Math Comics, over there


I just wanted to give a heads-up that over on my mathematics blog I put up a roster of a bunch of comics with mathematics themes or mentions or the like. Also I tried out a new theme, so the page has a more interesting color scheme. The new theme doesn’t include any kind of bold or italics or other special note for titles, which I put inside the HTML “cite” tag, because I do that and because themes do that and I’m honestly annoyed enough by this I’m thinking of ditching this theme altogether and finding some different one. I don’t know who to blame for my sense of graphic design getting in the way of my world like this, but I’m going to choose the editors of 80’s children’s science magazine 3-2-1 Contact. I have my reasons.

The snow is just a little bit of silliness and I like it. Yes, the magazine was a promotional tie-in to the TV show.

The Show Didn’t Predict The Existence of Minnesota, That Would Be Silly


If you remember anything about the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Coach it’s probably because you’re too good at remembering things and should maybe take a course in Useful Forgetting from your county college. Never mind. But if you do remember any of that it’s likely that what you remember is most of the show was set at Minnesota State University, which didn’t exist, because setting college shows at imaginary colleges lets the production staff have a giggle when they meet someone claiming they went there as an undergraduate, something they can’t get if they just meet someone who insists he went to Rutgers, like, I want to say, Scott Baio’s character on Who’s The Boss because I only partly completed my Useful Forgetting course.

Anyway, thing is, nowadays there is a Minnesota State University, formed when a couple universities in Minnesota changed their names and teamed up to fight evil. And now that’s got me wondering if fanboys of Coach get all smug about how their show predicted how there’d just have to be a Minnesota State and the universe didn’t make sense without it, the way certain Star Trek fanboys insist there wouldn’t be cell phones if it weren’t for communicators. And if they do, does anyone call them on it, or do their friends figure they should get to enjoy whatever reflected Coach-based glory they can get?

All this is a ridiculous thing to wonder and I apologize for taking so much of your time with it.

The Player


It was my brother on the phone. “I need your help with something,” which is the traditional opening for a lot of great ideas that I never really get around to following up on.

“Well, if I can help, sure,” which is a useful thing to say in any situation since that little conditional leaves you completely off the hook.

“I want to start a new service. See, there’s all these people who want to make movies or TV shows or stuff like that and they’re not getting through to production. You know why that is?”

Continue reading “The Player”

Brainy Thinking


I bet you haven’t gone thinking about neuroscience in ages, possibly longer, which is fine, but it’d be pretty caddish of you neuroscientists out there to take me up on the bet. You should have better things to do than pick quarrels over my rhetorical tricks anyway. That’s something for the advance team of offensive forensics experts to be doing. Let them have their glory.

Anyway, the neat thing about neuroscience is that most of what anyone knows about it is wrong, and what they know that isn’t wrong is so misleading it would be easier if it were just wrong instead. For example, everyone has heard about how we only use ten percent of our brain. What’s misleading about this point is that we don’t say what it is we use that ten percent of our brains for. Some use it for thinking, some use it for light crafts, some use it as a place to keep the spatulas. It’s the other ninety percent that ought to interest us, because that’s the part the brain is using for its own purposes, and it’ll tell us what those are only when it’s good and ready.

One of the greatest breakthroughs in understanding the workings of the brain came about in a horrible railroad construction accident on September 13, 1848, a mere 145 years to the day before the debut of Late Night With Conan O’Brien, which hasn’t got anything to do with this. But in 1848 one Phineas Gage was doing some railroad construction thing of the kind they did in 1848 when it exploded and sent a long metal bar through his head. Amazingly, Gage lived, but his personality was radically changed. Whereas before he was comfortable holding his head high and looking around at people, suddenly he did a lot more staring down at his shoes. And according to reports, while he had in the past walked into rooms of all sorts the way anyone does, afterward he could only enter by turning his head or, better, his whole body to the side and sneaking in. “Clearly,” thought doctors, “the metal bar in his head has altered his mental state. He seems to now believe he’s in California,” which was correct. Thus metal bars clearly don’t diminish one’s ability to tell whether one has moved from Vermont to San Francisco, but neuroscientists hope to find something which will. “We’re not sure,” they said recently at a conference in Rutland, California, “But we think fiddling with Google Maps will do it.” It’s worth nothing that Gage also grew a lot angrier around people with magnets, which is one of the reasons he stopped hanging around refrigerator doors.

More recent and important breakthroughs came in the 1950s and 1960s when the corpus callosum, the connections between the hemispheres, in brains of certain epileptic patients was experimentally severed. If one then showed a picture of, say, a paper clip to the right eye, controlled by the left hemisphere, then the nations of the Western hemisphere would think they were seeing a paper clip, while the nations of the Eastern hemisphere would just get all tense from the idea that someone was trying to clip their papers but not know why. While these were startling results, the resulting increase in world tension was judged not to be worth it, especially after science fiction writers began publishing satires of how the world would get blown up over a tragic clip-related misunderstanding, and we bought everybody staples under the Great Stapling program. The inability of the world’s markets to produce enough staplers would result in a crisis in 1974, but nobody noticed because there was too much else going on.

The newest approach to understanding the brain’s functioning is to measure how much oxygen different parts consume while the brain does work, because we got some great brain-part-oxygen-consumption machines in the mail and since we didn’t order them, we get to keep them for free, because we remember those public service announcements where the Eskimo gets an electric fan in the mail. It turns out the brain uses oxygen the most rapidly when it has to haul a wheelbarrow full of pebbles out to the garden, then slightly less rapidly when it’s using a block-and-tackle system to pull an engine mount out of a car, and the least oxygen of all when the brain is trying to blow a fly off the table by blowing at it. These results have surprised nearly everybody except the flies.

Another Warning From My Dreams


Do not “just slip out” a couple seconds during a science fiction convention centered around praising the guy who played George Jefferson on The Jeffersons, because everybody else at the con is just going to get together and build a satiric comic set-piece based on his work and it’s going to just rehash the most obvious, base jokes about The Jeffersons in a science fiction setting and it’ll have almost no artistic integrity at all, and you’re going to have a dickens of a time getting back in the convention hall past the defensive screen of people warning you that that’s the guy who played George Jefferson in there and he’s just killing with what you recognize as artistically bankrupt, pandering, fan-written science fiction convention activities. Be safe: go to the bathroom before the convention starts!

It’s The 70s, So Sure, Pinball Can Be A Game Show


Now that I’ve seen an episode of The Magnificent Marble Machine I know finally what Sid and Marty Krofft’s Password Plus would have been like.

I like how the game show really captures the essence of what makes pinball great: sluggish play by a pair of amateurs on giant board with a handful of targets, for up to a whole sixty seconds, that you get to only after twenty minutes of puttering around watching people try to guess whether “President’s Pad” might be a clue to naming “The White House”.

Now I’m sure the world feels better that I’ve made fun of a forgotten short-lived mid-70s game show. At least the world except the people who made it in the first place, so, I’m sorry about that.