Even though it is a little cooler


I’m sorry not to have my comic strip report today, but Comics Kingdom had a major failure when I was figuring to write up three months’ worth of The Amazing Spider-Man story. So instead let me underscore my claims last week about how hot it was with this photograph of a real thing a block away from my house, where the telephone pole won’t go outside without some bottled water:

Photograph of a telephone pole. A plastic disposable water bottle is strapped to the pole by some cyan-and-white striped plastic ribbon.
Also in the neighborhood: a tree that’s got a sign reading just ‘FREE’ taped to its side. I would assume this was something for Squirrel Freecycle except that whatever it was, was taken. Unless it was the tree.

It’s cooled down some but that’s the heat wave we had.

In which I would like it a little cooler please


I would like to carry on talking about that book from the American Face Brick Association. Really. You have no idea how much delight I find in every page. It’s just that I have bigger problems right now. I don’t mean bigger problems like we all have from it being 2020, what with it being 2020 and all that. This is the year where there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll come back from a half-hour walk to the news that “Medusa is real and she’s stolen the Moon”. This is why I make my walks at minimum 35 minutes, and you’ll notice, nobody’s stolen the Moon yet. (CHECK BEFORE POSTING) I don’t expect thanks; I’m gratified to know I’m doing my part.

But the core of my problems right now come from the heat wave. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, unless you’re my love, who’s sitting on the other side of the table and terrifying me by reading something I wrote and pointing out where I stole jokes. Here, though, we’ve got a heat wave. Apart from a well-received bit yesterday where a cloud passed in front of the sun, it’s been about 140 degrees Fahrenheit every afternoon for a week. In the evening it drops to a balmy 160.

It is so hot that I feel a bit too warm. I have to explain why that means anything. I am one of those people known in the medical lingo as “a bit cold”. I would like the temperature raised a little bit in almost any circumstance. I’m the person you see sunbathing, wearing long cargo pants and a hoodie to the beach in July. There have been campfires I’ve accidentally stepped into and thought, “this could be hotter”. I set my half of the electric blanket so high my love has to leave the bed, go into the other room, and still sleep without a blanket. And I’m still not convinced the blanket is on. That is the warmth I need. And this heat wave I think is a bit too warm.

It’s a difficult heat wave to exaggerate. This is hard for me because 85% of my personality is exaggeration, with the rest being “pop culture reference I’m trying to tamp down because everyone else makes the same references”. Which is hilarious because most of my references are to, like, nice cracks Fred Allen had about Billy Rose’s Aquacade in the 1939 World’s Fair.

But still. Like, our neighbors mowed the lawns just ahead of the heat wave, so their lawns are these neat uniform brown patches of dead grass. Ours looks like my beard, in comparison, although with more plantains. I mean the plantains are in the lawn. I can’t mow the lawn, though, because the grass has melted. In the relative cool of evening I could squeegee the lawn, except the squeegee also melted and ran down the storm drain.

We made a pitcher of ice coffee, and set it back in the fridge, where it caught on fire.

My daily walk? The one that I make long enough we don’t have to worry about Moon theft? I have to take that later and later, in the hopes of finding cool. Monday I had to take it about 11 pm. Tuesday I had to walk after midnight. Yesterday’s walk I had to take so late it was actually 2 pm today. It is not pleasant out there.

It’s not so hot in here, because it’s too hot in here. Our house, in the past, was owned by many people who meant well but had no idea what they were doing. At least one of them painted all our windows shut. Every summer I target one window with hammer and chisel and crowbar and pry it open and about half of the time I even succeed. This year I got a second window in the dining room almost ready to open, and I would have succeeded too, if the window handle had not melted off in my hand.

Anyway I know people talk about using atom bombs to break up hurricanes. I want to know where the research is into using atom bombs to break up high-pressure systems. Trust me, I normally oppose using atom bombs for any purpose besides making a merry little strategy game suddenly all serious. But this has been going on a week now.

So given how I’ve been talking like this: why are my friends going back and fact-checking whether it could literally be 140 degrees here? I mean … am I not being clear enough I’m exaggerating? Or am I surrounded by friends who are going to take me seriously until I cut that out?

It’s got me burning up, I tell you.

How Things Are Going


Generally, terrible. They’re all on some kind of hyperfire where every part of the fire is exactly the same vastness of fire. But that is a general matter. Specific things may be less awful. Let’s review some of them .

Weather. It’s now at the right temperature where you can dress so you’re too hot, or are too cool. There’s no combination of clothes you have that will let things feel all right. This awkwardness will continue through Saturday, and over Sunday will give way to modest embarrassment with scattered clumsiness and afternoon to evening thundermeekness.

Yellow things. Yellow things need no attention and are fine as they are.

Vocabulary. The use of the word ‘coruscate’ around you has been steadily increasing. Consult the masses of people lined up outside your door to say it. Yes, this action is doing nothing to convince you it is an actual word. Why they’re doing this is a mystery. It’s not like we think you’re responsible for the word, so don’t go worrying about that We apologize for the inconvenience but can’t think of anything to do about it.

The Capital of Montana. The capital of Montana remains missing. It was last seen approximately five months ago, when it was photographed during a school trip. Now the capital is nowhere to be found and the schools are a bit wobbly too. The school thought the trip was successful and the capital was showing an interest in kickball. Those with leads are asked to call the governor anonymously. The capital was an ‘M’.

Green things. Green things need to be less yellow-y so as to not need attention.

Haunting Odd Behavior By Co-workers. Yes, your co-worker has responded to how you end the late-morning chat by saying “hope you enjoy your lunch” with the answer, “isn’t that the truth!”. It seems like that thing where you give the correct response for the wrong prompt, but they have done it three times in the past two weeks. Their hearty laugh shows they’re enjoying it, at least. Maybe they have wicked plans for lunch? Maybe they eat ironically? Maybe they’ve transcended meals wholly, and exists on giving co-workers a vague despair? But then why are they doing it in these times?

USB. We are still doing that thing where there are about 48 different shapes of USB plugs. We’ve stopped that thing where some of them are called mini USB and others are mini-B USB and some are micro and some are -C and some are -A and all that. Now they are all simply USB 3.0, except those that are 3.1. Some of them are called Thunderbolt or Firewire or Lightning Loops or Superdooperlooper or Batman: The Ride. We have no idea why anyone puts up with this.

Purple things. They’re just overdoing it because they want the attention. Pay them no heed.

Spelling (Non-Vocabulary Division). In the past week alone I have created by typo the words “touside” and “lightnight”. Both words deserve to be things and I will leave it to you to complete the rest of the work. I feel like “touside” should be a chipper sort of slang said in a slightly dangerous part of town, but will leave that up to other parties. It’s important no one person do everything. “Thundermeekness” is a fun word too, but its uses have obvious limits. I also composed “trea”, but that one could use some work.

General Cleanliness. Somehow the keyboard keeps getting fragmentary Cheez-Its lodged between letters, most often in the bit between the ‘f’ and ‘g’ which stare out accusingly at your housekeeping. There haven’t been any Cheez-Its near the keyboard ever. Logical explanations are needed, and there are none.

Heeding things. Earning two and a quarter percent; some restrictions apply.

Comic strips. That one Far Side from 1987 that you weren’t getting? The joke is that ‘Al Tilley, the bum’ sounds a lot like ‘Atilla the hun’. Now nights when you really need to sleep you can lie awake wondering about this Calvin and Hobbes from 1992, and whether it is ‘lie’ or ‘lay’.

Your Blogging Site. Is still encouraging you to try their new post editor, as if you were a big enough fool to try that. The only good version of anything computer-based is the second design they published after you started using the thing, and everything since then has been this somehow water-y thing where you can’t do the one simple task you always do.

I hope this has relieved some of your anxieties, but know it has not.

