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

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Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
12:10 am
To catch them is my real test

11:00. Everyone was there. We gathered more or less around the door between the two rooms of the pole barn for last instructions. Also to get a group photo. They handed bunny_hugger's camera to someone else to get a few pictures. She has a great camera, but you never get good pictures on a camera you don't know, somehow. So it goes.

To the first round! My opponent was SMS, as I'd known would be since early December. She had first pick. I figure I'll win one or two games in the best-of-seven match. She picked Tommy, exactly as I expected, and I let her go first. I'm not good on Tommy; it's an early-90s Data East game and that's a maker and era I never got a sense of flow on. I'd practiced it a lot, mostly finding where the mode-start shot is and getting some idea where the mirror shot is, but that's not much. Still, once the ball saver expires it's a dangerous table and one --- oh! SMS's first ball raced to the outlane as soon as it wouldn't come back.

This is a huge chance for me. For one, she's down one ball. For another, she lost a ball unfairly. Not because she played badly, but because the machine threw it away. Everyone takes offense to that. But SMS recovers slowly from that kind of offense. I suddenly have a chance at winning this game. And if that throws her spirits off badly enough, it could carry on to future games. I suddenly have a chance at winning the whole round. If I don't screw up.

I play all right, and she has a slightly-less-rotten but still bad second ball. I finish the second ball at about 100 million and think of how, if she's rattled already I might just make it. On the third ball she starts multiball --- it's hard not to; Data East games of that era light multiball on the third ball if you haven't already --- and milks it. She comes out to somewhere close to 200 million. Which is near the highest score I've ever gotten on that Tommy, achieved in practice the night before.

Nothing to do but keep my cool and play on. I keep starting modes, most of which are pointless. Tommy modes come in two forms, the high-value ones you never get and the ones way too hard to hit. I do get Video Mode, a funny one: your best score comes from taking your hands off the flippers and letting the mode play itself. I get multiball going, and have to shoot the left ramp (easy) for jackpot, or the right ramp (hard) for double jackpot. Or anything, really. Any ramp at all. I keep missing. All but one ball drains. Since I hit no jackpots anywhere the game gives me a second chance, ten seconds to shoot the mirror. I keep missing the mirror. I aim again and miss again. The timer runs out. The ball bounces of its own accord into the mirror, restarting multiball mode.

SMS tells me I've won. Huh? Yes, somewhere in all that flailing around I've gathered another hundred million points and got past her big comeback ball. I'd beaten SMS on one game, and it was the first of the day, and it was even her pick.

Maybe I'd make it into the state's top eight after all.

Trivia: Before Fort Knox, the United States gold bullion depository was in New York City. Source: Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933 - 1939, Wolfgang Schivelbusch.

Currently Reading: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Monday, February 20th, 2017
12:10 am
That was the end of my holiday, sweet and innocent holiday

Normal-paced sort of week on my mathematics blog, so here, enjoy the work done there:

Now for the way we ended the week in Omena. Your heart may break.

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To take the edge off our leaving we stopped at the Omena Beach and then, on impulse, thought we'd see what our pet rabbit made of the sand. It turned out he rather liked the beach so I'm glad he was able to experience that.


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Our lost rabbit enjoying his beach experience much more than we had expected since as you can see it's a very rocky surface.


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Our lost rabbit, ears up, ready to supervise the beach and disapprove of anything going on.


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The wonderful thing about letting an animal be is that, given time, they will do something you never imagined. Here, our lost rabbit got up and moved towards the water. Did he understand this was essentially the same thing he fought against in baths back home? What did he hope would happen?


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Our pet rabbit getting a wave washing up on him. I had expected him to get furious at this, but no, he seemed happy to have the waters of Traverse Bay soaking into his dewlap.


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And it was not a fluke! He got to experience several waves and seemed content there. Notice his paw, holding back the tides. I'm assuming that he enjoyed the water but --- what kind of rabbit enjoys getting wet? What a strange and compelling fellow he was.


Trivia: In February 1858 Japan and the United States agreed to the opening of eight port cities in Japan, and that the opium trade in Japan would be outlawed. Source: A Modern History of Japan, Andrew Gordon.

Currently Reading: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Sunday, February 19th, 2017
12:10 am
Like no one ever was

We stayed in a different Kalamazoo-area hotel than we'd previously used, partly because the Red Roof Inn was noisy and didn't have Wi-Fi over New Year's Eve, partly because we had a cheaper place. This invited the question of how the room would go horribly wrong for us. There was an obvious path of disaster: we had the room on the first floor right next to the elevator. It defied us by not actually being too noisy. The room started cold, but it heated up enough that by 3 am I was getting up to try to figure how to turn the heat down without quite waking up. It did have this twist: the light over the sink (outside the rather large, considering) bathroom flickered. Just a little, but, all night. Even though it was off. I tried to pry the cover off the light so I could take the tube out, but couldn't figure a way to do that without demolishing the whole light fixture. Also one of the exterior building lights shone near enough into our window that we couldn't get the True Dark that hotels normally allow.

Also a surprise ahead of the finals: that it was not at 10 am. The Facebook event that everyone but me used to coordinate their gathering said it started at 10 am. But the actual deadline for being at the venue and paying the entry fee was 10:45 am, with play to begin at 11 am. We don't know why the event said 10 am unless it was an attempt to get everybody actually present on time. A search of the e-mails about the event confirmed that yes, it was actually said, back in January, that 11 am was the start time.

The sad news is we didn't find out about this before we'd woken Saturday. If we had known --- or if we had thought closely about MWS, staying at the same hotel and figuring to wake at 9 am --- we'd have slept in an hour longer. The good news in that: we could go to the hotel breakfast! We haven't been in time for a hotel breakfast since maybe our honeymoon? Something like that. A decent breakfast was probably a good idea and if I stuffed myself on those adorable scrambled-egg patties and bagels toasted to much hotter than we get back home, then let me point out they also had a waffle maker and aren't they wonderful to eat? Yes. It's a shame the local diner sold their waffle iron and took them off the menu.

