austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

They're gonna stop having the sun so you better get tan now

I am not sure precisely when I first encountered The Straight Dope by Cecil Adams. I can say where, though, in the county library main building's precious shelves for Dewey Decimal Number 000's, all those factual or would-be factual books. And I can say which: that bright yellow hefty More Of The Straight Dope book, first published 1988, so I must have encountered it pretty new. It was a perfect book for the perfect reader at the perfect time, a blend of both trivia and real information and snarky tone and goofy but still enlightening quiz questions and, yeah, weird, often surreal illustrations. It was fantastic reading, and rereading. I'd check it and its predecessor, the paperback-sized The Straight Dope, out until I finally bought my own copies. I remember vividly reading of the strange and goofy saga of The Oeak Island Money Pit while on the school bus on some field trip on a cool, rainy day.

The late 80s/early 90s were maybe a golden era for those sorts of snarky trivia books. Joel Achenbach's Why Things Are made a respectable-for-syndicated-newspapers version of Cecil Adams's tone. (And introduced me to Richard Thompson's drawings long before Cul-de-Sac could become the great tragedy of modern comic strips.) William Poundstone had a bunch of nice little books promising secret knowledge and trying to test out stuff like groundhog weather forecasts and sports curses and stuff. Books explaining and mostly debunking urban legends came out, feeding alt.folklore.urban. Even the Imponderables guy seemed to step up his game, although it seemed like weak sauce after Cecil Adams going on about the Illuminati or whatever.

The 90s ... really seemed like they should have been better for The Straight Dope than they quite were. (``the brother Douglas never talks about'') thrived. There were new books, including a version rewritten for kids, collected every couple of years. There was a short-lived TV series on A&E. But the books didn't sell as well as the first couple, by reports. The TV series was maybe too early for the Mythbusters audience it should have shared. The usenet group is still there, still doing stuff, much diminished fifteen years after the death of Usenet but at least with some community left. The web site stayed in 1998, comfortingly. Although the advertisements got too annoying to deal with following a slight redesign that brought the page into 1999. (I finally checked and found its RSS feed a couple weeks ago, and added that to my Dreamwidth Reading page.)

And now the column is closed. For the usual reason. Its home newspaper is being sold, victim of the current stage of capitalism in which doing anything well is interpreted as market inefficiency. So it meets the fate of everything, ultimately being sold to a real-estate investment trust that will do nothing so well as to be noticeable. The web site's to remain, and existing columns to stay accessible, and of course nothing can stop the books that already exist from continuing to take up space. And it isn't as though it hadn't done very well for a long while.

But it is a thing ended, and why did we need more of that?

Trivia: National Cash Register's manufacturing had about two acres of floor space in 1890. It had 17.19 acres of floor space in 1900, and 28.55 acres by late 1902. Source: Before The Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry they Created, 1865 - 1956, James W Cortada.

Currently Reading: The Philosophy of Mathematics: An Introductory Essay, Stephan Körner.

PS: Still miniature-golfing.


Parking lot attendant, still practicing. Apparently it's gotten even slower somehow.


Employee door inside the Casino Pier castle, including a long roster of benefits that they can call upon. Many of them are lower-cost admissions to other parks, including Legoland, which isn't anywhere near Casino Pier.


And now here's the pier at night, or at least in evening glow. Notice how the Ferris Wheel is going to warp speed.

Tags: casino pier, fifth anniversary trip

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