Dr. In and Mr. Out

Strapping the kids into the car this morning for a trip to the supermarket, Andrea commented once again on Archer’s amazing prolixity. At just 2 1/4 years old, he’s chattier than any ten grownups I know; and his utterances are fully formed thoughts, almost always organized into comprehensible sentences and, more often than not, cohesive paragraphs with a sensible, non-trivial logical flow.

Andrea’s comment to me, sotto voce, was that Archer is far ahead of where Jonah was at that age. I felt that was missing the point, apart from being impolitic, especially as Jonah has always impressed everyone with his intelligence, even as a toddler. I reframed her observation thus: Jonah was always the one taking everything in, examining the world, understanding it, recording it, drawing conclusions about it; whereas Archer is the one who lets everything out, exploring his environment more by engaging the people in it.

None of which is to imply that Jonah can’t be outgoing, or that Archer has no interior life. Far from it!

From Russia With Love^H^H^H^HLike

Speaking of James Bond, I found “The British Censorship of From Russia With Love” extremely interesting. It’s about the cuts made to the racier parts of that film, and for its time it was apparently quite racy indeed. Here’s my favorite:

The use of “Was I” in “Was I as exciting as all those Western girls?” has been changed to “Am I?” The past tense implies that the couple have had sex, while the present tense implies that Bond just finds her attractive.

And while we’re on the subject of From Russia With Love, I might as well mention my theory that the role of Blofeld in that movie was played by Sean Connery. His face is never seen and he’s listed as “?” in the credits. His voice has a thick, phony accent. When the film came out in 1963 it might not have been possible to ID that voice, but from a modern perspective it does sound rather like someone doing an exaggerated aging-Sean-Connery impression. And I think the duality of playing both the hero and the villain would have been irresistible to both Connery and to the producers. Why else hide Blofeld’s face? Why else conceal the actor’s identity in the credits? I would not be surprised if this very theory had currency among Bond fans at the time of the film’s release, but of course there are no Internet archives from that era for me to google.

I stated this theory on Usenet in the 80’s sometime and it was debunked; and the IMDb has Eric Pohlmann listed as the voice of Blofeld. But I like my theory much better. Listen closely the next time you see the movie and tell me I’m not onto something.


It has taken just a fraction of my lifetime for digital technology to totally transform many aspects of life and society, usually for the better (unless you’re one of those weirdos hoarding the world’s dwindling supply of vacuum tubes for that “warm” tube-amp sound — warm tube-amp buzz, says I).

So you might be forgiven for thinking that a “digital prostate exam” sounds like some kind of high-tech 21st-century diagnostic technique, possibly involving a full-color 3-d computer display.

But you’d be oh so wrong. Well, except for the 3-d part. All I can say is, it sure feels analog.

Squeamish no more

It’s a truism that if you’re squeamish, having kids will cure you of it. Thousands of diaper changes (in times of good intestinal health and otherwise), plus occasional helpings of spit-up and vomit on one’s skin and hair, in one’s clothes, and throughout one’s house do the trick quite nicely. But Tuesday night was without doubt the death knell for any remaining squeamishness I had.

Our dog, Alex, is a month shy of her 18th birthday. She suffers from a variety of age-related complaints, including arthritis, nerve damage, and occasional incontinence. She is pretty frail and sometimes needs help simply walking. We seldom leave her alone for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Tuesday night she’d been home alone for just a couple of hours when we returned from dinner. At that dinner, Jonah and I shared a “molten chocolate cake” for dessert, Jonah sitting on my lap as we ate. This was wonderful, father-son-bonding-wise, but it made eating a little awkward, and at one point a piece of cake leapt off my fork on its way to my mouth, bouncing off my shirt and pants and landing on the floor. Being “molten,” it made some big brown stains on my clothes, a portent of what was to come.

Words fail me when trying to convey, in appropriately visceral terms, what we found when we got home, so I’ll have to settle for simply stating the facts:

  • Alex pooped on the living room carpet.
  • She fell down in it and could not get back up.
  • She tried a lot.

We found her splayed on the floor in the center of a tremendous brown circle, smelling bad. Real bad. And clearly traumatized, poor girl.

