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Week of October 17

This is a week of looking back and forward. The back: Monday was America's Day. I'm not getting involved in the whole Columbus/indigenous debate. I figure they both had something to do with America. Thus, my personal commemoration. I didn't have any help remembering it was a holiday. There was a traffic report. The newspaper came. The 'tell' was finally when the mail didn't come.

Later this week, I move on from self-reporting my age as 71 and3/4 to 72. That number is an average of a poll taken of various body bits and pieces. For example, my mental age reports as 9, and my knees as 105. A complete list of body parts surveyed is available only upon presentation of a warrant or subpoena.

Word of the week.

Ah, decisions, decisions. I want a word that begins with 'i'. Do I choose

insouciant

with its overtones of sassy, perky, slightly naughty in a rom-com way, or

irascible

with connotations of annoyed, irritated, or slightly obstreperous in a geriatric Cocoon kind of way?

I know! As Gladys says at the end of Trading Places, Can't we have both?


Sadness. Has it really come to this?

The Apple App Store had a special shout-out to teachers on World Teachers' Day (confession: I didn't know that was a thing). The announcement graphic showed a number of apps either designed for teaching or used by teachers. Half the space was taken up by the Zoom logo.

Also sad: There's been a World Teacher's Day since 1994. Again, did not know.


Totally random question of the day.

In an email from a trusted organization, you receive an invitation to enter a sweepstakes. There are no strings–the only thing you have to do is reply to the sweepstakes invite. How big does the prize have to be for you to enter?

  • $100
  • $1,000
  • $25,000
  • $100,000
  • $1,000,000
  • an unspecified but much larger amount
  • ain't never gonna happen

Acorns falling from trees department.

The Independent: Nearly one in five parents think child’s behaviour is worse than pre-pandemic.

And, considering all the reports of 'parents v. school boards,' one in five kids probably thinks exactly the same thing.


Favorite Dad jokes #3.

Courtesy of my dad:

Following someone burping twice: Bring that up again and we'll put it to a vote.


Wanna be a creative genius? Or at least a success?

Well, now you can! According to Fast Company, the secret is having creative bursts or hot streaks, based upon experimenting with multiple creative forms, picking one, and going all in on it.

Sorry, should I have said spoiler alert?

And speaking of creativizing, consumer division. The nice people at We Transfer, the website that lets you move large graphics files from point to point without getting all involved in cloud permissions, also has a website promoting the work of creative people.


Tom Brady on needs.

When asked what he needs, Tom Brady (in the WSJ. Magazine) replied, I have too many people who tell me too many nice things. I feel like I need more critical evaluation of certain things.

Hey, Tommy boy, such an offer I've got for you! For a limited time, for each sycophant you trade in, you will get TWO!, that's right, TWO! critics free of charge! We'll even throw in the shipping and handling! Act now! Our supplies are unlimited, but the sooner you act, the happier we'll both be!


Older than.

The common phrase is older than dirt. I've used it myself. Unfortunately, it lacks self-awareness, nuance, and wit, as I found out reading Billy Collins' Cheerios.

So now I'm on a quest to find something just slightly younger than me. It may take a while. Although there were many interesting things invented the year I was born, including the plastic Frisbee and airsickness bags, I can't nail down if they were introduced after I was born. I could use later icons, like being older than Barbie or Cruella de Vil, but really, there's too much of a gap there. I might as well say I'm older than 8-track tapes, which has potential because it is a technology that has not only come but also (thankfully) gone. And people will still only know that I'm someplace between sorta and really old, which will come as a news flash to exactly nobody.

Might as well just say dirt, except that's so inaccurate.


I didn't know that!

From Fast Company: Tiffany has guarded its iconic blue color for decades. Now, anyone can buy it.

Things I didn't know: That Tiffany protected its color so fiercely. That there wasn't a Pantone equivalent. That there was such a thing as Tiffany Blue.

Things I don't care about: see list in paragraph above.