So even though we had a leisurely breakfast of wondering what the heck is wrong with TV news --- and got to see an adult in kigurumi having breakfast --- we got to MJS's pole barn in time to get some further practice in. I did last-minute rehearing on Tommy and Godzilla and could foresee only disaster if SMS picked the latter. I did well enough on Tommy to fear I'd spoiled myself in practice for actual play. And rumors floated, again, that eastside power player AND (and his son) might not attend after all, scrambling the brackets of us lower-ranked folks. They arrived, about five minutes before the cutoff. Maybe they did just want to give everyone something to gossip about after all.

Trivia: Before the 1934 formation of the Federal Communications Commission, it was the Interstate Commerce Commission which held jurisdiction over the telephone industry. Source: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks. (I'd never thought about who had charge before the FCC, but yeah, the ICC makes sense.)

Currently Reading: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Saturday, February 18th, 2017
12:10 am
I wanna be the very best

bunny_hugger and I were invited to the Michigan State Pinball Championship, as the 11th and 10th seeds, respectively. Part of that comfortably high rating is our playing better, and especially playing well at some high-value events. Part of that is our several visits to the Blind Squirrel League in remote Fremont, where AJH has learned to turn a small town not even on any major highways into a points mine. Not all, though. And it's not as though the rest of, at least, the west side of the state wasn't able to benefit from the Blind Squirrel points mine.

The finals would be held in a private venue this year, in MJS's pole barn. In the spirit of fairness and in compliance with the rules about hosting state championships in private venues MJS opened his place to all practicers for several weekends ahead of time. He reportedly had this place open for eighty hours of practice over the course of a month, which is really exhausting when you ponder it. We went the first weekend MJS had the place open, in order to get on and practice every machine and work out what we could know about it. We went out two days in a row, coming home for the night, because we had just gotten our new pet rabbit the week before and didn't want him to have to deal with being left alone overnight or being taken to bunny_hugger's parents so soon.

MJS has something like forty machines, about half of them modern 90s-and-later machines, about half of them solid-state or electromechanicals. Over the course of two days we played every one of them (except, I realized later, I missed Terminator 2 somehow). My goal was to get some basics down: about where is the skill shot? About where on the flipper is the mode start shot? About where should I shoot for major target banks?

It was this wonderful vibe, all told. Just a couple people there at any time. Relative quiet so we could hear stuff that's otherwise lost, like, the merry little music cue on Cirqus Voltaire when you get a Sneaky Lock. (A Sneaky Lock is a freak shot that puts the ball into a lock's scoop before you hit the light-lock trigger.) Just, you know, playing. Lots of good machines, lots of time, people on hand who could answer any mystery and could advise on the really good shots that aren't obvious until you deeply know the rules.

The night before the finals --- one week ago as I write this --- we did leave our pet rabbit alone for the night. We'd wanted to get a couple hours of practice in the night before and that's just what we did get. It was packed; nearly everyone who'd be at the finals, and the first couple alternates, made it out, for good reason. I figured the best thing I could do was think of the games SMS, my scheduled opponent for the first round, would likely pick and try to figure them out. My guesses for most likely were Tommy, Godzilla, Spider-Man, Dirty Harry, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was right about three of these.

In an amusing little scene I'm pretty sure I saw SMS watching me practicing games, and going to machines I'd just walked away from to brush up her scores. I finished the practice session as sure as I could be that, come 10 am Saturday, I'd be playing SMS on Tommy. I would be partially correct.

Trivia: In 1875 Henri Nestlé (approaching 60 years old) sold his company, and the right to his name, for one million Swiss francs. Source: Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between The World's Greatest Chocolate Makers, Deborah Cadbury.

Currently Reading: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Friday, February 17th, 2017
12:10 am
I tried to kiss her, she walked away

I finished another week of my humor blog without running out of things to write about. I do have fears of that, yes, and you can probably tell there are days that I'm slumming, especially when I have a high-effort thing going on my mathematics blog. But I haven't run out yet! Somehow. If you didn't read all this on your RSS reader or your Friends page then here's the week's pieces:

And now to pictures from the last day of our Omena vacation. This'll close out what we saw of the house and then on Sunday should come some pictures that will blow your mind. Promise.

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The kitchen of the rental house. It was also the room we'd kept our rabbit in, inside a pen in front of the oven there. He seemed to take it well enough and we didn't have any serious issues except where we discovered how the sink was backed up through no fault of our own.


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See? We can clean up a dining room well enough. Under the table you may be able to make out the trap door leading to the basement.


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The living room with the carpet we were so afraid of getting dirty we didn't use the living room for anything until the last night.


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And the ... other ... living room, including it turns out a modest but respectable DVD collection underneath. We put the stereo cables back where the house's instructions told us they should have been; when we had first got there the cables had fallen to the floor or something and we were a bit lost.


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Reverse angle on the rug too scary to use.


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bunny_hugger consults with our lost rabbit during his last morning in the yard of the house we rented. Considering that he was just barely recovering from a fly strike that left him closer to death than we imagined he is in really good shape. But I notice his nictitating membrane in his eye there, often a sign of pain.


Trivia: About 190,000 persons hired by the Civil Works Administration were classified as ``non-manual and professional'' laborers, including artists, teachers, window dressers, bookbinders, historians, architects, statisticians, and clerks. Source: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put The Nation To Work, Nick Taylor.

Currently Reading: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

PS: Reading the Comics, February 11, 2017: Trivia Edition, some more comic strips none of them very deep.

Thursday, February 16th, 2017
12:10 am
Up all night and I'm waiting for you to come home

With the relatively clean bill of health for our pet rabbit we were able to consider something we had never done with our lost rabbit. We were going to leave him unsupervised overnight.

bunny_hugger had done this with previous rabbits. But it takes some confidence. A rabbit can go from fine to endangered just by missing a day's worth of meals. We'd never consider that with our lost rabbit, especially once his decline got bad. But we weren't sure we could bring our new rabbit to bunny_hugger's parents, not without stressing him, and without several hours' diversion to her parents. (Not that it's a burden being at her parents', except that it does take time we might not have.)