All of the following then needed to happen at once:

  • Calm Alex down
  • Air her out
  • Clean her off
  • Clean the carpet
  • Keep the kids away from the mess

I got the Alex-related jobs, Andrea got the house- and kid-related ones. Alex and I went out onto the lawn for a while. She was trembling and unsteady on her feet, but after a short while and some soothing talk she was clearly feeling better. So then it was time to get her in the bathtub.

Frail and old though she is, Alex’s coat is still thick and lustrous — when it’s not caked with fecal matter, that is. I spent about a week that night restoring that coat to its rightful sheen. Poor Alex has trouble standing at the best of times, but weighed down with a coatful of water, her feet on bare porcelain, and so soon after lying helpless (and injured from her struggling, most likely) in a pile of shit for who knows how long, was a bit much to ask. So with one hand I supported her weak back legs while with the other hand I directed the handheld shower spray all over her, my third and fourth hands lathering her up with sweet-smelling shampoo. Crippling my weak lower back by doing all this while leaning over the bathtub rim was a given.

A day and a half later and Alex is beautiful again, and seems back to her usual self. I wish I could say the same for the carpet; it’s still discolored and the smell isn’t quite gone. It’s covered with a layer of towels for now. Another couple of assaults with cleaning chemicals and sessions of vigorous scrubbing over the next day or so will tell whether the carpet can be rejuvenated like Alex or whether it will have to be put to sleep.

Keep it in perspective

pale blue dotCarl Sagan taught us to look at the Earth as a pale blue dot, which is how it looked to the Voyager 1 spacecraft in a picture it sent back years ago as it raced to the edge of the solar system.

…every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam […] Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

But with all respect to the late, beloved Dr. Sagan, for really putting things in perspective he can’t compete with this blog post by Dick Hardt.


I wrote a new Mucoshave rhyme the other day. It’s one in an occasional series I’ve been doing for a long time, based on the old Burma-Shave road signs.

You will never
Run out if
You squeeze out
Your handkerchief

Older ones:

Supply of shave cream
Comes and goes
But you always
Have your nose

Sneeze it out
Smear it on
Scrape it off
Beard is gone

Nose is full
Of soft green goo
Use on beard
And mustache too

When you pick it
Do not flick it
Lube your face up
That’s the ticket

Here’s one contributed by my friend John Sweet:

A foamy gob
All nice and hot
Feels like lather
But it’s snot

How God tells you not to eat that fast-food cheeseburger

I was at the counter of Carl’s Jr., ordering a cheeseburger and fries, when I reached for my wallet and… it wasn’t there.

(*cue Psycho music*)

For maybe the second time in my whole adult life.

I’m pretty sure it’s at home in the pair of shorts that I too-hastily changed out of yesterday. But it sure is an unsettling feeling not to have any money, credit cards, or ID. Fortunately, Danger provides free peanut butter, bread, apples, and bananas, all of which I ate for lunch. Mmm.

Games magazine, or how my career was launched

I’ve resurrected another post from my defunct old website in response to a Ken Jennings blog topic — this one about a puzzle that obsessed him as a kid.

The one that obsessed me for a while in seventh grade was in Games magazine, and it led more or less directly to my present career as a computer programmer. It was called The Calculatrivia Marathon.

In late 1978, shortly after I began attending Hunter College High School, Games Magazine published a contest that it called “The First — and Maybe the Last — Calculatrivia Marathon.” First prize was:

A 16K Apple II Home Computer System (with both integer and floating point BASIC in ROM, RF modulator, and cassette tape recorder)

The contest consisted of dozens of trivia questions, each of whose answer was a number. Entrants were required to answer all the questions, then plug the resulting numbers into a fearsome-looking mathematical formula to determine the value of “x.”

I don’t know exactly why this contest captured my imagination, nor why the first prize was so appealing to me (I had no particular interest in computers before then) — but it did, and it was. I set to the task with a single-mindedness that my new teachers wished I would devote to my homework.

