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ArchiveFEBRUARY 2024



My cell phone is usually switched off when I'm at home.  Any incoming calls get forwarded to the answering function on my landline phone.  Usually when that device rings, a telemarketer immediately hangs up without leaving a message, and I can ignore it.

The phone didn't ring for a couple of days.  Then when I wanted to make an outgoing call, the display said NO LINE.  Sure enough, there was no dial tone.

I turned on my cell phone and called Verizon to report the problem.  An automated voice asked me a number of questions and listened to my spoken answers.  Then another automated voice asked me some more questions.  Eventually I was scheduled for a service visit two days later between 9:00 and 5:00, and a reminder text appeared on my cell phone.

However, the next morning the landline phone rang with an automated message from Rite Aid that my prescription was ready.  Apparently, there had been some sort of glitch at Verizon's master control, but now my landline was back to normal!  I turned on my cell phone again, located the reminder text, and replied “fixed.”  A return text thanked me and noted that the service visit was canceled.

Afterwards I pondered the fact that it felt as though I had conversed with two customer representatives plus a pharmacist and a service technician, and those helpful folks had straightened everything out — when in fact I had spoken to no one.  Only robots.

This modern world is still amazing to me. 



Yesterday's NASCAR race at Atlanta, the Ambetter Health 400, featured side-by-side racing most of the day, which led to disasters whenever one car turned slightly sideways.  Only a handful of vehicles remained unscathed in the various crashes.  No one was able to dominate.  At one point the leaders were running side-by-side-by-side-by-side, known as “four wide.”

On numerous occasions, cars ran three wide.  And improbable though it might seem, one of those occasions was the end of the race!

FOX Sports showed the photo finish.  The blurred bumper of Daniel Suárez's blue #99 is touching the yellow line, so he was declared the winner.  NASCAR announced that second place went to Ryan Blaney in the white #12, reaching the line merely 3 milliseconds later.  In the middle, the black #8 driven by Kyle Busch placed third, 7 milliseconds behind the winner. 

The margin of victory was 3 milliseconds?  How far do cars travel in a fortieth of an eyeblink?  Time for a little math.  If the race speed is 170 miles per hour, that's 10.8 million inches per hour, or 3,000 inches per second, or 3 inches in a millisecond, or 9 inches in 3 millseconds.  For these vehicles, 9 inches is half the diameter of a wheel before the tire is attached.

A less blurry photo was taken slightly later.  I've added a green wheel and arrow to show that the contact point of Suárez's right front tire was then about 11 inches past the end of the checkered finish stripe.  And I've added a green circle to point out that at the same instant, Blaney's tire was only about 2 inches past the stripe.

I think I prefer races in which one car is indisputably the best and wins by at least a second or two.  Formula 1 returns next weekend.


FEBRUARY 25, 2024   

In English classes I learned that the word MICH-i-gan fits the definition of a dactyl.  That term comes from the Greek daktylos meaning “finger,” so named because a finger consists of three segments, LONG-short-short.  “Michigan” consists of three syllables, STRESSED-not-not.

However, I was never taught that the word o-HI-o is an amphibrach. That term comes from the Greek amphibrakhys meaning “both [ends] are short.”

How do I know that now?  I asked Microsoft's Copilot, “Can you tell me the term for a three-syllable word with the accent on the middle syllable?”  Using GPT-4, it promptly complied.  It even offered me a banana as an example.

Another piece of intelligent software, my Google navigation app, knows all the roads including their speed limits.  It knows all the towns including some that I myself haven't chosen to visit.  It even knows I drive a red car (because I told it so) and that car is currently traveling 0 mph.

However, its data set apparently lacks a pronunciation guide.  It speaks certain city names in a
DAC-tylic manner, with the stress on the first syllable:  KIT-tenning and TEAR-intum.  (Kitten, stop tearin' that paper!)

Local folks know it's the middle syllable that should get the accent:
kit-TAN-ning and ta-REN-tum.  Around here we prefer amphibrachs, except Aunt Teefuh.



