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

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Sunday, December 4th, 2016
12:10 am
And every day we can play on the Milky Way

Grand Rapids's pinball league tried something new for the summer. They had to try something. The league had grown to the point it was too much. There were too many people for the space available, making for an unmanageably loud mob during Wednesday league nights.

The scheme they tried for summer was to spread out play. Instead of everyone gathering at 7 pm Wednesdays to play in groups of three or four players people could come on Monday or Wednesday night and start between 6 and 8 pm. They couldn't be put in groups of people of approximately similar skill level. Instead we could gather into whatever groups we liked with people ready to play. We'd all play the same six tables, starting games when the tables were free. League rankings would be based on comparing our scores to everyone else's in the league's.

That sort of scoring against everyone else in the league is substantially the same way Lansing Pinball League ranks its players. And being able to form our own groups meant we could be confident who we were playing, and that we were playing people who wouldn't go wandering off to unknown places when their turns were up. It's a maddening problem at league to not be sure who ``Matt R'' is or where he's gone. We have less of that now that we're more familiar with the Grand Rapids scene, and now that we're in the higher tiers of players (the ones who're more serious about playing), but it still happens.

But, must be said, it wasn't as good as a regular league night and I'm not sure why not. Maybe it was that we wouldn't get sometimes matched up with surprising people. And the league and bar apparently found it disappointing too. I suspect diffusing the crowd over two nights and more hours meant the critical mass of people ordering drinks never quite congealed, or didn't get as noticeable. Come fall Grand Rapids would return to basically its previous format, groups of three or four players of roughly equal rank playing one another on games the players choose on the spot.

Trivia: When gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California, in January 1848, there were 812 white inhabitants of San Francisco. In the last nine months of 1849 some 540 ships would dock there. Source: The Age Of Capital, 1848 - 1875, Eric Hobsbawm.

Currently Reading: The Man Who Fed The World: Nobel Peace Price Laureate Norman Borlaug And His Battle To End World Hunger, Leon Hesser.

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016
12:10 am
Where do we build a house, where do the roses grow?

So one of our neighbors has been, to be polite, a troublesome neighbor. It's a rental house, with upwards of forty people coming and going all hours of the night. Something strange started happening in late summer, though. People got working on the house. It started with power-washing the outside, something it sorely needed. And they delivered fence components. We thought briefly that the neighbors were putting up a privacy fence between their yard and ours, which would (a) save us from the lousy state they keep the yard in and (b) insult us because they were screening us out? But no, all that was happening was they were repairing the back-of-the-lot fence, past some piles of yard debris. Which was offensive in its own way; all that junk in the yard and they're fixing a run-down but functional fence? And not building one between our lots?

It transpired that the landlord there does not merely have lousy tenants. The landlord's also a delinquent, and had been renting the place without inspections or a rental certificate for years. And finally got caught. So a host of repairs were going on. Painting, for example, which followed on from the power-washing. It's not a great paint job, and was done with the light olive paint left over from the landlord's home's paint job. But it does make the house less dingy brown.

So what appears to be going on is that after a decade of running an illicit rental, and two years of being plagued with bad tenants, everything is catching up with the landlord there. He's had a lot of people coming in to bring the house up to code, we imagine, including electrical work that can't be easy. He's missed several inspection deadlines and do honestly wonder if the house is going to be ordered vacated. I don't want to live next to an empty house, but that might be better than one that won't mow, won't shovel snow, and leaves a full trash bin by the side of the house for a month or more.

We get much of this information from bunny_hugger happening, finally, to meet the landlord. He was disarmingly frank about how he doesn't like the current renters but hasn't overcome the legal obstacles to evicting them. (And that he accepts why it's hard to legally evict renters, even though that hurts him; if he's sincere that does make me like him some.) He spoke some about going halfsies on a privacy fence between our yards, but he's avoided actually doing anything that would commit to building one. The most charitable thing I can imagine is that he's so caught up trying to meet rental inspections that he hasn't had time to think of the fence. But that's extending a lot of charity, even for me.

Trivia: S F ``Rox'' Rothafel declared the Radio City Music Hall to achieve his record-setting goal of 6,201 seats by adding to the 5,960 audience seats the number of seats in the orchestra pit, the elevator operators' stools, and the makeup-mirror chairs in the powder rooms. Source: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, Daniel Okrent.

Currently Reading: The Man Who Fed The World: Nobel Peace Price Laureate Norman Borlaug And His Battle To End World Hunger, Leon Hesser.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Normal Numbers, and I won't undersell: I think I have my best-ever opening line in this one.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016
12:10 am
Called to see if she'd like to go

So what's my humor blog been up to this past week? This.

Now back to the 4th of July and the Lugnuts game.


Real overreaction for a guy getting to first base. The city's fireworks started up about ten minutes after 10 pm, revealing that the synchronization we thought existed between the ball game and the city fireworks was actually just coincidence. Or the city gave up on the game ending anytime soon and went ahead with it.


Big Lug, fireworks, and a conference on the mound. The city fireworks went on for like twenty minutes and so did the eighth inning.


Grand finale for the city's fireworks and the approaching end of the eighth inning which was otherwise so very good to the Lugnuts. They'd score a win, rare in our visits to the park.


After the win and long after the city fireworks the Lugnuts stadium fireworks get set up in the outfield. Before the condos were built the fireworks were put up on the grass-seating area beyond the outfield fence during the last innings of the game. But there's buildings there now, and not enough grass-seating area to use for fireworks setup. So they have to truck a show out after the game ends while the stadium does some post-game gimmicks in the infield.


Ah, but once the fireworks get going. The in-stadium fireworks are smaller, of course, than the city's show. But your'e also right there, underneath them. During stadium construction the fireworks were also a particularly small performance. But since the condos were finished they seem to be back to a reasonably full and satisfying post-game show for weekend and 4th of July games.


Finale of the stadium's own fireworks show and one of those shots that threatened to break my camera. I like the blurriness of this, in the circumstance.

Trivia: In El Paso on an early-1920s tour of the Pantages circuit, Fred Allen was arrested and fined $10 (plus court costs) for using ``vile language'' in front of a woman. Source: Fred Allen: His Life And Work, Robert Taylor. (Per Allen's report, anyway. If Taylor verified the arrest and trial he doesn't provide citations.)

Currently Reading: The Man Who Fed The World: Nobel Peace Price Laureate Norman Borlaug And His Battle To End World Hunger, Leon Hesser.

PS: When Is Thanksgiving Most Likely To Happen? (Spoiler: ``November''.)

Thursday, December 1st, 2016
12:10 am
And headed for the State Fair

With evening setting in and all the stuff to look at besides the demolition derby looked at, what to do at the fair but buy wristbands and ride stuff? bunny_hugger's parents chose not to ride anything, her mother because she doesn't really like riding things, her father because he was more interested in trying to eat everything. I exaggerate but he did get a striking-to-me number of snacks over the course of the day.

We knew the rides! We had seen them just a month earlier, in Fremont at the Baby Food Festial/Meijer State Games. The same company that managed that event also provided rides and concessions and all for Calhoun County. It wasn't the branch of the company that brings a portable roller coaster around, which was disappointing to an extent. Also a relief to an extent. bunny_hugger has been sitting at 199 recorded roller coasters. Who'd want to make a milestone coaster of some minor obscurity like a touring fair company might offer? ... Well, there's some fun to that idea too. But she'd rather it be something more substantial, you know?

The best ride of the lot would be the merry-go-round, which we took as, I think, our first and certainly our last ride. We'd been on it in Fremont too. It's a small ride and, I think, some mid-50s Allan Herschell carousel design. The thing is they run it fast, at six rotations per minute. Carousels are thrill rides if you run them fast enough and six rotations per minute is a good marker for that. It was a bit rough, with the horses slamming down fairly hard at least for me. But the ride was worth that.

