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

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Saturday, March 25th, 2017
12:10 am
The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky

By Friday my mother was feeling better, and we were feeling a bit more up to doing stuff. We set out to ... I forget the name of the place. The estate of some 18th-century landowner, though. The building, the docent was careful to explain, was not built to the Southern Plantation style, even as it had existed at the time. Instead it was built to the Georgian model, the ruthlessly symmetric patterns of the mother country. Most charmingly the relentless symmetry of the building design meant that some rooms, such as (I think it was) the living room, had a door which served absolutely no purpose. It was there to balance the other door in the room, and was otherwise sealed shut. It had been attacked in the past by robbers who supposed, not unreasonably, that a door which couldn't possibly lead anywhere sensible was probably hiding something worth stealing.

The house was preserved, but not restored. That is, the walls were painted with more or less the historic paint, not repainted to be fresh and new. The rooms didn't hold furniture, and the stairs were at such a point that we were instructed to walk, one at a time, at least three steps behind the next person, lest we tax the building's structure. That's more a problem for big groups, like the bunch of schoolkids brought to see what might be here.

Though the house was ancient (by American standards) and not restored, it had been in living use until quite recently. The last family members to live in it were still alive, and even came back within the past few years for burials, including one I want to say in 2016 for a family pet. One of the more humanizing touches of it was the size chart by the side of one door, with marks of who had got to what size by what age.

I'd spotted by the stairs a pulley embedded in the arch. This was, apparently, a tool used to make it easier to haul stuff into the building. In the quite large stone-lined basement were a couple of pillars which had been deposited there sometime in the 1850s and hadn't been used for anything since, which should make us all feel a little more on top of our minor building projects.

Of course the house had kept slaves. The slave quarters hadn't survived, but there was their graveyard, off towards the woods. It had a recently-installed wrought-iron arch marking its entrance. This had been donated by one of the surviving known descendants who, consulted on what to do with the remains, apparently said to ``leave 'em be'', the motto embedded in the arch.

After this we went out to eat, I think our only restaurant visit the whole trip. My parents had located a vegetarian restaurant and we'd set reservations for which we were something like 45 minutes early, owing to our overestimating how long we'd spend at the mansion and how quickly we'd get from one to the other. They were able to seat us anyway, since they seemed baffled we were making reservation in the first place. It was a fine spot, though, one with a feel much like Kaya's Kitchen, back in Belmar. I mean the old Kaya's Kitchen, before they moved to their current spot (which they did like six years ago) and got a little more upscale. Also it wasn't an all-vegetarian restaurant, but that's fine. We had plenty to pick from, which is always a delight in a new restaurant.

At night, this, the last day of our visit, we finally exchanged Christmas presents. My parents were most thrilled and hopeful for the box of Fabiano's chocolates. I gave uninspired stuff again, mostly books. I got back books too, which are always good things for me. (People worry sometimes about giving books I've already read. While I do read a lot, you know, there's a lot of books out there. Your chance of a duplicate is quite low and I'd never be ungrateful for that anyway.) I joked to my mother that one of the books I'd gotten her, a history of Bellevue Hospital, I was sorry because I hadn't had the time to read it first. This reminded her that she had been reading a book she meant to give me, and went to her bedroom to fetch it. So it goes.

Trivia: The Voyager record was made of gold-coated copper and designed to play at 16 2/3 revolutions per minute. Source: Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds In The Third Great Age of Discovery, Stephen J Pyne.

Currently Reading: A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck, Roger Ebert.

PS: What Pinball Games Are Turing Machines? And I don't know; I'm just asking.

Friday, March 24th, 2017
12:10 am
From Victoria Station

I passed my 1500th post on my humor blog and then forgot to mention that fact when it happened. I'll have to wait for the 2000th, I guess. Anyway, here's stuff that's run on my humor blog the past week:

And now return with me to Anthrocon in the off-season, when it's cheaper: Pinburgh 2016!


The start of Pinburgh 2016! Assembled competitive pinball players receive final instructions from the guy on stage. Bonus: if you hold the screen up to your ear, you can hear exactly the same instructions I heard from standing back here. Notice on stage that every three games there's two large TV screens stacked vertically; they're showing --- from cameras mounted above the playfields --- what's going on to the audience. Some people got assigned to banks on-stage; I didn't, but did play one in free time after the tournament.


My first bank! Jack-Bot, Gator, High Speed, and (off-panel) Cheetah. The first game I knew very well, the last tolerably well, and the third I knew some. I did relatively well on Jack-Bot because everyone else tried to use this rules exploit trick to get extra shots in before the ball saver starts counting time; I just played the game like it's supposed to be. They came to grief trying to out-clever the game.


The actual pro-wrestling style belt awarded to the Pinburgh champion as the game was part of the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association circuit, a set of like two dozen events over the year.


The closest I got to winning the Pinburgh Division A.


Strangely charming side box art for The Lost World, one of the games in a later bank. I love the sheepish look on the dinosaur. I have a weakness for timid monsters. In the foreground is Volcano, the first table on which I just bricked every ball.


Backglass art for Lost World, which is just a perfect representation of that early-solid-state era in game design.

Trivia: Dwight Eisenhower did not declare himself uninterested in the 1948 Democratic party nomination for president until fourteen days before the convention, and did not make an unambiguous declaration of uninterest for three more days. Source: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World, William Lee Miller. (The ambiguity was that Eisenhower declared he was uninterested in the nomination ``at this time''.)

Currently Reading: A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck, Roger Ebert.

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
12:10 am
Like painted kits those days and nights they went flying by

Thursday was another day of sleeping in very late and having not really much idea what to do for lunch. My recollections of lunch this visit with my parents are of making a lot of sandwiches with oddly-chopped-off bits of the cheeses that we never buy because they're too expensive and too hard to make plausible sandwiches from, glued together with mayonnaise. Also there were many attempts to get my parents' Keurig explained to us, ending finally in our quiet resolve to just happen to never want to bother using it (for me) or to somehow always having loose grounds and the wrong amount of water in the cup (for bunny_hugger).