In July of 1936, a failed military coup plunged Spain into civil war, pitting the government against fascist-backed Nationalists led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco.  With Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini already in power in Germany and Italy, anti-fascists around the world feared that Spain would be the next to fall, threatening the future of European democracy.  Therefore, more than 35,000 anti-fascist volunteers from 52 countries poured into Spain to take up arms against the Nationalists.   —history.com

Anti-fascist, meaning against authoritarian fascism, is pronounced something like “An Tie FAN Schist.”  When I first learned it was the source for the shorter term Antifa, I assumed that the final a ought to retain its pronunciation.  It should sound like the vowel in “bad blackjack hand.”  Therefore, keeping the accent on the third syllable, we should be saying something like “An Tie FAD.”

However, it's a faaact thaaat almost no English words end with thaaat sound without a following consonant.  Therefore, folks swallow the final vowel and make it merely “uh.”  Moreover, they change the second syllable from an unstressed Tie to an accented TEE.

The resulting pronunciation of Antifa suggests an ill-tempered relative ... the evil “Aunt Teefuh!”  Thus the true meaning is disguised.

Some right-wingers falsely claim that the Capital riot on January 6, 2021, was a “false flag” attempt to portray peaceful demonstrators as savage and destructive.  More than a third of Republicans prefer to believe the FBI organized and encouraged the attack, which wasn't the work of Trump supporters but of shadowy left-wing groups.  “They were masquerading as Trump supporters,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), “and in fact were members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.”

Does Gaetz believe that Antifa is an actual organization, planning acts of violence to terrorize law-abiding citizens?  Robert Elisberg asks whether there's an Antifa commander.  Or an Antifa headquarters building.  Or even a phone number.  He doubts whether the MAGA folks can even explain what the name Antifa stands for.  And once they're told it's short for “anti-fascist,” they must explain what's wrong about opposing Mussolini and Hitler and other fascist dictators.



As I celebrate my 77th birthday today, I reflect on the fact that I'm still a youngster compared to the leading Presidential candidates.  One was born eight months before me, while the other will be 82 in November.

Some might suspect us of diminishing mental capabilities.  A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll reports that 86% of Americans feel that Joe Biden is too old to serve another term as president.  Of that 86%, more than two-thirds think Donald Trump is also too old.

How much does age matter?  Bill McKibben writes that Biden's experience is more important, dating back to the Great Society era.  “His age ... is actually his superpower.  Aging brains make more connections, perhaps because they have more history to work with.”

On this website, at the end of 2023 I mentioned a mixed chorus from my high school days.  From a group of very old songs that our grandparents must have known, I recalled two:  “Glow-Worm” and “Play a Simple Melody.”

Now I've rediscovered an earlier story about that performance.  But when I wrote it in 2011, my memory was better!  Back then I knew that although a high-school teacher was leading our chorus, we weren't in high school at the time; we were merely eighth graders.

And that earlier post mentioned five additional songs in our repertoire.  I remember them now, but the only one of the five I had been able to bring to mind in 2023 was “The Old Lamplighter” from long, long ago — and that only because I'd recently photoshopped an image to turn it into an old clocksetter.

I'd completely forgotten about Roy Rogers, as he was known in the movies, singing Cole Porter from the saddle of his dancing horse Trigger.

Of course, when I wrote the 2011 post my mind had recorded only 64 years of experiences.  Since then I've added another 13 years, and some of the old stuff had to be moved into the attic to make room for the new stuff.

A Washington Post article notes that memory lapses at any age are surprisingly normal and, for most people, do not indicate mental decline.  Harvard professor Daniel Schacter explains, “The possible consequences of retaining every detail of every experience might be a very cluttered mind and an inability to sort through relevant and irrelevant experiences.”  His colleague Bradford Dickerson adds, “There are a number of changes that are just part of getting older.  The most obvious impacts involve processing speed.”  That's often manifested during speech.  “Word retrieval becomes more difficult with age,” he says, “so people stumble while talking.”

I've noticed myself having that difficulty.  Like sands through the hourglass, like the slowly fading ticks of the timepiece, so are the days of our lives.



Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images 

You probably remember the disaster last August that virtually destroyed the historic city of Lahaina, Hawaii.  It's given the crazies a new example to prove that “the rulers of the darkness” are plotting against them.

