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April 2019

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Our Motor City Fur[ry] Convention story begins this year the day before. [profile] bunny_hugger's parents would take care of Sunshine. Ordinarily we'd bring her down before then, possibly me by myself the day before or the both of us together early the Friday morning of the con. But we already had an overburdened schedule, especially as [profile] bunny_hugger is teaching Monday-Wednesday-Friday this semester and that's just been eating all her time and energy. But also [profile] bunny_hugger's father wanted us to take stuff for the garage sale that he's a million times more enthusiastic about our holding than he is. So, her parents came over instead, the better to drop off a car's full of stuff. And to save us a good bit of driving time to bring our pet rabbit places that, really, she would rather not be bothered by going.

There were other motives too. [profile] bunny_hugger's father wanted us to watch a movie. This was one he had given me, for Christmas, on DVD and which he was quietly anxious we hadn't watched yet. He'd seen it --- twice, it turns out --- and wanted very much for us to like it too. So we sat down with a couple bowls of popcorn from Horrock's, the local farmer's market, and watched.

The movie was Gifted. It's a couple years old. It's built on the struggle for custody for a prodigious mathematics talent, between her grandmother and her uncle. The child was orphaned when her mathematics-genius mother killed herself. Her geniusnessocity is proven by her being able to calculate arithmetic really fast, which I'm all right with. It's hard to demonstrate mathematical ability in a way that people in the audience will understand; speed of calculation, though? That's something everyone can understand. It's fair enough to get the point across economically.

The inciting incident is her uncle finally enrolling her in public school. That the child --- and grandmother, and deceased mother --- were all mathematical geniuses is surely what made [profile] bunny_hugger's father figure I had to see this movie, and more, had to like it.

And in the main I did. It's a pleasant movie. There's solid acting in it. I think the strongest was a scene between the uncle and his estranged mother, where they talk about her new husband, who's had his midlife crisis at the advanced age of 70 and in a weird way, going off and buying a dude ranch; the mother points out, it'd be so much easier to explain if he just had an affair like normal people. It felt nice and lived-in, people who've had a long time arguing with each other talking over the stuff they can still shake their heads about.

The mathematics in it is legitimate enough, something [profile] bunny_hugger's father wanted explained a couple times. This included a scene where a university professor, examining the child, puts up a calculus problem with a deliberate error in it, to see if the kid catches it. There is a handy Macguffin involved --- the dead mother having had, she believed, a major result in the study of the Navier-Stokes equations. These are differential equations that describe viscous fluids, and belive me, we need all the major results we can get in them. [profile] bunny_hugger's father needed the reassurance several times over that yes, they were real things, although what they were, and what the breakthrough was, doesn't matter to the story. That there was this breakthrough accomplished made the mother's suicide more sensible to me, though. To know the moment that you've had your greatest accomplishment ever, and you have a half-century of life to remember that's in your past? I can understand not being able to face that.

So the movie is pleasant enough, but neither [profile] bunny_hugger nor I loved it. (Also, [profile] bunny_hugger was annoyed that the philosophy --- the uncle was a former Assistant Professor --- wasn't presented as well as the mathematics, so far as the mathematics was presented.) And I suspect her father was disappointed that we didn't love it.

Still, we got our rabbit taken care of for the convention weekend, and we had some pizza left over from dinner with them to give us an easy meal when the con was over, and we had easily minutes to spare to take care of things before, for her, class and, for me, getting my packing organized. And, along the way, her father saw the stray dog that's been prowling around the neighborhood and decided that he will adopt it, before I had even caught it.

Trivia: In 1959 more than 51 million passengers flew out of US airports. In the first two years of jet travel passenger figures nearly doubled. Source: Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure, Alastair Gordon.

Currently Reading: Day of Jubilee: The Great Age of Public Celebrations in New York, 1788 - 1909, Brooks McNamara.

PS: the University of Michigan was relocating its Museum of Natural History. It had been in this one building, the Ruthven Museums Building, forever. But in December 2017 it would close, and [profile] bunny_hugger wanted one last visit to this staple of school field trips and look with amazement at the old-fashioned dioramas with now-hilariously-out-of-date text. And, for me, a first visit. So here's that trip.


On the right, the Ruthven Museums Building, the lovely aged structure that's losing its Natural History Museum. All the U of M museums, at least the public faces, are being consolidated in, I think, that less-interesting building on the left. It should provide more space but I just bet they have stuff explained by computer screens instead.


Puma sculptures. The museum's been flanked by two of these stylish cats since 1940


Some of the lovely intricate web-of-live stylings of the frame around the front door. It's the kind of architectural feature we just don't get to enjoy anymore.

My mathematics blog came darned near complete collapse this past week, owing in part to all the time spent on nature in and around our house. But then I remembered I could reblog a thing, so I avoided it entirely falling apart. Here's what I had:

And two questions you all want answered. What's Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Will I ever stop complaining about the Comics Kingdom redesign? January - April 2019 in plot recapping. Look, I'm less annoyed by the Comics Kingdom redesign but that does not mean I'm happy with it yet.

The next thing in our march through 2017: getting our Christmas tree!


We got out to the Tannenbaum farm in mid-December, the better to have a tree live through New Year's and also the first weekend we possibly could. This meant once again we were there when it was rather cold and there was a fresh layer of snow.


A house and a frozen pond over at the edge of the tree farm; I don't know if they're the family's or if they just happen to be next door to a Christmas tree farm.


We found our downstairs tree for the year just laying there, already cut down, with snow on it so we were confident someone had somehow abandoned it despite its perfection. But we also wanted a tree for upstairs, and we had a new hacksaw that we brought ourselves, and [profile] bunny_hugger was eager to try it out and discovered it's really easy to cut down a tree when you have a good, sharp saw.


[profile] bunny_hugger proudly showing off her trophy.


The downstairs tree, all bundled up, waiting for release.


Seconds later, the tree, unfurled after we cut the string.


The upstairs tree, similarly poised and waiting for release. Also with our new tree stand, one that has a center spike. This lets them drill a spike in the tree trunk at the farm, so there's no need --- or use --- to fiddling with shims and screws to balance the tree upright. Also the water bucket is independent of the stand that holds the tree up so it's easy to take the tree down without spilling water everywhere.


The upstairs tree, unfurled and undecorated and blocking access to the books I use to get those snappy trivia items of the day. Can you spot my copy of The Power of News: The History of Reuters there? (Second shelf from the top, about three books in; it has a two-inch-thick red stripe at top and an otherwise black spine. It's next to the fat, black-spined Empire Express on the left, and some white-spined books on the right.)


Our downstairs tree, illuminated though not decorated, and as seen at night. This was the first time we tried LED white lights, which is why they have blazing spotlights boring holes in the wall.

Trivia: The Mobilization Act, passed by Congress the 22nd of April, 1898, authorized the use of National Guard units and the recruitment of 125,000 volunteers for war with Spain. Source: America's Wars, Alan Axelrod.

Currently Reading: Day of Jubilee: The Great Age of Public Celebrations in New York, 1788 - 1909, Brooks McNamara.

And in other heckin big nature news in our area. There's this dog we've seen running around. Not every day, but it's been around our house individual days for maybe a month or so. It was digging in the trash of the yard next door, when they had heaps of trash (since cleaned up) underneath the snow melt. A friendly dog, though, one that kept coming up to [profile] bunny_hugger as she was leaving for work and didn't have the time to catch a friendly-seeming stray.

Wednesday as I came back from Michael's craft store following a journey to remedy a bizarre and inexplicable wrong, I saw the dog in our driveway. A woman visiting our neighbor's house asked if it was mine. No, it's just friendly. Also, it had a companion. They're small dogs, some kind of terrier mix. The one we had seen, a black-and-white one, [profile] bunny_hugger had posted about on local Facebook groups. People agreed they had seen the dog around, but didn't know just who it belonged to, if anyone. But, the week before, in a matter involving a motion picture which finally came to its resolution, [profile] bunny_hugger's father visited. He saw the black-and-white dog, and worried about it, and hoped that if it were a stray we might catch it and he might adopt it. Also he named it.

So. With the help of the neighbor's visitor (she lives down the block some) I caught the black-and-white terrier. This was by using some wedges of cheese and the pet carrier we bring Sunshine to the vet's in. She was quite compliant about getting into the carrier and calm once she was.

Her companion, a male dog, wasn't so easily coaxed. He hovered around me a long while, but the other pet carrier we had, the one we used for Stephen and Columbo, is smaller. The dog was able to streeeeeeeeeetch his body way out to snag cheese from the back without ever being fully inside the cage and so catchable. Finally I decided to do the best I could, and take the dog I had to the humane society before they closed.