We did relieve my parents' anxiety that we weren't doing anything by talking a bit about things we might do. My parents mentioned how much they had enjoyed the movie Hidden Figures, for example, and we said we might just go see that. (We did, eventually, two weeks ago.) And then we took up my father's suggestion of a miniature golf course nearby. My sister and her husband had enjoyed it as a low-key event when they visited some time before and, sure, that's the kind of thing we'd like doing even in normal circumstances.

The golf course had recently --- as in, within the previous two weeks --- changed its name and lost or given up the franchise license it had. It had clearly been part of that pirate-themed miniature golf chain we'd gone to in Traverse Bay a couple years ago; they still had many of the signs about Blackbeard or other pirates. My father joined us in playing, and one of us (I forget who) made the mistake of getting a green ball, which is not ideal for miniature golf at twilight.

Inside the main arcade building were the sorts of video and redemption games we'd expect from something like Kokomo's or any other family fun center. No pinball; I hadn't expected any, but my father was disappointed he wouldn't be able to see us in action. They did have a nice-looking shooting gallery with a bear-figured bartender, which is the sort of thing that makes sense for the reasons. The place also had a tiny indoor bumper-cars track, which seems like madness, although I suppose it isn't really any less credible than any portable bumper-car track for a travelling carnival or the like.

We went back to my parents' home for dinner, and learned that sometime since our arrival the town my parents are in had turned off the main street's Christmas lights and struck the decorations. It wasn't yet the Epiphany, although it was close, I suppose. Still seemed early.

In the evening I spent time reading from a book of The Charleston Knowledge. It's this tome issued by City Hall containing the stuff that people who want to be licensed tour guides should know about what they're guiding about. My father got a copy for my mother, to support her passing fancies about running ``Old Ladies Walking Tours'' of the city to places that don't require walking too long or fast all at once. So the book is this bundle of trivia about the city, including to my delight notes about commonly-told yet erroneous beliefs about the city. You have no idea how much I love reading anything that claims to correct a mistaken belief even if it was about a belief I had never heard of nor imagined hearing about before. I don't know if my mother is going to get her tour-guide license, but she's got idle reading for ages if she doesn't. Study material if she does.

Trivia: Truth or Consequences went on the air 23 March 1940 on CBS for Ivory Soap, with Ralph Edwards as host and Mel Allen as announcer. Source: Quiz Craze, Thomas A DeLong.

Currently Reading: A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck, Roger Ebert.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
12:10 am
Two sweethearts and the summer wind

We didn't fill the afternoon just with the letterbox trip. It wasn't that far and while the scene was lovely we didn't spend all that long walking around.

Fortunately coastal South Carolina is lousy with historic sites, many of them federal sites that don't charge much or any admission fee. We went to the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Pinckney, you'll remember if you're from the Eastern Seaboard, is one of those names that sounds kind of familiar from sometime around the Revolutionary War for something or other. And if you grew up past the Proclamation Line of 1763 he isn't quite that familiar. You remember correctly. (He was big in the Constitutional Convention, and was an early Governor of South Carolina and Ambassador to Spain.)

The site has a pleasant-looking house on it, which was built in the 1820s, long after any Pinckney lived at the area, and no buildings from when his family owned the property survive. The tricky thing about historic preservation is that you only get to preserve what's left over after everyone was busy living. There's no letterboxes there; national historical sites are extremely anti-letterbox. But there are rooms full of historical artefacts and descriptions of how the farms were worked and different ways that slaveowners would force the people they owned to labor for them. There was also a video explaining who the heck Charles Pinckney was, but we didn't quite have time for that.

We spent more time walking out onto the grounds. Besides the fields there was also a boardwalk out into the marshy lands that reminded me of the Sungei Bulow Nature Reserve back in Singapore. My father meanwhile sat in the car and fretted about how close we were getting to 5:00 when the park closed. He got to calling my phone, over and over, warning me that it was only twenty minutes until the park closed and only ten minutes until the park closed and so on. Mind, it's not a big park; it's about the size of a highway rest area. And while the drive into it has a gate I couldn't imagine they would lock us inside. But he worried, and I was oblivious since I didn't have my phone on me. I imagine it was back in my (broken) messenger bag, at my parents' apartment. I did get the messages later on.

So we left without having any incidents of being locked into a minor historic site. We spent the evening at my parents' apartment, checking up on my mother and having dinner there and wondering at game shows like this one where you answer questions and drop balls into a very large plinko board, only vey slowly. Didn't really understand that, but these things happen.

Trivia: Thomas Sumter died in South Carolina at the age of 97 in 1832. He was the last surviving general officer of the War for Independence. Source: Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, Christopher Hibbert.

Currently Reading: A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck, Roger Ebert.

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
12:10 am
All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand

We were very tempted to continue staying in doing nothing. The second full day of our trip (Wednesday) we found something low-key enough to do that we could be roused for it and yet not requiring any of the big activity we were hoping to avoid. This involved letterboxing. bunny_hugger found a couple of the hidden caches near enough to my parents' home. One was right by a pretty major bridge and that seemed good. My father went along with us. My mother slept in, recovering.

The setting was a park, one down by the river/marsh bed, so we could see and smell the changes that tides brought to the area. And as my father was along we were able to explain some of the history and procedures of letterboxing: how there's these just-slightly-ambiguous-enough clues leading on a trail to some interesting or scenic or historic location. And how we'd planted a couple, and how we'd picked up hitchhikers, mini-letterboxes that fit inside other letterboxes. The trail within the marshy land was pretty good-looking, and clear enough. We also went past an abandoned building that used to be an icehouse, or at least might have been. I think the sign admitted that they weren't really perfectly sure, or perhaps the building had served multiple roles in its history.

