After The End Of Everything


To conclude my Mystery Science Theater 3000-based reminiscences:

Everything ends. I guess we can’t put a stop to that. In early 1999 the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were a bunch of ideas for continuing the show, most of them floated by the regulars on Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. There was moving to another cable channel. Or maybe going to PBS. Maybe releasing stuff direct to videotape or that newfangled DVD. Maybe forget about fangling stuff and just release stuff online. Maybe save the we-imagined pricey business of recording host sketches and stuff and instead just release audio tracks that people could match to movies they’d buy. Maybe just go to doing live shows on new, never-ending college tours. Maybe even transcend the movies thing altogether and do comic books or something. Maybe do some fundraising scheme to buy new episodes. Not interested in this: the people who actually made the show, far as we could tell. It went off the air in August 1999 with the final episode, Danger Diabolik, and then went off the air again in September 1999 with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders which had been sitting in some kind of rights quibble for months. The show went off the air once again with The Screaming Skull a bit over four years later, when the Sci-Fi Channel stopped airing reruns.

But losing the original show hurts a group of fans gathered for stuff. And yes, the group’s focus expanded; we got to talking about movies and TV shows and books and all sorts of pop culture, viewed with that perspective of loving good stuff, but also loving looking for what’s enjoyable about the bad. Or looking at the bad and trying to find stuff enjoyable about it. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 has any positive insight, it’s that there is something worth sharing that can be made out of most anything.

Still, it hurts a group to lose its TV show. And it hurts a group to be on Usenet. The great thing about Usenet is it was designed in the early 80s, for anyone who likes to run a server to set up and run and share with people. The thing that kills it is that who wants to set up and run a server for talking about cancelled TV shows? If there’s any money in it, it’s in proper web forums that can show advertisements or at least harvest user information. Usenet can’t do that. Servers dwindled out of operation, probably because they broke and nobody knew they were even there or how to fix them. A couple of big ISPs dropped Usenet on allegations the system was used to pirate movies and TV shows and music and while that may have been true we also used it to legitimately talk about urban legends and pinball and comic strips and stuff like that. Still, with each month, there was a little less Usenet, and some people drifted away not to be seen again, and so there was even less Usenet, and some more people drifted off, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything left but a few people who refuse to turn off the lights.

My community dwindled away. Web Site Number Nine, the center of the MiSTing community, went down for a weekend of maintenance sometime in 2004 and hasn’t come back yet. rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc I’d say had its final collapse around 2007 or 2008. I stick around, checking in some and talking occasionally. I try to write at least one new MiSTing a year and post that, but I admit a lot of it feels like putting in designated at-bats to keep alive some abstract streak no one but me even knows exists.

There’s still fans, though. One time I had a rare chance to meet in person some friends from the Seattle area; they spent nearly the whole weekend talking in MST3K quotes, to the point I felt like I was being quizzed. Did I recognize the episode with the jingle about “when you want the flavor of bacon in a dip”? Well, of course I did, but … is this everything we have to talk about? Somehow it felt alienating and I started taking dives, claiming I don’t recognize episodes that I actually do. Boy that’s screwy.

Weirder stuff happened. Really, every crazy plan we had on Usenet in 1999 to save the show came true. There’s live shows, as Cinematic Titanic and as Rifftrax. There’s recorded audio-only tracks, for Rifftrax. There’s episodes made direct for DVD release. There’s episodes brought back on air, sent to PBS stations or some of those weird digital sub-channels on broadcast TV. I remember somewhere seeing a plan to license an MST3K comic book, but goodness knows if that’ll come about.

And so we come to today, when the Kickstarter-funded, Netflix-backed season debuts. I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t have Netflix. We used to get Internet through AT&T, and they don’t want working-class neighborhoods in the state capitol as customers, so we couldn’t get Internet nearly fast enough to stream videos. They were bad enough that Comcast was the improvement. We probably have fast enough Internet to stream videos now. But the habit built from getting ten minutes into a show and stuff freezing up, until I call tech support and demand someone answer “Why?” dies hard. I recommend asking tech support “Why?” It’s at least as productive as saying what your specific problem is, and we do need more people working out exactly why we’ve let society come to this.

So I don’t know what I feel or what I expect exactly from the new season. I want to be enthusiastic, but I’m not good with enthusiasm. Especially if it’s something lots of people are enthusiastic about. It makes me worry something’s going wrong. So here’s what I can manage, before ever seeing Season Eleven: I really hope they don’t screw this up.

I don’t know if I want you to tell me whether they did.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Light trading today as investors were paying much more attention to the discovery of the Candy Land wiki and that it allows comments and that the comments can include stuff like “HOW DARE YOU REPLACE MR. MINT WITH SOME STUPID LOOKING GARY-STU!!!”. The index rose one point.

134

Me, MST3K, and Marissa Picard


So what to do after finally seeing, and getting into, Mystery Science Theater 3000? It being 1996, the answer was: Usenet. The medium is all but dead now, but attempts to reinvent what was great about it continue, without success. I suppose the nearest analogue is Reddit. Or if you imagine the web forum for whatever your favorite subject is. Or the Facebook chat group for your favorite podcast. There’s big technical differences in how they’re organized and administrated. But the important social thing was: here was a way to find and talk with people about stuff you liked. So I got to the newsgroup called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. The name meant it was part of the big group about recreational topics; then the subsection of recreational topics that are about the arts; the subsection of the arts known as TV; the subsection of TV known as MST3K; and then … uhm … miscellaneous. Well, there was a rec.arts.tv.mst3k.admin that just posted “administrative” stuff like show schedules.

It was, like many newsgroups in the mid-to-late 90s, a lively place. Hundreds of people delighting in how they liked something, and how much they liked something, and how they liked it more than other people, and how other people didn’t like the right stuff about it, and how other people should stop liking the wrong stuff about it. You know, like people do. This sounds bog-standard now, but it was new to us all back then.

Some of the most fascinating stuff going on back then was a kind of flame war with a Star Trek fanfic writer. The fellow was named Stephen Ratliff. So far as I know he still is. You remember that episode where the Enterprise crashed into an Irwin Allen Disaster Movie, and the crew has to endure adventures like Worf helping O’Brien deliver her baby and Data popping his head off and Picard getting some kids to climb out of a stuck elevator? Stephen Ratliff was inspired by the kids of that episode and wrote some fan fiction. It has the kids start playing Star Fleet Officer on the holodecks and all that and forming their own little Kids Crew of under-twelve-year-olds. Anyone could have that idea. Ratliff had an idea of pure genius. He came up with some reason to put these kids in charge of the actual starship Enterprise. And then do it again, in more fan fiction.

There had been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction — taking the text of something and inserting jokes, using the characters from the show — for a couple years even then. But when one MiSTer (get it?) discovered Stephen Ratliff the genre was made. The stories had this magnificent natural absurdity told, in the earliest stories, with remarkable ineptitude. These flame wars on rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc amounted to people decrying the offensiveness of the Kids Crew premise — ten-year-olds put in command of starships, even Next Generation starships where nothing all that bad ever really happens? — and Stephen Ratliff defending his premise with remarkable patience and grace and the not-quite-off-point argument that kids used to be inducted into the Royal Navy so why not have that happen again?

Sure, even without Stephen Ratliff there’d probably be a good MiSTing genre. The idea is too good. But he made it part of the fandom. Partly by writing stuff that was so joyous to read, and to riff on. Partly by being so interesting to talk about. Marissa, the girl from the elevator, gets adopted by Picard and becomes Princess of Deep Space England and travels in time to hook up Wesley Crusher and Chelsea Clinton before sending a space shuttle to Mars and becomes Lord High Admiral of the Federation and all that? (I swear.) How do you not want in on that?

So I got in, despite having — then — only seen a handful of episodes. I had a good source text. There was this cartoon series based on Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. In it he and the gang are rebels trying to save the world from the evil Doctor Robotnik and his robots — you know what? Doesn’t matter. It was popular in the 90s, and a lot of people wrote fan fiction. I found a piece and asked the author for permission to riff it. Asking permission was an important part of MiSTing culture. I mean, we didn’t ask for permission to riff spam. But if it was something someone identifiable wrote, it was at least bad form not to ask permission, and to give the author the chance to veto any truly unfair lines — or, in principle, the whole thing — before publishing. No sense being a cad.