It Is Supposed To Be Cold Tomorrow


I have to write this piece today. Tomorrow we in Lansing, Michigan are supposed to be getting some cold in. By ‘some cold’ I mean ‘all the cold’. The sort where the temperature (Fahrenheit) isn’t just dropping below zero but all the way into the imaginary numbers. It’s the kind of cold where they warn you it’s too cold to leave buildings outside. Where you don’t see sparrows coming to the bird feeder anymore because they get halfway to the freezer, ice up, and these feathery snowballs tumble into unsuspecting squirrels.

So I have to talk about all this before I call my parents. After lives spent happily in New Jersey, with roughly similar weather, they moved to South Carolina. “What the heck,” my mother said, “We don’t know anybody there and my whole experience there has been one weekend with my friends in Charleston. That’s where we’ll spend retirement,” and my father said “What?” because his hearing aid had iced over. It’s worked out really well for them, except that between September and April the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how much warmer it is down there.

And it’s not like we always have terrible and cold weather. This winter’s been warm enough we’re all a little bothered by that. I know this makes us just sound disagreeable. But we’ve had it warm enough that it was, like, in the 60s and sunny, with nice strong breezes and seagulls coming in from the Great Lakes. Let me remind you, this is Lansing, Michigan. We’ve been having the kind of weather that gets incompetent seagulls. But most of the time it’s been a more normal winter, just a little warmer than average.

And it’s not like South Carolina’s weather is always better. Between May and August the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how their evacuation for the hurricane has gone. It’s not always a hurricane, mind. Sometimes it’s a tropical storm. Sometimes it’s a very lost nor’easter. Part of what’s nice about South Carolina, as a retirement state, is the low cost of living, which is to say they don’t have taxes, because they don’t do things like build a second bridge off the island where my parents live. Or have roads that don’t flood when it rains, or it’s very muggy, or someone leaves the sink running while brushing their teeth.

But we’re not in hurricane season now. So I have to get this written before calling them and they talk about how frigid tomorrow should be. This won’t keep them from hearing about it. But if I can get to talking out the weather here, before I call them for the week, I … don’t actually know what I’ll accomplish. At least I’ll have done something.

And weather this cold you do have to do something for. It’s the kind of cold that even being warm doesn’t help with. We have a good-quality water heater, the kind that gets the water hot enough to melt the water heater, but that won’t make a shower hot enough to completely revive my toes. Dressing is also a problem. The only thing to do wear layers. This means whenever you encounter any piece of clothing, put it on. Since I work at home this is tricky. I’ll pop into the bedroom for something or other, and have to put on another shirt or pair of underwear. By about 5:30 I’m a rolling ball of fabric.

And that’s staying inside. I don’t figure to go out. In this cold it’s a bad idea to let your tongue touch the air, as it’ll get stuck. Your tongue ices over. Then the ice that that’s caught on will get stuck on the air. That ices over, and again and again, and then you’re dangling a five-foot-long ice tongue out your mouth. And then you can’t go anywhere except on foot. Driving is out since you fit the encased tongue through the car door. You can’t lift your head enough to see when the bus is coming. All you can do is try to walk somewhere and find the doors there are frozen shut.

So that’s why it’s important I finish this, then call my parents, and then deal with tomorrow’s nonsense.

Everything There Is To Say About Going Outside


Going outside is one of the popular things to do when you mean to go somewhere. It ranks almost up there with “going inside”. It’s no “meaning to go outside but then rolling over and groaning”. But, you know, what else are you going to do? Stay inside with your intrusive thoughts? Including that one about the time in 1997 your friend was excited to have noticed Team Rocket’s names were Jessie and James and you acted all cool about that, as if you’d noticed long ago, when you really had never put that together? No, the only way to avoid imagining that they’ve been hurting for 23 years over that thought is to go outside, anywhere, and keep going.

I have to preface this by admitting I’m not one for going outside much. Oh, I do it, but only because somehow the topic keeps coming up. I’m not even much for going to the other room. For that matter I need motivation to get to the other side of the table. Even reaching my arms out to their full length needs some motivation. In my defense, there’s plants I might hit if I just tossed my arms around wildly and they don’t need to be involved in whatever my issues are.

Still, the outside offers over four things that the inside just can’t. Unlike the inside, for example, outside there’s no way of controlling the temperature, humidity, precipitation, or light levels. You can find that you’re uncomfortably cold. Or warm. For part of the year you can be uncomfortably medium, with your outfit just making you bigger than you’d otherwise be. With the rain, you can get wet in ways you don’t want. Or you can put on water-resistant clothing, so that only your face, hands, and feet, the things that you most immediately use to interact with the world, get wet. I feel like I’m not making a good case for outside here. Let me slide a foot or two down the table and think this out.

It was only half a foot. Ah, but here: outside, you’re able to get to places. Like, you can go to a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop. Or, if you’d rather, you can go to a Jersey Giant sandwich shop. I mean if you’re around my area of mid-Michigan. Which, you can see, has a bunch of places to get Jersey sandwiches. There’s maybe more places to get a New Jersey-branded sandwich here than there were when I lived in New Jersey. I confess I’m not sure precisely what it is that makes something a New Jersey-branded sandwich. From observation, I think it’s “having a picture of the Shore at Sea Girt in the bathroom”. And oh, there’s something. There’s much more of the Jersey Shore that’s outside, compared to inside. That’s not likely to change unless someone goes and turns a door inside-out.

Outside also offers the greater number of bank drive-through stations. This is valuable because the outer lanes used to have those great little tubes you’d put bank stuff in, and it would go into the bank using what you always supposed were pneumatic tubes but probably were not. That’s all right. It’s so much fun to think of having, like, a savings passbook that’s shuttling around in a pneumatic tube. Now, I don’t know, I think it’s all just drive-up ATMs. So you can go up there and think how much more fun this all used to be. I’m doing a lousy job promoting the outside as something.

Oh, the outside is great for animals. You can see squirrels and more squirrels and different-colored squirrels and pigeons and none of that makes you nervous. If you see them inside you have an issue that you have to deal with, and you haven’t had time to deal with a new issue since October 2014. But outside? They have every right to be there, as do you, and all’s at peace. Oh, you could see some of these from inside, if you look through a window. Or if you’re not interested, looking through a wall. But then they’ll go off somewhere a little obstructed when they’re being the most interesting. Outside, if you see them hiding, you can walk around and then they’ll notice you and leave. From inside, you can’t have that experience of squirrels deciding they don’t want to be involved in whatever your issues are.

Statistics Saturday: How I Feel About January


Mostly: 'This is too warm for January'. A sliver: 'This is about right for January.' A small chunk: 'This is too cold for January'. An appreciable hunk: 'I miss January in Singapore.'
See, all through January in Singapore it would be 92 degrees Fahrenheit and muggy, with a rainstorm at about 1:30, and often as not the whole place would shut down for half a week for the Chinese New Year, and you could stay home watching Johnny English on the local broadcast stations, in case you wanted to.

Reference: Does Anything Eat Wasps? And 101 Other Questions, Mick O’Hare.