The best value-for-time ride was the Ferris wheel. It wasn't a large wheel, which is why bunny_hugger was willing to consider it. But the ride operator took his time loading everybody, and I do mean everybody, onto the ride. We spent a lot of time dangling at height both loading and unloading; while we were one of the first few people loaded on we were also among the last offloaded. I started to feel like I'd been dangling in midair long enough, and I don't mind dangling in midair much.

So we had a good slightly tiring time, and I think we might have been there until the rides actually closed up for the night and they started turning stands off. I believe we grabbed the last elephant ears from one stand as it was closing, so we could drive to her parents' house while chewing and getting powdered sugar on everything. We're still getting powdered sugar out of our clothes. Good times at the fair.

Trivia: From 1 December 1931 the Soviet revolutionary calendar reintroduced a sixth day to the week. It would b a universal day of rest, chestidnevki. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards. (The day of the week was officially abolished in favor of Sunday in June 1940.)

Currently Reading: The Man Who Fed The World: Nobel Peace Price Laureate Norman Borlaug And His Battle To End World Hunger, Leon Hesser.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Monster Group, which I needed 1900 words to describe and I'm still not really happy with all of them.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016
12:10 am
We loaded down his old blue-green Corvair

So what next in our summer? Cows, of course. Or more generally the Calhoun County Fair. We've been trying to get to at least one county fair a summer the last few years and Calhoun County is the easiest to visit with bunny_hugger's parents. We went on a Wednesday which turned out to be seniors-enter-free day or something like that. An unexpected break ahead of buying lots of French Fries anyway.

We started as usual wandering around the barns, looking at cows and horses and goats and all that, with bunny_hugger's father petting as many of them as he could get away with. (Some of them had signs warning not to pet.) If I'm not mistaken there weren't any hogs on display this year, reflecting I think a local swine flu outbreak which they didn't want to spread. The show was also short on chickens and ducks and other birds. There had been none at all the year before, reflecting an avian flu outbreak of that summer. There were a couple of birds this time, mostly turkeys, with a couple of chickens along, but nothing like the heady days two or three years ago. One of the turkeys took a jab at my camera. It turns out big camera lenses fascinate and annoy turkeys.

They had rabbits, though, in a good long row of cages. Adorable ones that made us think of our pet rabbit who was still recovering from his fly strike. I worried a bit how they kept flies away from these rabbits, although we've not seen the kind that threatened our pet rabbit this far south. And much of our rabbit's vulnerability was that he can't move his hindlegs very well. A young, fully able rabbit is naturally safer.

There were several guinea pigs too, up from last year's one, and there were some hamsters and other small rodents like that. As a guinea pig fan I like seeing them get some more attention and, I suppose, ribbons.

And we poked around the miscellaneous collections. The ones most interesting to me were the old Calhoun County fair collections: program books and ride tokens and souvenir mugs and all that. I see I also took a photograph of the cooking dish used to make corn dogs for years. ``A real corn dog machine was purchased in 2003'', it said, and this one was donated to the fair in 2006. That seems to suggest the fair needed three years to be quite sure this newfangled corn dog machine would satisfy their needs. But I understand. You want to see how that sort of thing will wear.

Trivia: Olives good for eating are poor for making olive oil, and vice versa. (Eating-olives should be low in oil.) Source: Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky.

Currently Reading: The Man Who Fed The World: Nobel Peace Price Laureate Norman Borlaug And His Battle To End World Hunger, Leon Hesser.

PS: Reading the Comics, November 26, 2016: What is Pre-Algebra Edition, in which I don't answer the question.

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
12:10 am
My part of the crowd is not with me tonight

We went back to Fremont the weekend or so after that. This was for the finals, both of the monthly tournament and for the league. It wasn't a big crowd, maybe ten people there, but that still crowded the Blind Squirrel League's alcove for this stuff. Showing up were mostly the higher-seeded people, bunny_hugger and I included, and people with real or plausible bids for the state finals. It turns out this was more than just the large number of casual people who play a game but aren't really interested in playing not turning out. AJH sets up an 'A' and a 'B' division, with separate playoff nights, to avoid overcrowding. I also imagine it avoids interlopers like me, who wouldn't show up for league nights but would swoop in for finals, getting stabbed in the kidneys by someone bumped down to ninth place merely because I poked in and put in a game on Taxi that nobody else saw.

There were two rounds of finals to do, with not precisely the same people in them. AJH, organizing this all with his curious genius, set things up so any pair or group of people who were free to play a meaningful game did. This would save considerable time, at the cost of my having no idea who I might play next or what I was playing for. I got to feeling like I was in some strange existentialist joke. Why am I there? What am I doing? Why? I don't know, someone just tells me to play a game of Road Show and I do. Is it fun? I'll know when I'm done.

The joke would get better for the September and October tournaments when I looked at the numbers and realized that I was sure to get into the state finals. This doesn't mean I stopped playing, or stopped trying to play my best, and I'll still be going out to Fremont sometime in December for monthly and league games at least. But all I could do by the next round of playoffs is affect whether in the first round of state finals I lose to CST, to SMS, or to RLM. I don't have a preference there.

Well, I'd put in mediocre performances for August anyway, getting 6th in the monthly and 7th in the league finals. bunny_hugger would take 3rd in the monthly and 5th in the league finals, netting her an awesome fourteen-plus points for state rankings. She'd officially leapt into the running for the top 16 in the state.

Somehow everything got wrapped up by a reasonable hour, maybe 5 pm or so. With not much else to do we drove west, to Michigan's Adventure. This time we could better appreciate the scenery in a really remote area. It let us find, for example, a Boy Scout campground that was a century-plus old. And a summer camp bunny_hugger's brother had attended as a teen.

Though it was a Sunday in August Michigan's Adventure was this time not insanely packed. This is because it was also getting on to evening. While the park would stay open another several hours, families were getting out of the water park and going home instead of joining lines. We got to enjoy the small but cozy park and to ride pretty much anything we wanted. We missed the petting zoo, which closed earlier than anything else at the park, but otherwise, it was just what we might hope for. A solid amusement park that might as well have been waiting on us, apart from the coffee stand somehow still not being open.

Well, now we had a new understanding of how to arrange Blind Squirrel events. Take a summer day, go put in pinball scores, and then enjoy the evening at the amusement park. Get home in time to feed our pet rabbit. Good scheme, isn't it all?

Trivia: Through the Revolutionary War the Board of Proprietors of East New Jersey --- owners of what would otherwise have been public land --- could not meet as all their property records were kept in British-occupied New York City. (Many of its members were, too.) Source: New Jersey From Colony To State, 1609 - 1789, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: Michigan: A History, Bruce Catton.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Local, one of those handy words to have around.

Monday, November 28th, 2016
12:10 am
On a Saturday her young beau

Another busy week on my mathematics blog, so I'll move on past mentioning RSS For the people who have somehow missed all mention of it before and give you the summary of recent links:

Now let's get back to the 4th of July and the Lansing Lugnuts ball game.


Band outside the Cooley Law School Stadium, where the Lansing Lugnuts play. This was a Fourth of July thing, I'm pretty sure. At least I haven't noticed bands there other games.


The first time each of the Lugnuts bat the scoreboard gives us some information about them. But then how do you get to like someone whose favorite movie is Open Season? And there were others whose favorite movies were things like Billy Madison. Don't they get instructed to answer, like, The Natural or Bull Durham? The heck, Lugnuts?