It was well-received. One of my friends who’d written his own Sonic the Hedgehog fanfictions asked me to riff his. Other people in the group started looking to Sonic fandom and finding volunteers. There was much more to the MiSTing community than Stephen Ratliff and Sonic the Hedgehog, of course. There was a lot of fanfiction. There were the bizarre rants and conspiracy theories that people published on Usenet without regard for whether that made any sense. My favorite was someone accusing the English department of my grad school, an engineering school, with working to bring down civilization. (Did we even have an English department?) There was spam. So much spam. There was more normal yet poorly-targeted commercial messages. Someone did a whole Tom Swift novel. We did a lot of writing. I learned from it, a good bit about timing and pacing and how to write host sketches that could plausibly be done on the actual show. (Two or three minutes at most, few characters, few entrances and exits, as little editing as possible. This was my taste. Others wrote sketches that could only be done in fan fiction, where budgets and staging action and all aren’t issues. Their tastes.) Stephen Ratliff continued writing Marissa Picard stories that were gradually getting better, in internal logic and in fundamental writing technique. And sending out announcements so people could organize who’d get to riff his newest work.

He won us over. How can you not like someone who listens to you telling him why his stories suck, and thanks you, and writes stories that stop sucking those ways? We won him over. How can you not like an alert and obsessively responsive set of readers for your every word?

There was a lot that was great in the 90s. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Usenet, and MiSTing, were big parts of my great 90s.

Friday: I bet I have some more of this talk in me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose five points on exciting news that astronaut Peggy Whitson is expected soon to become the most experienced United States astronaut in terms of time spent in space, and also on learning the name of a current astronaut.

142

What I’m Thinking About While Telecommuting


I just want someone to reassure me that I’m exactly right in what I’m doing and what I figure to do and anyone saying anything to the contrary is so wrong I don’t have to even answer. Is that too much? Clumsy mention of my mathematics blog reviewing comic strips here.

It's an even split between 'Why are coworkers e-mailing me?' and 'Why aren't coworkers e-mailing me?' but there's also some pondering about whether it's a snow day.
Not depicted: wondering if it’s still funny to write it as “cow orkers” or if that was only something we did in Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban and in the 90s and even then it wasn’t in fact funny but was rather something we all did because we didn’t want to make trouble with the group by pointing out it stopped being funny like the third time anyone used it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Trading saw the index rise by one point over the course of the day, causing Lisa to joke about how a watched index never rises. Matt then pointed out how the index did rise, even if that wasn’t rising by very much. Then Other Matt offered his comment and long story short only like a quarter of anybody is still talking to anybody else.

94

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter I


The only fan fiction I’ve written and shared on the Internet has been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic. It’s a fun genre. It grew from the MST3K newsgroups on Usenet, which I knew as rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc and its affiliates. Mostly it grew in response to the famous “Marissa Picard” stories Stephen Ratliff wrote as Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic. But it’s always included other stuff.

A couple years ago I ran across a series of children’s books from the 1910s. They were written by Arthur Scott Bailey, which exhausts what I know about him. And they’re little tales for kids about life as animals see it. And they’re just … off, in that way that I think makes for great MST3K material. I had wanted to do a whole book, and I just don’t have the time for that. So this week I hope to feature the first five chapters, at least, and I’ve put that together into a little MiSTing experience I hope you enjoy.

Before that, though, I did some more mathematics comics in my other blog. No pictures, sorry.


[ SEASON TEN opening. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. TOM is reading a newspaper and chuckling as MIKE and CROW enter. ]

TOM: Hee heee!

MIKE: What’s up there, Thomas?

CROW: He finally noticed they print the ‘Jumble’ answers upside-down.

TOM: I’m now a happy subscriber to the Ironic Comics page.

[ MIKE takes the paper from TOM’s hands. CROW peeks at a corner, letting the paper flap over his beak. ]

TOM: ‘Beetle Bailey’ as Wagnerian opera! Fred Basset portrayed by a very long duck! ‘The Lockhorns’ with neither lock nor horn!

MIKE: Hey, I like this Clip-Art ‘Cathy’. She married Irving Berlin.

CROW: Wait, this is just ‘Henry’. What’s ironic about that?

TOM: What’s *not* ironic about ‘Henry’?

[ MADS sign flashes. ]

MIKE: Ahp. Agatha Crumm is calling.

[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PEARL, PROFESSOR BOBO, and the OBSERVER are at a table. ]

OBSERVER: I love ‘For Better Or For Worse, And It Turns Out, Worse.’ [ To PEARL’s withering indifference. ] It puts at the end of every strip Anthony whining how ‘I have no home!’

PEARL: OK, Mark Trail. We’ve tried everything to break your spirits. We’ve tried bad movies.

BOBO: We’ve tried telephones!

PEARL: We’ve tried fan fiction.

OBSERVER: We’ve tried advertisements!

PEARL: We’ve tried the most Ruby-Spearsish Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials!

BOBO: I love that one with Goober and Gumdrop!

OBSERVER: Now let’s try … young-reader animal fantasy!

PEARL: Your experiment for today is the first five chapters of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 piece of ouvre _The Tale of Fatty Coon_.

BOBO: See if you learn something special from all this adorable animal fantasy!

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. MOVIE SIGN and general chaos. ]

MIKE: Oh, no! Animal fantasy!

TOM, CROW: AAAAGH!

[ 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.. ]

[ THEATER. ALL file in. ]

> SLEEPY-TIME TALES

TOM: So … uh … good night?

> THE TALE OF FATTY COON

CROW: From Buster Keaton through learning there *is* such a thing as bad publicity.

> BY ARTHUR SCOTT BAILEY

TOM: o/` Arthur was born just a plain simple man o/`

> ILLUSTRATED BY HARRY L. SMITH
> NEW YORK

MIKE: Illustrated by Harry L Smith and the New York dancers!

>
> 1915

> I
>
> FATTY COON AT HOME

TOM: Just sitting around the home …

>
> Fatty Coon was so fat and round

CROW: Oh come *on*.

MIKE: Man, 1915 and they’re ahead of our lead joke.

> that he looked like a ball of
> fur, with a plumelike tail for a handle. But if you looked at him
> closely you would have seen a pair of very bright eyes watching you.

CROW: From the tail?

TOM: Raccoons can see very well through their handles.

>
> Fatty loved to eat.

CROW: And that’s all the personality he’ll need!

MIKE: Pretty much all the personality I have.

> Yes—he loved eating better than anything
> else in the world. That was what made him so fat.

TOM: ‘I’m getting ready to hibernate for winter!’

CROW: ‘It’s May.’

TOM: ‘I don’t want to get caught by surprise.’

> And that, too, was
> what led him into many adventures.

CROW: Like the adventure of Waffle House At 3 am.

MIKE: Taking his life and his maple syrup into his own paws.

>
> Close by a swamp, which lay down in the valley, between Blue
> Mountain and Swift River,

TOM: Burger King on the right and if you come to the old middle school you’ve gone too far.

> Fatty Coon lived with his mother and his
> brother and his two sisters.

CROW: And his mayonnaise.

> Among them all there was what grown
> people call "a strong family resemblance," which is the same thing as
> saying that they all looked very much alike.

TOM: What, because all raccoons look the same to you?

> The tail of each one of
> them—mother and children too—had six black rings around it. Each of
> them had a dark brown patch of fur across the face, like a mask.

MIKE: _Clonus: The Ranger Rick Project_.

> And—what do you think?—each of them, even Fatty and his brother and
> his sisters, had a stiff, white moustache!

CROW: This is getting near body shaming, Mister Arthur Scott Bailey.

>
> Of course, though they all looked so much alike, you would
> have known which was Mrs. Coon, for she was so much bigger than her
> children.

TOM: And she had that ISO 9000 consulting job for Lockheed.

> And you would have known which was Fatty—he was so much
> rounder than his brother and his sisters.

CROW: And he had a bear claw in his mouth.

MIKE: The pastry?

CROW: We’ll see.

>
> Mrs. Coon’s home was in the hollow branch of an old tree.

TOM: They were the first wave of gentrification moving in.

MIKE: Classic cycle. Starving artists, hipsters, raccoons, rents go up.

> It
> was a giant of a tree—a poplar close by a brook which ran into the
> swamp—and the branch which was Mrs. Coon’s home was as big as most
> tree-trunks are.