Statistics 2010s: Ten Things Of The Decade Just Passed


  • August 22. everyone who had a part in this day, give yourselves a fresh round of applause without being unseemly about it.
  • Cheddar II: Cheddiest. From out of Nowhere, Connecticut, 06269, this new flavor, appearing in ouch-y sharp, dangerous in its pointedness, somewhat polyhedral, and mint, has taken over the world of cheese and opened up new avenues in being so much more than the inspirational cheddar that it’s not hard to see why old-fashioned cheddar is expected within the next two years to go the way of the original, almost forgotten ched.
  • once-in-shakespeare.com Where else but this scrappy new start-up can one get a convenient listing of all the words that appear in the canonical plays of William Shakespeare one time? Anyone can produce a list of all the words, just by shaking a collected edition on its side until the pieces fall out, but who’s going to take out the duplicates and grow new authors with them?
  • Raised Flooring. After years of drop-down ceilings being the cliche and overused answer to ways to make a room seem more claustrophobic we have this alternative. Unexpected bonuses include having more things to count while bored, and the improved sense of balance as people try to walk on those bar things from which the floor panels are hung. This will inspire grace in our walking like Groucho Marx if nothing else will.
  • How the English language has no solitary word for the feeling of uncertainty that accompanies thinking that one’s socks are damp when there’s no chance for taking one’s shoes off to check or to change them no matter how much we need a word for exactly this sensation. This single loss has saved millions of dollars and dozens of lines of newspaper type in just the past month. And think of all the people it’s inspired to try to buy less painful shoes. Yes, yes, you can put together a bunch of words to get the same sense across. It’s not the same.
  • Flatware. There is nothing which soothes the desperate need to buy flatware quite like flatware, and we should all be glad the flatware industry exists to satisfy this need. Be warned: much so-called flatware these days is not in fact flat, but extends into a third or even a fourth spatial dimension. If you have no choice but to purchase this imitation flatware do speak to the steamroller operator with whom you’re on good terms — you are on good terms with at least one steamroller operator, aren’t you? — to arrange for the appropriate enflattening.
  • March 10. Nobody’s saying it’s a patch on August 22, but it’s still really good all around and everybody deserves to take a bow for that too.
  • Adverbs. These sentence-stuffers had a great run and it’s a shame that we’re scheduled to lose them if the conversion to Modifiers.6 ever happens. Still, anyone who’s ever had to write to a specified word count has relied on their ability to be added to or removed from sentences and they will be missed, like when someone notices the `a’ or `an’ doesn’t match with the next word anymore.
  • Sriracha Automobiles. For the past fifteen years sriracha has been slipping almost unnoticed into everything, starting with sandwiches, then cooking shows, then books, then consumer electronics, and now into the important industries of Navy ships and personal automobiles. No one may know where sriracha comes from or what it intends, but we can be sure that it’s here and it’s unavoidable, and that with the proper setup it can be used for good or at least to not be so frightening, and that earns it a place on this list.
  • Simple Thermometers. Despite fears no important features of the weather developed into the imaginary and then the complex number plane. So despite the shortages in Complex Thermometers none were needed, except for that stretch in fall where the temperature became one of the principal roots of a heptic polynomial. But for the most part we got along just fine with the old-fashioned thermometers and isn’t that one of the ten things about the decade just finished?

Wait, did Funky Winkerbean just have a talking monkey kill someone?


I apologize to everyone wanting a plot recap for Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. It’s just been ferociously hot lately. Incredibly hot, to the point that it’s impossible to do things besides exaggerate the heat. It’s been so hot our goldfish are sweating. It’s been so hot when I look at comic strips on my computer the characters burst into flames. It’s been so hot that our ice cubes melted while still inside the freezer. We think the compressor blew. We have a new fridge scheduled for delivery Tuesday.

The point is I’ve been busy drinking every chilled citrus-y beverage on the eastside of Lansing and taking a cold shower every twenty minutes. I haven’t had time to re-read, or think how to condense, three months’ worth of soap-opera comic plot. I don’t want to leave you with nothing, though, so I’ll just answer the question posed in my subject line. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is one of those comics that I doubt needs to be in the What’s Going On In series. It, like Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann, has ongoing storylines. But their storytelling pattern makes a What’s Going On In unnecessary. They have a bunch of ongoing storylines. They focus on each for a time, usually a couple of weeks. Thing is they resume each thread with enough of a reminder of what’s going on that readers aren’t lost. But there will sometimes be a strip so bizarre and wild that it draws attention from non-regular readers. They’ll be baffled. Funky Winkerbean, by the way, gets a fun daily roasting over at the Son of Stuck Funky blog. That’s a community with people who have, maybe enjoy, a staggering knowledge of the Winkerbean universe. I couldn’t have found many of the strips I reference here without their daily essays and tagging. I don’t know a snark blog that reads every Luann in similar detail, although, of course, the Comics Curmudgeon discusses both regularly.

News lady Cindy Summers was interviewing old-time serial-movie actor Cliff Anger for a documentary. The documentary is about his old friend Butter Brinkel, and Brinkel’s scandal. The comic introduced Brinkel as a silent movie comedy star. (Also as Butter Brickle, which I’m told is the name of an ice cream flavor. I don’t remember hearing of it before this.) His career and scandal got bumped to the 1940s. This seems to be because Tom Batiuk realized that if this happened in the 1920s then Cliff Anger would have to be eighteen years older than dirt. With the retcon, he’s now plausibly younger than two of the cast of Gasoline Alley.

The scandal was a fictionalized take on the rape and killing of Virginia Rappe. Young actress Virginia Pond was shot and killed by someone at a masquerade ball at Butter Brinkel’s fabulous Hollywood estate. Brinkel’s house had its own carousel, a chimpanzee Zanzibar that Brinkel had taught to smoke and drink alcohol, a bloated gun collection, and a guy nudging you and asking if you saw that because NO SPOILERS BUT it’s going to be important.

Anger remembers something his friend Dashiell Hammett had said. Hammett, while he was with the Pinkertons, was on the team looking for evidence to acquit Brinkel. This makes no sense if the story is set in the 1940s. But it would fit if Brinkel was a silent-movie star, an era when Hammett did work for the Pinkertons. Anyway, the team couldn’t find any exculpatory evidence. This is interesting. The strip established there were at least two people besides Brinkel wearing the same costume at the masquerade. One hesitates to suspect the Pinkertons of wrongdoing but they were missing an obvious lead. It could be they didn’t understand a job that was not about beating in the heads of coal miners who wanted pay. Hammett thought Brinkel was protecting somebody, though, but couldn’t imagine who.

While Brinkel was waiting for trial, Anger took Zanzibar to his home. And we got this strip, which revealed that the actual killer was, in a surprise, the other character in the story:

Cliff Anger, narrating as black-and-white illustrations show his recollection: 'Zanzibar had found one of my prop Starbuck Jones rayguns. I thought he was just playing with it when he suddenly pointed it at me and ... ' Panel of Zanzibar, pointing the ray gun at the reader, saying, 'Where's Father?'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 19th of July, 2019. Cindy concluded that Zanzibar was jealous of Valerie Pond’s relationship with Butter Brinkel and so that’s why he shot her. Also that I guess Pond had a relationship with Brinkel that Zanzibar would feel jealous of. And this solved an eighty- or hundred-year-old mystery. Starbuck Jones was this in-universe fictional comic book. It turned into a movie serial and a blockbuster modern sci-fi action movie. For a while it threatened for a while to take over the entirety of Funky Winkerbean. The Starbuck Jones saga had many repetitive and often confusing incidents. Tom Batiuk several times apparently changed his mind about the comic book’s place in pop culture and used his new ideas as if the old ones weren’t already published. But the saga did have the advantage that for most of it the comic strip didn’t have any reason to show Les Moore. So Funky Winkerbean snark fans were content with it.

The answer, then is that no, someone was not killed by a talking monkey. Zanzibar was a talking chimpanzee. Cliff Anger established that Zanzibar was a chimpanzee on the 28th of June. Well, all right, on the 16th of July Cliff Anger said he was a monkey. He’s a talking something, anyway, who killed someone in either the 1920s or 1940s. (Or 1950s, when Cliff Anger was making the Starbuck Jones serial.) Anyway, how many of us can say that about ourselves?

Anyway so here’s a little craft project for the one person out there with any free time: how did Cliff Anger answer Zanzibar?

Statistics Saturday: The Weather, Over The Year


January - mid-May: I have to wear a hoodie because it's way too cold outside. Mid-May to Mid-October: I have to wear a hoodie because it's warm outside so everywhere I go has too much air conditioning. Mid-October to December: I have to wear a hoodie because it's way too cold outside.
The months are numbered starting at zero because I couldn’t figure how to make Apple Numbers do a little spreadsheet where the major axis is ‘months’ and finally decided, you know? Making a stacked bar chart as a timeline is such an obvious and useful application that I am not spending the time it takes to figure out how to do it. I only this week learned if you hold down ‘option’ while clicking on file formats in Preview you suddenly can save files as GIFs or Microsoft BMPs or any of like a dozen other formats. I can’t learn another new thing so soon.

