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

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Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
12:10 am
And you, shoe maker

Quietly, while we slept, Pinburgh was transforming.

We did go to bed early. I think we were both out by midnight. The ReplayFX convention was continuing, and there were even all the pinball games and video games in the public area still available to play. Competition games were forbidden but there were still many things we could play if we wanted. Many rare games. We didn't want. We had been warned that Pinburgh would be exhausting. Superficially, five rounds of play --- twenty games --- doesn't seem like it should be that much. But it was. Some of it's physically. Some of it's just the stress of being in tournament play for twelve hours, less two hours for lunch. We slept. I slept well, of course. bunny_hugger slept less well. The bed was too soft, and transmitted all my very many movements directly to her.

While we slept the nature of the tournament changed. I suppose it was really done before we had got to bed, but, eh. The first day was one of qualifying. It worked out, as best as any mere five rounds of play can, roughly the division of skill. The 684 participants would be sorted into four divisions.

My first day's record put me in the middle of C division. Almost right in: I would start Friday seeded 84th out of 171. A bunch of the Michigan Pinball people would end up there. I'm not embarrassed. There were celebrities there too. Roger Sharpe, the guy who brought legal pinball to New York City with his famous called shot, and who brought modern licensing into pinball giving us so many of the great games of the 90s, was in the C division, seeded 118th.

bunny_hugger did not place into C division. She made it to B, 106th seed. She was up with heavy-hitters like CST (115th seed), SMS (12th seed), and ADM (150th). ADM was a special case: he didn't actually have a good enough record for the B Division. But he had ranked so highly at Pinburgh the year before he was restricted and could not be placed lower than B Division, one of the tournament's moves to avoid sandbagging.

MWS, meanwhile, made it into the A Division, at 100th. AJH, already (I think) the lock for first place in the Michigan rankings for 2016, was there too, at 91st. AND was in the A division at 30th; his son at 10th. (!) SJG, a guy I knew back at Rutgers, and whom we didn't know was attending Pinburgh, was at the bottom of the A division, 172nd.

And some poor folks would end up in the D division. JIM, particularly. Frustrating but he would have the same chance to finish in the top 40 as everyone else in the division. And in the D division the track records would be wiped clean; everyone would start from the same base. A good day of play and he could finish as a division finalist yet.

We got up Friday. I showered without flooding the bathroom, although I did it in part by building up a little wall of surplus towels to make sure something stopped the water. It didn't get out of the shower area anyway. We got coffee and tea, I think, from the same little coffee stand. And we headed over while hearing unsettling rumors abut Saturday.

The convention center had a new event scheduled for Saturday. It wouldn't force ReplayFX or Pinburgh out, not exactly. But it would limit the access along many routes. It might block off who could enter or exit the center at all. Rumors were that for Saturday cars leaving the hotel parking lot wouldn't be allowed back in. I trusted that my car was still in the bus terminal's garage.

Hillary Clinton was to have a campaign rally at the convention center. We thought back to our Kentucky Kingdom trip, made more complicated by the NRA Rally and Donald Trump's appearance. We wanted to know what it was that our few vacations of the year were being stalked by presidential candidates and also Donald Trump.

Trivia: Joe Penner's ``You Wanna Buy A Duck?'' routine adopted the duck only in 1933. Before that he had tried the bit with ``Hippopotamus''. Source: American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny, Christopher Miller.

Currently Reading: Discovering the Natural Laws: The Experimental Basis of Physics, Milton A Rothman.

PS: Why Stuff Can Orbit, Part 6: Circles and Where To Find Them. Finally some useful quantitative results from all this central-force problem stuff!

Friday, October 21st, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all warble like nightingales, give your throats a treat

I didn't forget my humor blog. Here's what it's been doing the past week:

Once more now we take in pictures of Indiana Beach. It's a small park I admit but we haven't got near all the interesting stuff there.


Steel Hawg: their newest coaster. Also a very compact one, despite appearances. It looks quite a bit and spirals around, but it's got a very narrow profile. The ride's off on the other end of the parking lot from the rest of the park, as if Indiana Beach figured it would grow in that direction before the financial crisis of 2007-08 spoiled everybody's fun and poor management leading up to 2015 really trashed the park. It's a breathtaking ride; don't leave your camera in your cargo pants pockets as that will press into the seats.


Hoosier Hurricane's launch station as seen from the pedestrian walkway leading into it. Later in the day for some reason the front seats would be closed off, but we could get a front-seat ride early. Light day of business at the park.


Looking back on the main park from the Hoosier Hurricane station. There's a log flume, Siamese twin to the roller coaster, in the foreground. Horse Around and the kiddieland are in mid-range. Cornball Express and Tig'rr Coaster are in the background. Total depth of field here: like 25 feet. It's a really packed space.


Just so you know I'm not making some crack about the midwest calling it the Cornball Express and all, that's what they really do call it here. The building in-between the foreground signs is the Fasciation parlor. And yeah, that's a guy squeegee-ing up the rain and spillover from the log flume.


Whac-a-Mole attraction in the shooting gallery attached to Frankenstein's Castle. Tell me that typeface doesn't bring back warm memories of 1983. I dare you.


I B Crow, pitching tacos they claim to be the best in the world as proclaimed by the Food Network. We gave it serious thought but couldn't be sure there were vegetarian tacos or burritos or anything. The people queued up behind the World Famous Tacos sign are there for the Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain, which would be a great ride just for its name alone.

Trivia: 232 of the 1,817 pounds in the Voyager space probes were dedicated to scientific instruments. Source: Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, Stephen J Pyne.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Metal Men, Volume 1 Editor Peter Hamboussi. Boy but this is three parts fascinating and four parts stupid, which I guess is what you read DC Comics Of The Sixties for.

Thursday, October 20th, 2016
12:10 am
Little old lady welcome

Back to Pinburgh, to the convention center. There'd be two more rounds of qualifying. The first two rounds we were seeded at random; now we were being put in groups that roughly matched our total won-loss record. My 0-12 round three dropped me from 390th seed (out of 684) down to 617th.

I got put into Set 31, ``Taurus''. The modern game was Metallica, which you can find at every pinball venue these days. There's two approaches to take on this: shoot for the electric chair (``Sparky'') or shoot for the snake (``Snake''). Sparky's easier but risks center-draining. The snake's harder but less likely to ping out of play. Doesn't matter; we all put up lousy games on it. I didn't do badly, though; I think I got out of it in second place.

Stars was the early solid-state game. It's one I know from playing in Flint contests. It's got an easy objective: knock down the drop targets, then shoot the spinners. It played different from the one I knew. I didn't dare risk a slick move we'd learned for this game: it's possible to bounce the ball from one flipper to another by letting it bounce off the center post. If it's going fast enough and if the rubber on the post is bouncy enough. No, not daring that.

Space Station was the late-solid-state game. Again a pretty familiar one; it's also on Pinball Arcade. And it too treated my kindly, as I resorted to just trying to hit all the standing targets. Mars Trek was the early-solid-state game, another one made by a Spanish company and one none of us had ever heard of before. It's got this fun little pair of spinners connected by a horseshoe and I heard warnings that the scoop in the middle of this kicked the ball down the center. It didn't for me. I had a fantastic ball one and didn't humiliate myself on balls two or three.

So I got out of the round with 10 wins and 2 losses, almost a perfect reversal of my round three catastrophe. I'd bounce up from 617th-seed to 505-th seed. Meanwhile bunny_hugger, on the bank ``Miaplacidus'', would have almost as good a round and get her second 9-3 set.