MIKE: Look, it’s a tree, all right? I’m Arthur Scott Bailey, I got bigger fish to fry than specifying poplar trees.

>
> Blackie was Fatty’s brother—for the mask on his face was just
> a little darker than the others’.

TOM: *Blackie* Coon?

MIKE: Oh dear Lord.

> Fluffy was one of Fatty’s sisters,
> because her fur was just a little fluffier than the other children’s.

TOM: *Fluffy* Coon?

CROW: When Andrew WK visits Anthrocon?

> And Cutey was the other sister’s name, because she was so quaint.

TOM: I feel like I need to apologize and I don’t even know who to.

>
> Now, Fatty Coon was forever looking around for something to
> eat.

MIKE: ‘Here’s a thing!’ (Gulp)

TOM: ‘That’s a vase!’

MIKE: Needs honey mustard.’

> He was never satisfied with what his mother brought home for him.

CROW: ‘Crawdads and berries *again*?’

MIKE: ‘No, this is berries and Crawdads.’

> No matter how big a dinner Mrs. Coon set before her family, as soon as
> he had finished eating his share Fatty would wipe his white moustache
> carefully—for all the world like some old gentleman—and hurry off in
> search of something more.

MIKE: ‘Fatty, that’s a rock.’

CROW: ‘That’s a rock with ranch dressing.’

>
> Sometimes he went to the edge of the brook and tried to catch
> fish by hooking them out of the water with his sharp claws.

TOM: ‘Best case scenario, I catch a snack. Worst case, I touch a goldfish. Either way, a win!’

> Sometimes
> he went over to the swamp and hunted for duck among the tall reeds.

CROW: ‘Hey, a little deep frying and these reeds would be good.’

> And though he did not yet know how to catch a duck, he could always
> capture a frog or two; and Fatty ate them as if he hadn’t had a
> mouthful of food for days.

MIKE: ‘If I eat enough frog maybe a duck will crawl into my mouth and see what’s going on!’

>
> To tell the truth, Fatty would eat almost anything he could
> get—nuts, cherries, wild grapes,

TOM: Boring, straight-laced actuary grapes.

> blackberries, bugs, small snakes,

CROW: Large but depressed snakes.

> fish, chickens,

MIKE: Buckets of fried dough.

> honey—there was no end to the different kinds of food
> he liked.

TOM: I believe you, sugar.

> He ate everything. And he always wanted more.

MIKE: Thing is it’s fun cooking for someone who likes eating so much.

>
> "Is this all there is?" Fatty Coon asked his mother one day.

TOM: Well, you could merge with Ilia and Captain Decker maybe?

> He had gobbled up every bit of the nice fish that Mrs. Coon had
> brought home for him. It was gone in no time at all.

CROW: ‘Well, you could try the less-nice or the morally ambiguous fish.’

>
> Mrs. Coon sighed. She had heard that question so many times;
> and she wished that for once Fatty might have all the dinner he
> wanted.

MIKE: ‘Fatty, you’re a sphere.’

CROW: ‘And I could be a hypersphere, Mom!!’

>
> "Yes—that’s all," she said, "and I should think that it was
> enough for a young coon like you."
>
> Fatty said nothing more. He wiped his moustache on the back of
> his hand (I hope you’ll never do that!)

TOM: You eating raw frogs, though, Arthur Scott Bailey’s cool with.

> and without another word

MIKE: Really, what else was there to say?

> he started off to see what he could find to eat.

CROW: ‘This is delicious!’

MIKE: ‘This is an ironing board!’

CROW: ‘With marshmallows!’

[ To Continue ]

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

After the two-day holiday the Another Blog, Meanwhile index came raring back up six, count ’em, six points despite getting caught in an argument about what it is exactly “to rare”.

102

Oh Yeah, The Katzenjammer Kids Ended Nine Years Ago And Nobody Noticed Until Now


Back when the first rumors of Apartment 3-G‘s cancellation came I wrote that King Features pays someone (Hy Eisman) to draw The Katzenjammer Kids, which “can only make sense as a point of pride”. It’s the longest-running syndicated comic strip, originally created in 1897 by Rudolph Dirks. In its day it had many imitators and, following a creators-rights dispute, a long-running duplicate strip The Captain And The Kids also created by Dirks. Its popularity has declined, certainly, what with Dutch humor taking some serious hits from the sinking of the General Slocum and the end of vaudeville and the World Wars and all that. But it was still there, logging in one new Sunday strip a week for an alleged fifty newspapers worldwide. A distribution of “about fifty newspapers” is what they claim about any strip that nobody has found in actual newspapers in living memory.

And then a couple weeks ago, in the wake of 3-G‘s sad end, rec.arts.comics.strips maven D.D.Degg — who tracks the start and end dates of comic strips — noticed something. King Features Weekly Services, which had distributed the comic strip, no longer listed it. Degg’s searches through feature directories found that in 2015 the strip was listed as “reprints only”. The 2013 directory didn’t say anything about it being reruns only. This naturally led to the question: when was the last new Katzenjammer Kids published?

The Captain writes out his New Year's resolutions: fixing the roof, getting more exercise, all that. Momma points out he resolved them each of the last five years too.
Hy Eisman’s Katzenjammer Kids for the 1st of January, 2006. Probably the last new New Year’s comic strip for the venerable but not actually read comic strip. Yes, I get the dramatic irony in it being about repeating New Year’s resolutions.

Eventually, Michael Tisserand with The Comics Journal did the ridiculous and contacted Hy Eisman. Eisman reported (says Degg of what Tisserand said) that the last Katzenjammer Kids comic he drew was in 2006. Nobody has been able to find any publicity or news attention given to the longest-running comic strip going into reruns. But Degg did discover that King Features mentioned right there in its 100th Anniversary supplement to the newspapers that the comic strip ended in 2006.

If I can work out, or find someone who has worked out, when exactly the new strips ended I’ll pass that on. (Comics Kingdom’s web site includes the strip going back to October of 1998 and there might be a hint in the copyright notices.) Or I’ll just wait and freeload on Degg’s work. Eisman is still, reportedly, drawing new Popeye strips for Sundays. But it does strike me that in 2008 the Sunday Popeye strips dropped a storyline in which Wimpy was running for Mayor without resolution. And his maybe running for Mayor was mentioned again in 2012. I haven’t caught an exact rerun yet, but now there’s reason to be wary.

In Which I Am Discovered And Made Kind Of Famous-Ish


And so then this happened.

My readership hovers somewhere around 80 or so most days, and then suddenly jumps up to about 900 two days in a row, thanks to the AV Club.
A few weeks back I posted a graph about how my readership kept growing the more I wrote about Apartment 3-G and the less that happened in it. It’s less a funny-ha-ha and more a funny-yeah-that’s-true. I will never see numbers like this again, ever.

What happened is The Onion AV Club respects its duty to the parts of popular culture that aren’t really popular or part of the culture anymore. So it discussed the end of Apartment 3-G. Under the “Great Job, Internet” column they published an essay aptly titled “Comics bloggers say goodbye to Apartment 3-G”. And I got mentioned in it twice. As a result there’s been a rush of people reading my description of “disjointed and unfollowable” plots. As I write this the day (the 24th of November) isn’t quite over. But it seems plausible I might see a thousand page views for the day alone. That’s on top of 873 for the day before. Goodness knows what the next day will bring. I suppose fewer. It’d be odd if people were even more interested in what The AV Club says about what some other blogger says about a comic strip they weren’t following another day later.

I didn’t just get a stray link, though. I even got to be the second block-quoted text. I’m between commentary from The Lovely Ladies Of Apartment 3-G commentary blog and The Comics Reporter‘s essay on the conclusion. I am delighted to be quoted, especially since it’s as “Another blog, meanwhile”. Perhaps my name is just a little too implausible for the AV Club’s readers. I know most people trying to read my name are stumped by what to make of it. The “Nebus” part, I mean. Most folks know what to make of “Joseph”. They make “Joe” of it.

'Another blog, meanwhile, used the death of Apartment 3-G to speculate on the future of newspaper comics in general. After all, when one comic strip is canceled, that provides an opportunity to other strips to hoping to take its spot in hundreds of newspapers.' And then it quotes my 'so who won?' essay about 'not the soap opera strips'.
The Onion AV Club sees me fit to mention, kind of, as another blog, meanwhile, discussing the end of Apartment 3-G.