The humane society could not take the dog as, by law, Ingham County strays go through county Animal Control, which was closed for the day. They gave us some dog food. We kept the dog overnight, with the kitchen fenced off so the dog could have some hours of supervised outside time. She took to this reasonably well, whimpering some, but not long, and she was excited by getting to be in the same room as me or [profile] bunny_hugger. She didn't seem to respond to any common commands like ``out'' or ``walk''. But she was so non-aggressive, indeed submissive, that it's hard not to think she might have been a pet. But then, a pet without a collar, without a microchip (according to the humane society, and reiterated by animal control), and who'd been on the street several days a week several weeks in a row. And granted all dogs are scavengers, but she spent nearly her whole time in the kitchen licking up the memories of crumbs which were once on the floor. Also chewing up an already-chewed-up floor tile that was in sad shape from the dishwasher rolling over it even before past bunnies nibbled on the corner.

So Thursday we took her to Animal Control, and explained this cute dog that they figured was probably a Jack Russell Terrier/Chihuahua mix, and the companion that we might yet catch. They gave us the animal case number, and we're told that after five working days --- so, this coming Friday --- she should be open to adoption, unless there are medical or personality issues that prevent it, or the dog's actual owner contacts the county wondering where his dog vanished to. There's no priority for [profile] bunny_hugger's father, though, nor to the other person on Facebook who expressed interest (although that person's a Boston Terrier fan and I have no idea whether they'd want a Jack Russell). And she is this adorable dog who took to us, in circumstances that should have worried her, with great ease. It's hard to imagine she wouldn't be adopted.

Here's some pictures of it all.


The stray siblings(?). The black-and-white one is the one we've been seeing for weeks. The brown-and-white one was new. They acted like friends, and the brown-and-white one kept hovering around after I'd caught the black-and-white one, which was part of why I spent so long trying to catch him.


The black-and-white one inside the pet carrier. Which we'd been using for our rabbit, and was still set up after transporting Sunshine earlier in the week. She took to the kennel easily, and didn't whimper or bark or anything much. Also while rooting around the towel she found a rabbit joint support treat which, apparently, Sunshine had refused on some earlier trip somewhere.


We set the kitchen up with barriers so the dog could prowl around some. Here, she's very happy to see [profile] bunny_hugger, who's setting out a bowl of water, a thing I had failed to do earlier.


It's always hard to take a still picture of an animal, especially as their tails are wagging fast enough to lift them into the air.


She's a friendly pupper!


She's a pupper who wants to know why I'm interrupting her time with [profile] bunny_hugger. Whom you might notice is wearing her Buggles T-shirt, this because we'd just come back from 80s Trivia Night at the local hipster bar. Yes, we won. (There were only two teams.)


Pupper is an untrained dance partner, but shows a natural aptitude and, more important, enthusiasm to learn!

Trivia: Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians left the Old Gold program when, on their first contract renewal, Old Gold proposed raising their payment from $3,250 to $3,300 per week. When Waring declined, Old Gold raised their offer to $3,500 per week. Ford Motor Company offered them $10,000 per week. Source: The Mighty Music Box, Thomas A Delong. (Delong doesn't make clear when this took place; Wikipedia says Waring broadcast for Old Gold from February 1933 to January 1934, and for Ford from February 1934.)

Currently Reading: Day of Jubilee: The Great Age of Public Celebrations in New York, 1788 - 1909, Brooks McNamara.


It's been, as the kids say, a heckin big week for us in nature around the house. This is why I'm skipping last weekend's events to reveal to you the astounding developments of Tuesday through Thursday.

So Tuesday morning I was walking into the dining room and noticed ... something ... out in our goldfish pond. Not goldfish. There are, if they survived the winter, eight goldfish there. But this was something on the surface. I looked out again, and went upstairs to get a view from the spare bedroom, and got my camera. There were ducks in the pond. Mallards, a male and female. Just sitting on the water, floating around, poking their heads into the water, sometimes dabbling. Sometimes just floating.

After a couple snaps I got to worrying: do they eat goldfish? That seemed unlikely but they might so I went upstairs to wake [profile] bunny_hugger --- I've been rousing an hour or two before her most days, lately --- and gave her the news, which she responded to the way you might respond to someone who woke you about three-quarters of the way through your night's rest with breaking duck news. But she thought that it should probably be all right because she didn't think mallards would bother with goldfish and also how the heck did they even find our pond? There've been many creatures finding our pond, including some interesting birds, but those have been, like, Cape May Warblers. Not waterfowl.


This is more or less the first thing I saw: the pair floating around and maybe getting annoyed by the pond heater.


From upstairs I got to see the female dabbling, and also just how much of a smeary distortion there is in the window up there. It's an old house, show some respect.


My best picture of either duck gargling.

The ducks spent maybe 45 minutes around the pond, after I noticed them. They spent like twenty minutes of that just standing by the edge of the pond, then jumped back in and did a little more swimming and dabbling and splashing about. And then they got up, tromped through the yard, and left. Which is their business, but which hurt [profile] bunny_hugger as she'd only just gotten awake enough to go looking. She had assumed they'd spend the whole day there, or at least hours.


And then I ventured outside. I was maybe fifty feet from them, but, I buy my cameras for optical zoom. They spent a good while standing by the edge of hte pond like this.


And here the pair are just floating around again, enjoying the waters.


I didn't see the female dabbling any further, but she did poke her head underwater some.


This is fairly near the water filter, a foot-cube plastic crate with rocks inside that's grown a lot of algae over the years.

Since then I've been looking out the window obsessively, naturally enough, for signs of seeing them again. No sign yet, but on Thursday the big plastic heater that was sitting in the center of the pond had been tipped over. That is, it was resting on its back. It's a very bouyant thing, and it was tethered by the power cord and by some twine hooking it to a post at the edge of the pond. It would take some big disturbing thing to knock it over. And it hadn't been upside-down Wednesday. (I've since taken the heater out because it's not getting cold enough to freeze the pond over anymore.)


Now the male tipped over so often and so long you'd think he was designed to do that or something.


Ah ... say ... does the female there need any help? She's had her head underwater kind of a while now?


Whew! All right, everything's cool. No worries.

Also on Thursday I saw that at least one of the orange goldfish who'd weathered the winter was still out there, swimming fast and looking quite large. It registered no comment about the duck situation.


After a good 40 minutes or so they got out and walked across the backyard, inspecting the side garden and the flower bed.



Trivia: In 1867 Cadbury chocolates began their largest-to-date advertising campaign, on the slogan ``Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best''. Source: Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between The World's Great Chocolate Makers, Deboarah Cadbury.

Currently Reading: DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Les Daniels.


Despite some surprising events which ate up almost all my free time this week, in adventures of such import that they cannot yet be revealed, I did get something published each day this past week on my humor blog. And here's what it all was. Thanks for reading.

And now, let's close out the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Hall of Museum visit.


Playfield for the 1986 Williams table Grand Lizard, and source of the immortal question, why does a lizard-empress have mandril bodyguards? The answer is why would she NOT?


Games in for repair, including two early-60s tables. They were likely working by the next time we visited but there is something wonderful about a game that's challenging despite all the rules and all the playing options being right there, obvious for anyone to see.


Playfield of Strange Science, another of the pinball tables I first learned the trade on.


Playfield for Quicksilver, an early solid state game with the blobbiest artwork in pinball.


So when Stern pinball released Iron Maiden in 2018, wiseacres like me naturally asked how we were supposed to differentiate it from the 1982 Iron Maiden, featuring art by Keith Parkinson doing some Hajime Sorayama stuff.


[profile] bunny_hugger making her way out the door while people check out the food donations which gave the night its ostensible theme.


Oh, and a couple of the not-quite-pinball mechanical attractions they have there, and which I don't think were turned on: a couple of devices built around the theme of rolling a ball into place using controls that make this needlessly hard. They're fun but nobody plays them enough to be good at them.

Trivia: Cincinatti and Saint Louis did not play each other at all for the first half of the 1882 American Association baseball season. They played each other 16 times in their final 36 games. Source: The Beer and Whisky League: The Illustrated History of the American Association --- Baseball's Renegade Major League, David Nemec.

Currently Reading: DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Les Daniels.

If we expected anything about Meridian-Baseline State Park it's that it would be empty. It's a tiny park near nothing but the intersection of county lines and 200-year-old surveying paths, and was opened to the public only four years. It was not empty. It wasn't packed, mind, but there were several groups of people. People resting in hammocks in the woods. People walking dogs. People curious what we were looking for, which we explained as ``frogs'', an excuse tolerable since there were 180 billion spring peepers there making a great noise which silenced when we talked, and which came back gradually as we stood silently still. People walking with their kids, who'd run a while and then fall down and cry. This would be a danger: it's bad form to leave a mysterious small package in a remote area while strangers are watching. Urban letterboxers have similar challenges.

