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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in austin_dern's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, April 30th, 2017
12:10 am
Your rhapsody is blowing my cool-ool

After the Shock Wave fiasco we were into the saddest and most beautiful part of the night, twilight. And that brought us to the last of their many roller coasters that we could ride: Runaway Mountain. It's built into a rockface facade, so I expected something akin to Great Adventure's Skull Mountain. It's more interesting than that. It's a small indoor ride done completely in the dark. There's no predicting its path and this adds a lot of thrill to it. Plus, you get onto the train on a curved part of the path, a rare choice. Good heavens I've reached the point in roller coaster appreciation that I look for unusual choices in loading platform layout.

Also, now I realize, it was after this ride that I quipped ``Welcome to Alaska''. Not La Vibora. Its ride in total darkness makes it closer to the long-closed Disaster Transport than just being a bobsled coaster does.

With that, though, we'd gotten to riding every major ride. Titan stayed closed as far as we could tell. Wile E Coyote's Grand Canyon Blaster is a roller coaster admitting kids only, saving us the question of whether we'd ride it for the fun of that or just for the credit. We'd gotten on the antique carousel, and on El Sombrero, and we'd made the deliberate choice to pass on the log flume El Aserradero. (Although I wonder if the queue wouldn't have been so bad now that it was dark. Ah, but who wants to dry off from a log flume in the dark?)

So while we only had a little time left, we could also relax and just enjoy being where we were. We went in for a night ride on the carousel before the evening concert shut it. It still ran slower than if they just had the ride operator push.

On the approach to Gotham City is their Hall of Justice, which hosts an interactive dark ride. We'd passed on it earlier in the day when the queue spilled out of the building, but it didn't do that now. And the Hall of Justice had the proper, classic 70s cartoon look to it. So we gave that a try. Inside was an animatronic Cyborg, if that's not redundant, trash-talking Lex Luthor and the Joker on the monitor. bunny_hugger was nagged by the idea that their Joker looked strangely familiar --- but not placed from any of the DC Animated Universe designs --- and finally recognized him as the same animation as Count Ghostly or whatever from the Ghostly Estates at Kennywood's interactive dark ride.

The video went a good, long time. Its role was informational, teaching people what the interactive element was and what the story was. (Something about Joker and Luthor using some freeze ray or whatever and you have to help Cyborg un-freeze them.) Thing is they did not cheat on the animation; it went on long enough that even a huge line would not see the whole video more than maybe twice. If you have to watch something just forever, it's best if you see as few repeats of it as possible.

Unfortunately as we were in danger of seeing the video repeat, the line came to a complete stop. The ride operator eventually said that the ride was down, and while it might come back before the end of the night they couldn't promise it. We decided not to risk it.

Instead we went back to Judge Roy Scream, taking a night ride on the wooden roller coaster we'd started the day on. At least one of the ride operators was the same one from the morning, so, heck of a shift. We went back for a re-ride and closed out the night on this fine one.

We went to the gift shop just past the park's entrance, looking for something that advertised Judge Roy Scream, preferably on a T-shirt. There wasn't anything --- even the cashier didn't know of anything --- so bunny_hugger got a Six Flags Over Texas shirt instead, saying she'd probably wear it to the next pinball league night and never again. She's worn it a bit more than that, and I think will again. It's in purple, and she looks good in that. Oh, there was a sign in a (different) shop window proclaiming ``Best Day Ever'', which is the current slogan for Cedar Point's social-media marketing stuff. We're interested in the Twitter war partisans must surely get into over this.

And this closed our day at Six Flags, and our last full day in Texas.

Trivia: Astronaut Walt Cunningham claims to have been the 14th astronaut selected for the 1963 class of astronauts because Manned Spacecraft Center Director of Engineering and Development Maxime Faget objected to having an unlucky thirteen people in the group. Chief Astronaut Deke Slayton was unwilling to drop the 13th candidate, and so invited the next in line, Cunningham. Source: Moon Bound: Choosing and Preparing NASA's Lunar Astronauts, Colin Burgess. Cunningham claims to have found the story in 1977, after learning of his ranking from Chief of Public Affairs Paul Haney.

Currently Reading: Rust: The Longest War, Jonathan Waldman.

Saturday, April 29th, 2017
12:10 am
If it makes you feel good

The New Texas Giant roller coaster opened in 2011. You might correctly infer a previous Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. The earlier was a wooden roller coaster that had been in the same spot for nineteen years. Then Six Flags gave it the Rocky Mountain Construction makeover, the sort of conversion from wood to steel track, and changing of layouts, that Kentucky Kingdom's Storm Chaser would later get, and that Cedar Point's Mean Streak is undergoing. It would also be the first ride with an inexplicably slow queue.

Well, the proximate cause was obvious: there was a long stretch, at least a half-hour, when they weren't sending any trains out. We just stood there, occasionally moving up because of people who gave up on the queue, mostly underneath cover. The problem was never clear. I think there was a rumor of some medical problem, presumably worse than just someone vomiting on the ride, circulating to our corner. It seemed to take forever, but we stuck it out, I suppose out of a sense that who knew if it would ever be any less bad? Having only one day to visit a park is a series of bets about what's worth queueing time.

Anyway, it is a fun ride. I felt like I could make out the former wooden coaster's tracks, and it had a lot of satisfying little hops. The trains are styled to your classic late-50s high-finned cars, complete with bull horns on the front car. The station's done to look like Your 60s Garage. Overblown? Sure, but you know? Do too much of something and it starts working again.

Now on to the real operational fiasco of the day. Six Flags Over Texas has Shock Wave, a late-70s coaster whose main gimmick is two loops, which were big things in the late 70s. To freshen it up, they've added a virtual reality component. You can choose to wear goggles that present a movie. This has made the ride, at least for now, extremely popular. We're curious about that and thought, well, why not if the lines allow ride it both ways?

The answer is that the lines don't allow. We first tried to get there and were warned we'd need to get an appointment. We got a paper good for admission to the queue between, I think it was, 6:00 and 6:45, and we found other stuff to amuse us until after 6:00. Part of this was searching for a place that served coffee, which we never found. And then the line ... oooooh, the line. Such a line.

Apparently the virtual reality part is making the ride popular. Apparently. Because whatever else it might do, the virtual reality scheme, goggles that people have to wear, is an operational disaster. We timed it at about seven minutes between unloading one train and dispatching the next. This for a ride that itself lasts two minutes. If it took more than a minute to unload and reload before the virtual reality side I will eat my goggles.

Some of this is the technology's newness. People kept returning goggles because they weren't working. Or they had to have strapping them on explained over and over. This can be reduced as the population gets experienced with the stuff. Some of this is probably inherent to the concept, though. The helmets add another thing that ride operators have to check before sending a train out. You can't just put any pair of goggles in any seat, either; each car needs its own view, lest the video and the train movements not make any sense together. Each pair of goggles has to be taken away and cleaned between uses, so it's not like one durable pair can be left hooked into the cars. (I'm not sure they really need this cleaning, but I'm not going to try arguing against wiping down something that's touched other people's hair.)

We decided to ride virtual reality-free, at least for the first ride. And here's a piece that really galls: we had to wait just as long as if we were getting on the virtual reality ride. There are a couple of train cars reserved for real-reality riders, and a lot of trains went out without them occupied. If there were a separate queue for people willing to forego the movie then great, that capacity could be used and the total queue made at least a bit less awful. But there's not, and so we waited about an hour, gradually lowering our estimate of Six Flags Over Texas's operations skills, and wondering what kind of fiasco the virtual reality component of Cedar Point's Iron Dragon is going to be.

We were able to jump over the last couple of ride cycles, thanks to the ride ops calling people from near the platform who weren't interested in virtual reality up. And the ride itself was nice, pretty good, and with a stretch that runs excitingly close to the ground. That's something that makes any ride feel faster and more trilling. Worth riding? Sure. Worth an hour-plus wait? Absolutely not.

Given the circumstances we didn't go back for a virtual reality ride. Maybe if we're ever brought to Dallas again, on a day that isn't nearly so busy, or if we can do it first thing before the queues have filled up. We'll see.

Trivia: Russia's economy grew at an average 8.8 percent between 1908 and 1914. In the last year it grew 14 percent. Source: The First World War, Hew Strachan.

Currently Reading: Rust: The Longest War, Jonathan Waldman.

Friday, April 28th, 2017
12:10 am
A colourful palace

What have you seen on my humor blog if it's part of your RSS existence or if you have its LiveJournal or now Dreamwidth feeds on your Friends page? This stuff:

And now let me close up Pinburgh Saturday with mostly backglass art.


Lower playfield of Williams's 1981 Barracora, the body-horror game that will haunt your dreams. The story is that the game was to be called Barracuda but the President of Williams didn't like that association. Note the drop targets match up, as tradition, one target per letter of the name Barracora, except for the 'RR' target on the left side. The story there is that when the Gordian knot of how to match the game title with the number of drop targets was finally settled this way designers said if they'd known they could double up letters like that it would have solved so many problems. (In that time the table layout and the theme were developed often with little cross-talk or planning.)


Yeah, so here's that picture you wanted of the G I Joe team's Lady Jaye riding a bucking pink robot space horse. And the company that'll bring it to you is Gottleib in 1979.