Reference: Look, I’m just a little chilly is all, okay?

Everything There Is To Say About Going Indoors


Ooh, and hey, now I can publish an Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors essay by taking this and running it backwards. This is great, I’ll finally be ahead of deadline a little, only to mess it up!

[OK, I know what you’re thinking and believe me, this is better.]

If you find that exiting doors until you get out of doors doesn’t work for you? Try opening a home-repair store and holding a good sale on doors and door frames. It’s a bit more work, but that’s what it takes.

[It’s not like I couldn’t reverse every word in every sentence like I said I could do last week.]

  • Look around for that free weekly paper they used to toss somewhere near your house but that you never see anymore. You don’t remember when they stopped tossing it nearby. Did they stop printing it? Did they get upset that you only read it to see what articles were made funny by copy-editing errors? You could write their editor to ask, but you don’t know their address, what with not having a paper. There’s no way to figure this out.

[It’s just not pretty is all.]

  • Start up singing “Everyone knows it’s windy” by the Association. Continue singing until you notice your neighbors looking at you, wondering if this is also talk about the weather. It’s not but you can understand where they’re coming from. It is from next to your place.

[I’m not being lazy in this. ]

  • Spend up to fifteen minutes examining that tree where last summer you saw a raccoon crawl out of a knothole that seems way too small for it.

[I tried reversing all the words and it just made me seasick.]

  • Test how far you can get from home before your WiFi stops being detectable. Alternatively, see if you can figure out where the WiFi signal with the really funny name comes from.

[I know, you’d think it would just make things sound like Yoda but that just seems like it’s hacky in a way I don’t like.]

  • Go back indoors.

[And I tried just reversing the sentences within each paragraph and that left me a bit queasy too.]

  • Agree with the neighbors that the weather is. This is a fun activity that improves relations with your neighbors. For some reason. Humans work all weird.

[It isn’t as if I can’t commit to a bit.]

What is there to do when you’re outdoors? There’s a world of things. Some options include:

[I mean, “baffling experiment in formalism passed off as humor” is almost my signature mode.]

If you find yourself indoors, you can get out of doors. Think hard of the last time you were outdoors, and exit at least as many doors as you entered to get where you are now. If you see a shortcut — some path that would skip some door or other — well, it’s your business. I wouldn’t risk it. You might overshoot the outdoors and get to the out-outdoors and that’s some weird space.

[But believe me there’s no way to make, like, “Detection outdoors in course advanced an need you’ll” readable at length never mind funny. ]

Thing about going out of doors is you can only do it if you start indoors. Thus, are you indoors? The way to know for sure is to apply a three-dimensional analog to the Jordan Curve Theorem. This is one of the foundational elements of multivariable geometry. So there’s no way to know. We have to infer from evidence. Check around you. If you find around yourself a fireplace, a cuckoo clock that is not oversized and does not feature comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour, a game show taping, or pictures on the wall of beloved yet vaguely identifiable relatives, there’s a good chance you’re indoors. If you find a herd of zebras or a ukulele festival or a golfatorium? These often indicate being outdoors. A giant cuckoo clock with comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour is often a sign you’re at an amusement park, and it might be indoors or outdoors. You’ll need an advanced course in outdoors detection.

[Anyway I won’t do this again unless it turns out that it worked brilliantly and everybody loves my weird mix of trying a thing that didn’t actually work.]

The outdoors is very like the indoors, with one fewer set of doors to go through. Also the outdoors offers weather. This is an exciting feature in which, instead of being comfortable, it’s too hot. Or it’s too cold. Sometimes you’ll be in a devious place and it’ll be too medium instead. There’s no guessing what the temperature will be like, except by checking a forecast. Plus weather offers the prospect of rain or snow or clouds of ladybugs or some other daft thing. There are places where you can say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. This is everywhere except Singapore. In Singapore it’s always 92 degrees Fahrenheit and muggy outside monsoon season, which is 1:30 to 3:30 pm every day.

[I feel like such a fool except this easily took me like four minutes less to write than a wholly original piece would have taken.]

Going out of doors is very like going in doors, except it works the other way around. Now if I had written Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors, I wouldn’t be behind deadline. I could just print that whole essay with the words in reverse order. Too bad.

Everything There Is To Say About Going Out Of Doors


Going out of doors is very like going in doors, except it works the other way around. Now if I had written Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors, I wouldn’t be behind deadline. I could just print that whole essay with the words in reverse order. Too bad.

The outdoors is very like the indoors, with one fewer set of doors to go through. Also the outdoors offers weather. This is an exciting feature in which, instead of being comfortable, it’s too hot. Or it’s too cold. Sometimes you’ll be in a devious place and it’ll be too medium instead. There’s no guessing what the temperature will be like, except by checking a forecast. Plus weather offers the prospect of rain or snow or clouds of ladybugs or some other daft thing. There are places where you can say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. This is everywhere except Singapore. In Singapore it’s always 92 degrees Fahrenheit and muggy outside monsoon season, which is 1:30 to 3:30 pm every day.

Thing about going out of doors is you can only do it if you start indoors. Thus, are you indoors? The way to know for sure is to apply a three-dimensional analog to the Jordan Curve Theorem. This is one of the foundational elements of multivariable geometry. So there’s no way to know. We have to infer from evidence. Check around you. If you find around yourself a fireplace, a cuckoo clock that is not oversized and does not feature comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour, a game show taping, or pictures on the wall of beloved yet vaguely identifiable relatives, there’s a good chance you’re indoors. If you find a herd of zebras or a ukulele festival or a golfatorium? These often indicate being outdoors. A giant cuckoo clock with comical figures poking out on the quarter-hour is often a sign you’re at an amusement park, and it might be indoors or outdoors. You’ll need an advanced course in outdoors detection.

If you find yourself indoors, you can get out of doors. Think hard of the last time you were outdoors, and exit at least as many doors as you entered to get where you are now. If you see a shortcut — some path that would skip some door or other — well, it’s your business. I wouldn’t risk it. You might overshoot the outdoors and get to the out-outdoors and that’s some weird space.

What is there to do when you’re outdoors? There’s a world of things. Some options include:

  • Agree with the neighbors that the weather is. This is a fun activity that improves relations with your neighbors. For some reason. People are weird.
  • Go back indoors.
  • Test how far you can get from home before your WiFi stops being detectable. Alternatively, see if you can figure out where the WiFi signal with the really funny name comes from.
  • Spend up to fifteen minutes examining that tree where last summer you saw a raccoon crawl out of a knothole that seemed way too small for it.
  • Start up singing “Everyone knows it’s windy” by the Association. Continue singing until you notice your neighbors looking at you, wondering if this is also talk about the weather. It’s not but you can understand where they’re coming from. It is from next to your place.
  • Look around for that free weekly paper they used to toss somewhere near your house but that you never see anymore. You don’t remember when they stopped tossing it nearby. Did they stop printing it? Did they get upset that you only read it to see what articles were made funny by copy-editing errors? You could write their editor to ask, but you don’t know their address, what with not having a paper. There’s no way to figure this out.

If you find that exiting doors until you get out of doors doesn’t work for you? Try opening a home-repair store and holding a good sale on doors and door frames. It’s a bit more work, but that’s what it takes.

Ooh, and hey, now I can publish an Everything There Is To Say About Going In Doors essay by taking this and running it backwards. This is great, I’ll finally be ahead of deadline a little, only to mess it up!

Popeye’s Island Adventures has dark, stormy night


One of those questions you never think to ask until you look hard at the record: is Popeye a good sailor? And the reflexive answer is, of course he is. But if you go looking at all the classic cartoons, and many of the comic strip adventures … he ends up adrift at sea a lot. That isn’t by itself a sign of being a bad sailor. After all, I have a perfect record so far of never being adrift at sea. But I live in Lansing, Michigan. The most sailing I do is pedaling a swan boat at an amusement park and reading books about the history of longitude. THere’s lints to how much trouble I can get in. Maybe Popeye ends up adrift at sea because he does so much more, and in such challenging circumstances, than even the normal sailor would.

