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

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Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
12:10 am
You are the moves you make, take your chances, win or lose

So how has the month of bunny_hugger's stolen computer experience been? ... We seem to be through the worst. The worst, besides the theft and making do with a MacBook so old that the battery was gone and a loaner computer from work, was that Time Capsule didn't load. Her new computer wouldn't pick up the files that she had backed up, daily, and stored in two separate locations. Do you know how angry she was about this? Take how angry you think she was, double it, square that, double that, square that again, and double it again. She was angrier than that.

As will happen with computer problems victory came from re-thinking about what was really wanted. Preserving the continuity of backups would be great, but, what was important was saving mail archives. Everything else was files that could be copied over easily. The old, offline, mail archives were the sticking point. But bunny_hugger finally realized that she could just copy the mailbox archive files onto her new computer, and have OS X Mail import them into its new archives. This took far longer to do than it should have, but it was the most important thing to overcome in making her new computer have the stuff the old should have.

There have still been adjustments. Control panel settings. Programs that need re-installation. Programs she'd had forever that she had to download new installers for. This included the graphics program she uses to make plaques for pinball tournaments ... such as the one we had this Wednesday. It was a launch party for Stern Pinball's new Jurassic Park game, and up to the day before we were not sure she'd be able to make plaques for second, third, and fourth place. (Stern sent a high quality plaque for first. bunny_hugger makes the rest, using a color printout and cheap photo frames.)

That tournament, by the way, went well enough. Not for me. We did it Herb-style again, qualifying by putting up games on a set of tables. bunny_hugger's clever theme: Playing The Scales, all games where some scaled creature was prominent, like Jurassic Park (dinosaurs), Game of Thrones (dragons), Monster Bash (Creature from the Black Lagoon), or Metallica (a snake). We would have had Deadpool too, as it's got dinosaurs, but the game was moved far enough away from the others that it would be too hard to scorekeep there too. I put up a decent game of Monster Bash (with a dragon), but nothing at all good anywhere else. bunny_hugger had several decent games, and in the last minutes of qualifying put up a great Monster Bash, on a third-ball rally starting from nothing. That fantastic game ... did not move her into the playoffs after all.

The winner, by far: AJR, making his first appearance at any Lansing event since his third-place finish at Pinburgh A Division. He found his way to our hipster bar after all. Great to have him over. If he does join the league it'll be great to have a person of such outstanding ability playing against us, we tell ourselves, through gritted teeth. It's really going to make everyone step up their game, we insist.

But this was also the first big event for which bunny_hugger could use her new rose-gold MacBook Air as her computer, confident that she should not have to wipe its memory and start from scratch. This week she was able to return the loaner computer to work. And while she's still got the ancient MacBook out, she's had less occasion to summon it.

Trivia: The young Roald Dahl was told, by a friend's father, that licorice bootlaces were made from rat's blood, with ten thousand at a time fed into a huge vat which would be smashed flat and extruded into laces, a legend did not stop him eating them. Source: Sweets: A History of Temptation, Tim Richardson.

Currently Reading: The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, Thor Hanson. It's been too long since I read a nice book about something that Changed The World.

PS: Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Fredholm Alternative, to mention one of the all-time great names of functional analysis.

PPS: Hanging out immediately after the fursuit parade.


A walk back into the Sheraton through the front door, which we basically only ever used for the fursuit parade.


Conference between bunny_hugger and some unidentifiable carrot-bearing person.


The signature beverage of Motor City Fur[ry] Con, and the thing that fuels my and bunny_hugger's ongoing joke in pinball community about being secret Juggalos.

Saturday, September 21st, 2019
12:10 am
Cause we'll be riding that vibe till the day we die

We made our traditional visit to Michigan's Adventure for closing day. This was the Sunday after Labor Day. It made us miss a pinball tournament we only learned about late. Just as well; we wouldn't want to miss the last day. In a break from tradition, the weather was not bright, sunny, and cloudless. It wasn't unpleasant, but it did keep threatening to turn bad. This was barely two and a half weeks after our previous visit, so it's not like we expected the place to be very different. One minor change is the park didn't play any Walk The Moon. In our August visit they played a bunch of Walk The Moon songs, including some that weren't their biggest hits.

On this trip we were able to see that the angora rabbit bunny_hugger worried over had been shorn, some, which we took to be a sign that she'd gotten some examination and care. She felt bony still, but it had only been a couple weeks. Also at one point a petting-zoo worker moved the bench over near the edge, holding up rabbits where they could be petted. The Flemish giant even sat up tall, chinning the bench, and looking like she was deciding whether this was worth leaping up on. It was not.

Mad Mouse was still running, and still running with a short line. This took too long to get through still. It seemed like they were running abnormally slowly. And one of the purple cars was being reliably sent out without passengers. This probably was because of a problem with the restraints, which almost always will freeze up in the secured, locked position.

Other rides were looking good. Thunder Bolt, a Matterhorn ride --- swinging cars going in a hilly circle --- particularly had its embarrassing number of burned-out light bulbs replaced. The ride still isn't fast enough for our tastes, and it doesn't have the cycle where it goes in reverse. Cedar Fair-owned parks do not like stuff running backwards, even for rides designed for it.

The demolition of Be-Bop Boulevard was near complete. The parts of the station left at our previous visit were gone, and it looked like some trees were dug up for transplant. Part of the Camp Snoopy area that's supposed to replace the attraction is a roller coaster. Nobody has declared whether this will be their current kiddie coaster, Big Dipper, relocated and renamed. It would make good sense to relocate and rename it, though; the current location hides the ride so well you have to work to discover it's there. We did go up to it and take pictures, in case this was the last day of operations it would be under this name and location. We did not ride, though. We've ridden it in the past and it's rather hard on the knees.

Speaking of rides hard on the knees. Wolverine Wildcat felt less jarring than it had two and a half weeks earlier. This can't represent any significant changes in the ride. It must be a difference in seating; we got up front this time --- the first car, anyway --- and the ride was better. Shivering Timbers too was much less rough. Here we think it might be the train. There's a blue train and a green train, and this time, we were on I'm going to say the green train. Last visit we were on the blue train (the only one running that day). If I have the colors reversed it doesn't matter. But this time around the green train rode much less rough.

And this was what we picked for our last ride of the season. We didn't get the very last train of all, but the last of the green train rides is not bad. The only serious disappointment was that the kettle corn stand ran out early and we wouldn't have anything to eat on the way home. We did try to stop in Grand Rapids, for a dinner at Stella's, but some event consumed all the parking in town and we just could not even get out of the car, sad to say. We consoled ourselves with Impossible Whoppers instead, once we got back to Lansing.

We've got to get to Michigan's Adventure earlier in the season next year.

Trivia: The lyrics to the Mighty Mouse theme were written by Marshall Barer, 1923 - 1998, a writer and producer for Golden Records. Terrytoons studio musician Philip Scheib wrote the music. Source: Terrytoons: The Story of Paul Terry and is Classic Cartoon Factory, W Gerald Hamonic.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn. So apparently Zippy the Pinhead as a comic strip started out self-syndicated to college newspapers, which makes like 80000% more sense than any other explanation for how it got into syndication at all, under any circumstances, ever. I can even see where it made sense for King Features to pick that up, then, once it was in college newspaper syndication. How it's stayed there is a glorious mystery for the ages but that's all right. We need those. Again, I like the strip, it's just baffling that it's theoretically for sale to newspapers to fun.

PS: Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Energy, a bit about turning vector problems into scalar problems, which are so much better to deal with.

PPS: Saturday at the 2018 Motor City Fur[ry] Convention, after the parade.


Lemur getting some pictures of the group in, too.


After the group photo, the fursuiters walk back toward the gap in space leading directly into the sun.


So someone worked up this little hand-held fan and went around to fursuiters cooling them off until the fursuiters thanked them for it. The gesture's well-meant but they did at one point come to bunny_hugger when she wasn't feeling all that hot and waited for her to say something, which she tries very hard not to do in suit. This is why New York City tries to ban windshield washers, you know.

Friday, September 20th, 2019
12:10 am
Unless something better's on TV

Sure I'm doing a lot of writing for my mathematics blog. I'm also doing a bunch of writing for my humor blog. Did you like that? Did you miss any of it? Miss all of it? Here's your chance to catch up:

Let's get back to Saturday at Motor City Fur[ry] Convention 2018 and a last visit to the Sheraton in Nova.


The hallway! In what turned out to be the last fursuit parade down this nice and well-lit corridor in the old Sheraton. I think that's the start of the parade in the far right there.


Extremely shiny silver dragon marching in a suit that must have weighed, I estimate, 860 pounds.


Fursuit parade staples such as cheerleaders, tigers, and skunks playing brass.


The ant guy in his costume, with the nice sugar-cube backpack that really, really works. And yes, of course the anteater follows. You have to do that sort of thing or else people get all nervous.


bunny_hugger making her way even though the parade does its best to lose her. (She can see roughly a thumbnail-size image of blurry shapes throug her head so anyone walking at anything but a very uniform pace is losing her.)


The parade gathered on the hill outside, ready for the fursuit group photograph.


And here's bunny_hugger, up way high but near enough several raccoons to stand out.


Bit of a broader view of the fursuiters ready to be photographed.


The other end of the fursuiters gathered on the hill.


bunny_hugger in her natural habitat, somehow just behind people wearing taller suits.


And here's who's doing the photography. The guy with the ladder is doing the convention's official photo.


I don't actually know whether they're also part of the official convention photography or whether they just know who to ask to photograph from atop the hotel.

Trivia: In 1949 Rutgers launched a campaign to have its campus designated the future site of the National Football Hall of Fame, to respect its significance as site of the first intercollegiate football game. Source: Rutgers: A Bicentennial History, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn.

PS: My 2019 Mathematics A To Z: Fourier series, where I go nearly a thousand words without saying ``sine'' or ``cosine''. Good luck figuring that one out!

Thursday, September 19th, 2019
12:10 am
Aroma rising from the ancient coals

After bunny_hugger's mother got out of hospital we were able to start thinking again about having her and bunny_hugger's father over. They had visited last summer for an afternoon of grilling too. This summer we hadn't found the time for it. Also, yeah, since it's easier for us to travel than them, we'd usually go down to their house for a visit. But we hadn't had the chance to show off how the house looks, or had such a firm encouragement to get our house in presentable shape, in a while. With summer dwindling, and the discovery that Horrock's market has Beyond Meat burger patties, we had motivation to go and schedule something specific.

Also re-schedule, since the weather looked lousy the Saturday we had planned. This turned out well since it let us get to the Fremont tournament where bunny_hugger hopefully broke her slump. And give us some more precious hours to get the house in less bad shape.

Beyond Meat burger patties are expensive, about $3.50 per. Given that we only bought six burgers for the four of us, trusting that bunny_hugger's father would want two and her mother would think even having a full first burger was maybe too much. bunny_hugger and I split the second. The burgers were startlingly good grilled. Not quite as good as the Impossible burger, to our tastes. This would disappoint bunny_hugger's brother, who's a big Beyond Meat fanatic. It also disappointed bunny_hugger's father, who bought stock in the Beyond Meat corporation and checks the price I think it's every two hours. Still, it's really good, especially grilled, and made for a great experience.

Part of that might have just been the setting. We spent most of the afternoon appreciating the backyard, which bunny_hugger works so hard to get into the English garden style of slightly overgrown local plants. The worst disappointment was that her cardinal flower, a wonderful dose of bright red among the mostly dark green plants which grow in our shade, got cut down by some animal a few days before the visit. A second flower was beginning to bloom, but it's a smaller one and was nowhere near so developed, and bunny_hugger cursed the probably-raccoon who ripped it up for no obvious reason.

Also we spent time watching squirrels make use of the squirrel feeder. The squirrel and bird feeders have become my care. We saw several black squirrels --- I don't think it was the same one visiting every time --- making trips to the feeder and back. This was really great as they were using the new fence to get close to the tree. And this was glorious. The squirrel would run along the top of the fence slats, jumping down every six feet onto the tops of the 4x4 posts, and then jumping back onto the slats. It looked just like an animation cycle of a squirrel running along a fence but taking advantage of the thicker posts. When the squirrel got close enough to the feeder-bearing tree it'd leap out in this wonderful yet somehow hilarious fling, and grab onto the new tree. It was hypnotic. Only a couple times did the squirrels skip the post diversion.

bunny_hugger's parents stayed for only about four hours, enough for dinner and some time after, and to walk around appreciating the garden and to see Sunshine and all. They wanted to drive home before it got dark, fairly enough. But it's good to have them over at all, and we need to make more frequent explicit invitations to come up.

Trivia: Continental Army forces attempted a surprise attack on Staten Island for the 15th of January, 1780. Publisher Hugh Gaines of The New York Gazette wrote about it the 13th of January. The attack was not a success. Source: The Uncertain Revolution: Washington and the Continental Army at Morristown, John T Cunningham.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn.

PS: Reading the Comics, September 14, 2019: Friday the 13th Edition, where I get to talk a little about prime numbers, not including 13.

PPS: The fursuit parade continues getting ready to start.


A plastic egg which I found at the con. There were a bunch of these with little trinkets or characters or whatnot inside. We only found two of them, one in the game room and one in a plant along the parade route, but allegedly they were restocked throughout the convention.


More gathering for the parade. I'm not much on My Little Pony characters but I do like the Dalmatian spotting here.


And I've also seen this person at Motor City Fury[ry] con a couple times, the one with the Your-Character-Here costume. At least I trust it's the same person each time. I suppose there's no way of knowing.

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
12:10 am
Just when it looked like it was certain the hurting would never stop I'm back on top

Fremont pinball events used to be in the Blind Squirrel Tavern. It's a nice enough bar/restaurant. Over the spring of 2018, AJH grew dissatisfied with the place, and he finally left it altogether. He moved the events to Special When Lit headquarters, the place where he kept and worked on the games he planned to route around. Or keep for pinball tournaments. It had drawbacks: no Wi-fi, and the only restaurant in walking distance was the upscale place attached to the bowling alley next door (it's a small town). But it had two rooms of games and plenty of space to hang out and sit and such. So it was a happy new location.