At one point I got stuck on the question, “Number of Best Actress Oscars won by Katharine Hepburn.” (Little did I imagine then that in the future I would become involved with The Internet Movie Database, which can supply that answer in a matter of seconds. But in 1978 there was no World Wide Web and we had to do research the old-fashioned way.) I called the research librarian at the New York Public Library and asked the question, and was amazed when the librarian replied without hesitation, “I’m sorry, I can’t answer that; it’s a contest question.” Did they somehow keep track of all the trivia contests going on in the world? Well, I guess that’s what made them research librarians at the prestigious New York Public Library. I tried a research desk at a less prestigious library and got my answer. (Three, at the time; she later earned a fourth for On Golden Pond.)

After I assembled all my trivia answers, I consulted my math teacher, Ms. Krilov, for help in interpreting the formula. At the tender age of twelve, you see, I’d never seen a fraction with another fraction in the numerator or denominator. After that was cleared up, I plugged in my numbers and began calculating.

The first two or three times I got totally different answers. But in the end I got a number I could feel pretty confident about. It was something like 117345.0625.

The contest had been hard, very hard — and I had finished it. Surely only a very few others had gotten as far as I had? My chances of winning the grand prize were clearly very, very good. Of course, I had no idea what such phrases as “BASIC in ROM” meant. During the few months before the contest winner was announced, I went to the school library and checked out “A Basic Approach to BASIC,” by Henry Mullish, and read it cover-to-cover. Then I read it again. When it was due back, I re-checked it out.

In this way, while waiting to hear from Games Magazine, I learned to write computer programs; and today, programming is my livelihood and my chief avocation.

In the end, I didn’t win — my answer wasn’t even right. That might have been the end of my programming career right there, but for my new friend Chuck and his dad’s home computer…

Assume the worst

So far, this blog seems to be pretty Ken-Jennings-driven.

The first thing to know is that I’ve been reading Ken’s blog and posting in his forums.

The second thing to know is that in a recent blog post, Ken poked affectionate fun at the venerable old formula behind Jeopardy!

The third thing is that humorless NY Post reporter Michael Starr has a tin ear for satire and informed the world that quiz-show darling Jennings was now biting the hand that fed him.

The fourth thing is that this story was picked up by the AP and appeared far and wide in the media. A stampede of indignant dittoheads flooded Ken’s site, posting outraged ad hominems on his message boards. Most would make a sailor blush. Ken shut down his message boards and deleted most of the offensive ones, but good-humoredly kept a few of the less stomach-turning ones.

In the aftermath, after message-board access was restored, I posted the following. (Follow the link to see the original on Ken’s message boards and the creative discussion that is now ensuing there.)

Good grief: I got a glimpse of one of the nastier comments last night before Ken took it down, and I gotta say, whether or not people can muster a sense of humor, the very least they can do is to mind their manners.On the bright side, it inspired me to write the following: my bid to make the inevitable Ken Jennings biopic (I see Bruce Willis as Jennings) into a musical. I call this showstopper “March of the Easily Led.”–

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
First things first:
Assume the worst!

Is it possible he joked?
Never mind, ’cause I’m provoked

Assume the worst!

“I kid because I love”
Is not something I’ve heard of

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
It’s for scandal that we thirst
Assume the worst!


My friend told me a rumor
It was some left-coast thing called humor
Does Ken expect us all to be brainiacs now?
In pop culture he’s enshrined
For the motley in his mind
It’s holy to me but he tipped the sacred cow

The world may be on fire
But the things that raise my ire
Are the ones that I can quickly comprehend
Global warming, Middle East
I can follow not the least
But mess with Jeopardy! and you mess with me, my friend

And to think I thought I could leave all the thinking to thoughtless over here!

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
By the Post I’ve been coerced
Assume the worst!

Should we give him the doubt’s benefit?
I just can’t see the zen of it

Assume the worst!

Must leap to TV’s defense
Into Ken I’ll knock some sense

Assume the worst!

We thought that he was one of us
‘Til he started making fun of us

Assume the worst!

He cashed the check
Then trashed Trebek
He won the prize
Now he cracks wise
A household name
Has he no shame?

His fame must be reversed!

Assume the worst!
Assume the worst!
Except when George Bush does it first…
Assume the worst!

Of course these are just lyrics. I would love it if someone played Loewe to my Lerner, Rodgers to my Hart, Rodgers to my Hammerstein, O’Sullivan to my Gilbert, and composed a melody for it.

– Bob