CNN's Laura Paddison quotes Callum Hood, head of research at the Center for Countering Digital Hate: “Conspiracy theories are ‘a chance to reclaim agency.  It all becomes simplified. There's a bad guy who's lying to you.’” And Paddison cites some rabble-rousers from social media.

~ Health influencer @drmercola suggested to his 504,000 followers that Hawaii's wildfires might have been deliberately set “to facilitate a land grab” to make the area a “smart city.”  (In the year 64, Romans likewise accused their fiddling emperor of burning much of his capital city so he could build Neropolis in its place.)

~ A natural parenting influencer implied to her 76,000-strong community that the fires were started by “directed energy weapons” such as laser beams.

~ Wellness influencer @truth_crunchy_mama told her 37,000 followers that the government is “going to keep setting wildfires until we all submit to their climate change agenda.”

Back in the real world, the fire put a small dent in my bank account because my father once invested in a Hawaiian corporation.  Compared to the victims' losses, it's actually quite insignificant.  I tell the story in an article called Dividend Interrupted.



It's a major scientific breakthrough!  Or at least that's what Kasha Patel wants us to believe.  In a Hidden Planet posting, she writes, “For the first time, researchers have detailed how great apes will playfully tease.  They found that four species of great apes joke around, suggesting the human cognitive tools that help us learn humor may date back at least 13 million years.”

She quotes a recently published study by cognitive biologists and primatologists from UCLA, UCSD, Indiana University, and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior.  The scientists report evidence of playful teasing in orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas.  Isabelle Laumer, the study's lead author, notes that “We were the first ones that really systematically had a look at the playful teasing behaviors and studied them.”  Erica Cartmill, another author, adds that the capacity to joke raises questions “about what animals understand about other animals' minds.”

Patel speculates, “Given this playful teasing is seen in the great apes, simple joking could have been present in our last common ancestor!  There are still many unanswered questions, such as differences in playful teasing among different species.”

I think she's jumping to a conclusion about evolution.  Humor in chimps and such doesn't sound like big news to me.  Rather, it seems that four biologists dreamed up a topic to investigate, using the 75 hours of zoo video that they had available.  Then they applied for grant money for the study.  That's how they make their living.  Now those “still many unanswered questions” must also be investigated, and that will require more specialists and more grant money.

The Internet immediately pointed out that it's actually quite common for one animal to tease another.

• FancyPantsGangstair:  Call me cynical, but I'm guessing these people never observed a human and their dog interact.

• Willie McTell:  Most cat owners have experienced the lurk and nip, a common feline practical joke.

• Wbythesea:  A bird and a squirrel play like that in a tree outside my house. The bird will dive bomb the squirrel to get a reaction, then chase the squirrel around the tree, flying about an inch above it.

• Veronica Monet:  The dominant scientific narrative insists that other animals are very different from humans.  This dogma is actually a relic of religious doctrine.  Humans are NOT special, nor are they unique.  We derive our capacity for humor and grief and love from our evolutionary predecessors.  I'll be glad when we can finally admit just how very similar humans are to other animals and not the other way around.

• Earth Igia:  Animals are smarter than humans in one respect.  They NEVER let the dumb ones lead them.

Meanwhile, are soccer fans dumb?  Not really, it turns out.  U.S. women's national team captain Lindsey Horan has apologized for saying, “American soccer fans, most of them aren't smart. They don't know the game.  They don't understand.”  Now she admits, “Some of my comments were poorly expressed.”

That's true.  “Smart” means intelligent.  Americans often misuse it to mean educated or informed.  “She's so smart, she knows how to solve a quadratic equation.”

Then other Americans, hearing that they “aren't smart,” feel that their mental capacity has been questioned — and offense is taken.



The CBS comedy Young Sheldon returns for its seventh and final season this Thursday.

Remember older Sheldon?  He was, of course, a theoretical scientist on a previous show called The Big Bang Theory.  A quirky tea-drinker, his most famous line has made it onto this mug.

And an echo once made it into the current Young Sheldon series.

Sitting on the porch, the 10-year-old told his mother, “I'm not crazy.  But you might be!”

His evidence: “You talk to an invisible man in the sky who grants wishes.”