Big Lug, the dragon-based mascot of the team, works the crowd. This is the closest I've been to him. Little Lug has not been seen in years and bunny_hugger cries out for an explanation whenever she does see him. He's stayed silent.


Between-innings nonsense, the way minor league baseball does. This time it was just two kids racing their cars from first base to third. The kid in the green shirt didn't seem to know how to pedal successfully, so the race wasn't close by the time they reached second.


The game was supposed to go on past sunset, which in Michigan in July can take til about 2 am, so the ballpark could shoot off its fireworks and then the city theirs. The plan would go wrong when the Lugnuts had an eighth inning that just would not end. Note the Lego-block apartments built ringing the outfield; they're part of the stadium complex.


And then this bird perched on one of the ropes holding the netting behind home plate and would not move. The bird did finally turn around so I could photograph its more interesting side. Stayed through to the fireworks at least.

Trivia: Stretches at some point during a baseball game came to be common in the 1860s. They seem to have stabilized at the seventh inning when the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 toured California and added a ten-minute interval after the sixth inning to let people get to the bar. By 1875 the seventh inning was seen as a lucky one for Cincinnati and a good time for the break. Source: A Game Of Inches: The Story Behind The Innovations That Shaped Baseball, Peter Morris.

Currently Reading: Michigan: A History, Bruce Catton.

Sunday, November 27th, 2016
12:10 am
Pretending out loud but it don't seem the same

What took us to Michigan's Adventure on a day we knew would be packed and not really good for amusement-park-going was not Michigan's Adventure or the amusement park. We were there in search of International Flipper Pinball Association points.

In particular bunny_hugger studied the state rankings and found she was not so far from the Top 16 In The State as she had thought she'd be. And that a player she knew well and was much better than outranked her by a good bit. Why was this? Well, that player had attended the Blind Squirrel Pinball League finals back in March, the ones we didn't because it was hit by nearly the only severe weather of last winter. Almost nobody attended, and the ``rival'' finished in the top four of that and got an abundance of credit for playing. And she kept going to Blind Squirrel League games. She didn't do so well as that, but there are a lot of ranking points available there.

So we decided to make the trek to Fremont, Michigan, which is in the middle of nowhere. While it still is the middle of nowhere, it's only about a half-hour by backroads from Michigan's Adventure. So the two-hour trip there seemed ridiculous just for pinball points. But as an extra half-hour driving on something we'd do already? That's rationalizable. Even if it made us make a trip to Michigan's Adventure we otherwise would not have. ``Rationalizable'', I wrote, not ``rational''. I know how to make excuses for what we wanted to do anyway.

We went to the park first and then the bar, on the theory we didn't know how long we'd need to play all the games we wanted. Fair enough, although we could have estimated by actually counting and doing basic arithmetic too. Blind Squirrel has two things going on: a ``season'' of three biweekly sessions, six games each. And a ``monthly'' tournament in which you can put in your two best scores on each of the six pinball machines there. Nominally, for the seasons you show up a designated league night. But since league nights are played for position, given by where your scores are compared to everyone else's, there's no logical problem with playing any old time. Even, as we did, playing three ``league nights'' one after the other.

If you are ``making up'' league nights like we did you're supposed to take photos of your scores, as flimsy proof that you actually put up what you reported. As it turned out AJH, who runs the Blind Squirrel League and uses it as a points mine --- he's #1 in the state with nearly twice the points of anyone else, and that's because he's very good at pinball and at competitive-pinball-scoring --- waived the requirement for us, on the grounds we wouldn't submit false scores. Which is true, but offends my sense of procedural fairness. Granted he can trust us; why should anyone else? So I keep photographs of the scores and of which scores we submit. But I do fall short of actually bundling them together and mailing them off. I'm ready if I'm ever challenged, though.

So the arithmetic we failed to do. For the monthly tournament we needed at least two rounds each on six games. For the ``league'' we needed three rounds on each of six games. Oh, and the league allows us to replay any of the games, once per league night, if we think we did poorly (but we're forced to keep the second round). Suppose we replay half the scores (which I think is what I averaged then).

That's a total of 39 games each. Suppose one decent game takes ten minutes. That's six and a half hours of play. Call it seven with breaks for dinner and the bathroom and all that. More if we play solely-for-practice games. Or if we start two-player games, making one of us idle while the other plays. We got to the Blind Squirrel Tavern about 6:30. We got out at 2 am, with a two-hour drive home.

So. As a project for getting bunny_hugger closer to parity with the rival, and into striking range for the state championships, this was a success. When the finals came about a week later she picked up a third-place finish in the monthly and a fifth-place finish in the league, launching the late-season race for the State Finals.

Trivia: Santa María la Antigua del Darién, in what is now Panama, is sometimes credited as the first permanent European settlement on the continental Americas. It was abandoned after nine years. Source: 1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created, Charles C Mann.

Currently Reading: Michigan: A History, Bruce Catton.

Saturday, November 26th, 2016
12:10 am
I go out with the crowd, I play the game

So let's see. After BIL's basement tournament. We had some time to relax, get back to normal. Spend some low-energy time. Do the things we normally do.

Then we did something we never do. Not in August, anyway, not on a Saturday. We went to Michigan's Adventure.

It's not that going to an amusement park is a bad idea. It's just that a Saturday, in August, is a bad idea, because everybody in the state has the same idea. Michigan's Adventure has an enormous parking lot, far more than the gentle, low-key, low-energy place could ever need. It was ... well, no, not full. But it was two-thirds full, which is about eight times as full as we see it the days we normally go. It was busier even than that day last year when bunny_hugger's brother and his girlfriend wanted to see the park and we were almost crushed under the population.

There's never a serious wait for rides at the park. This time there were. We scrapped basically all plans to ride stuff. Well, we're season pass holders and we've been to the park many times, and they add rides slowly. It's all right to just take in the mad atmosphere.

Also the farm. The big attraction for the year, Michigan's Adventure's 60th since it started as a petting zoo, was a petting zoo. I think it was the same set of animals they'd had earlier in the year, although this time the rabbits had a little table under which they could hide. They may be Chill Bunnies but they still need somewhere to not be batted by hyperactive kids.

We did get some rides in. One on the Yo-yo swings ride. A turn on the Chance Carousel. And we braved the horribly long line for Shivering Timbers, the big wooden roller coaster. We'd never gone to Michigan's Adventure and not ridden at least one roller coaster. Normally we ride all of them that aren't closed for maintenance. It wasn't as awful as we feared; the roller coaster has a lot of capacity. Maybe it was a 25-minute wait. But that's still 20 minutes more than the normal wait, the sort of day we normally go.

So it was a bit breathtaking, the sort of park visit more enjoyable as a spectacle than as an experience proper. We had made a planning mistake in going to the park first on the day. But it was something we'd needed to learn.

Trivia: The lunar rovers were powered by two 36-volt silver-zinc batteries, with enough power for a range of 65 kilometers at speeds up to 17 kilometers per hour. Source: Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of NASA's Apollo Lunar Expeditions, William David Compton.

Currently Reading: Michigan: A History, Bruce Catton.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Kernel, which is pronounced like ``of corn'' and is one of those things that brings me boundless delight.

Friday, November 25th, 2016
12:10 am
And on every street corner you'll hear

I do want to put in a good word for my humor blog as a potential resident of your Friends page, or something to keep your RSS feed from being lonely. It's almost as easy as subscribing to my WordPress blog directly and there I only talk about subscribing to it once a month. Twice if you count the other blog. That's a respectable bit less of talking about it, right? Anyway, the things that I've published there this past week:

So to again capture the event while it's freshest and most timely let me give you some more pictures of this year's Silver Bells In The Underwater City.