The letterbox seemed like it might have gone missing, which is not a rare event but is frustrating to have happen and embarrassing in front of an interested stranger to the hobby. But we got lucky: walking around the tree that seemed least unlike what was described in the clues revealed the telltale hint of a bit of plastic underneath some tree bark. The letterbox was there, and in fair shape, and we could show it off to my father. I think it had gotten a little damp and we did our best to dry it off and seal it better. Also we realized we still had the hitchhiker we'd picked up in Traverse Bay last year (we failed to leave it off with the letterbox we found outside Earlham during the reunion weekend). So we could leave it there and help the hitchhiker --- which had started out in Oregon --- make it from coast to coast. That felt nice and triumphant.

Trivia: In response to Pope Paul IV's 1559 list of forbidden books Cosimo de Medici negotiated the book-burning down to a smaller list, just of books on ``religion or sacred things, or magic, spells, geomancy, chiromancy, astrology, and other similar matters'', with the Inquisition's Florence delegate agreeing that books needed by lawyers, physicians, and philosophers should be exempted, and emphasizing the importance of Jewish medical books. Source: Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance, Lisa Jardine.

Currently Reading: Ozma of Oz, L Frank Baum.

Monday, March 20th, 2017
12:10 am
So near yet so far on a carousel, on a carousel

I had one of those four-post weeks on my mathematics blog, which you might have seen on your RSS reader or just your friends page or from following the PS: tags every couple days here. If you didn't, too bad. Here's your next chance to catch up on all this:


Tuscora Park's carousel and some of the open space as seen from atop of the Superior Wheel.


The swinging chair ride as seen from the Superior Wheel. The seats are solid moulded plastic and so there's no slack for fitting in and they're honestly not that comfortable to sit in.


The train station again as seen from the Superior Wheel.


The junior roller coaster and the train tracks over by the lake, and its little lighthouse figure.


The Superior Wheel as seen from a better angle.

Trivia: Among the founding investors in the R E Olds Company was William H Porter, founder of the Lansing Spoke Company. Source: R E Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer, George S May.

Currently Reading: Ozma of Oz, L Frank Baum.

Sunday, March 19th, 2017
12:10 am
It lingered there to touch your hair and walk with me

Ahead of our visit my parents were anxious that we have plenty of stuff to do. I understand that. I'm like that when I expect to host someone too. But the thing was I just didn't want to do much, and bunny_hugger didn't either. We were still barely two weeks out from our rabbit's death and were still barely getting through days without crying much. And while it's hard to say I suspect I'd have wanted to not do much even if our pet rabbit were alive and well and staying with bunny_hugger's parents. December had seen plenty of stuff to run us ragged. Some of it was unavoidable like my work trip; some of it was stuff that we didn't want to miss. But it did mean we'd gone weeks without a day that could just be spent sitting on the couch watching TV and not having anything we didn't want to do with the world.

So it was a bit lucky that my mother had a cold. To call it a cold understates it. She had one of those infections that works by clobbering you between a set of four 500-pound padded foam tubes and then leaves your every muscle in pain. She spent the day we arrived in bed, and nearly all the next day too. And I do feel awful for her about that. But it also meant that doing anything too elaborate was unlikely. Some of the more terrifyingly involved prospects, like driving to a plantation in Savannah(?), two hours off, were off unless we really insisted on going.

No need; we were happy to stay in, catch up on e-mail and stuff, and watch that History Channel documentary-I-guess about guys trying to dig up the Money Pit treasure of Oak Island. I discovered that show while in New Jersey and boy but every episode is even better than the last, even when you consider they suggested that hey, maybe there were some lost Shakespeare manuscripts in there. Of course there are, boys, now go play outside.

My father had to head out for a checkup, and he did so without telling us what the wireless password was. So we had to wake my mother and learn what it was, and that it was one of those things that we might in principle have guessed except that we didn't imagine my parents would use that as inspiration for their password. I'll leave it at that. I felt awful waking my mother like that, but then she shared it, explained it, and passed out again without getting out of bed.

Despite the smacking she'd taken from her cold --- and our worries that we'd get it, or especially that bunny_hugger would get it going into the first week of classes (she didn't) --- my mother did get up for a few things. Supper, mostly. She'd made a vegan chili in the slow cooker, something that was much more based on sweet potatoes than beans or whatnot. Incredibly filling and yet something we could keep on eating apparently without limit. My mother described how to make it and it seemed very easy to, and yet we haven't replicated it ourselves. We should.

Anyway, thanks to my mother's cold we had a day not just free of doing anything but free of the feeling that we ought to be doing something. We could just be where we were, which we needed.

Trivia: In the game of ``drive ball'' two players face each other with bats, taking turns striking a ball back and forth. Each player hits the ball from where it's retrieved, with the objective being to gain ground on the opponent, by hitting the ball farther away or by catching it sooner. Source: Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, David Block. (And this does sound like a good game to me; I'm surprised I've never heard of anyone playing or reinventing it.)

Currently Reading: A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck, Roger Ebert. Getting into the era of movies I've also heard described on The Flophouse podcast, too.

PS: How Interesting Is March Madness? a summary of my NCAA tournament-related explorations of information theory and some spinoff articles.

Saturday, March 18th, 2017
12:10 am
The summer wind came blowing in from across the sea

Finally to 2017! We planned a just-past-New-Year's visit with my parents. We hadn't been able to find a time in January 2016 that made sense and wasn't terrifically expensive to visit them, and with our pet rabbit's infirmities we didn't have the chance to visit them in summer. It wasn't quite as long between visits as bunny_hugger feared --- it had been since August 2015 --- but still, that was longer than I'd really wanted either. So we set for a short visit in the couple days between New Year's and the start of classes, which were earlier than usual too. All right, an under-a-week-long visit it must be, then.