... Except for bunny_hugger. Not that she didn't like the place. It's just that ... in the cramped confines of the Blind Squirrel Tavern, with six or seven tables to play, Fremont leagues would be these nice sleepy affairs. Seven or eight or nine people would show up, and we'd play all day, and in the end she'd finish fourth or third or even second in the league and take home a crop of International Flipper Pinball Association points. These points are why she --- and I --- would make it to the state championship at all. In 2018, IFPA changed the rules so that in a calendar year only your 20 best events in a state counted for your ranking, not everything you played. This dropped both of us in the standings.

bunny_hugger worse than me, though. This is mostly due to the way IFPA calculates scores; the higher your finish, the very much greater your score, so that (say) a third and a seventh place are worth more than two fifth-place finishes. I'm more likely to have a third and a seventh; she's more likely to have two fifth-place finishes.

And with the new, larger venue, more people started going to Fremont tournaments. Tougher people, too, including people like RLM and MSS who always finish on top of the Grand Rapids Pinball League. The casual Fremont players who didn't mind hanging out at a bar-restaurant were less likely to come to the SWL facility that's a former engraving site, too. So there were more competitors, and tougher competitors.

So, for a long while, bunny_hugger and I were keeping startlingly similar average finishes at SWL. But I would occasionally get a fifth or a sixth or even a final-four finish, that she wouldn't. Several months running she didn't get past the first round, taking home few points for a drive that's two hours, one way. If we didn't carpool then our drive back would include a lot of her berating herself for not being any good at pinball and now everyone had the proof.

And this would be dismal. By the middle of the year she was sitting at about 36th place in the state. Which is not bad considering how many hundreds of people play enough in Michigan to rate. But only the top 24 get to go to the state championship. Five people ahead of her were from out of state and unlikely to play; they were drawn here in April for the Pinball At The Zoo event, a Major tournament that drew players from the whole continent who cleaned up. But still ... she was sitting about 15 IFPA points outside of contention, even counting the people we could feel confident weren't playing. I kept saying, two good finishes at Fremont and she's in the running, and --- as of mid-August --- there were still nine Fremont tournaments to go in the year.

Over the course of this August, AJH finished securing a new facility, New SWL Headquarters. It's a former car showroom, with a great many huge windows up front and a back room that's a former service bay. Plenty of room for even more pinball games and even more space. The end of August had the first Fremont tournaments in the New SWL Headquarters. One would be the Monthly tournament, based on people playing at SWL venues in August. The other would be the League, based on people playing at SWL venues in July and August ... a time which includes the Baby Food Festival, which drew dozens of extra people who'd play. This is very good since more people playing makes a tournament more valuable.

In the Monthly tournament, well, bunny_hugger had her old luck again. She got past the first round against sixteen players, but not through the second, and took ninth place for a meager 1.37 IFPA points. Me, I had some decent play and got to the penultimate round, for 5th place and a decent 3.74 points. (This included, for me, a round in which I played AJH and a guy whose name I didn't catch. For my lone pick of game that round I went to Johnny Mnemonic, knowing full well that AJH could cream us on it. And he did, putting up nine billion points on a game that's high-scoring, but not usually that high scoring. I put up three billion points. The other guy ... did nothing like that. Later on, when I was teasing someone in another group for picking a game that MSS was incredibly strong on, AJH pointed out, I took him to Johnny Mnemonic. I pointed out: I didn't need to beat him. I needed to beat the other guy. The top two in our three-player group would move on. I overachieved that, though. With me getting five times his score, and AJH scoring fifteen times his score, he was beaten the whole rest of the round.)

The real action, though, was in the League. Here, bunny_hugger didn't just have a good first round. She had a good second round, and third. For the first time in over a year --- for the first time since Blind Squirrel days --- she made it into the final four. She did nothing in the final four, mind, getting a couple last-place finishes before rallying too late. But the top four finishes are the real big payoffs.

For her fourth-place finish in League she drew 13.87 IFPA points.

We had expected she might get seven or eight. But here? In this one tournament? She made up basically the whole gap she needed to overcome to be in the running. She is, as I write this still 26th-ranked in Michigan. But the two people ahead of her are out-of-staters, Steve Bowden and Derek Fugate, who almost certainly will not play in Michigan. She's 24th among the people likely to play. She's five points away from taking 23rd place. She needs to hold her position yet, for the rest of the year. But she doesn't have to earn her way into the top 24 anymore.

Maybe the first SWL Headquarters location was a jinx for her. I'm really hoping she gets another final-four appearance this year, though.

Funny coincidence. With the new venue is the return of FunHouse to the Fremont tournament lineup. Maybe that's made a difference.

Trivia: In 1940, when the Dutch East Indies had a population of about 70 millions, there were only 637 ``native'' Indonesians in college, and only 37 graduating with BAs. Source: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, Nicholas Ostler. (This in a footnote pondering the refusal of Indonesians to use Dutch as a common language.)

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn.

PS: My 2019 Mathematics A To Z: Encryption schemes, in which I try to explain everything about a complicated field in 1200 words. See how I do!

PPS: Saturday morning at 2018's Motor City Furry Convention!


The directional sign outside main events and the dealers den and all that, at the entrance by the parking lot and away from the main lobby.


Fursuiters making their way toward the parade. Here's PunkCat showing off being a raccoon, for example.


And here's a nice-looking dragon making his way to the gathering spot.

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
12:10 am
And we'll have fun fun fun now that Daddy took the T-bird away

Each year we don't get to Michigan's Adventure enough. This year we planned for an early-season visit, upstaged by making a very early-season visit to Cedar Point. June we were busy with among other things our Niagara Falls trip. July, Pinburgh. We kept thinking it would be easy after a Fremont pinball tournament day to pop over to Michigan's Adventure, taking in a couple hours before close. But we started carpooling to Fremont, with people like MWS and JB and RED. This is good for our car mileage and a friendly thing to do, but it's rude just to ditch someone. For the Baby Food Festival after we were both knocked out, we were ready to go over to the amusement park, spend a couple hours, and then come back for our companions who were still alive. But a heavy storm had blown through and closed the park. In the early-August Fremont tournament, after our play had ended --- bunny_hugger was knocked out in the first round; I made it to the second round, to her annoyance --- we went to the park, arriving at 9 pm which it turned out was the park's closing hour. Finally we accepted we would just have to make a specific trip for the park. This we did the day before bunny_hugger's first school meeting of the year. We set out, first dropping off her laptop at the computer shop from which it would ultimately be stolen. But we would never have guessed that a plausible problem, then.

Between our late start and the park's 7 pm closing hour we'd only have about three and a half hours. But that can be enough, if the park isn't crazily packed. It wasn't, either. The lines were all tolerably short. And the Mad Mouse was running, just fine, which was great to see after the many down times it suffered in 2018. We even arrived in that rare moment when there wasn't a line, despite the ride's slow loading process these days. Wolverine Wildcat, the near-clone of Knoebels's Phoenix, is still less fun than Phoenix and it's hard to pin down just why. But also parts of one of its hill had new wood, and the result was a bit different. We thought it rode rougher, with even less air time; commenters online talked about how it rode better, with more air time. This seems to depend rather much on which row you ride in. Shivering Timbers, the tallest and longest coaster at the park, was riding quite rough and we weren't sure we would want more than the two rides we took on it.

Part of our joy at the park is always seeing wildlife. In the petting zoo, yes, where they had a larger and better enclosure for their rabbits at last. They're now placed underneath the elevated part of the goat enclosure, so there's natural shade. And there's a table/seat in the center, that the rabbits can hide underneath. They also had an electric fan stirring the hot air. One rabbit wedged herself behind that fan and didn't want to move for anything. The other two rabbits were willing sometimes to come out where they could be touched. A huge white Flemish giant went about occasionally grooming the pen-mates, and sometimes letting people admire her enormity. The other rabbit, I think an angora but with short, curly wooly fur, often kept near the outer edge of the pen. One kid watching said this bunny, who looked like a sheep or possibly a wizard, was ``the wise bunny''.

Maybe so, but in petting the wise bunny bunny_hugger came to worry. She thought the rabbit felt skinny, even bony. She later left comments with both Michigan's Adventure and the farm that actually keeps the animals expressing her concerns. And she was perhaps listened to. When we revisited the park the wise bunny was there, but shorn further, as would be needed to examine her well.

We also saw wild bunnies. I was primed to watch for them, after we discovered rabbits grazing the Corkscrew roller coaster infield. This time we saw them in the lawn that used to be a go-kart track, near the lagoon, and we spent a fair while watching and photographing. While admiring these rabbits --- one adult and one juvenile --- we overheard a pack of people talking about oh yeah, rabbits, that's cool. bunny_hugger thought they were mocking us for ignoring the rides in favor of some cottontails. Maybe they were. Hey, they were rushing over to Thunderhawk to get their heads battered by the roller coaster's restraints. We saw a fledgling bunny eating instead.

Also in park nature: geese and swans. These were nestled in near the lagoon, just off Wolverine Wildcat, and around a great messy field of feathers.

Each year we wonder what in the park might be removed the next year. Michigan's Adventure hasn't had any major new rides since 2008 when Thunderhawk moved from Geauga Lake to here. It's had minor things added, including the petting zoo. We keep thinking some of the kids rides will go. So we were startled to find something not just doomed, but already partway demolished with a sign about it being the future site of a new attraction.

This was Be-Bop Boulevard. It was a cars ride, and bunny_hugger believes it was the last ride purchased by the family that owned the park before Cedar Fair, the park chain, took the place over. It wasn't a very interesting car ride; we only sometimes rode it. But the whole ride ran at a uniform pace; the rider didn't control car speed, and steering is only nominally something you do. The scenery wasn't all that much either; a couple of billboards and that was about all. But we were startled to see the whole track torn up, and the station taken apart.

Taking its place is to be a Camp Snoopy. Most Cedar Fair-owned parks have a Camp Snoopy, since they've got the Peanuts license. Michigan's Adventure hasn't been that tightly organized or themed. The illustrations of the new park area look nice enough. And as far as we could tell, they seemed to be leaving most of the trees from the Be-Bop Boulevard ride up. Michigan's Adventure sorely needs shaded areas. It'll be good if they are able to save as many of the trees as possible.

For all our worries about time we had enough of it. We got to everything we hoped to do and were able to linger at sights like cottontail rabbits and the absent Be-Bop Boulevard. And we got a bag of kettle corn to eat on the ride home.

Next year we need to get to Michigan's Adventure early in the year, and more often.

Trivia: The last check drawn on the East India Stock Dividend Account was honored by the Bank of England in 1884. Source: The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company, John Keay.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn.

PS: I Ask For The Second Topics For My Fall 2019 Mathematics A-to-Z, an open thread, I hope.

PPS: Closing out with the Motor City Fur[ry] Con Friday Dance. Not so many pictures this time, I guess ... I wasn't trying to get my camera to deal with the low light? I was like three months away from discovering the low-light mode on my camera.


And here's the dance. The DJ and a cardboard standee of ... I don't know if it's his character or just an icon.


And actual dancing, which had a modest crowd and balloons by this point, something like 1 am.


Dragon with way better moves than I will ever, or could ever hope to, have.

Monday, September 16th, 2019
12:10 am
I bless the rains down in Africa

I've figured out how to fill my mathematics blog with content! The secret is writing stuff, and also writing stuff about what I wrote in the past. For example, just this past week I've had:

And the story strips? Bit of a double-header here. What's Going On In Gasoline Alley? Also, what's wrong with Funky Winkerbean? Gasoline Alley has a little story featuring empathic powers, so that's cool. Funky Winkerbean is doing a story with a character's suicide so I wanted to warn you if that's not the kind of thing you're reading the funny pages for.

Now some more hanging around Motor City Fur[ry] Con 2018, the Friday of the convention.


More people hanging out in hospitality. The past few years it's become more common for folks to just take their heads off for needed stuff. I'm still getting used to it.


Just because Motor City Fur[ry] Con bills itself as a drinking con doesn't mean there are no rules to the thing.


Furry conventions aren't all prey species trying to have a nice time and then having predators come in and harass them! See here, Sylvester is giving nice big friendly licky hugs to Pakrat!


Motor City Fur[ry] Con program schedule for this, which turned out to be the final convention at the old hotel. We didn't know or suspect that at the time. There's no point staring at the schedule too closely but you can see how there was a good blend of things happening and buffer time between events.


Wall poster for one of those events held every year that we have never ever gotten to. But there do seem to be people with fairly cool cars that get to Motor City Fur[ry] Con. Given how often people compliment my car, which is just a 2009 Scion tC, I've wondered about bringing it to something, but I suspect they would just look at it and say, c'mon, it's just a 2009 Scion tC.


Archimedes making more friends. He didn't meet with every fursuiter, but every fursuiter who tried had a great interaction with him.


I do not see how a little toy tree on top of a fire extinguisher box needs further explanation.


Archimedes hanging out in hospitality, looking about and wondering who's gone and lost their head here. See also Latham, the guinea pig puppet, off to Archimedes's right.


The deep blue glow of some refrigeration-connected thing --- I think maybe the frozen-margarita machine? --- behind the frosted glass of hospitality.


Big old bird hanging out in hospitality.


Alder Eagle discovering Archimedes is here!


Birds and dragons aren't really that closely related, but they can find some things to agree on, like that dragons should be petted.

Trivia: The Great Irkutsk Fire of July 1879 destroyed about three-quarters of the town and left upwards of 20,000 of its 34,000 inhabitants homeless. Source: To The Great Ocean: The Taming of Siberia and the Buildings of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harmon Tupper.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn.