This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventures is After The Big Storm. I think it’s the first one not to have Olive Oyl appear. Despite that, it’s a long cartoon, going 2:22 before it finishes.

We start in the big storm, making the title a forgivable lie. I’d wondered whether we needed Swee’Pea in the cartoon. But he serves a role. If Swee’Pea weren’t trying to fly a kite in the storm, Popeye wouldn’t have reasons to board up the windows. And then Popeye couldn’t have the clumsy accident that knocks him out. Popeye’s always a bit of a klutz in these Island Adventures stories, but that would be a bit much. Accidentally nailing himself to the wall, and dropping a can of spinach on his head, makes sense if he’s focusing on keeping Swee’Pea from kite-flying in the thunderstorm.

Come morning, Popeye’s house is out at sea. And I guess I’d assumed his house was a functional boat that happened to be on land. It’s not so functional as that. This makes me realize that back in X Marks The Spot he had a separate boat. Popeye’s house, meanwhile, has laundry to dry on the sailing mast. He’s got fishing poles and boards and shovels and all that can be strapped together to make an oar. But not a good oar. Bit of a fix.

48 seconds in Bluto finally emerges into the cartoon. He’s got this week’s contraption to go over and mess with Popeye’s house. I like the conceit that of course Bluto just keeps putting together these gadgets to mess with Popeye. It’s villainous but not mean-spirited somehow. This week’s contraption, which looks to me like a cheap version of the robots from The Incredibles, got wrecked in the storm anyway. Bluto can rebuild the legs of it, and shrugs and accepts he just has to push it into place.

Swee’Pea reenters the plot, and also assures us that nothing untoward happened after he went kite-flying in a thunderstorm. He drifts by, held aloft by his kite. So Popeye takes the hint, and weaves all his dirty clothes that he never wears into a giant kite. Then eats his spinach to tether the kite to his mast. Bit surprising to see Popeye turn into a Plastic Man-like extendable figure, but, that’ll happen. And it works brilliantly, lifting his boat out of the water. He’s able to guide it, too, so his home lands right back on its normal base. Have to say that is astounding navigation. Apparently he really is that good a sailor, and he just ends up in fixes a lot because he dares a lot.

Bluto gets to Popeye’s house’s base first. I like Bluto’s disappointment that the house is gone. It’s a funny reaction. The house lands right in front of him, though, and he can go back to work. The contraption sucks up Popeye’s Unused Clothing Kite, and it explodes, showering him with dirty laundry. Swee’Pea falls in Popeye’s arms, and Swee’Pea’s kite hits Popeye in the face. Decent ending.

Still, I feel disappointed in the short overall. It’s a good premise. Popeye lost at sea and having to improvise some solution is a good setup, and it can be done in pantomime. But there’s not much storyline. There’s a few steps toward Popeye trying to get out of his fix and failing, with the laundry on the mast, the failure of an oar. But there’s not enough ingenuity in this. I like this characterization of Bluto as just this guy trying to mess with Popeye ’cause. But here, it doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s just time spent on something that never makes Popeye’s life any harder, and that gets resolved without Popeye specifically doing anything. I’d rather they have dropped that, and given the time over to Popeye trying to sail his house more.

So the short’s competent enough. It’s just a good idea for a story rather than a well-executed one.


I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

How To Clear The Snow On Your Sidewalk


Do you need to clear the snow on your sidewalk? That’s not a trick question. If you have both snow and a sidewalk, yes, you do. The question is how.

The best solution to snow on the sidewalk is to live inside a domed city. Within this sparkling beautiful environment you don’t have any kind of weather, just a steady mediocrity. If you want to have snow, you can get it delivered. It’ll be placed thoughtfully on your property by a team of specially developed snow-bots, working under the direction of a snow artist who’s moody and introspective and has deep thoughts about the aesthetics of stuff on your lawn. In this case you can get the snow-bots to put snow on your sidewalk. And then you can have them remove the snow again because, hey, it’s not like they have lives to get back to. At least until it turns out the snow-bots do have deep internal lives. And the snow artist falls under the sway of a mysterious, deep-feeling red-haired woman who was left over from an unpublished J G Ballard short story. Then there’s a good chance that you’ll be the person whose house is being tended while The Revolution gets started. This is jolly good excitement, but you can’t count on that happening more than maybe one time out of four. (The Revolution discovers that outside of the city dome, the Earth has transformed from radiation-scarred wasteland to Griffith Park.) Also, living in a domed city is likely to attract me. I don’t think that’s a problem, but I definitely understand if you do.

What should be a nearly-as-good method is to have a fire dragon on hand. A fire dragon can handup two ten inches of snow by something as simple as laying down. Problem solved, right? At least until that eleventh inch comes down. Not so, sad to say. There are no fire dragons. What you can get in most places are fire snakes. These are a considerably smaller species. They come from Australia, which tells you something about why that continent’s gotten a cumulative total of about four inches of snow in recorded history, which thanks to the indigenous peoples there, stretches back about 50,000 years. A lone, four-inch-long, Australian fire snake has enough heat capacity to singe the eyebrows off the entire population of Europe four times over. This will come in handy if there’s ever a blizzard of European eyebrows on your sidewalk. This doesn’t often happen. If it did, you’d know, because the weather map would make it look like the Interstate is making Groucho eyes at you. Still it’s nice to know the capacity is there. Do not try to import this species. You can’t get the necessary straw mice to feed them without the pet store getting suspicious.

The most popular method to clear the sidewalk is to flip a switch which causes the sidewalk to lift up on large hydraulic legs. Then the legs tip the sidewalk to the side, and a giant cartoony hand wearing gloves and holding a whisk broom goes back and forth, dusting the sidewalk clean. The sidewalk drops back into place and the hand tosses the whisk broom into the air and makes a happy OK sign before catching it and disappearing again. If you have a switch in the house and you can’t figure out what it’s supposed to do? It does that. If it doesn’t work that’s because the GFCI has tripped. Look for something that seems like a reset button and try that. Make sure you don’t ever use this while someone’s on your sidewalk.

If it isn’t working and you can’t find the reset button, I know what you’re thinking. No, you can’t take the hair dryer out and use that on the sidewalk. That isn’t hair. Well, all right, if you’ve got the European eyebrow blizzard that’s hair. But that also almost never happes. Best not to worry about it.

After clearing the snow, scatter enough rock salt that you feel like you’re using too much rock salt, but not quite enough that it feels like your sidewalk is actually getting clear of ice or slush.

A Couple More Groundhog Predictions


As there are possibilities I didn’t cover yesterday.

Six more non-consecutive weeks of winter. This is foretold by the groundhog either seeing or not seeing its shadow (research department please clear this up) but being so distracted in the process there’s nothing jumbled thoughts incomplete returned to. While spring may arrive right about on time, there’ll be sudden bursts of winter throughout the whole year. It’s a bit inconvenient, because of the rush to put snow tires on and off again. But it’s pretty great to get, like, eight inches of snow in the middle of June when it’s warm enough to enjoy it. Plus it adds some realism to Christmas in July, if you’re lucky or if you have Christmas in July in June.

Six more leeks of winter. Predicted when the groundhog emerges and sees (or does not see) the shadow of a potato. Yes, I know, you’d think it would be the shadow of an onion or maybe chives. But that’s just how the folklore settled down. We suspect there’s some weird Cockney rhyming slang behind it.

Six more beats of winter. The groundhog is a dj and he’s got some vinyl rarities that are going to make this the best night ever.

Six door-weeks of winter. The groundhog emerges with either a doorknob or the knocker for an ISO standard front door. In this case winter will be longer by approximately the same amount of time you spend opening doors in an average six-week span. This isn’t all that much, really, considering the time spent closing these doors is not charged to the winter account.

Some Groundhog Predictions


Here are some things a groundhog might predict.