What had us planning on letting him go unsupervised was the state pinball championship. It was schedule for last weekend, at MJS's near-legendary pole barn just outside Kalamazoo. That's only about 75 minutes away, not an unreasonable drive to set out in the morning ... except that we needed to be there by 10 am, and the earlier the better since that would let us get practice in, and add to that how much earlier we have to get up to get ready in the morning and you know what? Staying in a hotel near the tournament venue made sense.

It still felt illicit setting up our rabbit to go unsupervised overnight, though. We loaded him up on hay and water, of course. And a lot of pellets. He doesn't gulp down pellets so rapidly as our lost rabbit did at the same age. He'll eat, but he'll leave some around and then come back to it, and toss his food dish around until he's shown it who's boss. And then eat more. We also loaded a lot of vegetables in, which similarly, he'll eat but not voraciously.

We weren't seriously worried, but we were nevertheless relieved to get home and see him sitting up, alert and healthy and at the edge of his pen. (We didn't give him the unrestricted roam of the house.) As we had left we told him, as we often told our lost rabbit, to watch the house. Apparently he took his charge seriously. Good omen.

Trivia: Shortly before the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811 the United States had appropriated $50,000 to help Venezuelans recover from an earthquake which killed twenty thousand poeple in Caracas. Source: The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America, Kevin Rozario.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts 1983-84, Charles Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

How Much I Did Lose In Pinball, an update on last weekend. You'll be getting the fuller story here soon.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017
12:10 am
Then your ears grew an inch and your nose began to twitch

Last week we took our new pet rabbit to the vet's for the first time. We might have done that sooner, but we did have some schedule conflicts. Also we were debating whether to buy pet health insurance while we could still honestly attest to knowing of no existing conditions. It looks like it wouldn't be worth it, even if the new rabbit has the same health problems as our lost one has. (Pet health insurance still isn't very good.)

When we put our rabbit in his carrier he peed, making a mess we'd have to clean up at the vet's. Understandable nervousness? Perhaps, but he also peed in the vet's office, and when he was taken in back for a blood sample he piddled on at least one person there. And that after the vet had massaged his bladder to force him to pee on the table, providing a urine sample that let us know his kidneys are fine Also that apparently he's as much as 85 percent bladder by volume.

It was our first visit to the vet's since we picked up our lost rabbit's ashes. We'd wondered what they might think of our getting a new rabbit so soon. The staff seemed glad more than anything else. The main veterinarian greeted us with first a couple words about our poor lost rabbit. But then he took a look at the new an said ``what a well-socialized rabbit''. And it's so; he may not be as obviously energetic or mischievous as our lost rabbit, but he is inquisitive and exploring and fearless.

The health report: he's basically fine. His kidneys are in good shape, clearly. He's a little anemic, but apparently Flemish giants are prone to that and if he gets enough pellets and hay he should be good. He's a skilled hay-eater. He did have mites, explaining why he seemed to scratch his back a lot. He's on a monthly dose of Revolution --- the same stuff that knocked out our lost rabbit's fly strike remnants --- and a week's worth of eardrops. The eardrops are kind of a relief, honestly. It was weird having a rabbit with no particular medical needs. (We give him a joint support tablet, morning and night, but that's not a necessity. It's just a ward cast against arthritis later in life.)

The best part of the day was that T----, who'd given our lost rabbit his cold laser therapy, had the time free to meet our new one. If we should happen not to see her again then our last time will be her hugging the new rabbit, delighted, and not weeping at our loss.

Trivia: The Watt and Shand Department Store of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, still used a pneumatic tube system for collecting payment and returning change through to the 1950s, rather than cash registers. Source: Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned The Middle Class, Jan Whitaker.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts 1983-84, Charles Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017
12:10 am
So I went out and bought a two-carat ring, and both of them you ate

Happy Valentine's Day, my love.


We've had our new pet rabbit a month now and I wanted to share how he's doing.

The big change has been he's gotten comfortable with us, and with his setting. Probably he was depressed the first couple of days; he's gotten to be much more outgoing and more active. He's still not a mischievous rabbit; he doesn't chew wires or buttons or shoes or any of the other things that our lost rabbit would have demolished given the chance. He's made a few experimental nibbles on the coffee table, and this morning I saw him take a couple chews of a cardboard box we left for him. But otherwise, nothing. It's disconcerting that he's behaving this well.

He does patrols, though, hopping around the lower floor of the house and investigating. He'll poke his head into bags, into shoes, into anything that might look like it needs inspection. He's done a couple happy hops and a few clumsy binks, which is reassuring. He does a lot of following us around. Especially bunny_hugger. While he's still a large, heavy rabbit he can somehow switch into silent mode to vanish from halfway across the room ad turn up between your feet. He's learned that he can hop onto the sofa and that he can get a good head of speed running laps on it, although he's not so crazy about actually running that long. He lies down with his legs spread out to either side of his body, the way a dog might. It's regal; it just seems weird.

The important exception to his good behavior is peeing. He'd been peeing outside his litter bins (on puppy training pads, so the floor is safe). Online advice suggested that his being left to run around his whole pen at night somehow threw off his game. We tried closing him into his pen for a few nights and that seemed to do much to get his habits back under control. But then we had to leave him with free roam of the penned area overnight, so we could make it to the state pinball championship (more on that to come). When we got back he was sitting up by the edge of the pen, staring intently at us finally being back. But he'd also peed on the pads. He's had a couple little pees on the floor since then, too.

It's frustrating that he is doing this, and that the evidence so far suggests we have to close him in his pen at night if we don't want him having accidents. But if we must do that, then, fine. He's a charmer otherwise. And he's taken to licking bunny_hugger's hand and pants and clothes. It seems to be grooming; he does his best to tug the bracelet off her wrist, possibly because he figures it's something that shouldn't be there. He licks m some, too, and nudges my feet. But I think he has a favorite already.

