that … I don’t know, the fans wouldn’t think the reporters were more comfortable than they were? Some kind of Stupid Populist thing anyway.
  3. The game tried taking away a bunch of rules about player safety that they had to reinstate after it turned out players got hurt a lot.
  4. Not really sure about this, but I’m guessing some pro wrestling participant said something really racist while doing cheerleader-type commentary during a broadcast.
  5. There was something Movie Mafia about the New York/New Jersey team name?
  6. There was that guy with “He Hate Me” as his uniform’s “name”.

My question to you: do I, in fact, know too many things about the XFL?

(Yes. Yes, I do. I know at least four things too many about the XFL.)

Statistics Saturday: Some Answers


  • North Dakota in the year 1822.
  • Myoglobin.
  • It has none.
  • The square root of two raised to the square root of two power.
  • Cuckoo clocks.
  • Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann.
  • The Hartford Whalers.
  • SS Ideal-X.
  • Hexagons.
  • Polymerization.
  • The pathetic fallacy.
  • Saw the board into two halves; combine the two halves to make a whole, and then climb out through the [w]hole.
  • Pointillism.
  • 95 percent.
  • Dormer windows.
  • Walk The Moon.
  • James Irwin.
  • Violincello.
  • Doyenne, D-o-y-e-n-n-e. Doyenne.
  • Had you considered the village barber might be a woman?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped three points today, owing to traders getting all sulky when I told them that while I appreciated their idea about an imaginary HGTV show talled Tiny McMansions, there was no way I could build that up to one of my big-size weekly essays and I wasn’t going to try. Lisa went off fuming and saying she was going to put together a pilot episode.

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On This Date: March 25


March 25th is the 90th day of the year or so. Something like that. Good grief, is the year that little done? It feels like more. Anyway there are some six days remaining in the month unless we find a stray Tuesday that rolled under the couch? Something like that.

1409 — Opening of the Council of Pisa following the belated discovery of the can opener. In resolving the Western Schism between the popes in Rome and Avignon the council settles on the innovative approach of declaring everyone who passes by the front door, including four stray cats and a flock of pigeons, to be Pope. The problem is left unsettled but it is still a major holiday in Rock Dove Orthodox Catholicism.

1584 — Sir Walter Raleigh receives a patent to colonize Virginia, catching him off-guard. “I thought I’d get a copyright or maybe a service mark on Virginia, but you know, I’ll make do with what I have,” he says in a telephone interview by Bob Newhart. Unfortunately unsettled trade conditions and unstable capitalization foil his efforts to make money in the manufacture and trade of Virginias, and by 1792 he admits it isn’t working out nearly like he figured. Today only the prototype Virginia and one late-run production model Virginia still remain, preserved in a special museum-grade display with inert gas.

1802 — By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, France and England resolve to stop fighting and never go to war ever again for all time except for this one more time for last licks, that’s fair, right? Sure it is.

1821 — Traditional start of the Greek War of Independence, which actually began over a month before, but they say it’s this for symbolically important reasons, and that isn’t even me making a whimsical joke but just how things are really done if Wikipedia isn’t fibbing me.

1894 — Coxey’s Army begins its march on Washington to establish that unemployment is a failure of society to provide for its citizens and not the result of personal immorality among the jobless. Oh lord we’re not living up to the moral standards of the 19th century, what are we even doing?

1950 — 25th anniversary of March 25, 1925.

1979 — Delivery of the first fully-functional space shuttle, Columbia, to the Kennedy Space Center, although the vehicle is not launched for over two years owing to the keys being locked inside and nobody knowing how to get them out without breaking a window open. They ultimately have to wait for the completion of the space shuttle Discovery and hope the keys for that fit the first, and they do, with a little jiggling around. Discovery’s first launch is delayed while the space program finds a Two Guys that will grind out a duplicate set of keys. “Look, we just want to be sure someone else can open the trunk, all right?” explains Kennedy Space Center director Richard G Smith, reminding us how there used to be a whole different key for the trunks and why was that exactly? The past is weird, that’s all.

1995 — Establishment of WikiWikiWeb, the first user-editable web site, opens an innovative new way that people who read way too much of The Straight Dope as kids can argue about David Rice Atchison in the Talk page.

2000 — 50th anniversary of the 25th anniversary or March 25, 1925.

2017 — I’m like one day ahead of deadline.