I used to feel that way about first dates.

The Wall Street Journal, in a discussion of apps that track falling and imbalance, quoted Dr. Jessica Schwartz on encouraging patients to use an app, and to share information with her: I want to see people when they're not already on the floor.

And a BBC blast!

Most Canadian miners freed after two days.

Now when you say 'most,' are we talking 75%? 90%? A little precision would be nice here. Also, freed from what? I'm guessing a mine, but who knows? It could be the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Rare white deer shot dead on Bootle Street by police.

In America, police would claim the deer was armed, or that they feared for their own safety. Or maybe simply that it was hunting season, and they had licenses.


I live in Mermaid City. You got a problem with that, punk?

From Fast Company: 22 U.S. monuments feature mermaids. Just two represent congresswomen.

To be fair, mermaids have been around a lot longer than female congresspersons. To be unfair, monuments are usually erected to 'people' who are exemplars of heroism, leadership or inspiration.


A question

Now that 'no problem' has almost universally replaced 'thank you,' what do we use when we went to indicate 'that's not a difficulty for me?' Like when somebody says 'fixing the kitchen sink is complicated.'


Ending with another question.

Big Think asks the (non-musical) question, Could there be a parallel universe identical to our own?

Yes, of course. Probably is. But why bother?


Fred the Flower

fred the flower

Click on cartoon for more Fred


If I had a Sock Puppet

What kind of voice does a sock puppet have?

Does it sound like all the other puppets,

Your Kermits and Piggys, your Charlie McCarthys

Your oh-my-god not Howdy Doody,

And oh-my-God PLEASE NOT LambChop?

I would rather it sounded like Bunny Rabbit

(Silence is infinitely preferable).

Those puppets are fine for children

But not for mature people

Interested in serious discussions

And long-term relationships, people

Who do not wish to leave the house.


It could have a deep, stentorian voice like

A noted orator cum Senator from a century or two ago,

Or perhaps a schizophrenic voice, alternately

Grotesque and alien?

Would it even speak English?

What would the sock puppet do, besides sit forlornly on my hand,

With an occasional scrunch of the face to demonstrate irony?

Or another profound emotion, always with a touch of irony,

As the scrunch would be its total range of expression?

Would it embrace my hand, mute, content to follow not lead,

In a world crying out for leaders?


Or would it would sound like me?

I would tear the puppet from my hand, screaming

That I do not need a doppelganger, a clone, a je ne sais quoi,

Just get away from me you creepy demon spawn!


But if I had a sock puppet,

I would already know its voice–

Its timbre, its tempo, its tone,

So this discussion is moot.

But just to be safe–

If you're looking for the perfect gift,

You may cross sock puppet from your list.


Apt 123

Apt 123

Click the cartoon for more Apt 123


quotation

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

Oscar Wilde


rear view mirror

October 10

I'm caught in some kind of temporal perplexity. On the one hand, I'm very conscious of time passing. I know that one-third of October is gone, but on the other hand, I can forget what day of the week it is, (or that 2022 is only two months away). Like I know when it's Thursday, because I can see the neighbors have put their trash cans out. I presume this means something, but I'm not going to take the time to figure it out. After all, 2022 is almost here. I have to vacuum and start to prepare snacks.

Mind games.

A long time ago, I remember reading/hearing about some researchers in Africa working with a tribe who had limited contact with the outside world. One day, they showed the group a movie. There was absolutely no reaction, until some chickens ran across a corner of the screen. They became very excited. Apparently the rest of the film was too slow-moving to capture their attention.

I've sat through too many films like that.

Now that we are talking about attention, and I have yours, I just finished reading the Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker. Recommended for artists and writers of all stripes. The author's goal is to enhance senses and improve our powers of perception through 131 exercises.

In the section Connecting with Strangers, Walker recommends picking a stranger at random and following them around for a while. Personally, I don't think this is a good idea, because harassment and stalking charges and concealed weapons.