Six more weeks of winter. This occurs when the duly appointed groundhog for a region emerges and sees its own shadow. This commits us to six more weeks of cold weather. There is also an option on snow, freezing rain, and your car being somehow glazed. This is all per an ancient agreement that nobody remembers why humanity made. It must have solved some problem, but what?

Six fewer weeks of winter. Unless that should be six less weeks of winter. This occurs when the duly appointed groundhog for a region emerges and sees its shadow. Or … no, wait, that’s supposed to be more weeks of winter. Maybe it’s you get more winter when the groundhog doesn’t see a shadow? Well, it’s one of those cases. This is what we have a research department for.

Six wider weeks of winter. This occurs when a groundhog emerges and sees its shadow through the distortions of an anamorphic lens. It’s a great chance for everyone to wear horizontal stripes and to play out their favorite scenarios of not being able to fit through door frames.

Six more eggs of winter. This happens when the groundhog emerges but is dressed in either a chicken or an Easter bunny costume. Extremely rare but valuable as it lets you make two more cakes than you otherwise would have. Alternatively, you can poach a couple of eggs in up to six bowls of ramen and that adds a little bit of joy, even when you’ve already gone to the Asian grocery and gotten some of those strange ramen packets with flavors like Spicy 3-Chili Artificial Pork With Broth.

Six more beeps of winter. This is what to expect when the emergent groundhog is a robot of some kind. I don’t make any assertion of why the groundhog would be a robot. Maybe they’ve cut back on the budget for squirrel-family payroll. Maybe the area is too environmentally challenging for groundhogs to be there in person, and they have to be telepresent instead. Maybe you just live in the robo-ecosphere. I don’t judge.

Six more shrieks of winter. Foretold when the groundhog emerges and gets a good, clear, direct look at the state of anything in the world. Not a winter for anyone with any anxiety.

Six fewer eggs of winter. The terrible flip side of more eggs. This happens when the groundhog completely lacks a chicken or an Easter bunny costume, and can’t be coaxed into wearing that great peacock costume. “How could a peacock lay an egg?” the groundhog demands to know, and not completely unfairly. “It should be a peahen!” You try to answer: peahens are lovely birds. If it weren’t for peacocks stealing the spotlight they’d be rated among the most beautiful of birds. It doesn’t matter. Nobody even understands what this argument is supposed to gain. And there you are, deprived of the ability to make up to two cakes or six poached-egg bowls of ramen. You have within you the strength to survive this.

Six more weeks of winter, all stacked on top of each other. When the groundhog emerges and turns out to be several groundhogs sitting on one another’s shoulders. No, not wearing a trenchcoat. So you think some years it just feels like February 24th goes on for like 48 hours? Wait until you spend forty-two days on the 24th of February. Stockpile some books and at least sixty pointless quarrels to have with your loved ones.

Six more tweaks of winter. The groundhog does not emerge, as it is busy fiddling with a couple of inconsequential details in the confident hope that everything will be perfect when they are done. They are never done, so nothing ever has to be done, which is perfect.

Six more beaks of winter. BIRDVASION! RUN! RUNNNNNN!

Six more feet of winter. This we can expect when the groundhog turns out to be one or more spiders collaborating. This is great news for the hosiery merchants. It’s not so good for people who’ve laid in a huge stockpile of two-legged clothing. This is nature’s way of reminding us that it’s never worth hoarding pants. Last observed in Syracuse/Utica’s famous Leggy February of ’78.

In Which I Admit My Disappointment At The Weather


I was hoping there’d be more than a 20% chance of noodles today.

Weather widget, with the forecast for Friday being a 20% chance of several long, looping strands. It's likely meant to represent wind, but it looks more like three isolated spaghetti strands.
Mind, I am happy that we aren’t facing another shower of ravioli the size of golf balls. That stuff’s hard on the car body. Plus you either use up all your marinara or your whole butter budget for the month in clearing the sidewalk. And that’s before you consider the parmesan needs.

In Which I Want To Know The Deal, Tropical Storms Edition


So never you mind why I was looking at this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association table of tropical storm and hurricane frequency by month for the years 1851 to 2015. I have my reasons and they are sufficient and while I am nearly as loquacious a blogger as I am an unread blogger, I don’t need to share all my secrets with the public. Anyway it’s all sorts of fascinating data, like how in an average September there’s two-thirds of a hurricane striking the United States.

Thing is there’s this recorded one tropical storm in a February between 1851 and 2015 and now I want to know its deal. Like, I’m picturing the storm getting itself all organized and put together with an eye and everything, and it comes storming its way towards the Caribbean or something, and all these islands just turn and look at it and want to know, “Srsly?”

Yeah, there’s only one tropical storm on record for April, too, but that I can understand as a May storm that came early. You know how it is, you start organizing some project and then it comes together sooner than you figured. At least I’m told that happens sometime. But February just doesn’t make sense. The heck, you know?

I Have No Idea What The Dream World Is Warning Me About With This One


But apparently there’s going to be some incident deep in the midst of winter where it’s one of those nasty snowy days. Also, apparently I’m going to have one of those cars that looks like an SUV but is small enough to tell yourself you’re not just buying an SUV. The snow, of course, will need to be dusted off in order to safely drive and I’m one of those people who does dust off the top of the car even when it’s deep into winter when everybody’s given up. The inconvenient thing was that the car was parked in the living room. No problem that the snow off the car was getting dusted onto the floor, which by the way is wood and really shouldn’t have that much snow on it for that long. But I was thinking how annoying it would be getting the car back into this great parking spot in the living room right between the bookshelf and the little tower we have with the record player and satellite TV receiver and all that. It’s a pretty tight spot, even for a small car. Plus on the TV was one of those morning news-chat shows where you get a little bit about what to dread today, and then a human-interest feature about some guy in Alaska who’s having trouble getting a permit for some ridiculous thing for some ridiculous reason, and then they show you how to make an omelette. This means something, but I have got no idea what.

Regarding The Time When I Had Too Much Desiccant


So a couple years ago my love got a bag of desiccant. By legitimate means. And for purposes society would generally approve of, too. I’ve had enough of these scurrilous rumors. I don’t know how these things get started. But then I also don’t know how to spell “desiccant”. I’m going with what Wikipedia tells me. Wikipedia also tells me “a desiccant is a hygroscopic substance that induces or sustains a state of dryness in its vicinity; it is the opposite of a humectant”. I haven’t even been awake an hour yet. What’s Wikipedia doing talking to me like that? Have some consideration.

Anyway, this was only a bag of desiccant. Like what you get in a tiny paper envelope that you’re warned not to eat with your new shoes. What stands out about this is we had a lot of it. A big bag full. I should manage expectations. I’m prone to hyperbole that people take literally, like when I said the styrofoam packing-peanuts incident covered the green-roof part of campus to a depth of eighteen inches. So when I say it was a big bag of desiccant I realize I’m leading you to think it was something at least twelve percent outlandish. Like, a bag of desiccant large enough to roll down the street and crush the auto-care place with its inspirational despair sign.

Auto Surgeon Inc: 'No one is rich enough to buy back their past'.
They’re still warning us about buying back our past. I hope the person in charge of picking a message that’s inspirational yet filled with dread at life hasn’t gone on sick leave or something.

This was a much more reasonable-sized bag. Big enough to hold comfortably with one standard-issue hand. About what you would need if you wanted to make a loaf of sourdough bread all wrong. Still, it’s a lot, considering how little desiccant we need. It was more than we would need at once even if we were eating all our shoes. So we had trouble once the bag came to our attention and we figured we should do something about it.

