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

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Thursday, September 29th, 2016
12:10 am
No one but the pure at heart may find the Golden Grail

The Classics Tournament started its finals first. They were scored, as is standard at PH/AJH tournaments and is threatening to be the only thing anyone does anywhere, PAPA-style. PAPA here means ``Professional and Amateur Pinball Association''. In this groups of four people play. Whoever gets the highest score wins four points for the match. Second-highest gets two points. Third-highest gets one point. Last place gets nothing. There would be three rounds. PAPA-style scoring is taking over from two-player match play, winner goes on, because of International Flipper Pinball Association rankings. IFPA wants to encourage head-to-head play. Their system for rating players treats the four-player group going head-to-head as the quintessence of competitive pinball. The greatest number of ranking points are earned for group-of-four play. So despite potential anomalies --- after two rounds out of three a player can be assured of a win, or a last-place finish, and so has little reason not to play as spoiler for others --- PAPA scoring is taking over.

My group of four players would include AJH, who's a naturally ferocious competitor and by the way playing on his own machines. Also ADM, whose main weaknesses as a player are that he adjusts slowly to poorly-maintained machines (which these were not) and that he is probably mortal and so might someday die in the middle of a game. We started on Flash Gordon, and my recollection is I started weak but managed finally to keep the last ball in the upper playfield area, where the highest scores are. I got second place, behind AJH, none too shabby.

The second game was Tri-Zone. It's the same game, different table, from the one we have. Pinball folklore has it that any table you own you can't play worth anything anywhere else. I had put in a few practice games, trying to figure where the key shots --- the drop targets, the rollover lanes --- are, but hadn't really got the hang of it. I put up pitiful first and second balls. Third wasn't much better. But I could at least avoid coming in last place, by just catching the ball, bringing it to a rest, and shooting at the drop targets carefully. These would be worth one thousand points (ten thousand if lit, which I could get if I waited for the light to come around). All I needed was to not have the ball bobble down the center and oh, there it goes. Last place, falling behind KEC by 1500 points. She said she had no idea how I didn't pass her. I'm not sure either.

The last game of the first round was Blackout, my savior at Pinball At The Zoo. None of us put up very good games on it, but once again I found something on that last ball and just edged out KEC. I think she got an unfair tilt on the last ball. With a second, a last, and a first-place finish I had 6 PAPA point and advanced to the second round, alongside AJH.

bunny_hugger had a much worse time of it, with a last-place finish on Boomerang, a second-place on Mystic, and a last-place finish on Tri-Zone by barely more than a thousand points too. She'd be knocked out of the Classics tournament and ended up in 15th place. MWS advanced to the second round.

In the second round I was grouped with AJH, and MWS, and also SMS, one of the state's best women players. And once again Flash Gordon was dominated by AJH. But I came up with a not-bad second place. The second game was Tri-Zone again and once again AJH dominated it, with a score of 391,830. That's a solid score in any case for Tri-Zone, but especially so as they had all the settings put on their hardest possible values. And I had my mediocre practice games and outright lousy first-round game to consider. Which is why I'm still shocked to see I put up 344,970, a second-place finish.

After those two rounds AJH was now guaranteed to move on to the finals. I would be guaranteed to move on as long as I didn't finish last. PAPA scoring produces those locked-in results sometimes. And the game was Boomerang. AJH put up 97,910 in five balls, just coming short of rolling the score. I was the second player, putting up 100,190, and earning jokes about how I had somehow only scored 190 points. Either SMS or MWS could force a playoff for the finals, if they won first place. MWS put up 53,760. SMS put up 47,090. I was in the finals.

I've said, I'm not a tournament player. I do better in leagues. Being in the finals is a novelty. The finals would be me, AJH, CST --- who'd come back from a huge gap on Tri-Zone after asking whether we thought it practical to make a quarter-million points in one ball, and he did ---, and BIL.

First game, once again, Flash Gordon. I hadn't put up a score below 200,000 on it all day. I'd put up scores above a half million half the times I'd played. I could almost feel entitled to a second-place finish on it. I got last. The next game was Blackout, another friend that decided this time to hang out with the cool kids of AJH and CST. I got third place. At this point BIL and I were tied with one PAPA point each. BIL and I couldn't possibly win first or second; whichever of us outscored the other would take third place. AJH and CST, similarly, were really only playing each other; whoever had the higher score on Mystic would take first place.

CST would put up 135,250 on Mystic, a score that's honestly anemic but what can you do? AJH, playing right after him, would just barely squeeze him out, 141,220. BIL would put a lousy 58,850 points on himself. And me? I managed to so slightly less lousy and put in 63,420. I got third place.

And hey, third place! I'd gotten that position last year at the Baby Food Festival too. But that year it wasn't also the Meijer State Games. Meijer provided medals for the top three finishers, Classics and Main. I would go home with a literal bronze medal for competitive pinball play. Wow..

bunny_hugger would also take a bronze medal, in the Women's Division, Pro Players set. She's too good to play as Novice anymore.

Trivia: In Spring 1959, NASA's first computer program, ODP-1, for determining satellite position was done. Running on the Univac 1103A, it could predict a satellite's orbit for 24 hours, with only 24 hours of calculation. Source: Something New Under the Sun, Helen Gavaghan.

Currently Reading: Twenty-Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life In No Way Whatsoever, Frank Conniff.

PS: Why Stuff Can Orbit, Part 5: Why Physics Doesn't Work And What To Do About It, or, Lagrangian mechanics in 1200 words without equations.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
12:10 am
You know he's nothing but a man and he can never fail

Qualifying for the Baby Food Festival used the same format most of PH and AJH's tournaments do. You play each game, a single player at a time, and you get points based on how many people's scores your score beats. The top three scores on each table get bonuses on top of that. The competitors are ranked by the sums of their scores. So the first important thing to do is play every table. Both the Main and the Classics tournaments had their own separate rankings. The scheme is one promoted by It Never Drains In Southern California, a pinball league which puts it software up for other people to use in tournaments; thanks to it I have a remarkably complete box score.

As a charity event, we'd buy tickets, one per try, and go up to each. I started off on the Classic bank's Flash Gordon and did all right, then went to Embryon, in the Main bank. The games are from the same era but they have to be divided up somehow. Then I remembered: oh yeah, qualifying for Classics ends way earlier than for Main. My time's better spent building and buffing my Classics ranking. Also, truth be told, I'd rather play a solid-state or electromechanical game. I can play The Walking Dead anywhere. Blackout not so much.

And it happens I did well, starting nearly cold, on the Classics tables. I had respectable enough scores, ones that would qualify me for finals if I weren't upstaged, and could go on to the Main games. The Main games would treat me nicely too. On my one game of The Walking Dead, for example, I'd put up the sixth-highest score for the whole tournament. Corvette wasn't so nice to me, but that was all right; the Main tournament dropped the lowest score. Whirlwind was rough, but it was rough for everyone. And in the last hour I put in another try and doubled my score, which put me in safe standing. Similarly Shrek I started with an all-right score, and in the last hour put up a fantastic one. Embryon was surprisingly tough considering I loved the game back when it was at the Brighton Arcade's league. But I would finish strong, on my last ticket, with a nearly 400,000-point game good enough for a tenth-place finish.

My white whale, though, was Elvis. I knew some basic things to do. Shoot the drop target for a super skill shot. There's a frenzy on that target. There's an easy multiball on that ramp. And the table, as ever for these folks, was in good shape.

So why could I not do anything on it?

I'm exaggerating only barely for me. I could find the skill shot, but then the ball would bounce to the outlane. I could skip the skill shot, and then the ball would bounce to the other outlane. I could shoot for the captive ball, which rebounded the ball into an outlane. I could half-ramp the ramp --- always a dangerous error --- and that sent me down the center. (A common fate to half-rampes.) Even when I found the ramp shot I wasn't finding it regularly enough to get multiball going.

I have a not-honestly-deserved reputation for being a very zen player, one that takes ball drains with a stoic acceptance, and responding to unfair treatment by the game with an impassive shrug. Maybe on ``Oi!'' or ``oh come on'' for an egregious offense, like the ball jumping over the flipper and into the drain. As I say, it's not honestly deserved. People don't notice how often I hit the lockdown bar, the metal barrier that holds the glass cover in place and the acceptable part of the machine to hit in frustration, often. It just doesn't affect my reputation any, for some absurd reason.