The electromechanical game for this round was to be Williams's 1977 Argosy, which even by then everyone was calling ``Aaargh-osy''. Bit of a rough one. But my recollection is that the game was taken out and replaced and now I don't know what it was replaced by. Maybe I'm mis-remembering.

The late-solid-state game, stretching the definition a bit, was Williams's 1993 Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's also on Pinball Arcade. It also noted there was some glitch with the Mist Multiball; a magnet's supposed to drag the ball across the playfield and it wasn't doing that. Maybe that was to keep the highly skilled players from dominating their bank. Several games were nerfed in one way or another to keep down ball times. I played this a fair bit back at Rutgers, trying to find the good parts, but it always struck me as a dark, muddy mess back then. When I've played it lately I've ... not had reason to change my opinion.

I had some serious glory in the early-solid-state game, Williams's 1980 Algar. It's got a nice cheery theme and some giant lion-man art to it. And I kept finding the way up to the pop bumpers and at one point a tremendous bonus. Felt really good.

And then the modern game, another that's on Pinball Arcade: Sega's 1997 Starship Troopers. I mentioned going in, this was a game I'd never played before, based on a movie I never saw, based on a book I never read, ``so I'm expecting great things here!'' I allowed that I did know its flame war. And then having ritually disclaimed my skills I would have one of those Beginner's Luck games. You know, the ones where everything just goes right. Where you keep hitting jackpots. Keep finding multiballs. Keep restarting multiballs somehow. I'll never have a game like that again. But here I had just the game I needed to dominate our quartet. One of the folks from my 0-12 round happened to be nearby and mentioned how glad he was I hadn't been crushed.

As good as that round felt, and it did feel very good, it wasn't actually that triumphant for me. I came out with 7 wins, 5 losses. That would bring my first-day total to 28 wins, 32 losses.

bunny_hugger had a disheartening round in her bank, ``Columba'': 4 wins, 8 losses. But then she'd started the round as 193rd seed, and held her own well in that tough field. She ended the first day of qualifying with 31 wins, 29 losses. This may not sound like very much better than I did, but then she was tied with CST --- best player in Lansing league every season so far --- and that's not nothing.

Overnight all 684 players would be sorted into four divisions. Friday would see everyone compete to make the finals --- the top 40 --- of their group.

Trivia: The word ``drivel'' first appears in English as the verb, ``to drivel'', meaning to let saliva flow from the mouth or nose. By 1362 the verb had moved to mean ``to talk childishly or idiotically''. It would not appear in print as a noun until 1852. Source: Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning, Sol Steinmetz.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Metal Men, Volume 1 Editor Peter Hamboussi. And they visit a lifeless planet where they conclude everyone was killed by an evil amusement park. While the park is certainly evil it seems like that requires some collaboration on the part of patrons to kill everyone in the world.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016
12:10 am
And you baker

After Thursday's lunch we went back to our hotel room to rest some. You'd be surprised how tiring standing around playing an hour of games and then pausing can be. And bunny_hugger wanted to follow up a hot tip she'd gotten. There was this web site where people at Pinburgh were putting up rules and bits of advice for games. Since Pinburgh had a bank of hundreds of pinball machines, many of them from the 60s and 70s that nobody had heard of, more of them from the 80s that nobody's played since the 80s, all advice about rules and strategy was welcome. But she couldn't get the Wi-fi in the convention center to work and even when it did, the site, a rather slick Javascript-ready one, didn't work well with her old iPod.

There was an alternative: a PDF with at least a static list of the tips people had submitted. She just had to download it to her computer, easy. And then get it from her computer to her iPod, agonizingly hard. You can transfer plain old files from computer to iPod, but Apple really doesn't want you to, even if you have something on the iPod that can read the file. She spent much of the downtime and burned up much of her rest trying to get a file onto her portable computer.

I dismissed the site's value, on what I thought reasonable social factors. To wit: nerds always give too much advice. They have no idea how to teach, which is to give one or two thoughts and then time to ponder and practice them, and then repeat. They instead blow through everything possible there is to know about the subject, never noticing that the student zoned out after three sentences and now is pondering what body part to chew off to escape all this. I imagined that the advice tossed together by the pinball community would be like that: Forty rules, many of them contradictory, that the expert would find did indeed perfectly explain the entire map of everything that could possibly be done in the game. And no awareness that what you need is ``clear the drop targets twice before you shoot the spinner, because then it's lit for 10,000''.

Well, I was wrong. PinTips.net has turned out to be almost perfect as a shorthand advice site. Each bit of advice is a sentence or so, about as long as a tweet. Few games have more than six pieces of advice. You can look up a game you never heard of and get enough stuff to help and not more than you can keep in mind. There are some games where the number of tips are running out of control, such as Game Of Thrones. But that's also a game with such a complicated rule set that nobody understands them all. Twelve pieces of advice are not too many there. And there's some nerdly overkill, for example, Tales of the Arabian Nights advising how to max out the wizard mode, not a concern for most people. But more of the tip sheets are like Taxi, advising how to collect the jackpot (which isn't obvious from the rule card, if it's on the machine, or from studying the notes on the playfield) and giving the good-to-follow advice about how to keep the game in multiball.

That was our break. Back to Pinburgh for the last two rounds of the first day's qualifying, and my attempt to rebuild my spirits after my third round 0-12 shutout.

Trivia: In the referendum held 28 February 1861, North Carolina voters narrowly rejected a secession convention. Of the 86 counties thirty voted for secessionist, thirty-five voted unconditional unionist, seventeen conditional unionist, and four divided votes to no decision. Source: The Confederate Nation 1861 - 1865, Emory M Thomas.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Metal Men, Volume 1 Editor Peter Hamboussi. There is a surprising lot of continuity between adventures considering every page is written like they assume the reader has never read an issue of the characters, or possibly anything, before. It all moves very well but if feels like the characters would break if they had a fourth stock phrase to repeat, Doctor Jerkface included.

PS: The End Of 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Any Requests? as I build up to a new round of this.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
12:10 am
Milkman come in!

We went to lunch and I'm not positive which of two lunch experiences we had first. One of these was the Thursday lunch and one the Friday and I'll just trust bunny_hugger remembers better which is which or else it doesn't matter after all.

For one of the lunches we gathered in the Westin lobby to meet with the rest of the Michigan pinball folks. There we'd move in a huge, confused, lumbering mass toward some nearby restaurant, the way any large group that hasn't perfectly coordinated where we're going for lunch will. We missed out on MWS and CST, both of whom agreed they'd meet us at lunch, again without the perfect agreement about where lunch was going to be, and as it happened they went somewhere else entirely.

What the mass ended up going to was a Qdoba. And that's all right, possibly the best way to get a bunch of twenty or so people food that they want without being impossibly taxing on the wait staff or forcing a huge party to wait forever for everyone's meal to be ready and then eat fast so we could get back to the day. But it's also boring; I mean, we could go to Qdoba here. At least we could have gone to a chain that was present in Pittsburgh and rare in Lansing. And at that Michigan Pinball managed to slashdot the Qdoba. Our flood was enough that some of the first people through the line finished eating by the time the last of us (including me and bunny_hugger) could sit down. We could commiserate some with the folks we were sitting near, but mostly, it was a fast and confusing lunch. Still, I got to talk about my perfect 0-12 round (which is why I feel like this was probably Thursday's lunch).