Another thing we expected: that there would be a place to put a letterbox. We kind of knew going in that the north intersection point would be no good. Also there's a north and a south intersection point. Michigan's baseline latitude is broken, with the part east of the meridian --- the older line --- 935.88 feet north of the part west of the meridian. Nobody is sure why. But once you've laid out a baseline like this, there's no choice but to stick with it.

The land is marshy. This is because the lower peninsula is, geographically, a swamp that someone went and chopped all the trees down from. That someone is Americans, a project which started in 1837 and was complete by 1915. When the park was built in the 70s, both the north and south intersection points were marked with neat copper(?) discs inset in a small circular pyramid. Over the decades since the building and the opening, the land around the north point washed away, so it now sits like a flying saucer several feet above the swamp level. Part of opening the park was building a boardwalk from kind-of dry-ish ground to the concrete cylinders. There was no hope of placing anything there, although ``underneath the monument'' would be such a cool hiding spot, if a thing could be kept there. Also at some point somebody stole the north intersection's disc and it had to be replaced when the park opened. Yes, everybody wants to know who fenced a Meridian-Baseline Intersection Point monument.

Also why they didn't also nab the south intersection's marker. The ground for this one has not yet washed away. Nor has that disc been stolen. This would be the obvious candidate for a place to plant the letterbox. If there were a single good hiding place. In a forested area like this there's normally a bouquet of hiding places. Hollowed-out logs. Piles of rocks with a good little cavern among them. Fallen branches that form a concealed crater. And here? There was ... nothing.

There were a lot of constraints here, of course. We wanted someplace that didn't seem likely to flood. Someplace not on the main trail between the north and south points. Someplace that could conceal a sandwich-sized Tupperware-style container. Someplace that wasn't so far off the trail that people visiting it might form a social trail. Someplace that wasn't defended by too many thorny bushes. And we just kept on not finding viable places. We would go back to the car --- where I had rashly left the letterbox, when I thought the park was much smaller and nearer to the parking lot than it actually was --- and reinspect the north monument, out of the forlorn hope that maybe we had missed a spot and something in the marshlands would be not so terribly bad after all. Or that we might find a spot which maybe failed one of our criteria but was so good for the others that it was all okay.

But we did come out of this understanding why Meridian-Baseline State Park has a mere ``virtual'' geocache, in which you go to the spot and demonstrate you've been there (I think it was by counting the concrete pillars between the north and south baselines?) rather than by going to a specific location and getting a particular thing.

Oh yes, also. Michigan has a permit system to allow you to leave geocaches in state parks. This system was designed without awareness that letterboxes are a thing. And the system wants information, including precise GPS-datum coordinates, that we simply couldn't provide. This is why I am going to conceal the answer of whether we did find somewhere acceptable. I may not want it to be too easy for a state agent to find and dispose of our box, if it's there. Or to not face too directly the heartbreak of such a great location being unsupportable. Ask in confidential channels if you really want to know.

Trivia: Michigan's eastern border was set by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which set the boundary between the United States and Upper Canada as the middle of Lake Erie ``until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Huron; thence along the middle of said water communication into Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said lake to the water communication between that lake and Lake Superior''. Source: How The States Got Their Shapes, Mark Stein.

Currently Reading: DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Les Daniels.


And then, like, twelve minutes after we got there the VFW closed for the night. Here's a row of solid-state games, a particular delight, mostly turned off. Notice there's pinball playfields hung as wall decorations, too.


The playfield for Data East's Secret Service, one of the first pinball games I really got into as a young undergraduate. It's ... not a great game, since Data East never figured out how to make a rule set that had something like balanced scoring, but there's a bunch of fun shots, including the upper playfield flipper created by someone who thought he was Pat Lawlor or something. This is a correctly formed pinball joke so you shall now laugh.


A couple of stragglers, caught still playing games at 10:00 when the night ended. Unfortunately for them, it's F-14 Tomcat.

The town east of East Lansing is named Meridian. It's called that for sensible reasons: it's along the principal meridian used for the Michigan Survey, which laid out the property reference for the then-Territory. All land in Michigan is surveyed from that point. There is also the state baseline, the reference latitude. It runs from the north end of Wayne County, which contains Detroit. They intersect, as they must. Meridian-Baseline State Park was established in the 70s, but it was landlocked. It was not until 2014 that the state purchased any property that offered road access, or places to build a parking lot, or provide any interpretative material. [profile] bunny_hugger had been fascinated for decades by this theoretically open but inaccessible state park, and missed the news that it had opened. But this meant one thing: she had to plant a letterbox there.

She spent some of her too-scarce time in fall carving one. A grand one too, with a compass rose in the midst of several trees, a great representation for this most precisely known location in Michigan. And she could make this letterbox an even better find: besides its good location we had a hitchhiker to offer. This would be the Air Mail hitchhiker we'd picked up at the rest area on I-96, the one that was so badly waterlogged and ant-infested that she'd had to do emergency surgery, separating pages and drying them in the back of my car. The log was as repaired as could be, and we were ready to re-launch it. A new box in a prime location would be great.

The trouble is that weekends in October got consumed with things, including Halloweekends and visits to her parents and a host of other events. And she got frustrated by small things, like, trying to make a good reference print of her own stamp. She made a great one for the start of the logbook. She tried to make another, to print out and make a solid wood backing for the stamp. But every attempt at re-printing it came out a bit worse --- terrible, by her lights --- and she could never get it to where she liked. And even trying to glue a backing on turned into a fiasco, as the glue didn't stick, but it did turn into this gummy mess that left her infuriated. And that ate up time. With each busy week and booked weekend we lost more time, the weather getting worse and worse. Someone might come out to explore a new letterbox when the weather was good; but going in to December? (December turned out to be a fairly nice one, as mid-Michigan Decembers go, but there's no counting on that, and nice is a relative measure anyway.)

So the box lay fallow, almost ready to go, sitting there until there might be some nice weekend in the spring. A week ago last Saturday was a nice weekend in the spring. We got the letterbox pieces together, and set out.

Trivia: In 2004 China exported about 5,960,000 (twenty-foot-equivalent unit) containers to the United States; it imported about 1,390,000. Source: Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed The World, Brian J Cudahy.

Currently Reading: DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Les Daniels.

PS: And some more of the VFW Ann Arbor etc.


Some of the tall playfield of Gottlieb's 1951 game Mermaid. It's a much more open playfield than you'd see in a modern game, although the line of rollover buttons in the middle gives you something low-down to shoot for. The real action is the bumpers at top, where you want to hit each of the numbers 1 through 7 or so.


Lower playfield of Ball Midway's 1987 Heavy Metal Meltdown, a game notable for having this awesome synthesizer power chord that plays when you hit pretty much anything.


Lower playfield of Williams's 1989 Bad Cats. I know I post this picture like every three months but please understand: it's a pretty fun cartoony-chaos-themed game.

So, taxes are a thing which happened and which we've gotten sorted out. This year was another one where we got things under way later than we should have: [profile] bunny_hugger launched into it in the evening hours before going to work, the day before the start of Motor City Fur[ry] Con, since why not add a bit more pressure and chaos to an over-busy week? We keep figuring to do this sooner in the year, and keep putting it off, because it's such an annoyance dealing with my two-state income-tax issues. So, you know, thanks, tax-prep industry, for forcing us to go through this.

Days before [profile] bunny_hugger put our tax information together I realized: oh no. This could be really bad. Because we have for years consistently under-estimated how much should be withheld for New Jersey income taxes. It always seems like we're paying more than we ought to, but we can't find a thing we're calculating wrong, and the one time we brought this to a mall tax prep office they couldn't find something different to do either. And then I remembered how the fiasco of the Vichy tax shenanigans last year screwed up everybody's withholding. I got to worrying how much we might owe everybody, and this just as I got my personal savings up to a level I'm sort-of comfortable-ish with.

And, for once, the clouds parted. Entering all the forms was not so bad this year as in past years. And we did not end up owing money to everywhere. Indeed, for a wonder, we're getting refunds from the federal government, both Michigan and New Jersey, and the City of Lansing. That last one is baffling, since we didn't think our incomes changed that much 2017 to 2018. I said, jokingly, that the difference is we didn't have our big Pinburgh payouts bumping up our income this year. I'm not sure that it's wrong.

Nevertheless, I'm happy that, for once, I don't have to e-mail work to ask them to take an extra ten bucks a week out of my paycheck for New Jersey's needs. At least if we've got our withholding about dialed in for 2019. Goodness only knows.