Sunday, September 15th, 2019
12:10 am
I leave a trail of rooted people mesmerised by just the sight

JMA and his father, DAD, hold the occasional pinball tournament in their home. JMA specifically invited me to attend when we were at Marvin's league and I did not realize that my ``oh, yes, that sounds quite interesting'' response would commit us to attending. It didn't really, but bunny_hugger felt pushed to attend more than she really wanted. MWS, similarly invited by JMA, also felt a bit like he couldn't turn the invitation down, especially after true yet implausible problems kept him away from previous tournaments.

The tournament would be eight rounds of match play, four players in each group. The top eight players would go on to finals in the A Division. The next four players, to B Division. Well, with restrictions. People in the IFPA's top thousand ranking, like me, would play in A Division or not at all.

It started great for me, with a carefully-played first-place win on Iron Man. bunny_hugger had a crushingly good first-place game on Robocop, a late solid state based on exactly what you'd think. And MWS had to play the Beatles, a game he hates, and came in last, an outcome he hates. Next round bunny_hugger and I would play in the same group, an outcome everyone else finds every funny. And on Beatles, a game the both of us like. She earned first place; I settled for second. I would go on to keep dropping, getting a third and then a fourth place finish before. Finally in the fifth round, playing Indianapolis 500 and against bunny_hugger again I got back to a first place finish. She got second. After she had started the day with two first-place finishes everything else felt rotten and disappointing.

Ah, but. In the end? She did do pretty well. In the last four rounds she had a first place, two second place, and one third-place finish. She finished regular play tied for fourth place with MWS, and they would go to play A Division. Me, I finished in ninth place, so I would ... not play in B Division, because I was restricted. I could play A, or not at all. MWS's come-from-behind finish in the last round, on Tommy --- against me --- knocked me out of all playoff positions, and didn't even get him into it.

A Division finals were two rounds of three games each, with four players. bunny_hugger tore through the first round. I don't have the standings on this at hand but my recollection is that she was secure after two games, a great way to go into the third. MWS did make it through the first round.

In the second round of playoffs bunny_hugger had it harder, although not so bad as she feared. She had nothing much the first two games. But the last one was on Spanish Eyes, an electromechanical with a wild and fun twist. It has small flippers, common for an old-fashioned game. They're far apart, again common. Also between the flippers is a pop bumper, and some kickers, so that it's quite possible for a ball that's gone past your flippers to keep scoring points and even maybe pop back into play, if you're ready for it and haven't done something stupid like hit the flippers in frustration so the ball can drain anyway.

bunny_hugger, as is her wont, chose to go first on the single-player electromechanical game. And she didn't just have a good game. She had a fantastic game. She had a game that just would not stop, and she came within a whisker of rolling the scoring reels. It's not just a fantastic finish; it's one that ices out the other players, including past state champion AND and plausible future state champion JMA.

The finish puts her in a tie with JMA for second-or-third. So they play a tiebreaker, on Tommy. She's had good games of Tommy, and this one isn't bad. But it's not close to JMA's game. She ends up taking third place in the tournament. Which is a not bad finish. It's good for her third-highest (to this date) bounty of IFPA points this year. She's been struggling to qualify for the state championship and this one day has gotten her a good chunk of the way to range.

As the night sets in it starts to rain. We all scrambled to move stuff in to the crowded garage used for the tournament.

The B Division trophy is a recycled trophy from another tournament. It's common to recycle trophies, especially for minor tournaments like this. But this one becomes a delight for its chintziness: the trophy is literally that of an earlier tournament, except with 'B Division' printed out on a label and pasted over whatever the older label was. The A Division trophy is a bigger and ore respectable one, although this one has been passed around between AND and JMA and one or two other people. Each tournament they add some more baubles to the thing. This is making it gaudy, in an endearing way. It's got a little Koosh-ball toy monster, and a glittery disco ball, and a miniature cardboard replica of the Iron Man backglass, and a folded up flyer for the Beatles pinball game. It's ugly, yes, but it embraces its ugliness, in a way that gives it glamor. Would have been great to take it home, but where would we have put it?

Trivia: The first uses of ``satellite'' in English, in 1548, use it to refer to a bodyguard. Source: Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning, Sol Steinmetz.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn. Ah, yes, the entry for Calvin and Hobbes brings back fond memories of some of Calvin's best recurring flights of fantasy, of his time being Spaceman Spiff or ... uh ... Safari Al (?) (???) (??). (It's the name Calvin gives himself in one [1] comic strip, where he's wearing a pith helmet and chopping through the jungle that's in reality his room. The Calvin and Hobbes wiki allows that perhaps other times that Calvin tromps around wearing his pith helmet he's extending that character although he never says the name again.)

PS: Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Dedekind Domain, an essay which I learned some important things writing.

PPS: one panel at Motor City Fur[ry] Con 2018.


An intruder at the insects sig! Yes, it's an anteater, as would inevitably happen.


The SIG came with a bunch of insect-bearing candies which, of course, the anteater got to first. I'm personally not thrilled by the idea of, like, a fly inside a lollipop.


The anteater has quite the tongue and while you could see it in earlier pictures, this one really shows it off. I think the tongue was designed to be able to hold ant toys stitched to it, too, but they're not visible here if they were attached.

Saturday, September 14th, 2019
12:10 am
Well baby you know I just love the sound of that pipe organ on the merry-go-round

We do try to get to some county fairs in summer. Ingham's was held during Pinburgh weekend so that was out. Calhoun County Fair we usually go to with bunny_hugger's parents. But her mother had that crisis, the intestinal blockage. And while she was out before the county fair, she wasn't feeling anywhere near ready to go, and we weren't going to press her. bunny_hugger's father didn't feel like he should leave her for this either, and so we figured to (again) go alone.

We went in the evening, figuring somehow that this would be enough time, although we never have enough time for anything. But it was also important to spend time with her parents in their home, nearby the county fair, and honestly it's not like time spent looking at people's craft projects was necessarily better spent than being with her mother the week she got out of the hospital.

There was some slight chaos finding parking since we missed the best route to the fairgrounds parking area and were trying to do this without using the satellite navigator. But otherwise the fair was about where we had left it. We spent a fair while walking around the barns, looking at the goats and sheep and cows and horses. Thinking of which pigs bunny_hugger's father would pet despite the many ``DO NOT PET PIGS'' signs around the barn. That sort of thing. We got there late enough to miss a bunch of events and things, unfortunately. We did hear, from the bandstand, the spillover music of the Billy Ray Cyrus concert, which went on so long that we assumed we were listening to whoever came on after the headliner. No; he was just playing for that long.

Yes, we visited all the rabbits. Also the lone guinea pig on exhibit, who won two medals. The rabbits, though, they were a nice bunch and every Californian brought back feelings about Penelope.

We did get to the craft barn, with the exhibits like the photography and painting and produce and flower arrangements and all. This renewed bunny_hugger's thoughts that she could probably put something ribbon-worthy in for photography, and maybe for plants as well. Also that her mother could knit something ribbon-worthy. The woman overseeing the craft hall pointed out to us an impressive needle-work portrait that was all one thread, and then asked if we'd be staying long as they were closing up.

All right. So we went over to the rides, to buy tickets for a couple of attractions. The important one was the carousel. It's not a wood-carved antique, although it is a fairly old model. The important thing is that it's run at the design speed of five rotations per minute, a speed that makes the carousel in fact thrilling. That's always a good move. We also got rides on the Ferris wheel. bunny_hugger isn't normally much for Ferris wheels, but ones that aren't too large but are pretty fast are good by her lights, and this is one of those. We also got in a ride on the Wipeout, in part underwritten by the free ride you get for buying $20 worth of tickets. We had thought to get a last ride on the carousel to close out the night and the wanderings around the fairgrounds. But by the time we got back to it, the ride seemed closed, with the operator and a mechanic type poking machinery and oiling things. So we went to ... I forget the name of the ride, but it's Some Other Company's version of the Scrambler. This was a ride satisfyingly long and a bit dizzying, in the end.

We got four elephant ears at one of the food stands. One for each of us, naturally, and this was the only fairground food we actually ate. But one to bring home to each of bunny_hugger's parents. Her father was anxious in his low-key but persistent way about having one, and bunny_hugger worried in the later rides that the food stalls might all close before we got any. Her father was glad to have this. Her mother appreciated having one, but wasn't sure she should eat a whole elephant ear so soon after her surgery and getting back onto solid food. She had some, but gave the rest of it to us to split, so we had maybe too much fried dough. But that is part of why one goes to a fair.

Trivia: During the tulip craze bulb weights were given in azen, ``aces'', a unit originally used by goldsmiths. One ace was about one-twentieth of a gram; a mature bulb might be from 50 to over a thousand aces. Source: Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused, Mike Dash.

Currently Reading: 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Editor Maurice Horn. It's an encyclopedia of just what it says on the cover, with articles on a staggering number of newspaper comic strips. It was published around 1995, which serves to partially explain why the book thinks the Terry and the Pirates revival is something anyone might care about. And it's got some amusing snark about, like, the decline in art and story quality of The Amazing Spider-Man. But then it's got weird stuff like mentioning how Peanuts had recently begun experimenting with continuity stories, and that's just ... like ... did you only just start reading Peanuts? From the mid-50s on it usually had some ongoing storylines. You could make an argument that in the 70s it became mostly a story comic with occasional spot jokes, even if the stories were goofy things like ``Snoopy's in a tennis tournament'' or ``Peppermint Patty's running away to stay in Snoopy's doghouse''.

PS: Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Characteristic Function, with a discovery that unsettled me about my first A-To-Z writings.

PPS: Now let's go to a furry convention! Lots of people in costume to follow.


Motor City Fur[ry] Con 2018 was the first chance bunny_hugger had to show off Archimedes, her marionette dragon. Here she walks him down the hallway outside Hospitality.


Archimedes meets one of many fursuited friends.


Hanging out in hospitality, with the mix of people in suit and people just hanging out eating and drinking.

Friday, September 13th, 2019
12:10 am
Surely, we said it was March the 10th

It's humor blog recap day, so if it's not already on your friends page or your RSS feed here's your chance to catch up. Thanks.

With my Pinburgh 2019 trip report at last completed I'm sure you've heard enough about pinball tournaments for a while. Here's a bunch of pictures connected to the 2018 March Hare Madness, the charity pinball tournament which raises money for the rabbit rescue from which we got Stephen and Penelope. It's named in Stephen's honor; at the time of these pictures, we were still merely fostering Penelope for a month and we had no reason to think anything was wrong with her other than that she was cranky and wanted to punch bunny_hugger.

This was the last year that the tournament used the Amazing Race format. In Amazing Race, everyone plays a string of tables, with whoever gets the lowest score being eliminated. The last four people not eliminated then play head-to-head, because the International Flipper Pinball Association does not consider it a tournament if there's no head-to-head play. It barely regards Amazing Race formats as worth anything either: they really want people to play complete games against other players directly. In the Amazing Race format it's theoretically possible for only one person, each table, to play a full game; everyone else can play a single ball (and, often, will). So the format is bad for getting ranking points. And the games at our venue since went up to 75 cents or a dollar each, and that's just too much when so many people will play so little on any one game.


Trophies for March Hare Madness. The tall one was rebuilt from one that GRV donated; being oversized is part of the fun of the thing. The others are wood blocks bought at Michael's and painted.


Looking close at the rabbit set atop the former GRV trophy. The bunny figure was bought shortly after Easter at some cheap knick-knacks shop and painted purple, coming out far better than bunny_hugger feared it would.


And the view of the trophies for second, third, and fourth place.


The trophies put on display at the hipster bar. To the left you can see the pages with the official rules that I think nobody has ever consulted.


Finals! bunny_hugger was one of the final four competitors and so went into the three-game playoff knowing she'd bring home one of these memorial trophies.


So the bar scheduled a punk band to play the same night as the tournament and that was a bit inconvenient. But it offered this nice backdrop for the tournament too.


bunny_hugger pulling her rabbit hoodie up over her head, so you know she's serious about this game of The Simpsons Pinball Party. She would earn third place in the tournament.

Trivia: Archbishop James Ussher's selection of the 23rd of October for the date on which God willed the world into existence placed the date at what would have been, for the year 4004 BC, the first Sunday after the Autumnal equinox. Source: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney. Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait. In this bit Oliver Warbucks's first wife disappears when the yacht they're cruising on sinks in a storm in the South Sea Islands? Dick Tracy has been making a deal about how his second wife disappeared while they were at sea. What's going on here? (Granting that I don't know that his first wife didn't return from the dead but wow.) Now his first wife wasn't presented as being troublesome ... anymore ... although they had an established history of quarreling over, basically, the adjustment to being wealthy and while she had now come around to liking Annie and not wanting to seek status their problems were all resolved ... publicly. But two wives lost at sea, and this after several years showing Warbucks is very willing to take the direct if violent answer to a problem? This does happen right after Warbucks literally kidnaps one of the world's leading surgeons, and gets away with it, after all. (I'd wonder whether the Dick Tracy writers made a mistake and conflated the wives, or were shifting character traits around to set up a better story, but I don't think they think that way.)

PS: My 2019 Mathematics A To Z: Differential Equations, another essay I figured would be like 700 words and that WordPress counted as 2,136. (That includes some boilerplate stuff like the banner art and its supporting text but still.)

Thursday, September 12th, 2019
12:10 am
So the annual challenge for our generation is finding a good way to spend it

Stern put together a promotional thing for their Deadpool pinball game. Any game played during an International Flipper Pinball Association-sanctioned tournament was open to qualify on a worldwide leader board, with the ten best scores getting prizes. This is a bit wild, particularly since the operator of a pinball table can do much to adjust a game and make it easier or harder. Stern's rules were that a table had to have the default-or-harder manufacturer's settings to qualify, although everyone was really on their honor for that. As for the fact that some tables are just friendlier to the player than others? Well, we live in an unjust world, that's all.

bunny_hugger had a great idea to get Lansing players, and particularly DMC who is an absolute master of Deadpool, on that high score table. Thus was born the SummerSlam tournament. She picked seven tables, Deadpool included, and held a Herb-style qualifying tournament in which you could put in qualifying scores ... really, anytime she or I were at our local hipster bar, all summer long. We did our best to be there at least one evening a week, each week, with the time announced at least a day ahead, so that people had a fair chance at actually getting there. We'd also take scores around Lansing Pinball League nights.