Born On This Day:

Religious troublemaker John Calvin (maybe?), Army marcher Jacob Coxey (like a one in 365 chance), Vulcan inventor D C Fontana (Star Trek if I got lucky), probably some European royalty with a name like John IV or Jacob III or Katerina The Rather So (here I’m just playing the odds). You know what, let’s say Howard Cosell too, just so there’s a name that anyone can recognize if they’re not like four months younger than me.

Died On This Day:

Do we need this installment? It’s so depressing.

Special Observances:

This is the earliest day on which Seward’s Day can fall. Seward’s Day is the day when Alaskans observe William Seward. It should not be confused with Alaska Day, but I bet it is all the time and is fed up with it. It is observed as Wright Brothers Day by confused aviation enthusiasts. Until 1752 it was the start of the New Year in England, Wales, Ireland, and the American Colonies, which raises disturbing implications about just how many days there were between March 27, 1751 and March 22, 1751. Don’t stare to hard into that one. You won’t like what you find.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points today as everyone was busy watching the trailer for the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 and torn between bits that made them figure this was going to be as good as they needed it to be and bits that made them figure it was going to be off in all those ways that non-hardcore-fans can’t understand. The mood on the floor is described as “hope mixed with a sense that, really, the children of the original Mads is the fullest re-thinking done? But there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and maybe the Ready Player One guy can be harnessed to a good cause?”

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On Richard Thompson


I first saw Richard Thompson’s cartoons as the occasional illustrations in Joel Achenbach’s Why Things Are books. They were these complicated, scribbly, not-exactly-attractive but still compelling sketches to go along with Achenbach’s Cecil-Adams-esque essays. But Achenbach went on to other things, and I didn’t pay attention to the artist, who went on to other things himself. Mostly that was illustrating for Washington Post features which, since I didn’t live in or near Washington, I’d never see.

Last decade he started the comic strip Cul de Sac, which just everybody I knew who cared about comic strips got to praising. My natural contrariness and memories of past times I was burned left me skeptical. But as sometimes happens everyone was right. It was a fantastic comic strip. The art was no less … weird, honestly. It took time to warm up to it. But it’s … well, here. Let me put up a link that always goes to today’s rerun of the comic strip. I’ll say this confidently: the art is funny to look at. It’s expressive. Every face is showing an emotion, a clear and strongly-drawn one. The stuff that isn’t the focus of the panel’s action is drawn funny too. The more you study the lines the more you realize it’s tricky to draw like that.

Cul de Sac was, by 2010, ready to be the savior of the comics page. The strip just had everything. Expressive artwork. Characters who, by being so outrageously implausible, become intimate familiars. Dialogue that’s logical yet surreal. The small-kid perspective by which everything in the world is a bit magical. And hyperbole. It isn’t enough that one kid’s mother is scrapbooking everything he does. It’s that she has twenty-eight (or something) scrapbooks just for the current month. Tall tales are part of the foundation of the American humorous voice, and Thompson captured that perfectly.

And then just as Cul de Sac was escaping from the notice of comic strip fans into the wider world, where it might be spoken of with the delighted reverence we use for Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts, it was struck down. Thompson suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and had reached the point he couldn’t do the strip anymore. The comics page has been the poorer since then. There are many fine comics out there, but I haven’t seen anything that shows the apparently-easy genius that Cul de Sac did, or the promise of it.

Thompson died late last month, complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Gocomics.com reruns his Cul de Sac comics as well as the Richard’s Poor Almanac feature, which if I understand right was mostly quarter- or full-page features for Washington Post Sundays. Those haven’t got the recurring characters of Cul de Sac, but they have got the same vibrant imagination and sharp attention to detail. I recommend both comics. There’s things you’ll be sorry you missed. They will likely include jokes about restaurants.

Me Week: Stuck in Ancient Greece


I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.

In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.

Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.

And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.

Me Week: What Philosophers Give Me


My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.

Back in September 2013, we got to talking about Pythagoras, who’s renowned for being a cult leader that might have done something in mathematics or philosophy or both. It’s hard to say. But in Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish I was enchanted by something I hadn’t heard about Pythagoras before. Yes, it’s got Olympics content, because of course, Pythagoras. You would.

If that hasn’t satisfied your interest in philosophers, here’s a little pop quiz you can take. No fair cheating!

Me Week: Facing The Fun Fact Of It All


I need to get myself a little more ahead of deadline than I can get just by writing something fresh every day. So I’m going to take most of this week and talk about one of my favorite writers: me. I’ve long been an influence on me, and have tried to let myself mould my writings into better forms. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of ways that I want to be funny and not all of them are exactly compatible.