The other lunch we went in a smaller mob back to Sienna Mercato and their meatballs, or as they put it, balls. They put it less insistently this time. The place was packed full and that seemed bizarre considering it was like 4 pm. And then we realized: oh yeah, the whole of Pinburgh got out at about the same time and surely every restaurant in a few blocks of the convention center was filled with pinball players.

And what pinball players! Someone pointed out to us a guy at one of the wall booths: Lyman F Sheats. I grant you may not know this name. If you see many pinball games after they've had their high score tables wiped, though, they'll often have his LFS initials as the default score. He's a pinball designer and programmer. It's his software behind games like Attack From Mars, Medieval Madness, Monster Bash --- there's an Easter egg there called ``Lyman's Lament'' which even includes his taunting of the player --- and modern games through at least to Iron Man. So, you know, an honest-to-goodness pinball celebrity. We let him alone, since that seemed the decent thing to do, although bunny_hugger did toss a few silly flirty moves when she was confident he wasn't looking. And if he (or anyone he was sitting with) noticed they didn't bring it up. Just silliness.

As I say, I forget which of those was Thursday's and which was Friday's lunch. I think it was that order but if it wasn't, it's only a slight difference.

Trivia: Many of the healers in France's Auvergne region, through the 19th century, were also blacksmiths, a profession traditionally associated with magic. Source: The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, Graham Robb.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Metal Men, Volume 1 Editor um ... will Peter Hamboussi do? That's close enough, I think. Probably. Boy does Dr Jerkface spend a lot of time ordering Platinum to stop getting her girl responsometry all over his semi-ept superhero team-leading.

Monday, October 17th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all sing like the birdies sing, sweet, sweet sweet, sweet sweet

It was another four-post week in my mathematics blog. I can't take all the credit. Splitting a comics post over two days did a lot of the work. Anyway, I put out one of my massive posts too. If you weren't reading, here's what you missed:

And now back again to Indiana Beach and some more pictures of the amusement park there.


The Cornball Express, their name not ours, running down the shoreline of Indiana Beach. One of the park's features is in the flying scooters ride on the right there: they have to build out over the waterline, which adds considerably to the thrill of any ride. (Much of the roller coaster is also over water, but it's harder to appreciate that.)


Peering out from the Cornball Express station at the Kiddieland area, with a firefighter ride, a junior Whip, and the Wabash Cannonball miniature railway. The paint on the ground suggests that the railroad used to stop outside the pavilion, somewhere near where the benches on the right are. No idea why they changed.


And the Cornball Express from its station. Tig'rr Coaster's in the background. Again, if you don't love the safety sign there we have issues. The elevated walkway means that as you leave you do walk over the train tracks, always fun and a sign of park crampedness.


Dragon Wagon! The kiddie roller coaster that could have been bunny_hugger's 200th, if it were running. It wasn't, and it didn't look like it would run anytime soon, but apparently we just caught it on a bad day. As desolate as the area looked apparently the ride's normally operating.


On the left, the kiddieland rides. Above, I believe, are supports for the platform Tig'rr Coaster and the Cornball Express are on. To the right, picnic pavilions and shelters A and AA. Not seen: shelter CHOO.


The 1950s aluminum-body carousel, for a rarity not named Carousel or Grand Carousel or the like. Horse Around is if nothing else a distinctive name for the ride. It's a small carousel and we failed to get a picture of the maker's plate, unfortunately. We suspect the Herschell company. The chariot is plain but marked I B, so at least they have that to tell you which park it is.

Trivia: Insurance rates for ships around 1460 Italy would range from about 1.5 percent of the insured value for a single voyage from Genoa to Marseilles; 5 to 7 percent for a single voyage from Genoa to England; around 10 percent for Genoa to Flanders. Salt would require higher premiums than cargo which could safely float in barrels in case of shipwreck. Source: Gold and Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages, Jean Favier.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Superman Family, Volume 1, Editors Robert Greenberger, Emily Ryan Lerner. ``Here it is, Chief ... the story of the greatest dog hoax of the century!'' You know, Jimmy, I'm going to go ahead and give you that.

Sunday, October 16th, 2016
12:10 am
Never sleeping

The Pinburgh event would be ten rounds. In each round a pod of four people play four games. The games represent the major eras of pinball: electromechanical (roughly, before the mid-70s), early solid-state (mid-70s to mid-80s), late solid-state (mid-80s to 1990), and modern/dot-matrix display (1991 to present). If you play Pinball Arcade --- and if you like pinball you should, if nothing else to learn rules and develop strategies --- you can have a taste of it. Play, say, Central Park or Big Shot for the electromechanical era. Xenon or Gorgar for early solid-state. Earthshaker or Diner for late solid-state. For the modern era, oh, Tales of the Arabian Nights or Road Show. The idea is that the best pinball player ought to be someone skilled in all the eras of pinball, and all the different kinds of games there are to play.

My first pod was put into a group of tables named ``Djulpan''. We were assigned together at random, as everyone was in the first two rounds, which makes it noteworthy that one of the people in the group was in my friend JIM's pinball league back home. Our first game was Jack-Bot, an old friend and one at our local league. Everyone else shot themselves in the foot trying to play clever. Jack-Bot has a ``valid playfield exploit'': if you plunge the ball extremely softly but keep control of it, you can make several shots without the game registering that the ball is in play, so you get extra time to play with the ball saver turned on. The catch is this requires knowing just how the specific table you're on works. Nobody had that; nobody's allowed to touch the machines except during their actual game. So everyone else fumbled away their first two balls. I just played like it was an ordinary game, and my mediocre score was enough to win that. Good start, albeit one helped by my opponents making a strategic error.

That was our modern-era game. The electromechanical game was Bally's 1968 Gator, on which we all raced to the bottom. Everyone who played the game called it one of the most impossibly cruel ones in the tournament. I liked it. The early-solid-state was Stern's 1980 Cheetah, which I've played at MJS's pole barn. So I knew something of what to do, and did tell what I knew to my competitors. It's an early solid state; hit banks of drop targets and the spinner when lit. The late solid state game was Williams's 1986 High Speed, a game I know well from Pinball Arcade but don't get to play much in person. But the layout is very similar to Getaway: High Speed II, one of the mainstays at our local league. I could do well enough there.

Though Pinburgh is a Professional And Amateur Pinball Association event it doesn't use PAPA-style scoring because of course. You just get points for however many people you beat on the game. So first place gets 3 points, second place 2, third place 1, last place 0. Unless, somehow, your group had only three people in it, in which case your 2/1/0 is multiplied by 1.5. And there were some groups of three people, despite this being the biggest pinball event of the year and people being literally on a waiting list: there were 684 competitors for the 700 possible spots. MWS got into a three-person group his first pod.

So I finished the first round with a total 5-7. Fair, could've been better. bunny_hugger had a rougher time, finishing her first round 4-8.

There was some down time before the second round; we had basically two and a quarter hours between rounds and that meant something like an hour of free time between rounds. This let me discover there was Wi-Fi, so I could check up on stuff on my iPod, but that the Wi-Fi wasn't very good. Competitive pinball may yet drive us to get smart phones.