The moment the rain seemed heaviest, just before a letup that made us think it would be all right after all. A marching band had gone through, just marching quickly and not quite playing, and before the next float were ... a couple people in reindeer costumes, with lights. There were also some people in gingerbread-man costumes. Everyone was walking faster by now, though.


One of the last floats to make it through and one zipping right along at that. From the Lansing Lugnuts. The mascot on the right is Big Lug, the lugnut-themed dragon that's the team mascot. As the rain got heavier he looked up to the heavens and raised his arms and challenged it to come down, so, we can blame him for the real squall.


Last folks I saw before the parade completely broke apart and people were urged to find safety: a couple of clowns. They were shaking hands and giving something (candy?) to kids on the sidelines before all sense of order collapsed.


Shelter! We found it inside City Hall. Here's bunny_hugger dazzling and radiant and soaked throughout, after my camera had been able to defog from moving suddenly inside. The stockings above her are labelled for the city departments, like Public Services and the City Attorney and all that.


What we saw after. It was still drizzling but you can see how stuff broke down. The police tape's snapped, there's debris all over the place, and the five-foot-tall star topper for the tree is listing dangerously north-by-northwest.


Still, a couple folks in reindeer costume were happy to pose for pictures. I don't know if they were in the parade or if they just went to the parade in character like this. Either way is great. They also took a lot of pictures for people who wanted them.

Trivia: In 1929 NBC produced a book All About Amos 'n' Andy answering questions frequently asked about the series; one of the four most commonly asked was about Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll's color. Source: The Adventures Of Amos 'N' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon, Melvin Patrick Ely.

Currently Reading: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-Made World, Mark Miodownik.

PS: A Thanksgiving Thought Fresh From The Shower, if you want a harmless puzzle. Don't we all?

Thursday, November 24th, 2016
12:10 am
Rocky's ready he just can't lose, yeah

When did the explosion come? When did Suppressed Player and AJG come to blows? Would the tension between them just destroy all chance for anyone to have fun?

It didn't come. In fact if you didn't know something was happening all you'd know is that AJG chose to wear a weird shirt. I can't swear that there wasn't trash-talking between them, but there's a certain amount of trash-talking between everybody in this sort of thing. (Well, within the normal social limits. People don't trash-talk me, except in the mildest ways, since I don't trash-talk anyone else, except in the silliest ways.) Suppressed Player also failed in his (evident) mission to knock AJG out of the tournament. Suppressed Player finished the main tournament in eighth place, while AJG won the whole affair. Well, that's pinball.

The main tournament was, for me, a bust. It was seven rounds of match play, with four points for the winner of each round, two points for the second-place finisher, and you know, I think I managed first place once. I don't remember doing terribly on any games, just that I regularly didn't do better than my competitors. I would end up in 27th place, out of 28, which would reinforce my faith that I'm a league player and not a tournament player. But ...

bunny_hugger would beat herself up for missed chances. But she qualified in the B division, and in the finals for that raised herself up to third place in B division, or 11th place overall. That is not at all bad and put her ahead even of MWS.

So, there was also a side tournament. This was on BIL's electromechanical game, Big Brave. Everyone would get to qualify by putting up two games; the eight people with the highest scores on that would go on to the finals. And fresh off Pinburgh and a lot of electromechanical game play I had my instincts ready. Play slow. Let the ball wear itself out. Flip as little as possible. Find drop targets. And, so, I put up the second-highest score in qualifying. I was not just in the finals but in a great place for the finals.

The finals were done in this climbing-ladder style. It's an ingenious way to increase the number of games the tournament winner can expect to have to play (giving the tournament value in the eyes of the International Flipper Pinball Association) without taking too incredibly long. The finals start with the fifth-through-eighth seed players competing. (IFPA likes groups of four people to play at once, and gives more weight to tournaments where people play in groups of four.) Whoever gets the lowest score in that is knocked out. The fourth-seeded player then joins the group. They play again. Whoever scores lowest is knocked out, and the third-seeded player joins the group. And so on. In the final round the highest-seeded player joins, and the four play, with the positions in this game setting the tournament's final positions.

So the finals are only five games, but it's quite reasonable that the champion had to play all five. Very good stuff. Also you can see why being second-seeded is such an advantage there. I only had to avoid being knocked out in one game to be part of the final four. And even if I were knocked out I'd just drop to 5th place.

My first match I wasn't knocked out. I think I didn't even have to finish my last ball. Another advantage of this format is you don't have to play your best; you just have to beat at least one person. I was in the finals.

And then --- well, I admit I know something about electromechanical games and maybe I do play them more than the average person in Michigan Pinball. But I'm no expert on them. And I know my fantastic qualifying score was, in good part, because I got lucky. I got several good bounces into a scoop worth very many points. I had a rough idea where that shot might be, but no hope of finding it again when I needed it.

I did find it, though. Once. And, you know what? That was enough. RLM, ordinarily a fantastic player, but up a brick of a game. AJG did better but didn't quite find what he needed. BIL, our host and owner of the machine, came very close. I was watching him intently, with that awful mix of appreciating really good play and hoping he got a bad bounce that would save me. And, he did.

I won the side tournament.


This is my first first-place finish in any tournament, or league. I'm still thrilled thinking of it, or looking at the little drinking-glass trophy for it. And I really have to retire the idea that I do well in leagues and lousy in tournaments. I just sometimes need a good game when it counts.

bunny_hugger didn't make finals in the side tournament, and actually finished in 18th. She couldn't find any shots on Big Brave, and even playing for fun after the side tournament she wasn't having much fun on it. That she placed ahead of other excellent players like MWS and even Suppressed Player, and wasn't unreasonably far off qualifying, was small consolation.

Trivia: The Flxible Corporation, makers of buses and other other public transport, drew its name from the flexible couplings, for connecting sidecars to motorcycles, that the company made when it started in the 1910s. Source: To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Disaster In Successful Design, Henry Petroski.

Currently Reading: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-Made World, Mark Miodownik.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Jordan Curve, something I'd been using in a Theorem Thursday post without explaining. Now I explain. And include a mathematical puzzle that you might just solve by doodling (admittedly, that you won't).

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
12:10 am
Rocky's ready to make a move, yeah

Back to August. So with the intensity and thrill and excitement of Pinburgh over, how to get back to the normal sort of daily living? Yes, go to another pinball tournament.

BIL, a schoolteacher with an amazing ability to keep explaining to his Facebook friends all the many ways the right-wing propaganda they pass on is stupid, held a basement tournament back in February. He set another one for early August. We got in among the thirty or so available slots. bunny_hugger bought tickets without quite telling me, so it was a happy little surprise. He's got a basement full of mostly modern games, with a couple of rarities like Pinball Magic. He also has a couple older games. The Mars, God of War he has finally got the sound fixed so it wasn't quite so rumbling and ominous a lumbering beast as back in February.

The main tournament was run as match play, groups of three or four people playing for 4, 2, 1, or 0 points. Seven rounds, with the top sixteen players going into the A division and the next eight going into the B division. The side tournament would be one of putting up scores on an electromechanical game, Big Brave, with the top eight players then going on to a ladder-crawl tournament I'll explain later.

A minor oddity of the day: that father-son team I've mentioned some were at the tournament. Normal enough; the place isn't so far from their home that travelling to it would be impractical. But the father seemed to vanish sometime during the day and nobody knew what happened. We quipped that he told his son to just hitchhike home, but it's still not clear what did go on. Possibly just we and everyone we mentioned this to happened not to see the father. Or the father had to take care of something and came back to pick up the son. Just a silly distraction on our day.