But it means when I get really frustrated with a game, deeply offended by its unfairness, I surprise people. That I get hyperbolic when I'm upset adds to things; hyperbole is one of the central arteries of American comedy. When I turned away from the machine and demanded, ``Is there a single shot anywhere on this table that is not an instant drain?'' of an empty chair, it was (a) quite funny, even to me, and (b) shocking to the scorekeepers. They had no idea I could do something like that.

Well, all there was to do was try to fight my way up, either on Elvis or Corvette, and Corvette had longer lines. I stuck it out on Elvis and was struggling through yet another game in which nothing was working. Then I got a ``Gift From Elvis'' --- a mystery award --- that was some kind of shoot-the-standup-targets shot. I managed that and then looked up and somehow had got thirty million points out of it. I have no idea what happened, and the score's ridiculous. But it did lift me up to be 15th-highest on Elvis. That would be enough, with my relatively better scores, to keep me in the top-sixteen players who'd qualify for finals.

And so I would. I'd buff myself up on Whirlwind and Embryon and even Shrek, but at that point I was done: tolerably sure to be in on both the Classics and the Main tournaments.

bunny_hugger had a longer struggle to get in both tournaments. She'd face Shrek with ever-increasing despair, for example. The Walking Dead was harsh, but it did relent once to give her a pretty solid score. Corvette she managed to crack well enough to get a top-ten score in, well better than I could manage. She, too, would be in both finals. She'd tie with our friend MWS for 14th place in the Main tournament, and have 13th place to herself in Classics. (MWS would go into Classics seeded 5th.) We wouldn't be able to spend the afternoon puttering around the carnival. We'd have head-to-head play to do.

Trivia: An account of the debut of the Pathé Animated Gazette newsreel around 1910 describes it as a ``daily service''. The term appears to indicate the newsreel film may be presented daily, rather than prepared daily. Source: The American Newsreel 1911 - 1967, Raymond Fielding.

Currently Reading: Twenty-Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life In No Way Whatsoever, Frank Conniff.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016
12:10 am
Just a man with a man's courage

The Baby Food Festival is a pretty good-sized carnival held in July in the small, remote town of Fremont, Michigan. Its theme is just what you might think given its name and that it's where Gerber Products Company is headquartered. PH and son AJH run the National Baby Food Festival Open, an open pinball tournament, there. This year it was also the Meijer State Games pinball tournament. PH has a collection of dozens of machines, many of them all-time classics, many of them exotic and pleasantly weird, so putting out a subset of them makes for a fun tournament. AJH has a superhuman ability to organize playoff formats that maximize International Flipper Pinball Association reward.

Some of their genius is holding the tournament during the town's festival, with a big sign out front pointing out that it is a charity tournament (it raises money for MS research), and that there's daily contests and many categories of contests so that the chance of winning something feels high. And having a lot of people enter a pinball contest boosts the IFPA reward, which encourages every serious competitive-pinball player in the state to go there, which drives its value up more. Of course we'd go. It would be the biggest in-state pinball event of July. It would be the second-biggest pinball event of the month.

We carpooled with MWS. Fremont is about two hours from our house and three hours from his. He can't get there without passing within two miles of our house, so not carpooling would be a touch daft. But it was two hours (three for him), which is why we set out only on the last day. There were daily tournaments Thursday and Friday which we passed up. Saturday we could attempt to qualify for the Main tournament, with mostly modern games, and for the Classics tournament, with electromechanical and solid-state games from no later than the early 80s. We still had to get up way too early in the day for that.

They would have four games we knew or kind-of knew in the Main Tournament: Embryon, a 1980 solid-state game with a weird theme and a lot of strange, confusing shots that I inexplicably like. The Walking Dead, based on the TV show, which every place has and which has had so many code revisions nobody knows what to do with it anymore. Whirlwind, a late 80s game made just before FunHouse and similar in many ways to it, but still requiring agonizingly precise hits and lots of them for the high-value payouts. And Shrek, which is the same game as Family Guy but with different art and animations and audio recordings. Somehow, Shrek is a lot more fun than Family Guy, and it must just be that it's a less annoying theme. Literally the only thing changed between the games is the pictures on the playfield and what they name stuff.

Games we didn't know well: Corvette, one of roughly a jillion games licensed to cars that drive fast. It had this crowded, complicated playfield and we'd never touched one that we remember. And Elvis, an early-2000s Stern license we'd played at Pinball Pete's in Ann Arbor. We knew a few tricks from it, like where the super-skill-shot was and how to start the Heartbreak Hotel multiball. Not much, but even a little bit helps.

The Classics tournament had only three games. Boomerang, by now an old familiar, with a dangerous tendency to center-drain after you make the scoop shot that's the one valuable shot in the game. We knew to watch for that and what to do (hit the cabinet at the right spot at the right time, nudging the ball out of its doom). Blackout, the game that brought me glory in the Pinball At The Zoo Classics back in April. Flash Gordon, themed to just like you think, 1981 model with an upper and a lower playfield and the promise of lots of instant drains if you didn't keep the ball's speed very slow for as long as possible.

There were two daily-tournament games, not ones we'd have to play to qualify, but which might be picked by people in the finals. One was Mystic, another 1980s table with no comprehensible rule set and a tendency to award enormous last-ball bouses for no reason anyone could work out. And Tri-Zone, another model of the pinball machine we have at home and know so well. Pinball folklore has it that if you own a game you can never play another of that table worth anything. This would be the first time we'd get to find out whether we suffered under that curse.

Trivia: The final launch countdown for the Space Shuttle required about two and a half hours, and consoles watched by three launch control personnel. The equivalent process for Apollo required about 28 hour and ten times the launch controllers. Source: A History of the Kennedy Space Center, Kenneth Lipartito, Orville R Butler.

Currently Reading: Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, Lee Jackson.

Monday, September 26th, 2016
12:10 am
The clock struck midnight and through my sleeping

Thank you, bunny_hugger.


It was a more normal week for my mathematics blog, four posts if you go from Sunday to Sunday, like I do. If you missed them here's your chance to see some pictures of Cedar Point, right after the links:

And now to some pictures from our June visit to Cedar Point, the first of the three we've made (so far) to the park. They had a new roller coaster, and renovated a park entrance, and it is after all an amusement park so there's plenty of interesting stuff to see.

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What's New at Cedar Point for 2016! This is to the left of the main gate. Valravn is the new roller coaster, the blue-and-orange one with the precipitous drop on the left. It's smaller than Top Thrill Dragster, the yellow-framed top hat behind it, but the gimmick of Valravn is it holds your car still just before letting it drop.


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What's Old at Cedar Point for 2016! Not much, considering the park dates back to Ulysses S Grant's first administration. The urn here, on the main midway, is one of its oldest sculptures; bunny_hugger's found it or some other sculptures that look similar to it in catalogues from a century-plus ago. Sad to say in the renovations for Valravn its contemporary statue of Mercury went missing. Ahead of the construction of GateKeeper a griffin statue went missing. The griffin had been nowhere near GateKeeper's area, but since GateKeeper has a griffin mascot everyone figured the statue would reappear near that roller coaster, and it hasn't.


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What's Short-Lived At Cedar Point for 2016! Mayflies, lots of them, all over, in this case, the Midway Carousel. It was actually June when this picture was taken but that's all right. There were the little bugs everywhere, especially if it were somewhere painted white. A ride operator on the Magnum XL-200 said they'd be there only another week or so.


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What's Still There At Cedar Point for 2016! Bunny on the Kiddie Carousel, not quite giving you the ``hello ladieeeeees'' eye. In the background is a panda, which I think is a regular bear mount painted panda colors, something they used to do in the day.


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What's Maybe Different At Cedar Point or isn't But Could Use New Shingles Anyway for 2016! We thought there was a change in who did the fairground portrait pictures and took photos of who was offering them at the front and at the back of the park. Also, boy, that kiosk needs a roofing job. Well, it looks less bad when you don't have a crazy high zoom lens focusing on it.


Trivia: Chester Alan Arthur's first official act as president was on 22 September 1881 when he appointed 26 September, the burial day for James Garfield, as a national day of mourning. Source: From Failing Hands: The Story of Presidential Succession, John D Feerick.

Currently Reading: Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, Lee Jackson.

Sunday, September 25th, 2016
12:10 am
You can almost taste the hot dogs and french fries they sell

Anyway, after the beach we drove home pretty directly. We did stop to buy a bowl of cherries since it is the area for that, although it took a while to actually find some at a roadside stand available. And while we did stop at the Clare Welcome Center to stretch our legs and get some pop and go to the bathroom we decided not to let our pet rabbit out again. We thought he'd probably more appreciate getting home a half-hour sooner, given his problems.