Trivia: The trail on the west side of Mount Palomar was ultimately named the Nate Harrison Grade, for a black man brought to Palomar as a slave in 1848 to work a mining claim, and who called himself ``the first white man on the mountain''. He died in 1920 at the age of 107; it's unclear how he financially supported himself. Source: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescoe, Ronald Florence.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts 1983-84, Charles Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Monday, February 13th, 2017
12:10 am
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder

My mathematics blog stirred from its torpor just enough this week for one of those monstrous 2,000-word essays that always comes out when I'm trying to write something quickly. The conclusion: I would be so much more productive a writer if I had no time to do it in. Run the past week, though:

And with that out of the way let's go back to our last evening in Omena. It featured a loved one.

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bunny_hugger carrying our lost rabbit out to the backyard. There's a towel wrapped around her shoulders, which we'd wrap him in so that flies couldn't harass him further.


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Our lost rabbit, enjoying what might have been his favorite thing of that week: the chance to eat an entire lawn.


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Our lost rabbit, confident in his plans for those dandelions.


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The house, at dusk (which was something like 10 pm because sunset comes really late in Michigan in summer), with the lights inside that make it look like the house is winking while grimacing.


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See how well we cleaned up the dining room table? Well, we'd get serious about it in the morning. Mostly I wanted to show off what a nice place it was that they could have the dining room lit by flying saucer.


Trivia: Into the 20th century the people of Iceland used a calendar with 364 days over 52 weeks for normal years and 371 days over 53 weeks for leap years. Source: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent The Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel. (He doesn't go into more detail about this.)

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts 1983-84, Charles Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Sunday, February 12th, 2017
12:10 am
Later we'll have some pumpkin pie

Also in normal routine stuff for the end of 2016: Christmas trees. We went to the nearby Tannenbaum Farms to cut down two trees, one for the living room and one for the bedroom. We always meet bunny_hugger's parents there, a little late, when they've already gone and picked out their tree. This year we got there earlier and still pulled up as her parents were putting their tree in the car. All right.

The cuttable trees are in different regions every year. This year the one we were looking for for the living room was really far away from the snack stand. Really, really far away. We left bunny_hugger's parents at the snack stand, where they could sit by the fire, rather than make them hike all over the farms. And at that we gave up the first time around and went back to check we had got the directions down right. The trees were so far away that we probably would have been better walking from the front of the farms rather than the snack stand.

Well, at least the snack stand would let us gather around the fire. It wasn't a cold winter to that point (and it still hasn't really been), but a good wood fire still feels great. I forget if bunny_hugger's parents asked about the reindeer the farms used to have and didn't this year. I think their reindeer died, so we weren't figuring to bring up anything unpleasant if we didn't have to. There was enough worry about the threat of a snowstorm: the tree farm's employees were talking about the incoming storm and how they'd likely have to shut early. Ominous stuff, especially as bunny_hugger's mother has little confidence in her husband's driving, especially during storms.

The bringing of the Christmas trees into the house was always one of our lost rabbit's favorite days. Or as I put it, it wa his Christmas. He perked up, as much as he could anymore, and it was easy to figure how much tree he figured to eat. He'd still eat what we would offer him up to three days before his death.

The upstairs tree turned out to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand it was almost perfectly formed, just beautiful. On the other, it was really wide. The logical place for a tree there is a sort of corner that also gives access to our main-bedroom bookshelves and the attic. The main-bedroom bookshelves we could reduce the need to access by my going through and gathering a month's worth of trivia items from books in one huge and surprisingly satisfying sweep. The attic was more a problem because you know where we keep all our Christmas stuff? In the basement, yes, but there's still stuff that goes in the attic that we have to get to and so that was clumsy, while it lasted. But it looked good.

The trees outlasted our pet rabbit, it happened. I had to take trees to a dropoff site, since the city stopped collecting them irresponsibly early. While I did I got tree sap stuck to my winter coat, and you know how impossible it is to clean that stuff out. That's not a metaphor for how the present is the past, but when I get around to writing my novel I'll probably use that one.

Trivia: The Hershey Department Store opened in 1910, at the corner of Chocolate and Cocoa streets. Source: Hershey: Milton S Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, Michael D'Antonio.

Currently Reading: Rocket Raccoon #2, March 2017. Matthew Rosenberg, Jorge Coelho. Since I'm enjoying Rocket insulting Spider-man so very much.

Saturday, February 11th, 2017
12:10 am
You don't look different but you have changed

Oh, this is a small thing, but it's yet something else that went away in the closing months of 2016. Our dentist retired. bunny_hugger had expected it for years, since he was getting up there in years and he was clearly winding his practice down. It had been years since she'd had to wait while at his office, even as he saw patients fewer and fewer days. I'd never had to wait, and I kind of wonder if I might have been the last new patient he took in. I started going to his clinic in 2012 so probably not. But it's hard to rule out.

Anyway, he announced it in a postcard to us, by surprise, and only a couple weeks after bunny_hugger had her regular appointment and heard nothing, not a hint. I managed to miss his retirement party, just by failing to think of it on the day. bunny_hugger did, though, and stopped in on the way home from work.

Among the gossip she picked up was that apparently the retirement took everybody by surprise. His staff didn't have plans for what they were doing next, which is the sort of thing that you hear when you didn't know the place was closing down. She also got to meet a bunch of other patients and learn how long our dentist had been caring for some of them. I think there was one who'd been going to our dentist for four decades. It's a staggering thought, although my father points out, he and his father went to the same dentist --- and before that, his father --- for decade after decade. I went to the same dentist up until I went to grad school and kind of forgot to take care of my teeth for fifteen years.

We're not berent of dental care now, though. Our dentist shared office space with another, whom we knew as the door on the left side of the greeting area where the bathroom was. And he's sold his practice to her. I suppose I'll be the first to have a regular checkup there, so will be the first to know whether they're going to keep using both sides of the facility or whether something else is going on. There's always something else going on.

Trivia: At the outbreak of the Civil War the New Jersey State Arsenal included two cannon captured at Yorktown in 1781 and a cannon seized in the Battle of Trenton. The state did not have any ammunition on hand. Source: New Jersey: America's Main Road, John T Cunningham.