Trivia: The United States calculating-machine industry produced about $20.2 million worth of accounting machines in 1944; a further $18.9 million in orders went unfilled. Source: Before The Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry they Created, 1865 - 1956, James W Cortada.

Currently Reading: DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Les Daniels.

PS: Now let's take a little look at a special pinball game, if I remember this right, which I do not necessarily.


Lower playfield of Data East's 1988 game Time Machine, which is absolutely not an attempt to rip off Back To The Future. If I remember rightly this game has a special place in [profile] bunny_hugger's heart as she occasionally tried to play the game in college, before she really understood pinball, and it was all right except that at one point the ball always got jammed and the game got stuck. In hindsight, she wonders if this might have been a ball locking, for multiball, and that if she had known to look in the shooter lane she might have gone on to ever finishing a full game.


The outlane and inlane of Time Machine, featuring Cartoon Einstein and a shout-out to future Williams hall-of-fame pinball game Twilight Zone.


The ``Star Warp'' spiral at the upper left of Time Machine. Also lurking behind that: Santa Claus going into hyperspace. There were a lot of Santas Claus on pinball machines in the 80s.

My mathematics blog stirs! It got like a whole thousand words that weren't Reading the Comics posts. But also some Reading the Comics posts. From the past week:

And story strips? I got story strip plot summaries. What's Going On In Mary Worth? How can you scam a Mary Worth character? Learn answers to these questions and more! Thanks.

The day after Thanksgiving, 2017, we went to the Black Friday charity fundraiser at the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Hall of Museum or whatever its name is. So here's a bunch of pictures of pinball machines, the theme that just never stops giving shots that all look like they really should be a little better than they are.


[profile] bunny_hugger, too busy even to take her coat off, because she wants to get on the high score table for Space Station. The game has what she considers to be the best high-score entry music of all pinball, and that is quite the standard to meet.


LCD screens have in the last couple years become the standard score screen for pinball games. But nothing is ever the first of anything. Here's Fast Track. made around 1989 (a version of 'Motor Show') and featuring an actual computer screen for the time. The high scores are on display here.


The playfield for Fast Track, which seems like it should be reasonably fun if I could figure out any of the shots. But notice how the game sets up features near the flippers that should help you learn where the ball should be to reach any of the major targets.


Pinball-ornament Christmas tree set up at the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Museum Hall of Fame thing. Some of those are bumpers such as might have been on games.


Bally's Game Show, one of the surprisingly few game-show-themed pinball games out there. I had a pretty good game.


[profile] bunny_hugger achieves her goal for the night: a high score on FunHouse.


Playfield detail for the Capcom rarity Big Bang Bar. It's a fun game, with a theme of ... well, an outer space bar. Although when you look at some of the modes here ... I mean ... you kind of understand why pinball needs to apologize a lot to women and to the men who don't fundamentally dislike women.


``Big Bang Bar was partly designed by Python Angelo, you say? I would never have guessed except by looking at the game any.''


The central gimmick of Sega's Apollo 13 game is, like it says, the 13-ball multiball. It is the funniest multiball in pinball and there are few things more delightful than watching someone realize this shower of pinballs is coming at them.


Adorable little demon resting in the palm of satan, from the Devil's Dare playfield.


[profile] bunny_hugger getting in some quality time in Woodrail Row, a bunch of 1950s games from before the era you could necessarily count on pinballs having scoring reels or two flippers or even flippers at all. Firepower II here is an anachronism and, if I remember right, it tended to reset mid-game anyway.


Neat little helix whirligig feature of Nine Sisters, a 1953 Williams game. It's a neat little thing that can launch a ball back up into play, and it goes over this helix because that's a bit more fun. (There's a kicker at the end of the helix, which kicks it the rest of the way up.) Nine Sisters was one of Williams's first experiments with scoring reels. Also the game has just the one flipper, although it has buttons on the left and right so you can play as feels normal-ish.

Trivia: Building of the Absecon Lighthouse, opened in 1857 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was promoted by the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. Source: Railroads of New Jersey: Fragments of the Past in the Garden State Landscape, Lorett Treese.

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

So maybe you might like a little in-state pinball drama. It seems to be playing out on Facebook, so I'm getting this through [profile] bunny_hugger, so I'm getting it wrong. But, you know? It's basically fandom drama. It's all right to get parts of it wrong.

The center point here is the pinball league at Chesterfield. It's one we don't get to often. It's one we would love to get to. The place, in a bowling alley, has about fifty pinball games, almost all of them 80s and 90s games. We love the late-solid-state games and the golden age of late Williams games. The format's pretty good too. It's a strikes tournament, on randomly drawn games and groups of players, so if we have a good night we can play game after game after game. A good finish gets a huge payout in International Flipper Pinball Association ratings points. And there's a tournament every Monday. If it weren't for [profile] bunny_hugger's work schedule we'd totally be there. But it's two hours away, and that when the traffic is good. We went last summer, at least during May and early June, but, of course, they take off most of the summer, when we'd be able to attend. [profile] bunny_hugger had two weeks this semester when she would have been free to attend. But these were weeks they were holding finals, when we'd missed the whole 'seasons', so ... the best we could do is take the B Division trophy away from someone who had actually played. And if we didn't swipe a trophy like that, it would be because we'd gone all that way and had a bad night.

But the league is suffering growing pains. Until recently they had one incredibly serious player, AJG --- always a good bet for state champion --- who'd attend, at least until he had the twenty events that count for your state ranking. (After that, an event can only replace a lower-value event.) MWS often attends, but he's a less-high-ranked player. And of course [profile] bunny_hugger and I are lower orders again. But the last few league nights, AJR --- who's been state champion twice, and is another steady bet --- started attending. He's no less a power player than AJG; indeed, he won the Stern Pro Circuit Tournament just last month. Also joining up: DAD and JMA. They're both in MWS's class. It's throwing off the rhythms and normal equilibrium of the group.

AJR seems to be a particular flash point. Possibly because he can clean AJG's clock, and the normal players of the league have trouble imagining that. (Most of them don't play in any league besides Chesterfield, so don't know the size of the competitive pinball scene.) Probably also because he's easy to notice. He's one of those players who wears gloves, which helps stand out. But he also wears a lamp, strapped to his forehead. It's not daft: many games are dark, or in dark venues, and many games strobe, and that's hard on eyes. A steady light source levels things out. But it also looks like, you know, showing up for a way more serious event than Chesterfield has traditionally supported.

Also this influx of high-ranking players is making nights drag on longer. Considering how when [profile] bunny_hugger and I were there, and we'd have nights barely ending by the bowling alley's nominal 11:00 closing time that's hard to imagine. But if every night ends with AJG, AJR, JMA, and some poor mortal slugging it out through 40-minute rounds I can understand the mortal player getting fed up with it.

There's some talk about ways to cope with this. One that at least a couple people floated is stop having tournaments be International Flipper Pinball Association-sanctioned. That is, take the league out of the competitive-pinball world. And ... goodness. That would ... well, it would help us, because Chesterfield is this massive points mine for the players who can make it there, and there's nothing we can get to that compares. But we probably would stop, or nearly stop, going out there even in summers when we could. It's one thing to make a hard two-hour drive out there when, yes, you might play three games and be knocked out, but also might play three games and get 16.23 IFPA rating points. To make that drive when you might get knocked out in three games, and at best, be playing Judge Dredd at 12:55 am while the bowling alley staff watches you plaintively? That's harder to justify doing.

Which is all a shame. Chesterfield has besides the great venue the same sort of relaxed, laid-back, casual attitude that the Lansing league has. But the Lansing league is set up so it's worth rather fewer IFPA points, and so it doesn't have to risk ace players using it for a points mine. Still, we have been getting larger ourselves, and our league as it's structured will have serious problems if it gets to more than 20 players in one night. But we can improvise around that for one night. They have more difficult problems.

Trivia: Clouds typically release about a third of their moisture as rain. This can be increased if the clouds are seeded with particulates. Source: Molecules at an Exhibition: The Science of Everyday Life, John Emsley.

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

Oh, so, some pictures from the Super-Ball IX Zen tournament, in which pairs of people play matches. This was in November 2017, the last season that WVL, the league's founder, was running things; karmic justice would have him be one of the winners.


Why we play: the trophies for the winning team. WVL had gone to the trophy store and asked for the most over-the-top ridiculous trophies they had available, which is why we got Milo of Croton here.


Playing with two people, one person each flipper, is not conducive to great play. But it can happen, if you have a pair that coordinates well and picks the right strategy. More than once it's happened that a team gets on the high score table, as for example here. So what to put on the high score table? People have to improvise. (I was not part of the group that did this; I'm lousy at AC/DC.)