And yet for all that we did stop about a half-hour before home, at Farmer John's Cider Mill. Bathroom break, although it also gave us the chance to buy some sugar cookies and some chocolate-covered pretzels that were just fantastic. Farmer John's advertised themselves as a Pokemon Go stop, too, which delighted us more than it really should. Home, though, wasn't far away, and it was in good shape, and we could sit inside in the dark not doing stuff, which was comforting at that point.

A little after this came an ominous e-mail from bunny_hugger's father, with the warning to not reply because her father and her mother share an e-mail account. It's about the mix of our deciding not to go to lunch and yet bringing our pet rabbit to the beach. bunny_hugger's mother got worried that we --- specifically, I --- held against her that our pet rabbit was stricken by a fly, and that I didn't trust her to sit and watch over out rabbit. But, you know, don't tell anyone I told you this.

Well, what can you do with a tip like that? And it was pointless too because by the time bunny_hugger could call to try saying something about how ridiculous that was, her mother had noticed the e-mail in their outbox and read it and was angry at her husband for telling us something he shouldn't have. bunny_hugger reassured her that absolutely we do not blame her for anything. She takes better care of our pet rabbit than anyone does, not excepting ourselves. And while bunny_hugger's starter husband was one for duplicity like that, I'm not. I can talk to people I'm upset with like an adult, at least when the person is an adult, so online relationship can be trickier.

bunny_hugger's mother seems satisfied that of course we don't blame her for a fly doing its best to provide for its offspring. And I've tried to reassure her that I have complete confidence in her ability and skill, without explicitly giving away that I heard from someone who wasn't supposed to tell me something she wasn't supposed to hear about ... oh, you see where this is all a weird mess. Anyway, since then our pet rabbit's been well enough. And we had cause to leave him with them for a week in late July, a coming exhaustive report. Should have a couple of weekend trips too, coming in October, reports to make it to here by December? January? Sometime.

Trivia: British sweets shops ran out of stock for weeks on end after the end of confectionary rationing in April 1949. Rationing was reintroduced in August. Source: Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between The World's Greatest Chocolate Makers, Deborah Cadbury.

Currently Reading: Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, Lee Jackson.

PS: Some Thermomathematics Reading, one of my little headsup posts that people like.

Saturday, September 24th, 2016
12:10 am
In the park you hear the happy sound of a carousel

Saturday was the check-out day. We got up early enough, despite how late we'd been up playing board games, for everyone to shower and pack up and load stuff into cars. We did pretty well matching food to time; we had maybe four cans of soda left over, and similarly small and portable amounts of bread and eggs and whatnot going home in bunny_hugger's parents' cooler.

We cleaned the house, at least reasonably so, without thinking about whether we should strip the covers off the beds to save the cleaning crew some time. There were a few little bits of damage to the house: a broken plate, a damaged pillowcase, small stuff like that, all of which we owned up to. We didn't mention the clogged-and-unclogged drain. Small stuff especially compared to whoever rented the place before us. We got a glowing review on AirBnB from the owner for being low-hassle and for cleaning the place up. Later we learned he gave glowing reviews to all his guests, except the ones immediately before us who seem to have inspired the no-fireworks rule and had left a heavy trash bin full of stuff behind. While we don't know the story, we do have hopes we'll be able to rent the house again in future.

bunny_hugger's brother and his girlfriend figured to stay in town, as they were flying out from Cherry Capital Airport later in the afternoon. bunny_hugger's parents figured to drive them to town and also make a farewell lunch out of it. And they wanted us to come along, but this left the problem of what to do with our pet rabbit, who even if he hadn't been recovering from fly strike could still hardly be left in a car for an hour or so, but also couldn't be brought into a restaurant. bunny_hugger's mother proposed she skip out on lunch, and sit with him on a park bench or something while we ate, and then she'd make do best she could. This seemed absurdly self-effacing even for a mother and we said no, we'd simply drive back with him and regret missing the last lunch. We hugged and thanked everyone and made plans to meet up again, when we could.

We often do something to take the edge off the end of a trip. There'd be nowhere we could really stop on the drive home except to barely start the drive. I suggested we make one last little visit to the Omena Beach, and we spent a few minutes on the rock-heavy sand.

Then we wondered what our pet rabbit would make of that. We'd never had the chance to take him to a beach, and given his shaky state realized he might not last to next summer when he might see a beach again. He's not so shaky now, but he is still quite old, and might not make it. So we got him and set him on the beach.

He pawed at the novel surface, and did a happy shake, and did the last thing we'd have ever imagined. He hopped --- well, he dragged himself --- toward the water.

Rabbits are not renowned as water-loving creatures, swamp rabbits excepted. He protests vigorously when we get him wet for one reason or another. We had no idea what might happen when the water waved on shore and said, you know, you won't be happy. But the water came before we could grab him, and it washed over his forelegs and up to his dewlap. And he seemed all right with it. Didn't huff, didn't make any signs of distress, just ... accepted it. Waited. Took another wave stoically. He maybe even enjoyed it.

We would drag him back from the waterline, and he made another rush at it. That's all fun but we did move him back far enough that he couldn't get at the water; he could just flop over and gaze at it, best he can. And then we noticed a fly and figured that was enough of that. Our pet rabbit enjoyed five or ten minutes on the beach, and apparently, really enjoyed it.

We would speculate about this all the drive back, and since then. Did he understand the beach? Did he recognize a vaster expanse of water than he had ever seen in his life? Did he connect the experience of being dampened by the bay with the experience of being put in the sink and rinsed off? Did he rush back to the water because he liked it or because awful as it might be the novelty was too compelling? And what might he have done were he younger and had truly functional legs? Is it possible that our remarkable pet rabbit would have been the rare swimmer bunny?

There's no way we can tell, of course. But in the months since then he has taken with more ease and less resistance to being rinsed in the sink, when he needs to be. That may be just he's learned he can't overpower or escape us on this point. That may be he's understood that however miserable it might be at the time, it's for a good cause (reducing skin burns, mostly, and cleaning where he can't anymore). Or maybe ... he doesn't hate the touch of water now that he's seen the real thing.

Of all the sights and experiences of the trip north the most wondrous might be that, our pet rabbit's first and presumably last visit to the beach.

Trivia: Carl Linde, pioneer of mechanical refrigeration, was drawn to the problem by an 1870 contest sponsored by the Mineral Oil Society of Halle. The contest's goal was developing a system to maintain 25 tons of paraffin for as long as a year at -5 Celsius. Source: Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman.

Currently Reading: Big Dish: Building America's Deep Space Connection To the Planets, Douglas J Mudgway.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016
12:10 am
Well those cars never seem to stop coming

It's been an exciting week on my humor blog, with posts mostly based on actual stuff I really saw or did. Plus I introduced a daily index, which is sure to be popular. Everyone likes daily indices. You can have this appear on your Friends Page, if you like, or your RSS feed, if you rather. Meanwhile here's what's run over there the past week:

Now that it's more than a week after closing weekend of Michigan's Adventure amusement park, how about some pictures from the opening weekend of Michigan's Adventure amusement park? Here's a set of photos of their major new shop and attraction for 2016.

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New stand at Michigan's Adventure this year: Coffee Corner! The spot to get coffee, tea, cappuccino, hot chocolate, a muffin, a fruit cup ... all in theory. In four visits we never caught the place actually open and with an employee there, although we'd see the curtain off sometimes. And once, once as we were heading out, we saw what looked like a guy buying coffee there. There's an explanation for this and we don't know what it is.


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The new major attraction at Michigan's Adventure this year was the petting zoo. The park started, sixty years ago, as a petting zoo and they brought it back to a small section near the wild mouse. Here, a silky chicken is not being licked by a tiny goat.


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Aw, an alpaca wearing a lovely woolen sweater made of her own wool! Well, I suppose it's just fresh-sheared, but it looked grand anyway.


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``Yes? Have you been helped?''


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One of the set of Chill Bunnies at the center of the petting zoo area. Opening weekend they didn't have a table to hide from kids under, which left them a bit less Chill. Also this one had some weird protuberance on the nose which didn't seem to bother it. It just had a little extra nose.