I'm a Baby Boomer, so I didn't recognize any of the music during last night's Super Bowl halftime show.  As Paul Harris blogged this morning, “while I knew the names of some of the performers, I couldn't name a single song of theirs.”  But being a retired TV production guy, I appreciated the video, with cameras effortlessly swooping around to move from one beautifully planned shot to another.  Perfect!

During the commercials, I did recognize some of the ancient music from my era.  I loved hearing Neil Diamond's 1971 “I Am...I Said,” promoting Volkswagen, and Perry Como's 1957 “Round and Round,” promoting a spherical candy.  I think I remember watching Perry perform the latter song on his Saturday-night Kraft Music Hall when I was a child, so I looked up the kinescope.  I've colorized one frame.

Apparently the producer had felt the need to be creative.  “I can't let him merely stand beside a low-key drum kit and a bass.  This is color television!  I need bright pictures!  I need movement!  Give me skaters, goin' round and round in tune!”

But roller skates on a hard studio floor make a lot of noise, so they had Mr. Como lip-sync to his #1 hit while being circled by everybody else, including even the cue-card guy and a fake cameraman.  Only the audience was mic'ed.

With no actual singing to do, Perry apologetically rolled his eyes, playfully waved his arms, and mouthed a couple of extra words.  He even got in some silly dance steps.


FEBRUARY 10, 2014 flashback    CLOSE, BUT...

In cleaning out my files recently, I found a unique envelope I saved five years ago.  It’s from Reason magazine.

Having identified the name and address of a potential subscriber, Reason used a Google Earth picture of the area to print this arresting personalized warning about “them.”  (The letter inside described “them” as surveillance staters, busybodies, and “control freaks who want to run your life and spend your money.”

So do “they” really know where I am?  I do live within the highlighted circle, though not in the center.  Nor am I at the spot to which the yellow arrow points.

Note this closeup of that spot.  If the busy bodies go there looking for my body, they’ll find it buried under a tree in Prospect Cemetery.



Joe Blevins has tweeted, “I realize
that AI Seinfeld is an AI-generated
computer-animated version of Seinfeld,
but I keep reading it as ‘Al Seinfeld,’
like Jerry has a cousin Al or something.”  

I'm not surprised that Joe gets misled.  Aside from the example on the left, most of the internet uses a sans-serif font in which capital I and lower-case l look exactly the same — simply an unadorned tall rectangle.

Maybe we should follow the example of the faltering Sports Illustrated and sink the lower-case l slightly lower than the upper-case I.

Or we could follow the example of Microsoft, which has recently changed its Windows default font.

Times New Roman (top) used to be the default, with serifs on its corners.

When Office 2007 was introduced, the cleaner Calibri (middle) became the default. 

Now it's Aptos (bottom).  Some font fanatics fuss about this latest update, but most of us won't notice a difference. The lower-case l in Aptos does have a little hook to make it distinctive.  Almost like a serif, right?

To end the confusion, let's follow the example of the website you're now reading.  Let's bring back all serifs!

(Or we could stop following the example of Mr Churchill.  In the UK, most abbreviations have lost their periods.  Let's bring them back!  Representing Artificial Intelligence as A.I. would solve the Cousin Al problem.)



Now that remote radio broadcasts are possible, and now that an automatic vacuum cleaaner company has interior maps of people's homes, these Sixties spybots are counting down to the tipoff for their final caper.


Is it time to open the door?  I call the new article 59! 58! 57! 56! 55! 


FEBRUARY 4, 2024

Watching Saturday Night Live last night, I learned that the makers of European electric cars must be desperate for buyers.  They're now promoting their cosmetic gimmicks.

Apparently the front of an Audi has a choice of four different lighting patterns that can be selected from a dashboard menu.

And the dashboard of a Volkswagen is topped by a blue light that moves from left to right before you make a right turn.  It wasn't clear whether it's activated by the navigation system's prompts or by the regular turn signals — it was only a 15-second commercial — but the light seemed to entertain the dog in the passenger seat.


FEBRUARY 2, 2024   

When the roofer fell off a ladder and broke his leg, he found an easier way to make a living.

But then a preacher passed by and yanked him into yet another profession.

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.