Yeah, so here's that picture you wanted of the the cheery, dopey, plotless days before renewing yourself in the fires of Carousel. And the company that'll bring it to you is Williams in 1979.


Meanwhile from our friends Recel, in Spain: 1977's Space Race. Fine cheery scene that makes you ask: that guy in the center, behind the fallen woman. Is he wearing flesh-colored pants or does he have a long pouch adhering to his naked thigh? Before you say this is obvious remember that it was the 70s and this is a science fiction theme.


Williams's 1979 Stellar Wars reminds us all that we don't have to have an official license to have a good time.


Yeah, so here's that picture you wanted of a shiny silver-mirrory winged centauress mooning the Hal 9000. And the backglass that'll bring it to you? Stern's 1978 Lectronamo.


Another attempted panoramic shot of the banner on the convention center's underpass for the ReplayFX Arcade and Gaming Festival. On the far right is one of the Attack From Mars aliens, just past the big old-fashioned style pop bumper.

Trivia: When the Cincinnati American Association team (we'd call them the Red Sox) moved to their new field in 1882 (and where they'd stay to 1870) a local sportswriter admitted the new location had flooded that spring, but prior to that, not since 1852. It flooded again the following February. Source: Level Playing Fields: How The Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball, Peter Morris.

Currently Reading: Rust: The Longest War, Jonathan Waldman.

PS: Reading the Comics, April 22, 2017: Thought There'd Be Some More Last Week Edition but hey, Thursdays, why not one of these?

Thursday, April 27th, 2017
12:10 am
Don't cha stop, don't cha stop

While there was much we didn't research about the history of Six Flags Over Texas before we visited --- I failed to check the credits of The Banana Splits and Liddsville to see if there were any sites we might recognize --- there were some things we couldn't help knowing. One was that their carousel is historic. The Silver Star Carousel, now located just past the entrance of the park, was the last carousel built by the renowned William Dentzel.

It's a handsome carousel of course, and it's got two dragon-bearing chariots. Despite its prominent and elevated location it's hard to see. The park has set up a performance stage in front of the carousel, for one. There were shows going on several times through the day, and the ride would close early for the evening concert. But the backdrop for it covers the front of the ride.

As for the ride, well, you know the part where a carousel's accelerated to some speed and it turns around a while? They don't do that so much. It's horribly slow. I didn't time it since I didn't realize it had got up to full speed; I'd estimate it's running something like two rotation per minute. Certainly not more than three. How's somebody supposed to like carousels when they're made disappointing?

The first substantial line we were on was in the Mexico section, on a trabant --- one of those spinning disc type rides --- called El Sombrero. Yes, just like you'd name if you were writing a middling Simpsons episode about a Mexico-themed amusement park. The cars and the center structure of the ride are made up so it looks like a sombrero. Yes, just like you'd do if you were writing the solid joke in a middling Simpson episode about a Mexico-themed amusement park. The ride, it turns out, dates to 1965 and apparently it's a beloved local piece. We get that. A trabant's a good ride anyway, and the theming is delightfully goofy.

The second substantial line we were on was also in the Mexico section. I think. Mexico and Spain blend together in the park, much as they do in white-American-pop-culture imaginations. At least in mine. Anyway, it was a roller coaster, the bobsled coaster La Vibora. That it's a bobsled coaster made us think of Cedar Point's defunct Disaster Transport, and when the ride ended I did quip, ``Welcome to Alaska'' like that ride was supposed to do. It also made me think of Great Adventure's Sarajevo Bobsled and Wikipedia tells me that La Vibora used to be the Sarajevo Bobsled at Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Great Adventure's Sarajevo Bobsled has since moved to Six Flags's unbranded Great Escape, in upstate New York.) As for why the name, well, bobsleds were big in the mid-80s and everybody was wowed by the 1984 Winter Olympics.

La Vibora is very stylishly painted in black, yellow, and red. The half-pipes of the ride give it a very plausible serpentine look. It was the first ride we noticed, as it was just over the fence from our parking lot. And, as I say, the line was long and took it felt like forever to get through, but we couldn't fault operations on this particularly. Bobsled coasters don't have much capacity; their trains can't be too long and can't carry all that many people at once.

Not ridden by us: El Aserradero. It's of historic import, as the first log flume in the world. But it was a busy day at the park, and it was a bright, sunny, hot day, certainly in the mid-80s. The queue for it could not have been anything but impossibly long, and we're not that enthusiastic about log flume rides.

Also not ridden, and a genuine disappointment, in the Texas section: Titan. It's their hypercoaster, 245 feet tall and looking, from photos, like a slightly taller, slightly crazier version of Cedar Point's Magnum XL-200. Apparently it's a particularly crazy ride: its Wikipedia entry says people complain about greyouts or blackouts during the ride, and the ride now heavily brakes at mid-course in order to reduce the helix's extremeness. Sounds wild, doesn't it?

Well, the ride wasn't easy to find. The only path to it, as best we could work out, was a narrow lane behind some food stands, and then down a path through the picnic pavilion. There were sawhorses put across the path and a couple park workers standing guard, turning people away. They didn't explain why Titan was closed, which is normal enough. (I think the only reason park workers will ever tell you why a ride is down is ``someone threw up and they have to clean it''.) They also didn't volunteer when the ride might be running again, which is again normal.

So why was it closed? No idea. Maybe maintenance. Maybe they didn't have enough staff this early in the season to run it, at least not at the volume they'd need for the crowd. Maybe something was going on with the picnic pavilions that needed to be fenced off and that left the roller coaster out.

While wandering around looking for access to this ride we saw a karaoke stage. They had the show slated for just about all day. I haven't seen that at parks before, but I love the idea. Good work on their parts.

We were about to get into some of the really huge waits.

Trivia: In the mid-19th century about 2.2 percent of the French population was Protestant. Four-fifths of them were concentrated in Alsace (Lutherans), in Nîmes and western Provence, and in a narrow crescent from Montpellier to La Rochelle and Poitou (Calvinists). Source: The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, Graham Robb.

Currently Reading: Shipping Container, Craig Martin.

PS: What Do I Need To Get A B This Semester? (May 2017 Edition), my regular nagging of people to not try to do it all in one test for crying out loud.

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
12:10 am
So dim down the light

With the milestone --- we believed --- done the rest of the day was one of just enjoying a new amusement park. We hadn't done much research about the park, as we're more interested in being surprised and delighted these days. But we knew some of the basics: the first Six Flags park, originally with sections themed to the six (Western) nations that claimed sovereignty over Texas soil, if you count France as somehow having a claim and if you count the Confederacy as anything but the slaveholding traitors they were. Those themes, those sections, are still present, but they haven't really grown with the park. The French section, for example, looks to be just a theater and restaurant and some history-of-the-park plaques hung in the smoking section. Meanwhile as with all Six Flags park a mock Gotham City is threatening to take over the world. Such happens. The park did feel more strongly themed than Great Adventure; not that there aren't definite areas to Great Adventure, but there are fewer of them (Western, Bicentennial Americana, Gotham City, and No-Longer-Drive-Through Safari).

Six Flags parks have a reputation for lousy operations, for running rides as little and as slowly as possible. The conspiratorial amusement park enthusiast says that's so they can boost sales of line-cutting passes. While it's not unheard-of for big companies to go in for making the customer's experience not-quite-intolerable --- that's what makes airlines so beloved --- I don't believe it in this case. I think it's just the normal modern-capitalist state in which nobody ever has quite the resources they need to do a job right.

Anyway, our early impressions of the park were that operations were pretty good. Even at the start of the day, for example, Judge Roy Scream was already running two trains, staying ahead of ride demand, and loading and unloading without any major wait on the dispatched train. On our next roller coaster, the extremely busy spinning wild mouse Pandemonium ride operators were piping people into and out of cars just as fast as the passengers could move. There was a wait, but it was a steadily moving one, and it's hard to see how they could have done better except to have fewer people in the park.

Things went similarly well on Mister Freeze Reverse Blast. We'd gone into the Gotham City area to ride Six Flags Over Texas's newest roller coaster, Joker, only to learn that it was so new it was still under construction; it's slated to open around the 19th of May. Mister Freeze Reverse Blast caught my interest because of the scenery: there were these old-looking buildings that looked like soft-serve ice cream, reminding me of the older buildings at Great Adventure. We investigated and found, first, that the Gotham City area was well-built; stuff had that mix of styles which real cities enjoy. Second, the old-looking building were made to represent an abandoned Gotham City ice cream factory, one that hosted a shuttle coaster inside. It was attractively built. The indoor ride queue included graffitied walls and I pondered the making of that graffiti. Also whether this was an area of the park where people adding their own graffiti was, at least morally, just fine.

Also the ride queue had a bunch of monitors, mostly showing Looney Tunes cartoons. We couldn't hear them, but that's all right; it turns out I have the soundtrack for pretty much everything they did, 1938 - 1959, memorized.

Mister Freeze Reverse Blast is a shuttle coaster, so that it goes out and back without quite completing a circuit. It also, as the keyword ``revere'' suggests, goes backwards its first half. This is uncommon and unsettling and rather frightfully exciting. And it gave us an approximation to what a rollback on Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster must be like.