What a zen tournament looks like: one team on the table, one team talking over strategy, [profile] bunny_hugger in the distance thinking whether she has enough pictures for the league web site report about this.


WVL, alas, was not on the winning team, but at least I have this 'The Babe Bows Out' shot of him leaving at the end of the night. He'd play in another season, before finally graduating and moving to ... I want to say Kalamazoo, for work. He's talked about coming in and playing when his schedule allows, but hasn't had the chance yet.


It was I confess an embarrassingly long time ago that we bought a new fire alarm. I forget why we needed a new one. I suppose the old must have broken in some obviously fatal way, but it was long enough ago I forget what the issue was. It wanted to be hung as high as possible, and reasonably enough. We have plaster ceilings. I'm scared to drill holes in them, partly for fear of doing lasting damage to a house that's 90 years old and that we see as caretakers for. Partly for fear of screwing up the plaster. So I put it on the side and resolved to drill the necessary holes sometime later when I had tools likely to do it with minimal risk of lasting harm.

Last week after far too long I finally did it. I got some screws specifically rated for drilling through drywall, and the hardware store people agreed that this should work fine, especially if you put a little bit of masking tape at the drill site to limit the chance any accidental cracks grow. While [profile] bunny_hugger was at work, one day, I got up on the footstool and cursed out how I couldn't be sure I was holding the electric drill to drill vertically, and how the masking tape got spun off the wall by the drilling action. I could at least feel the confidence of how I had, at long last, done a thing. Well, the alarm keeps falling off the mounting that's what's actually drilled into the wall. I don't know why. But as long as we don't have to fiddle with the thing, that's all right.

Two days later while showering the alarm went off. I jumped out of the shower, and [profile] bunny_hugger out of bed, and the thing fumbled out of the mounting. I did a dripping, towel-clad inspection of every room in the house just to be sure. No: the problem was the steam and hot air of the shower. There's disagreement on this on the Internet, but [profile] bunny_hugger tells me there's a consensus fire alarms should be put five to ten feet away from the bathroom door and at the top of the stairs. These are mutually exclusive constraints in a house from 1928. That'll teach me for getting a thing done.

Or maybe not. We had resolved to take the fire alarm down for showering, and got lazy and forgot a couple days, and didn't get an alarm interrupting us, like, Wednesday. Also, really, what should fix things is repairing the ventilation fan in the bathroom. It broke, we trust of old age, a couple months ago and never got around to fixing it because it was winter, who wants less hot, moist air in the house then? But if we could fix that, then we'd probably put less strain in the hallway's atmosphere. Being able to open the bathroom window for summer would probably help too.

Still, our best hopes now are: we replace a ventilation fan, and we don't have cold enough nights we need to close the bathroom window. It still seems like a lesson to never do a thing, though.

Trivia: The Venerable Bede wrote of the confusions between the Celtic and Catholic computations for when Easter would fall, noting that in some years, such as 664, they differed to the point that ``Easter was sometimes kept twice in one yar, so that when the King had ended Lent and was keeping Easter, the Queen and her attendants were still fasting and keeping Palm Sunday''. Source: The Calendar: The 5000-Year Struggle to Align the Clock with the Heavens --- And What Happened to the Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan. (If I am not misreading Duncan, this refers to King Oswiu and Queen Eanfl æd of Northumbria, but there were a bunch of kings in Britain at the time.)

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

PS: And now the last bits after the end of the fireworks and all that, from the Silver Bells In The City event, 2017.


The Christmas Village, a bunch of little tents with vendors set up a couple blocks over from the parade and tree. This was, I think, the original part of Silver Bells, with the electric lights parade a later add-on and the state tree lighting coming even later than that. Do you see the ghostly image of Santa Claus looking down on everyone?


More of the cityscape, including lights projecting images. Green and red with a white Santa's sleigh on the lower buildings, for example, and the face of Santa up on Lansing's own skyscraper the Boji Tower, formerly the Olds Tower. The small, purple, brick building on the lower left is the Kewpie Restaurant. It's possibly Lansing's oldest restaurant, and it's one of the remnants of a long-dead chain of Kewpie Doll-themed restaurants, and it has what seems like a good claim to inventing the Olive Burger, a mid-Michigan hamburger variant, so there you go.


A quick snap inside The Peanut Shop, a former Planter's roastery that's still in operation. Not pictured: the army of squirrels who gather outside to cadge everything off shoppers.


I wrote something every day for my humor blog for another week! Well, I published something every day. There were brief moments that I was a little ahead of deadline. Here's what I published:

And now let's ... not quite finish all of Silver Balls, but at least get to the end of the parade!


The rush is still on to get the camera battery replaced. Truth to tell I'm not sure what the kid on the guy's shoulders adds to the operation.


Success! The camera's back in operation and ready to go before they get out of commercial break.


[profile] bunny_hugger is not a fan of the song chosen for the community sing, nor that it is a song going on when it's fairly cold really and we've already been standing in the same spot for two hours and we're waiting for the tree to light.


The tree lights! And the fireworks have started.


More of the skies opening up to highlight the capitol.


Did you notice the camera guy recording the fireworks too? He got that idea from me.


Fireworks caught in that moment that makes it look like the capitol dome is on fire or maybe exploding.


``When it gets to the grand finale, you'll know it's the grand finale!''


``So is that the grand finale?''


Yeah, that was the grand finale. They're already cleaning up the reviewing stand. The big red contraption with the candy-cane lever was a new thing for 2017, a great switch for the mayor to throw to light the tree that was definitely actually connected to a thing and really made the tree light up.


Meanwhile at the base of the state tree: it's held up by exactly the same complex network of shims and desperately added braces that you or I might use to hold the tree together. Huh.


[profile] bunny_hugger is happy to be seen at the base of the tree.

Trivia: The federal Swamp Act of 1857 declared that any land claimed by the states to be swampland by the end of that calendar year would belong to that state, regardless of whether it was swampland and regardless of whether railroads had already laid claim to that land. Source: A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters, Scott Reynolds Nelson.

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

PS: Is 1/x a Continuous Function? A question drawn from social media. Shut up, it is too social.


Last week [profile] bunny_hugger had Friday off, so that Thursday was free to do recreational things. We've tried in off-pinball-league weeks to do Movie Night on Tuesdays, watching a DVD or something off the DVR. But the March Hare Madness tournament occupied that time. We might have watched something Thursday but, as I'd said, ``we can't have movie night Thursday, we're going to a movie.''

We went to the Sun Theatre, in Williamston, again. It looked less bedraggled than it had last month, when a lot of seats were roped off for roof leaks. The ceiling wasn't repaired, but there were fewer seats roped off. And there was a better crowd. Possibly Monday night, as we'd seen our last visit there, is just a really dead night.

Our movie: Wonder Park. We were kind of interested in this mostly because it promised to be a computer-animated cartoon about an amusement park. And we had no expectations beyond that, other than that maybe it won't be annoyingly dumb a movie.

And it was ... a better movie than we expected. The premise is this girl discovers the amusement park she and her mother had dreamed up actually exists, and is in danger of being destroyed, and she teams up with the lovable animal mascots to restore the park. That's all that we expected. What we didn't expect was that it would be pretty directly about grief, and fear, and sadness and despair. The girl's mother is off for ``treatment'' for her ``condition'' and the plot beats all make it sound like the mother died and the girl is trying to cope. I'd assumed the mother had died, off-screen, and was startled to hear a reference to her still being alive. The thing threatening the park is this Darkness, that gets fed pieces of the park which are never seen again.

There's a lot to like about the movie, and we liked it better than apparently every critic ever did. But we're easy touches for amusement park movies, and an amusement park movie with animal characters, that's pretty much aimed right at us. Particularly the first discovered rides, like a roller coaster with track overgrown in brush, are beautiful to see.

Is it good? Better than we expected, but we were expecting ``this will be a movie with a fantasy amusement park in it''. But there's just little bits that don't quite hang together right. Like, there's a big action scene at the start where the girl's made a roller coaster out of her house and some of the neighbors' fences and stuff like that. And, in order to give the start of the movie a big action scene, the roller coaster mostly works. That's fun enough. It establishes the fantastic premise that this is a girl with the patience and motor control to build complicated contraptions, which she'll need for later in the movie. And it gives a big dramatic exciting action scene for early in the film. But if you start out with a roller coaster car made of a kids' wheeled wagon, propelled by fire extinguisher jets, that works in the slightest, you're setting the realism level at pretty absurd. It makes the magical fantasy stuff later on less extreme. The girl's already been flying around her neighborhood; what's more about her flying around an imaginary neighborhood?