The most bizarre thing about driving to the airport was that we didn't need to visit bunny_hugger's parents first. No pet to drop off and see safely set up. We could just hold the mail, turn the thermostat down (not too much, lest the fish in the basement get too cold), and be on our way. We had the usual follies at the airport where the Transportation Security Theater people decided once more there was a problem with bunny_hugger's clothes. I think this is the one they blamed on her having jeans with cuffs that roll up. If we take them seriously then the scanners were designed without rolled-up jeans in mind. I'm not sure, though; she gets some impossibly petty, stupid complaint whenever she goes through airport security.

We had an evening flight, the better to keep us from having to get up in the morning. Also from paying too much for our visit. The downside was that we got in to Charleston pretty late, too late to do anything on the day. My father met us himself; even if it weren't past my mother's usual bedtime, she had been stricken with a cold and was not up to doing high-intensity stuff like walking outside their (new since our last visit) apartment.

That was fine and we got set up in the guest bedroom well enough. My father was able to show us the jar of M and Ms and where the soda was and how to turn on their 462-inch television set and all that. What he wasn't able to do is tell us what the Wi-Fi password was; horror of horrors, they weren't using the same one they'd used last time or the last ten years they were in New Jersey. I took my best guesses and even tried to decipher it from my mother's iPad, to no avail. So that's why we went to bed early.

Trivia: The ``Exchequer Yard'', the physical instrument used by England and then the United Kingdom as the standard for the yard's length (and from it feet and inches), was destroyed in the 1834 fire at the houses of Parliament. Source: The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey That Transformed the World, Ken Alder.

Currently Reading: Waging War: The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS, David J Barron.

Friday, March 17th, 2017
12:10 am
Horses chasing cause they're racing

My humor blog's kept up its daily postings this week, too, and it passed its 1500th post without my remembering to say anything about that. Um. Sorry. RSS feed included here. That's something, right? Anyway, here's what was happening there:

Our journey to Pinburgh began with a stop at a small municipal park which had absorbed the contents of a small amusement park. What happened in our nearly twelve minutes wandering around there? This.


Inflatable figure set up outside Tuscora Park in New Philadelphia, Ohio, for ... well, I don't know. So visiting Michigan fans have something to punch? I don't know, you all are weird.


bunny_hugger enjoying the antique carousel that Tuscora Park has had since 1940. It's a Herschell-Spillman from around 1925; the National Carousel Association doesn't know who owned it before Tuscora Park.


Music scrolls for the carousel's Wurlitzer 153 band organ. I love getting photographs of their inventory like this.


The Spillman carousel at full speed and from that nice low angle that makes for such exciting pictures.


The C W Parker Superior Wheel, finally (finally!) working. We'd ridden its sibling, and the only other survivor of the breed, at Crossroads Village in Flint often.

Trivia: Insurance payments for the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire in 1906 alone depleted about 14 percent of Britain's stock of gold, the largest outflow of gold from Britain between 1900 and 1913. Source: The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm, Robert F Bruner, Sean D Carr.

Currently Reading: Waging War: The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS, David J Barron.

PS: Reading the Comics, March 11, 2017: Accountants Edition, wrapping up last week's comics in time for this week's, almost.

Thursday, March 16th, 2017
12:10 am
Finger on remote control, we are wired to your soul

So two weeks ago while I watched a DVD, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Squirm. A bit later when bunny_hugger came home from work she asked why the TV set was all white and making crackling noises. I had been working in the dining room, so hadn't seen the screen issues, and just supposed the crackling was that we had to tighten some cable connections which is too tedious to deal with doing. Not so: our tube TV, after nineteen years of service, and mere hours after being perfectly fine, was dying. As best our tech-y friends figure it's the flyback transformer that went, and if we left the set on it would eventually explode and ooze a terrible tar-like goo. This may have been hyperbole, but we were willing to just leave the set off.

Competitive pinball served us well in replacing the TV: some of our friends in it work for a big hotel chain and bought a couple of the sets taken out of rooms being renovated or upgraded. He was happy to give us one and so we ended up with a 42-inch LCD screen that, he pointed out, six thousand people had watched before us. That's all right. My mild and completely functional obsessive-compulsive disorder doesn't work that way.

42 inches may not sound big to you, but it's bigger than our old set and far too big to fit on our TV table. We had sketched out an idea where to put a widescreen TV if our tube set ever broke, and used essentially that: move one of the bookshelves into the dining room, move the tower with all our entertainment boxes over, and move the record cabinet into the living room to be the TV table. This required that we take all the books and DVDs and nicknacks off the shelves, which took time but also gave us the chance to impose some short-lived order on them. Also we got to move and dust behind the bookshelves for the first time since time began. Besides a lot of dust we found where mice had chewed an ancient Consumer Reports buying guide into pieces, with just a couple miscellaneous pages remaining, as if they were trying to work out the best microwave to buy in 2006.

This would also be a chance to attempt the impossible task of untangling our many cables. That didn't really work, although since the Dish TV guy with the HD DVR to replace our old was able to replace the unit without being reduced to a homicidal fury I suppose we managed something all right.

And we finally achieved DVR Zero! By having a brand-new DVR with nothing on it. Also they left behind the old DVR, as it's too obsolete for the company to want it back, so we can theoretically hook that back up and watch what we had there.

The mysterious things about all this: first, that the week before our tube TV died we also lost our Wii. bunny_hugger had been taking a disc out and apparently the clips or something to hold discs in got twisted as the thing wouldn't allow a disc in or out again. We had just arranged to borrow her parents' Wii, since they're not using it anymore, when the TV died. The next most mysterious thing about this: it's not like Squirm is that awful a movie. Why should our TV die on that one?