As a strategy for getting on the worldwide leader board? This was spectacular. Over the summer Lansing player occupied as many as four, and I want to save five, of the ten top spots. I think seven different Lansing League Players were on the board at one time or other, and even at the end, we had three people represented. DMC did not win the world championship. AJG beat out everybody with a score about four times what anyone else managed, in the last weeks of qualifying. (This after his first killer score was voided when it was discovered that it was done on a game played, yes, during a league night, but after league had ended and not as part of competition.)

The Wednesday after Pinburgh we held the championship, two rounds of head-to-head play among the top eight finishers. You need some head-to-head play for the IFPA to consider the tournament worth anything. Two rounds of three games each isn't much, but that plus the very many hours of qualifying for seeding gave the tournament quite some value. It was worth almost as much as the whole Lansing Pinball League season would be.

bunny_hugger and I did not make it out of the first round of play here, sad to say. And DMC, to our surprise, didn't win; RED came out on top, helping his quest to mess up the state championship standings. He's far ahead of both me and bunny_hugger and is just going to stay there.

People got weirdly competitive about SummerSlam, considering that all they could get out of it was a simple medal and bragging rights. But they were constantly asking for more qualifying hours, so, it's great to see people enthusiastic and excited about just playing. Also, one of the games was Medieval Madness. Our bar replaced its original Medieval Madness wit a different unit of the same make. This new one plays a lot worse, and people had been quietly shunning it, encouraging everyone to be kind of bad at it. But now there was three months of particular reason to play this game, and that's caused people to learn just how the table actually plays. Which is a little worse than the old one, but not so much worse that the game's unplayable. We just needed to be made to stop complaining and learn to play. As the one person who sort of knew how to play this Medieval Madness before SummerSlam got started, I'm sure this will be a good thing for me, personally, in future.

Trivia: The first dialed telephone calls from New York to London and Paris were made in 1967. Source: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney.

PS: Reading the Comics, September 7, 2019: The Minor Ones of the Week, comics that I don't write an essay about. Has this blown your mind yet?

PPS: Some more stuff around Theios, which isn't there anymore.


Also on that traffic island is this faded copper plaque commemorating ``one of the first and longest stretches of concrete pavement in the world between Lansing and East Lansing''. So it has to commemorate some Good Roads movement project of the 1910s.


The plaque, seen in its context of sitting on a weirdly shapeless concrete wall on the median. Fun fact: nobody knows just when this plaque was placed there, or who exactly placed it. The names on it date the plaque to the early-to-mid-1930s, and that's all about anyone can say with confidence.


The back side of that irregular concrete wall isn't decorated or explained in any way. If it were possible to hide a letterbox here this would be a fantastic spot to memorialize. It would be a good one for a virtual geocache too, if you'd like.

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019
12:10 am
Until the sun went down

MWS was happy to use his car for our Knoebels/Altoona/Pinburgh trip. He was, for some reason, reluctant to just stay in a hotel Sunday night and drive home Monday. He had the idea that hey, even if we left Kennywood at like 10 or 11 and that meant he drove straight home --- well, without traffic, that'd mean he'd get home at like four or five a.m. He's done that before, staying in Lansing or Grand Rapids until closing time and hanging out with people after. bunny_hugger and I found this prospect horrifying. But he held firm to the idea.

Finally I told him that I --- always the first volunteer to drive when he felt tired --- did not believe that I could safely drive on this plan. Not after getting up around 9 am, checking out, spending until 5 pm at ReplayFX, and then spending hours at Kennywood. For a brief while he proposed that he could drive us all to his house, and we'd just sleep in his guest room until bunny_hugger and I could make our additional one-hour drive home. But shortly before Pinburgh he relented, agreeing to stay in a hotel Sunday night. But somewhere outside Pittsburgh, so it would be cheaper. This seemed fair enough to us.

He nevertheless did all the driving, taking us the roughly two hours to somewhere outside Cleveland before stopping at a Red Roof Inn he'd booked using some kind of app. This would give us somewhere to sleep until either 11 am or noon; we weren't sure what the check-out time was. We aimed for 11 am, though, and were a little late getting out, to the consternation of housekeeping. I told the housekeeping person when we were actually finally done moving stuff out to the car.

From here the drive home was, well, ordinary. Just the Ohio Turnpike, past the Cedar Point exits --- bunny_hugger's and my season passes whimpered a bit as we drove past, but MWS didn't have a pass and it would be obscene to pay a day's admission for, like, two hours --- and finally stopping at a rest area with a burritos place. The cashier didn't give us sour cream or plastic forks and we couldn't find any among the fixings, so I went back to ask for both. It took some time for me to get a cashier's attention, in part because a big mass of slow-moving, slow-to-decide people had gotten there, and bunny_hugger was dying from embarrassment waiting for me to get this stuff. This served as a late-ish but welcome lunch, anyway. We never did find any rest areas with pinball.

And, we drove home. To MWS's home, at least, where we arrived in the early afternoon to the delight of his dogs. His more shy dog was glad to see him and rather put off that we were there, but all right. And K was happy to have MWS back too. He was still recovering from the first of two hernia operations and had spent the weekend mostly in the house, wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas.

After a bit of sharing the news of the weekend with K, I collected my own car keys and we loaded up, and drove the hour back to our home. Yes, we hit rush hour, but that's all right. We were home early enough in the evening. The next day we'd collect poor injured Magnum from the pet store, and set up a quarantine tank in the basement for him to continue his recover. And we'd go pick up Sunshine from bunny_hugger's parents.

Trivia: The HMS Dreadnaught, launched 1906, took a year and a day to build, in top secrecy. Source: To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, Arthur Herman.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney. OK, seriously, Warbucks has a couple street toughs come with him to kidnap the world's leading neurological surgeon from Paris in order to help Annie with her circus-acrobatics-accident-caused paralysis. Objectively this is appalling behavior but it's also kinda awesome. Like, it's not even subtle; his thugs even say, you know, it's gonna be real bad if Annie doesn't walk again, and they keep watching to make sure he doesn't escape. Just, wow.

PS: My 2019 Mathematics A To Z: Category Theory , describing a field of mathematics that's so important it might be all of mathematics.


Oh. Condemnation sticker posted to the back door; its mate was posted to the front door. We never did learn what exactly the place had failed for but it does all seem pretty serious. Well, the place would stand for about a year, and then the owner demolished the building, figuring that it would sell better in a neighborhood everyone expects to gentrify soon if there weren't a building there. And so a landmark of the town for decades disappeared, sadly. Maybe someday someone will buy the lot. Put up a 24-hour diner there. The area has sore need of one.


So by Theio's location is this traffic island with a sign welcoming people to the Lansing Eastside. Also it has this little tower, honorees of the Eastside Neighborhood Organizations. When I described this to bunny_hugger she, who has lived in this area for 21 years and passed this spot an estimated 20,408 times, had no recollection of ever seeing this thing.


The Welcome to Lansing's Eastside sign in its full glory, with Theio's in the far background. We have a nice, laid-back letter 'd' on the Eastside. Lansing's Eastside is not East Lansing.

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019
12:10 am
And so the conversation turned

We met up with MWS, going to Condado Taco for one last visit. It'd also be a convenient way to spend the hour between the end of ReplayFX and the 6:00 hour when we were sure we'd be able to leave the parking garage without having to pay. We did not meet up with JTK or CVK. To our surprise they had left that morning, just after checking out of their room. The interpretation that MWS had was that their cousin had been quite bored with ReplayFX and longed to go home, and between that and only mild interest in our plans, they decided to take off.

Most of Michigan Pinball has left by this time too. CST, apparently, left so early after not making playoffs that he was able to play a tournament in Jackson, Michigan, that Sunday, which he won. Many others have left too. I last saw ADM on-stage as part of the Intergalactic finals, but otherwise people have just evaporated. All right.

Our evening plans were for a starlite admission to Kennywood. Alas, we wouldn't find anyone who could hook us up with cheap tickets; we had to pay the regular price. And this was, JTK and CVK would say, the deciding factor. They didn't want to spend the cost of the evening ticket for just three-or-so hours in the park. All right, but ... you know, leaving the parking garage before 6 pm implies they paid the full price for having parked downtown since Wednesday. Although since the gate was up maybe they just skipped out and trusted the attendant wouldn't care. Hard to say.

So Kennywood! The good news is it's Kennywood. The bad news is: MWS would not get his 100th roller coaster credit here. Their newest roller coaster, Steel Curtain, was closed. New roller coasters often have some shakedown period where operations need time to sort out. This weekend would be one of them. MWS was still up for going, just disappointed that he couldn't get his milestone here, and didn't know when he would be able to get it.

We would get to Kennywood late enough in the day we could park in the Preferred lot without paying the $7 they'd prefer. There's still free parking, it's just farther away. And we went right away to Sky Rocket, their linear induction motor coaster up front. The ride had been down most of 2018. It had the great indignity of reopening after several months being out of order only to suffer a fire that knocked it out the rest of the season, and I got to wondering if the ride would be taken out. Since it was running, even though there was a bit of a line, we all figured we should ride in case this was our last chance.

We did look at Steel Curtain, which is a giant coaster that dominates the park skyline, and that reaches over the central lagoon. Not enough to obstruct the picture we always take, from the bridge and looking at the Racer and Jackrabbit roller coasters. But still, it changes a lot of what the park looks like.

Kennywood would be open only until 10:00, so we had to get in our must-do things quickly. One was getting the chocolate-dipped square ice cream cones which we've learned were called ``Balboa ice creams'' back when everywhere had them. Getting a ride on the antique carousel, and also pictures that bunny_hugger could use for her homemade 2020 calendar. She likes to make her own calendar with pictures of the carousels she's ridden the past year. Riding on the Turtle, the tumble bug ride, which we did just far enough into twilight that I saw a small rabbit sitting up and hanging around the grass outside the ride. I did my level best to point out where it was to bunny_hugger and MWS, but that's a hard thing to point out over the noise of a ride that is, after all, tossing you back and forth as it goes along a waving circular track.

I thought of something MWS had never ridden before. This was the Bayern Kurve, a ride that could arguably be considered a powered roller coaster, although few try to make the argument. It's a bobsled-type ride on an inclined circular track, with cars that tilt down into the curve and, when the ride is at maximum speed, a loud blaring horn. bunny_hugger and I hadn't been on it in years and both were up for this ride.

This grew into a slight fiasco. We were let on with a bunch of other people, of course, some of them a pack of kids who kept running back and forth trying to get into cars, always whatever one the three of us were heading towards. They also got in three separate cars, though any two of them could have fit together. MWS, bunny_hugger, and I could not share a car. We looked at trying it and, no. In short, they let enough people in that we couldn't all get on the same ride, so I went back to the queue and waited for the next ride. I liked the Bayern Kurve. I get the sense MWS was not such a fan. But MWS and bunny_hugger did observe that among the people in the painted-mural backdrop of the ride was The Cat In The Hat. Also Elvis.

The ride we spent the longest time waiting for was the one I insisted on riding. I didn't have to overcome much resistance. It was Jackrabbit, their oldest roller coaster, dating to 1920. This would always be a choice ride, but I had a particular reason to ride it: I was wearing the Jackrabbit T-shirt I'd gotten at Seabreeze. That other Jackrabbit roller coaster ... also dates to 1920. If any of the ride operators noticed they didn't say anything. We did notice that their ride photos booth no longer had the old sample photo, showing an elderly couple who did not seem to be enjoying the ride. Too bad.

When we first arrived at Kennywood I'd seen a train on The Phantom's Revenge, their (previously) tallest steel roller coaster. It seemed to me it spent a very long time at the top of the lift hill before going. And then the trains stopped going on it. The ride wouldn't run nearly the whole evening and so we went a second year without riding it. Also, and I don't know that this is related, but while we were walking past the Bayern Kurve I saw some EMT types rolling a cart in the general direction of Phantom's Revenge. However, they didn't seem to be hurrying, and there is a lot of park that can be described as in the general direction of Phantom's Revenge. That's the roller coaster which has its entrance a crazy distance from the platform and the exit, just like you get when you're an inexperienced Roller Coaster Tycoon builder and forgot you have to have entrance and exit paths.

We did go over to the Steelers Country area, the new themed area of Kennywood, but found it entirely blocked off; it wasn't just Steel Curtain that was closed. So, we got our photo from the bridge of the lake and the Racer and the Jackrabbit roller coasters. And a nighttime ride on the carousel before going to Thunderbolt for a night ride. Thunderbolt does not permit single riders, and with good reason: it has a lot of helixes and turns that would let a lone rider slide dangerously far. Our train was held up dispatching a while before the ride operators could find someone who'd accept the offer of two rides on Thunderbolt if they'd just take one sitting next to MWS. MWS is not such a fearsome person that you should avoid riding next to him on a roller coaster, I do want to make clear.

After that and our turtle ride we have maybe fifteen minutes left in the night. MWS suggested we at least see if Exterminator was still open. Kennywood closes ride queues before the park closes, in the hopes of getting the last riders off pretty close to closing. Exterminator always gets the longest lines in the park; it's a spinning wild mouse coaster, with a fairly low capacity, but the ride, with its dark ride-type attractions is always popular too. So we went over, expecting to be turned away, and found ... huh. The ride was still open. And it had almost nobody in line. We did not walk on to Exterminator --- such a thing is impossible --- but we did wait under five minutes which is incredible. We were not quite the last riders, but we were near that.

And then it was 10:00 and Kennywood was closed, and the rides got around to turning off the lights as we walked the long way back to the front of the park. As always, I leapt up and tapped the giant valentine-heart light over the exit tunnel, the one that says 'Goodnight', and we thought of when we would get back.

This short couple hours at Kennywood was the end of our doing things for the Pinburgh trip.