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Chill Flemish Giant from the petting zoo. Though she resembles our pet rabbit she's much larger, something like fourteen pounds (ours was never more than twelve pounds while healthy or thirteen pounds while fat), and she moved with ease that reminded us how long it'd been since our pet rabbit moved that easily. Here, she's licking.


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Not a petting zoo animal! But we officially have another entry in the ``Amusement Parks With Chipmunk Sightings''. It was near the petting zoo, possibly trying to figure out what all this was about.


Trivia: Milton Hershey never attempted to produce cocoa instead of buying it through suppliers. (He got, or tried to get, control over all the other key components to milk chocolate.) Source: Hershey: Milton S Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, Michael D'Antonio.

Currently Reading: Big Dish: Building America's Deep Space Connection To the Planets, Douglas J Mudgway.

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
12:10 am
Eating barbecued iguana

So besides rabbit and casino business we spent Friday, mostly, in town, in Omena. We returned to the Tamarack Gallery, where bunny_hugger's mother bought some glass candy canes, one for their own Christmas tree and one to thank the friend who fed their semiferal cats while on vacation. (Her mother noticed them as kittens, and got them spayed and returned them, and she feeds them and, she's sure, the area raccoons.) It was also another chance to look through that cabinet of curiosities. Also, since they turned out to have Wi-fi, I could download a couple Flophouse and I Don't Even Own A Television podcasts for the drive home.

We also stopped in the Omena General Store, which is an extremely general sort of place. Stewart's root beer? Laundry soap? Lunchables? VHS copies of All Dogs Go To Heaven or My Cousin Vinny? They got them. Also a bunch of paperback books which we learned were free, on the take-a-book/leave-a-book policy, something for people who found themselves up north without anything to read. Though it wasn't said, we supposed this might extend to the videotape collection, which would explain why a small general store in the Leelenau peninsula has a copy of Nuns on the Run or Atlantis: Milo's Return.

We spent time on the beach. Omena has this small public beach, maybe forty feet long, that back in the day was never occupied. The area's gotten busier and it was occupied by gangs of people nearly every time we visited. bunny_hugger looked around the rocky beach for skipping stones and fossils. She did poorly on the skipping, with only a few doing much of anything. Her brother's girlfriend was magnificent and could probably skip a boulder six times. bunny_hugger did great on the fossils, though, picking out long-gone shells with almost magical ease. I followed her direction and kept poking around the same territory finding nothing. Well, mercifully, eventually, I did locate one. And some rocks that were attractive in their ways.

We also learned that while you might not forget how to swing, and it might be fun enough, as you get larger you should insist on swings with solid seats, wood or metal or something. The rubber-strap seats clasp really tight around your hips and press the metal joint into your skin. Not a good thing.

Her brother and his girlfriend went off in the car, to buy stuff for dinner. The house had a new outdoor grill, and though we were expressly welcome to use it we had resisted for fear of spoiling a brand-new grill. Investigation revealed the grill had already been used, and this opened the way for getting skewers and making vegetable shish kebabs. We stopped in the wine shop that's the other half of the Knot Just A Bar restaurant and found the best we could get for $20. (Her brother preferred, I think, white wine, while the area specializes in red. Or the other way around.)

With everyone assembling in the evening we set our pet rabbit in the yard, his hindlegs protected by a towel, and watched over him while waiting for dinner. He wasn't in good spirits, understandably, although with a bit more of the pain medication we had on hand and the outside air he seemed a bit better. And we kept finding just a little more vegetable and just a little more time and a little more heat left in the coals to keep dinner going past sunset, past 10 pm (a sunset hour for the lower peninsula in summer).

We played a quick round of Betrayal at the House on the Hill with bunny_hugger's brother and his girlfriend. We had infected them with interest in the game back at Christmas, and they got a copy themselves, only to find nobody around them wanted to play. The game needs at least three players, the more the better. We've known that pain. And afterwards, aware we had to be up early in the morning, we thought we'd play a quicker little game called Talisman. This is one where all the players are going around a board, battling and collecting tokens and whatnot, in the hopes to rule the kingdom. bunny_hugger and I have played it with reasonable success. It turns out to take a lot longer if you have four players rather than two, and so we were ready for bed much later than we had expected. Well, what harm would that do?

Trivia: Among the proposals for an architectural centerpiece for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair was a log cabin, to be built atop a wooden tower five hundred feet taller than the Eiffel Tower. Source: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson. (It's not clear to me whether the plan was submitted by a competent architect. It seems hard to imagine a 1500-foot-tall log spire being possible.)

Currently Reading: Big Dish: Building America's Deep Space Connection To the Planets, Douglas J Mudgway.

PS: L'Hôpital's Rule Without End: Is That A Thing? as I ran across a nagging little calculus problem while helping someone through Freshman Calc.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
12:10 am
I wish I was in Tijuana

Friday at the rental house was, I believe, the day bunny_hugger's brother asked if our pet rabbit should be shivering like that. It was certainly the morning we discovered just how badly our pet rabbit had been stricken by an opportunistic fly, and how close he came to a miserable and painful death. We overcame that, by washing out the infected spot to the point that nothing was left in him except rabbit parts (warning; gross biology stuff) and he is still with us, albeit under vet's orders to not go outside again.

We also managed, despite our best improvisations, to clog up the bathtub drain. bunny_hugger's father had been anxious about that, with our washing the pet rabbit, but there wasn't any way around that. The house did have a bottle of drain opener and that worked fine. But it left the house without any and we figured we had to replace the used stock. The trouble was how to sneak to the store and get some without confirming his anxiety.

The best shot we saw was that he wanted to go to the casino. The Leelanau Sands Casino, on the Ottawa-and-Chippewa reservation, is pretty near the only structure of note in Peshawbestown. He'd looked at it and insisted he didn't really want to gamble, was just curious what was inside, several times driving past. Friday he finally had worked himself up to going and fueling up the car at the gas station opposite the highway. We went along. We told him that we had used up the drain opener, though not exactly that the drain had clogged. Just that we wanted to make sure that any of the fly's offspring that might have been washed down the drain were well and truly dead, motivation he did not challenge.

The casino's maybe the third I've been in. My grandmother tried sneaking me in to some Atlantic City ones when I was underage, apparently under the idea that as a person with mathematics skills I'd be able to profit from the experience. I visited one in the Cleveland/Niagara Falls trip in 2008. That's about it. It's got the sort of grand yet not quite bright entry that I think of as the way casinos just look, and it opened into several rooms' worth of slot machines or whatever it is slot machines have mutated into, plus some card tables and the like.

They work on cash cards now, which I suppose was inevitable. bunny_hugger's father had to wait some time to get a $10 (or whatever) converted to cash card; the lone person ahead of him was involved in some impossibly complicated cash-card purchase, the way the lone person ahead of you always is. bunny_hugger also got a $5 card and played a couple of machines.

There were no pinball machines, which would have been a long shot in any case. Well, some can be set up to dispense redemption tickets and would that be very different, besides getting the game back to its outright gambling machine roots? But the nameplates were familiar. While Bally got out of the pinball machine business in 1999 it stuck with gambling machines and we could recognize a lot of the styling and artwork and even a few of the licenses from back in the day. There were quite a few games with dragon or fairy-tale themes that appealed, or were at least nice to look at. I did my best to watch whatever the slot machines used to be and found that I had no idea how they were supposed to score.

After maybe fifteen minutes bunny_hugger's father had his fill. We got ourselves organized again and headed for the house. Apparently he really did just want to look around and see what it was like.

Trivia: Rhode Island's Catholic bishops were all Irish until 1972. Source: Rhode Island: A History, William G McLoughlin.

Currently Reading: Big Dish: Building America's Deep Space Connection To the Planets, Douglas J Mudgway.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
12:10 am
A whale of a tale and it's all true, I swear by my tattoo

As bunny_hugger pointed out the Point Betsie Lighthouse, and we, were in Frankfort, Michigan, and not Empire. Her brother and his girlfriend went into Frankfort proper to poke around. We never got into that town. It's possibly one where Father Jacques Marquette died and was buried. Interesting stuff.

bunny_hugger's father had word that her brother and his girlfriend were going to meet us in Empire, at Joe's Friendly Tavern, in forty minutes. That was forty minutes from some moment not really specified or made clear to me, so we had some anxiety about what time, exactly, we ought to see them. We got to the town, which is barely more than a crossroads, and waited a bit for her brother and his girlfriend to make it. Not long, just enough to feed everyone's anxiety about whether we had a proper rendezvous scheduled.