Trivia: In the first Honeymooners sketch on DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars, Art Carney appeared as a policemen. He'd been by the window of 358 Chauncey Street when Ralph hurled a tin of flour out the window during an argument. Source: The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television, David Weinstein.

Currently Reading: Waging War: The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS, David J Barron.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
12:10 am
Did you ever know that you're my hero?

We took our pet rabbit to the vet's for his follow-up checkup on what turned out to be the windiest day Lansing's seen in ages. When I say ``windy'' I understate things. We were getting steady winds above thirty miles per hour and gusts above sixty. We didn't lose power, but many people did, all across the lower peninsula. The vet's office had power flickering, which meant that they weren't able to actually run the blood work on him. They had to call us back the next day and, by asking for ``Mister (bunny_hugger's last name)'' made me suspect they were another of the creditor-we-assume calls that her starter husband still gets here on occasion. He turned out to be quite well, and the touch of anemia he'd had has cleared up, probably because we've got him eating a more varied diet. While he was none too happy at the start of the checkup he apparently understood when all the examining was done, as he was happy to prowl around the waiting room and charm other folks there.

The wind, though. The wind. It made for hazardous driving. It made for school closures, with some places sending students home as early as 11 am, and have you ever heard of that? Me neither. bunny_hugger was driving --- my car was waiting for new brake calipers --- and not at all happy driving on the highway with wind pushing her car, not to mention the 18-wheelers, around like paper airplanes.

Quite a bit of stuff got damaged or destroyed, including an evergreen tree up the block. Several billboards are listing dangerously. There were fears the front of an historical church opposite the capitol would cave in, but it looks like they'll be able to shore that up. And the (opposite us) fence of one of our neighbors' collapsed, so I guess they won't be letting their dogs run in the yard for a while.

And us? As has happened the last few times, we got out of it lucky. We had a storm window blown off and land in the back yard. I thought it was from the guest bedroom, meaning it fell from upstairs and didn't shatter. Which would be really astounding, but no: it fell from the breakfast nook instead. Less stupendous. A lot of leaves and some litter fell in the backyard pond, and since the ice on that had melted I just had to spend a half-hour skimming stuff out. But we didn't lose anything more than some minor branches. And it blasted all the leaves out of the side garden and between our hedges, as well as cleaning out the seed shells underneath the bird and squirrel feeders. Really, apart from it blowing all our squirrels over into Okemos, the windstorm was a great convenience.

Trivia: French astronomer Denis Petau appears to have been, in 1627, the first person to write dates with ``BC'' for the pre-Christian-Era. Source: The Calendar: The 5000-Year Struggle to Align the Clock and the Heavens --- and What Happened to the Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan.

Currently Reading: Waging War: The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS, David J Barron.

PS: Terrible and Less-Terrible Pi, my Pi Day contribution of whatnot.

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
12:10 am
I thought I was the Bally table king

So pinball has this problem where it's not quite as sexist as, say, the computer industry but not for want of trying. Some folks are trying to fight back, opening up, for example, new web forums where the casual misogyny of web forums is slapped down. And the International Flipper Pinball Association has started tracking the top female players in the world, including separate women's rankings that contain the scores of gender-restricted tournaments. IFPA points, in general, don't count events which are not open in principle to anyone wishing to compete. The women's-only rankings count women's-only tournaments.

Last year bunny_hugger played the Women's Division of the Baby Food Festival, in Fremont, and took third place. That was not much, but there haven't been many women's-only or women's-division tournaments. The event put her, for 2016, at something like 22nd in the world for women's-only events. Still: the top 16 women would be invited to the Women's World Championship in Dallas this month! And a couple of women declined their invitations, with the person just ahead of bunny_hugger accepting the last spot. That person would have been ranked lower than bunny_hugger if a ranking revision, motivated by some complicated rules-violations issues at the New York Superleague, had been done a month earlier. But it wasn't, and so bunny_hugger reconciled herself to having just missed out on being invited to the Women's World Championship. And resolving to make it next year.

And then came the e-mail. Someone else had dropped out, and as the next-ranked person, it was bunny_hugger's turn to accept or decline the invite.

She slept on it, but said yes, and so we'll soon be off to Dallas. She'll be facing the top-ranked woman in competitive pinball today in the first round of a best-of-seven tournament run by the same rules as the State Championship Series as last month. bunny_hugger already dreads a crushing first-round defeat. Some of our pinball-superstar friends think she's got a good chance, judging her opponent as overrated and less tough than, say, the woman SMS --- also going, and the woman who knocked me out of the Michigan championship --- is to face. We shall see. Me, I've got a pin-golf side tournament and reassuring bunny_hugger that nobody thinks she's out of place in a world championship like this ahead.

Trivia: Reptile was a last-minute addition to the original Mortal Kombat; designers Ed Boon and John Tobias hoped to make a character that turned up rarely, so that people who saw it would talk about it with conviction but be doubted by their friends. ``You wouldn't know if somebody was telling the truth or not if you said, `There's a guy, a green ninja, and you fight him at the bottom of the pit','' recounted Boon. Source: The Ultimate History of Video Games, steven L Kent.

Currently Reading: Waging War: The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS, David J Barron.

Monday, March 13th, 2017
12:10 am
Told the umpire he was wrong all along

Three posts in the week seems to be my new normal for the mathematics blog. ( RSS feed here.) I've got plans for this coming week, though! Watch this space. Run since last week:

After the ball game we said farewell to JIM and then wandered around town a little as the day had gotten much sunnier, in fact so sunny as to burn our skin, and we had some time before we figured to get home.


Clara's was a restaurant set up in the former train station. It had been there forever and then suddenly closed without warning. There's talk of what they're going to do with the site (make it into a restaurant) but we'd got there after the ballgame and before anything was really changed about it. Also, while this was a month after the place closed there was still a full parking lot and it looked like people inside. Our best guess was a pre-booked event.