Trivia: In 1577 English merchant John Hawkins proposed (to the English crown) carrying a cargo including ``40 tonnes of Brazil dye-wood called Pernambuco'', valued at £600 to the Ottoman Sultan. This, and the other £6,400 worth of trade goods, were contraband according to the papacy. Source: Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance, Lisa Jardine.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney.

PS: In Our Time podcast repeated its Emmy Noether episode, just a heads-up for people who like pop mathematics.

PPS: More exploring the mystery of why Theio's had closed and when and if it might reopen.


Peering through the glass windows of Theio's. This is one of the wings where the pinball league afterparty would regularly be, although there would normally be those little baskets with miscellaneous fruit jam flavors in them, and JTK or someone would go roaming across tables looking for the good flavors.


The other front wing of Theio's, and other place where the pinball league afterparty would be. I believe this is where the league was sitting the time JTK discovered that his eyeglasses had gouged these small ridges in the flesh of his skull. Yes, that's the Muffler Man in the background there.


Theio's, seen from the outside. Well, you know, that all doesn't really look like too bad a place. Surely the fire department just needs a couple critical, yes, but minor repairs to be done before the place can ... [ To be concluded ]

Monday, September 9th, 2019
12:10 am
Those economic vultures stole our dreams and told us tales

It's the first week of A to Z writing on my mathematics blog! This gives me all kinds of stuff to post. Like, not just Reading the Comics but also little essays that I want to be 500 words and that end up 2500 words instead. Don't believe me? Don't have it on your Reading page? Haven't added my stuff to your RSS reader? Then here is your chance to catch up on my writings, which have included:

And finally, the hot news in story comics. What's Going On In Dick Tracy? Seriously, do we not find out whether Daddy Warbucks killed his wife? June - September 2019 in recap. No, we don't find out whether Daddy Warbucks murdered her.

Now more of my photo tour of a place that isn't anymore. With bonus pictures of two other things that aren't anymore. Fish and Chips was done in by the landlord hiking the rent, part of the price of gentrification that people have been expecting in our neighborhood for twenty years and that they think this time is going to happen? Maybe? ... And Theio's was done in, ultimately, by the same thing, although it's not obvious from these pictures.


Fish and Chips's final menu. They had only one or two years before replaced their vintage-80s menu signboards with snazzy chalkboard-and-colored-chalk menus.


One of the directional signs that dates back to Arthur Treacher's days.


This side of the 'in' sign was lost or destroyed, but they did their best to replace it with something of similar style but delightfully homemade. (The other side of the 'in' was the normal plastic sign matching the 'out' sign.)


And the storefront, showing off the barely-rotating sign and the Vaguely New England shakes pattern for the roofline and also the place where Arthur Treacher's name once went.


Opposite angle on the front, showing that the other side of the 'in' sign was working. In the background is the sign for Quality Dairy, Lansing's convenience store chain. You can also make out across the street that there's a Blimpie's.


Looking around the side of the building: vines are growing up along the west face of the building and my car could use a wash.


The drive-through menu board was still the old-fashioned sign, possibly everything but the prices unchanged since the late 80s. Maybe.


The drive-through window, with the curb and trash bin placed so people don't crash into parked cars too much. You get the sense the drive-through service was an afterthought to the building design.


Yeah, so, after our last visit together to Fish and Chips we went over to Frandor, the local mall. The Ace Hardware store used to be an ACO Hardware store, and before it was that, it was Bollert's Hardware, and the weather that day was such that you could see the ghost of that sign. And here it is.


And now something else that's not there anymore. Theio's Restaurant had been the 24-hour place where everyone in Lansing went to eat because, jeez, who's open at this hour of the night? And then new owners in 2017 screwed up everything, firing the staff, forgetting to get the password for the place's Facebook page from the now-fired staff, converting to a breakfast-and-lunch joint, and then going inexplicably closed. In March of 2018, I went to investigate.


Theio's: not technically the same building as Fish and Chips, although I can certainly see where you'd get that idea.


And here's the notice in the window. ``Dear Customers, Loyal and New, Mail Man, Vendors and all Others'', they're very sorry but they have to close just because Lansing Charter Township condemned the building. And they understand the decisions of the Inspector and the Fire Chief and promise to cooperate with them ``and others'' to ensure the safety of everybody involved and they apologize sincerely for any inconvenience.

Trivia: The first baseball club in Kalamazoo, Michigan, formed around 1860. Records indicate they often played using rocks for bases, to some injury. Source: But Didn't We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843 - 1870, Peter Morris.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney. You know, I finally understand what the appeal of Little Orphan Annie was. The storylines are kind of a blend of Dickensian helpless-orphan swinging rapidly between fortune and failure, with a lot of talk about upperclass twits of the year and occasionally slugging loan sharks or mortgage holders (but I repeat myself), except that like two strips out of five are pratfall comedy. It's a weird mix, but I'm staying very interested in what comes next.

Sunday, September 8th, 2019
12:10 am
No meaning left to hold

We had to get up early Sunday. Not to check out, although that would be part of the day. JTV had only reserved his room through Sunday morning, and MWS would need to check out with them all. But Sunday morning was also the Women's International Pinball Tournament, itself a sort of miniature Pinburgh tournament with a hundred people playing five rounds of three games (an electromechanical, a solid state, and a modern game) each. Top 16 finishers go to finals. bunny_hugger was one of the 128 hopeful competitors.

So she got up earlier than me, and headed off to the tournament. Me, I finished packing up our stuff and rolled it through several blocks of Pittsburgh. I was returning stuff to MWS's car. He had parked in a great little lot next to the Embassy Suites. What's great about this lot is that on Sundays they just give up on collecting the parking charge. I mean, they leave one of the gates open all day. But at 6 pm the lone gate attendant goes home for the day, and there's no replacement until Monday morning. So even the gate attendant will just shrug and tell you yeah, it's OK to leave without paying. I'm not positive it isn't OK to leave before then. It's worth trying anyway. You won't find a better parking deal in town. Remarkably, our stuff --- with one rolling suitcase, two laptop bags, and a cooler bag --- packed extremely well into a transportable whole. I'd worried I would need to commandeer a hotel luggage cart and return it before someone noticed but, no, didn't need that. We packed really well.

Also I realized I could just have one more hotel breakfast before returning our keys, and did, eating yet another huge pile of eggs. I stand by this decision.

Between that and photo-taking and respecting the signs warning people not to enter the playing areas I didn't see bunny_hugger until maybe two rounds had gone. And she was doing ... not bad. Also I did see LE again; at one point she was playing in a group with bunny_hugger and they too were talking amusement parks. I also saw KEG, formerly of Lansing League, who was in a foul mood that I attributed to Pinburgh or the Women's International going worse than she expected. It was not; she'd had a bad personal matter happen during the weekend and, well, that royally sucks.

bunny_hugger was sure she was playing worse when I was watching, though. I finally took as the hint for me to go off and sample attractions while she got back to playing. I didn't see many Michigan Pinball people. RLM and MSS briefly as they walked the other direction. ADM, on stage, for the finals of the Intergalactic tournament. Otherwise, I was just enjoying oddball games like the 90s Gottleib Car Hop or the early 90s Gottleib game Cactus Jack's or the early 90s Gottleib game Class of 1812.

So there's these two vending machines in the convention center. They're way off on the end of the building. They almost seem forgotten. They're one of my great secrets since they sell a 20 ounce bottle of soda for $2.00. Inside the convention center there's booths selling pop, but at amusement park prices. If you don't want to go outside and get something, this is the place to go. Whoever runs these machines apparently was not aware that ReplayFX was this weekend, or that the secret of these games was getting out to the world. The machines ran out of pop by Saturday night, and never were restocked. By Sunday the only pop in the machine was this one bottle of Diet Mountain Dew which had, instead of being dispensed, fallen out of the machine's grasp and rolled to the floor of the refrigerated cooler. Dear reader, I was the person who tried to buy that lost pop bottle, ultimately the lone survivor of ReplayFX. Well, lone apart from like three bottles of something called Mountain Dew Ice. The machine was aware of the malfunction and refunded my $2.00.

Also Thursday morning I had taken my morning tea from the hotel and brought it to the convention center. I'd walked around with it until I went to get a soda, and absently left the empty cardboard cup on top of the vending machine and, in the confusion of the failed soda purchase, left the cup there. The cup remained there the rest of the weekend.

In-between rounds of the Women's International Pinball Tournament, when things seemed safe, I went and did something ... dangerous. At least, something unusual for me. I went to one of the techs working the tournament area and, confirming who he was, said, ``Hi. I'm Austin Dern''. You know, just like I was at a furry convention or something.

The guy, Dan, I faintly know because somehow we ended up following each other on Mastodon. I'd gotten to see his excited-and-frantic toots in the weeks before about getting game ready for tournament play and readied for moving and brought to the convention center. And while I'd given him the jokingly useless advice about how to recognize me in the crowd (``bearded guy with a black pinball league t-shirt wearing cargo pants''), this seemed like ... well, as good a chance as there'd ever be to just say hi to a normal person like another normal person, the way normal people do. That went great, and we agreed that it was an amazing amount of work and worth it. He also talked about how Saturday he had gone out repairing machines in the free play area, rather than work on the games in demand for tournament play with the high stress of getting a thing functional again now while finalists are glaring at you. He won't be making that mistake again.

So some more stuff played while I was free and bunny_hugger was annoyed Funhouse was somehow not the solid state game for the bank it was physically in and Dan got back to tournament game maintenance. The Intergalactic games were now all open, and without queues; I played a couple of tables that I had not had the time for the night before and while I never had a game good enough that I'd have been launched into finals, I probably would have gotten out of the bottom 100. Also I finally learned how to play Xenon. I have since forgotten how to play Xenon.

bunny_hugger would not make playoff in the Women's International Pinball Tournament. However, she missed by less than she expected: only two more wins over the day and she'd have been in. I still don't know where exactly she finished in the tournament but it's a good showing. And it meant that she would have a couple of hours yet to just hang out and enjoy ReplayFX.

I got in my revenge games on the tables that did me the most harm. Game of Thrones. Miss-O. Simpsons Pinball Party. Oh, that Simpsons. Some games that had spoiled my chances in past years, like Asteroid Annie and the Aliens. Some games that are just gorgeous to look at, like Space Race or Time 2000. Space Race, an electromechanical, I had a fantastic game on, and was more than halfway to rolling it, with a bonus built to its maximum 100,000 ... and double bonus lit ... and when the ball drained, it just never registered. The ball wouldn't catch the sensor that detected drains and it just froze there at the end of a magnificent game. Too bad.

bunny_hugger and MWS and I gathered together again, this time to find a FunHouse and play it. I'd seen one in the free play area --- the one in the tournament area never did come back on --- and we had our one and only game on this this particular ReplayFX. I had a great game on it too, managing to get two jackpots as I recall; it's spectacular to get one. I did get my name on the high score board, but as it was only position #3, I did not post it to AJG's thread of Pinburgh Grand Champion scores.

And then ... mm. Rock-o-Plane. It was still going. Still running. Who knew when we might see one again? When we might ever run one? bunny_hugger decided to take the chance, if nothing else to say she had ridden one of these. I went along with her, although in separate seats, per the ride operator's direction. The ride had some fun signs including reprints from a late 40s Popular Mechanics about how rides are designed to be both safe and thrilling.

We both went onto the ride figuring to just let the car ride as a normal Ferris wheel seat, done by not pulling on the lever that locks the car's angle relative to the rotating spoke. I did that for a few circuits and then decided, well, I'll try holding the brake and see what I thought. And that went well; it was pretty fun and if I slid a little bit toward the 'top' of the cage it's not like it did my head any real harm. Eventually I got more adventurous, including doing whole loops locked in place, including one where I was upside-down at the bottom of the ride. And a couple times I held the bar and let go so I would rock around a little, not quite spinning. Only a couple times. I didn't want to make myself sick. We had plenty of ride time, still.

With less than an hour to go I ... got to play an oddball old horse-racing-themed game named Derby Day. Dan had recommended this on Mastodon to anyone at ReplayFX, including a shout-out to me particularly and I was interested but the thing was always going down. The table has, in the backbox, six horses on posts which ratchet from right to left as you hit corresponding targets. If your horse crosses the finish line first, you get a bonanza of points. But the game had gone down a lot over the weekend; horse #3's chain got stuck a lot. Finally one of the techs --- Dan, it transpired --- left instructions about what to do when the game claimed it couldn't start. Here, it was having one of its good working periods, although an elder man was hovering around and playing game after game until I had to just gulp and ask if I could have a turn. He agreed, but did want to ask if I knew just how remarkable the game was. I did very well nearly getting horse #2 to the finish, because I kept trying to shoot for horse #3's targets, so I didn't have a very good game. But I got to play a nice odd old game and that's important.

In the last half-hour of Pinburgh we ... didn't actually have a plan of where to meet up with MWS. So Class of 1812 seemed the natural place to go. I was the one to point out that although the game begs you to play multiball --- the music when you have multiball going is a rendition of the 1812 Overture, done first as regular and then as clucked by chickens --- that's not where the points are. The points are in knocking down the rows of drop targets on the left and right of the playfield. This was such a revelation to MWS, which startled me because I'd have expected him to have noticed this before.

Not that it matters; we'll never play Class of 1812 in a tournament, except if we're very lucky at Pinburgh. We can play it here, and at the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Hall of Fame, and both places, play for laughs. So these are the laughs we were playing, as 5:00 came to us and ReplayFX closed, ending for the year with the tables being turned off.

Trivia: Among the rights secured by New Jersey's 1776 Constitution was that the estates of suicides were not forfeit; their heirs would inherit as usual. Source: New Jersey From Colony To State, 1609 - 1789, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney. The first story with ``Daddy'' Warbucks has him beat up a loan shark that Annie's noticed preying upon a nice person, which, yeah, good for him. Also the first time ``Daddy'' Warbucks disappears it's because he has some business he has to get to in Siberia. Now what would a respectable American arms merchant be doing in Siberia in 1924?