Second round, for me. The game bank named Pleiades. The modern game was Attack From Mars, which everyone knows and can master. Somehow we didn't master it. Possibly they set it to play extra hard. Electromechanical game was Super Straight, a 1977 game from Segasa of Spain. (Which, yes, is late for an electromechanical but I guess older-style games were still being made overseas by then.) Hit standing targets, hit the spinner, hope for a good first plunge. Grand Lizard was the late solid state, a gift to me. I've played that a good number of times in Flint games. Plus it has a magna-save, a button to rescue balls going out the sides of the machine. I would do well on games with magna-saves. Early solid state Black Pyramid, where I found one thing to do and kept doing that. That thing was building bonuses. It was a good thing to do. I got through the round 6-6. I had visions of making B division float in my head. bunny_hugger's second round would be a little better for her, and she'd get a 5-7.

The first two rounds were assigned at random. From the third round on we'd be put preferentially up against people with similar standings, the better to spread out and break up ties. So if eight games can be said to distinguish skill level I was now starting to play people about my demonstrated level. I got a pretzel and a bottled water and a tip about how there were cheaper sodas in a vending machine outside the main hall.

Third round. The set called Lyra. Modern game, Williams's 1998 Monster Bash, an old familiar friend with lots of fun modes and great shots to score points and I came in last. Electromechanical game, Williams's 1976 Aztec, which I've played some. CST owns one, and he offered good advice on how to squeeze points fast out of it. I didn't have any balls last long enough to get points and I came in last and felt bad admitting that I couldn't take his advice. Late solid state game, Bally/Midway's 1988 Escape from the Lost World (unrelated to The Lost World that I played as warmup) with a really tricky but worthwhile upper playfield if you find some worthwhile shots. I didn't. Early solid state game, Gottlieb's 1981 Volcano, with a positively compelling four-tier ball lock hole on which I found nothing.

I would have a perfect round, zero wins and 12 losses. People who had rounds perfect the other way, 12 wins and 0 losses, would get t-shirts or plaques or something as well as their names announced at the start of the next round. (One person in my pod that round would go 11-1 and feel that keen heartbreak of doing nearly perfectly well.) Us perfect losers? We got to try consoling ourselves. bunny_hugger would have a much better round --- well, how could she not? --- but she had a great round by any count. 9-3. I finished the first three rounds 13 wins behind .500. She finished exactly at .500.

And now we would have a break. Some time to get lunch.

Trivia: The phrase ``slaves for fashion'', as escalves de la mode, first appeared in print in 1694, in the first edition of the French Academy's dictionary. ``Fashion Queens'' appeared in 1719. Source: The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour, Joan DeJean.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Superman Family, Volume 1, Editors Robert Greenberger, Emily Ryan Lerner. You know, the various crime organizations in Silver Age Metropolis seem really poorly organized even considering they all end up arrested by Superman after crossing Jimmy Olsen. Of course that could be a matter of institutional experience; newbie crime bosses figure there's an opening in Metropolis while experienced ones know the environment just won't support it.

Saturday, October 15th, 2016
12:10 am
We're drinking all night

Morning! We could get up, shower, and flood the bathroom. The room we were staying in was wheelchair-friendly, which meant there wasn't any kind of divider between the shower stall and the rest of the bathroom floor. Without thinking I used the shower head while facing the wall and so covered the bathroom floor in upwards of eight feet of hot water. I would learn better, and stand so I pointed the shower head toward the wall instead despite this being a violation of the laws of man, nature, and nature's god, and I wouldn't flood the bathroom again until Sunday. I don't know what happened then. I warned bunny_hugger about this but not forcefully enough for her to be ready to step into a pool of tepid shower water before she'd had her coffee.

We emerged downstairs listening to directions it was a little too early in the day to understand and sought out anywhere in the hotel we could get a little bit of breakfast. Like, a doughnut or bagel and coffee. This we found at a spot called Crazy Mocha which we have pegged as Pittsburgh's Biggby. It would be a weirdly slow process getting our bagels and, for me, tea, but we made it through with our lives and dignity intact. We could go on to trying to follow directions to the David L Lawrence Convention Center, across the street, and the location of the ReplayFX Convention, the event hosting Pinburgh. It turned out to be that we could either use the pedestrian footbridge or just go outside and cross the street, but you know, this stuff seems complicated the first time you see it. Again we made it through with our dignity and lives intact.

We got into the convention center for what I apparently will never tire of calling Anthrocon in the Off Season and got our badges. They were nice-sized ones featuring some kind of four-eyed pterodactyl kaiju but not, in defiance of my expectations, our names. I worried how they keep out imposters.

The Michigan pinball folk had agreed to get together at ``the entrance to Pinburgh'' for a group photo so of course we found ambiguity about that. bunny_hugger and I assumed it meant the entrance to the enormous main hall with all the pinball games, video games, and associated other stuff inside. Other folks thought it meant the entrance to just the area inside the main hall, the one walled off and accessible only to Pinburgh competitors. Anyone could go to the main hall, after all, but only registered competitors could go into the restricted area. Again I'm not sure how they actually enforced that besides, I guess, people's honor. Nobody checked who I was anyway, but I do have the advantages of being a tall white male. I can't help looking legitimate in that context.

But we got together for a couple group photos, despite some questions about whether everyone was actually there. And some quips about how one bomb could take out the entire top of the Michigan competitive pinball community and who would go to state finals if we were all taken out right then and there? Well, I know who to suspect but since it didn't happen I suppose we can let that pass.

In the few minutes before the competition was to start I went to the free play area and played a game on someone's Lost World, a 1978 early-solid-state game. And did, I thought, quite well, getting something like a quarter-million points. (The display only supports scores under a million points.) So that was my good omen going in and I felt optimistic.

The appointed hour! They gathered all the competitors together to give some words of welcome and some inaudible instructions about how to play, and then we were to wait a little bit. They had to finish working out who was there, how many of the people on standby admission would get to play, and assign everyone to pods of four players and banks of four games. And then the competition would start.

Trivia: 1950 New York City had 283 piers, 98 of them able to handle oceangoing vessels. Source: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made The World Smaller And The World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Superman Family, Volume 1, Editors Robert Greenberger, Emily Ryan Lerner. I appreciate the silver-age side projects having lower stakes and more lighthearted adventures, but seriously, one of these stories is about Jimmy Olsen breaking up a guy's plan to scam the local boys marble championship match. And he needs Superman's help to do it.

PS: How Mathematical Physics Works: Another Course In 2200 Words, as I try getting back to my orbit explanation stuff.

Friday, October 14th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all sing like the birdies sing, tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet

Is it really time to talk about my humor blog again? Yes. Yes it is. Friends page, previous link. RSS feed, this link. Stuff that's run there the past week:

Now let's zip back to bunny_hugger's and my fourth anniversary, a day spent at the Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello, Indiana.


Indiana Beach, as seen from its main and small parking lot. There actually is the park entrance there --- the two little blue huts obscured by the trio of cars --- but there's not a grand focal-point attraction. The park was for most of its existence ungated and still shows that; it looks and feels more like a boardwalk park on the Jersey Shore than anywhere else.


I didn't put it together until gathering these photographs for my Livejournal here. But I'm rather sure those wrapped boxes are full of stuffed I.B.Crow dolls, two of which we'd buy later in the day. Also, if you're not charmed by absolutely everything about the Summer Shop sign here then I am afraid we are not truly friends.


Boardwalk Shops: Gifts From Here And There, as the sign goes on to explain. Yes, that's a little Eiffel Tower silhouette there. Again, if you don't find this charming then we just do not understand one another and we never will.


bunny_hugger getting a snap of the Boardwalk Shops, while standing in front of the Hoosier Hurricane. The picture gives some of the flavor of Indiana Beach: there are a lot of substantial rides but the place is so tightly packed and space-constrained that, well, everything is on top of something else. This gives it that Jersey Shore feeling to me; it's also reminiscent of Blackpool Pleasure Beach.