The day also promised to have extra entertainment. Remember dimly that back on our anniversary bunny_hugger and I saw the outlines of a major, jaw-dropping, superspectacular flame war among Michigan Pinball? This was only like six weeks after that. One of the people in that flame war was going to be there, specifically to knock out AJG, one of the other major participants. This guy doesn't normally compete in stuff like this, owing (if I understand it right) to disagreements with the International Flipper Pinball Association about what their rankings are even supposed to promote. He takes that seriously, and shows up on competitive-pinball lists only as ``Suppressed Player''. AJG knew Suppressed Player was coming. He poured oil on these troubled waters by making up a T-shirt with a # symbol and something or other directly referencing the flame war.

So, you know, everyone going in expected this was going to be a potent mixture of everyone sharing Pinburgh stories, and enjoying a casual hangout, and maybe get to see somebody slug another person. Who wouldn't be up for that?

Trivia: The original target market for Sweet and Low was diabetics. Dieters were a surprise. Source: Sweet and Low, Rich Cohen.

Currently Reading: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-Made World, Mak Miodownik.

PS: Reading the Comics, November 19, 2016: Thought I Featured This Already Edition, since last week was a busy one for comics.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016
12:10 am
Meeting smile after smile

Just going to jump ahead in time here to last Friday. I'll get back to August shortly. I need to catch the moment while it's fresh and timely though.

We went to the Silver Bells in the City after-dark parade and tree-lighting ceremony and all that. We do that most years now. It's traditionally held on the coldest day of the winter, the Friday before Thanksgiving. This time it was a warm day, about 70 degrees by 6 pm when things started. It didn't stay warm.

I've got some pictures on my humor blog because goodness but it was that funny. About an hour into the parade it began to drizzle. We knew there was a chance. Then it started to rain. People around us started clearing out and we could feel not so bad about opening up our umbrellas. There'd been warnings of the chance of rain from 7:45; so it was a half-hour early.

Then the skies really opened up, lightning flashed, winds kicked way up. Parade marchers started being parade runners instead. The trucks pulling floats went from the normal sedate pace to gunning it. Then, after a couple clowns tried to go on waving to and hugging kids, the squall really broke out. We heard someone shouting about how everything was cancelled. The rain got penetrating. bunny_hugger's umbrella turned inside-out. Unknown to us the Silver Bells social media person posted to Facebook and Twitter that all outdoor events were cancelled and people should ``Please get to safety''. We ran for it.

Ran for where? No idea. Anywhere would do. We were near City Hall and raced for that. bunny_hugger saw a lost single shoe. We got separated a couple times, but somehow, never seriously. A hundred thousand people or so were at the event and we evacuated in short order and somehow the two of us didn't lose one another.

So this was the first time we'd seen or heard of Silver Bells getting smashed like this in severe weather. It even knocked over the topper on the state tree. After the squall moved through and the rain was back to a steady, reasonably normal drizzle we got photos of that, and of some people in reindeer costumes photographing the aftermath. And since everything seemed to be over we went back to the car to drive home. It took about a half-hour to get out of the parking garage, although with the hindsight that there were something like a hundred thousand people downtown all trying to get out that really isn't so bad a wait. And we could blast the car's heater on our poor, soaked, saturated feet.

Trivia: In early 1812 the United States Senate killed a $450,000 appropriation to repair six Navy frigates, though the work had already begun and half the allocation already been spent. Source: Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought The Second War of Independence, A J Langguth.

Currently Reading: The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, Jodie Archer, Matthew L Jockers.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Image, featuring a photograph of our pet rabbit for absolutely no justifiable reason. You're welcome.

Monday, November 21st, 2016
12:10 am
Where there's never a boast or a brag

Another week, another nicely busy one on my mathematics blog. You can add this to your Friends page, or if you don't keep up with friends, to your RSS page, which surely is a thing, right? Well, run since Sunday were:

Now back to the eve of the 4th of July, and fireworks with bunny_hugger's parents.


Well before the town's fireworks got going we found a good comfortable spot to watch. bunny_hugger enjoys a sparkler. This is the same spot we overheard frogs the previous year, until the fireworks show stunned them into silence. Didn't notice any frogs this year.


Closer to the show bunny_hugger's father (seated) enjoys a sparkler too, and incidentally poses for the cover of his acoustic-guitar CD album.


Land Of Free, one of the (few) fireworks sets bunny_hugger's father bought to set off at their home. He only got a couple of fireworks this year although this was certainly the biggest I could imagine setting off. I'm not a natural firework-setter. I credit growing up in a state where they've been illegal for nearly a century and working in a gunpowder plant summers through college.


And then one of the fireworks set off in the driveway. I suppose this can't have been Land Of Free but I don't really know. I like that it's blurry and unfocused; that seems to give it more power to my eye.


And a more conventional shot of one of the fireworks tubes going wild. bunny_hugger's car is visible in the background, lit across the street by these goings on.

Trivia: The rare-earth metal tellurium has a garlicky taste. Source: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales Of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From The Periodic Table of the Elements, Sam Kean.

Currently Reading: The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, Jodie Archer, Matthew L Jockers.

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
12:10 am
We're unwanted strangers, exploited and dangerous

While we were away at Pinburgh the neighborhood changed forever. Last year a block of the street opposite our hipster pinball bar closed down, taking with it Emil's, possibly the oldest restaurant in Lansing. (There's another restaurant that makes very nearly the same claim.) This was for redevelopment, to knock down buildings nearly a century old and put up something with much less charm or visual appeal. If the consent-manufacturing session the developers had at our hipster bar was accurate, the buildings were in appallingly bad shape to the point that renovation was impractical.

Anyway, things had stood more or less unchanged apart from fewer buildings in the neighborhood having things in them from late October 2015 through summer. And then shortly before Pinburgh they put up those temporary fences that block off sidewalks. The suggestion was certainly that something would happen soon.

It happened while we were away. The whole block, apart from two buildings in fair shape and with paying tenants, was demolished. We got back to find a big, gaping emptiness where landmarks of the neighborhood had been. It was disorienting to see. It still is, even a few months later and after a lot of construction vehicles have apparently moved piles of dirt around.

A few weeks after this I noticed a canvas sheet over some of the construction fence. It had an elephant's head and the name ``Rajje's Taphouse''. Another canvas said ``It's A Circus In Here''. Obvious question: the heck, exactly? Apparently Rajje's Taphouse is one of the planned occupants of the new building. The owner wants to put up a bar that uses some of the fixtures that had been prominent in Emils, including some elephant-head figures. And that would be unobjectionable overall, even admirable. Except for that name ...

Rajje was an elephant for the King Shows and Circus. In September 1963 the elephant got loose from the show. Lansing residents, mostly school kids, started chasing the elephant, as if that were going to lead to anything good. The animal ran through a department store and was chased by the police for another two miles. Police shot and killed the elephant.

The bar's owner said he wanted a name that connected to a fun piece of local history. You know, the fun piece where Lansing residents hounded an elephant to its death. I'm going to go ahead and assume he also spearheaded the Bath Schoolhouse Bombing Tapas Grill. And he's hoping to get in on the 1966 Race Riot Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup Express Counter. Just, yipes.

Trivia: The full-sized electric locomotive Edison's laboratories developed in spring of 1880 drew 110 volts at 75 amperes, transmitted through the rails. It allowed the train to produce about 11 horsepower. Source: Edison: A Biography, Matthew Josephson.

Currently Reading: The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, Jodie Archer, Matthew L Jockers.