Then, after a pause for some soda --- Dallas is hot --- and cheese fries we went to the Runaway Mine Train. It turns out it's of historic import, as the first of the popular Mine Train style roller coaster. It was the backup choice for roller coaster 200, in case Judge Roy Scream were down. It would serve as thematic dual to the Cedar Creek Mine Ride at Cedar Point. It's a good ride; it particularly passes through a western-themed house, slowing down so we can take in the diorama. I don't know if it ever had moving figures, but it would have made sense to. It was attractive and delightful, especially in a patch running close to lake level.

And it was my 175th roller coaster.

According to my best counts, with all the qualifications about how difficult it is to count something like that. It's a lesser milestone than bunny_hugger's, and I don't figure to submit it to the American Coaster Enthusiasts, but it is still something to note.

Trivia: The first stereoscopic photographs in the United States were made in 1859 by E Anthony of New York. Source: Wondrous Contrivances: Technology at the Threshold, Merritt Ierley.

Currently Reading: Shipping Container, Craig Martin.

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
12:10 am
And it's just what I like

I grew up in the shadow of Great Adventure. We barely went to any other amusement parks and certainly never another Six Flags park. But in the Dallas area is a Six Flags park, and indeed, the Six Flags park: Six Flags Over Texas, the one that started the chain. When debating whether to do the daft thing of going to the Women's World Pinball Championship, the fact that we could fit in a trip to a park we'd otherwise never see was potent. With us safely dodging the PinMasters finals we had Sunday free to spend the day at my second-ever, and bunny_hugger's third-ever, Six Flags park.

A technicality: Six Flags Over Texas is now, debatably, a Six Flags park. While it gave birth to the Six Flags chain and obviously still has the name, it is merely operated by the Six Flags corporation. The park is owned by Texas Flags, Limited, one of those finance companies that does nothing, but which is headed by the guy that owned the park before Time-Warner and later Premier Parks bought Six Flags. To complicate matters, according to Wikipedia, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation owns 53 percent of Texas Flags, Limited. So the point is that it's a Six Flags park, but also slightly not.

We had no idea what to expect for park conditions; this is two months before we'd ever even think of an amusement park. The park's season runs from March to December, inviting the question of whether they actually have an off-season. But: would it be crowded? Or would we have an easy day of riding stuff? The answer seemed to be doom as the entry path had signs warning of high attendance. We were there the last day of the Spring Break Out. Which boded ill for getting to ride lots of stuff, but when else could we possibly have gone?

Our first --- indeed, our only --- objective was the park's wooden roller coaster, Judge Roy Scream. The ride's way off on the far end of the park, through a pedestrian subway underneath the approach road, and opposite a narrow lagoon from the rest of the park. But this does give it street visibility: you can see the ride while driving just near the park, and as we drove home that night it was the last thing we saw, after leaving the parking lot. The queue? Barely there at all. Perhaps it was the ride's distant location. Perhaps the fears of a packed day were overblown.

We got up front --- no wait! --- and just before getting in the car bunny_hugger took out a sheet of paper. On it, in the biggest available typeface, was the number 200.

Because bunny_hugger had started tracking the number of different roller coasters she's ridden, and per the statistics gathered at coaster-count.com, she had finished the 2016 season with 199 ridden roller coasters. This would be a milestone. We'd been thinking what to make the 200th ride. There's a little coaster in a family fun center about 80 miles from our home. There's a new wooden roller coaster opening in Kings Island this year. There's whatever Cedar Point's Mean Streak will be rebuilt as. There's the Sea Dragon at the Columbus Zoo, which we might have picked up on the side at AnthrOhio. And in the end, while it's not a roller coaster we expect to be able to visit --- what a story! To start the roller coaster season in a brand-new park, on a wooden roller coaster, and that after competing in a world's championship pinball tournament? Fantastic!

Also a ride we liked a good bit too. Judge Roy Scream is a simple enough ride, an out-and-back, about seventy feet tell. It feels a good bit like Cedar Point's Blue Streak. But we like Blue Streak. And we like Judge Roy Scream, too; it's a good, exciting ride, with a fine setting. We liked the ride operators, too, who were curious about the 200 sign --- surely they've had other people ride this as a milestone coaster? --- and congratulatory about it.

So it was a great choice for bunny_hugger's 200th roller coaster.

The next day, when we were back home, she went to log all the new rides and discovered something terrible. She had failed to log two of the rides at Rye Playland which she had been on. This was not her 200th coaster. It was at minimum her 202nd. Her milestone coaster was the Thunderbird, at Holiday World, that we rode in May of last year. It was during the visit that met us up with my sister and her family, and coincidentally saw the health crash of our pet rabbit that was the first of his final year's health crises.

She was deflated.

It set off a lively debate in our house about the meaning of a milestone. To take measuring something seriously is to learn there is an essential futility in measuring it. There is an unavoidable imprecision that creeps in to even our best and most honest efforts. What is it to ride 200 different roller coasters? How many roller coasters did bunny_hugger or I ride as children, having the experience but not remembering it afterwards? There's an age past which she can be sure she didn't ride roller coasters, but what about before that? There's roller coasters she can deduce she rode or did not ride, based on records of what was available at parks she could visit at what times, but is that the same as remembering riding them? Is a roller coaster changed by its being moved? Is it changed by retracking Is it changed by an important element being removed or added? By conversion from a stand-up to a seated coaster?

The milestone coaster would always have been 200 from some arbitrarily selected starting point, with a certain error in counting each ride. How does that change the meaning of the accomplishment? Does it? How would the dispiriting aspect of it change if the mistake were found a month later instead, or a year later, or a decade later?

A friend shared a consoling anecdote. She, a Barenaked Ladies fan, made an event of her 100th concert, even getting a shout-out from the band for it. And then learned she had miscounted and was somewhere over 100 Barenaked Ladies concerts when that happened. What does that do to change the meaning of the observance?

After debate, bunny_hugger sent the picture of her milestone ride in to the American Coaster Enthusiasts, for (hopefully) inclusion in their newsletter's milestone-rides photographs section. They don't print stories alongside it, a shame, as I think it's a good one.

And there is this consolation: her 200th coaster, we now know or believe we know, is at Holiday World. She'd not have picked a steel coaster if she knew --- not that any coaster is bad, but that we like wood --- but it is at a park we can visit anytime we want to make a weekend trip, and a park we love to visit. Somehow Thunderbird is changed too, and by a wholly unrelated trip to Rye Playland. Why does that happen?

Trivia: The German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaptoth discovered zirconium and uranium in the same year. Source: Molecules At An Exhibition: The Science of Everyday Life, John Emsley.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

Monday, April 24th, 2017
12:10 am
Build an extension

If you put it in your RSS feed you'd already know what my mathematics blog featured the past week. But that's all right. I'm here to remind you of what you did miss. In the past week that blog has featured:

And on to the last of the Saturday Pinburgh pictures to feature, like, people and stuff instead of crazy backglass art. I'm fibbing, but less than you think.


Aftermath of the A Division finals. We somehow missed the games being played, but there's the stage and some of the games from the tournament and you can see the video screens set up to show the playfield action. Also the lots of confetti tossed about afterwards.


Video monitor showing the playfield of Paragon, one of the on-stage games, along with the confetti that's fallen on the glass. Also, it's really, really weird to see a pinball table at a vertical angle like this. I don't know how people who watch live streams of these games do it.


Extreme! Distortion! High Hand, one of the on-stage games, and an electromechanical which I played. We were allowed on stage after the A Division finals were over an it feels really weird to be there. Mostly because you can feel vibrations from the other people also on stage.


bunny_hugger signalling the maitre d' that she wanted a table with more points, thank you, please. Freak Out is a custom-themed table made by Tiltwarning out of a Williams 1968 Doozie. That it was a custom rebuild explains what had baffled us, which was, why the art was so psychedelic yet the table was so hard to read. Normally the key shots are labelled on a game of that era. Note on the right someone in the process of tilting their game of Metallica.


bunny_hugger and chicken purse go off to ponder what game to try putting up a score on next. The constraints: there's only ten entries period per person, and there's only two hours left, and there's lines for everything.


Aftermath of the A Division finals. I did take the chance to walk up the ramp that, during actual competition, every player walked solo at the start and end of the ball. It added a heck of a sense of drama to otherwise normal business.

Trivia: The Woolworth Building opened on 24 April 1913. Its lights were turned on to the signal of a button pressed by President Wilson in Washington DC. Source: Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City, Neal Bascomb.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017
12:10 am
Perhaps a little more

Next game for me is Aerosmith. Between yesterday and the time spent at Nickelrama I have a fair idea how to reach its 30 million point target. Not that it's subtle strategy: hit the toybox to light locks, lock as many balls as possible and keep the multiball going. I'd even hit the 30 million on the Nickelrama table, and in only three balls, on admittedly an easier table. Still, now I've got a more solid idea of what to --- wait, the ball just drained. All right, well, try again and --- oh good grief, did I even hit a switch? (Even if a game has ball save turned off, the way high-level tournaments will, it will often give the ball back if no switches are hit.) And again. My strategy shifts: instead of trying to hit the 30 million I just want to get past the 6 million needed not to bottom out, and I manage. Then to get to the 12 million threshold which --- oh good grief. Second game and another nine-stroke table. It's not impossible that I should do as well Saturday as I had Friday, but it's looking much less likely. I'll need some favors from the electromechanical tables.