Currently Reading: The Flintstones #7, March 2017. Mark Russell, Rick Leonardi, Scott Hanna. Because what the heck, everybody's reading them.

Friday, February 10th, 2017
12:10 am
I'm on a wavelength far from home

Let me review my humor blog for the past week and then we'll get on to the last evening spent in the rented house in Omena that we liked so.

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Would you rent to people who make a mess like this of the dining room table? Yeah, well, we cleaned it all up. The pile of stuff on the far end, from the Bird Songs Bible through the Yahtzee game were the homeowner's. On the near end of the table are the books borrowed from the Omena General Store and which I suppose we'll return when we get there again, except for the one bunny_hugger's father sold to the used book store.


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View from the dining room to the living room of the rented house. The rug there was so thick and comfortable we were basically terrified to step on it lest we drop something staining on it. We overcame that enough the last night to play a round of Talisman and I think one of Betrayal at the House on the Hill.


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Overgrown weed something in the backyard. Our lost pet rabbit kept trying to shuffle his way generally in that direction and we're rather sure he did this with a plan involving digestion.


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The house's back side, as seen from about that impressive-looking tower of weed. The grill to camera right of bunny_hugger we were terrified to use because we had the idea it was brand-new and we didn't want to spoil its newness. After investigation revealed it had ben used at least once before we were comfortable grilling stuff for the last night there.


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View of the rented house from up front, and a door we didn't really use. The back door was more convenient for getting to the car and getting any view of ... anything, really. Houses turn out that way sometimes. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.


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View from the end of the dead-end street on which the rented house was. The trees in the background were part of the rented property and were once part of a working orchard. No more, though. The trees near the camera were still farmed, if I am correct in my understanding of things.


Trivia: One woolsack, a large square bag filled with cloth and used since the reign of King Edward III as symbol of England's staple trade, remains in service, as the seat of the Lord Chancellor presiding at the House of Lords. Source: Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337 - 1485, John Julius Norwich. And I bet they went and abolished that since the book was written anyway since Britain seems to be determined to toss off all its charming quirky stuff and cling to the bad parts anymore.

Currently Reading: Tubes: A Journey To the Center Of The Internet, Andrew Blum.

PS: Reading the Comics, February 3, 2017: Counting Edition, more of last week's comics.

Thursday, February 9th, 2017
12:10 am
Yuletide by the fireside and joyful memories there

And, what the heck, I'll acknowledge the existence of Thanksgiving. That was the sort of day we've made our tradition. bunny_hugger and I hosted at our house, and her parents came over. My parents ---

Well, my parents were at my sister's, and her husband's, in Saint Louis. Understandably. This was their first chance to visit their new grandson. My sister was happy to have them, and invited us to have Thanksgiving with them. And we thought about this a good bit. There'd be advantages to it. I'd see my parents, whom I hadn't since August of 2015. We'd finally get to visit my sister and her family in Saint Louis. We might even get to see the Six Flags park there, as they have a Christmas event and lights and rides and all that. But the disadvantages were mighty too. We'd break our traditional Thanksgiving with bunny_hugger's parents, and leave them with nothing to do except watch over our increasingly frail rabbit. And, for that matter, we'd have to leave our rabbit for multiple days, something that always strains him. He had been doing all right, considering, but that still wasn't great.

We thought out variants, such as my going alone and bunny_hugger having her parents for Thanksgiving. But we were guided, ultimately, by how it was too expensive to fly and too far to drive for a short visit, not without being too much inconvenience, and so we all went about having the usual sort of day. And started looking at when we could visit my parents in South Carolina. We'd missed visiting them last Christmas/New Year's, and couldn't in good conscience do that again.

The high point of Thanksgiving, besides that we had lots of food without making so much that we were going crazy making it, was watching the replay of the Silver Bells parade on TV. We had recorded the original live airing, but the squall that moved through knocked out the satellite TV too, so we got static and then a ``program ended early'' instead of the great rain. The rebroadcast a couple days later, which we're just going to save forever, showed the ever-increasing downpour. And then it got wonderful. The noise of the rain drowned out the commentators, the bands, everything. And then got more intense still, until finally the audio was completely lost. The video kept going, camera shaking in the winds, looking at pillars of water coming down and people desperately running across the street. And then finally some music cut in, slow stuff not quite fitting any Christmas tune. It was the music you'd get if Santa Claus put you on hold. And after a couple minutes of this came a text scroll. It was like the bit at the end of a movie about some great cataclysm, telling what happened to the survivors. It explained that unfortunately due to the worsening weather the rest of the parade was cancelled. But it was a great parade anyway and they were looking forward to next year's. And someone else ran across the street in the rain. If they ever release this on DVD I'm giving copies of it to everyone. EVERY. ONE.

It turned out this was the last holiday we'd have with our lost rabbit. He was looking rough but all right, like he might go on indefinitely. We did suppose he'd be alive through Christmas and New Year's, presenting the problem of how to keep him all right through a visit with my parents. Unspoken but, it turned out, agreed upon was that I'd visit my parents alone and bunny_hugger would stay at home to care for him. For the day, though, he was just there, happy to see bunny_hugger's parents, especially her mother, and to eat and be near the fire. Like normal.

Trivia: Spanish diplomat Enrique Dupuy de Lôme described in a Feburary 1898 letter to his friend Don José Canalejas President William McKinley as being ``weak and catering to the rabble and, beside, a low politician who desires to leave a door open to himself and to stand well with the jingoes of his party''. When this letter was published in the 9 February 1898 New York Journal it was headlined ``THE WORST INSULT TO THE UNITED STATES IN ITS HISTORY''. Source: 1898: The Birth Of The American Century, David Traxel.

Currently Reading: Tubes: A Journey To the Center Of The Internet, Andrew Blum.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017
12:10 am
This is Santa's big scene

Next major event that happened around our parts was the Silver Bells In The City parade. But I covered the important part of that when it happened because what had been a nice and surprisingly warm night in downtown Lansing turned into a downpour, and that was such a great spectacle. There'll be more pictures of the thing, but I already put some up on my humor blog because we are still laughing about this spectacle and it'll be the first thing anyone says about Silver Bells in years to come.