All right, maybe that's a necessary concession to make the movie start exciting. But there's a bunch of little unnecessary sloppy parts. For example, the movie is called Wonder Park, while the amusement park inside it is named Wonderland. Why the discrepancy? There are some real amusement parks named Wonderland --- the film's studio, Paramount, used to own one --- so maybe they felt some need to avoid that trademark. But then why not just name it Wonder Land inside the movie too? It feels like a script error nobody noticed until the recording sessions were over. There's, for another example, this bit where Greta, the wild boar, discovers that she's the glue that keeps the band of mascots together. Great, but ... it's not really something that was shown to be in doubt. They left in the resolution of a subplot they forgot to include. (There's some talk about how the gang all need the chimpanzee who's the core mascot, but I don't think it makes the connection to Greta having any particular needs.) And, like, another unforced error: at the end of the story the park is restored and everybody's happy, and the girl ... leaves. Yes, human characters always have to leave the fairyland to return to boring old reality; that's the way they work. But ... she doesn't want to even spend a couple hours going around the real physical manifestation of this supernatural amusement park that came from her and her mother's imaginations? Is that plausible? Why not a montage of her riding any of the things that the first scenes of the movie show her designing?

The movie has the production-trivia that its director was fired after an investigation into his ``inappropriate and unwanted conduct'' towards people on staff. Nobody ended up credited as the director, ultimately, so we can maybe excuse glitches on this. Maybe ultimately there wasn't anyone with a strong enough vision and authority to polish out the small problems.

But mostly I'm glad we saw it. The movie was more interesting than we expected or than it needed to be. It's got a bunch of characters fun to see. Boomer the Bear could only have been more precisely aimed at [profile] bunny_hugger if he were acted by one of the Classic Doctor Whos, and it turns out in the United Kingdom version of the film he was voiced by Tom Baker. There's a fantasy sequence where the girl imagines her father struggling to live without him or her mother around; it's short, but fantastic, funny enough to watch on its own. It's only disappointing in that you can see where the movie might have been better.

Trivia: On the 11th of April, 1564, England and France signed the Treaty of Troyes, England ceding Calais to France for what has been, to date, the final time. Source: The Life Of Elizabeth I, Alison Weir.

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

PS: And here's some more parade!


Another traditional float, this one of the Turner-Dodge House. It's one of the historic fine homes of Lansing and we might have had our wedding there except we'd have had to do too much event planning. The English Inn is much easier as [profile] bunny_hugger was able to just go to them and say, ``I would like to buy a one (1) wedding please'' and that was that.


Another traditional and extremely popular float, the CATA-pillar. One of the bendy buses, being all flirtatious.


Hurry up! The camera was low on battery, so this friend of the camera guy had to take the very short commercial break between the end of parade and the start of the community sing to swap things out. WILL HE MAKE IT?


As the night wore on people got better about using their cards. Cards to swap one game for another. Cards to replace a player in their group with someone else. Cards that it turns out we mis-read. The swap one player, for example, specifically said the replacement player was drawn at random, not by card-player's choice. And there were a few cancellations too.

It got busier as the night went on and, probably, people realized if they didn't use their cards now they never would. In one round IAS used a card to kick me out of a group playing a table I really liked. The next round I was on Simpsons, along with [profile] bunny_hugger and IAS, and realized I was running out of chances to use cards. IAS could beat me on Simpsons fairly easily, so I played my swap-a-player card on him, which he couldn't cancel. Our replacement: RED, who's at least as good as IAS. Hm.

Well, RED went and put up an intimidatingly good game on The Simpsons, racking up like twenty million points; this is a table where five million is usually a really solid score. I put up about seven million my first ball. And then I played the last card I had on hand: swapping positions with RED. This prompted [profile] bunny_hugger to kick my shin, since now she'd have two RED-class scores to compete against. Well, fine. Anyway, I started to play and RED tossed down his card: one that compelled me to stop playing right now. Oh, very good. (If you get this card, you get a compensation ball, next game ... which is fine except that means if you've built up towards a big payoff, you have to start from scratch.) Although he really should have played a few seconds later, when I probably would have started a high-value mode that he could have spoiled. Well, I ended up in first here again, and RED built my decent start into a good-but-not-as-good second-place finish, and [profile] bunny_hugger cursed me out for it all. And yes, this was the card I didn't use on JTV for the Beatles. I would say this worked out well for me, not because my net score would have been higher, but because it turned out to force RED to play that stop-playing card now, rather than in finals when it might have really messed me up.

When regular playing was done, to my amazement, I was in first place. I never qualify in first place on anything. I was in finals, although being first place wouldn't get me any advantage now; play order and games would be drawn at random too. [profile] bunny_hugger was meanwhile in her favorite pinball situation ever: she was in a playoff to make it to finals. Four people (!) had tied for third place and she was among them. (Her absolute favorite pinball situation is to be in a tiebreaker with me.) The game came up Tales of the Arabian Nights, which she felt great on until she bricked the first ball, putting up a score of ``the game points and laughs at you''. And then JTV put up a 12-million-point ball, a score that's ordinarily good enough to win the game. She was despondent and I offered all the advice I could. That she should leave the building, shake off the lousy first ball, and come back in with a fresh mind. Which she should have, and which she did, but she didn't think it was helping.

Then RED played a card. It was the card to wipe out the first ball altogether and force everyone to replay the match.


A new round on Arabian Nights. A new start. [profile] bunny_hugger stepped up to the game with the confidence of someone saved from the guillotine and ... bricked the first ball, putting up a score of ``the game laughs at you''. It was less dire than the first attempted first ball, but still bad. Still, her gloom was broken. And JTV did not repeat his killer first ball. She got her confidence together, and put up ultimately a score that won the group. And that, had she done it in the interrupted game, would likely have got her into finals anyway.

To finals! It's me, RED, [profile] bunny_hugger and MAG, one of the Lansing pinball league's original players, who was away for life obligations for years and who's come back to disrupt its normal balances by being really good. Our first game is Elvis, on which I have an impossibly good ball, one that starts the simplest multiball, Jailhouse Rock, and just never ends. Jailhouse Rock, it turns out, is really worthwhile if you can get up to the super jackpots. [profile] bunny_hugger is cursing me out for putting up 70 million points on my first ball. I'm just hoping desperately that nobody has another of those swipe-the-score cards. Nobody does, though, and we finish me first, RED second, [profile] bunny_hugger third and MAG, frustrated, in last place.

Next game. The Beatles, my ace in the hole. I don't just win this, I'm able to get an extra ball, for another card. We kept that going through the finals. The card is to swap one game for another. I say ``I'm able to get an extra ball'', although part of what's great about the Beatles is it's really easy to light extra ball. A bit harder to collect, but still. The four of us repeat our finish. And that's great for me: it's now impossible for me to do worse than second place.

Our last game: The Munsters. I don't want to play that. I don't have a reliable strategy on it, and RED does. I play my swap-the-game card. I want to go to the Beatles again. RED wants the Munsters. He has a cancel-the-played-card card. Nobody else has anything to play. So we go to a game he's strong on, and I'm not, and I believe it'll come down to whichever of us, RED or I, finishes ahead of the other. I have a fair game. He has a great one, managing in one shot to beat my entire score. But I do get an extra ball, and collect a card, for the tiebreaker I think we might have to play.

We don't need one. My second-place finish is enough to put me over RED's best score. I've won the tournament. [profile] bunny_hugger has won 3rd place, just as she did at March Hare Madness last year.

It's, for me, a really good finish. For all that [profile] bunny_hugger --- and other people --- esteem my skills, I don't usually win tournaments. I have like five in my entire playing history, and that includes little things like weekly Tuesday Night Smackdown tournaments at league, where we just play one game to see who brings home a cute little medal [profile] bunny_hugger makes. It went great.

And the Critical Hit format seems to be a success. People were enjoying it, and getting a better hang of it as the night went on. I don't know when to play it again. Surely next March Hare Madness. Maybe sooner. Still can't give a coherent reason why this is fine while our proposed play-with-oven-mitts-on, and other similar pinball gimmicks, is no good to the International Flipper Pinball Association.

Trivia: NASA's ten-day simulation of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory conducted in October 1968 identified 82 major and minor faults in the sample-receiving and -processing systems and equipment. Source: Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of NASA's Apollo Lunar Expeditions, William David Compton. NASA SP-4214.

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

PS: Reading the Comics, April 5, 2019: The Slow Week Edition, featuring like 80 links to comic strips I don't actually talk about.

PS: And still more of the Silver Bells parade.


Cherry-picker for one of the local power companies. Meanwhile the camera guy is looking the completely wrong way for the parade.


Someone or other put together A Christmas Story in float form. That is a lot of winter coat padding underneath the bunny pajamas there.


And the fox representing Hager Fox, a company that does heating and ventilation systems. They could probably use the help of some fursuiters at the parade, but it's good that they're trying anyway.