Inside the vestibule for Clara's. The place was decorated in the Pile Of Railroad-Connected Antiques style; note the Chesapeake and Ohio train schedule on the right. No idea if that was ever a specifically correct schedule or if it just looked good.


Opposite Clara's and to the east is this alleyway that for some reason got dressed up with the name Père Marquette Place and one of the town's good number of murals.


One of those things you never notice is around: the Lansing Inn. We're none too sure if it's still a current hotel or what. The best we can tell from the area suggests it might have once been a hotel and now is just offices. I could understand keeping the sign above the door as an historical artifact, but then why the small one to the right?


Capital City Scoops, an ice cream shop near all this. Mostly we like its sign, which turns the state capital into the Cadbury Flake for a 99.

Trivia: Henry VI was the only English King to be crowned in France. (He also lost all England's French territory apart from Calais.) Source: Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe, Patricia Pierce.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1987-1988, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Sunday, March 12th, 2017
12:10 am
I know a man, his name is Lang, and he has a neon sign

In 2015 the Silver Balls tournament was the penultimate pinball match of the year. MJS held one New Year's Eve, which let him get into the state championship series just ahead of bunny_hugger. (She got in anyway when GRV ``happened'' to arrive late.) This year, with a little encouragement, MJS decided to hold it again. It would not decide whether bunny_hugger made it into the championships; she was too high-ranked for that. Nor whether MJS would; he was too low-ranked for that. But there was a lot of enthusiasm for a closing-out-the-year event like this.

It was a four-strikes tournament, and in a nice touch was in the location that would be used for the state championship series. So even if you were knocked out early you could still get in some needed practice on the tables. This may be why it was so well-attended, although some of the east-side folks didn't make it, fueling (incorrect) speculation that they were going to skip the finals. Over the course of the night one of my wins was against SMS, my first-round opponent, on Whirlwind, which is what gave me the bright idea to try taking her to that. (She beat me on it at the state championship contest. Still, it was worth trying.) I would end up having a surprisingly good night, considering my usual performance in tournaments like this, and tie for ninth place with SMS.

Among the entertainments I noticed, besides quite a bit of food, was playing on the TV a bunch of movies that got made into pinball machines. Demolition Man was the one that stood out, since it was recently added to two of our pinball leagues' venues, but they also showed ... uh ... now I forget which, but it was some tolerably-well-known 90s-license thing. I'm not sure if this was stuff on DVD or just what the satellite TV happened to have.

After midnight we all tromped outside a little, into the huge backyard with some actual snow on the ground and a line of small, decorated trees. There SMS set off a bunch of fireworks, a show not very large but right up close and against every instinct I ever learned growing up. But it was ringing in the new year well, and with a fantastic backdrop.

We stayed at a hotel in Kalamazoo, not because we were too tired to drive but because that seemed a little better than an avoidable 75-minute post-midnight New Year's Eve drive. It was at the Red Roof Inn we'd stayed in before, although this time we were next to a quite noisy room and the hotel Wi-Fi didn't work. This screwed up (a little) bunny_hugger's experience with a habit-reinforcing web site she's been using to cultivate good and break bad habits. Not that she wasn't keeping her habits up, but that she didn't get to log them for credit. Which may sound petty but if you are doing what you hope to, you should get that little virtual reward for it.

The previous year MJS had held a New Year's Day tournament too, but he didn't feel up to that much organization and management, for which nobody can blame him. (Plus he'd be opening his pole barn for the weekends for about a month ahead of the State Championship, and hosting the State Championship.) So the next morning all we had to do was drive home and try not to feel like the house was empty.

Trivia: The term ``buccaneer'' trades to ``boucaniers'', after the wooden rack --- the ``boucan'' --- used for drying meant from wild pig herds on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga. Source: To Rule The Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, Arthur Herman.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1987-1988, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Saturday, March 11th, 2017
12:10 am
It's Christmas time in the city

Lansing's Potter Park Zoo decorates the place every year for December. We'd hoped to get to it again, and first attempted to go a night they were closed. It turns out they were only open a couple days each week. We were far from the only people confused; when we went there the wrong time a half-dozen cars with people checking their smart phones were there, also trying to figure out what was going on.

So we went back the correct day and figured we'd check in the gift shop for --- it didn't matter; the place was closed and empty, apparently mid-renovation. All right. They also had rearranged the building in which they had activities and live-animal pettings, separating them into different rooms. They were, I think, the same kinds of animals as last year, such as the blue-tongued skink. Also a rabbit, the first one we'd been in contact with since our pet died. We held it together although when the docent mentioned this one was --- eight? nine? --- years old I nearly lost it.

The lights outside were fantastic, and it was not all that cold, a recurring theme this winter. No snow, which made the night less photogenic, as you'll see sometime, possibly by next December. (I've wondered if I should add another weekly photo entry to get a little closer caught up.) We set out without a map and realized we didn't really know the layout of the zoo so very well, and they had renovated it since the last time we'd been there. In the dark --- the holiday lights were the main illumination --- and unfamiliar terrain we got lost a fair bit. As it was we didn't get into the small bird house, although we did admire the peacock light fixtures in the windows outside it.

It's not a large zoo and yet somehow we took through to the end of the night to see it. This wasn't frightfully late; they closed at maybe eight or nine o'clock, and did it in the slightly spooky way of turning off the public-address songs, then turning off what lights there were. So that gave us a close to the Christmas-in-Lansing season that was as faintly creepy and ominous as we might hope.

Trivia: New Jersey refused to pay the Confederation Congress's September 1785 request for $3 million to support the national government. It was also the first state to appoint delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Source: New Jersey: A History of the Garden State, Editors Maxine N Lurie, Richard Veit.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1987-1988, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

Friday, March 10th, 2017
12:10 am
Knew the players by their first names

It's Thursday-ish Friday so let me remind you who haven't put my humor blog on your Friends page and don't even have an RSS feed that you missed reading stuff like this earlier:

Back to the ballpark! And the game.