Through to the point that all the rain in the world landed on us and came into my boots it had been a fine day, though. We'd got off to a later-than-ideal start. And we drove, a dubious choice for something under three miles away when it's 70 degrees out (and this was somehow mid-November). Worked out great, since it would be maybe January before the rain finished, but that's what they call moral luck rather than good judgement.

We'd started out at the City Market, which used to be a farmer's market and recently lost its accreditation as one. That means food stamps couldn't be used there. But there were few enough, you know, farm goods being sold there it didn't make much difference. City Market's been having some rough times; while it's got a successful bar and a few specialty shops, nothing seems to be lasting very long. Also they lost the crepes place, although since that opened somewhere downtown(?) that's not a bad development, except that we don't know where it is.

The little street market village that they put up for the event was its usual self too. We got this year's Silver Bells tree ornament and didn't lose it despite the chaos of fleeing to not be crushed beneath a mountain of falling water. Also got some hot cider. I think we got a bag of popcorn too, although I also have a memory of popcorn disappointment. Maybe the kind we wanted wasn't there. I think we had plans to go back to the street market which were aborted when the rain broke the city.

But really, the high point of the evening was the five-foot-tall star topper on the state tree. Rumor has it that Michigan has to go for smaller trees these days, as it's relocated to a spot that doesn't allow for quite such big trees. So the topper might be meant to compensate for the trees being smaller. After the squall blew through, blowing away the parade and cancelling the tree-lighting, though, the topper was still there. Knocked about thirty degrees off vertical, listing drunkenly north-ish. A couple people in reindeer costumes were taking pictures, and having pictures taken, in front of the storm-wracked tree.

They cleaned things up and held a tree-lighting ceremony the next Tuesday, when we were at Lansing pinball league for the Zen Tournament, which neither of us won. The parade was blown away before quite all the marching bands had their chance to perform, so we don't know who won the $1,000 award for best band. The last one to perform, who did their routine despite it all in a storm minutes away from authorities demanding everyone find safety, would be the crowd favorite certainly. But that doesn't tell us exactly what did happen. Maybe they'll mention next year, before it rains.

Trivia: The signature of Thomas McKean, of Delaware, does not appear on the official version of the Declaration of Independence issued by the Continental Congress in January of 1777. It is not known when he signed; it's thought he signed possibly as late as 1781. Source: Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence, Denise Kiernan, Joseph D'Agnese.

Currently Reading: Tubes: A Journey To the Center Of The Internet, Andrew Blum.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
12:10 am
I got you, babe

So hey, how about my annual check-in to Bridgeton, New Jersey? The Cohanzick Zoo had its annual Coatimundi Day, something like its 20th according to the not perfectly clear report on NJ.com. This was held, as tradition has it, the 1st of February, so as to get a jump on groundhogs. And it features three coatis, Floriemel, Carmela, and Margarita. They're not coatimundis. Well, no such thing as bad publicity, right?

They had a different decision mechanism this year. I forget just what last year's was, but they used to check whether the coatis went for a plate of food labelled Winter and another plate labelled Spring. For this year they labelled one part of the enclosure Winter and the other part Spring, and let the coatis prowl around to see where they'd spend more of their time.

Judging where animals spend more of their time playing is a tougher call than which plate of food they're sitting at. But it does give the zoo more chances to show off videos of unusual animals playing, which is probably better for the real point of this thing. And they did some pretty good climbing around, including upside-down, clinging to the mesh of their enclosure.

Anyway, the judges concluded that the coatis spent more of their time on the 'winter' side, so they're calling for six more weeks of winter in South Jersey. We shall see, although I don't think any of us actually will.

The Vineland Daily Journal's web site has a short video showing the coatis off. Warnings: autoplay video, incorrect use of ``it's'' as a possessive. NJ.com's site has still pictures and no obvious problems with basic grammar. I should warn, though, when I looked one of the related features was about a dog examined by veterinarians who hope to heal her mauled face. While that's a good development, the link for it has an unsettling picture, and the whole story is no easier.

Trivia: Alfred Latell, who began vaudeville as an animal impersonator in 1902, would dress ``in various guises'' and provide ``the appropriate noises''; by 1909 he was renowned for impersonating monkeys, billy goats, bears, and dogs. He described the last as the most challenging. He also did parrots and ostriches among other birds. For his dog outfit he had joints made for his hindlegs so he would move more naturally, and a tube for his mouth to let him lap up milk. His cat costume included a string to tug to raise the fur on its back. Source: The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide.

Currently Reading: Tubes: A Journey To the Center Of The Internet, Andrew Blum.

Monday, February 6th, 2017
12:10 am
I'd take requests on the telephone

I had a slightly less lazy week on my mathematics blog this week. Two of the four posts weren't even about comics! And only one of the others was about me. Here's what you missed:

I've nearly got to the end of the week we spent in Omena! This starts pictures from Friday, which we spent walking around the tiny town of Omena mostly and then finally having a dinner on the grill.

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Baffling statuary of the Omena art museum: some kind of metallic possibly robot Abraham Lincoln looking over the bushes. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.


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Inside the Omena General Store. They have a pile of paperback books that are free to borrow. And they have the biggest pile of VHS I've seen since I came back from Singapore. We assume this is for free borrowing to people in the area and I don't know how VCRs are provided for. Yes, that's at least three Robin Williams movies in the set there.


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In the Omena General Store looking away from the videotapes. There's some pretty substantial icebox-like contraption on the top shelf on the left there. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.


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The Omena Presbyterian Church, a fairly old (by US standards) structure, and just a little bit away from the beach. I went off wandering around while bunny_hugger and family were looking for fossils and the like.


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The middle of the day at the Omena Beach. In the shade is the Knot Just A Bar restaurant. Also it turns out I can do some pretty nice dramatic lighting stuff with my new camera and its willingness to let me fiddle with the aperture settings.