I had a working plan. I was figuring to let it rest on a horizontal surface until it broke. (I mean the bag. I can’t bear it when horizontal surfaces break.) The dinner table looked like a good choice. The bag was a decent prop for holding trade paperbacks open, at least if I wasn’t too near the center of the book. But understand that I have a condition where I have to stack stuff on horizontal surfaces. I’ve sometimes stacked stuff on top of books I’m currently reading and have left open to page 184. It runs in my family. Neither of my parents have ever gotten to page 186 of a book without a major cleaning project either. My love does not put up with this nonsense. This is good, as otherwise I would someday die in a tragic desiccant-and-book avalanche. Once it was clear I was fine with leaving the bag on the dinner table until I died of old, dry age, the quest for what to do with it was on.

The obvious plan: put it up on Freecycle. Freecycle is a great web site that lets you match usable stuff you don’t need with people in your city, even in your neighborhood, who will never pick it up. We’ve used it before. It’s given us many chances to argue the morals of someone who made the cruel false claim they would take a couple pressure-treated wood 4x4s “Tuesday”. They were our pressure-treated wood 4x4s and we had the receipts to prove it, so let’s stop with the rumors. They’re on the side of the driveway if you want them.

So what did we have to lose by trying? Not the bag of desiccant, for one. Someone in the neighborhood promised to come by the next morning and pick it up, and we promised to pretend to believe them. We didn’t figure on getting up to meet them. It takes time for us to get ready to have Wikipedia tell us stuff. Never mind how hard it would be to give a thing to a person who would like that thing. So my love set the bag inside a plastic freezer bag, because it was raining pretty steady. We didn’t know what would happen if we exposed a full bag of desiccant to an autumnal rain, but also figured we didn’t need that kind of trouble too. We set it between the screen and front doors where our imaginary Freecycle partner could pick it up.

And yet! The next morning there was some kind of noise at the door. And the bag, and the bag inside it, and the desiccant inside, were gone afterwards. We have no explanation for this phenomenon. But we do have our suspicions.

Rusty but newly installed streetlamp on the side of the street.
This doesn’t have anything to do with the bag of desiccant, or the rain, but it turns out posting any picture at all seems to make stuff more popular and I’m still not sure if I want to include that photo of the auto care place’s sign above.

Deep suspicions. Because we’ve been in the rainy season. The day we set the bag of desiccant out the area got an inch and a half of rain. The goldfish in the pond were asking if we needed quite this much rain. But a couple hours after parties unknown to us took this bag, the rain stopped. I’m not saying there is someone altering the mid-Michigan weather using a not-that-large bag of desiccant. I only ask how we can say for sure that’s not going on.

Weather, Not


I apologize for being a little generally cranky here. But I’ve (a) got a cold and (b) have got pretty well fed up with the weather here. It’s been hot, yes, and I’m not complaining about that per se. It’s summer here, and there’s a longstanding tradition of hot days in the summertime. The summer we didn’t have hot days just felt worse. But the weather forecast has been predicting thunderstorms for “tomorrow and the day after” for a solid week now. So far the closest we’ve gotten to a thunderstorm is one of the fireworks my love’s father set off turned out to still be smouldering when we went out to the car an hour later so I poured a bucket of water on it. At this point I think the whole thunderstorm thing is a bluff. The only way we’re getting any rain is to hire a bunch of schoolchildren to draw rainy scenes and tape their drawings to the windows. Meanwhile I’m not buying any so-called weather forecast that says there’s rain coming.

In The 24-Hour Weather Forecast


So if I’m reading the weather map right they’re expecting rain all over the lower peninsula today. I mean of Michigan. I can’t account for all the lower peninsulas out there.

But it’s going to be heaviest in the southern half of the state, where the rainfall totals should be at least a half-inch. Although if you get into the area called mid-Michigan, roughly the forty miles north and south of Lansing, it’s higher than that. Like maybe an inch or so. If you get even more mid-Michigan they’re projecting higher rain, like maybe two inches. And in this even narrower ribbon they’re warning it might be three inches and from where that is …

Well, if I’m reading this right my block is projected to get about 22 inches of rain over the next day and a half. But I’m lucky not to be on the south half of the block, since they’re going to be really hit, getting somewhere around 21,230 inches of rain. Not sure which house is the center of that. I bet it’s the one that’s got the roof torn off so they could replace the shingles; isn’t that always the way? Ask me about the great Apartment Building Roof-replacement Of ’99 sometime. I should warn you, like most of my stories, it’s a bit weird and vaguely boring although it’s hard to pin down what the boring part actually is.


And in case I’m completely washed off to sea I just rediscovered this old bit where I read Wikipedia’s article about the Detroit Zoo and somehow ended up worse-informed about the Detroit Zoo than I was before. I liked it; you might, too. I was genuinely surprised by the bit I wrote about Luther Beecher and that’s a great feeling.

Another Update That Is Not A Calendar Joke


That weird little heap of snow in front of the house across the street is gone, after only a full week of temperatures above freezing and three days that got into the 50s or 60s! Now let’s see what there is to look forward to next.

Hourly forecast for tomorrow, Thursday 03/01: Snow accumulating 1 to 3 inches during the day. About one inch of snow expected overnight. Plus some other weather.
Fortunately, it’s supposed to be a rain-and-snow mix with a lot of wind, so the weather’s going to make everybody happy.

Fortunately depending on which neighborhood station I check we’re up for between 1 and 3 and 3 and 5 and 2 and 6 inches, so there’s no reason to think that we’re going to get anything. I can not, at this point, rule out that come Friday morning there’ll be a heap, ten inches thick, of chicken feathers covering the neighborhood. Should be fun. I finally figured out how to get gas out of our new, modern-designed, extremely safe portable gas can to pour into the snowblower. No idea what it does with feathers, but I have a hypothesis.

Statistics Saturday: Lansing, Michigan, Rainfall Distribution For February 2018


Because after all the storm news lately I figured people would like some hard data. Or, hard water data, since again, we drink from the aquifer and so our water is up to 14% Petoskey stones.

February 2018 Day Rain Distribution
1 Downward
2 NO DATA
3 Downward
4 Downward
5 Downward
6 Downward
7 Downward
8 Downward
9 Downward
10 Downward
11 Downward
12 Downward
13 NO DATA
14 NO DATA
15 NO DATA
16 NO DATA
17 NO DATA
18 NO DATA
19 Downward
20 Downward
21 Downward
22 Downward
23 Downward
24
25
26
27
28

Source: Explorations in Mathematical Physics: The Concepts Behind an Elegant Language, Don Koks.

It’s Just A State Of Mind


I’m soggy about all this. No, I’m not being apologetic while spelling poorly. I’m surrounded by even more water than usual. You maybe heard about Michigan getting an unusually large shipment of rain in. If you didn’t that’s because you couldn’t hear it over the rain hitting the roof. But from about Monday evening through Wednesday morning we had a lot of rain. And then another lot of rain on top of that. I’m not sure the precise mechanism of this, but as I understand it we had twenty different rainstorms all one on top of the other. The bottommost twelve layers of rainclouds couldn’t add any of their own water. They were busy passing on the rain that was falling on top of them. The storm at the bottom felt bullied, smothered underneath its uncaring but higher-up rainclouds. It started crying and nobody could even tell.

The rainfall gauge at the Capital Region International Airport washed downriver to Grand Ledge. The guy they sent out to replace it forgot he left a sponge in his pocket that morning and it bloated up to the size of a minivan, throwing him completely off his game. I know, some of you are thinking I’m making this up: why would a trained airport person have a sponge in his pocket? Joke’s on you. This is a lifehack for people with posture problems caused by sitting on overstuffed wallets in their back pockets. The sponge balances you out, see? But only if you put it in the other back pocket from your wallet. Still think I’m making this up? Call up and ask the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics about this. Don’t mention my name.

So this was a lot of rain. And it was a lot of rain while it was warm. It was in the 60s (Fahrenheit) before the water washed away the thermometer’s numbers and the concept of temperature. And this was a lot of rain and a lot of water after we’d got in several good-sized snowstorms the previous couple weeks. I mean, most of them were your simple three- and four-inch things, with an eight-inch storm tossed in. It let me shovel and feel all smug about how much better I shovel our sidewalk than certain other people on the block do. I’d stop every night, before going to bed, and admire how our sidewalk was clear and bone dry. So nice to go to bed feeling smug. I’m not joking about this.