One of my other big influences is Ian Shoales, stage persona of Merle Kessler. Now and then I write something that’s quite directly in his style of social commentary mixed with absurdity. I don’t run as absurd as he does, but then, I only intermittently get a good comment going.

So here I’d like to point to a January 2015 piece I wrote, very much in the Ian Shoales style. It’s titled The Fun Fact Of It All, and it’s inspired by a Peanuts page-a-day calendar, as will happen. I think it came across with some juicy ideas about facts and it maybe needs two drafts to really catch what I want. I was fibbing about Mrs Furey in this piece; she wasn’t, in truth, so careful about the nonsense of a potentially false fact. But it works well to have a character putting forth that point.

Nothing To Do With Grand Strategy Games, Really


Sorry, I’d like to say something funny about a grand strategy game, or something that’s going on around town. But I’ve been too busy kicking myself over a really lousy performance on my part at restaurant trivia night last night. Also that it’s possible to train fish to spit at certain people’s faces, which solves so many problems! But mostly that the satellite navigator thinks the word is pronounced “rester-aunt”, like, your mother’s sister who can be counted on to nap. I suppose I just don’t understand the modern world.

On The Convenience Store Shelves


So there sitting on the bottom row of the convenience store cooler, beside the Towne Club flavors, was something new to my experience. Snap Punch. I didn’t get it, what with their having Diet Ruby Red Squirt. But if I read the label right, they’re offering the decent yet slightly watery taste of Snapple, plus interesting and I guess true enough facts like “Beavers were once the size of bears”, topped off with way more hitting. So we’d get to ponder things like, “Wait, does this mean beavers used to be a lot larger, or did bears used to be smaller? Ow! OW! Quit that! OWWW!” It’s a weird business model, but you never really know what’s going to work until you try it.

Idele Talk


Looks like we’re going to reach the 15th of yet another February without anybody casually mentioning it as “the ides of February” around me. And so I won’t be able to snap in and say “Ha! The ides are not the 15th of February! The ideas are the 15th of the month only on months that originally had 31 days. For months that started with 29 days — all the ones that now have 30 days, plus February — the ides are on the 13th of the month! We passed the ides of February two days ago and you never even knew it!” And then nobody’s going to have the chance to sidle off, brisky, turning to fleeing when I explain that this strange pattern of when the ides fall in months is due to the Romans really not knowing what they were doing when they made their calendar. I might even have tossed in a bit about how you can see their efforts to fit together lunar and solar calendar schedules with the otherwise inexplicable placing of January 1st where it actually is. Or how they’d sometimes jam a whole extra month in between the 24th and 25th of February.

Tch. What’s the point of knowing stuff like this if all you do is have a deeper appreciation for the wonders of mundanities like “the 13th or 15th of the month”, and don’t even get to overhear people making perfectly idle chatter and jump on them for not knowing trivia?

Well, Actually, Autocorrect Saved Me


I have autocorrect turned on in my text editor for good reason. Despite my age and my level of education, it’s clear that I am not going to sort out how to spell “connoisseur”. I can either accept help or stop using the word altogether. There’s a similar problem with “accommodate”. I admit I sometimes get that right by accident by remembering to double up the letters I forgot to double up last time. I don’t know why that doesn’t work with “connoisseur”. That’s all to explain why I was typing with autocorrect on.

The sentence I was trying to write started out “Well, actually”, and the autocorrect decided what I meant was “We’ll actuate”. This happens. I erased the start and tried again, and got as far as the first `l’ in “actually” before we were actuating again. I don’t usually have this sort of problem with autocorrect. I give it a steady diet of “ahve” and “teh” and let it do what it will with “centre” and “theatre”. This should keep it happy.

My intention starting the sentence with “well” was to warm up to it. I’m wary of committing too strongly to anything without serious thought. A good “well” gives me an extra syllable to delay whatever I’m saying. If I say it aloud I might delay long enough that someone else interrupts me, and I can avoid having to say anything. I’ve often given the impression of social grace by saying only “well” and listening in wide-eyed panic that I might have to say more. And by “actually” I meant to clarify my focus wasn’t the obvious consequence of where the discussion had been, but a related point.

But I know on some level that “Well, actually” is the starting point of sentences composed by know-it-all weenies. They can’t see a discussion without finding a way that a word’s usage has shifted since the first dictionaries were carved out of igneous stone, in 1838, and want you know to know they know that and are thus better than you. I understand that. I’m a recovering know-it-all weenie myself.