Trivia: The 1908 New York Giants set baseball's single-season attendance record of 910,000 patrons. The record would not be broken until Babe Ruth joined the Yankees. Source: Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, Cait Murphy.

Currently Reading: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell.

Sunday, February 5th, 2017
12:10 am
He said that if I had a certain style the stuff would start to happen

So a while back I mentioned that a Blind Squirrel event inspired me to learn a new pinball skill. This is as good as any time to describe it. The technique is called alley passing.

Here's why I wanted to learn it: Blind Squirrel's Tri Zone is hard. Really hard. The big challenge is getting things up the left orbit, the one leading to the 'T' rollover. The most reliable way to score is to get the 'T', 'R', and 'I' rollovers rolled over, and boy is the 'T' a hard shot. The 'R' isn't easy either, but it's not so much harder than it is on our game at home.

But there's an alternative. If you can shoot the inlanes, the channels that bring the ball down to the left and right flippers, you can build the bonus up to its maximum (19,000 points), and the bonus multiplier up to its maximum (5x). That's a solid 95,000 points, which over three balls is pretty nearly a sure win. Trouble is getting the balls down the inlanes. There's alterante lanes, at the top of the playfield, but shooting 'T' is one of the two easy ways to get to the top of the playfield.

And this leads to alley passing. Start from a ball trapped on the flipper. Lower the flipper and let the ball roll down almost to the end of the flipper. Then flip up. Do it at the right time and the ball goes almost horizontally and zooms up the inlane. Builds the bonus base, has a 50-50 shot of building the bonus multiplier. Trap the ball again and repeat and, in principle, you get this really nice, sure minimum score.

I practiced this at home because, of course. The big thing I've learned: wow does this take nerve. If your timing is a little off the ball dribbles down the drain and you can't blame it on anything but you chose to screw up. And when the ball rockets up the inlane it might go back in crazy weird directions. Might not be easy to trap again. That's unnerving too. But I kept at it and got to my goal of three balls with the bonus base and multiplier built up to their maximums. Well, I got that once.

And in practice, in actual play, I have used this newfound skill. Not much, but a couple times. Last night, for example, at the finals for Marvin's Marvellous Mechanical Museum League I had several games on Wizard. It's a 1975 electromechanical game in slightly mopey shape. If the ball's on the right flipper all is great. (Especially for us, since the valuable shot on Wizard is the same as the 'T' shot on Tri Zone.) On the left flipper you want to get it over to the right flipper. And it turns out an alley pass is a great way to get the ball from the left flipper over to the right, and, by way of the inlane, score 500 points (not much, but about what you could expect from getting things into the bumpers) and ratchet up the bonus. I spent a lot of the night on Wizard and it mostly treated me well, not least because I had this odd little skill to deploy.

Trivia: The United States Naval Computing Machinery Laboratory began (at National Cash Register's plant in Dayton, Ohio) with a staff of 20. It ended the war with a staff of 1,100, and used 1,2000 computing machines of 140 varieties. (Their work was primarily cryptanalysis.) Source: Before The Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, 1865 - 1956, James W Cortada.

Currently Reading: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell.

Saturday, February 4th, 2017
12:10 am
Bowling or root beer or taking the train

Another thing that might have drained people from the Fear and Trembling tournament, besides the immediate shock of the election: there was another pinball tournament that weekend. This would be at MJS's pole barn, outside Kalamazoo, the spot of the famous Pinball At The Zoo afterparties and the New Year's Eve tournaments that made leaving 2015 and 2016 our choices for things. Maybe. I don't imagine people were really thinking they could go to one or the other. But it did mean that as we were licking our psychic wounds we could go somewhere with other people and to an event someone else was organizing, which we also needed. BIL, of the basement tournaments, was one of many people there and offering hugs to the (many) shocked people.

This tournament was a pinball bowling format. It's similar to pin golf. You had a score to reach, which if done in one ball would be scored a strike (30 points), two balls scored as a spare (20 points), three balls scored as I don't remember but it was worth 10 points, and if missed altogether some other arbitrary number of points, some randomly drawn number for each game. The top 14 went on to the finals. It wasn't exactly bowling scoring because nobody wanted to make it quite as complicated as scoring ten-pin bowling.

And for a wonder, in a tournament, it worked well for me! I had, I think, two strikes, which put me well ahead of some frankly better players. Possibly working against them: really good players instinctively play strategies that may build slowly but pay off big on the third ball. It's hard to think of going for the quick-and-dirty point grab. I qualified in fourth place. bunny_hugger finished in sixth place. Some really fine folks like MWS didn't make finals at all.

Then on to finals, a set of four-player matches, because current International Flipper Pinball Association rules don't give much credit for contests that have no player-versus-player matches. Each pod of four people played three games, with first place getting 35 points, second 20, third 10, and fourth 5 point. I lost the first match, and came in third on the second, and realized then the best that could possibly happen was I might tie for third. And then I went back, staring at the point spread again, because that seemed really out of place. No, that's how it happened. I would understand being knocked out after two last-place finishes, but it really seems like my fate should've been less set after a last and a third place finish.

Well, I got knocked out, and so fell from fourth-seeded to 12th place. I would tie with SMS, whom I'm scheduled to face in the first round of state finals next weekend. bunny_hugger also got knocked out, finishing in 11th place. Such happens.

Still, any excuse to get to the pole barn and that grand variety of electromechanical and solid-state games, not to mention games we'll need to do something on at the state championship, is a good one.

Trivia: Mercury was first solidified by Russian scientists A Brown and M V Lemonosov on the 26th of December, 1759, as they experimented with achieving much colder temperatures by mixing acids with salt and snow. Source: Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide To The Elements, John Emsley.

Currently Reading: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell. Me poaching a Secret Santa present bunny_hugger got from someone on The Flophouse podcast's Facebook group.

PS: How January 2017 Treated My Mathematics Blog, when I accidentally went a month without actually writing it.

Friday, February 3rd, 2017
12:10 am
Everything's waiting for you

So here's my humor blog from the past week, if you didn't read it originally or on your RSS feed. Here you go.