I know that when someone on the Internet says “I am delighted by” something, it normally means “I am not delighted by” that thing. But when I say “I am delighted by”, I don’t mean anything so complicated as “I am not delighted by”. I mean, simply, “I am delighted by”. The baffling of people by my name is only part of it. What also has me truly delighted is that the AV Club’s article was written by Joe Blevins. I know that guy.

Well, kind of know him. He and I were both participants, back in the 90s, on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. Usenet groups were kind of like web forums, except that you could read them using any software you like and they didn’t have ads crowding out your web browser and making them crash. And you could follow threads and sub-threads with ease. So you see why they couldn’t compete with the modern Internet experience. But he and I were both active members in the MiSTing community.

I’ve posted a couple MiSTings here. They’re the fan fiction version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, taking Usenet posts or bad fan fiction or whatnot and making fun of it. We’d post these to rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc, which was for Mystery Science Theater 3000-related activity. This included fan fiction. I haven’t seen Blevins in ratmm, as we abbreviated a phrase that already included four abbreviations, in ages. But then who has?

So this makes things a tiny bit different. This isn’t just any old writer coming across my name and having no idea what to make of it. This is a guy with whom I collaborated in making fun of Marrissa Picard stories not knowing what to make of my name. The name “Marrissa Picard” may mean nothing to you. This is because your life has gone right in some important ways. Trust me on this. Point is, after experiences like that, I would expect my name to get recognized even after a decade.

So is Joe Blevins snubbing me? I can’t imagine why he would, unless he’s still upset about losing to me in the Web Site Number Nine MiSTing Awards for 2002, category Best Single Riff. Back then I won a devastating victory with a line in “Jaded Views”. That was a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic about two characters who were kind of like the authors, only they were badgers and didn’t realize they made themselves out to be terrible people. I’ll own up, I don’t think my winning riff was the best one published that year, let alone the best one I’d written.

I’m not saying that “Just because they’re trapped in a desperate struggle for survival against a crushing worldwide war machine doesn’t mean they can’t maintain a very active theater community” isn’t a funny line. I just think that even in that same MiSTing, I did better with the credit “Based on a sneeze by Harlan Ellison”. I’m just passing on what the voters for MST3K fan fiction awards thought at the time. Other folks may have done beter, and Blevins may have even been one of them. While I was delighted to have a fanfic award long ago, it’s not as though I’ve spent four days a week gloating about beating him out about it. For goodness sake, there’s my award for writing that sketch in which Tom Servo gets all huffy and thoroughly debunks the theory that Casper the Friendly Ghost is the afterlife fate of Richie Rich. I’m much prouder of that.

I hope he’s not snubbing me. I’m certainly not snubbing him. I am delighted by all this. And I’m delighted to learn that a decade-plus after we last had contact he’s gone on to being a freelance writer for a leading pop culture web site. He’s always been a funny guy and I hope he’s doing well enough to support his writing habit.

Meanwhile, I am already reaping lasting benefits of an extra 1500 or so page views in two days. I’ve already had literally more than one new person subscribe by e-mail to new humor blog posts. And the readership boost hasn’t been as pronounced over on my mathematics blog, but it has been detectable. And isn’t “detectable” all that anyone on the Internet wants to be? Yes. Yes it is.

MiSTed: Brad Guth, Venus for Dummies, Part 3 of 3


A question always asked about cranks is: are we being unfair to them? Even if they aren’t right, don’t their thoughts deserve as much of a hearing as anyone else’s? Might some of them be correct after all? It’d be a tall order for a physical sciences crank to be right, but they could have a key insight the mainstream has overlooked. And purely reasoning-based disciplines like mathematics technically don’t even require training, just an ability to think hard and clearly about something.

I think a bit of listening is worth doing. A person might happen to be the first person in the world to have noticed something significant and true. But there comes a point you can stop listening. I think for most sci.space.history people that came when Guth was unable to tell the difference between a photograph of Venus and a photograph of Mars. Properly speaking, that doesn’t mean he might not be on to something. But it is a hard blow to an argument entirely based on photographs of Venus and/or Mars.


> do reconsider
> as to bothering yourself to take another subjective look-see

CROW: Call ahead! It’d be embarrassing if Venus were out when you get there.

> and then
> honestly interpret this thick and dense atmospheric insulated terrain
> for yourself,

TOM: But ask for help understanding the dirty jokes in the Malagasy Orogeny.

> as to what some of those highly unusual patterns could
> possibly represent, as anything other than the random geology
> happenstance of hot rocks.

CROW: I see a bunny.

JOEL: I see a painting by Thomas Eakins.

>

> =93Guth Venus=94 1:1, plus 10x resample/enlargement of the area in
> question:

TOM: Are we to suppose this is some “magic late-bombardment protoplanet”?

> https://picasaweb.google.com/102736204560337818634/BradGuth#slideshow/5629579402364691314
>

JOEL: The picture is nice enough but I like seeing all those 3’s up there.

> This is not to say that 99.9999% of this Venus surface doesn=92t look
> perfectly natural (at least it does to me),

CROW: And I’ve been looking at things for *years*!

> just like the surface of
> Earth might look if having to use the exact same SAR-C imaging methods

TOM: The same saucy imaging methods? Wow!

> and its limited resolution that could be easily improved upon by any
> new missions for mapping Venus in greater detail (such as 7.5 meters/
> pixel).

CROW: Oh, we’d just run out of pixels at that rate.

> After all, a millionth of that hot Venus surface area is
> still 4.6e8 m2, or 460 km2,

TOM: Or sixty barleycorns, two pottles, and half a Lords-Whacking-Stick!

> and this most complex area of =93Guth
> Venus=94 (100 x 100 pixels or 506 km2

CROW: 485 if you use coupon code GUTHVENUS!

> ) that which includes mostly
> natural geology, isn=92t involving but a fraction more than a millionth
> of the Venus surface area,

JOEL: It all adds up to three squintillionths of a Venusian barleycorn!

> and yet it seems as though highly developed
> and to a large enough scale that makes for deductively interpreting
> those patterns

JOEL: Socrates is a mortal.

TOM: Pants are rarely worn on the head.

CROW: A person with plenty of time need not run for the train.

TOM: Oranges are not sharp metal instruments.

JOEL: Therefore, Socrates is being chased by a tiger!

> as rather easy and reliably pixel truthworthy items
> that do in fact exist because the image resampling process isn=92t even
> capable of artificially creating them.

TOM: Iron-clad proof! These pictures are impossible to make!

>
> It can also be suggested and reasonably argued that initially (4+
> billion years ago)

JOEL: Actually it was 3.95 billion years ago. It just aged badly.

> our sun was 25% cooler than nowadays (possibly a
> third cooler),

CROW: Back when it wore those hipster glasses.

TOM: Hipster sunglasses.

> thereby making Venus quite Goldilocks approved even if
> she was naked and totally dumbfounded.

JOEL: Didn’t Theodore Sturgeon write this story?

> But even this cool beginning
> still doesn=92t fully explain as to why such a large and complex
> geometric sale of a structured community

CROW: Featuring a golf course, a security booth, and a clubhouse!

> or mining operation was
> established,

TOM: Well, what’s mine is mine.

JOEL: Or Daffy Duck’s.

> and as to why Venus has been radiating such a large
> amount of its geothermal core energy

CROW: Maybe it’s trying to keep power the Autobots?

> plus having been creating all of
> that unprotected atmosphere that should have been extensively solar
> wind blown away as of more than a billion years ago,

CROW: Except Venus’s Mom made it wear a sensible woolen cap!

> whereas instead
> there=92s more than enough new atmosphere created to make up for the
> lack of having a protective geomagnetosphere.

JOEL: An over-protective geomagnetosphere. It makes Venus call home every like ten minutes.

>
> BTW; there=92s terrestrial objective proof that life even as we know
> it can adjust or acclimate to extreme pressures and even tolerate much
> higher temperatures,

TOM: What Guth means is, squirrels know how to work the thermostat.

> and yet lo and behold there’s still no American
> flags on Venus,

CROW: But there’s the flag of Burkina Faso on Neptune. Go figure.

> but there have been USSR/Russian flags on multiple
> landers that got there decades before us.

TOM: To be fair, the flag of Venus is all over Italy.