I don't get it. Not really. I put up dismal scores, getting eight-stroke games, on tables like Gorgar that I'd birdied on the day before or Playboy that everyone else in my group does fairly well on. I finally, finally meet an objective at all, getting the target 2,500 points on our old friend Flip-A-Card in three strokes. And I do it in style too, getting many of the cards collected and then shooting the 500-point Ace target. I get credit for it twice: the ball rolls up the lane that scores me those points, and then rolls back down that lane, for a thousand points total.

I could start to believe in a rally when I have a similarly good Monte Carlo --- another electromechanical game --- and then wrestle myself to another three-stroke hole on The Flintstones. I'm obviously nowhere near finals, but I never expected to be at finals. But if I can keep this going on CSI and Whirlwind then I should at least finish mid-pack. And hey, CSI I did well on in Pinburgh, and met --- in five strokes --- the previous day. All I have to do is pick any of the eighty different multiballs and shoot for it.

And that doesn't work. I never find any of the important shots and I soon shift to just avoiding bottoming out. Nine strokes on the game. Whirlwind, the last game, to get par I'll have to beat the highest score I've ever gotten on the table. But they've fiddled with the game overnight, balancing the thing so the spinning plates on the playfield are a little less cruel and making it possible --- I see other people in my group doing this --- to do an extremely hard plunge that sends the ball through the left ramp and either advance the lock (hard on this game) or score a jackpot (a million points, to start, and more millions as you go on).

Other people can do that. I can't. I can't get the ball launched hard enough to reach the ramp and so lose not just the ``super'' skill shot here, but the regular skill shot that could be worth a half-million (but has a huge risk of center-draining the ball). I do have some good play in catching and controlling the ball and shooting the cellar for awards, but none of them are worth very much. I end up matching the previous day's seven strokes.

I finish the day 23 strokes above par, worse than the performance bunny_hugger was punishing herself for Friday. It leaves me at +33 for the tournament, and down in the bottom eight of the 64 competitors. And was I ever on camera? I don't know; I couldn't tell from the commentators. There was a point one of them said ``Lansing, Michigan'' which bunny_hugger thinks was them talking about me. I don't know. I haven't watched the recorded and not-yet-lost stream to check.

Meanwhile bunny_hugger's had an even worse night than Friday, and even worse than me. She finished the night 24 strokes above par, and +45 for the whole tournament. Even more inconsolable.

We have a little time to wander around before quite everybody finishes, and I drown my sorrows in a couple more games in the showroom. I even put my name on the high score table on the Star Wars Episode 1 pinball machine. It's got very easy settings and probably was reset just before the tournament, but still, a high score credit means so much as consolation.

Finally we're all done, including ADM's friend, and the place is closing up and I'm struck with that strange sentiment from knowing you're at a place for probably the last time ever. Oh, bunny_hugger may well be at the Women's World Championship again. She hopes to, after all, and there's even rumors of a women's league in Michigan that would help propel her into the top sixteen in her own right. But would it ever be held in Dallas again? In previous years it was Las Vegas, and the rumor is the International Flipper Pinball Association moved it to Dallas mostly to show they were serious in some contract talks about venue pricing. Now that their seriousness is shown, might it move back? Would we ever be in Dallas again, and if so, for what reasons? What a strange thing to have to think about.

The tournament's given me a Texas rating. I'm --- at this writing --- the 259th-highest placed player in Texas, so it's technically possible I could be invited to that state's finals next February. bunny_hugger is ranked 315th --- at this writing --- in Texas. She's played more events, but as a restricted event the Women's World Championship doesn't count in the normal rankings. It just gives her something for the Women's Rankings.

We hear that ADM is in the finals. So he is; he finished the qualifying at 10 strokes under. (It turns out everyone who beat par makes it to the finals.) We actually know at least three of the people who make the finals, though ADM's friend is not among them. That'll be Sunday, a day we don't go to the Fun! Billiard and Gameroom Superstore. We have plans.

Trivia: In the summer of 1864 Alabama Governor Thoma Watts managed to get 30,000 cards of cotton imported through the blockade to Wilmington, North Carolina, but could not get them delivered by the railroads. Source: Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America, William C Davis.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017
12:10 am
He's just the kid next door

So. I'm finally ready to start on the second day of the PinMasters tournament. It's pin-golf again, with the same score objectives on the same tables that I'd done all right on the day before. If I do slightly better, I'm assured by ADM's friend, I might be in range of the finals, low seed but still, wow. If I do only as well, I'll probably be mid-pack in a very competitive group. I groaned at ADM's friend for jinxing me when he said this, but that's just superstition.

We're in new groups, roughly matching where we finished the day before. But since we're playing against the score objectives the skills of other players doesn't matter much. My first game: Road Kings, a late solid state game. It's from, to me, the hardest era: you have to make a lot of very precise shots to get the best scores and there aren't many alternatives. The day before I'd met the objective, albeit on the last ball, by getting the multiball started and collecting the jackpot. Now I know what to do --- light locks, lock two balls, and then re-lock both balls. Should be easy.

It's not. I keep missing the lock lights. When I finally get a ball locked I can't lock the second. I do some flailing around. And then, worse and worse: someone else gets the jackpot. As is common in solid state games, the jackpot builds, ball to ball, player to player, and when anyone scores it goes back to a smallest value. The jackpot had been enough to meet the objective at once. Now it's way too low. I'll have to get a multiball going and keep it going a long while, which I don't. I end up with a pitiful score, good for nine strokes. That's two worse than even my worst balls the night before, and it's one stroke short of the worst possible. A bad start.

I'll get back to my playing shortly, but want to share bunny_hugger's experience on the table. She, in another group, was also being streamed on Twitch while she played. She knew this for sure when the game did a really indecent bit. One of the shots you're supposed to take sends the ball on a ramp to the left outlane, where the kickback sends the ball back into play. Only this time the kickback tossed the ball to the other side of the table and down the right outlane and out of play. Moments later her phone rang, a text from MWS asking whether the game really just cheated her like that. It had.

I realize now I'm not sure that didn't happen on Friday. But on Saturday, the second day, she was certainly playing Road Kings while being streamed again. And I know this because she got multiball going and was fishing around for the jackpot. She locked one ball, but didn't know that to get the jackpot she should lock the second. She made some reasonable guesses, including shooting a ramp shot that, were this a modern game, would totally have been the jackpot. And she overheard the commentators saying, ``She doesn't know! She doesn't know! She doesn't know what the jackpot shot is!''

So it was. But she didn't lose the ball either, and the ramp shot in multiball is rewarding anyway. (It might even be a better value than a freshly-reset jackpot.) She keeps the ball going long enough to reach the target score, and on the fourth ball, par. A commentator says she got her par ``the hard way''. One of the Twitch chat room followers says she got her par ``like a boss''. It's a satisfying moment.

There won't be enough of those.

Trivia: In a cabinet meeting on the 22nd of April, 1927, President Coolidge named Herbert Hoover chair of a special committee to handle the Mississippi flooding emergency. Hoover would spend sixty of the next 71 days in the flood territory. Source: Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 And Hw It Changed America, John M Barry.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

PS: In Which I Offer Excuses Instead Of Mathematics, but at least it's something to read and to look at.

Friday, April 21st, 2017
12:10 am
We need more room

Had another full week on my humor blog, so if you missed it here's the various recent posts:

So let's get back to Saturday at Pinburgh and a couple more hours of the fun and photogenic stuff there.


More backglass art because it was just that captivating: Sonic's 1976 Faces, an electromechanical game with the ever-popular theme of gazing into your soul.


Most of the playfield for Sonic's 1976 Faces, a game we did not have cause to play in the tournament but which we couldn't resist because look at those eyes and those nostril-bumpers and the lips on that machine and then there's more faces below it. Seriously, just, wow.


Finals for the Tiny Pinball tournament; contestants stand on chairs. Or, I get arty while waiting for the C Division finals to play out. Stars is a great early solid-state game we can't get enough of ourselves.


The C Division Champions, by contrast to B, were able to arrange their victories in decreasing order by size.


One of the other concerts: a live orchestra playing the music while someone speedruns the video game I Dunno, Something About Ninjas Or Something. I have no idea if they missed any beats but none of the people who knew what the game was seemed unhappy with their performance so I suppose it was without flaw in technique.


Mobs of people waiting to put in games for the side tournament, the Intergalactic Pinball Championship. It was like 10:30 pm, with qualifying ending at 1 or 2 am and it turns out that we should have put games in earlier in the day when nobody was there. Live and learn.

Trivia: The Hudson River bed in the area of the Tappan Zee bridge is a layer of silt, in some spots 300 feet deep. Source: Engineering In History, Richard Shelton Kirby, Sidney Withington, Arthur Burr Darling, Frederick Gridley Kilgour.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

Thursday, April 20th, 2017
12:10 am
A boy named Charlie Brown

After the embarrassment Friday of arriving late enough there was talk of just plunging our balls I absolutely did not want to be late for Saturday's half of the tournament. So here's how I was late for Saturday's half of the tournament.