The Wabash Cannonball, passing --- at grade, unguarded --- underneath the Cornball Express roller coaster. There's the Tig'rr Coaster, the orange-and-black one, in the background, and the kiddieland area to the right of that.


Tig'rr Coaster, up close. This is a small ride, the kind that could be a fairground roller coaster. The logo's changed since bunny_hugger was at the park last; it's gotten more, well, grown-up. The name is still adorable, though.

Trivia: During the fiscal crisis to hit Ford Motor Company over the winter of 1920-21 the company's Highland Park warehouse was found to have something like $88 million in surplus spare parts. (The parts were used to make more cars than dealers ordered, and shipped to the dealers, payment demanded on delivery; most dealers paid Ford's demands even if it required they take out their own loans.) Source: Ford: The Men and the Machine, Robert Lacey.

Currently Reading: DC Showcase Presents: Superman Family, Volume 1, Editor ... oh sheesh even this is complicated. I guess Robert Greenberger and Emily Ryan Lerner will do.

Thursday, October 13th, 2016
12:10 am
Come to this house

We did have one decision to make before leaving Tuscora Park: do we eat there? Or on the road? Or wait until we got to Pittsburgh and eat there? I pushed for eating there, on the grounds that the road between New Philadelphia, Ohio, and Pittsburgh is a pretty enormous swath of nothing much. And we'd get to Pittsburgh well after 9 pm. We'd be in a downtown hotel so I pictured a world of places that were cheap-but-closed or loud-and-expensive. bunny_hugger pointed out if we waited we could eat with our pinball friends; I thought they couldn't possibly wait for us. She and I are happy to eat dinner at 9 or 10 pm, but normal people? No.

So we got vegetarian burgers and fries from the park and that was probably a mistake. They were all right, but not really that great. And it transpired that our friends did wait for us. They'd located Sienna Mercato, some kind of complicated three-storey, three-restaurant place a couple blocks from the hotel and would go there. We tagged along with them although there wasn't any point to our eating then. The place was a hipster meatball-and-innuendo joint. If you don't understand this then let me explain: the waiter asked if we had been there before for their balls, and explained how they had large balls served many various pleasing ways. Do you get it yet? Because it's about balls.

And yet it was a good-looking place. Our group would go back to it several times. They had among other things vegetarian meatballs and you could get whatever they made with whatever meat or meat simulator they had. They even offered a vegetarian poutine that we never quite got around to ordering. In hindsight, we should've waited for dinner, but I thought the choice made sense at the time. Balls.

The drive took us into parts of Pittsburgh we'd never visited before, since we normally stay in a suburban Red Roof Inn close to Kennywood. The hotel took us downtown instead. We got to ride through several scary-looking highways I wasn't perfectly sure the satellite navigator understood. We did get to see the ballpark from across the river, secure in the knowledge that JIM was probably there and that, if our plans had worked out a little different, we might've been there too.

I dropped bunny_hugger off at the Westin, and found the bus terminal parking garage that offered long-term parking cheaper than the hotel did. Also got unsure about this because I didn't see any specific long-term parking lots or anything; I'd have to double-check with the Westin concierge to be told I was doing things right.

The Westin's one of the hotels commandeered by attendees to Anthrocon, along with every Pennsylvania hotel west of the Proclamation Line of 1763, which allowed us to at least get some sense of the geography of that enormous furry convention. I could understand what people meant about the Trap Elevators. You don't pick your floor by some old-fashioned method like pressing the button in the elevator. You pick it by tapping on an iPad (or equivalent) in the lobby outside the elevator and get assigned one of the six elevator cabs to use. No buttons on the inside, so if you miss your floor or decide you needed a different one, get out and go through their app. Also if you miss your floor and nobody else was in the cab and nobody needs your elevator sometime soon I guess you just ... wait for death to take you? I don't know. Trap Elevators, I tell you.

Miscellaneous side bit. bunny_hugger's parents loaned us a little fabric cooler, which we kept some pop in. Her father's taken up smoking cigars and so the cooler had this cloud of cigar stink hovering around it. I took it out of my car because it could take forever for my car to air out from that, but then, where to put it? In a hotel room that already has warnings about the $875,000 fee for smoking? We tucked it into the mini-fridge, as the spot least likely to draw complaints about how it smelled. What do you figure are the odds we'd forget entirely about it and leave a borrowed, cigar-stenching fabric cooler bag in a downtown Pittsburgh mini-fridge?

Trivia: There were over eleven thousand arrests for public drunkenness in New York City in 1922. There were 7,028 the year before Prohibition took effect. Source: The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, Deborah Blum.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1973-74, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
12:10 am
Be one of the comfortable people

Our Pinburgh 2016 adventure began on Wednesday with the traditional bringing our pet rabbit to bunny_hugger's parents' house. For the first time this was something we worried about, not because her parents don't take good care of him, but because the previous time we'd done that he had been basically immobile the whole weekend and we worried he'd be dead by the time we got home. This time we'd be out of his life nearly a whole week. He made it through, and basically fine. He seemed to bunny_hugger's mother to be depressed and not eating much the first couple days, but that seemed to track his usual behavior. In previous vacations even when he was fit he'd be noticeably down the first few days. I think he misses us so, and it takes a few days to reconcile himself to being in a pretty nice spot even if bunny_hugger isn't there. After a few days of this he seemed to stabilize, to get to mostly eating his pellets and vegetables. And her parents were able to handle his medicines, which in the immediate wake of the fly strike incident were more numerous than they are now, and cleaning him. We'd be so stuck if we didn't have them.

We wouldn't do any more amusement park trips this summer, lest we stress our pet rabbit any further. But we could get naturally to one bit of unfinished business. A bit off the most direct path from Lansing to Pittsburgh is New Philadelphia, Ohio. Tuscora Park, once an amusement park and now a city park that hasn't got rid of its rides, is there. We've visited it on two previous trips to Pittsburgh for Kennywood. On the first the park was closed due to rain. On the second its antique carousel was running, but its slightly-less-antique Parker Superior Wheel, a Ferris wheel, wasn't. The Superior Wheel was once common, and now only two are known to still exist. The other's at Crossroads Village in Flint, and we do ride that. We wanted to ride the other Superior Wheel.

So we made our third visit to the small park, and finding it packed for the first time. Not even a spot in the park's lot. I think the adjacent high school had a baseball game going, which probably ate up a lot of parking space. We'd have to settle for somewhere outside somebody's home. But there's particular joy in a full park. We got rides on the carousel and then, finally, three years after our first visit to the place, a ride on the Superior Wheel. It's a Ferris Wheel, yes, so you know the basic routine, although it does run faster than the average Ferris wheel of its size (something like 50 feet). Good ride.

The park also has an antique steel roller coaster, a Little Dipper that's sister to Conneaut Lake Park's (the world's oldest steel roller coaster still running) and the one at Quassy Amusement Park (which we were able to ride). But that's limited to kids, so we could just look at it.

We would have liked to stay and wander around the park more. But we had several hours to go to get to Pittsburgh, and we wanted to get there early. Everything we had heard about Pinburgh agreed: for all that it's awesome it's long and exhausting days that start at 8 am. This implied an early bedtime, which implied we leave soon, which implied we could just dash through the most important stuff and that did spoil some of the visit.