14 people attended March Hare Madness. That's about what it's drawn in previous years. A couple stalwarts, like CST and KEC, weren't there. Maybe it started too early; we needed the playing time. DMC, for example, surely would have played except his work schedule prohibited it. Maybe it conflicted with the league in Kalamazoo; there's enough pinball in Michigan now that you can't pick a date that doesn't conflict with something. But a lot of the local players were there. And a few rarer folks showed up. JTV, whom we hadn't seen since the Bill's Basement tournament in January, was there, for example, though he was the only Grand Rapids player.

We'd expected this to be a tournament where we learned things. One thing that I learned slowly: since player groups were drawn randomly, and didn't reflect performance in the tournament so far, I could make them ahead of time. I didn't have to wait for results of a round to be in. I could shuffle the index cards for players and games. (Indeed, it strikes me now I could've done a half-dozen rounds at a time without serious mishap. Well, maybe somebody would have had to leave early.) But this would save precious minutes, once I thought to do it. We had three and a half hours to play, and wanted to get in as many rounds as possible. This is why we tossed out nearly all the games which league experience taught us go on forever.

We all got dealt two cards for showing up. And then had the chance to earn more cards. For simplicity's sake we set the 'bounty' to earn a new card as earning an extra ball. Nearly all games have this as option. On some tables it's all but guaranteed (The Beatles, Attack From Mars, Medieval Madness). On some it takes some doing but can be worked out (The Simpsons, Tales of the Arabian Nights, The Munsters). In principle you can set a goal per table, but we figured ``earn an extra ball'' was easy to set and remember, and it offered compensation for the tournament rule that you would not play extra balls.

Everyone was cautious about using cards, early on. I'm not sure anything was played round one. Round two, someone played the card that let them swipe one of my cards at random. They took the card I'd just earned, the one that cancels someone else's spell. Well, I was hoping they'd take a card I thought useless instead. Had I used the cancellation card I'd ... be in exactly the same fix, although they wouldn't have my spell-cancelling card. In the second round things got more aggressive. Two groups had the cover-the-score-screen card. One, GCB, was in my group on The Beatles.

Also in my group, JTV, who'd never played The Beatles before and who on ball one put up an incredibly good game. I don't know his score, but it was almost enough to secure a win already, and he was on pace to get to the A Hard Day's Night mini-wizard mode. And here I failed to use a card, since I could have, at the end of the first ball, stolen his place and score. But I felt confident about the game, and with reason; it's maybe my strongest table there. Despite a lousy first ball myself I came back and was barely short of winning after all. JTV didn't get A Hard Day's Night going, surely because he didn't know he was so close to it. If the screen weren't covered he'd have had a shot.

But you see where, already, I was using my cards lousy.

Trivia: The Federal Patent Act of 1790 set the cost of a patent as $3.70 plus the copying of invention's specifications at ten cents a sheet. The 14-year patent would be signed by the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General. Source: Yankee Science in the Making: Science and Engineering in New England from Colonial Times to the Civil War, Dirk J Struik.

Currently Reading: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephanie Kirkland.

PS: Some more of the Silver Bells parade.


Another marching band, dazzling us by having small crowns of glow worms hovering before their chests.


An actual Reo Speedwagon, part of the R E Olds museum we still haven't been to.


Small hexagonal-chip flying saucer zooming past the capitol.

I need to better diversity the topics on my mathematics blog. That's not going to be something I do this week. Nor did I do it last week, as you maybe already saw on your RSS feed. If you missed me writing about comics last week, though, here's a chance to catch up:

And then in comics-reading news I have a report. What's Going On In Mark Trail? Why did Comics Kingdom screw up its web site? January - April 2019 in plot recaps. There's no good reason for Comics Kingdom to have screwed themselves up so. Web sites just do that when they realize people have been using them successfully for a healthy while.

Anyway, here's the Silver Bells Parade, 2017 edition.


And an outdoor view of the City Market in the early evening light. The building is still there, of course, and so is the bar. It's just the rest of it that's gone fallow.


The Grand River wending its way through Lansing. The Peace And Love signs are along the river trail, which itself winds through a lot of the city. There's like three major rivers that converge in Lansing, which is of course why our water supply is an aquifer instead.


Historical marker near City Hall which I did not remember having seen in previous years. It commemorates the general strike of 1937, which needed all of one day to get Capital City Wrecking to negotiate with its workers.


Our vantage point for the parade: as ever, just in front of the Capitol. The state tree's standing unlit, but has its topper. We're right behind the Fox affiliate's camera crew.


And off to our right: the reviewing stand. City Hall is past that.


A little comfort for the VIPs in the reviewing stand: surely useful blankets and ... uh ... caramel corn?


The guy working the camera on its extendible arm. He's almost an old friend of ours at this point.


And the parade begins! The first of maybe ten marching bands comes out and is captured by transporter beam from the newly-refit starship Enterprise, readying for its encounter with Vejur.


And one of the lighted parade floats. Northside Towing is surely not the only towing service in town, but it seems like it's the one that every parking lot sign says they'll call if you're parked illegally. I can't promise they'll snatch your car using the inflatable snowman truck.


Meanwhile away from the parade, they're projecting logos and things onto the sides of mid-century modern architecture.


The Lions Air Force, one of a couple of 'planes' that putter around as part of their charity campaigns against eye disorders. We were so disappointed the planes weren't around for the 2018 parade.


And the big inflatable dog that one of the credit unions in town wants us to connect to them.

Trivia: In summer 1915, watermelon rinds made up one-fifth of the garbage of Savannah, Georgia. Source: Down To Earth: Nature's Role in American History, Ted Steinberg.

Currently Reading: Sally Ride: America's First Woman In Space, Lynn Sherr.

March Hare Madness has been, in past years, her springtime charity pinball tournament. The last several years it was an Amazing Race format. In this everybody plays a string of tables, with the lowest-scoring person on each table eliminated until you're down to the finalists. It can be a fun format. It can be a terrible format, as people who've had a lousy game hover near, hoping someone else has an even worse game. And, of course, someone gets knocked out first, and so went to all the trouble of going to the tournament only to lose right away.

But [profile] bunny_hugger didn't want to run Amazing Race again. For one, the IFPA gives little rating value to this format. (The IFPA considers a whole pinball game to be three balls played; in an Amazing Race format, you can in principle have to play only one ball, so Amazing Race games are rated as one-third.) For another, our venue has raised the price of every pinball game to a dollar. Some of them have a value deal, three games for two dollars, but not all do. It's a bit much to pay a dollar for a game that, if someone else was unlucky, amounts to you plunging the ball and making one good shot. Last year there were enough games still at 50 cents to make this bearable.

So a Critical Hit tournament bid to be a good new format. It could run as a match play tournament, groups of four people playing. And the cards would add a twist. As best we could tell there's never been a sanctioned Critical Hit tournament in Michigan before. It might draw more people. It might draw trouble. A new tournament format always comes with challenges. A thread on, in which someone (not [profile] bunny_hugger) asked for advice on running one, drew the comment ``You had really better call me''. And a comment later that yeah, that was some great advice in the phone call. Not much on what the advice was, though.

But we could anticipate some problems. I got out the painted trash bin from years of Raccoons and Procyonids SIGs to be the discard pile. We also got some Easter candy, as promised. We picked out twelve of the shortest-playing pinball games at the venue, and made index cards for each of them, the better to draw table names at random. And brought cards for the names of players, in order to draw and order groups at random. And thought of things people might be confused by, which turned into a sheet listing a snappy eighteen rules. We were as ready as could reasonably hope to be.

Which is not to say there was enough time. [profile] bunny_hugger figured to repurpose several trophies DMC had donated, putting hare-themed decorations on them. It was hard finding hare, or rabbit, figurines this year, somehow. (We could find wicker ones, but those won't do for trophy work like this.) Painting was slower than should have been. We had to buy a threaded rod and hacksaw a quarter-inch off of it to reassemble one of the trophies. [profile] bunny_hugger was cursing herself, as she often does, for not having the trophies done before the day of the tournament. It all got a bit tense. And worse, as on Saturday during a visit to the pinball mines of Fremont she realized she was sneezing rather a lot, and her throat felt sore, and she did not have the time to get a cold. Especially since it should reach its worst on Tuesday, the day of the tournament.

But she assembled the trophies, lovely glittery purple ones with rabbits on their tops, and got them photographed in beautiful early-afternoon sun, and we were able to get to the venue about 90 minutes ahead of the start of the tournament. Like, just as we would hope to do.