Point is between the rain, the snow, and the warmth, they’ve issued a flood watch. Or a flood warning. Whatever it is they issue when they’re putting places under Voluntary Evacuation Orders and publish maps of the city covered in blue. This area of mid-Michigan is, geologically speaking, a marsh with too little self-esteem to get swampy. But drop enough water on top of it and the area will feel more embarrassed by not going along with the flooding. So that’s when you get pictures of people paddling a canoe to the bar off 127.

We’re nowhere near an evacuation zone, if by “nowhere near” you mean “it’s like two blocks to the east, and goes from there to the bar off 127”. I’m hunkering down waiting for them to squeegee our street. We’re on a minor street so I figure it’s going to be a couple days. The sump pump’s been running, not just filling up all normal time with its sump work but reaching out into new avenues of complex- and quaternion-valued time to shove water from the basement out to … the … yard, I guess? Somewhere.

Still, I’m doing my part. Like the Mayor asked, I’m helping out by drinking as much water as possible so the river levels go down. Lansing gets its water from an aquifer. There are three major rivers that converge in the Lansing area — the Red Cedar River, the Other One, and the Grand River — and we drink the water we have to mine. We got a new mayor in last month and it’s hard to catch up on everything you should know in any new job. I didn’t know about the aquifer thing until I was here like four years. So drinking as much as we can is pointless. But the important thing is being part of the process.

Two mounds of snow on the lawn of the house across the street. Also a lot of leaves smothered flat by snow and rain.
I know what you’re thinking, but no. They shovelled their snow. This isn’t an Old Mount Soot situation or “Sootuation” as they call it in the trades. This is just one of those mysteries of the neighborhood.

So now the mystery. We had 36 hours straight of it being in the 50s and 60s while all the rain in the world fell on us. It’s been above freezing all during the day and most of the night since then. Why does the house across the street still have heaps of snow in the yard?

The Social Animal


So yesterday we had over a plumber who was so charming and personable and easy to chat with it’s almost a shame we didn’t have a more complicated leak from the bathtub fixtures. And then in the evening there were an estimated 21,642 new people at our pinball league whom I did my best to smile to and help get to understand that they’re welcome and valued and we’re glad to have them try out the place. That all went well, and 142,000 of them said they were definitely coming back next league meeting. But after that many hours being outgoing and social and attentive to so many people I need to spend the next, like, week with the lights off and shades drawn, hiding underneath the bed and swatting at imaginary visitors so please pardon me, won’t you? Thank you.

I’m so lucky they were able to deliver one of those overcast, foggy days where you can’t see to the far end of the street of necessarily the house on short notice like this.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? August – November 2017


Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.

And on my other blog, there’s mathematically-themed comic strips. Please consider that too, if you’ve got the time for another blog in your life.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 19 November 2017.

Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.

We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.

Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The spinning blades rip off a windmill. Accomplice shouts 'Look out!' The spinning blades fly toward Mark Trail. Maybe. The perspective seems weird.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of September, 2017. Of the action sequences the last couple months of Mark Trail I think the windmill collapse was the least effective. It’s cinematic, sure. But if the reader has a vague idea how big an Old West Ghost Town windmill is (like I do) then it’s really hard to judge how threatening the thing is. And in still pictures it’s hard to judge how fast it’s moving, or how futile dodging might be. I’ll accept easily that one of them falling loose and flinging at a person would be catastrophic, but it also seems unlikely. Fair enough to have bad luck throw your characters into peril, but it did mean I started out not quite believing what was going on, and then the art didn’t sell me on it.

Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.

Sheriff shooting at the crooks and Mark Trail. Trail: 'You two should just give up now!' Bank Robber: 'SHUT UP, TRAIL! EVERYBODY STAY DOWN!' Accomplice: 'I'm not cut out for this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of October, 2017. You know the midlist has gotten bad when Sir Arthur C Clarke has to take up bank-robbing and hostage-taking.

Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.

Small aircraft pilot in storm clouds and rain: 'Boy, that wind is getting fierce ... I sure hope he knows what he's doing! ... Seems like we could've planned a less complicated way to pull off this job and get away with it!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of October, 2017. Really not sure how there could possibly be a simpler bank-robbery getaway plan than ‘take a hostage at the airport rental counter and have him drive to a remote town that has an abandoned airstrip where you can fly in and recover him’. I mean, what else could they do, go to some bus-and-train terminal and buy two dozen tickets to random other cities while driving out under cover of being in a 2014 Chevy Malibu too boring to even appear in security camera footage?

Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)

Mark Trail yells 'LOOK OUT!!' as he and Bank Robber are thrown forward by the exploding small-aircraft.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of November, 2017. If I were to claim that BOOOM was a short-lived early-60s Mad Magazine imitator noteworthy mostly for once featuring a script by Alan Arkin and a couple spot cartoons by Crockett Johnson of Barnaby and Harold and his Purple Crayon fame, would you believe me? I thought so.

And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still some hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.

So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
  • The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
  • Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
  • Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
  • Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
  • Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
  • Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
  • Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
  • Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
  • Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
  • Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.

Next Week!

Is there life after cruise ships? No, not really. But Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has been doing its best to carry on as though there were. All goes well, next week, I’ll see what dubiously-sourced quotations from famous people they have to talk about a cruise-less story. Only connect to us, won’t you?

Friday Is Coming, We Hope


I don’t like to make promises of things I’m not sure can happen. I mean, I do it anyway, because work will send me tasks and if I started admitting how little I’m sure that I can accomplish anything this might encourage everyone to admit we’ve been bluffing our way through the world since fifth grade at the latest, and then where would we be? Sixth grade?

But. Here’s the important thing. Friday is supposed to be the next time the Silver Bells In The City parade marches through downtown Lansing. And the forecast has rain as a real, serious possibility. I can’t promise that the results will be as spectacular as last year, when a major storm rolled through and blew away dozens of marching bands and created a TV show experience I still want to give each and every one of you. I still haven’t seen if they have DVDs of last year’s parade. But yes, I’m hopeful, going in to this year’s spectacle. I mean, it’s already raining and so dark that a raccoon knocked on the side door and asked if we could turn on a light so she could see. So maybe we’ll get a fun dose of chaos, maybe.

Also I’m thinking of ways to weatherproof myself better, perhaps by wearing eight layers of raincoats, or perhaps getting a giant vinyl ball to move in. No, that’s probably a good way to end up washed down the street and into the Grand River. Must think seriously about this. You first.

Also, hey, I looked over some more mathematically-themed comic strips today so you can think about those instead.

In The Aftermath Of The Storm


Maybe you saw there was a pretty major thunderstorm in mid-Michigan last Saturday, what with how they evacuated the Michigan State University football stadium and the game was delayed for over three and two-thirds years before completion. (I maybe wrote that down wrong.) A storm like that’s all good fun except for all the flooding, of course. But where it got personal was it knocked out our power. Not sure how long; after an hour of this we left to see if anything good was left at the Halloween costume stores.

The annoying part of this was having to go around setting clocks on everything again. Whoever heard of spending the first weekend in November fiddling with the time on all their consumer electronics? And I know what you’re thinking. But I use the time changes judiciously, letting the clocks know just which ones are important enough to get changed right away and which ones we don’t even notice and let slide until, like, February. It makes them feel uncertain about their use, which causes productivity.

No, the real pain is in resetting the answering machine, which we still have on our land line, which we still have because shut up. For some reason our answering machine needs these aspects of the time set:

  • Day of the week.
  • Hour of the day.
  • Minute of the hour.
  • The current year.

And … that’s it. Not the month. Not the day of the month. Hit the ‘time’ feature and it will tell you that it’s, like, ‘Wednesday, 4:12 pm, 2017.” It doesn’t report the year when giving the time a message was left, because who ever needs the year of a message except for the first workday of the new year? It’s the most baffling user interface choice I have ever encountered that isn’t related to how iTunes handles podcasts.