However, here's a fun (and safe) variation, if your library has returned to normal service. Pick a novel at random. Start reading. The first character you bump into, either draw them, or write a character sketch. Or alternatively, follow them through the book. Imagine what they're doing when they're not front and center.

Another game: take three numbers at random (say, from a license plate). Open a dictionary to that page. Go to the tenth word in the right column. Read about the word. Reread and focus on the word. Then, use the word in a silly sentence, or make up a new definition or word form.


Speaking of noticing.

A lot of the people Walker references are 'creatives,' as you might expect. What was surprising was how many are 'double-hatted,' that is, 'poet and sculptor,' 'food critic and aviator,' 'bird-watcher and physicist.'


Word of the week.

furtive


Most. unfair. game. of. hide. and. seek. ever.

Times of London: Thermal imaging finds Carson Shephard in his grandmother’s loft.


Conspiracy Theorist.

We welcome the Conspiracy Theorist back after an extended vacation in an undisclosed location. We don't know what he was doing, but we can say that he left with one bag and returned with three. Souvenirs, he says, with a nudge nudge wink wink.

The Conspiracy Theorist believes that the Facebook outage was planned. It came as Facebook is under scrutiny from regulators and the press, and a whistleblower revealed negative aspects of company practices. What better way to divert attention than shutting down the beloved operation for 1/4 of a day? Sure, there was sobbing in the streets as people no longer had access to videos of animals who strike up unlikely friendships, and small businesses saw a dip in revenue. Facebook's own revenue? Mark Z. might have to wait a week to get his swimming pool refilled with sparkling water. Attention diverted, Facebook apologizes (its go-to move), and life is good again. Politicians will no longer be able to direct the conversation.

Also, Mark Z. personally assures us that no personal information was lost or stolen during the outage. Unlike when Facebook is fully up and running in normal mode.


Selling it.

La Palma Volcano

The Spanish Ministry of Tourism is actively promoting visits to the island of La Palma to see the volcano that has destroyed 500 buildings, displaced 6,000 people, and is spewing large quantities of noxious gases.


In the vast universe of the English language, there are words, and then there is 'might.'

Popular Mechanics: Aliens Might Be Using Dyson Spheres to Harvest Energy From Black Holes, Scientists Say.

And they might be baking brownies, cooks say, or might be making wood carvings of squirrels that they might use as handles on beer keg taps, whittlers and brewers say.

Admission of embarrassing lapse: When writing the above, I could not remember the word 'tap.' Probably because I hung around too many of them as I was busily misspending my youth.


Buzzy questions.

I had a mosquito buzzing around my ear early this morning. I swatted at it. I don't know if I got it, if I scared it, or if it went into stealth mode. Anyway, it stopped making noise so the objective was achieved.

But then I was awake, and remembered either a question from a grammar-school science class or something I picked up in the street (back in the day before the internet, you picked up things on the street. Probably at least as accurate as things you read online, unless it was from Bobby Z., who was notorious for making things up but had low credibility). Anyway, the story goes, only female mosquitoes bite.

Which prompted the idle question,

what do male mosquitoes eat?

Turns out it's plant nectar. Also turns out that there are a lot of websites that want to tell you what male mosquitoes eat. Only 99Science has the value-add info: mosquitoes kill approximately 700,000 people a year, which is roughly the same number as people killed in the United States by the COVID-19 virus.


Oh, wow.

The Guardian reports on new features in Apple's ios15, one of which claims You can now... point the camera at different objects to recognise them for more information, including pets, nature, art, books and landmarks.

First thing I'm pointing at is our cat. I know it's a cat. I'm expecting to be able to point at the cat, and ask Siri, where did the cat disappear to last night? and get an answer.

But I'm already not holding my breath.

The icamera?

I've been reading a lot of reviews of the new iphone 13 (I'm not going to buy one, btw), and they all talk about the camera, to the point that it sounds like the device is a camera that also makes phone calls and surfs the web.


Questions. We've got questions.