Trivia: Thomas Twining established Tom's Coffee House in 1706, selling coffee, chocolate, sugar, arrack (a south and southeast Asian liquor), brandy, and tea. In 1711 he was named purveyor of teas to Queen Anne. Source: Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire, Roy Moxham.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1973-74, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

PS: Reading the Comics, October 8, 2016: Split Week Edition Part 2, as I didn't have any better ideas for titling the essay.

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
12:10 am
Come to my house

We bought tickets for Pinburgh late last year. We had to. The four-day tournament, running a Thursday through Sunday, is competitive pinball's biggest. It was held this year during the ReplayFX convention, in the same convention center that hosts Anthrocon. It would sell out its seven hundred ticket slots in something like twelve minutes after sales opened. We were getting good enough to at least think we wouldn't humiliate ourselves there. And everyone, everyone who had ever been there talked about how it was the greatest pinball competition.

And late last year we had no reason not to plan on going. Our pet rabbit was ageing, and he was no longer able to get to the top of his hutch the way he used to. He'd suffered a gastric stasis incident, where his intestines were briefly clogged. But we'd caught that and got him back to tolerably all right. He'd been doing all right if gradually worse through spring. Then he had the bone cancer scare. Then he had his complete collapse when we went to see my sister and her family in late May. Then the fly strike incident, which was barely two weeks before Pinburgh.

Could we risk going? If we did go, might he have another May-style collapse? Could going off for a week's recreation kill our rabbit? Did we have to cancel Pinburgh, to disappoint both ourselves and a remarkably wide swath of the Michigan pinball community? (What can I say, we're liked, especially bunny_hugger, who's extremely easy to like.) What if just one of us stayed behind to watch our rabbit? (I was ready to stay behind.)

We decided finally that if our pet rabbit seemed stable in the days before Pinburgh we would go. We'd leave him with bunny_hugger's parents, a reaffirmation that of course we trust them. But we would skip the carpooling with MWS or CST, as much as carpooling on the drive to Pittsburgh would make sense. We'd want to be able to leave in case of sudden horrible news. MWS and CST tried to coax us into carpooling again, pointing out that CST planned to leave midway through the event, if he didn't make finals after the first two days. And MWS could go early the Sunday or on Monday if necessary, though he hoped to stick around for Monday and a day at the Kennywood amusement park. We hoped so too. But we didn't feel comfortable making our contingency plans something that could screw up our friends' fun too.

So there we had it. We'd make the drive once more to Pittsburgh, and hope that there would be no sad e-mails from home.

Trivia: The sprayed-on ablative insulator on the X-15 rocket plane (and a version of what was used on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules) was naturally pink. It was covered with another, white, layer to protect it from liquid oxygen. Source: At The Edge Of Space: The X-15 Rocket Program, Milton O Thompson.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1973-74, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth. Boy, you forget how story-heavy the strip was in this era, and nearly all of them really solid stories.

Monday, October 10th, 2016
12:10 am
She said that she was sorry, that I was a little bit late

I was back to a somewhat normal schedule of three things a week on my mathematics blog. of course readers on the Friends page or the RSS feed know one of those was a particularly low-mathematics-content article but some folks might not have seen. Here's what's run since last Sunday:

We had the Rocket Robin tournament in late June too. Here's some pictures of that along with some miscellaneous other bits of things.


And a bit that doesn't quite fit. Our pet rabbit wearing the dog goggles (``doggles'') nominally for eye safety as the cold laser is put up against his nose. But mostly because he looks so fantastic in his British New Wave band.


Also a bit that doesn't quite fit: the first-place trophy awarded for the Christian Marche Memorial Tournament, our little garden party held in mid-June with a trophy given for the best Tri-Zone game. The art here's a photograph from the table, up near the pop bumpers.


And the first place trophy bunny_hugger made for the Rocket Robin tournament. The trophy was a bird trophy she found at the Goodwill store, and she repainted it to be a bit more robin-y. The back panel on it she made from a fireworks photograph she'd taken. And yes, it's sitting on our Tri-Zone.


The second- and third-place trophies, along with the side tournament trophy, for the Rocket Robin tournament. Here they're sitting on the window ledge at The Avenue, or local hipster bar where the Lansing League meets and where we held the tournament. Also visible around the edges of the frame: some of the door prizes people (mostly GRV) donated to the cause. Also some of the cues for the bumper pool table nobody knew how to play.


Later in the night: people sitting around plotting strategy in the hipster bar's loft. Some of the door prizes are on the table or being held by, possibly, the folks who'd won them. I'm not sure just when the photo was taken. On the table are the boxes we used to record game results and some of the many, many, many slips of paper the games generated. So many slips of paper. So very much paper.


A tournament at a glance: the big posterboard we used to record who won and who lost in all these games. Because of the Rocket Robin format --- one person stays at a table, one person goes back into the queue, and the person at the front of the queue goes up to play the newly-empty table --- not everyone played the same number of games. The person who played the fewest games, it happens, had the highest winning percentage. You can also see in columns 14 and 16 the sad results of my trying to divide the number of wins by the number of games played. I got them right eventually as far as anyone could tell.

Trivia: In 1935 though London's Croydon Airport had run out of room for further expansion it still had no hard-surfaced runway. Source: Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure, Alastair Gordon.

Currently Reading: How The Post Office Created America: A History, Winifred Gallagher.

Sunday, October 9th, 2016
12:10 am
I was the manager, Schroeder was catcher, and all of the team was the same as always

Ah, but how about the game? We finished our circuit of the ballpark --- and the first time bunny_hugger and I had actually seen, like, the seats from the new patio in the outfield and all that --- and ventured into our seats. They were soaked, but bunny_hugger and I had brought towels. They weren't needed; the ushers had towels too and mopped up our seats. The sun would peek out, first, and then come out in full force, and then spend some time climbing into the stadium and smacking us silly. I would come out of the day with sunburned legs and arms. We hadn't put sunscreen on; we hadn't thought it possible we'd see more than light cloud cover all day. We also didn't think to cover exposed flesh with the towels. We probably wouldn't have anyway since once the sun came out the temperature rose to about 850 degrees and muggy.

I did ask JIM how home teams fared on his trip. I'd seen only my first, I think, Lugnuts win earlier that month. He believed they had a slight edge, so far. I was also interested what JIM made of the official Lugnuts anthem, ``Go Nuts! Lugnuts!'' which totally gives every sign of being written especially for our team and not being a mass-produced thing that every minor league team buys. (``This is our town/this is our team/if you're in our house/you're gonna get creamed!'') JIM's a fan of radio callsign jingles and other sorts of mass-produced-but-customized music like that. He didn't own up to anything. There's probably at least four minor-league team songs making the rounds.

The Lugnuts started out letting the other team (the I Forget Which, out of Somewhere; I don't think Fort Wayne because that would have been too good an in-joke for us all for me to have forgotten) get a few runs. Then the Lugnuts managed a home run, the first time I've seen them manage this at a game. Or I should have; I was out going to the bathroom and getting some hummus and pita chips. Also being disappointed that apparently the vegetarian hot dogs aren't at the hot dog stand any longer. That's all right. The Lugnuts would manage another home run, while we were watching.

The Lugnuts have fallen prey to the fad of singing ``God Bless America'' during the seventh inning stretch, alas. But they follow that up with ``Take Me Out To The Ballgame'', as is only proper. Disapproval of ``God Bless America'' in this context and insistence on ``Take Me Out To The Ballgame'' are also points on which JIM and I agree strongly. So whatever value the team lost for ``God Bless America'' they made up quickly. I pointed out the scoreboard showing the lyrics made some errors. I knew he'd appreciate that.