PS: Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Benford's Law, the rare mathematics piece that let me talk about my car.


The Vaguely New England Waterfront lights hanging over each of the booths at Fish and Chips.


The Pepsi clock was there when bunny_hugger moved to town. The Daily Specials board ... I'm not sure how far back that goes, but it's a while. Can you spot where they ran out of I's and used a / instead? How about where they turned a W upside-down?


Sometime in the 80s the place expanded with this glass-lined extension that's attractive but absolutely freezing in the winter. The floor tiling makes pretty clear where the old limits of the establishment were.

Saturday, September 7th, 2019
12:10 am
And plain to see the facts are changing

Never mind the rest of Michigan Pinball. What did we do Pinburgh Saturday? ... Well, sleep in, for one. Through noon, a much-needed break. We made up for the missed hotel breakfast by teaming up with JTK and CVK for, ultimately, a meal at this fast-Italian/deli place. We'd gone there for Saturday lunch last year too. This time I did not make the foolish mistake of ordering a calzone, so we got to eat in a reasonable time. They also served bunny_hugger one too many plates of fries --- even the first plate was plenty --- a thing we couldn't account for until another customer went wandering table to table looking for her order of fries. Well, mistakes happen. She didn't mind taking a used plate.

Back at the actual convention we did some browsing around. Some watching of the finals. BIL had already been knocked out of D Division playoffs by the time we got there. The lone FunHouse in tournament play was blocked off, reserved for one of the division finals. This game would frustrate bunny_hugger: it kept being turned off, or blocked off for special purposes, or sometimes both. The only FunHouse she would play all weekend, on Sunday, was in the free-play area, not one for Pinburgh. We also browsed the vendors tables; there's a lot of people who come to sell vintage video game stuff. If you ever need a program cartridge for the RCA Studio II Home TV Programmer, I know where to go, at least four days of the year. We also looked from afar at an actual fairground ride.

ReplayFX had promised there would be a Ferris wheel in the convention hall this year, and if anyone wanted to buy naming rights they were for sale. Nobody bought naming rights. ReplayFX didn't bring a Ferris wheel anyway. They brought a Rock-O-Plane. It's a fairground ride, first made by the Eyerly Aircraft Company in the late 40s. It resembles a Ferris wheel, with cars going on a vertical wheel. But it's not one. The egg-shaped cages have restraints to hold the rider securely in place. This because the rider can pull a lever inside the car to freeze its position relative to the wheel spoke. This means that the car can roll upside-down as the wheel turns. The rider can relax the lever too, rolling free. As much as they like. bunny_hugger's never ridden one. I haven't either, to my recollection. It seems ... oh, boy, that's an intimidating ride. We're used to going upside-down in roller coasters, but that's done at speed, inertia guaranteeing our place in the seats. Here, only the padded bars can hold you. We don't ride. Not now, anyway.

We have a pinball tournament to play. ReplayFX hosts a side tournament, the Intergalactic Pinball Tournament. This is Herb-style: you join, you get ten entries to play a bank of (this year) twelve games. Your top four finishes give you a tournament ranking. The top forty(?) finishers go on to a finals on Sunday morning. We join.

The thing is, like, everybody else in the world joined. There are long queues for every table. We aren't forced to stick around waiting for our names to be called. The tournament has virtual queues, so you can check on your web browser roughly how long it'll be until you're up. This has us more loosely tethered to the game bank, but still: we can't just go off somewhere and lose ourselves in the scene. We have to come back every half-hour to an hour.

Last year I had one outstandingly good game in the side tournament and then a bunch of mediocre games. This made me the 187th-ranked player of the 416 who played. This time around? No good games; I end up 510th out of around 600 players. bunny_hugger has a pretty solid game of Bonebusters, in-between its breakdowns, and this launches her to 358th. MWS has some stuff put together on Fireball and Flip Flop, but he still finishes at 290th.

So I think this is going to be my last Intergalactic. It's nice to have a side tournament. And, if you do have one or two good games, you're mightily well-rewarded with International Flipper Pinball Association points. My 2018 showing, which again was based on one killer game, netted me 4.54 points, which is about as good as I can do playing any given pinball league. But the queues are long, and you can't really play any game enough to feel like you have a chance unless you're someone who could make A Division playoffs. ADM, having missed the A Division playoffs, makes it into Intergalactic, for example. But with all the demands, including that you can't just drop in, play some games, and go back to the convention, I don't think it's worth it for me.

There are people in costume. ReplayFX's big cosplay contest is Saturday and we get to see figures like anime character from a series I don't know, character from an RPG I don't know, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Ghostbuster.

I talk some about going out for revenge games on the tables that I lost unfairly on during Pinburgh, but I don't get around to any. I do get some other play in, including a round on Elektra where I follow the insights bunny_hugger had had, and have a fantastic game. They also have a Genesis, likely the one I had my glorious playoffs series on two years ago. I give this a try and my lone game is magnificent. I get ready the game's ultimate achievement --- unveiling the Metropolis-style Mara robot --- but don't quite do it. Meanwhile bunny_hugger uses the Super Orbit that's in the Pinburgh banks --- and that I had played --- to work out strategy that she uses on the Intergalactic bank. Not to help her position, though. Her rather good score on Bonebusters, pretty good Space Invaders and Jackbot, and decent Fire! are where she gets her position.

Another piece of what's fun at ReplayFX this year, and that I haven't mentioned explicitly: they have a much better hangout-and-waiting-around area. It has a small bar, yes, and also a bunch of green carpet and lawn chairs and some lawn games. Cornhole and a giant Jenga block set and all. It's swiftly dubbed the Oasis and it's where Michigan Pinball folks have congregated if they want to step away from the tournament play. At one point some kids take the Jenga blocks and start building fortresses and toy cities and such, mixing the blocks up with other giant blocks there for some reason or other. It's a nice little hangout.

We would hang around, dipping in and out of ReplayFX, until about midnight. About 9 we met up with BIL and JDO and a couple other people, and went to a pizza restaurant just across the street from the pierogie place, while trying to watch the A Division finals on people's phones. The pizza was pretty good, although large and pricy; bunny_hugger and I split a pie and had plenty. Everyone else got a pizza the same size apiece. They must have not eaten so big or late a lunch.

We did leave about midnight. ReplayFX wasn't closed yet; they'd stay open to about 2 am. The Intergalactic tournament wasn't even done either; in fact, none of us had put in all ten games. But we had a commitment Saturday morning.

Trivia: The Port of Singapore Authority's total assets, on its creation in 1964, including apartment complexes, office buildings, docks, and warehouses, were worth less than US$50 million. Source: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson.

Currently Reading: Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? The Complete Daily Comics 1924 - 1927, Harold Gray. Editor Dean Mullaney.

Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Asymptote, bringing up an old essay I'm really happy with.

PPS: Now some pictures of things that aren't there anymore. In spring 2018 the venerable Fish and Chips restaurant, once an Arthur Treacher's, was closing and we went for a last meal and some pictures of the place.


Side view of the restaurant and the parking lot. The sign on the right, with the Fish and Chips logo on two sides, would turn but only with the wind, and was restrained by the tree that's grown around it.


bunny_hugger enjoying a meal, and cole slaw. The main counter and the menu board and the pumps with tartar sauce are visible behind her.


Looking up from our booth at the ceiling, which had seen better days. Fish and Chips had been there since the early 70s, and had been an independent concern since the late 80s.

Friday, September 6th, 2019
12:10 am
But then I knew that very soon you'd leave me

And how's the humor blog looking? The past week's featured stuff such as this:

Let's have some more pictures of meeting Penelope, from the first day and the first weeks with her.


Penelope, satisfied that she has her tunnel, notices that I'm still there and fussing around with a camera.


She comes over to give me a serious eye, but decides that this time, I may live.


So by now she's settled in enough to feel comfortable making goofy faces through the bars of her cage.


Penelope was not actually small enough to squeeze through her pen, but you know, small mammals are able to fit through way less space than you imagine. I've heard it claimed guinea pigs could squeeze through a tunnel the diameter of a quarter, if they wanted to, which they do not.


Penelope giving me one ear's worth of attention and deciding whether this insult to her dignity is enough to be worth charging the camera and clonking me over.


``Penelope, you look like a barge.'' bunny_hugger's most common comment about the rabbit, especially when she was sleeping like this.


A week or two on, Penelope enjoying a meal. Or trying to enjoy a meal, if I'd stop shoving this camera in her face.


She decides to continue but is going to keep an eye on me. Gorgeous head fur, though, that I don't think was the result of our ruffling her head any.


I realize that she's backlit, but it adds this great illumination to the shape of her head.


For some reason the camera decided the thing that needed focus was the wire cage in background. But there's still something nice in the soft focus on a rabbit with her mouth full of greens, and what she's planning to do with it.


... which is this. The ability of rabbits to eat long strands of things without interruption is always a delight to us.

Trivia: Steinman, Boynton, Gronquist & Birdsall, the successor firm to the architects who designed the Golden Gate Bridge, refused to sign a contract to retrofit the bridge to meet higher earthquake safety standards following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Source: Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America, Henry Petroski. (The firm felt it was being asked to provide more security than even Bay Area traffic authorities were.)

Currently Reading: Pogo Volume 5: Out Of This World At Home, Walt Kelly. Editors Mark Evanier, Eric Reynolds.

PS: My 2019 Mathematics A To Z: Buffon's Needle, a famous question of probability and numerical computing.

Thursday, September 5th, 2019
12:10 am
Stories to be told

We would get to sleep in Saturday. So would MWS, and so would our would-have-been roommates JTK and CVK. What about other people?

A few Michigan Pinball people made playoffs in their divisions. A good number didn't, though. CST, in A division, finished 70-50 overall and is in 58th place. AJH, also in A, is at 63-57, tied for 148th. His father PH is in the tie for 68th of B division, at 65-55. (One win ahead of Roger Sharpe, ``the man who saved pinball'', and who had a birthday Pinburgh weekend.) GRV, also in B Division, finished 64-56 and tied for 133rd. JDO, whose reservation at the Drury was the one we used, landed in E division, and at 27-33 was in a tie for 141st. KEG, who'd been the only woman in Michigan to out-compete bunny_hugger until she moved away last year, went 55-65 and finished 184th in the B Division. ADM, in A Division, went 63-57 and is tied for 148th there. I don't know what the whole group has done --- I'm not even sure who the whole group is --- but, you know? There's no doing bad at Pinburgh. There's just not doing as well as you hoped.

And the people who did well, did very well. BIL, one of our roommates at state finals back in January, and (as a schoolteacher) one of the few pinball people bunny_hugger can commiserate about work with, finished tied for 4th in the D Division. He doesn't just go to finals. He gets two rounds of byes, not having to play before the third round of five. Sad to say that's the only round he plays, losing on a tiebreaker game at the end of the four-game round, and he's at liberty the rest of Saturday.

SJG, the guy whose incredible skills I admired back as an undergraduate at Rutgers, makes playoffs in the B Division, and goes out in the quarterfinals. He's not a Michigan player, though, and if he remembers I exist I shall be most surprised.

And then there's A Division. Three Michigan players have made playoffs. AND, who's by the way hosting the state championship next year, finished 80-40 and is tied for sixth. He gets a one-round bye in the playoffs. AND's son, AJR, finished 85-35, tied for second place at Pinburgh regular play. He gets two rounds of byes. Also getting two rounds of byes: AJG, who at 84-36 tied for fourth place.

Everyone's thrilled for AJR, who's one of those up-and-coming kids. He just started attending Michigan State University. We've been trying to get him to join the Lansing Pinball League, and he protests he doesn't have a car, and nobody can get him to accept that there's a bus that runs right from campus to our league's bar. We did warn, though, that if he wins Pinburgh he's not invited to Lansing League anymore. AJR's the early favorite to win Michigan's state championship in 2020. The very early favorite to win 2021. AND, a past several-times state champion, is popular enough too.

AJG? Well. He's not a universally popular figure, though he, too, is a several-times state champion. He's controversial, to understate. He's had a lot of pointless fights stirring up drama in Michigan Pinball social media groups. He's been caught, if not cheating, at least coming extremely close to the edge. And for no good reason: it's not like he needs that kind of edge to win. He is a really good player. He has uncanny control over where the ball will go. And he has a superhuman ability to find repeatable shots, things that will grind out points as long as he doesn't bobble the ball. He doesn't need to, like, death-save (a forbidden way of shaking a game to return a ball to play) while he thinks nobody's watching.

And. He's been so boastful, so full of himself, for so long, that you'd think he draws a comic strip about a unicorn. The thing is that he is that good. And, since coming to realize that his arrogance has offended a lot of people for no good reason, he's been trying to present himself more kindly. And nobody wants to discourage him from acting in better ways. Even then he mis-steps, unable to avoid the humblebrag. At one point that weekend he posted to Facebook an encouragement for people to stop being shy, post pictures of where they set grand champion scores on Pinburgh tables, like he did, here. He smiles easily now; it's hard not to see Eddie Haskell.

He's boasted in the past about how he'll win Pinburgh. And he's flopped each time. One interpretation of this has been that, well, he doesn't travel. He plays a couple of venues, with the same people, all of whom he considerably outclasses. When he does go to Pinburgh he suddenly plays people who are about as good as him. And then --- faced with the paradox that he has played a game and not won it --- he doesn't know what to do. Doesn't know how to step his play up where it's needed. Still, this time? In ten rounds of Pinburgh he had only one round below .500, and that one was 4-8. And he only has to play three rounds of finals.

Each round is four people playing four games, earning points for each finish, first place taking three points, second place two points, third place one, last place none. Just like the regular days of Pinburgh. Two first-place finishes and anything other than two last-place finishes nearly guarantee you move on. Even weaker finishes can be enough. One can plausibly win a round --- as you'd have to do to win finals --- by finishing in second place in all four games. (Other players would have to split their finishes just right, and you'd still have a playoff game you'd need to win.)