Saturday, November 19th, 2016
12:10 am
Why do these eyes of mine cry

bunny_hugger got the shocking news by Facebook, before she got out of bed and while I was showering. It was about Cedar Point. Their larger wooden roller coaster, the Mean Streak, had been subject of rumors for years that it was to be torn down. bunny_hugger had a feeling this might be its last season. And that early August day Cedar Point made the announcement official. Mean Streak was to close in about six weeks, and would be replaced by --- well, they didn't say. They still haven't. We have some good guesses, must be said. She told me of this as I showered, and when I saw MWS and K getting packed up and ready to drive home I told them. She'd gotten the news from them, which is just how news gets passed around anymore.

bunny_hugger and I had planned to stop in at Cedar Point on the way back. It's a pretty good halfway point between Pittsburgh and Lansing. MWS and K weren't going to be able to; I forget what drew them home sooner than we could. We'd just figured we would poke around, see what maybe might be easy to get to. Now we'd have a specific objective. We hugged MWS and K and spoke of how we'd meet up with them later. MWS at pinball events; K, who knows?

We don't make trips to Cedar Point in August, ordinarily, because the park is packed that time of year. I think the only August visits we've made to it have been on the way to or from Pennsylvania parks. It was a Tuesday and one of a stretch of pretty nice days but the park was still fairly busy. We stopped in for a bit of pinball, first, in the Casino Arcade since why skip that if we don't have to? I think that both Hercules machines, the oversized-yet-disappointing pinballs, were working, a bit of a novelty.

While walking back to Mean Streak --- it's at the far end of the point from the main parking lot --- we happened to go into a gift shop we normally ignore. It's the one opposite the Top Thrill Dragster, the 400-foot-tall roller coaster that's just a rapid climb and no-slower drop. It's fun but not a favorite of ours. So we jus didn't pay attention to the gift shop opposite it since we figured, what would be there but Top Thrill Dragster merchandise?

And the answer is: a lot of ride T-shirts. One for all of the roller coasters, in fact. Also patches, of the kind you can sew onto vests or the like. Also keychains. We would buy stuff for some of our favorite rides, including Mean Streak. We did note that sure, Cedar Point declares the end of one of our favorite rides there but at least they got us to give them a bucket of money for it. They had shirts for all the roller coasters, I believe, even the minor ones like the Woodstock Express kiddie coaster. Who could imagine? I got a Mean Streak and one for Corkscrew, which we've gotten to appreciate so much more in the last few years.

Despite the announcement Mean Streak didn't have a huge line. Possibly the news hadn't got out very far. Maybe six weeks out is too far for people to think of their last chances on a ride. The ride operator did share the news with people when we got to the station, surprising quite a few people. I noticed for the first time I remember this sign at the control booth. It was for Mean Streak Henry, one of those specific-ride enthusiasts, who'd had 15,000 rides on it between the ride's open in 1991 and the 27th of September, 2015. We did have to wonder what would happen to Henry, and to the other bits of decoration for the ride.

Mean Streak officially has (had) a ride photo, but we've never seen the photo booth open. It wasn't open that day either. We found Mean Streak merchandise in all the shops we poked into. It would all be gone by the next time we visited the park.

We'd figured to spend maybe an hour or two in the park. Amazingly, the little bit of stuff we'd done --- one or two pinball games, some gift shop browsing, and walking to the far end of Cedar Point and then back again --- too up the two hours we had to spare. So tempting as it was to get in another ride or two we didn't; we got back to the highway.

We had reasons. We wanted to get back to bunny_hugger's parents, so we could pick our pet rabbit up. And we couldn't keep them waiting to all hours of the night, not decently. They were in good shape, and seemed fascinated by all our talk about Pinburgh and what the experience was and how much everything we did. And our pet rabbit was in good shape.

We got home, and wondered at how intense the past week had been, and how we were supposed to go on to an ordinary old average Wednesday after that.

Trivia: The first ``flow director'', the single manager overseeing an entire space shuttle between landing of one mission and launch of another, was Bob Sieck, overseeing the April 1983 launch of Challenger, the sixth space shuttle launch. Source: A History of the Kennedy Space Center, Kenneth Lipartito, Orville R Butler.

Currently Reading: Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, William B Jones Jr.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Hat, in which my attempt to write something quick and little and easy takes 1400 words somehow.

Friday, November 18th, 2016
12:10 am
Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet

So what was on my Humor Blog the past week, if you didn't add it to your Friends page? Or if you didn't have an RSS reader set up for it? This stuff:

I'm trying out the last Indiana Beach pictures a little narrower than usual. c_eagle pointed out sometimes my default width forces a horizontal scroll and that's perfectly awful. This should fix that problem and I hope it hasn't been bothering anyone too much. If you open the image in a new tab you should be able to get the nice, fullest possible view of each image.


Steel Hawg in the twilight, as clouds that would, I believe, bring rain in the evening. Also the Indiana Beach main parking lot.


Tig'rr Coaster, including its queue and the Roller Coaster Tycoon-esque elevating pathway, as seen in twilight from the Cornball Express. No cars were stopped on the tracks in an inappropriate place as far as I know. Also, I love photos of challenging plays of light and isn't this a magnificent one?


Hoosier Hurricane's loading platform as seen from the pedestrian overpass for getting onto the ride. For some reason the front row seats were unavailable and I guess that'll just happen some.


The park, going to bed: our last glance at the Hoosier Hurricane and the Log Flume (which we hadn't ridden) as wel as the Horse Around kiddie, metal carousel.


The park, bedded down. View of the Hoosier Hurricane after all the park rides were shut down for the night, as seen from outside the gift shop, which wasn't done for the day quite yet.

Trivia: The Angel of Mons, a spirit guarding over the British retreat from Mons in August of 1914, began as a romantic, openly fictional short story by Arthur Machen which appeared on the 29th of September, 1914, in the Evening News. In the original short story there was no angel; it was ghosts of English bowmen dead at Agincourt joining the battle and slaying Germans with ghost arrows. The legend had mutated to an angel's guardianship within a week of publication. Source: The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell.

Currently Reading: Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, William B Jones Jr.

Thursday, November 17th, 2016
12:10 am
Why does my heart go on beating

With The Exterminator down there was only one more roller coaster to ride. The line was still unpromising but we didn't really have any better time for it. So we went to the front of the park, and Sky Rocket. The path took us past a couple Kennywood attractions, like the windmill that used to be the center of its lagoon, and a statue of George Washington. Kennywood has a bunch of historical plaques and monuments to the French and Indian War, the world war which George Washington started ... somewhere near here. The plaques admit that as best we can figure none of the skirmishes he was in were actually on what are not park grounds, but they'd be fools not to bring up the historic connections.

Sky Rocket --- if my photographs' time stamps are an indicator, a 20-to-25-minute queue --- is the park's newest roller coaster. It's a steel one, near the front of the park and running largely parallel to the highway outside the park. It's also a launched coaster, accelerating by electromagnetic thrust. It's a small, fast one, with a very comfortable stomach-hugging restraint that leaves your arms and head free while it loops upside-down. I suspect MWS liked this best of all the roller coasters. It's a respectable choice, though I'm fonder of wooden roller coaster generally.

So we had all our must-ride experiences done, and at only about a quarter past six. We could enjoy the four hours slated remaining without having to worry about getting stuff done. So we could ride something like the bumper cars, fun but essentially the same experience at every park. And we could share the fun of noticing a Kennywood Arrow at the bumper car ride at Lake Compounce; the bumper car ride at Kennywood hasn't got an arrow pointing to the park itself. I suppose there would be the problem of where to point it. The bumper car ride isn't one of those with a divided center and one-way traffic so arrows wouldn't be incidentally useful.