JOEL: Oh yeah.

> So, perhaps we=92ll have to
> accept that Venus and all of its natural resources belongs to Russia.

CROW: Giving Russia a huge lead in the uninhabitable wasteland race.

> Otherwise NOVA as having been owned by Google could help all of us
> better understand and appreciate what the extremely nearby planet
> Venus has to offer, but only if they wanted to.

JOEL: Google is figuring they can use Venus to store Usenet.

> Obviously our NASA
> has been avoiding this extremely nearby planet,

TOM: They’re playing hard-to-get so Venus will be interested in NASA.

> perhaps because our
> expertise and talent for getting active probes to survive with that
> atmosphere is simply less than what Russians have accomplished.

CROW: Like crashing into Venus and melting.

>

> http://groups.google.com/groups/search
> http://translate.google.com/#

TOM: GuthVenus was tried in the fourth district court, county of Los Angeles. In a moment, the results of that trial.

CROW: [ Chanting the Dragnet theme ] Dun-dah-dun-dun.

> Brad Guth,Brad_Guth,Brad.Guth,BradGuth,BG,Guth Usenet/=94Guth Venus=94

TOM: GuthVenus was convicted of existing and sentenced to not more than twenty Venusian days of hard labor and between three and seven Latin pedants arguing about what its adjective should be.

CROW: [ Chanting the Dragnet theme ] Dun-dah-dun-dun-DAAAAAH.

JOEL: Well, nice seeing everyone again.

TOM: Yeah, let’s blow this popsicle stand.

[ ALL file out. ]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the creation and the property of Best Brains. Brad Guth and Guth Venus are the creation and property of Brad Guth, and I certainly don’t mean to take over any of that. This fan fiction was created by Joseph Nebus, and should not be taken internally except as ordered by a Venusian. My little Still-Store web site will be back up and running soon with all sorts of new behind-the-scenes coding that petty Venusian minds could not begin to comprehend.

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

Keep riffing the posts.

> honestly interpret this thick and dense atmospheric insulated terrain
> for yourself, as to what some of those highly unusual patterns could
> possibly represent, as anything other than the random geology
> happenstance of hot rocks.


Um, that Still-Store web site is meant to be a repository of MiSTings. It’s not back up yet because they went and changed PHP out from under me and I keep learning better database, XSL, and other tricks and I haven’t taken the solid week or so to just recode the blasted thing. Sorry.

MiSTed: Brad Guth, Venus for Dummies, Part 2 of 3


There have always been cranks. Probably there always will be. I think fondly of many of the cranks on Usenet, though, because I got to see the medium at its height. And these were people who brought such zeal, such determination, such relentless willingness to write in bulk about how everyone else was covering up the truth that it’s awesome to witness. Brad Guth is one in that fine line. I don’t know if he’s still around. Some of me hopes so. A good, compelling, non-traditional prose style is such a wonder.

At the risk of making you think everything else is anticlimax, I should say my favorite joke in this piece was in part 1, the line about getting some relief from smart Venus.


>
> Interplanetary travel capability and especially that of interstellar
> also represents

CROW: Interplanet Janet!

> more than sufficient technical expertise to deal with
> any hellish planet like Venus,

JOEL: It also represents being able to get through La Guardia.

> or even those of whatever cryogenic
> nature,

CROW: Such as your Liquid Nitrogen Beetles or your Frost Rhododendrons.

> because that=92s what advanced physics and good science is fully
> capable of doing in spite of the odds against us.

JOEL: They can live on Venus yet they still cannot tell a cabbage from a lettuce!

>
> If anything, the metallicity of Venus is somewhat greater than Earth,

TOM: But it’s still not greater than the good old U.S. of A, am I right, folks?

> and its ability to create and maintain its substantial atmosphere of
> mostly CO2 as having such an abundance (12 ppm) of helium that=92s

CROW: That everyone talking about Venus has a silly voice.

> offering roughly 200+ times as much as Earth,

TOM: 210 times as much if you don’t count Iowa.

> and having sustained its
> terrific atmosphere without benefit of any moon or

CROW: Or even Moon Helper! Make your moon into a meal!

> the geomagnetic
> protection like our planet has to work with,

JOEL: The invaluable help of Earth’s jaunty Madagascar.

> is truly an impressive
> accomplishment,

TOM: Even bigger than that guy who ate 40 White Castle burgers at one sitting.

> and especially for a smaller than Earth like planet w/
> o moon and managed even though it=92s so much closer to the sun.

CROW: And even though it’s in a region zoned “light commercial/sulfuric acid”.

>
> Firstly, our mainstream eyecandy cache of science infomercials via our
> public funded NASA and otherwise NOVA as owned by Google,

JOEL: Google, run by Rankin-Bass, operated by Cougartown, a division of RCA.

> could just
> as easily help with exploiting this ongoing research if they wanted
> to,

TOM: But they’re too busy making up Twitter accounts from Mars probes.

> and otherwise without their assistance you might try to understand
> that we really do not need to use microscopic or even much higher
> resolution

CROW: Wait, you’re bringing a microscope out to look at Venus?

TOM: I’m picturing a flock of astronomers with those little toy microscopes pointing up at the sky and looking at their fingerprints.

> than 75 m/pixel imaging when the items of most interest
> have always been so extremely or unusually big to begin with.

JOEL: It sounds so obvious when you hear it. Just look at Big Venus instead!

> So, you
> can continue to argue that these images as a derivative from a 36

CROW: Or you can have the halfback sneak around the corner right after the snap and run over to the concession stands.

> confirming look or scanned composite offering this initial 225 meters
> per pixel format are simply not good enough,

JOEL: But they made an honest effort and we appreciate them for that.

> but you=92d only be proving
> to yourself and others as to how unintelligent and/or obstructive that
> sort of closed or naysay mindset really is stuck in denial more than
> reality.

TOM: This is that new shame-based astronomy you hear so much about.

CROW: It’s all the rage among space geeks with low self-esteem.

>
> Venus is perhaps not unlike hell,

JOEL: What isn’t?

CROW: Hades.

> but otherwise its unusually high
> metallicity as indicated by its radar reflective attributes and its
> considerable surplus of helium

TOM: And excessive supplies of silly bouncy balls.

CROW: Venus leads the inner solar system in paper cups with jokes written on the bottom!

JOEL: No other planet has so much Mork And Mindy themed bubble gum!

> plus the mostly geothermal driven
> environment, is at least technically manageable

CROW: For all those planets that need PERT charts.

TOM: They’re hoping to be the first ISO 9001-certified space thingy.

> as long as you have a
> functioning brain of at least a 5th grader

CROW: Or a third and a second grader put together.

TOM: Or a seventh grader and a minus-second grader.

JOEL: Two tenth-graders and a minus fifteenth grader.

> without all the usual
> mainstream status-quo tumors that disable your investigative skills
> and deductive reasoning,

JOEL: Have all your astronomy questions answered by Mark Trail!

> that=92s otherwise considered as human
> intelligence.

CROW: We’re looking for the thinking men’s tumors here.

>
> Of course to most of you that have taken a basic look-see at this old
> Magellan radar obtained image of Venus,

TOM: You’re a bunch of peepers!

JOEL: Want to be a peeper too.

> and especially of the fuzzy or
> blocky pixel image of =93Guth Venus=94 or =93GuthVenus=94,

CROW: Guth Venus ’94!

TOM: He’s running with Vermin Supreme.

> is perhaps
> suggestive of nothing more than offering a nasty looking terrain of
> random geology

CROW: Just throw that glacial moraine anywhere. I’m kind of living out of my asthenosphere.

JOEL: Vermin knows better.

> with piles of extruded hot rock that just so happen to
> look as though artificial or as having been intelligently morphed into
> what seems to offer rational patterns.

TOM: Well, sure. Look at that big ‘EAT AT ZERBLATT’S’ sign on the equator.

> However, within these highly
> confirmed patterns of such mostly hot rock are several odd geometric
> items

JOEL: Like the sulfuric acid parallelogram.

CROW: Finally my geometry teacher will respect me!

> of somewhat large scale and offering us those extremely
> interesting formations,

TOM: Marching in uniform and playing brass instruments!

> that at least on Earth or upon any other
> imaged planet or moon

CROW: Or accretion disc!

TOM: Or black hole!