Another day, another day ending at the beach, from our summer vacation.

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Found inside Joe's Friendly Tavern: Fish Tales. It's an old familiar pinball machine to us at this point. And we looked at it and noticed the factory-default high score on the table there and figured, oh, we could take that. Well, we only got one game in each and ran out of quarters, not enough time to figure out where the shots were, so we didn't get to leave our initials on a pinball machine in a tavern in a small town up north.


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The beach in Empire, Michigan, almost walking distance from Joe's Friendly Tavern. You get nice sunsets like this on the Great Lakes.


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The Robert H Manning Memorial Light, on Empire Beach, a memorial to a lifelong resident of Empire. I do not understand why he gets a lighthouse like this except that, you know, you make friends and this sort of thing happens. It dates to 1991 and is the second-newest lighthouse in Michigan, says Wikipedia. (Detroit's Tricentennial Light is newer.)


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Meeting of gravity planes on the starbase Yorktown as seen in Star Trek: Beyond.


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bunny_hugger kneels, camera and coffee in hand, ready to take a photograph of the sunset from the beach. Folks were packing up, strangely, since the sun was about to go down and the place looked all the better for that.


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Everybody's Dad caught piddling off the boat launch.


Trivia: Josiah Dwight Whitney, head of the Geological Survey of California from 1860 to 1874, surveyed the highest point in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney) and the lowest (Death Valley). Source: Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society, Norman J W Thrower.

Currently Reading: Barnaby, Volume Two, 1944-45, Crockett Johnson. Editors Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
12:10 am
I'd have choices since the day that I was born

bunny_hugger wanted to run a pinball tournament sometime around Halloween. October was just too packed, too busy to set anything. She went to November. The sole day that looked plausible was the day after Election Day. She had an idea for a novel theme. Each of her previous tournaments has been a different style, a different format. She liked the idea that elections are derided as picking the least of awful choices. So she had the idea of a pinball tournament in which you had to play as best you could with some handicap. She dubbed this Fear and Trembling, from the title of Kierkegaard's book about how terrible it is to make a choice.

Now, in the good timeline, this would be a bit of merry-making and relief after a grueling election. There were some things working against it to start. It had to be a Wednesday as our hipster bar didn't have other free nights. It had to be immediately after Lansing Pinball League finals as again there weren't other free times. The tournament could only be for fun and trophies as the International Flipper Pinball Association would absolutely not give ranking points for a pinball tournament where you do silly things like play with chopsticks or with the playfield covered or other stuff. We were free to do that, they said, and it sounds like fun but that's not competitive pinball. Fair enough.

And then you know what happened and all joy in the world was extinguished. The event was always going to have a small turnout; the Grand Rapids folks, for example, would always have been a hard sell because driving out an hour-plus two nights in a row? And for a second night that's just, you (maybe) play Austin Powers while wearing fat oven mitts? For no IFPA credit? And after that election? Even CST, who's responsible for bunny_hugger having got in the pinball-running events, wasn't going to be able to make it, although we knew that even before the election. He had something or other scheduled.

So who did show up? Me. bunny_hugger. MWS. And that was it. To say the hipster bar was demoralized is to make it sound cheerier than it was. The Special of the Day board was just the F-word. MWS asked the bartender for one. ``I have no more f's to give.''

Still. The tournament. It was even more ridiculous to do than it had been before. But we had it anyway. It was a pinball golf format, trying to get to some score in as few balls as possible. But each game came with a handicap. You got to pick the handicap for which game, so there was some strategy. But you could use each handicap just the one time.

Some were surprisingly non-handicapping. Playing with big fat oven mitts on, for example, wasn't hard. Also it got us to buy new oven mitts. Tommy-style, with the flippers covered (by a newspaper), was harder, but it's fun. Reverse Tommy, with all but the flippers covered, harder than I expected given how often, in multiball, I'll focus entirely on the flippers and pay no attention to the playfield. Score display covered? Way more distracting than you'd imagine even when playing a game that hasn't got video modes or stuff that needs the display to understand.

And, you know, it was fun. Ridiculous, stunts like playing with your chin on the lockdown bar. Wild, for the ``Drunken Lout'' distraction. That one would make this format famous if anyone besides us knew about it. In that one your opponents are allowed to distract you in any way (besides touching you or the game): getting in your field of view, asking distracting questions, making a racket, cracking jokes. That was great, not least because I could deploy in-jokes to crack up bunny_hugger.

When the games ended MWS had the lead, I was second place, and bunny_hugger third. On to finals, the ladder of head-to-head matches. bunny_hugger beat me fair and square. She went on to MWS on the randomly-selected final game, Ghostbusters. Handicap, playing with the chin on the bar. This is a dangerous thing to do because Ghostbusters has a shaker motor that makes the machine rumble. A lot. So very much. It feels like a jackhammer when you get the multiball started (fair enough, as that's themed to the ghosts being let out of the containment facility, which should be pretty disruptive). It might shake fillings out if you hold your chin on too firmly. MWS had a weak game, bunny_hugger a less weak game, and there we were. She was the champion.

Back in spring 2016 GRV, who's won more pinball trophies than he knew what to do with, gave a box of them to bunny_hugger for refitting into new pinball trophies. For Fear And Trembling she finally used them, as it seemed like GRV had plenty of time for second thoughts. She repainted and modified them to be new trophies. And she got to take home the biggest of the trophies, the one that would have been ridiculously oversized for a comedy-pinball tournament, and was all the moreso for a tournament that had three participants. I took home the more modest third-place trophy. MWS the similar second-place trophy. And, you know, while we were playing things seemed all right a while.

Maybe for 2017 more people will show up. They had no idea what they were missing.

Trivia: French glassmakers of the 1780s were so fuel-short some resorted to burning olive pits. Source: An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage.

Currently Reading: Barnaby, Volume Two, 1944-45, Crockett Johnson. Editors Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds.

PS: Mathematics Stuff To Read Or Listen To, reading-list matters. Some of it I have read or listened to, too.

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