We spent a little time in a gift shop, the one that's vaguely UFO-shaped, figuring what we would want to take home. But we didn't buy anything, figuring we didn't want to carry that around for four hours and not wanting to waste time walking to the car and back. This might have been a mistake; I'd almost coaxed myself into getting a Noah's Ark T-shirt and as it turned out the gift shops closed before I could buy one. Such happens.

We did go back to Lost Kennywood and to the Black Widow, per K's request. And this time, thanks in part to bunny_hugger, I do know what happened. We were on line for it when it began to sprinkle. And then the ride shut down for the weather. And then the weather really hit, a pretty solid rain. It reminded me of being turned out of Kennywood our first visit and I wondered a bit if they were going to close early after all.

But they didn't make any announcement of this, and we ran in-between raindrops to the Ghostwood Estate. That's their Interactive Dark Ride, but on the idea that you're shooting ghosts with a Ghost Blaster as you putter around the rooms of Lord Kenneth Ghostwood's old manor house. It's one of those that keeps score as you shoot targets. I'm pretty sure K won our ride. In the event, it was a worthwhile ride getting on because while the line was long, the queue was also sheltered and we could stay dry while the storm carried on its unwelcome program.

That didn't quite outlast the storm, although between that and some lingering in other gift shops and waiting for K to get dog tags made (and there's a joke somewhere in there as he was wearing a retro-style Pound Puppies T-shirt) we were able to get to the far end of the rain, and find that the park wasn't closing early after all.

So we got to show MWS and K the wonders of Kennywood in twilight. Any amusement park looks better as the sun sets, and afterwards. But Kennywood looks really good. And add to that the many complicated reflections from a fresh rain! There's a reason movies shooting night scenes will soak the streets. The animated neon sign of the Turtle ride would be fantastic in any case. Add to it the maze of reflections and refracted light and the darkening sky and you have magic.

We would get a couple of night rides in. Sad to say Noah's Ark was closed and apparently stayed closed. Lost Kennywood, with its 1920s-style grand fountain and lights underneath and White City-inspired buildings trimmed with bulbs, was spectacular. And we could get a night ride on The Phantom's Revenge, which includes the highest vantage point for the park and the chance to, quickly, see the whole jewel in the Pittsburgh night.

We made it back to the main lagoon enough to see the laser light show, which didn't seem to have changed from the last time bunny_hugger and I were there. Also to get one last ride on Jack Rabbit for the night, one for which (I believe) we were lucky enough to get back-seat rides. (Not every roller coaster is best in the back seat, but Jack Rabbit is a probably one of them.)

We had time to run to one last ride, if we were lucky. Kennywood closes ride queues early so that everything shuts down pretty near the night's designated closing hour. Could we get back to Thunderbolt? ... Sky Rocket? ... no, we went for something safe, the Carousel. Which would be the right decision. We got there --- not too far from Jack Rabbit --- in time for the last ride of the night. They do hold the queue open longer than normal for the last ride of the night, mind. And it gave us an extra-full carousel ride for the close of the evening and the Kennywood Closing Theme.

We didn't hurry out right away. We lingered, especially on the bridge over the central lagoon, watching the lights and taking our own versions of the photo of the Racer and Jack Rabbit roller coasters over the water. bunny_hugger has one of these photos framed in the hallway. She re-takes it every visit, although it's impossible to quite duplicate anymore. A tree has grown up to the point that Jack Rabbit's neon logo is now obscured. Such is time.

And finally we left, at the back but not the very end of the mass of people. I was able to leap up to tap the Kennywood ``Goodbye'' heart, over the tunnel under the highway. Also we discovered there's apparently at least some people who holler all the way through the tunnel. Maybe it's a new thing. Hopefully it's not a lasting thing. Of park fan heritage I'd rather they pick up slapping the other riders on the racing coaster.

We made our way back to the car, and back to the hotel room, and none of us expected the news that would be there in the morning.

Trivia: As King of England, James I had his mother's body reinterred in Westminster Abbey, in a chapel opposite to the one holding Queen Elizabeth I's body. Source: The Life Of Elizabeth I, Alison Weir.

Currently Reading: Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, William B Jones Jr.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: General Covariance, one of those entries about which I don't feel satisfied but which I did have to stop writing.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
12:10 am
How life goes on the way it does

We did some pure sightseeing too, naturally, which was mostly wandering around the Kiddieland area. Kennywood was among the first parks to have a distinct organized Kiddieland section with small rides, four of which (I believe) are still there today. Also we could get pictures by a statue of Kenny Kangaroo. The actual mascot was never out and about that we saw that day and bunny_hugger and I have a perfect record of missing him. I think the Kennywood Arrow walkabout suit was going, but we weren't close enough for that slightly odd encounter.

It was a busier day than would have been ideal for us. We went for a ride in the Racer, the Möbius-strip wooden roller coaster that again is a survivor from the 1920s. And we could explain the problem of its station. It has a gorgeously restored 1920s-style station. The trouble is the station had been renovated in the 1950s and why wasn't that, which was more in the living memory of patrons, selected as the target to renovate to? The 1950s station was, from pictures, no less gorgeous a piece of Mid-Century Modern architecture. But that is always the problem; there's no preserving everything but Kennywood seems to try very hard.

Racer's a good ride, a racing coaster, and we were able to sit in matched seats after all, one in the left and one the right train. Kennywood hasn't adopted the Cedar Point racing coaster tradition of reaching out to slap hands with the rivals in the other cars, even though their cars come much closer. We could hand-slap anyway. Not sure what anyone else made of that.

Jack Rabbit, the other wooden coaster --- the one that dates to 1920, before there were the ``upstop wheels'' that make it impossible for a car to fly off the tracks --- had too long a line for our tastes. I did suggest the old mill ride, since this sort of tunnel-of-love attraction is very rare. But Kennywood's tunnel-of-love ride was, for the 12th year running, still the Garfield's Nightmare ride. Your boat takes you into a room with the setup of a Garfield strip like, oh, Garfield is thinking of eating. The boat reaches the next room. Oh no, the food is eating Garfield! Repeat eight times. There's a couple moving pieces, most of which don't anymore. Despite the rarity of this kind of ride we would have to admit to MWS and K that it wasn't that good, and we would spend the day without riding it after all.

So we rode the carousel again, while we were nearby. And rode the Kangaroo. That's another ride extinct except at Kennywood, although the Zamperla corporation is trying to breed a similar one they call a Kang-A-Bounce. The Kangaroo is a set of cars on a central axis. The cars go on a track, and part of the track is a steep climb that drops suddenly. On occasion the ride operator plays a cartoony ``boing-oing-oing'' noise. It's a simple ride but a great experience. K's hat flew off one of the bounces and fortunately it missed the track so it was not run over by Kangaroo cars again and again. K's hat flying off was funny, but made funnier in that MWS's hat also flew off during another ride and I forget which one.

Also we spent some time in the arcade. It's got your modern redemption games, of course. And some classic arcade games, plus Nintendo's 1983 Popeye. Also a bunch of old coin-op attractions on display for atmosphere, on shelves far away from grubby hands. Your Magic Chair Vibra-Massage chair, for example, or what look like old carousel horses, or nickelodeon movies like Johnny Comes Marching Home or Little Old New York, Movie Queen or Whipping The Huns. No pinball, which seems like such a weird oversight. MWS played a couple games, and I think he won a stuffed doll out of the crane machine, which he gave to a kid who was nearby. I think he gave some redemption tickets to a kid, too.

Jack Rabbit seemed to have a not-quite-so-bad line by this point and we were anxious we might not get the chance to ride at all if we kept waiting. After all, Kennywood doesn't have any proper formal closing time, although there are expectations. An unfortunate rain storm, as happened the first time I went there, could send us home early. So we took this chance and the wait wasn't as bad as we feared. Kennywood's older rides just don't have queue space, and have to make do with what they can squeeze out between buildings. This makes even something modest like a six-train queue look worse than it maybe is.