> hasn=92t come remotely close to offering this
> level of sophisticated geology complexity

JOEL: They had little cozies for their martini glasses.

> and rational community
> looking configuration or modification of such a mountainous terrain
> site.

TOM: Perfect for filming Venus Car commercials!

JOEL: You’ll love cruising in the new Buick Aphrodite 8.

> This makes GuthVenus into a one of a kind off-world location,
> at least up until other better resolution images become available.

TOM: But you can join and operate a GuthPlanet Franchise today!

CROW: Prime locations still available.

JOEL: GuthSaturn closing soon!

>
> Besides merely following my deductive interpretations,

CROW: Socrates is a mortal.

JOEL: Planets will not last forever.

TOM: No two-headed person has ever been Vice-President.

CROW: The owner of the dog does not have a job as a plumber.

JOEL: Therefore Socrates is a mermaid!

TOM: Logical, logical.

MiSTed: Brad Guth, Venus for Dummies, Part 1 of 3


I want to share another MiSTing with you. This is the art of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction, which flourished on the Internet in the 90s and early 2000s. That community’s drifted off … somewhere … I assume, and left me behind. I keep my hand in, writing something now and then. This week’s offering comes from sci.space.history, a Usenet group devoted to exactly what you might think. For a long while the group was haunted by a fellow who figured he knew something about Venus that everyone else insisted was jpeg artifacts and imagination.

I’d wanted to write a short little thing this piece, which is why it hasn’t got any host sketches. That’s why the characters talk about the abruptness of the start; they haven’t eased into it. It was originally published in 2012, as you might work out from the more dated jokes.


[ ALL file into theater ]

CROW: We don’t even get to say hello to anyone?

TOM: Man, austerity stinks.

JOEL: Don’t get political this early in the year, Tommy.

> >MIME-Version: 1.0

JOEL: Sure, now it’s mime, but when we got it it was ourms.

> >Path: reader1.panix.com!panix!usenet.stanford.edu!

TOM: Stanford! Topeka! Tahlequah! Watervliet!

> > l8no23395436qao.0!news-out.google.com!e10ni165558057qan.0!nntp.google.com!

CROW: Google. Because Google is watching you.

> > l8no23877973qao.0!postnews.google.com!e18g2000yqo.googlegroups.com!
> > not-for-mail

TOM: How did we get it, then?

> >Newsgroups: alt.astronomy,

JOEL: I like indie astronomy better.

> sci.space.policy,sci.space.history,

TOM: Space history.

CROW: “Well, used to be we didn’t walk on the Moon, then we did, then we didn’t again, and that brings us to the present day.”

> >alt.news-media,alt.journalism

TOM: I like that grunge journalism.

CROW: I’m here for the news-media gangnam style.

> >Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2012 16:42:04 -0700 (PDT)
> >Complaints-To: groups-abuse@google.com

CROW: Picture all Google coming to a stop because somebody complained about usenet there.

> >Injection-Info:

TOM: Shouldn’t this part be for the pharmacy majors?

> e18g2000yqo.googlegroups.com; posting-host=98.125.250.68; posting-account=nf79RwoAAABXjvy5ztMzmPxgY1WGoktI

JOEL: Discontinue use of GoktI if symptoms persist.

> >NNTP-Posting-Host: 98.125.250.68

CROW: Hike!

> >User-Agent: G2/1.0

TOM: That reduces to G2.0.

> >X-HTTP-UserAgent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1; rv:14.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/14.0.1,gzip(gfe)

JOEL: User Agent Mozilla 5.0.

TOM: Women want him. Men want to be him.

> >Message-ID: <fd6e54d7-cc91-498a-b08b-46db326ecea1@e18g2000yqo.googlegroups.com>

TOM: Hey, that’s a cracked Photoshop license key!

> >Subject: Venus for dummies (6.0) / Brad Guth (GuthVenus)

CROW: Finally, some relief from that *smart* Venus.

> >From: Brad Guth <bradguth@gmail.com>

TOM: He certainly *is*.

> >Injection-Date: Wed, 03 Oct 2012 23:42:04 +0000

JOEL: He’s in a pleasing time-release form.

> >Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252

CROW: Windows 1252 is the version that went to the Model Parliament, right?

> >Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

TOM: Cut! Print it, Raoul!

> >Lines: 137
> >Xref: panix

CROW: *I’M NOT PANICKING! WHO’S PANICKING?*

> alt.astronomy:502748 sci.space.policy:489326

TOM: So with 85 percent of the vote in we’re projecting a win for alt.astronomy.

> sci.space.history:317343 alt.news-media:339276 alt.journalism:263200

JOEL: And in the school board elections alt.news-media has taken the lead.

>
> What sort of weird planet geology, or that of its active geodynamics,
> looks or acts anything like this?

CROW: A pudding planet geology!

>
> Thumbnail images of Venus,

[ JOEL holds up his thumb. ]

TOM: That’s not Venus, that’s a wart.

> including mgn_c115s095_1.gif (225 m/pixel)

CROW: 225 men per pixel?!

> http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/thumbnail_pages/venus_thumbnails.html
> Lava channels, Lo Shen Valles, Venus from Magellan Cycle 1

TOM: o/` We didn’t start the fire … o/`

> http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/html/object_page/mgn_c115s095_1.html

JOEL: C115 S095 underscore 1.

CROW: You — you sank my battleship!

> http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/hires/mgn_c115s095_1.gif
> =93Guth Venus=94, at 1:1, then 10x resample/enlargement of the area in
> question:

TOM: You can see Oswald turn and shoot Mark David Chapman.

> https://picasaweb.google.com/bradguth/BradGuth#5630418595926178146

CROW: That’s not Venus, that’s a picture of my cat!

> https://picasaweb.google.com/bradguth/BradGuth#5629579402364691314

JOEL: Add some captions you can have your own LOLvenus.

TOM: I hate that you said that.

>

JOEL: [ Sheepish ] I’m sorry.

> Not even the most active moon of Jupiter being Io offers up anything
> like this

TOM: Io doesn’t even try! You invite it to the potluck and it brings a bag of Doritos every-single-time.

> remarkable degree of surface geology complexity,

CROW: Fine dentition, good arch in the back. A good mudder.

TOM: How’s its fadder?

> and there=92s

JOEL: Mostly oats and hay.

> certainly nothing remotely artificial looking with anything discovered
> about the planet Mars

TOM: Apart from the big ‘MADE IN TAIWAN’ across the Mariner Valley.

> or thus far of any other planet or moon to speak
> of,

JOEL: What about Unspeakable Moon?

CROW: We don’t talk about it.

> outside of Venus that gets within 110 LD every 19 months

TOM: Except when taken internally by a physician.

> (any
> closer and we=92d have to reevaluate Venus as a NEO).

CROW: So if you spot Venus coming any closer to Earth than Venus
ever comes, that’d be suspicious.

>
> Of any humanoids or other intelligent species that’s capable of
> surviving interstellar treks,

TOM: So, what, we’re ignoring the total morons who make it across space?

> at least technically should have no
> problems with remaining stealthy

CROW: ‘Sure, you’ll have no trouble being stealthy on Earth, mister
space alien. Just pull your ball cap down over your forehead …
yeah, all three heads.’

> or even capable of infiltrating and
> mingle within any community of existing life-forms upon any given
> planet they chose to study

CROW: I’m imagining a pack of Vulcans wearing costumes trying to hang around a pack of wallabies.

> or even to populate and commercialize by
> extracting valuable elements in order to suit their own needs.

TOM: I don’t want to be a nitpicker but that sentence was 62 words long and forgot to have a predicate.

Meanwhile, On Usenet


Yeah, I’m one of the nearly eighteen people still hanging around Usenet. One of the best hangouts is alt.fan.cecil-adams, where people who like Cecil Adams’s The Straight Dope information feature get together and never talk about Cecil Adams’s The Straight Dope information feature. It’s a neat spot, though, since it’s a gathering of people who were know-it-alls their entire lives. And the astounding thing is everybody basically gets along with everybody else, even though the natural enemy of the know-it-all is any other know-it-all. We just know that any other know-it-all is dead wrong and doesn’t even realize it, and this produces hard feelings as other people won’t concede that they’re wrong and I’m right. But for some reason in this group that dynamic doesn’t work. Nobody knows why.

Anyway. Subject lines in the group occasionally turn up beautiful little couplets and here’s some, just as they appeared on my news reader.