I come by my know-it-all weenie nature the classic way, without technological aid. I grew up looking for any book that promised thousands of astounding and dubiously-sourced facts. The thicker the better. The bigger a series the better. I remember parts of David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace’s The People’s Almanacs better than I remember the names of my parents. And I have my father’s exact name. The complete works of Cecil Adams, even the minor books where he answers why Velma changes from the smartest to the stupidest character on Scooby Doo when her glasses fall off? Almost memorized. And that question was from Ask Dr Science anyway. If my parents had ever needed to get me out of their hair for a couple years they’d have just given me a Time-Life series on paranormal mysteries. And wait a minute, what were they doing from 1986 through 1989 that they didn’t want me interrupting anyway?

Why was it essential I gather all this stuff? I don’t know. I must have figured I’d someday be sitting on the front porch and a man wearing evening dress would pull up. He’d be in a horse-drawn carriage surely. He’d cry out, “You there! Lad! It’s an emergency! Can you tell me of some notable missing persons?” And I could promptly answer, “Judge Crater, obviously. And then there was this Austrian I think diplomat somebody who was in the 1810s or 1820s or something and he walked around a horse and nobody ever saw him again, how about that?” And he’d answer, “Excellent! You’ve saved the day!” And this despite the questionable taste of my reference. He would offer a sack full of obscure gold coins recovered from Oak Island, Nova Scotia, in payment. I would graciously decline, paid enough by having been useful when the need arose.

Of course this never happened. Through to age eighteen I spent about six minutes total on the front porch, and that includes time spent shoveling blizzards off it. It’d be impossibly unlikely the need would arise in that little window. And who’d pull a horse-drawn chariot through suburban New Jersey when we were still shoveling out after a blizzard?

And you know what know-it-all weenies are like. You can see their social behavior in the talk page of any Wikipedia article. They’re the ones arguing without any hint of irony or self-awareness that a longrunning web comic can’t be “notable” if the comic’s home page confesses it’s “the greatest comic strip you never heard of”. The “Well, actually” open is the challenge call of the unrecovered know-it-all weenie. Others know to ignore all the pedantic silliness which follow it.

So I thank my autocorrect for saving me from an innocently meant mistake, and the social oblivion which would follow. But this does make me wonder what other kinds of know-it-all weenie protection I have on my laptop. If I began a sentence “To be precise”, would it deliver a mild electric shock? If I started to write “In point of fact”, would it slap my hands? I considered starting a paragraph “Techincally.” I feared the computer would explode in a room-filling cloud of foam, leaving me unable to move until authorities cut me free. And I bet they couldn’t even name one foreign prince to cross the English Channel and rule from London since William the Conquerer, let alone two, like me. Clearly, I don’t know what I would do without autocorrect on my side.

What To Call People Without Getting Them Necessarily Angry


My love and I were talking in the car about what to call people from various states, because our podcasts were out of fresh episodes. You know, like, “Michigander” for people from Michigan, or “Marylander only the emphasis sounds weird” for people from Maryland. We knew better than to try calling people from Massachusetts anything. And we’re pretty sure that we could call people from Maine “Mainers”, since they don’t see much reason to speak to us anyway.

Still, our shared interest in the old-fashioned hobby of remembering stuff failed us for a couple of states. For example, we can’t figure out a good term for people from Connecticut, although that doesn’t matter much since we couldn’t afford to even drive through the state, much less talk about anybody in it. New Hampshire, though, and Arkansas are giving us trouble and we’re just going to have to insist that people from those states move out in order that we don’t have to have a term to describe folks from that state. New Hampshire already has what seems like a perfectly functional backup in Vermont. Arkansas I don’t know so well. I’ll trust them to figure out where to go. They’ve probably got their section of the United States pretty well figured out, apart from the adjectives.

PS: I topped out at 957 page views, from 458 visitors, yesterday. I knew I should’ve logged out and hit refresh just 43 more times.

The Origin Of The Specious


The trivia board continued to tease me. Did you know, it asked in its white-board glory, it would take over eleven Empire State Buildings to reach the deepest point in the Gulf of Mexico? That “over” sounds weaselly, yes, but I can’t fault its inclusion. Obviously the exact number of Empire State Buildings needed would depend on where you start from. You need far fewer if you’re starting from Veracruz, Mexico than if you’re starting from Glen, New Hampshire.