Joe's Friendly Tavern is another of those spots bunny_hugger's family went all the time. We went there once for our 2014 visit, when her brother and his girlfriend joined us in the area. (They were camping that, cold, week; this time they stayed in one of the other bedrooms.) In days gone by it was your average sort of bar-restaurant. They've upgraded, as the area's gotten richer, and they're now more of one of those New American Cuisine places, the kind where they make grilled cheese sandwiches using more difficult-to-pronounce cheeses.

They had a pinball machine! They had one in 2014, a Tales from the Crypt with a broken plunger. This time they had Fish Tales, a game bunny_hugger and I know well. And the high score table was nearly empty too. If you can dial in a few shots --- alternating ramps, followed by the left orbit --- you can score pretty much anything easily enough. We tried and didn't find the shots, but given a few more games we probably would have. We didn't get a few more games. We didn't bring many quarters and while bunny_hugger knew she had more in the car, her father was anxious about hanging around too long after we'd finished eating. So we left, non-conquerers of another table.

We walked around a little bit. bunny_hugger's brother's girlfriend walked the farthest off, to catch a Pokemon. (Remember that?) We got ice creams from a parlor near to Joe's Friendly, and took in the summer evening air in a tiny town.

There's a public beach in Empire, just a few blocks off, and we went there. bunny_hugger's parents wanted to see the shore, and they sat on a bench there just barely long enough for bunny_hugger to photograph them before they decided they'd had enough. They, her brother and his girlfriend left in the other car. bunny_hugger and I stayed, taking in the sunset and walking the length and breadth of the park. I was interested in a lighthouse at the north end of the park; it proved to be a non-functional replica that in some way honored a local notable. We stayed into the sunset.

That night bunny_hugger's brother started a little music potluck. He shared some of the songs he's working on for his new album (overdue but coming soon, we hope). I put forth something that made bunny_hugger roller her eyes, but that I like anyway. In the 90s some lucky discoveries at used record shops brought Ferrante and Teicher to my attention. They have this severely schlocky, corny style that answers the question ``what would a disco version of the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey be like, exactly?'' But as often happens with this sort of thing they did the schlocky, goofball stuff because it sold, and it supported their more avant-garde experiments. And also, as often happens, they were pretty technically proficient. bunny_hugger's brother said he liked the energy they put into playing, I think it was, the theme to The Apartment. I think he was sincere about it.

We inspected our pet rabbit for signs of trouble. All seemed well, which we'd learn Friday was wrong. But for just then everything seemed all right.

Trivia: Abut 500,000 workers in 21 states joined the General Textile Strike of 1934, the largest such worker action in United States history, organized by the United Textile Workers of America. Source: Big Cotton: How a Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map, Stephen Yafa.

Currently Reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz.

Monday, September 19th, 2016
12:10 am
How could anybody ask for more?

It was a more normal week on my mathematics blog. As seen on your Friends page, or maybe on your RSS feed if that's still a thing, I had the comic strips and then a fairly major piece explaining something mathematicians just know how to do. Here it was:

And now to close off my Holiday World pictures. Don't worry. I'll have other amusement parks soon!

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Scenic foreground in Halloween and don't ask me how they get away with this. Frightful Falls is the classic 80s log flume. The roller coaster way in the background is the Legend roller coaster.


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The Legend, as seen from the front of its launch station. Goblin Burgers offers just what you'd expect (though no vegetarian burger, alas). You can see how the area is Halloween-themed even if it's basically ordinary park stuff there.


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From Halloween looking back. On the left is the entrance to the water park, with elephant statues. To the right is Thanksgiving. The Voyage roller coaster is the one visible in center-right.


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The first hill, and track spiral, on Thunderbird, just as a train's been launched. The track is coming out towards the camera on the upper left.


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The Turkey Whirl: a Tilt-a-Whirl made all Thanksgiving-themed. The sad thing about the sunset is the day was getting one, but it was also beautiful to see.


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Sunset near the park entrance, with the main Christmas Tree, a couple of shops, and of course the Raven roller coaster in near silhouette.


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And what the heck: where I parked at the hotel. It's very, very far down a steep hill to ... everything. bunny_hugger wasn't perfectly comfortable with this part of the lot.


Trivia: Three completely independent schemes for getting the stuck Skylab solar sail were conceive, developed, tested, and practiced by flight crews between the launch of the station on the 14th of May, 1973, and the launch of the first crew on the 25th. Source: Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story, David Hitt, Owen Garriott, Joe Kerwin.

Currently Reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz.

Sunday, September 18th, 2016
12:10 am
About the flapping fish and girls I've loved on nights like this with the moon above

We left Glen Arbor sooner than we'd run out of things to see and do there. Our pet rabbit's medical emergency ate up time, and maybe we should've started earlier in the first place. But we did want to get to a lighthouse. The rough plans to take a ferry over to the islands and the lighthouses there didn't come together; we'd have had to have devoted most of a day, starting early, for that. But we could drive to Empire township and see a lighthouse there. Empire is on the west, Lake Michigan, side of the Leelenau peninsula, about the same latitude as Traverse City. So it was a fair drive from Glen Arbor, made the more exciting by our satellite navigator not quite knowing where the lighthouse, or the state park it's in, was. We let the satellite navigator guide us most of the way and then paid attention to the local terrain.

The Point Betsie Lighthouse is your classic sort of Great Lakes lighthouse. It's just a couple storeys tall, with a more-or-less normal house attached to the tower. The lights don't have to be that huge. One of the outbuildings they converted into a museum, with the sorts of things you'd expect to see: the open boats they'd use for rescue, when needed. The cannons used to shoot tow ropes over to distressed ships. Packs of ancient medical equipment, turned by sand and wind and water and age into stone. Accounting and inventory logs detailing how much stock had been used, and how much worn out, and how much awaited replacement. United States Light House Service-branded plates and silverware. Radio beacon callsign maps. The precious stamp for the US Lighthouse Society's passport book, the first one bunny_hugger had been able to add to her book in ages.

bunny_hugger's mother declined going into the housekeeper's house, the one with actual furniture and a player piano and stoves that seem too tiny and a library that's far too tiny for the months of a harsh winter. Her brother and his girlfriend took the parents' car to drive in to Empire proper and sightsee around town. The house was small, as these things are often, and they could only let a few people into the lighthouse tower at once. Since there were only three of us, and there were a couple huge packs of people ahead of us, we lingered. It's easy for someone like me or bunny_hugger to keep staring at the Fresnel lens or at dioramas about invasive species. bunny_hugger's father could make small talk with the museum docent because he's the sort of person who'll happily make small talk with everyone. We have such a hard time presuming to.

One moment that stood out and that I even took a picture of: they had an October 1919 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald with the banner headline ``Muskegon Ship Disaster Grows'', in which the passenger steamer City of Muskegon sank at the Muskegon harbor. Which isn't anywhere near Empire and which I don't think the Point Betsie Lighthouse had anything to do with. But it shows off what kind of stuff the lighthouse service people did. And the other headline for the page was the Senate overriding President Wilson's veto of the Volstead Act. It's the sort of coincidence of events that looks affected when done in fiction.

Given the wait we'd be the last group allowed up into the lighthouse tower for the day. This gave us an advantage: they promised we didn't have to respect the ten-minute time limit for visiting. It was a gorgeous day, and the views of Lake Michigan were spectacular. I got to discover and try out my new camera's panoramic-picture settings, which will be the death of me yet. bunny_hugger's father learned from the fellow watching over the room about how new the current light was. It's solar-powered, a trend many automated light stations are going for these days, just like in the jokes you'd make about solar power.

The lighthouse was closing --- the reason we had to hurry along instead of staying in Glen Arbor longer and coming to the museum after that --- but we had time to look around the fog signal building, not operating since the 1970s, and the oil house, and the gravestone. It's not a grave site, just a stone. The mother of Edward Wheaton, lighthouse keeper from 1934 to 1946, had died. And Wheaton found that he couldn't lift the gravestone he'd made into his car. So he planted it there, just like in a charming little story about slightly odd people doing things. Lighthouse-keeping is a strange occupation.

Trivia: Every day the Leaning Tower of Pisa sways in a circle under a hundredth of an inch in diameter, due to the sun heating the south side more than the north and expanding the south side, and then both sides cooling overnight. Source: Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa, Nicholas Shrady.

Currently Reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz.