So the home team indeed won, and we did have a good experience, and a good chance to have some quiet time meeting him ahead of the sure madness that Pinburgh would be.

JIM had to go, off to Battle Creek to meet another friend for dinner. I can think of people bunny_hugger and I know who are near enough Battle Creek that someone would describe them as being there, but I didn't probe. It'd be too wild a coincidence were he going to someone else I knew.

As we walked back to our car, and he left the other way, we remembered that just a couple blocks from the park was Clara's. The restaurant --- which had taken everyone by surprise by closing a few weeks earlier --- was built in the former Union Train Depot. JIM's a railroad fan. We should've invited him over. For some reason though the restaurant was closed, its lights were on and there seemed to be a good number of people inside. An event booked prior to the decision to close? Something for investors or the rumored people buying the establishment? We don't know, but we can make guesses.

Trivia: The first American guns opened fire on British defences at Yorktown the 9th of October, 1781. Source: The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution, Brabara W Tuchman. Admittedly something I could get from other books.

Currently Reading: How The Post Office Created America: A History, Winifred Gallagher.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016
12:10 am
It's hard to believe what happened today at the baseball game

JIM was standing outside the Biggby Coffee opposite the ballpark at the appointed hour. It was possibly the most Lansing place to meet up; Biggby's a local chain and about as common as people in 2006 joked Starbucks was. He was wearing the ``kind of MLB shirt'' promised: a Peanuts shirt with Charlie Brown pitching as the silhouetted figure. If I had a baseball shirt it would've been that. Of course.

Meeting at the ballpark wasn't a sure thing after all. It was pouring when we got up, and I fully expected the game to be rained out. We finished tidying up the house and making sure our pinball machine was in good order, just in case we needed an alternate plan. But the rain did let up, and while they would postpone the game and cancel some walk-on-the-field event for the kids they would manage with heroic efforts at squeezing water out of grass make the field playable.

JIM was preceding his Pinburgh trip with visits to baseball parks. He's hoping to get to all the major league stadiums and was, I think, above two dozen already. (I've only managed a couple myself. While I quite like baseball it's more as a cultural thing than something which encourages me to, you know, go and see games or play them or stuff.) He was mixing major venues with minor league parks and he'd had plans to spend that Sunday with somewhere in Indiana when that game was postponed. I forget why, but it can't have been weather. Lansing he picked as an alternate near enough his next target (Battle Creek, to which he had to get in the evening, dashing hopes we might go to our hipster bar where the Lansing Pinball League meets; they wouldn't open until evening) and getting to meet us was a bonus.

He wanted to walk around the whole of Cooley Law School Stadium, formerly Oldsmobile Park. It was a good choice; somehow bunny_hugger and I haven't thought to do that on our own. And there's stuff to see all around as last winter they built a condo complex as the outfield. While I'm not sure I'd want baseball games and concerts and fireworks shows and all sorts of other stuff going on every night outside my apartment, it is the sort of thing that gives a ballpark and a neighborhood character.

His meeting us also reminded me there's another friend, someone on (of course) the same mailing list JIM and I are (for ABC's overnight World News Now program, of course). This friend lives in Alma, not quite an hour north of us. bunny_hugger passes the town on her way to work. Several attempts to arrange in-person meetups failed, all because my schedule didn't permit. When he tweeted us well I realized (a) we should've invited him down too and (b) oh dear, what if he thinks I've been avoiding him? And yet in the time since then I haven't done anything to fix that matter either.

Trivia: Lieutenant Clifton McClure flew the third and final Man High flight, bringing him to about a hundred thousand feet high, on 8 October 1958. Source: Animals In Space: From Research Rockets To The Space Shuttle, Colin Burgess, Chris Dubbs.

Currently Reading: How The Post Office Created America: A History, Winifred Gallagher.

PS: How Differential Calculus Works, two thousand words that's surely as good as about November through January in your calc class.

Friday, October 7th, 2016
12:10 am
To my amazement there stood a raven

It's been another full week on my humor blog. If you didn't care for it on your Friends page or your RSS feed I understand. I'm not sure how I feel about reading it there either. Kind of weird, mostly. But here's the past week's links for you anyway:

With that entered let's go back to Cedar Point and late June, our trip from just before our anniversary.


Live entertainment! That's been returning to Cedar Point in recent years and here we caught folks, I think, setting up outside what used to be the Frontier Carousel's building. On another visit I think this equivalent group did an acoustic version of Kiss's ``I Wanna Rock And Roll All Night'', as they will.


The Maverick roller coaster replaced the White Water Landing log flume in 2005. Yet every year the logo for the old ride is still there, on the roof of the Maverick gift shop's building. It's a little more faded every year but it's there, making the Western-themed area feel a little more authentically ancient.


The Judy K locomotive puttering along in front of the Mean Streak roller coaster. The locomotive rides all have engines that were once in actual working productive service; the Judy K's, I believe, used to run for some industrial purpose near Lansing. There are trainspotters who go to Cedar Point to follow these engines and doesn't that make your life a little more wonderful yet?


Sunset as seen from near the Hotel Entrance. The Gemini roller coaster's the big structure in back. The dinosaur is there to entice people into the Dinosaurs Alive! upcharge attraction, fifty animatronic dinosaurs and related figures in an attraction that everybody kind of forgets is there. They add something to the view from Millennium Force, anyway.


Seagull really confident he'd hear it if a roller coster were anywhere near.


Another of those things you never notice and then one year you get back and they're gone: picnic pavilion near the front of Cedar Point. I have the suspicion it might have been installed or renovated in the 1960s for some reason.

Trivia: On 7 February 1891 Herman Hollerith announced he had a deal with the Austrian government: he would build a dozen tabulating machines for the census taken December 1890 but not to be processed until October. Source: Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information Processing, Geoffrey D Austrian.

Currently Reading: How The Post Office Created America: A History, Winifred Gallagher.

Thursday, October 6th, 2016
12:10 am
You'll never guess what happened today at the baseball game

I have a twin.

Not literally; for one, I've got several twins. These are people on the Internet who, by whatever process creates personalities, are strikingly like me. The Internet's ability to concentrate people by interests, regardless of place, brings me to them. One of them's uncannily close. For much of the 90s we kept going into a new Usenet group to find the other was there. Sometimes we found we'd joined almost the same date. I think we discovered once we'd both first posted to alt.fan.conan-obrien within hours of each other. (And like a day after one of the group's stalwarts first posted.) We even have birthdays the same week of September. One of the big reasons bunny_hugger and I are in pinball leagues are that she was fascinated by his live-tweeting his pinball league nights, and was primed to look for ones that might be tolerably near us.

We went like this for decades, Internet-inseparable but never meeting, since we happened to be in different parts of the country and had little reason to travel to another's. And then we were suddenly set to meet, in Pittsburgh, at a major convention in the David Lawrence Convention Center. No, not Anthrocon, somehow. At Pinburgh, the largest pinball tournament in the world. We hadn't coordinated plans. bunny_hugger and I had decided to go to the event for the first time this year. So did he. Of course we would. What else would make sense?