Not traffic. We set out from the hotel only a little earlier than we had Friday, but trusted that it wasn't rush hour. And it wasn't. But there was some kind of accident or something creating a jam just about where we'd got into trouble on Friday. So we took a detour, using ADM's friend's cell phone as guidance around the way. This took us on a baffling weaving tour of the roads right around the expressway and we ultimately came to the Fun! Billiard and Gameroom Superstore from the opposite direction, which was not at all easier parking. We were there with maybe a half-hour or so to spare.

So everyone was kind of milling around. There were, I think, a few folks from the 1:00 tee time not yet done, and the groups for the 6:00 tee time hadn't been announced so far as I knew. If they were posted online we couldn't tell, since, no Wi-Fi. What did I have to do? I went to one of the other rooms and played the games that were turned on. They had, for example, Stern's Spider-Man Vault Edition. The Spider-Man game, based on the 2000's movies, is a rather popular one. This was a new table, more based on the comics, with the playfield changed a little and the rules changed a lot. I'd heard about the game but not seen one before getting here, and wanted to play. I like the game, although something about it feels small to me. The rule set doesn't seem quite as deep, which might reflect the game being marketed to newcomers and venues that don't have hardcore pinball players. Pinball rules have been getting a bit baffling lately. The Game of Thrones table, for example, requires you start out making a decision about what House you're playing, which you have no way of judging unless you're already experienced on the table, and it takes a lot of non-obvious play to get any of the good modes started. Pinball needs games you can play without a tip sheet.

Also in the back room: Nine Ball. It's an early solid state game, with a ``wizards in space playing cards'' theme. I've played it in other venues and liked it, and I realize given how easy the settings on the other non-tournament games are, this might be the most generous Nine Ball I'll ever have the chance to play. It is. All the valuable shots are right where I'd hope they were, and while I get some lucky bounces I'm also doing very well hitting the valuable drop targets. And it's even on five balls. I worry a little about coming close to the start of the tournament but trust that I'll hear something, if nothing else from the handful of other people in the showroom moving in.

So, I don't, and when I finally end the game the tournament director's been yelling my name and wondering where I am, with people speculating that I'm in the bathroom and nobody checking the other room in the building. I'm not saying I'm humiliated. But, jeez, my first national-scale tournament and I'm late both days. I don't want my national reputation to be ``guy who's five minutes late''. I want my state reputation of Zen Master to transfer over. Rough start. I should've set my iPod where I could check the time more easily. But everyone in my group understood. If you're chasing a personal high on a machine you don't want to leave the table. Still so embarrassing.

Trivia: Princeton University appears to be the first college to use ``campus'' to refer to its grounds; President John Witherspoon took the word, meaning an open field, to refer to the college's site. Source: How The Scots Invented The Modern World, Arthur Herman.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017
12:10 am
He's only a boy named Charlie

Next big thing we'd wanted to do, and that I thought we had time for, was Nickelrama. We'd heard excited whispers about this. It's an arcade and game room, of a kind with Marvin's or Chuck-E-Cheeses or anything like that. Its gimmick is that all the coin slots take nickels. We had to see this gimmick. What we saw was a line.

The strategic mistake we'd made was that this was Saturday. During (high school) Spring Break. Roughly every person under the age of 14 was at Nickelrama, along with an appropriate fraction of supervising adults. They had a queue outside the front door, with a bouncer and all, making sure there weren't more people than the fire marshall allowed inside. After less time than we spent not getting Thai we were allowed in, to pay our cover charge and guess how much money we wanted changed to nickels.

They had pinball machines there. Not a few, either. There were something around twenty games present, mostly modern Stern games. They took more than a nickel each --- we didn't see anything in the arcade that was literally five cents, and almost everything was twenty cents --- but still, 20 cents to play any contemporary pinball machine? And by that I mean, like, since 1978? And this was for everything, including their newest game, Aerosmith. It'll be going for $1.00 a play most venues.

We enjoyed the slightly illicit feeling of putting in something not a quarter or a token to play. Also to gather intelligence about what if anything to do on the game, for the second round of the PinMasters pin-golf tournament. What we had worked out early on --- lock balls and go for Toybox Multiball --- seemed right. A month on, it looks like that's still the right way to play. bunny_hugger started getting the bad taste of the game out of her mouth as she got a Toybox Multiball going in good order when the game turned off.

Spontaneous resets happen to games. One had saved me when I was on the brink of losing Marvin's League finals back in February. But this was weird. The whole game turned off, no screen, no nothing, and it didn't restart. Nor did it react when we turned the game off and on again. I went to the counter where I waited behind a lot of people trying to redeem tickets, and feeling vaguely like I just don't know how to get anyone's attention. Finally I did and told the counter worker that the Aerosmith game had broken. She looked as if she had no idea what those syllables could mean together. I realize: the game is so new not all the staff knows they even have it. I try explaining again, framing it as ``the pinball machine on the end of the back row'' and she nods, promising to send someone to look at it, and that she totally believes me there's an Aerosmith pinball game, right, yeah, whatever.

While waiting for the repair guy the game restarted itself and seemed fine. We couldn't give any idea about what might have set it off. She'd had multiball going, which is often a strain on a pinball game's logic circuits, but she didn't have any explosively complicated sets of things going on as far as we could tell. He rang in a couple credits for us and asked us to report what we were doing if the problem happens again.

We had time for a couple games on that, and a couple on Batman 66, and even to look around the arcade at other attractions. We're not really video game people but we were amused by a four-player Pac-Man in which you can eat a power pellet and then chomp not just ghosts but other Pac-Men. Fun variation. bunny_hugger got me twice, and Inky once.

We heard of similar nickel arcades in Salt Lake City; maybe this is a new model for this sort of thing. It would have been great to spend more time there. We just didn't have it. Even with our abbreviated time there, though, we came out ahead: we played more than the admission charge's worth of games, and got some information about what the heck the rules for Aerosmith were, and I got to have a bizarre encounter with staff. What more could we hope for?

Trivia: By the end of 1925, the year after it began offering nationwide service offering regular preventative care, Otis Maintenance had 1,407 elevators under contract in North America. Source: Otis: Giving Rise To The Modern City, Jason Goodwin.

Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.

PS: What Is The Most Probable Date For Easter? What Is The Least? The answers may surprise you!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017
12:10 am
And get you feeling glad you're you

Saturday! Second day of the PinMasters tournament, and we again had a 6:00 tee time. With it being the weekend we supposed there'd be less of a rush hour, and we'd set out even earlier to make sure. And we got up earlier in the day so we would have time to do stuff. We had plans.

First plan: lunch. There was this Thai restaurant at a strip mall across the 650-lane expressway. I navigated there and we stepped in to an extremely light crowd of maybe three people each at a separate table and the sounds of someone or other in the kitchen. There's no one up front to see us. There's no sign about seating ourselves or how to get a seat. We wait a bit. Someone in the kitchen looks out at the dining room, goes back in, and nothing happens. We wait more. Maybe someone eating glanced at us, but really why would they care? bunny_hugger says let's just go. I think we should wait until at least someone from the staff has clearly definitely seen us. This takes more waiting. We eat about ten minutes waiting inside the door for a sign that they even have staff, and we don't eat Thai food. Two minutes after a woman from the kitchen definitely sees us but does not acknowledge us in any way I give up. As we get into the car she comes out and waves us in, and I shake no. Once more a Dallas restaurant foils us.

OK, but where to go instead? bunny_hugger wrestles with her satellite navigator, which among other things can't tell the difference between us on the service road and us on the highway, before finding a strip mall, again opposite the expressway, with a couple restaurants that seem safe enough. One's a buffet(?) sandwich(?) place. Around the corner in what looks like an abandoned part of the strip mall is a diner. We take that chance instead, and get Mexican-influenced breakfasts that are so good it's almost worth the indignity which led us there.

We had hoped to go to a letterbox, before we lost so much time just finding lunch. I vote to continue anyway and not worry about running out of time. It's one of a series of letterboxes commemorating governors of Texas. It's near the grave of W Lee O'Daniel, who parleyed his skill in writing radio advertising programs for his Hillbilly Flour Company into election as governor and then one term as Senator from Texas, because every now and then a democracy just hires a novelty act and we have to hope for the best. This was the first letterbox I've found in a graveyard. Not bunny_hugger's. Graveyards are popular places for letterboxes, as they usually have historical value and pleasant spots to be in and good spots to hide a box that groundskeeping staff won't destroy. The big ambiguities we had: which road exactly leads anywhere, and where can we park while finding a grave? O'Daniel's grave does not mention his political offices, but does include the Great Seal of Texas.

Nearby this, and the point that I thought was surely the O'Daniel grave, was another grave marked with a good-sized United States flag flying over it. This turned out to be John Tower's grave. I'd thought he had been governor of Texas too and remarked on how governor-heavy the cemetery was. But I was mistaken; he wasn't ever governor. He just has the more eye-catching gravesite.

Then to the next thing, if we had time befor the tournament.

Trivia: Among the money-making enterprises Thomas Edison's father tried while living in Fort Gratiot, Michigan, in the 1850s was a hundred-foot observation tower (``Sam Edison's Tower Of Babel'') on the shoreline, charging 25 cents a visitor. Its first summer it took in ``no more than'' three dollars. Source: Edison: A Biography, Matthew Josephson.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

Monday, April 17th, 2017
12:10 am
Drinking all night, never sleeping

Had something like another normal-ish week of activity around my mathematics blog. If you weren't part of it but want to join now, here's a chance:

Some more of Pinburgh Saturday. We got back in time to see the B, C, and D Divisions finish their finals. Who! Will! Win!?