Saturday, September 17th, 2016
12:10 am
Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lads, a whale of a tale or two

If Wednesday was the least-scheduled day then Thursday was its most-scheduled. We intended to set out as early as possible, and then were delayed by the discovery of our pet rabbit's unwanted ankle resident. It was maybe an hour spent cleaning him up and getting him into tolerable shape and, as we'd learn Friday, we hadn't finished the job yet. But we thought he was in respectable shape and we set out, finally, after that.

Our first trip was to the town of Glen Arbor, a small town that comes just short of wrestling passer-by toursits to the ground and dragging them in to be amused by stuff. It's got a lot of art galleries, particularly. There's several blocks that are basically bungalows of artists showing off everything. We started off just looking for somewhere for lunch. Since we didn't have a particular spot to park in mind we made do with what we could find on the street, so bunny_hugger and I were left in front of a local coffee shop waiting for evidence that her parents, brother, and his girlfriend had actually parked anywhere, much less found somewhere to eat. And we located a restaurant that was pleasant enough --- they even had a raccoon as their mascot --- but that was really too big a place for the sort of lunch, and available time, that we had. It turned out there was a grease truck selling hot dogs just up the street from it and that would've probably been a better fit. At least it would have given us time to wander around town more.

And there was no end of town to wander around. The place, or at least its downtown strip, is almost nothing but tourist attractions. We broke up into three parties wandering poking around the galleries. bunny_hugger and I spent a fair time in one with glass sculptures and the artist explained what was meant by some technical term for glass sculpting which bunny_hugger had seen but not understood before. I gave in to a pretty silly little thing and bought a couple postcards with a giant cat photoshopped into standard city scenes. Well, I have relatives near Saint Louis who could probably use a picture of a cat standing up on the Arch, though what they'd use it for there's no saying.

And we poked into the home of Cherry Republic, a cute couple-building campground dubbed the ``Great Hall of the Republic''. It's all quite charming and a good place to sample cherry-flavored dips and candies and the like. I think it was here I picked up a jar of salsa or something to send on to my parents, when we need to send them something Michiganian. This I know how they'll use.

On the far end of town from most of this stuff, and past even the relatively remote location where we parked, there's a miniature golf course we would certainly have played if we'd had the time. At least some of the course decorations were lighthouses, appropriate for miniature golf anyway and especially for spots near Lake Michigan. One of the things we planned to do later in the day was to visit a lighthouse, in fact. So this was a tantalizing little reminder that something we wanted to do was going to keep us from something we wanted to do, which is the sort of rotten trick life is always playing on innocent people like us.

Trivia: In 1817 the New York Stock and Exchange Board rented the second floor of 40 Wall Street at $200 per year, heat included. Source: The Great Game, John Steele Gordon.

Currently Reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz.

PS: Dark Secrets of Mathematicians: Something About Integration By Parts, because a friend asked me about it the other day.

Friday, September 16th, 2016
12:10 am
Arms to hug with, Lips to kiss with, Someone to adore

Once again this week I avoided running out of stuff on my humor blog! For seven days! As seen on RSS! Here's what this pile of content was.

Now let's get back to an oversized edition of pictures from Holiday World, won't we?

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Kid peering up, trying to quite understand one of the Santa portraits in Kingle's Kafe. (Which is, among other things, one of the spots in the park where you can get coffee. It's free, as are all the soft drinks.)


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The Star Spangled Carousel, in the 4th of July area. Its rabbit's visible in the center there.


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The Christmas section, the oldest part of the park, is also the one that's got the least-strongly-themed rides. They're also the most kiddie rides. But here's an example of the Christmas-ness of the ride: Prancer's Merry Go Round, which has that name and some Christmas-y decor on the running boards.


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Dasher's Sea Horses is another dubiously Christmas ride. It's just sea horses, hung from poles, on a ride that twirls around. The horses do swing out some so it isn't just a carousel again.


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Comet's Rockets, combining the traditional Christmas association between reindeer and spaceships with the season of joy's tail-mounted machine guns.


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The only place in the world where Halloween, or any other holiday, encroaches on Christmas: the launch station for the Raven looms close to Comet's Rockets.


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Launch station decorative feature for the famous Holiday World roller coaster, the Barrel-Mounted Skull.


Trivia: Two Boeing 247s were ordered and shipped to Germany. A third was stopped out of fear of Hitler's growing power. The plane was sold to the Phillips Petroleum Company as an executive aircraft, delivered 16 September 1935 as NC2666 or Woolaroc III. Source: The Boeing 247: The First Modern Airliner, F Robert van der Linden.

Currently Reading: American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings In America, Linda S Godfrey.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016
12:10 am
With your feet on the ground you're a bird in flight

Wednesday up north was our first day with the full complement of family there: me and bunny_hugger, her parents, her brother and his girlfriend. So that's when it might've been wise to start scheduling showers. Well, her parents get up crazily early and that relieved the pressure.

Her brother had already taken over the job of cooking, and after a few days wondering if we had maybe bought too many eggs and bread for the family spending a week in the house we shifted to wondering if we had enough. Omelets and toast, that sort of breakfast. You know how great that can be.

I remember this as the quietest of days, the one where we spent the least time trying to make sure we packed it with enough stuff to do. But then, if I'm working out the timeline correctly, this was also the day some greenbottle fly noticed that our pet rabbit was a large, tempting target and injected eggs into his ankle. (The full story's here; warning, some really gross medical stuff involved.) He's recovered from that, as best he can. And on the day we had no idea anything was going on or that he had anything but another couple days of sitting in the sun and chewing grass ahead of him. And he had a great time spending the days outside for his vacation.

After we got all organized we drove into Suttons Bay for the afternoon. This was our second trip there that vacation. But it gave bunny_hugger's brother and his girlfriend the chance to see town. Also we were there early enough to visit that garden-stuff store and wander around a densely packed net of statues and wind chimes and wall decorations and knicknacks and amusing signs and clocks and glass baubles and all sorts of things that make you wonder if there's really room for this anywhere in your house. There wasn't, not in ours, but there's something great in wandering around a shop like this when you don't have a bored eight-year-old in tow.

We went there in two cars, the better to get everyone there and to have lunch in the Village Inn. That's a century-plus-old restaurant and bar and I guess maybe there are or were hotel rooms there at some point? It seems possible, anyway. bunny_hugger and I had eaten there on our last trip, in an attempt to get the whitefish paté that the area's famous for. Last time they were out of it. This time I forget why we didn't actually get any. I had mentioned the pinball map indicated there had, at one point, been a table there but it was now gone; bunny_hugger double-checked to reassure her father we weren't overlooking it.

Sometime after lunch, and some wandering around town, and some ice cream, bunny_hugger's parents went back to the house. The rest of us stayed behind, for what really dominates my thoughts of the day. We spent almost all of it on the beach, bunny_hugger and I reading and trying to fly her kite. bunny_hugger's brother and his girlfriend walking around town some, spending a little time on the beach, just ... being there. Not having to do anything. It was hours, almost but not quite to sunset, of having no expectations that we should do anything, just read the local alt-weekly and the magazines we'd bought in Traverse City, and ponder the ladle that someone had abandoned on the beach. The Ladle District of the beach was a nicer spot than its reputation suggests.

We failed utterly to get bunny_hugger's kite aloft, despite a pretty good breeze all afternoon. She researched this problem later, and learned that if she was reading the trees correctly there was actually too much wind to launch a kite, at least of the kind we had. It didn't feel like that strong a breeze; who would've guessed?

In the evening bunny_hugger's brother discovered the house had a bunch of DVDs in the stand, and they got to watching Buster Keaton's The General. So I got to see people watching a Buster Keaton silent movie for the first time, which is about the only thing that compares to seeing a Buster Keaton silent movie for the first time.

Trivia: William Penn and eleven associates bought Sir George Carteret's ownership of the Province of East Jersey in 1683 for £3,400. Source: New Jersey From Colony To State, 1609 - 1789, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings In America, Linda S Godfrey.

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
12:10 am
I cannot approve of this attraction

Our first mistake was leaving Traverse City. We had wanted dinner, and the hipster bar didn't have appealing enough vegetarian options. But somehow we failed to think that we'd have a better chance finding dinner in town than in the smaller towns leading to Omena, or in the nearly vacant areas between towns.

We had defensible reasons, though. The owner of the house we rented left tips on good stuff in the area, including a moderately upscale grocery he recommended. We figured we could get dinner, or the parts of a good dinner, there and take it to a beach to eat over sunset. By the time we got there they were closed and we realized, oh yeah, tiny towns in far northern lower-peninsula Michigan might not be open to crazy late hours like 9 pm. I got worried when we tried the Subway also in that strip mall and found it had just closed.