Infield prep: planting first base in a freshly-dried-enough ground.


Oh, the Princess and the Pizza Pie-rate, huh? I get it.


The kid who won the Pirate costume contest, who happened to be sitting near us and who went in with a Ninja Turtles sword.


What happens when the scoreboard guy gets the lyrics to ``Take Me Out To The Ballgame'' from the first hit on allthebestlyrics.com instead of a reputable source.


Some postgame thing where a bunch of kids were brought in to run around the infield for reasons I forget. Big Lug was there too, but this was a better picture despite the lack of dragon.

Trivia: During the four-hour second lunar EVA Apollo 12 astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad walked about one kilometer, 3300 feet. Source: Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of NASA's Apollo Lunar Expeditions, William David Compton. NASA SP-4214.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1985-1986, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

PS: Words About A Wordless Induction Proof so you can read that or just look at the pictures.

Thursday, March 9th, 2017
12:10 am
And above all this bustle

Next thing in our Christmas routine was Crossroads Village. We'd meant to get to the zoo's lights festival, but it turned out they weren't open the day we chose. (We got to it later on.) It was at least a reasonably chilly day at the historical village, although there wasn't any snow on the ground. It had been a gentler-than-average winter and it would only get milder yet. (Michigan should not get to 60 degrees in February.) So the lights decorating the historical village looked good, but we couldn't help thinking how they might have looked better yet. On the other hand, I didn't have my new boots yet, so snow would have just poured freezing wet into my socks.

We got there at just the wrong moments to catch the show, so we don't know if they had another iteration of the Gift of the Magi or what. We were able to get a good night ride on the Huckleberry Railroad, taking in the lights displays --- there were a couple new ones --- and the Christmas songs on the speaker all night. I also realized, partway through the ride, that I had a new camera and one that was much better at taking night photographs. I had learned from hard experience not to even try taking pictures of the lights, but now --- I could not just experience the thing but also take not-horribly-blurry photos of the things. And this turned out well. While they're not among my best shots I do have some pictures of their juggling dragon and some of the Twelve Days of Christmas fixtures.

Despite our worries when we didn't see any attendant the Ferris Wheel --- the Superior Wheel --- as running and as fast as ever. This was the first time we'd gotten to it since riding its sibling, and only other (known) survivor of the model, down in New Philadelphia, Ohio, back ahead of Pinburgh. It was just slow loading as quite a few people wanted rides at the same time; I think this is the fullest load we'd ever been on. I don't mind more time on a Ferris Wheel, although the extra time spent swinging back and forth above the ground didn't do bunny_hugger's nerves any good.

Once again the carousel was running at full speed, a good six rotations per minute. Every year we worry we'll get there and find they've reduced the ride to insipid dull speeds; a fast carousel is a thrill ride.

bunny_hugger got a set of pictures of the ride, and of the housing to the ride --- including the lighted arch on the path leading to it --- as part of her planned self-made carousel calendar. She'd resolved to make it after our surprise at the Merry-Go-Round Museum in October. This was the first carousel, besides Cedar Point's, that we'd seen since that resolve. The lit arch framing the building at night form her December picture, and it's a splendidly made one.

Trivia: In February 1939 the British Royal Navy had nine battleships: four in the home waters, two at Gibraltar, three in the Mediterranean. Source: The Vulnerability of Empire, Charles A Kupchan.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1985-1986, Charles M Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

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

The Tuesday after Christmas we held the Silver Balls tournament, now a memorial to our lost rabbit. This was a fine way to add anxiety and stress to our grief. There were some easier parts. This was now the fifth tournament, or the fourth successful tournament, we'd been through and experience gives confidence. And we were doing it as a strikes tournament, just like the first Silver Balls. The repeated format --- everyone plays until they get a set number of strikes --- also gave us confidence.

None too confident: would anybody show up? The turnout was down a little from Silver Balls 2015. Maybe there were, as the infamous late-June Facebook flame war had it, so many tournaments that none could command attention. I suspect the bigger problem was that at the end of 2015 there was a whole pack of people on the verge of making it to the State Championship Series. There was nearly none of that in 2016; by early December it was pretty obvious who'd be in and who wouldn't, barring a major upset, and all anyone could do is change who their first-round opponent might be. I quipped to CST that all we could do was, as nuclear war planners put it, make the rubble bounce in the standings. He found this a really funny way of putting things, the way adding a little nuclear-war-planning thought into your competitive-pinball discussions will.

Well, we got 19 people in, allowing us to make it a three-strikes tournament, saving some time. And with the wonders of the Brackelope app I could set up matches and have them posted to a web site automatically and I screwed up the setting so the URL I gave out for it wouldn't work. Which saves some embarrassment because at some point I entered a result wrong and recorded someone who'd won as having got a strike. I blame the result cards, which I designed; it was equally likely someone would put an X by the name of the winner as the loser. And Brackelope wouldn't let me amend results, for which I blame it.

I put together a workaround, by entering a ``new'' player whose name had to keep getting edited around. The actual results scoreboard if anyone looked was a disaster. Fortunately the posterboard on the wall was taken as the official standings and we could use that. I don't think we committed any gross miscarriages of justice but there's no way to know. I don't know how much of that was my fault in the result cards, how much was Brackelope's fault in making it impossible to correct an error, and how much was me still thinking mostly of our rabbit. I tied for 9th; bunny_hugger tied for 13th. Considering everything going against us, that wasn't bad.