The kid from Where The Wild Things Are! Also that I trust are two characters from video games I don't know, part of the costuming going around.


Another game in the free-play area and enver, so far as I know, part of the tournament: Star Race. I don't know just what's going on with the backglass (and playfield) art, but once more, if it were a DAW yellow-spine paperback cover I would so buy this.


Champions! The D Division, playing in the little reserve games corner behind the main stage, hands out plaques to its top four players.


Championship! B Division plays Dirty Harry in the championships of the Half-Size Pinball Games tournament. Playing is TOD, Todd MacCulloch, former NBA player and Olympic basketball player.


Between balls at the B Division playoffs. It's not just you. Todd MacCulloch is so large that he looks like a rendering error.


Champions! The B Division finds its top players and actually, no, Todd MacCulloch came in second. Yes, there are other people in the shot there. Promise.

Trivia: A US Navy intelligence officer's report, from the 3rd of August, 1918, on the Spanish Influenza reported his advisors indicated ``the disease now epidemic throughout Switzerland is what is commonly known as the black plague, though it is designated as Spanish sickness and grip''. Source: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M Barry.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

Sunday, April 16th, 2017
12:10 am
But seeing Charlie smile can make you stop a while

Pin-golf, as a tournament, is about meeting some objective in as few plunged balls as possible. The objective might be score-based. It might be achievement-based. Generally, an achievement is more fun, because you nearly always play pinball just to drive the score up as fast as possible. Trying to get, say, ``Barnyard Multiball'' is novel. But score-based has advantages. You can give value to people not making the score, for example, and give a better value to people who come close versus not making it at all. And the score might be something particularly challenging, forcing one to think closely about how one plays and what one does.

The PinMasters tournament was open to anyone who'd pay admission, which is why I was in on it. It would be two days, playing nine pinball tables each day. The tables would be nine of the twelve used in the National and the Women's World championships. The objectives would be based on the scores players rang up those days, so, they would not be low. The objective on Whitewater, for example, was 4.5 million, a score I'd gotten on a real-world table maybe twice ever.

So! I'm in a group of four, one of nine group of four. We're on Flip-A-Card, the table bunny_hugger had her victory on. I remember what she told me of the table, although I know going in what to do; hit targets matching each card. I'm playing completely cold; I had literally run in from the parking lot up to the table and was told to plunge. It's in single-player mode, too. The objective is something like 2,500 points; if I can make this in four balls or fewer I'll be starting out at or below par. And what do you know but I manage it! In fewer than the five balls the game is set to. Good start. I play the ball after that, and get chided for it by LOU. He's a local, who's taken over leadership and scorekeeping for our group. I talk with everyone in our group, but somehow it's most natural for us all to chat through him.

Eventually the next table on is free. There's time to spare. This is because there are exactly nine tables and exactly nine groups of people; we can only advance if the next table is available. Sometimes a group finished way early, especially if it was on an electromechanical table. The groups on the most modern games could play forever, since even on the tournament-hard settings they were given a skilled player on a modern table can just keep playing. At one point bunny_hugger's group, two tables ahead of me, believed the next table to be free and started to play. They got chided by this from the group they inadvertently jumped and bunny_hugger still hasn't completely forgiven herself for this thing which was by absolutely no posible reasonable definition her doing.

I have some good games. I don't get any holes in one, but I do get one table in two: The Flintstones starts up a particularly valuable mode at the same time it gives me multiball and I can flail my way to success. CSI is a slog but I reach it on the fifth ball of a game set to five-ball play. There are tables I do worse on. Whirlwind I don't reach the 4.5 million objective, but I get to over three million, good for seven ``strokes''. I finish the day with 46 strokes, ten over par. It isn't fantastic, but it is consistent play. ADM's friend jinxes me, saying that if I play slightly better than that the next day I might make the top-sixteen finalists. Even if I weren't jinxed by this, I'm not sure I would want that anyway. But it is a good place. I'm only two strokes behind SJG. I'm four strokes ahead of Roger ``The Man Who Saved Pinball'' Sharpe. !!!

bunny_hugger has a worse time of it. She reaches the objective on only four of the eight tables. She meets par only twice. She sets a goal of just not bottoming out, getting the maximum ten strokes for any table. It's a close-run thing. Whirlwind is not happy with her at all. She finishes the day 21 strokes above par and despairing that she'll be at the bottom of the whole contest. I try to reassure her she's done better than LOU. But she heard LOU say he'd looked up the results so far and he was at the bottom.

A wild card in the matches. They have Stern's brand-new table. There are launch parties for it going on in pinball venues across the country, but not this one, because a launch party is a contest on the featured table and this is just one of nine. The table is Aerosmith, one Stern's two favorite themes (glam rock and TV/movie licenses). It's brand-new. The programming on it probably isn't complete. It has the new, Batman 66-style LCD screen instead of the old-fashioned dot-matrix display. It shows stuff using an appealing cartoon style. The screen is smaller and less detail-realistic than Jersey Jack's offerings and I'm warm to it. It looks good, and it eats up less of the backglass.

I like the game. It's punishingly hard. But it's got a cheerily bright design and some neat layout. It's got an appealing ``toybox'' for the main multiball, that can be launched with as few as three or as many as six balls. Player's choice. There's a skill shot that takes real skill to do. There's some neat little shots. There's problems, too. The biggest: when ball is locked it gets physically tossed up and into (theoretically) the toybox. Ah, but if the toybox hasn't opened for some reason? Such as that the mechanism's broken, or because it's set not to open by the tournament directors? (This is a setting, called ``virtual locks'', done to keep player one from messing up the balls player two has locked and vice-versa.) The ball isn't supposed to get stuck on the toybox or in any of the other plastic on the playfield, but it does. A lot. It's a minor hassle, and a disruption of one's flow, at this tournament. But on location? Played somewhere that management maybe doesn't even have the keys to open the game up and move the ball, or doesn't want to deal with it? This could be problematic. Maybe I'm overly suspicious of games that launch their own balls into the air on purpose. Maybe some well-placed shims will keep the ball from being able to get caught anywhere it shouldn't be.

As with the championships the PinMasters tournament is streamed over Twitch. bunny_hugger overhears a few times that she's on camera, partly from hearing the commentators wincing when the ball does something indecent. They don't have a permanent set of commentators; people come and go as their schedule allows. She thinks at one point SJG is commenting. The night before, when we had nothing to do, there was a shortage of people behind the microphone and they asked for volunteers. She had almost worked up the courage to do so when someone else jumped in. She's resolved, if there's time between balls or after her games are done this time, to take the chance. There isn't the chance.

Trivia: Benjamin Franklin called his invention ``double spectacles''; others would name them ``bifocals''. Source: The First American: The Life And Times Of Benjamin Franklin, H W Brands.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

Saturday, April 15th, 2017
12:10 am
That only little boys can do

We slept in. Late. Really late. Later than that. Usually on a vacation of any kind we get up early for us. But between the travel day and the thirteen hours spent mostly on our feet and bunny_hugger's emotionally exhausting competition we were in for a lot of sleep. I did get up by early afternoon, in time to catch some bother or other at work. I think they needed a server restarted. I forget but while I had warned them I'd be in Dallas I had never quite asked permission or anything to take the day off, and they do have stuff that clients depend on that they ask about. This was before a couple weeks of infuriating back-and-forth about stuff I didn't break.

Also we didn't have anything to get to before about 5:30. There was the PinMasters pin-golf tournament, for which there were 1:00 and 6:00 ``tee times''. ADM had gotten a 1:00 tee time. By the time we'd signed up those were all gone, though. We had to settle for the evening slot, along with ADM's friend who'd flown in late, whom we'd drive there. It did give us the chance to sleep in which we so needed.

It also gave the chance to eat somewhere comprehensible. There was a Tex-Mex place in a strip mall across the 400-lane superhighway outside our hotel. I was able to figure how to cross from one 20-lane one-way service road to the other with just three miles of trying. And it was a really, really great place. Maybe not that great. But they did make the guacamole right there at the table, which isn't done much in our part of Michigan (we're not even sure there is a proper Tex-Mex place in our part of Michigan) and certainly not done starting from avocado this time of year. Plus they had multiple salsas, better than usual, for the chips.

We went to the supermarket; we needed sunscreen, though not for pinball. We also figured we might pick up some snacks or something to eat after the pinball tournament, since that would probably bring us back to the hotel near midnight and food chances would be slim by then. They had some way-too-big-for-us cookies decorated for Saint Patrick's Day, as that's when this was, and while we didn't get any yes, bunny_hugger took a photo. I failed to bring my camera or I would have.

bunny_hugger and I have a Saint Patrick's Day tradition that plenty of others have: getting a Shamrock Shake. We found a McDonald's that was, of course, on the other side of the superhighway and along the service roads some. We also got there in time for the shake machine to have some major issues or other, leaving us with plenty of time to read the flyer about how customers shouldn't panic but they were trying out non-frozen beef in their quarter pounders and it may look weird but it's really all right. Also bunny_hugger read its Spanish version, learning how much of the language she still knew competently well.