The best I could offer: if we went to the Tom's supermarket in Northport, which would be about a half-hour off, we could get something there and eat on the shoreline in town. It wouldn't be the ideal of a picnic dinner on the beach in Omena or so, but it'd be something, and we accepted that. They didn't have pre-made sandwiches, or other really good-for-eating-without-ovens stuff. We got some potato salad, some hummus and chips, that sort of thing. And we found a gazebo on the waterfront, facing east as the sun set. Even the insects were well-behaved, from our perspective.

And there was a delight, too. A frog made his way onto the sidewalk/street near us. He went about his business, existing and making insects exist differently, and not minding as we watched him being. After he had his fill and moved on we spotted another frog doing much the same. They apparently understand what street lights can do for them in concentrating insects.

It wasn't the dinner by sunset on the beach we might've hoped for, but it was a pretty good one anyway. And we drove back to the rented house. There, our pet rabbit was out in the yard, under bunny_hugger's mother's watchful eye. bunny_hugger's father came over as we pulled up, and before he got to us I quipped, ``they made their flight''.

Well, of course I was right. Isn't that how the world works? They'd be getting in sometime around midnight but now instead of spending the evening finding out what bunny_hugger's parents were up to or maybe playing more Mice and Mystics we'd have to drive the half-hour plus back to Traverse City and pick them up at the airport.

I laughed. It's what I do when faced with the frustrating absurd. bunny_hugger did not. She wasn't soothed by the confusing explanation of how her brother went from absolutely positively without question not being able to make it to Traverse City on Tuesday to ``will need a pickup in two hours''.

I drove, giving bunny_hugger her major break from adding miles to her car. We had to refill the gas, and it started raining because apparently the weather wasn't afraid of the pathetic fallacy. bunny_hugger was also offended that the airport there is named Cherry Capital Airport. It's lèse-majesté against Lansing's airport.

But her brother and his girlfriend were there, ready for us, and the rain settled to a little enough drizzle we could load them up without getting soaked. We briefed them on what the house was like and what all had been going on, and they explained their flights without my getting straight just what had happened.

We got them home and set up and not too ridiculously far past midnight considering.

Trivia: In September 1777 the Pennsylvania State Assembly authorized George Washington to seize whatever clothing and supplies in the southeastern region of the state were necessary. He refused to use this power. Source: The First American Army: The Untold Story of George Washington and the Men Behind America's First Fight for Freedom, Brue Chadwick.

Currently Reading: American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings In America, Linda S Godfrey. ``Winnebozho, or Bozho as modern Madisonians like to call him, was something quite different. Part human, part fish, and part sacred raccoon, Bozho was highly respected by the Ho-Chunk [ Native Americans, of present-day Wisconsin ] ... A 1917 report claimed that Bozho had large round, glowing or fiery eyes, and in another encounter that same year, perhaps the strangest lake creature incident ever, a great beast slithered up and licked the soles of the feet of a student sunbathing on her stomach next to the water. The monster seemed more playful than vicious, as its main mischief consisted of pranks such as overturning the occasional canoe or popping its head up harmlessly'' ... I have a new culture-hero!

PS: Reading the Comics, September 10, 2016: Finishing The First Week Of School Edition, with a surprising load of talk about some ordinary comics. I must've been saving it up.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
12:10 am
And I don't think I'll be coming back again

Our vacation up north would not come without a price. We had to miss the opening night of the Lansing pinball league. That's sufferable; the league format makes it easy to make up games at a later date. But it hurts to know all our friends are getting together playing pinball without us. We could at least play pinball. Pinside's map identified a bar in Traverse City that even had a FunHouse, our favorite game. It was a bit of a hike, in hot sun, from the parking garage where we'd stashed the cigar for bunny_hugger's father, but we had the promise of FunHouse ahead. And a pleasant discovery just short of the hipster bar with the pinball game.

There was another arcade just across the street. It looked to be a converted garage, now with a couple dozen old arcade games and some video game consoles and even two pinball machines in. We went in The Coin Slot, to find it was blazingly hot; nobody was there except the attendant and we don't blame people for staying out of that oven. The attendant asked if we'd been there before and then explained all the games were on free play, but you had to have a wristband, which was $10 for the day.

The pinball machines were 1989's Earthshaker and the 1990 Data East Simpsons. They're games from a particularly brutal era, games with extremely challenging shots and very harsh rules; you haven't got much choice in strategy. With machines in good, well-maintained shape, they're real tests of skill. If the machine were, somehow, in less-than-good shape after twenty(?)-plus years on location, they're just frustration. Also there's a well-maintained Data East Simpsons in Grand Rapids where we can play all we like for a quarter a pop. We don't play it much because even in best possible shape it's not that good. All it has going for it is its theme, and that's limited by the game being made in the first season of The Simpsons. So it has like four things to refer to, and boy does it get tired to hear Bart call out ``Way to go man!'' every ten seconds. Sadly, we passed on the chance to pay twenty dollars for possibly unplayable games.

Ah, but across the street, the Workshop Brewing Company, its promise of pinball and FunHouse --- which is also from that brutal era, but has a more modern set of rules and flexibility so it's fun even if stuff isn't working well. They didn't have FunHouse. The map was outdated. They'd replaced it with the Tales From The Crypt pinball. No idea when. They also had a Jurassic Park, another game we could play in Grand Rapids if we wanted. The table had default manufacturer's setting high scores, but that could reflect nothing more than that the table was reset during some maintenance.

We made do as best we could, admittedly something I'm skilled at. They had a jazz band playing, which started up nearly twelve feet away from the pinball machines. They had your classic overly complicated drinks and food menu and I think we tried just to get soda without embarrassing ourselves. It seemed like a pleasant enough spot, just, the fact we had the Cryptkeeper instead of Rudy there gave it a lonely feeling. Still, we had some decent games, working out some strategy for Tales From The Crypt. And I squeaked onto the Jurassic Park high score table, thanks to it storing the top six scores (four is the industry might-as-well-be-standard), winning me the title of whatever that chicken dinosaur is called.

While we waited, possibly obscured under the music and the bar noise, bunny_hugger's father sent a series if increasingly worried voice mails to her. This was regarding our other task for the day. Her brother and his girlfriend were to fly in to Traverse City in the evening, and we figured to pick them up. But there had been some kind of delay with one of the flights they were taking, and they were not, absolutely not, going to be able to make the Chicago-to-Traverse-City flight. No idea when they'd be able to make it. We'd lose a day with them, and we'd have to drive the half-hour-plus to Traverse City and back to pick them up. But we could also go back to the house whenever we felt like.

While you know where this is going, somehow, we didn't.

Trivia: As investment agent for the Province of Pennsylvania in 1761, Benjamin Franklin --- with the advice of stockbroker John Rice --- lost about £ 4,000 of some £27,000 put into stocks. (Peace talks between Britain and France had broken down, and the war expanded to include Spain.) Source: The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, H W Brands.

Currently Reading: American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings In America, Linda S Godfrey. Which has a bunch of interesting critters, but it's all discussing sightings rather than cultural context or scientific opinion on related topics. It almost feels like it'd work better as a blog, highlighting a cryptozoological phenomenon of the day.

Monday, September 12th, 2016
12:10 am
I've got eyes to see with, ears to hear with

My mathematics blog, as seen on your Friends page or maybe in your RSS feed, had another light week. I spent more time working on the Why Stuff Can Orbit piece than I'd figured on. Next week will probably be back to something more like normal. Meanwhile, here's what you missed since last Sunday:

I've got 21 more pictures of Holiday World I want to share and to break them up logically I'm just going to do seven at once the next couple entries. So, you know, enjoy.

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Themed elements at Holiday World. The rhino statue is near the water park. I do not know, but I suspect, it might have once been at the Giraffica ride that closed a few years ago.


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Also near the water park, a mock gorilla. Pretty big one, too; it's taller than I am without even standing up.


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Look out, it's entertainment! A squad of people encouraging the crowd to do fun stuff like be around hula hoops, spotted wandering around Halloween. All the people with hoops are performers. There wasn't a large crowd when this got started.


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Test seat: Failure. From outside the Raven wooden roller coaster.


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Is anything more interesting than rides that've been disassembled? I mean if you aren't actually looking to ride something specific. This was, I think, a Monster ride, one of those ones with lots of spinning carts on the end of limbs that go up and down.