Trivia: Glass for the House of Representatives' chamber in the Capitol was ordered from Germany in 1805. When by January 1807 it had not arrived, a substitute supplier in England was hired. The glass arrived in August 1807, weeks before the Embargo Act against England was called for. Source: Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision for Our Nation's Capitol Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the InvadingBritish Army, Les Standiford.

Currently Reading: Sally Ride: America's First Woman In Space, Lynn Sherr.

PS: Not quite at the Silver Bells In The City electric light parade yet, but I've nearly left the City Market. That's something.


Mrs and Mr Claus looking over something with one of the kids.


And one of those musicians you just naturally get at markets like this.


Kind of a cheesey music, though. ... Hills' Cheese was one of the two longest-running stores in the City Market. Their leaving was, I think, when I realized that the City Market as we knew it was doomed. The place closed a few months after Hills' left. (Hills' still exists, last I checked, but their home location is like Flint or something so we're not going to be able to pop in so easily anymore.)

So a thing about the International Flipper Pinball Association is they want there to be more pinball tournaments. But they want the tournaments to be about playing pinball, not about doing silly stunts near a pinball machine. Can't blame them for that, exactly. But it means their rating system discourages some pinball tournament ideas that might be fun formats. For example, back in 2016, [profile] bunny_hugger wanted to run a tournament in which you played with one of a set of handicaps. Playing with the scoring display covered, for example. Playing while wearing thick oven mitts. Playing while other people heckled you. The IFPA thought this sounded like fun, but that it was too much comedy, not enough pinball. They wouldn't sanction the event, so it would not generate rating points. She held the tournament anyway. Only three people turned up, including me and [profile] bunny_hugger. It may have been the unsanctioned nature of the tournament. It may also have been that the tournament was the day after the election in 2016.

This is not to say the IFPA is unwilling to do some weird format stuff. They've approved the ``Critical Hit'' deck. This is a set of 54 cards. Players in a tournament are dealt some cards, and can earn more cards by accomplishing something or other during matches. And the cards cast ``spells'', allowing ... changes ... to the game. Like, someone can change what game they're supposed to play, letting them move to a better table. Or force someone out of their group of players, replaced with a random pick of other players. Or swap scores with another player in their group after the first or second ball. Or shake someone else's table, giving them tilt warnings. Or ... cover the scoring display. There isn't a card that makes you play with oven mitts on, but maybe if there's ever an expansion set.

Why does the IFPA allow this deck of wacky-pinball events, and not others? ...I don't know, and I'm not sure there's a clear reason. Maybe just they know the guy who made the cards. But this deck of wacky-pinball stuff, and this deck alone, is approved for IFPA-sanctioned tournaments.

[profile] bunny_hugger bought one. She had a plan for it.

Trivia: 19th century clothing manufacturers would make jean-cloth frockcoats, vestas, and trousers, often in colors like chestnut, olive, or white as well as blue. Source: Big Cotton: How a Humble Fiber Created Fortnes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America On The Map, Stephen Yafa.

Currently Reading: Sally Ride: America's First Woman In Space, Lynn Sherr.

PS: So now to mid-November 2017, and the Silver Bells in the City electric light parade. We'll get there.


Entering the Lansing City Market. This, I think, might be the last time we visited it. The City Market had been struggling ever since its renovation in the mid-2000s, and almost all its businesses left over 2017 and 2018; the place closed down for the indefinite future, except for the bar, September of last year.


Santa's station set up in the fairly ample space available. Even in previous years there were some farmers' stalls selling produce or beans or jams or such here. And it's not like it's a bad-looking place, for what it is; it's got a decent location, too, so why it sputtered and died is a mystery to me.


Historical marker and the dedication plaque reflecting the former City Market, demolished in the mid-2000s as too decrepit to make workable and replaced with this building. A lot of longtime residents are still angry at the mayor for replacing the old building.

It's a good time to check on my humor blog. It had another of those weeks where surprisingly much of it was not me trying to tell jokes, somehow. Those are always popular.

Gosh. Well. The next thing on my photograph roll is a couple of pictures of Columbo, the Flemish Giant we got in 2017 and lost in 2017. There's not many, and they're not very good, but it looks like these are somehow the last pictures I took of him. They're from about a month before he died of what was probably an undiagnosed E cuniculi-type parasite. It's fewer pictures than I'm used to posting here on Friday mornings, but maybe that can stand for a rabbit's life cut short.


An overhead view of the patient, tolerant giant. [profile] bunny_hugger would call him Big Grey, reflecting his fur of course, and how his personality seemed grey. Not unpleasant, mind you, and not even boring really. He was quite the surprising little investigator doing patrols of the first floor, when he was better able to get around. But grey in that he didn't clash with things, that he just fit in anywhere, was simply there. Also you'll notice how huge his ears were.


Columbo pushing his head against the oversized litter bin. We had gotten him a big litter bin because we couldn't figure out his bad litter habits. Not the pellets, which are all over the place; rabbits will often leave them everywhere. But they're solid and small and odorless and sweep up easily. It's urine and cecotropes that are the problem and we thought he needed help litter-training again. Despite his weakening condition --- you can maybe make out how weird his leg stance is --- he could hop into and out of the big litter bin, and the high walls seemed to promise a litter bin he couldn't accidentally pee over the side of. By this time, too, I'd taken to ``expressing'' his bladder, holding him in the litter bin and pressing between his legs so as to squeeze urine out. He was about twelve pounds and one time, at the vet's, the veterinarian was able to squeeze a full pound of urine out of his bladder.


Columbo pressing his head underneath the lip of the big litter bin. Rabbits often like being pressed up against something, and having some kind of weight on their head helps. This is why you'll see those funny pictures of bunnies ``not respecting personal space'', with one sitting on another's head. It's a good view of his ears, though, and you also get a look at his eyes. I don't think that he was a sad rabbit, but the cast of his eyes did make him look downbeat, which made it hard to want to do anything but get closer and to hold him, which he liked. He was a sweet one and if we had insisted earlier --- as [profile] bunny_hugger knew --- that he must have some infection, maybe we could have had him treated and maybe we would have him still.

Trivia: Prize fighters were hired at Westminster Hall for the coronation of King George IV in 1821, to keep the peace between the distinguished guests. Source: The Invention of Tradition, Editors Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger.

Currently Reading: Sally Ride: America's First Woman In Space, Lynn Sherr.

PS: Reading the Comics, March 26, 2019: March 26, 2019 Edition, in which I tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the guy who created Venn Diagrams, and then go on four more paragraphs.


I lack the time to write anything today. Here's pictures from the 2017 Lansing Pinball League finals. This is not repeat not the one we were at until all hours last night.


Organization! The tournament was double-elimination, so that you had to lose two rounds, each of them best-of-three, before you were out of the tournament. This involves a complicated bracket that you can get templates of online, and somehow, the number of people who show up is never in the range of brackets printed out and ready ahead of time.


Why We Play: the three lovely glass etched trophies that are the signature of the Lansing Pinball League's finals.


Somebody enjoying the video mode of Fish Tales, in which you shoot torpedoes at waterskiers.


[profile] bunny_hugger expressing her feelings toward the person who beat her two games to three in the championship bracket.


So, this is the part of Revenge From Mars where the game tries to hypnotize the player.


The venue has coffee that can best be described as ``existing'', and coffee and sweetener are maybe there, but at least the mugs are appealing to [profile] bunny_hugger.


[profile] bunny_hugger takes a moment away from the high-stakes competition of the finalists in play.


So, yes, this is not just a close game. But it's two of the best players in the league. And the game is Monster Bash, for which these are ... not ... really what either is capable of. Pinball, you know?


So, nearly 2.5 billion on one ball of Theatre of Magic is an exceptional game; I think it by itself would have put MWS on the high score table. That's more like these players can do.


Yeah, so, in all the months Revenge From Mars was at the venue, nobody got near the high score table because the default scores (the ones that are nice round millions) were too high and the tilt was too sensitive and the ball save was, inexplicably, turned off. And then in the battle for third-versus-fourth place, both me and WVL broke onto the high score table. Pinball, you know?


Action scene: MWS working on his lead in Theatre of Magic. (Or possibly another round of it, since there's a couple games they kept coming back to.) He would finish in second place.

Trivia: Future astronauts Ed White, Ted Freeman, James Irwin, and Jim McDivitt all attended the University of Michigan in 1957. Source: Moon Bound: Choosing and Preparing NASA's Lunar Astronauts, Colin Burgess. (I am not certain that they all attended simultaneously, though: White entered the school in September 1957. Irwin graduated in 1957 but I can't find whether it was in spring or fall.)

Currently Reading: Sally Ride: America's First Woman In Space, Lynn Sherr. Her astronaut application listed, under past criminal offenses, a speeding ticket and a 1972 citation for 'trespassing' that apparently is all anyone knows about that.