MWS put in some gift cards for a side tournament. This was on Medieval Madness, with a closest-to-the-hole challenge: it would go to the person who, without tilting, scored as close as possible to 15,000,000 points without going over. I'm impressed by how good a challenge this is. It's very easy on Medieval Madness to get up to ten million points; just shoot the castle. It's also very easy to get above twenty million points; shoot the castle a little more. But that'll leap you over twenty million points quickly. Getting to fifteen million and stopping takes rules and situational awareness.

I had a great game of it going, getting to about fourteen and a half million, with a bonus that was under a half-million. All I had to do was get the ball under control and let it drain. So of course the ball floated into the Extra Ball scoop. And for all I could do to drain that quickly, it pushed me up to something like fifteen million and twenty thousand points. So near glory.

Trivia: The Malpas Tunnel, of France's Canal du Midi, linking the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean, was the first major canal tunnel built with the use of gunpowder. It dates to 1679. Source: Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History, Penny Le Couteur, Jay Burreson.

Currently Reading: Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection In Medieval Paris, Eric Jager.

PS: How February 2017 Treated My Mathematics Blog, which was surprisingly good.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017
12:10 am
Another year over and a new one just begun

So, where were we? I guess Christmas which, in the wake of our rabbit's death, kind of sucked. Maybe we were fortunate in the timing. We were kept busy, doing things, that first week, and that let us get time to adjust to the fact.

We went to bunny_hugger's parents' house, to spend the evening and day with them. And with her brother, who'd be in town through Boxing Day. His girlfriend didn't make it out this year. And we had the big gap of our rabbit not being there. There was still an animal there.

After slightly more than a year without a dog her father had bought one, a basset hound, from a breeder that he insists was good and responsible. We were skeptical. The dog was extraordinarily timid, afraid to the point of panic of bunny_hugger and not at all comfortable with her mother. Being skeptical of strangers like me and my dear love is reasonable, but after a couple weeks the dog ought to have got at least a little familiar with bunny_hugger's mother. The dog has been getting better-socialized and less terrified with time, but it's still ... kind of a weird dog.

In what threatens to be a new family tradition we went to the new Star Wars movie at the downtown theater. bunny_hugger's mother didn't come along, claiming the need to prepare supper and that she couldn't see the movie well enough anyway. While there we picked up an extra. There was this not-quite-teenage kid who asked if he could sit next to bunny_hugger's brother in the nearly-empty theater and, sure, why not? ... well, he was a bit of a noisy kid, but because he was having a really great time watching Rogue One, and he was thrilled to be seeing it since apparently he couldn't get friends or family of his own to go with. The oddity of that makes it sound like something sad's going on, so we spent a little bit of Christmastime just being the folks this kid could look over and ask if we just saw that. We'd probably have liked the movie anyway, as best we could given our baseline emotional state, but this gave it a little more of a human connection.

My own gift-giving was uninspired. I'll blame that on the New Jersey trip chopping out a lot of time I might have used to think and then our rabbit's death chopping out all sense of purpose. The most memorable gift was that her father wanted an Amazon Echo Dot, and suggested I get one, and e-mailed a couple times to make sure I knew what it was. I'm glad to give something he wants, but it lacked that sense of whimsy. Also it turned out to be impossible to set up, because her parents have a quirky house network setup that required a separate Wi-Fi-connected device to get past one step on. A few weeks later we paid a return visit, with the Alexis app loaded on my iPod Touch, in the hopes that it would be able to send the critical signal about what wireless network to use. And it was, but we weren't too sure it would be; the setup instructions suggested we just needed a smart phone for it, and not one of the four of us has.

We started out figuring to just spent Christmas Eve and Day there, and come back in the evening. And then realized there was nothing we had to go back home for, so we didn't. Instead we stayed up late, playing Betrayal at the House on the Hill with bunny_hugger's brother. He had to get up early, to fly back home. We had the insight that we didn't actually have to get up enough to drive to the airport with him, as his parents were driving him in. We could get up enough to say our goodbyes, go back to bed, and wake up at a reasonable hour. bunny_hugger managed the waking up enough to say goodbye. I slept through it all, as typical.

Home was cold. We'd turned the thermostat down since we were away, but it was still cold after it warmed up.

Trivia: In 1924 Texas adopted legislation banning black people from Democratic primaries in the state. This was ruled unconstitutional on 7 March 1927. Source: 1927: High Tide of the 1920s, Gerald Leinwand.

Currently Reading: Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection In Medieval Paris, Eric Jager.

Monday, March 6th, 2017
12:10 am
Katie Casey saw all the games

My mathematics blog could be on your friends page, in more forms than just being a postscript to my regular posts. It was another four-post week there, going from Sunday to Sunday, as evidenced by:

I've got a couple days of photos from the ballgame bunny_hugger and I went to with my pinball-and-other-things twin JIM, plus some walking about town. And after that: Pinburgh! Or, Anthrocon in the off-season.


Infield preparation. It had poured in the morning and through to about an hour before the game but they worked mightily to squeegee the ballpark dry.


Broader view of the work put in to drying out the ballpark. Note from the scoreboards that it was Princess and Pirate Day, which provided theme for a bunch of the between-innings amusements.


View from outside center field. I hadn't been around this far back of the park. On the right of the bleachers is the smokestack with a nut-shaped topping that serves as the vertical visual marker of the ballpark district.


Some of the condos built on the rim of the outfield. They're of the bright Lego block style that's the natural mode for one of the Gillespie Brothers contractors so a lot of buildings like this get put up around town. Yes, the windows are supposed to be of glass strong enough to take a home run. No idea how long you can live in these before getting sick of baseball games.


Oh, yeah, besides Princess and Pirate Day it was also ... this. I don't know, but they were having fun.

Trivia: Three-quarters of Italy's aeronautical budget in 1914 went to lighter-than-air craft, rather than airplanes. Source: Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity through the First World War, Richard P Hallion.

Currently Reading: Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection In Medieval Paris, Eric Jager.

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