Back to the hotel, which required another crossing of the superhighway to the opposite-side's access road. And to pick up ADM's friend. The tournament directors wanted people there about 5:30, and we set off right about 5:00, plenty of time for a drive that the previous morning had taken fifteen minutes. Right?

You know what you forget exists when you're a telecommuter? Or when your work has you drive in late mornings and drive back late evenings? Rush hour. Dallas has enormously many impossibly wide highways and they were not nearly enough. We barely got onto the first highway and were stopped. And kept stopped. ADM's friend summoned his ``smart phone'' to get traffic rerouting information --- our satellite navigator didn't have it --- and he guided me on a mildly stressful tour of the minor roads in the Dallas area. We also called to warn them thanks to traffic we couldn't be there at 5:30. ... Or 5:45. Or 5:55.

We pulled into the lot right about 6:00 and I let bunny_hugger and ADM's friend out of the car so I could park. I got into the tournament after the designated start time, and was --- naturally --- assigned to be the first person in my group of four playing the first game. Tournament rules normally allow a person to be as much as two and a half minutes late before they're declared missing and their balls get plunged for them. My group joked that I was just about to get time called on me. I don't suppose they'd have actually done that, given the circumstance. But it was the latest I'd ever been to any kind of pinball event and I wasn't cheerful about that.

Trivia: Shopping mall pioneer Victor Gruen, hired in 1958 by Fort Worth utility officials to recommend improvements to the city downtown, advised banning cars altogether. Residents would drive to a beltway around the central business district and walk or use electric shuttle cars to spots in town. About half the population would need to use buses instead of driving to the central parking lots. Source: The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionairies, and Trailblazers who Created the American Superhighways, Earl Swift.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

PS: What Is The Logarithm of a Negative Number? I don't tell you, but I tell you about someone's essay about how mathematicians worked out what they are, so there's that.

Friday, April 14th, 2017
12:10 am
Lovely bright home

I still have my humor blog going on, if you want it on your LiveJournal Friends Page, and the RSS feed is still going strong so far as I know. If it hasn't been, nobody's told me, which is about what I'd expect. RSS deserves better. Humor pieces of the past week include:

Back to photos of Pinburgh's Saturday affairs. If the pictures look different it's because I'm trying out Dreamwidth's image server to see if I can stand something that's different from what I've been using for years now. I give it like a 45 percent chance of not driving me crazy.


Pac-Man, playing Mouse Trap. There was costuming going on at the convention, not as much as at a furry convention (so far as I saw), but involving a lot more video game characters of whom Pac-Man was about the only one I recognized. He'd chatted with bunny_hugger some about how good a game Mouse Trap was.


Us defying the posted rules about King Kool (Gottleib, 1972). Since it was Saturday, playoffs day, fewer game banks were needed and they were open to casual players like us. Note the nightmare double-flippers there; do not try to trap the ball on the lower flippers by holding them up. You'll feel awful.


Outlane on Stern's Big Buck Hunter, game licensed to the video game that turns out to be a whole franchise with its own fan community and conventions and all that. I mean, the heck, right? Anyway, this is maybe the only video game I know with a realistic picture of a bunny on it. It's also got two photographs of raccoons in similar 'Critter' targets.


bunny_hugger chopping wood on the modified Tri-Zone Simon. The objective: watch the flashing lights in front of each of the fur drop targets spread across the lower playfield, and shoot those targets in that order. She was much better at it than I was. It was a fine test of control.


Across the street, and around the corner, and way, way down the street: people queued for the Clinton rally occupying the other half of the convention center and making the place less accessible during Saturday.


On the corner: nearly half a dozen people at the Jill Stein counter-rally. There were also briefly two or three Trump supporters on another corner, but they didn't stick around long.

Trivia: Ahead of the first space shuttle launch dynamometer tests indicated the brakes could be expected to meet five normal stops, with each brake assembly absorbing 36.5 million foot-pounds of energy, and one emergency stop absorbing 55.5 million foot-pounds. (This would be what was needed for a Return-to-Launch-Site abort.) Source: Development of the Space Shuttle 1972 - 1981, T A Heppenheimer.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

Thursday, April 13th, 2017
12:10 am
Maybe it's a kind of magic

We went to Taco Bell.

I know it sounds uninspired. But it was the mid-afternoon and we needed to eat something. There was some kind of chicken place next door, not an ideal. The Rally's Or Checker's Or Something seemed promising for milkshakes but didn't have any vegetarian burgers or anything. Little Caesar's was uninspiring too. Across the divided highway in a strip mall was a Mexican buffet place that looked promising. The divided highway would have been madness to cross except that some heavy construction outside Fun! Billiard and Gameroom Superstore, the tournament venue, made the spot a steady traffic jam. This would complicate our getting there, but make dashing across the street not insane.

The Mexican buffet place looked promising. A pretty big spot, maybe the size of an Old Country Buffet. Nobody greeted us. There wasn't any cash register we could find. There was a menu with a la carte prices on it. There were some cafeteria-style serving stations but no trays that I noticed anywhere. We had literally no idea how to indicate a willingness to exchange money for food. There was a good-sized family coming in with us, so we figured to just watch what they did. They sat on some couches along the wall, with no obvious intention to eat or pick up food or anything. Somehow we could not work out how to get something to eat. This would not be the only time this happened to us in Dallas.

So that's why we left and went to a Taco Bell, which might be a dull choice but was at least within our powers to understand. It was a surprisingly good one, too. Easily the best of the maybe five Taco Bells I've ever eaten at. I'd swear they put in a bit of lime which I didn't realize was missing before. Plus it was an island of Wi-Fi so I could verify that work wasn't missing me yet.

After a while spent eating and wound-licking we went back to Fun! etc. While we were gone SMS had been knocked out, and she (and family) had left. We wouldn't see them again that weekend. ADM was still playing, as was his friend who'd been delayed at the airport. We could talk with them, and root them on, when we weren't walking around for something to do. Some of the pinball machines in the other game rooms were turned on. I never knew if there were any rules to which ones were allowed or not, and felt too shy to turn anything on. There were a bunch of solid state and electromechanical games I'd love to have tried out, especially since so many of them were, as games they wanted to sell, set to the easiest, most newbie-friendly configurations.

The #1 seed in the Women's World Championship --- the person bunny_hugger would have played had the person above her not dropped out --- lost in the first round. The replacement #16 seed --- someone from Canada who'd either flown in on two days notice or who had figured to pop in just in case and got lucky --- was knocked out in the second round. bunny_hugger could not help thinking that could have been her. HWH, having beaten bunny_hugger 4-1 in the first round, beat her second-round opponent again by 4-1. Also her third-round opponent. This did not make bunny_hugger feel better about her performance. Especially when she heard how, in some later round, HWH responded to her competitor picking Flip-A-Card with ``Flip-a-Coin?''

The night would wear on. There were a lot of games to play as the National Championship worked something like forty people down, in best-of-seven matches again, to something manageable. A bird joined the proceedings. One rumor had it that the bird had been in all day but had only just got more active. It flew around the back rooms some, and then into the main tournament room, where people tried to somehow shoo it off to the safe outdoors, which it wasn't having.

Finally, after sunset, the final matches finished. For the Women's World Championship, anyway. HWH won. She admitted how she had thought the establishment of a separate women's title was a silly idea --- but --- no, no, she changed her mind before winning --- because it is a way to show to women that they are welcome and wanted in the pinball community.

And still the Nationals went on. ADM was ultimately competing against the Florida state representative, EJS. I got in the crack that well, either way, at least the title's staying in Michigan. EJS has been in the competitive pinball a while. His player ID number with the International Flipper Pinball Association is 90. Mine is 23,917. EJS is a weather forecaster in normal life. It was inevitable that he'd play Whirlwind, Williams's 1990 storm-themed game. Even if it weren't his favorite game, nobody would give him a choice in making it his favorite.

They have an epic game. I don't have recorded whether it was the last game of the set, but it dramatically ought to have been. ADM puts up over eight million points on the first ball. For scale, on real Whirlwind tables, I've never broken about six million, and on this particular table I never got past five million, that with luck. I think he ended up putting in more than fifteen million points on the game. And EJS beat him. ADM lost the match 4-0.

By then it is so very late, getting on 11. We've been basically on our feet for thirteen hours. There's still two rounds of the Nationals tournament to get to. We tell ourselves we can watch the results streaming on Twitch and go back to our hotel room, where we don't watch. We sleep, a lot.

EJS goes on to win the US National Pinball Championship. He is, as of this writing, the #1-ranked player in Florida and in Texas. He's the 82nd-ranked in the world.

Trivia: In the Julian Calendar the dates of Easter repeat every 532 years. In the Gregorian Calendar it would be 5,700,000 years, if the recession of the Moon from the Earth, the precession of the Earth's orbit, and the lengthening of the Earth's day were not important. Source: Marking Time: The Epic Quest To Invent The Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

PS: Did This German Retiree Solve A Decades-Old Conjecture? Spoiler: I don't know.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017
12:10 am
Just by walking slowly in a room

The format for the Women's World Championship was the same as that as the State Championships a month prior. bunny_hugger figured to use the same strategy. HWH would get to pick the first game. The loser of each round would get the next pick. bunny_hugger figured she'd lose early and then go to the older, electromechanical games as much as possible. It nearly brought her through the first round at the state games; why not the Women's World Championship? There's good thinking behind this. HWH she knew --- about the only thing she knew --- was originally from Sweden; pinball games tend to be rarer there. It's different playing an electromechanical or an early solid-state game compared to a modern game. HWH might be vulnerable there. But she would get the first pick.