The Trouble with Normal
I have had about 10 showings of my house in 2 weeks

(That’s normal enough, I think, if you’re trying to sell the place.)

Too Honest?
The very definition of looney tunes:

(Kind of a cynical attitude there.)

Soap Dispensing
IRS courtesy

(Good to know they do give you soap. This next one seems like over-reacting, to me.)

What do you do with a leftover nuclear bunker?
Harper Lee’s Latest Opus

(And this next one has a poignant missed-connections thing going for it.)

Lost iPhone
seeking windows

I know this won’t be believed, since nobody believes in amusing found-comedy bits like this anymore, and they suspect entires have been edited to make them out better, but it’s what came up as I saw it. Anyway, if I were making them up I’d have tried for more gut-punchingly funny things instead of trifling grins like these.

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered


A while back I talked about the backstory Python Anghelo designed for the pinball machine Popeye Saves The Earth. I hesitate to call the backstory “crazypants”. I don’t want to wear out a good term by overuse. Also “crazypants” is inadequate to describe it. “Crazypants, crazyshirt, crazysocks and crazyshoes, crazyblazer, crazysheltered from the crazybuckets of crazyrain by a craizywaistcoat and crazyumbrella” gets more at it. Somehow Anghelo, most famous for Joust, had a strange vision for Popeye. Joust you’ll remember as the “medieval knights in space using ostriches to bludgeon pterodactyls” game.

The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?

Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.

Cute picture of Popeye, Bluto, and a number of animals looking concerned or indifferent on a ship, with the Earth and Moon in the background.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I do not know how Popeye (right) accidentally sailed to translunar space.

But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.

Animals bunched up on a space-going ship. At the back of the ship Bluto is being whalloped by various animals including a monkey.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. Far right, Bluto is whacked by a monkey.

There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.

Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.

And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?

Fun play field art of animals in comic action, mostly. Lion- and tiger-men playing shuffleboard with turtles, an iguana sprawled out over the 'Special' score light, that sort of thing.
Playfield detail on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I’m not sure the penguin in the center at the bottom is doing a fan dance with a tablecloth but cannot rule it out.

The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.

Koala on the edge of the ship, staring down. I may be reading a sense of despair into its expression that the artist didn't intend.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. The koala contemplates the complicated ways of fate while sitting at the prow of a space-going ship.

So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.

Some Stuff To Look At


Over on my mathematics blog, yes, I looked at comic strips again. No equations, I promise.

Otherwise I’d like to bring people’s attention to Comics Kingdom, the web site for King Features Syndicate. They have a great selection of vintage comic strips, mostly soap-opera and story comics. And they’ve just added Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre, or as every person in the world knows it, Popeye. My love and I are a bit Popeye-mad and this is a chance to read him as he was introduced to the world, one strip a day.

Castor Oyl and Bernice the Whiffle Hen are haunted by a mysterious, shrouded figure.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre (Popeye) for the 1st of January, 1919. Popeye is a few weeks from being introduced and taking over.

The reruns are beginning from about three weeks before Popeye makes his debut. This does join the story — centered around the magical Whiffle Hen, Bernice — several months into its run. Some folks on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips have complained about that. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though. Segar is good about explaining the story to those joining it in progress. And the strip pre-Popeye is competent but a bit dull; Popeye explodes across it and takes over by about his third sentence. Better to get to the good stuff sooner.

You Won’t Believe What I’m Reading Now


I am in some ways never happier than when I’m in a library. It’s just a natural place for me, somewhere it makes sense for me to be, and I think anyone who knows me would agree that if I were to shed all my worldly possessions and set up camp somewhere not particularly needed by other people, like around the oversized, falling-apart books about motorcycles, they would say they kind of saw that coming.

Among other problems I have terrible impulse control in libraries, and will notice books and decide that if someone went to the bother of writing it there must be something interesting worth reading in it, and, well, what I’m saying is this is why I borrowed Pasta and Noodle Technology, a collection of papers and monographs on the title subject published by the American Association of Cereal Chemists, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. And the book was published in 1996, so it’s not even a book about the current state of pasta and noodle technology, but is instead about the state of pasta and noodle technology from the days when having an online community devoted to Spaghetti-o’s was just the distant dream of some madmen in alt.fan.pasta. What I’m saying is I think I need librarians to save me from myself.

The Chuckletrousers Decades


So back on the 17th of March, 1994, the newspaper-syndicated humorist Dave Barry was reading something on Usenet, which was becoming a thing back then, and he wanted to write back to his friend who was there, and as is the fashion, he wrote a snarky little thing that used a couple of the words you can’t use as a newspaper-syndicated humorist, and made prominent use of the name “Mister Chuckletrousers”, which he’d recently picked up on a trip to Britain from a headline he didn’t understand. And after finishing his little reply he realized that instead of replying to the author, he’d replied to the post, putting it out for everyone in the newsgroup to see.

The newsgroup, where he’d been lurking, was alt.fan.dave_barry.

This was rather an exciting time to be in alt.fan.dave_barry, as you might imagine, as it set off a lot of debate about whether this was actually Dave Barry or just someone pretending to be him, and what the “Mister Chuckletrousers” thing could possibly mean, and, well, if it was him then what did it mean that the guy the group was gathered round to talk about was actually there in the group listening? Which doesn’t sound like anything today, but back in 1994, you only got direct contact with people you were a fan of by the traditional methods, like, their being minor characters on a Star Trek series and your going to a convention and paying money to get their autograph.

Anyway, somehow, the guy Dave Barry was responding to didn’t see it, and asked if someone could send him a copy of the post, and the newsgroup displayed an electrifying energy and complete lack of common sense and a few days later the guy asked that people please stop as he had received 2,038 copies and didn’t need any more.

Over the coming weeks there’d be confirmation that the Chuckletrousers Incident really did happen and really did involve Dave Barry: a guy who shared his ISP said it was him (and who could doubt that?), a mention of Chuckletrousers came up in his columns, and then, the number 2,038 started getting mentioned when the text needed some arbitrary number to be included. Eventually Dave Barry himself described the incident for his book Dave Barry In Cyberspace, which is the sort of late-90s explain-the-Internet book that’s fascinating because it captures a bunch of the memes and obsessions of the Internet of the summer of 1997. Both Chuckletrousers and 2,038 still turn up in Dave Barry’s writings, a little joke sent out to a community of people who witnessed flaming Pop-Tarts (which is what the Internet did back before the Mentos and Diet Coke thing was discovered) that has long since left behind alt.fan.dave_barry.

I also delurked on alt.fan.dave_barry in the middle of March, 1994, but nobody noticed at the time.

I also meant to write this in mid-February, because my brain insists on thinking this all happened shortly after Valentine’s Day that year, but it didn’t, so I didn’t, after I checked.

Just Like It Turned Out


And now the weekend forecast:

Friday. Highs in the upper 200s, Kelvin, or the lower negative 40s in one of those freak temperature scales almanacs say exist but can’t cite for actually being used by anyone but the freak temperature scale inventor. You can get into a good argument about whether “freak” refers to the scale or the inventor over on Usenet group alt.weird.mensuration over in the thriving Usenet community of 1997.

Friday evening. Nagging showers find their focus, indeed their point in life, by getting to the question of whether you’ve got snow tired put on the garage for the winter haul. They won’t be sated by how a garage really doesn’t need snow tires except as an attractive accessory, since most fixed structures — whether attached or detached — have given up their nomadic ways and need very little traction power. Such is life.

Saturday Morning. Even if you were to wake up and even if you found any cartoons playing you won’t recognize any of them, and any attempts to complain about this would be met with your friends insisting the cartoons you used to watch weren’t any good anyway, not even the Looney Tunes, which were from the later years they were boring. Some friends. Skip it.

Saturday. Probability of more than 40 percent that you’ll sit bolt-upright in bed, realizing that you finally have the epilogue scene for that roman-à-clef you were writing back fifteen years ago when you were just out of college. While the original manuscript is now lost somewhere in an avalanche of 3.5″ discs all labelled “Saved Civ II Games” (look for the one where you keep a little Aztec colony intact on Madagascar just so you can finish the spaceship instead of conquering the Earth in 1787), you can still open up a fresh document and start typing your great closer:

Fifteen years out of college, Protagonist [ you don’t remember what exactly he was named but he probably had some name that should go there; anyway, that’s what you have editors for ] was lazing about one Saturday morning when he sat bolt-upright in bed realizing, “I could just look up what `roman-à-clef’ means!” He clapped his hands together, smiled to himself, and fell back into the pillows and the blankets that were oh, so warm. So very warm. So embracing.