At some point in the day we got a square ice cream. That's another Kennywood specialty, from the Golden Nugget stand they have. Square bricks of ice cream, served on a double-headed cone, covered in chocolate and covered with nuts or sprinkles or, it turns out, both. These we had been talking up and we were sure they were worth the experience. We had them while listening to the end of one of the live shows, 80s Music Played By Amusement Park Performers. I think we joined them at the end of a Kiss number, since Kiss followed us to amusement parks all summer. The show ended pretty soon in our ice cream and we just sat there as a comfortable place to be.

And we took a circuit on the Miniature Railroad which I noticed for the first time says its trains come from the New York World's Fair, the one of 1938-39. This makes yet another piece of that World's Fair I've experienced. We'd get to see a bunch of the park from the 'far' side, and get fantastic views down the ravine. Also theoretically we might hear the train guide history of Kennywood, as we chugged past billboards showing vintage pictures, but the train was too loud and the speaker too soft to make out more than the occasional prepositional phrase, existing free and untouched in space.

Nagging at me all through the ride was thinking how my first visit to Kennywood the Miniature Railroad had been the last ride we'd been on before getting something to eat and discovering the park was about to close. There wasn't any sign of rain, though, and the Voice of Kennywood was already reassuring us they planned to close for the night at 10:00, a normal hour for that time of year.

We had the one more roller coaster to get to. Two, if you counted The Exterminator, although by then we were giving up on it ever opening. We paused a while watching and recording the Laffin' Sal, an animatronic figure that is just ... this homely woman that keeps shaking around and laughing. It's hard to explain the appeal. But Kennywood has one from the golden days of slightly creepy animatronic figures and dark-ride houses and whatnot. We didn't figure we'd ever see another one. We were wrong about this, and in a most surprising way.

Trivia: By 1908 the New York City subway system carried 800,000 people per day, a third above the maximum planned capacity. Source: 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York, Clifton Hood.

Currently Reading: Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, William B Jones Jr.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
12:10 am
I can't understand, no I can't understand

K wanted to ride the Black Widow, which is this giant spinning disc that itself rides a pendulum. I'm happy to ride that sort of thing too. bunny_hugger doesn't like to, and neither does MWS, because that sort of thing can leave one nauseated quite fast. So it turned out we made good riding partners; we're both able to take that sort of movement yet. We also agreed we might ride the Aero 360 ride, an inverted-seat rocking swing that brings passengers upside-down and holds them, something bunny_hugger's stomach won't let her ride. MWS's neither. It happens we never got around to that, but we kept looking over that way.

Once again my recollections are getting confused here. I could swear that K and I rode this twice. Also that one time we were in line for it but couldn't ride because something shut the ride down a while. I thought that interruption was before lunch, but also remember the interruption being for weather. It did rain a bit, but later in the day. I'm not sure how to reconcile this. bunny_hugger, who spent the time we were in queue sitting underneath the nearby pizza pavilion with MWS, may have a better understanding of how this all fits together. We pointed out to K and MWS that on some shelves far above the pizza pavilion were a few little cages. They're from the 1930s, when the park was smaller and thrills needed to be cheaper, and Kennywood improved its value-for-money by having a little menagerie including caged raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels. K seemed more enchanted by the idea of an amusement park that (a) would show squirrels as an attraction and (b) would keep the cages for eighty years after that.

We got lunch indoors, at the Parkside Cafe, the building of which dates back to 1898 and so makes even the squirrel cages and the Johnny Rocket's building look like newcomers. It was a good chance to sit in air-conditioned comfort and to avoid the wait for Kennywood French Fries. I think we failed to get any, actually, so that we weren't able to see whether MWS and K agreed with the Pittsburgh amusement park community that they're the best thing humanity has ever done or whether they're just, you know, pretty good but it's not like every amusement park doesn't know how to make fries.

The thing bunny_hugger and I most wanted to go to, and Kennywood's big draw for the 2016 season, was the Noah's Ark. The ride goes back to 1936 more or less, and it's the lone survivor of a family of amusement park rides. It's basically a funhouse on a rocking base, with pop-up stunts and gusts of air and shaky floors and other little pranks, all for some reason bundled into something that looks like your classic Ark with bobbling animal heads and whatnot. Kennywood's got a major tear-down rebuilding about twenty years ago, and it needed some big repairs and for the 2016 season got them.

The most obvious change: they brought back the Whale Mouth. You used to enter the Ark by walking into the gaping mouth of a blue whale, and you don't think of how you get from that to inside the Ark thank you. In the 1996 renovation this had been removed; when we visited the park before we went in through one of those mock elevator rooms that would ``plummet'' to a coal mine or something. Now there was a restored giant whale to walk into.

What's fun about any dark ride or walkthrough funhouse or similar attraction are the stunts. The props that show scenes, that do something. The stuff that's always broken. Even Kennywood, grand as it is, has trouble keeping everything going. The Exterminator roller coaster has, in our experience, slightly over half the stuff in it working, but it's usually different stuff each time we visit. The Noah's Ark in our previous visits suffered the same problems of stuff not reacting and often being left in the dark to avoid showcasing the disappointment. But this time, maybe two months off the complete renovation, everything was working. Or nearly everything. There weren't obvious gaps in the walkthrough, anyway. Lots of stuff painted with fluorescent paints, too, so you got that eerie unnatural glow. Lots of animals --- finally, the ``Noah's Ark'' name makes at least a little sense --- doing stuff. We recognized a few of the stunts from previous visits, but not too many.

So I felt great and quite liked it. MWS got a bit nauseated from the ship's rocking, which is unfortunate. It's part of the design of the ride, of course, but that doesn't make feeling it any better.

Well, that was the thing bunny_hugger and I most wanted to ride and it was what we could hope for. We could spend the rest of the day pointing neat stuff out to K and MWS. For example, The Turtle ride. That's another nearly extinct ride; the only other one is at Conneaut Lake Park and that one's called the Tumble Bug. It also had some special fun for MWS as our pinball friend CST is a turtle authority. The ride, at Kennywood since 1927, is metal tubs chugging along a circular track that rises and falls. You sit inside, un-belted, and fall over on your seatmats. It's a fun ride, and it's well-situated, next to the ravine leading to the river and tucked, in part, underneath the track of The Phantom's Revenge roller coaster.

And from there we leapt to The Thunderbolt, one of Kennywood's three and strange wooden roller coasters. Thunderbolt dates in part back to the 1924, as Pippin, which is the sort of thing you could name stuff back then to sound all hep and with-it. But in 1967-68 it was massively rebuilt and expanded. It's still a fantastic ride, and a nice weird one, in part by starting off with a steep drop out of the station. The park's geography lets it do strange things like have the main lift hill be the middle part of the ride.

I remembered there was talk about getting actual working electric lights on the trains. Back in the day there had been light fixtures, but they kept burning out. Some Carnegie-Mellon engineering students had ideas on how to make working headlights using modern, more reliable technology, and Kennywood was listening to them. But I never heard how that turned out, and if there were working lights on any of the trains we didn't notice.

Trivia: Among the uses Belgian King Leopold II found for the over 100 million francs of bonds his Congo Free State properties issued was a new gallery --- decorated with 85,000 geraniums for its opening day --- for a seaside racetrack he often visited. Source: King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild.

Currently Reading: Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, William B Jones Jr.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: The Fredholm Alternative and if just the name of this doesn't captivate you then we may have nothing to talk about, I'm sorry.

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