In the ten rounds of Pinburgh play, scored the same way that playoffs are, he's been one of the top two players nine times. He's been the top player six times.

So he might well win Pinburgh, and everyone knows if he does that he will never shut up. And, we have to admit, he'll be right to.

If you want to watch all this, by the way, you can see just over six hours of A Division playoffs on YouTube here. And then The final hour of play is at this link. I recommend skimming around some. But you will see how really, really outstanding players handle the ball, and make it look like they have magical control of their flippers. There is not a thing they do that you can't do too; you need only try.

The first round AJG plays, he takes fourth place on late solid state game F-14 Tomcat, third place on early solid state game Flash gordon, third place on modern game Metallica, and second place on the electromechanical Pro-Football. The two people, of the four playing, with the best record go on to the next round. AJG has the worst record of his quartet. He's knocked out. The rest of us don't have to think how we'd be gracious to a person who would be challenged to handle being a winner graciously.

AND, playing the same games but in a different quartet, takes second place on Metallica. He finishes last on Pro-Football. He wins F-14 Tomcat. He takes third place on Flash Gordon. He finishes third in his quartet, and is also knocked out.

Michigan Pinball has one representative left. AJR finishes in third place on late solid state Funhouse, first place on early solid state Solar Ride, third place on modern game Jack-Bot, and second place on the electromechanical Spanish Eyes. This is strong enough to bring him to semifinals.

In this round he finishes last on Willy Wonka, Jersey Jack's newest game and something barely anyone's touched. He has a first place finish on electromechanical game High Hand. He gets first place on Jurassic Park, a modern game doing service as late solid state. He finishes in last place on Meteor, the early solid state game. This sends him to a tiebreaker, on Pro-Football. This he wins. He's on to finals.

He is, at least right now, one of the four best people in competitive pinball.

Right now, I should say, is like 9 pm. Players had to report at 9:30 am, and the first rounds started at 10 am. There've been breaks during the day, the A Division players getting that sort of consideration. Plus in A Division they take time between plunging balls. But when I played in D Division two years ago, even without breaks, it was like 6 or 7 pm. And these are people who can play even the fast games forever.

AJR's opponents: Keith Elwin (KME), everyone's pick to repeat as winner of Pinburgh and a strong candidate for best pinball player of all time. Cryss Stephens (CDS), who cleans up in Pennsylvania and Ohio and mercifully doesn't come to Michigan to mess up our tournaments anymore. Daniele Celestino Acciari (CEL), an Italian player who's routinely winning stuff like the Dutch PInball Masters or the Danish Pinball Open, and who won the 2017 Word Pinball Championship and the 2018 European Pinball Championship.

First game. Metallica. AJR, the third player, finishes the game with 34,536,550, taking the lead. Keith Elwin takes it back, barely: 35,096,110. CDS finishes third, at 30,479,990. CEL has a relatively weak 16,397,410.

Second game. Pro-Football. KME is the first to play and scores 96,400. AJR has the second game, and scores 51,040. CDS, playing third, just squeaks this out with 52,990. CEL can't be stopped, though, and scores 106,220. AJR has a second place and a last-place finish so far.

Third game. F-14 Tomcat. It's a deeply hard late solid state game. CEL goes first and scores 1,344,480. AJR is the second player; he can't get anything together and scores 906,130. KME, the third player, actually has a good game and scores 4,185,710. CDS wraps it up with 2,917,690. AJR has a second place and two last-place finishes. It's now impossible for AJR to win Pinburgh. He could still take second, though. But with two wins and a second-place finish, Keith Elwin has secured first place in Pinburgh, whatever he does in the last game.

Elwin does not win the final game, Flash Gordon. He's the first player and finishes with 691,840, which is good for second place. CDS, second player, finishes with 459,300. Player three, CEL, finishes with 598,660 points. And AJR ... he scores 725,930, finishing the round with a great first-place showing.

AJR has tied for second place with CEL. They play off on Willy Wonka. CEL scores 217,630. AJR scores 58,840.

Michigan's last representative to Pinburgh comes in third place.

Trivia: Between October 1846 and October 1847, 783½ miles of railway track came into operation in Great Britain. Source: The Age of Paradox: A Biography of England, 1841 - 1851, John W Dodds.

Currently Reading: Pogo Volume 5: Out Of This World At Home, Walt Kelly. Editors Mark Evanier, Eric Reynolds.

PS: How August 2019 Treated My Mathematics Blog, my least mathematical post of the mathematics month. It's also usually one of my best-liked pieces.

PPS: Can you spot which of these pictures of meeting Penelope is maybe the single best narrative photograph I have ever taken?


Penelope starts to explore her environs and finally holds still long enough for me to get a clear photo. (I'd left the camera's simulated ISO on, like, 80 which is inadequate for our house interior, which gets no light.)


Penelope really likes being here and is excited to meet us!


After exploring the hutch she came back out to her wooden tunnel and carrier and other things that smelled of her old home.

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019
12:10 am
Well the truth may need some re-arranging

For lunch MWS went back to the hotel room. bunny_hugger and I met up with JTK and CVK for lunch. JTK, after missing the first round of the day, went 7-5 and 6-6, putting his record at 43-57 and his seed at 169th in the C Division. CVK, in the bottommost division, has gone 6-6, 5-7, and 7-5, and is hanging around 114th seed. It's not looking like any of us will make finals.

We don't go to the taco place yet again. JTK and CVK have found a hipster pierogie bar about ten minutes' walk away, and pierogies are the thing we most missed from Knoebels. It's a nice enough walk along the riverfront. It also goes past the in-ground waterfall underneath the convention center that's now turned off. I was able to explain why that was, thanks to following Anthrocon tweets earlier in the month. (Roof reconstruction required equipment be put in places that water would otherwise go.) The pierogies were, oh, fair enough, even if they seemed overpriced, which seems to be the standard for downtown Pittsburgh stuff. You hate to go to a different city and just go to Burger King, but sometimes that seems like the easiest thing to do.

On the way back we passed a lone dirty sock in the middle of the sidewalk, which wasn't all that peculiar until we passed another lone sock nearly a block away. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

We got back in time for the Pinburgh Group Photograph at 6 pm, as many people as could crowding around in front of the stage and photographing back the two people on an elevated cart. And then the Pinburgh Women's group picture, a much smaller set of players going up on stage to see how many of them were wearing Belles and Chimes league T-shirts. (Belles and Chimes is not quite a franchise, but it is a common name given to semi-affiliated women's leagues. There's one in Grand Rapids which will never compete with the big ones, in places like Portland and Seattle.) bunny_hugger was wearing her black, original-issue Lansing Pinball League shirt.

On to the last two rounds, the ones that say who'll make playoffs. I need two good rounds. A perfect round would be really really helpful right now, but you can always say that. I'm on bank 40, Zosterops. The first game is the modern one, Stern's 2011 Rolling Stones. Oh, if it strikes you that I started on the modern game a lot today? That's deliberate. Modern games tend to play long, so Pinburgh tries to put the A Division players where they'll finish on the modern game. Then B should play so the modern game is their next-longest. The lowest division plays the longest game first, trusting that they'll finish before anyone waits for them. This doesn't always work out, but you have to have some system.

So the modern game. Rolling Stones. I've never played it before. But CST has said the most satisfying shot in pinball is clobbering Mick Jagger. He's represented with this standing target that rolls back and forth along a track, stopping at six spots that correspond to the letters S-T-O-N-E-S. Hit him once at each letter and you get a multiball. I do this, and have a crushingly good first ball, starting several different multiballs as if I knew what I was doing. One of the other players comes near but doesn't top my 13.9 million.

They do, though, take the score sheet away from the pinball games. This annoys me. I like to double-check that I am actually playing the correct turn every ball. Playing out of turn is an automatic disqualification and I don't need any unforced losses, after all. Also, I've learned to record the player 1, 2, and 3 scores at the start of player 4's last ball. This is because there was an era in the late 80s and early 90s where all the scores would flash, briefly, and then never come up again. More modern games bring the scores back by hitting the flippers, but the easiest way to be sure you have them is to write down as many scores as you can before the game actually ends. One of my co-players is annoyed that I'm occupying space at the table instead of getting out of the way, and doesn't want to hear why I'm doing this. All right then.

Our electromechanical is Bally's 1968 Mini-Zag, themed to a band performing on local TV. It's the first zipper flipper game this tournament where I actually zip the flippers. What I don't do is ... if you plunge just right, you can drop the ball down a lane that's good for 300 points. If you're lucky, it bounces off a bumper and goes back up and down this lane again. I am not lucky, and finish with 1,555 points. This is about a thousand points below first place. But it's also five hundred points ahead of last place.

The late solid state is again an early modern game, Williams's 1991 Hurricane, third of their Roller Coaster games. We play a low-scoring game. The game shouldn't be. The skill shot alone is a half-million points; it's just hard to get, or to keep the ball in play after. It is like a late solid state game in that if you can repeat the center ramp you'll get obscene numbers of points. I don't quite manage that. I do well enough to get second place, by a whisker, but someone else gets a ball locked for multiball, and creams us with 6.7 million points. This is not an impressive score either, though.

The early solid state game is Williams's 1981 Solar Fire, which looks like the other draft of a Flash Gordon table. I house ball the first ball, and my recollection is I put up almost nothing on the second ball, which more annoys me than anything else. So I am determined to make something of the third ball, keeping it slow, trapping it endlessly and aiming at finishing drop target sets, usually the right thing this game. I struggle my way up to second place and everyone agrees, that's some great play that just finished too short.

My round is pretty good: eight wins, four losses, for the second round in a row. It brings my record to 52-56. I jump from 117th seed to 89th. And it's my second round today to have no last-place finishes. Still not in the playoffs, but another 8-4 round would get me close and maybe tiebreakers would go my way. A 9-3 round, and I might be in on my own right. A 10-2 round and I would be in. At any rate, an 8-4 round would let me finish 60-60 for the whole two days, which would be great.

bunny_hugger, on bank 41, Uttermost, has been having a good round. Her modern game is Attack From Mars, which everybody who'd be at Pinburgh knows inside-out. It's on mostly hard settings, except for the saucer shot which is, for some reason, set easier. You can win the game just by shooting the saucer over and over. bunny_hugger needs points faster than that, though, and on her last ball realizes that she is very close to Total Annihilation, a potentially enormous points grab. She has to line up a couple of shots carefully, either not missing or recovering the ball when she does miss. And ... she does. And she tears it up. And then that doesn't stop. She also gets Strobe Multiball going. This is a multiball, with a strobe light flashing, in which you're challenged to keep hitting the flying saucer in its most dangerous, drain-prone configuration. She hits it, not just a couple times, not just the ten times that ordinarily would earn an extra ball, but over twenty times. She doesn't just win; she wins so convincingly that the other players applaud her performance. From a couple tables over my group watches and claps too.

The other games are Captain Fantastic (not the same specific table that I'd played) and Guns N Roses (which she's never played but she makes some good guesses about what to do) and Scorpion (with a sea-serpent or hydra theme). She gets eight wins and four losses this round too, bringing her record to 53½-54½. She only rises to being 146th seed. Making playoffs would require a perfect round and for dozens of other players to have weak final rounds. Not impossible, not really plausible. Still, she's also in good shape to finish above the .500 mark for Pinburgh. MWS, on bank 61, ``Yokemating'' and don't try telling me that's a word, has gone a disappointing 5-7 on tables he mostly should know: Medieval Madness, Liberty Bell, Pinbot, and Evel Kneivel. Later on I play Liberty Bell and discover I really like this electromechanical's style. His record's dropped to 54-54, and he's now 103rd seed in C. He could still make playoffs, if he gets 11 wins in the final round. 12 would be better.

Round 10. I am on bank 8, Yunnanese, because they've run out of words. The first game is --- oh! It's the early solid state, for once. Bally's 1980 Nitro Ground Shaker, a racing themed game. I feel confident about my 65,680 point score, which looks like a decent second-place finish until the fourth player just blasts past it. I have a third place.

Ah, but the modern game, at last, is Stern's 2003 Simpsons Pinball Party. It's a game from my dubious two-player perfect round last year. It's also the game I put up 44 million points on, a score that would win basically any group, ever. There are two skill shot targets; one, Apu's Kwik-e-Mart; the other, Comic Book Guy's Hurry Up. The first player shoots the Kwik-e-Mart and then the ball drains. The second player shoots Comic Book Guy and then the ball drains. I, player three, say, ``Well, I have to not shoot either then.'' I don't hit either skill shot, and the ball drains. The fourth player has a similarly lousy ball. I forget who makes the obligatory joke about okay, now we play the actual game, but someone does.

And I just have nothing. Almost nobody else has anything either. But Simpsons has one nice easy reliable strategy: get the ball on the left flipper. Shoot the garage. Each hit on the garage spells out a letter of S-I-M-P-S-O-N-S. When finished, this starts a frenzy, each switch on the playfield good for a bunch of points. I keep trying to start this, and keep somehow missing the garage. I finish the game with 1,044,700 points. Third place has 1,752,270. Second place 3,043,510. None of these are scores I shouldn't be able to beat. The winner got this frenzy going, and Itchy and Scratchy Multiball, putting up 21,488,530 points even after we told him --- the last person to play --- that he'd won.

I know now that my playoff chances, always slight, were now gone. Pfaugh.

Still, there's two games yet to play. The electromechanical is Williams's 1975 game Little Chief, with a Native American Indians theme, reminding us you could just draw people and paint them red in the mid-70s. Thing is, the game's kind to me. I keep hitting the ball back up top, where it can do the most good, and I finish with a first-place win. That's nice to have.