HWH picked Pinball Magic for the first game. It's a relatively obscure one. It's one we happen to know. BIL got one and put it into his basement tournaments. A good omen. It's a mid-90s game with a theme --- stage magic --- that bunny_hugger loves, and that she can play well. Another good omen; it's usually easier to play a game whose theme you like. It didn't go well. She put up something like 25 million points to HWH's 100 million. bunny_hugger would berate herself for doing terribly on this for the rest of the day, not helped when I pointed out the number of other people, playing in the Women's or the coed Nationals, who didn't beat that.

Next game, after HWH gets back from a smoke outside. bunny_hugger's pick. Bally's Monte Carlo, an electromechanical with the theme exactly what you'd guess. The machine allows four people to play, but the tournament rules set it to a single player at a time because, presumably, there's something where one player can screw up another's game state. Older games were like that. Thing about this era is it's easy to get a house ball. This makes it a good pick if you're playing someone far better than you: with luck, they'll be less lucky than you. bunny_hugger kept getting house balls, or balls that only gave her one flip or so. Another loss. HWH goes out for another cigarette.

bunny_hugger picks Gorgar. It's a bold choice. The game's an early solid state, but it's one of the most successful solid states. If HWH knew any early solid state games it would be Gorgar. But bunny_hugger knows it very well from simulator and tolerably well from real-world play. The game accommodates four players. They ring in four games, with bunny_hugger player 1 and HWH player 3. This is a common practice in games with very sensitive tilt mechanisms: the tilt bob, disturbed enough, might keep swinging and register dangers or even a tilt on the next player. Having a one-player buffer between competitors avoids this problem. HWH will plunge player 2's balls. bunny_hugger will plunge player 4's balls. Both just watch to see the balls hit what they do. Maybe they use it to sneak in a little extra practice on the plunge. I couldn't say.

bunny_hugger does not have a good game. She has a catastrophic game. She gets one pure house ball, drifting down the center without her able to touch it. She also gets one-flip balls. She gets about 20,000 points. It gets worse. ``Player 4'', the balls she plunged and let go without flipping at all, gets about 25,000. Losing to the plunged ball is not an unknown phenomenon. Everyone's done it at least once. But bunny_hugger is inconsolable after this.

It gets worse. As a major pinball event the Women's World Championship and the National Championship are being streamed, live, on Twitch. There's color commentary and everything. Not on every game; they pick one game or match to follow a while and go on to something else. While bunny_hugger is having her disaster game of Gorgar she's being live-streamed and commented on, by people wincing at what the game is doing. The only consolation: they lose the recording of her performance. There's no permanent record that we know of from this game. Just text messages of sympathy and, well, my report.

bunny_hugger faces elimination. She picks Flip-A-Card. It's electromechanical. She knows nothing of it past the theme: cards. So she knows the whole of the game. Each target matches a card; hit each of the targets once to collect cards. It's a one-player game. bunny_hugger has to go first, put up a complete score and see what her competitor does. She has a respectable game, breaking 3,500 points, over a third of the way to rolling it. For the first time she'd ever played the game that's not bad.

She has a good chance here. There's the levelling advantage of electromechanical games. There's also that Flip-A-Card ends the game on a tilt. Modern games just end your ball. She's noticed: HWH plays aggressively, steadily nudging the machines. Which is fine, it's part of the game. But if HWH makes a mistake and nudges just a little too strongly this game, she won't just lose a ball. She'll lose the rest of her game. She's probably good enough to beat 3,500 on five balls. But if she had only three? One?

HWH doesn't tilt.

But she also doesn't beat bunny_hugger. She puts up about 2,500 points, again, rather good for possibly the first time she'd touched the machine. But a loss. The best-of-seven match is at 3-1. She goes out for a cigarette. It's her turn to pick a game.

She chooses CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It's one of the 2000s-era Stern games, from back when their licensing was done by the Family Guy Writer Manatees. (Also a licensed game that era: Family Guy). It's a modern game, so likely very good to someone skilled and who knows the ruleset. bunny_hugger's never played it. I've played it once, at Pinburgh last year. And without Wi-Fi we can't look up PinTips. I dig into my recollection of the game. I think it's your standard modern Jillions Of Multiballs Games. Shoot the big target in the center for one of the multiballs. Shoot banks of standing targets for another multiball. I pass on what I know.

bunny_hugger has some trouble. She can't find the skill shot. The big center target begging for hits is the Centrifuge, which spins the ball around and eventually kicks it out. It kicks it down the center, cruelly unfair. HWH puts up something above thirty million points. bunny_hugger manages about a tenth that.

Four losses. bunny_hugger loses the match. They're not playing out the losers to rank, say, who should be 14th and who 15th place. She's done for the day. It's been two and a half hours. We're not to fly home until Monday, four days in the future.

Trivia: Two years after Samuel Morse's 1846 experimental line connected Washington and Baltimore there were 2,000 miles of telegraph cable in the United States. By 1850 there were twelve thousand miles operated by twenty different companies. Source: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's Online Pioneers, Tom Standage.

Currently Reading: Gateway To The Moon: Building the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex, Charles D Benson, William B Faherty. NASA SP-4204, excerpted.

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017
12:10 am
Charlie has a way of picking up the day

We got up early; we had to. The National (Co-ed) Pinball Championship and the Women's World Championship were at the same venue at the same hour, which would work by making people wait around a lot. There would be only the one hour for practicing on the twelve available machines all that time. So we'd best get there by 10 am, the start of practice. This did mean we could eat a hotel buffet breakfast, something bunny_hugger and I are never awake early enough to do. Not saying it was a great breakfast, but I loaded up on omelettes and hard-boiled eggs and you know, the great thing about a buffet breakfast is it can always be made a little better because you can always get some more. This is how I got to be obese in the first place.

I drove, as I'm the least fearful of city driving. I know dimly that different areas of the country have different road styles. What I didn't realize is that the Dallas-area road style is ``20-lane superhighway elevated a hundred feet above another 20-lane superhighway''. Wow. Will say the support pillars are fairly attractive as functional architecture go, since they have Lone Stars embedded in them, but it's a lot of highway driving.

The venue, Fun! Billiard and Gameroom Superstore, was --- well, as it sounds, a store for pinball machines, video games, billiard tables, and all that sort of stuff. What it was not was a hipster bar or restaurant or entertainment center; so what this meant was, no snacks. There was some kind of chicken-based fast-food place just next door, and a Rally or Checkers or something and then a Little Caesars on the other side, so it's not like anyone was in danger of starving. But it did mean that while the place looked great, there wasn't a lot of lounging space; they promised ``no chairs'' and while that wasn't quite true, it was near enough. They also promised ``no Wi-Fi'', which was exactly true. Competitive pinball will yet force us to get smart phones.

Practice time! bunny_hugger tried to jump in on something, but was shy around the mob of people, some 40 or so state representatives for the National Championship and fifteen other people for the Women's World Championship. We knew Michigan's representative, of course, ADM. And we knew one of the other competitors for the Women's Championship, SMS, who knocked me out of Michigan's first round. She and her parents were there; they were using this as excuse to visit family, too. I hung back with them while bunny_hugger tried to see if she could comfortably get even a skill shot down on any of the games. I also theoretically knew one more person, SJG, the New York state champion. He was a mainstay in the arcade rooms back when I was an undergraduate and we had a few generic interactions. But I was never sure just who he was, and I was stuck trying to think what I would say after, ``Yeah, I used to stand around with my jaw dropping as you Toured The Mansion on The Addams Family back at Rutgers''.

Someone started turning on games from the main room, which promised to give folks like me who had nothing to do but wait the chance to do something. I recommended bunny_hugger play on some of those tables, which wouldn't be in the tournament, on the grounds that playing anything to warm up was better than nothing. But I'd barely started playing when someone came out of the office and said to turn off the games. It was too much racket to work through. Just because they were hosting major pinball tournaments didn't mean they didn't have real work to do too. bunny_hugger would squeeze in on some of the main games, long enough to at least know what the skill shot plunges felt like.

Finally the hour came! The start of the National Championships, and the start of the Women's World Championships, on not nearly enough tables for all the games to play. The solution: stacking, or making people take turns based on priority of their games. bunny_hugger wouldn't get to play her first-round opponent, HWH, at all for nearly a whole tense hour. HWH is from Sweden originally, and moved to Colorado a few years ago. She was wearing a Daleks T-shirt too. Lot to chat about. Also bunny_hugger could check just who it was dropped out and put her up against the presumably tougher competition of HWH. (It was the woman who'd been ranked above her, so nobody else had to face tougher competition than they'd expected.) I think HWH went out to smoke.

Trivia: Amsterdam physician Claes Pietersz began styling himself as Nicolaes Tulp --- literally, Dr Nicholas Tulip --- in 1621, as the flowers were coming into vogue. Source: Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, Mike Dash.

Currently Reading: Gateway To The Moon: Building the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex, Charles D Benson, William B Faherty. NASA SP-4204, excerpted.

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