This affects the economics of your Empire State Building-lined bridge to the deepest point in the Gulf of Mexico! I don’t judge how. It’s not my business to say whether you’re trying to build this bridge for the lowest cost in Empire State Building procurement, or whether you’re trying to keep the Empire State Building-building industry at a stable production level. These are questions of political and economic priorities and so are outside the domain of the trivia whiteboard. I think it’s important the nation have a robust Empire State Building-building industry. It’s unsound to have to trust there’ll just be ones on hand when we need them. It could be disastrous for a project requiring 22 Empire State Buildings to find we can only scrounge together 24 Chrysler Towers and an old 30 Rockefeller Center that was filling up the junk drawer, between the fabric pads for the chair legs and the ball of decaying twine. Again, that’s just my feelings on the issue. Reasonable people can disagree, though not with me.

But why do people love trivia? Sure, everybody likes knowing things. And everybody really likes knowing things they think other people don’t know. When you share trivia you’re giving up some of your hoard of knowledge to someone else’s. A good trivia item isn’t just something that makes you think about Empire State Buildings and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a chance to dispense social patronage. And it works even if all you’re doing is telling someone the first video MTV played was the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”. They’ll grin and nod and tell the joke about MTV ever playing music videos, even though they already knew the trivia because they were one of the Buggles. You should’ve checked who you were talking to sooner. If they’re gracious they’ll share some trivia back. Say, that the first video played on VH1 was Bruce Woolley’s version of “Video Killed The Radio Star”.

That’s not true, but it doesn’t matter, because within eight months Wikipedia will say that’s true and it’s just VH1 anyway. It’s too good a story. Given a fact and a story we’ll pick the story every time. Consider: The United States produced 1,768,000 net tons of raw steel in the week ending the 15th of August, 2015. That’s a substantial amount of steel, more substantial still if you ram you toe into it in the dark, but it’s worthless as trivia. It’ll never be as popular as the Buggles thing, which has been the most-shared piece of trivia on Twitter for the past three years running.

That’s also not true. Well, maybe it is. I don’t know. Something’s got to be the most-shared piece of trivia on Twitter. But again it doesn’t matter, because that’s got the hope of grabbing the imagination. You can picture a story behind it that United States domestic raw steel production can’t match, what with the rate of capability utilization at 73.9 percent. Here’s one the trivia board said: the catfish has over 27,000 taste buds. Is that surprisingly many? Or few? How many taste buds should we expect a catfish to have on its tongue? Do catfish have tongues? Do they have taste buds somewhere other than a tongue? Could a catfish have tastebuds on its skin? If it does, would this imply they technically spend their entire lives in a state of licking rivers?

Even if the answer to all these questions is “get away from me” followed by the ichthyologist running down the hall, receiving this trivia has given us something to imagine. That would be thinking of how catfish taste buds were counted. Maybe it was a grad student in the biology department carefully tallying things with microscope and whiteboard. Maybe it was a local newspaper editor demanding, “Resnikoff! Enough of this debate about the city hiring a new building code inspector! Find out how many taste buds a catfish has and do it before we put Sunday’s paper to bed!” And Resnikoff had to turn in “over 27,000” because that’s as far as the counting got before deadline. I’d like to know more. Whether it’s true or not, I can tell you the catfish would rather have been left alone. Nobody shares good trivia with it. Maybe someone should tell catfish steel capacity utilization is down 8.4 percent from the same week in 2014. That’s starting to make a story, and with it, a good trivial one.

Oh, I Don’t Know


“Did you know?” asked the trivia board. It wondered if I knew that the King of Hearts was the only king to have a mustache. I did not know that. I don’t know that I can even believe it. I can accept if they’ve decided not to count the Kings of Lower Mustachia, since that principality (really an arch-ducky, since things were going so swell at the time) was absorbed into the North German Federation and from there, Germany, long ago and nobody’s checked in on the Kings since the war Austro-Prussian War. Fine enough. But surely they’re forgetting the Hipster King at a minimum, aren’t they?

In other news I am still not up to facing the idea that socks are no longer simple garments. You may proceed.

(Yes, yes, I know what you’re all thinking. But I do not remember whether the King of the Nuditarians had a mustache. I guess maybe if he were Ron Mael, but I don’t know that he was.)

Finding the Fun: Caffeine Edition


I was hanging out online, since that’s easier than interacting with people, and the conversation turned to caffeine. One person piped up with this:

Fun fact, Red Bull actually has less caffiene than a regular cup of coffee.

While I was getting ready to have a reaction to that — don’t tell me you could respond to that without some warm-up first — someone else laid this on the group:

Fun fact: the lethal amount of caffeine is equal to 10,000 cups of coffee … at once.

OK, so, even if either or both of those are facts, this is fun? What kind of crowd am I moving in?

This is why I mostly drink coffee only when I misunderstood the question.