Our last game, the end of my Pinburgh tournament play, is the late solid state game. It's another old friend. It's Williams's 1986 Pin-Bot, one everybody knows and sort of loves. I'm the first player up, the result of everybody else getting to pick order before me. And I have one of those strange games that just keeps working. I don't try to get multiball going; it's just not worth that much on this game. But I do keep hitting the Solar Ramp, good for points and for bonus multipliers, or to collect planets, good for bonus. I don't quite ice everyone out on the first ball. But between that and, later on, getting multiball going and even getting the Solar Value, finish with 580,150 points, a great score. The third player puts up a good run, but loses the ball at 509.290. The fourth player comes from nowhere to ... well, 399,180, but that's still a great run. And I finish Pinburgh with two solid wins.

It's a good round, seven wins and five losses. It brings my record to 59-61, just short of the .500 that's really always my true goal. It's not good enough for playoffs. I'm part of the eleven-way tie for 68th in the division. I would have needed at least 61 wins overall to make playoffs, so, if I had beaten three million points on that Simpsons ... ah well. And, considering how low in D Division I started the day --- I was in it because of my world ranking, not because I played well enough to place in it --- this is doing nicely enough.

bunny_hugger has played bank 86, one of the three that are up on the stage up front, ready to be the A Division finals on Saturday. She plays Black Knight: Sword of Rage, and Star Pool, and Radical, and Elektra. Elektra she realizes is a game about getting to play this small, inset, lower playfield, and her last ball she focuses entirely on qualifying for that. This she does, and it makes her game very good indeed. She has seven wins, five losses this round, bringing her final record to 60½-59½ and she gets to gloat about beating me not just by virtue of her division but also by raw score. She's nowhere near finals; she would have needed six and a half more wins. She finishes 135th in B Division, tied with nobody thanks to that ½ a point. This puts her in sole possession of 335th place in all of Pinburgh. Just out of the top third, but still. She's beaten a lot of fantastic pinball players.

MWS, playing on bank 78, Deneb, has had a good round. He plays CSI, Argosy (called Arrrrrg-osy by everyone except bunny_hugger, who's done well every time at Pinburgh on it), Banzai Run, and Mystic (which plays completely differently from the one we play in Fremont). He gets eight wins, four losses, making his overall record 62-58. He doesn't make playoffs either; he would have needed three more wins. He's part of the ten-way tie for 62nd in C Division.

Well, so, that's that then. We wait around to meet up with other Michigan Pinball people. JTK has gone 7-5 and 7-5, making his record 57-63. He's part of the tie for 138th in C Division. CTK has gone 5-7 and 7-5, making her record for the day a perfect 30-30. In her, E, division, only the Friday scores count. She doesn't make playoffs either. She'd have needed at least four more wins. She's in a tie for 94th in the division. Her last round she played up on the main stage too, becoming the only one of us to play the Willie Wonka game in tournament play.

Afterwards there's a fair-size mob of Michigan Pinball people (including JDO, whom we thank again for our hotel room) going to Condado Tacos again. We join them, but are still stuffed enough from the late pierogie lunch that we can't get anything. We just get some pop and share stories of totally unfair pinball events that happened.

At least we'll all get to sleep in late, unlike some other pinball players we know.

Trivia: Kellogg's paid Hanna-Barbera about $50,000 for each new episode of Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGrow, with four showings guaranteed over two years. Source: The Moose that Roared: The Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel, and a Talking Moose, Keith Scott.

Currently Reading: Pogo Volume 5: Out Of This World At Home, Walt Kelly. Editors Mark Evanier, Eric Reynolds.

My 2019 Mathematics A To Z: Abacus, first of the new series of concepts being explored! I hoped this would be a short series and this one ended up at 2500 words anyway. Also my blog entry for today was 2800 words so I'm doing great at not burning myself out typing stuff up. Just great.

PPS: More of meeting Penelope, whom we didn't know long enough.


Penelope took a quick charge right at me, and the camera.


And she quickly decides she needs some height to figure out my deal. Look at those sweet little hindpaws.


She had this piece of coroplast to take her meals and some hay on, and used that to get this quick sniff of me.

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019
12:10 am
Moving on

Back to Pinburgh. Round 7, the second of Friday's. I've got my collapsible chair now, clipped to my belt, worn as if it were a tail at a furry convention. I'm on bank 53, Xerotherm. It's also my first round playing any women; there's two in this group. Competitive pinball is trying to be more accepting of non-straight-white-guys but it's got a lot of social debt to overcome. bunny_hugger, in the lofty B Division, as on bank 17, Vouchment, and against only two players: Lyman Sheats's withdrawal leaves one of the forty groups each round short a person, and this time she's the beneficiary. MWS is on bank 68, Castor, another set that bunny_hugger has trailblazed.

The modern game: Stern's 2003 Terminator 3. The game has a gadget in the backbox, the RPG. It's a ping-pong ball that a spring-loaded ``cannon'' shoots at targets and if you're good at it, you can just light and play that all day instead of playing pinball. So there's a tournament-conditions sign that the RPG has been disabled. That's a shame since when you launch balls one and three you get the option to play that, and even if you can't play it perfectly (few can) it's still good points, and in tournament play that's likely to be the victory margin. I want to fall back on the reliable strategy of shoot the left orbits and collect awards, but I'm actually hitting alternating ramps. I don't like this strategy, but it's what's working, and I know better than to skip the game I am playing for the one I think I should. Then, though, the guy does shoot RPG and we learn what the RPG Disabled sign means. Instead of playing it the game just gives you a flat five million points. Or possibly ten million; the scoreboard gives contradictory information. Pretty sure it's five million points. With the rest of us puttering around ten million points, though, that suddenly becomes the thing to shoot for. I make RPG my target, and while I don't catch the other guy, I do get close and make a nice second-place finish. The women don't go for RPG, and I don't know why not.

The electromechanical: Bally's 1969 Gator. I know this as one of the first games I ever really flopped on at Pinburgh 2016. It's also a Zipper Flipper game, one that hitting the right targets will cause the flippers to move together in a way that, in principle, makes it impossible to center-drain unless you screw things up. None of us zips the flippers together. I take third place. The other guy takes first. The ``late solid state'' is Williams's 1993 White Water, which is actually an early dot-matrix-display or ``modern'' game, although it's got some late-solid-state feel to it. Particularly how it doesn't have a ball save; it just gives you the ball back if you don't score a single point on your plunge. The big scoring this game is starting a multiball and then shooting this side ramp that each of us tries and only the other guy ever gets a hang of, and he only slightly. My last ball I focus on nothing but starting multiball, and I make a good run for it, but finish about seven million points short of first place.

The early-solid-state is one of the rare six-player pinball games out there, Bally's 1978 The Six Million Dollar Man. The key to this game is to shoot the ball up to the scoop up top, and to complete the standing targets that spell out 5-0-0-0-0 for fifty thousand points. I keep coming close to that, and finish at 62,350 --- spoiling the other guy's perfect round, as he finished at 53,330. But one of the women does finish 5-0-0-0-0, bringing her score to 98,070, so she gets the real credit for spoiling the other guy's perfect round.

My round was ... not bad. 7-5, lifting my record to 36-48. I'm still in the hole, but I'm improving things, and my division seed's gone from 188th to ... 167th. OK, there's work to to do to get to the top forty. I'll need a great round --- well, I've had perfect rounds the past two Pinburghs --- or a couple good ones. And for the first time this Pinburgh I've gone a round without taking any last-place finishes. No first-place finishes either, but I figure if I can avoid any actually bad games I'll have the finish I need. bunny_hugger, playing Tron, Old Chicago, Corvette, and Cosmic Gunfight --- three games she knows plus Cosmic Gunfight --- finished with 7½ wins and 4½ losses. Finishing in the middle of a three-person group counts as 1½ wins and 1½ losses. That untidy ½ will annoy her until the end of the day, when she comes to appreciate it. Her record is now 40½-43½, and while her seed has risen from 197th she's only at 180th. She'll need at least one great round. MWS, playing Big Buck Hunter, Hot Tip, Phantom of the Opera, and Atilla the Hun, had an okay round, five wins and seven losses. This brings his record to 43-41 and he drops from 41st to 80th seed. He'll need some better-than-.500 rounds to get into finals.

Round eight, and the last one before our lunch break. I'm on bank 55, Zuccarino, with one of the women --- LE --- I played last round. As the day wears on we play people with more and more similar records and where I'm now the 167th seed, she's 170th. Also I overhear that she's from Toronto and can mention visiting Canada's Wonderland recently. This opens to the discovery that her parents live in the city opposite Port Huron, Michigan, and that she's played at Marvin's Marvellous Mechanical Museum and at the Chesterfield league, although not when we've had the chance to be there. Neat. We're also playing a kid who's dressed in suit and tie, a heck of a power move. It's easy to go up expecting a kid to be a walkover, but: if a kid is playing in Pinburgh it's because he is crazy into pinball, and with young reflexes and sharp eyes is going to cream you when you aren't expecting it. That said, he doesn't, possibly because he got rattled from a few bad balls.

Our first game is the modern one, Stern's 2017 Aerosmith. The game --- Stern's first with an LCD score screen rather than dot-matrix display --- appeared and quickly vanished from most venues because it is a drain monster. But I've played it just enough lately to get a reliable score on it. Plus I find the gentle skill shot that does all kinds of good things. Between that and a multiball I get 19.5 million points, a decent score for Pinburgh-tournament settings. And then LE comes up and beats me, taking first place.

Our electromechanical is Williams's 1968 Doozie, another zipper-flipper game. The goal here is to get the ball up top where it can light pop bumpers and stay busy there. Everyone else also finds the shot that drops the ball back into the plunger lane, from which it's easy to light more pop bumpers. I have a respectable enough 3,131 points, but everyone else has more. LE has 5,252 and takes first place. I don't think anybody zips the flippers together, which I think should earn us some kind of medal for playing the hard way.

Our late solid state game is Midway's 1990 Dr Dude and his Excellent Ray. It's a fun, silly game. Also part of my ridiculous two-player ``perfect'' round from Pinburgh 2018. LE says how she's been looking up the strategy guides for the game and can't figure where anything even is. I decide to be magnanimous. The ``I Chart'' thing is the skill shot, a timed shot: hitting this target in the back gives you 25, 50, 75, or a hundred thousand points and a strong plunge, shot at the right moment, gives you a hundred thousand points for sure. (The suited kid soft plunges, never getting near the target. Soft plunges are typically wise, since you want the pinball to move as slowly as possible most of the time, but this is an exception. Maybe he wasn't watching to see what the rest of us did.) You get multiball started by shooting a couple targets repeatedly and then up the ramp. That's all okay. She finishes with 1,375,790 points, good for second place. Me, I'm able to get one 1-2-3 reflex combination going, a shot that itself is good for a million points, and my 2,281,230 is my first first-place finish in two rounds. I've already got five wins; if I avoid coming in last on the final game, I'll have had a decent round.

The early-solid-state game is Gottlieb's 1980 Counterforce. This is, weirdly, an adaptation of Space Invaders to pinball form. You need to shoot a series of drop targets before a string of lights underneath each target indicates the corresponding alien has hit the ground. Other shots build up bonus points, which aliens hitting the ground steal back from you. It's a great, imaginative design, and a better adaptation of Space Invaders than the actual Space Invaders pinball game is. I'm the first player, and better, I have a crushingly good game, putting up something like a half-million points on the first ball and playing for what feels like forever. My next two balls are nowhere near that good, but it doesn't matter. Everyone else feels desperate, and plays shakily. I do too, balls two and three, but it doesn't matter. LE, with 277,830, takes second place. My 652,430 would beat everyone else's score combined. It's my first crushing, runaway win since the Wizard of Oz way back in round two.

It's a good round for me, eight wins and four losses. It brings my record to 44-52, and lifts my seed from 167th to 117th. I'll need more good rounds to make playoffs, but especially with the last two games I'm playing like a good player again. LE has a better round, going 10-2, launching from 170th seed to 81st. I won't play her again.

bunny_hugger on bank 11, Writproof, has played World Poker Tour (she knows it and hates it), Safari (quite familiar; has that thirsty ``Put Me In Your Tank'' Tiger that seems like a non sequitur to the younger set), Stargate (another modern game pretending to be a late solid state), and Force II. She has five wins, seven losses, which moves her record to 45½-50½. This barely moves her: her seed goes from 180th in the B Division to 181st. It's not impossible that she should make playoffs, but it'll require at least one great round. A perfect round, or an 11-win one, would save her. And she is at least playing the B Division people with the worst records, now. MWS, meanwhile, has gone 6-6 on bank 47, Sextans. This is Guardians of the Galaxy (and why was this Rocket Raccoon-featuring game not in Procyon?), El Toro, Shaq Attack (a game which delighted bunny_hugger with how baffling it is; the game keeps asking players questions that make no sense), and Eight Ball Deluxe (one of about 400 different games all named Eight Ball that we've played). It's moved his record to 49-47. His seed has drizzled from 80th in C to 81st in C. He also needs a good round, although not so desperately as bunny_hugger and I do.

It's time for lunch.

Trivia: In 1871 the British government levied a tax of ½d per dozen boxes of matches for sale, to help replace revenue lost from the abolition of sales of army officer commissions. Source: The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorous, John Emsley.

Currently Reading: Pogo Volume 5: Out Of This World At Home, Walt Kelly. Editors Mark Evanier, Eric Reynolds.

PS: Reading the Comics, August 30, 2019: The Ones Not Worth Mentioning Edition and you see where I have to figure this is a busy week if I'm posting something like this on a Monday.

PPS: So to pictures ... the next important thing in our lives was Penelope, the Californian rabbit we started out fostering, and soon adopted, and only had in our lives for the four months. So here's some of the pictures from those first days of her being here.


Look at this bunny palace, ready for the inhabiting! The hutch had been home to Columbo and Stephen and, years before that and before I was more than a remote Internet friend, The General. Here it's cleaned up and ready, with a pen area that was a wedding present, and a disposable rug that we got when Stephen was no longer reliable in his toilet habits, waiting for Penelope to join us for what we told ourselves would be just a month's fostering.


Penelope, in her carrier surrounded by her blankets, all very suspicious of these people who've taken her away from the shelter she'd been living at for years.


First steps! Penelope decides to give us a try.

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