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The high dive show takes a break from its comedy bits to do some people plummeting.


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And in the high dive show people plummet while wearing outfits. And making ostentatious poses.


Trivia: The recipe for reinforced concrete (ten inches thick) as recommended by the Lincoln Highway Association was, when the committee began work in late 1920, two years old. Source: The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers who Created the American Superhighways, Earl Swift.

Currently Reading: Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo, Alex Raymond, Don Moore. Editor unnamed. And then you come to the bit where Dr Zarkov is nearly defeated by madness-inducing flying squirrels.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016
12:10 am
I admit it's kinda eerie, but this proves my chaos theory

Our purpose visiting Traverse City, for the afternoon, was just to enjoy a pretty great downtown area. It's comparable to Ann Arbor in being a place with attractive shops and and old-fashioned street-front theater and another theater in what turns out to be a repurposed museum building. We had just missed the Traverse City Film Festival. If we had known that the week before they were showing, free, the 1916 Snow White or The Maltese Falcon or Network on then big screen then we still wouldn't have gone because they were showing these at 10:30 am for crying out loud. But it gives some idea what the theater is like.

(Also I noticed on the schedule that the weekends offered the ``State Theatre: Cherrry Fest Matinee'', for several days over. Typos know how to find the automatically-repeated content cells.)

On the sidewalk by the State Theatre is another Little Free Library, with a facade imitating the Theatre's. They take their Little Free Libraries seriously around Traverse Bay. The other theater, Bijou By The Bay, looks like a converted electric substation. But it actually had been a local history museum pioneered by Conrad H Foster, who among other things managed the State Theatre. The museum, originally built as a WPA project, folded in the late 90s and got converted into a second area one-screen theater. They were showing The Secret Life Of Pets, I guess reflecting their being half-popular-films, half-film-festival-films.

We ate in the bookstore, some local/independent thing about the size of your standard Barnes and Noble, one with both an upstairs and a downstairs cafe service. And one guy splitting his time between them. Also, one vegetarian wrap per stand, so getting a snack and coffee/tea involved a lot of going up and downstairs for everybody. The place has this enormous magazine section. I happened to find one that's devoted to roadside attractions, and which had an interview with Bill Griffith, the inexplicably-syndicated cartoonist whose Zippy the Pinhead spent about twelve years straight talking to roadside attractions. If that weren't aimed enough at our interests the magazine also had articles on Elzie Segar's birthplace, and on Popeye roadside attractions. Also Superman stuff. The magazine could not have been more aimed at us if they had put our names on the cover.

Toy Harbor was as lovely as ever, although they didn't have the raccoon Folkmanis puppet that I could try on and move well this time. That's fine. I shouldn't be buying more puppets given how little actual puppeteering I do, even though I keep thinking to start doing it for local furry conventions. They had a compelling array of plastic monsters, including some translucent sea serpents and dinosaurs and the like that would just be perfect for some application I haven't thought of yet. Also there was a wooden-block toy parking garage, tucked on the far uppermost shelf, waiting for six-year-old me to buy. 43-year-old me passed, with reluctance.

We ducked into a convenience store because we really needed somewhere to cool off and something to drink and the shop promised to be all lovely and unrenovated for decades. We weren't disappointed. The shop looked exactly like it might have in 1982, down to the typeface used for section headers on the walls and there being price stickers on everything. It was just glorious. And wood-paneled with harsh fluorescent bulbs overhead.

There was a camera shop, a real actual certifiable place to buy real cameras and lenses and stuff like that. It was closed by the time we got there. We were unhappy.

We did duck into the Cherry Republic store. This is a little chain built out of Glen Arbor, I think, originally, selling cherry-based stuff. Jams, jellies, candy, wines, sodas, everything. We used it as the chance to nibble a few samples of chips with cherry-ish toppings. And got some sodas which tasted sooooo very good given how hot a day and how much sunlight there was. We sat at a table outside, watching a seagull perched atop what I imagine was a local TV station's traffic camera. A hipster sitting at the table opposite the entrance complimented my camera, a compliment that only makes sense because my camera has an old-fashioned 70s-camera styling. It's a fairly standard modern consumer thing otherwise, but it looks good for what it is. Best clearance sale thing I've gotten in ages.

Trivia: The first payday for Civil Works Administration relief employees was the 23rd of November, 1933, two weeks after the executive order creating it was signed. 800,000 workers received checks. Source: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, Nick Taylor.

Currently Reading: Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo, Alex Raymond, Don Moore. Editor unnamed. OK, so Flash having won this Battle Royale gets named King of some unconquerable kingdom under Ming's nominal rule. Fine. And it takes Flash upwards of two days to conquer it. Dandy. Ming disbelieves Flash's claim to have conquered the kingdom and demands proof, so Flash declares war(!) on Ming who he's at least implicitly accepted as his emperor(!!) and while taking the nation to war is a de facto proof you have control over it this is not the sane reaction even if Ming's ``visaradiogram'' message was all imperious. Sorry, Flash, you're just plain in the wrong here and by the way you get your whole army killed(!!!) and yourself captured and turned into a water-breather so good one you fantastic addle-brained author-blessed-for-no-defensible-reason dingbat. Furrfu.

Saturday, September 10th, 2016
12:10 am
Someone shut the fence off in the rain

Tuesday was the first day that bunny_hugger and I really spent on our own, up north. Her parents ... I'm not sure what they did do. They watched our pet rabbit some, certainly, and I had assumed they went out some to visit sights. But we got diverted from ever quite asking them and I never did learn just how they filled their day. Which isn't to say it would be bad if they filled it just sitting around the house and enjoying the sun. I just didn't stop to ask.

bunny_hugger and I figured to spend the day in Traverse City, which I think of as just next door to Omena. It's actually about a half-hour off; getting into Traverse City is, bunny_hugger had said, the sign that we're coming near the end of the drive up north and not the actual end. But in a three-and-a-half hour drive the only major city in the area stands out.

Which isn't to say we started the day going there. We first went to Peterson Park, in the town of Leelanau, and overlooking Lake Michigan. There was a letterbox in the park and we hoped to do at least some letterboxing this trip. We stopped in the parking lot and found, as ever, that the clues didn't quite match what we saw. I could kind-of rationalize how someone else might have described what we saw, if we allowed for a lot of leeway, but bunny_hugger wasn't having it. Wisely, too. The park turns out to have two main segments, and a second parking lot. By going to the other one we found the pump well that was key to the whole train of clues. Given that start it was one of the easier letterboxes to find.

The park's on the edge of Lake Michigan and there's a wooden stairwell leading down to the shore. The letterbox clues suggested going down there if you had the time. We were tempted, but it was something like 160 steps down to the water and, worse, 160 steps back up. If this makes us sound like wimps consider that's like climbing a fifteen-storey building in the sun for the start of the day. I stand by our decision to sit and look at the water from above instead.

We did have a mission in Traverse City, besides spending a day enjoying ourselves. bunny_hugger's father has gotten into smoking cigars for some reason, and he'd run out, or was at least close enough to it to worry. He gave us the label for his preferred brand and asked us to, if we happened to see a cigar shop, stop in and pick up a box. Also he asked if we could look up where there are cigar shops in Traverse City, in case we happen to be near one. We could take a hint.

It happens there was a cigar shop about one block away from the parking garage it was natural to use. We didn't actually get to it until we'd made a circuit of the touristy-section downtown strip, but it would have been a savage lie if we pretended we hadn't been near. We were a bit anxious since there's two types of cigar stores. One is the musty kind staffed entirely by men upwards of 185 years old in ash-colored skin glaring suspiciously at non-smoking males or females of any kind who venture in. The other is the musty kind staffed by men in plaid with ironic beards. The shop we went to was this second kind. The guy by the door was happy to not laugh openly at us when we described the cigars as best as possible, and took the label back to find ... first, not quite the right brand. Then he checked again and found just the cigars my father-in-law smokes. He'd be well-stocked through to the end of the week and we just had to wonder how he didn't have enough to start with.

Trivia: Jefferson Davis's first call for volunteers for the Confederate Army was for 7,700 soldiers from five states, issued the 9th of March, 1861. Combined with the several thousand South Carolina volunteers already under arms this roughly matched the United States's 13,000-man army. Source: Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America, William C Davis.

Currently Reading: Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo, Alex Raymond, Don Moore. Editor unnamed. And boy is Flash kind of genocide-y.

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