So why did the Scots, known for having a rambunctious nature, invent the game of golf, known for demanding quiet and calm?


Behind a step.

According to Inc.: Exclusive: Half of U.S Consumers Plan to Finish Their 2021 Holiday Shopping Before Cyber Monday.

According to John: Not a News Flash: Half of U.S Consumers Always Plan on Finishing Their Holiday Shopping Way Before Cyber Monday.

The second case is based on personal experience, in which I equate 'wish I could' and 'plan.' I don't plan anything actual, like shopping for Just think it would be a good idea to get it out of the way.

Never happens.


Riffs.

I have a regular conversation with my writing buddy Fran, which goes something like this:

  • me: You should read Steal Like An Artist.
  • fran: Real artists don't steal.
  • m: Of course we do. I steal all the time. I'll probably steal this conversation, at least your part of it.
  • f: Artists create from their own vision. I never steal.
  • m: You also claim you don't read.
  • f: I don't.
  • m: (fumes).

I don't know if Fran is deliberately ignoring the simile in the title, or just being contrary, but here's what Kleon is talking about, in two pics from Steal Like an Artist:

. kleon 10 steps to stealing good theft/badtheft

All this by way of introduction to Walt Whitman's When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer, a poem that has influenced easily half of my work. I'm trying to memorize it, which seems only fair for a poem with that much impact (and it's so short!), but so far, I'm not having much luck.

To quote Woody Allen, I'm going to give it one more year, and if that doesn't work, I'm going to Lourdes.


Wait. There's a flag? I want a flag, too!

Yahoo!: Carl Clemons-Hopkins made history at the Emmys by wearing an outfit with the colors of the non-binary flag.

Maybe I need a movement before I can have a flag.

Also I cannot believe that in the 72-year history of the Emmys, nobody has ever worn a dress that combines white, black, yellow and a royal blue.

October 3

Well, wonders of wonders, and against all expectations and experience, fall came in with... fall. It was like on September 23, the first day, someone threw a switch. Clear skies. Daytime temperatures in the mid-70s. Low humidity. A lot of confused-looking people. No trees threatening to burst into spectacular colors yet, no frost on the ground, and I've only started eyeing the box with the comfy sweaters, but still, I did buy a some apple cider, and it's nice when something works the way it's supposed to, and on time.

Today's bizarre question.

Demonstrating that little things do make a difference.

Two people are walking down the street, both wearing gray sweatshirts. One shirt says, 'a student'; the other says, 'A student.'

How do you react? To each shirt? To both shirts together? To the people wearing them?


Boo!

The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of crass consumerism, provides you with The Ultimate Haunted-House Manual just in time for your Halloween preparations.

Step 1: Buy Transylvania.


At last.

A long time ago, just as newspapers were beginning to decline, I wrote a piece about my ideal newspaper. Basically, it would have the same content, just shuffled around. So for example the only thing that would go in 'Sports' would be what happened on the field, court or rink–scores, points, runs, defense, good plays; 'Entertainment' would cover reviews of movies, TV, plays, art galleries, books, and other expression of creativity that make us happy. Anything else would go into an appropriate section. Katy Perry buys a house? Real estate. Aaron Rodgers renegotiates his contract? Business. Harvey Weinstein accused of sexual harassment? Legal or crimes.

Finally, someone is seeing it my way, sort of. The Wall Street Journal announced the Jeopardy! cohosting team on the business pages. Oddly enough, that's something that could have been in the 'Entertainment' section. But still, it's a start.

(Random related thought: Jeopardy! is Alex Trebek's show. They should shut it down, and after a suitable period of time, reboot with a new name, host, set, and slightly modified format. The hard part will be replacing the music that plays while contestants answer the Final Jeopardy! clue [a.k.a. Think!]). And to those who are saying Alex would want the show to continue, well, where can I buy one of those doohickies that let you communicate with the dead?


Word of the week.

frenetic


Why? Just why?