And then the plans suddenly shifted. My twin --- JIM, in competitive pinball --- asked if we'd want to take in a Pirates game the day before Pinburgh started. Might be fun but we didn't think we could set out early enough for that. We didn't want to have our pet rabbit away from home the extra day that would require; we weren't sure enough he could take the trip we had planned. He accepted this with good grace. A day later he asked just how close we were to the Lansing Lugnuts' stadium. We're in walking distance of the minor-league ballpark. Often we hear the fireworks from their Friday night games. He was going to be in Lansing, as part of a tour of baseball parks he was doing ahead of Pinburgh.

So our first meeting after twenty years of Internet twinship would come a couple days ahead of plans after all.

Trivia: Humans have about nine hundred genes with a role in detecting scents, but roughly sixty percent of them are too defective for any proteins to be copied from them. Source: Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World, Nick Lane.

Currently Reading: How The Post Office Created America: A History, Winifred Gallagher.

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016
12:10 am
And stops my mind from wandering

Building a channel under the basement floor was a good idea for handling water. The problem is it turns out we don't really have anything under the basement floor. The house, test drilling revealed, was built directly on sand, rather than on a couple-inches-thick base. That probably saved some construction time and isn't wrong per se by the lights of 1928, and that the house has withstood almost nine decades without serious issue again points out the builders knew what they were up to. But it did mean they couldn't build a water channel under the floor. There's nothing to channel in.

What they could do instead was put vinyl sheets up against the wall, building a gutter system inside the house. This would also require we get a second sump pump, as the basement's partitioned into two rooms and the floor, naturally, curves away from the dividing wall. So on the one hand, less digging into the floor was needed; on the other, a second sump pump system was needed. We went ahead with this slightly further crazy scheme.

They started work at a little after 8 am. I had volunteered to get up first (not easy at that hour) and let them in and be around in case they needed someone who could have problems explained to. The astounding thing is that even though they spent hours literally drilling holes into the foundation of the house, bunny_hugger wasn't woken up by this. It would make sense if I weren't woken. I'm a heavy sleeper. bunny_hugger is not. She's often woken up by the sound of dawn cracking. But she did sleep tolerably well through the first morning, and even the second day when they were wrapping up the work and testing that the water was draining through the vinyl gutters after all.

After that there was just one more nagging bit: getting new, dedicated lines running from the circuit breaker to the sump pumps. (If they pop we don't want other stuff taken out with them.) For an unexpected extra hassle that involved surprisingly little hassle; it's a refreshing change to have some home-repair thing done without trouble.

And then all there was to do was sit back and wait for a rainstorm and watch as our basement didn't turn into a damp, mildewy puddle! ... Which is probably why mid-Michigan didn't get any rain from the middle of July through the middle of September. I exaggerate a tiny bit. But we only had a few little storms, not enough to really test the system. Finally we got some real deluges in, the kind with all-day rains that in the past would see puddles produced inside.

Not so, now! The water seeps into our foundation and right back out again, to the sump pumps and from there to the shrubs out back.

There's a few tiny glitches, spots where a protruding bit from the fireplace vents or a hole in one of the basement windows lets water in. But that can't be held against the system and we're figuring how to fix that. Or just let it go, particularly the basement vents. After 88 years our house has shifted from ``having a Michigan basement'' to ``having a reasonably dry basement'', at least as long as the dehumidifier is working too.

Trivia: The transistors in MIT's experimental TX-0 computer of 1954 were made by Philco. Source: A History of Modern Computing, Paul E Ceruzzi.

Currently Reading: How The Post Office Created America: A History, Winifred Gallagher.

PS: How September 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog, which was, pretty slow considering I left my blog to go fallow or something.

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
12:10 am
I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in

So we had this little problem where the house's foundation was crumbling. That's an overstatement. One of the many cinder blocks in the house had gotten so moist and soft that it turned into this putty-like goo. It was right under the faucet for the washing machine. Since that leaked steadily whenever the hot water was turned on, we turned the hot water off except as specifically needed. And that slowed the degradation but didn't stop it altogether. After we got the water faucet replaced --- something theoretically within our powers, if the old faucet hadn't become a faucet-shaped clod of rust --- we owned up to how we were never going to patch the half-melted cinder block and hired someone to fix it. (My father said just mix up some concrete and putty it in, which seemed impossible. Turns out that's just how to do it, but we got it done by someone confident that was what to do.)

Fixing it wouldn't be hard, but it wouldn't get at the real issue. The foundations people pointed out how our cinder blocks were soaked. This is because we live in Michigan, and the soil is very wet, and that goes right into the blocks. That our house had stood for 88 years with only the one cinder block destroyed and a few others being worn away suggests it was built very well, but that's not something which could last forever. So we got talking about installing a drainage system.

What we planned was to get holes drilled into the cinder blocks at their bases, so that the incredible amount of water around the house would have somewhere to go. That somewhere would be into a sub-basement-floor channel that would lead into a sump pump installed for this purpose. We could even get the water channeled over to the shrubs that mark our property line out back, relieving the (slight) need to water them. The plan sounded sane to us and we made the deal.

I then spent several weeks hauling stuff out of the basement. Most of it was my stuff, put down there because I had a household's worth of belongings and only some of them have really found places in the main house and because organizing them would be something like work. That got the basement nearly cleared out, at the cost of filling up the guest room. And what remained could be moved into the center of the basement, leaving plenty of room to work.

Which was fine, as the sub-floor channel idea turned out to be impossible.

Trivia: The Minitrack satellite sensor array designed for Vanguard was able to detect Sputnik by the 11th of October, 1957, even though the tracking array was designed for the (International Geophysical Year-approved) 108 MHz radio frequency and Sputnik transmitted on 20 and 40 MHz. Source: Project Vanguard: The NASA History, Constance McLaughlin Green, Milton Lomask.

Currently Reading: Nessie: Exploring The Supernatural Origins of the Loch Ness Monster, Nick Redfern.

Monday, October 3rd, 2016
12:10 am
And so I turned inside once more

It was another slow week at my mathematics blog. You saw it on your Friends page or perhaps on your RSS feed. But I'm happy with what I did write, which included:

And now back to our late June 2016 visit to Cedar Point!


What's New And Old At Cedar Point for 2016: under construction, left, is the new water tower. The old water tower, right, is something like a century old and we suppose it'll be torn down this coming winter. Over the course of the season the new tower would get more finished, including getting painted, and so it would look much less like a dystopian symbol of might glowering over the Super Himalaya.


One of those things we never pay attention to and that'll probably vanish before anyone really misses it: the entrance to Snake River Falls, the big shoot-the-chutes ride. We're not really big fans of get-yourself-soaked rides. Last year they closed the Shoot-the-Rapids log flume, itself only five years old.


Glass sculpting! After many a year the glass-blowing shop in Frontier Town was open again and they had people showing off what you could do with the molten.


Reheating glass. Good view directly into the glass oven. Properly speaking we didn't see any glass being blown, just sculpted, but we did see them reheating and tinting pieces.


The glass-working seems to be contracted out to Glass Academy, which runs some classes in the Detroit area. If we're reading it right, this is one of those things hipsters got into as part of their process of gentrifying pastimes. And good on them for doing it.


Glass-sculpture sea serpent on sale at the glassworks. It's beautiful. It's also $250. Possibly more. Yikes. bunny_hugger was scared of my picking it up to look at the price tag. I was too.

Trivia: The United States had about 267 thousand rural telephones in 1907. There were about 1,465 thousand by 1907. Source: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

Currently Reading: Nessie: Exploring The Supernatural Origins of the Loch Ness Monster, Nick Redfern.

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