However, you won’t, because you’ll almost certainly fall back into bed where it’s so warm and easy to let that novel wait until some better time to deal with it.

Saturday Night. The nagging rain turns on its heels and goes up to its room, slamming the door on its way. This is because it’s going through a phase, the Moon promises, and it should outgrow it soon enough. This little white lie covers up the fact that it can’t possibly be outgrown soon enough. When the rain emerges it’s switched over to a passive-aggressive layer of fine volcanic soot, but only because it wants attention. Pay it no heed.

Sunday Morning. Disturbing dreams seem to be a recollection that you don’t have an editor for your roman-à-clef anyway, or if you did, you forgot where you left him. 25 percent chance you’ll jot down a note to check exactly what you did leave in that storage locker you moved away from back in 2007, but won’t be able to read it when you wake up. In fact they reflect a high-pressure front moving in, bringing along those little solid lines with triangles pointing out on the weather maps.

Sunday. An abnormal mid-day low is reached when you put a $10 in the automated car wash machine and don’t get any change, and don’t get a car wash except for the initial spray of water as you drive in, and the cashier inside the gas station insists that it can’t possibly have taken your money because you’re just supposed to enter codes there. Best remedies include using the giant sized mugs for hot chocolate mixed with marshmallows and whipped cream or just kicking the back of the garage until it rolls down the driveway a little.

Sunday Night. The nagging rain shifts over to a petty, snarky bundle of attitude that’s really funny for the first couple minutes and then leaves you feeling kind of hollow. Let it pass.

Numbers for October 2013


Having numbers worked out all right in September, so maybe I can give that another try.
For the month of October I got 370 views — down from 397 in September, and my third-highest overall for a month. This is from 179 unique viewers, itself up from 162 in September, and (by a nose) almost my third-highest overall. Go figure. 179, interestingly, is known as Grothnik’s Prime Number by people who have never heard of Prime Numbers or of Grothnik.

The most popular articles over the past 30 days:

  • The Monster In The Living Room, because it does combine everything important, like the pet rabbit, and physical injury, and I had good cause to mention it on Usenet, which is a thing that exists still.
  • Flying Turnabouts, regarding the strange case of Knoebels’s new Flying Turns roller coaster that we’re getting to next year unless the world ends. And if it does end, we’re going to see it out on a road trip there.
  • Disappointment, regarding my successful non-victory in the Robert Benchley Society contest.
  • The Platonic Stooge, my wonder at a thing Plato and the Three Stooges have in common.
  • Also, Just Hush, Benjamin Franklin , about my wood-cutting experience and an epigram from Benjamin Franklin that apparently isn’t as common or popular as I thought it was. I tend to do that. My default assumption is if I’ve heard of it, then everyone else has, and so my timely allusion to the Battle of Manzikert goes terribly unappreciated.
  • Police Blotter: Traffic Incident, about something that was obviously designed to make the news.
  • The top five countries were the United States (304 viewers), United Kingdom (12), Canada (10), Australia (8), and Austria (5). Sending me a mere one reader each were France, India, Mexico, and Spain. France was the only one to send me a single reader last month, and they only sent the one the month before that, too.

    The Benjamin Franklin thing is he’s quoted as saying “Cut your own wood and it will warm you twice”, which, yeah, just hush there.

    The Krazy Centennial


    I missed it by a day, apparently, but according to a post over on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, October 28th was the centennial of the first Krazy Kat comic strip. More or less. The comic strip, drawn by George Herriman, started out in the somewhat amorphous way comic strips did back then as a running gag sharing space with his till-then hit feature The Dingbat Family. It’s only in 1913 that the strip was spun off into its own regular feature with a title and everything.

    The Library of Congress has what appears to be the daily Krazy Kat‘s first run, naturally from about two weeks later when the San Francisco Call got around to running it (the strip’s in the upper left corner of the page, to the side of The Dingbat Family and for that matter another little runner of Krazy and Ignatz showing the way the characters first got introduced to the public).

    For all that it’s one of the great comics of the 20th century I’m still not sure I recommend it, at least not to people who aren’t going in ready to love it. The comic comes from the far side of some kind of extinction-level event in humor circles, where stuff from long enough ago seems (generally) vastly overwritten for the meager joke even when it can be made out. (I don’t know why humor changed so drastically; I suspect talkies and radio, as they rewarded brevity and didn’t require making sure that any plot points of the joke were repeated so the people in back had a fair chance of hearing.) Krazy Kat‘s most accessible gags tend to be drawn from vaudeville and so feel old even when the specific one is new, or from minstrel shows, with all the uneasiness that knowing the source inspires.

    But if you persist to learning the rhythms of pacing of the strip it gets rewarding. I think that may be because Herriman’s characters are strongly defined with a couple simple traits. They don’t seem to have the sort of complicated inner lives that would let them, say, get away with an eight-panel monologue the way Charlie Brown could; but, they have a few clear notes that produce wonderful chords when they have a storyline to play around. The strip most like it today, I’d say, is Pat McDonnell’s Mutts (no surprise as McDonnell’s an authority on Krazy Kat), where again each character may have only one or two strong personality traits, but they’re so clearly defined that they can be soundly funny.

    The Library of Congress page there also has an example of Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and her Pals, which began in late 1912 and ran forever, or at least until after Sputnik and that’s help up as one of the most important graphically innovative strips of the time, although this particular example is from early in its run and doesn’t obviously stand out; and Tom McNamara’s Us Boys, which I don’t know much about. Apparently it started no later than 1912, and continued at least through 1928, but I can’t find much about it on a casual search. (The title doesn’t help matters, as search engines nowadays are too sophisticated to think I actually mean I want these particular words right next to each other.)

    On This Date: Sarcasm Correctly Detected


    October 15, 1994: In the Usenet newsgroup comp.sys.chemistry an attempted use of sarcasm was correctly identified by all of the post’s readers as such, and the comment was treated as such. This is one of twelve recorded instances of sarcasm online being so correctly used. In a further twist, remarkable enough to have earned the thread a place in Cyber-Ripley’s Believe It Or Not web site of the day that December, the thread did not then degenerate into a pun cascade, nor did anyone quote Monty Python at anybody else, although someone did (sigh) follow up a reference to the left hand of something as “sounding sinister”.

    A True Story From The Star Trek Depths


    I saw someone on Usenet, which I am still on thank you, make a comment about the opening credits of Star Trek: Generations, the 1994 film in which Next Generation finally overcame all the stuff that made it a popular TV show, and I just knew they were wrong. But I had to find the opening credits to prove it, and it turns out YouTube is filled with videos that have taken the soundtrack to the opening credits of Generations and put that to new videos, which messes up the point I wanted to prove, or have taken the opening and re-cut it to make some abstract point about the movie being something else entirely, or that are just the credits for the TV show since Google has better things to do than search for what I actually tell it to search for. I thought about where to find my DVD of Generations and was getting ready to write a snarky tweet about the difficulty of finding online sources of the Generations opening credits.

    Then in one horrible moment I thought, do you realize what you’re doing? And I did, and so I stopped doing it.

    Some Now-Forgotten HTML Tags


    • <sh>. The “Shriek” tag prompted web browsers to scream whatever was so marked at the top of its lungs. Discontinued in 2004 after too may computers were smashed with computer bats and it was found computers don’t have lungs.
    • <code>. This tag, formerly used to break the ENIGMA coding on messages being sent by the Germans to their Navy, was discontinued in 1998 when it was brought to the attention of the World Wide Web Consortium that World War II had ended in, like, what, 1946? 1948? Something like that and we didn’t need to check up on Germany anymore. We have Denmark peeking in on them now and then to make sure.
    • <kb>. The “Kibo” tag was meant to attract the attention of Usenet celebrity James “Kibo” Parry to your web page. Use of the tag has dwindled to insignificance since 2006, when Usenet was finally torn down and replaced with a Howard Johnson’s one-hour film development booth.
    • <dl>. Nobody has ever known what this tag is or what it’s good for. The best hypothesis is it’s related to somebody important, like <img> maybe.