This 3D-Printed Chicken Breast Was Cooked With Frickin’ Lasers, Wired tells us.

I guess the improvement over some fast food chicken is they've added a dimension.


Older, always older.

Friend Fred recently posted Youth is wasted on the young on Facebook. No attribution, no reason.

I of course jumped right in, confusing the matter by really talking about time-wasting by the young.

But really, if the young didn't waste their youth, then what would they be? Short, serious, mind-constricted adults.

And did you ever notice it's only oldsters who use that phrase, the people who used up all their youth a long time ago?

But Fred's comment meant it's time to play our third-favorite game, Flip that phrase! New version:

Age is wasted on the old.


Workplace hazards.

Fast Company reports, Your office air is making you stupider.

And here, I thought only things like COVID and the flu were airborne. Guess I was ingesting too much office air.

I wonder if it gets worse the higher you rise in the corporate ranks–exposure over time–or if it's the quantity of coworkers who surround you, saturating the air.

I'm sorry–what was I saying?


Word of the week (rethought).

The original 'w.o.w.' is hereby suspended for requiring too much activity. Please use

caress

instead.


Authentic voice.

One night, Rich Little, legendary impersonator, was on a talk show (maybe Johnny) and the host asked him how many impersonations he could do, and if there were any celebrities he had trouble 'doing'. To show his versatility, Rich invited the audience to throw out celebrities' names for his impression. He sailed along effortlessly through Stewart, Reagan, Peck, and Cagney, until someone shouted out, Do Rich Little!

Stopped him dead in his tracks.

We like authentic voices, or what we think are authentic voices. They are reliable, trustworthy, and consistent.

But how authentic are they? We all know that actors put on and take off characters and voices like the rest of us change clothes. When you think about an actress like Meryl Streep, you forget who's really inside the character. The same thing holds true for writers. When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which voice was authentic? Jekyll created Hyde, but he was responding to dark urges in his Jekyll personality. And of course, you've got Stevenson lurking about at the edges. These are authentic voices, otherwise the story wouldn't be so popular. But is there one authentic voice?

And then, what happens when we get out of the lands of fiction and creativity? How many authentic voices do you know? What makes an authentic voice? How do you decide which 'new' voices are authentic? And does an authentic voice (always) have to tell the truth?

Maybe we're confusing authentic with consistent.

I hope you weren't expecting an answer, 'cuz I don't have one.


Authentic signature.

On a recent episode of Antiques Roadshow, a man brought in a document signed by Abraham Lincoln. You could tell he was disappointed when it had an estimated value of a couple of hundred bucks. The reasons, it seems, are a) it was not an important document (Lincoln was approving a discharge from the Army, not writing the Gettysburg Address; b) it was not the complete document; c) Lincoln signed a lot of documents.

I wonder what's going to happen to signature-collecting in another hundred years or so. On the one hand, you have all these signing shows, where sports and movie figures provide autographs for a price. The rest of us? Fewer and fewer documents require a signature, and of those (at least in my recent experience) half are on screens at checkouts. Not only do those not look like my signature, they don't look like each other. Good luck to the verifiers.

Maybe I should start saving hair. There's an active hair collecting community out there, I'm told.


Random oddment, courtesy of Gary Larson.

Or maybe it's an elephant joke.

Q: Why did McDonald not have any elephants on his farm?

A: Because the representation of the sound an elephant makes is not a single syllable onomatopoeic.

Okay, it needs work.


Good advice for writers. And normal people.

From Michaela Coel, who created, wrote, produced, directed and starred in I May Destroy You, in her speech following receiving the Emmy for writing: Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you–in a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success–do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence.

And Austin Kleonhas this riff: Silence is a space for something to happen. And it is unpredictable! It takes courage to disconnect, not just to get over FOMO, but to get over the fear of what you might discover about yourself when writing.

Fortnightly T-shirt

T-shirts money can't buy.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that skew absurd. It's funny, or at least I think so. © 2003-2021, John McCarthy

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