Daughter comes home from school in the usual mood, with a smile and offhand assurances that school was fine and everything’s fine and so on and so forth, but: for moment I catch her staring into the Void, a shadow on her features, and it’s time for the parental probe: what’s the matter? Oh nothing. C’mon. Something’s the matter. You know I’ll ask until I get it. Nothing’s the matter. i can tell. Nothing – well, there was this one thing.

And so it transpired that she did not get the score in Technology class she thought she deserved, at least relative to the other Powerpoints the kids had done. They had do a PP on an animal. As far as she could tell she had the same amount of content, and applied transitions to the bullet points, which no one else did. Then she said that the kids who got higher marks used all kinds of transitions between the slides, and she only used a fade, so maybe that was it, but that was STUPID.

Now. Hold on. “What sort of transitions? Star wipes? Irises? Page curls?”

“They used everything. I used fade except for a few where I just used a wipe, you know, push the slide off and another one comes in.”

“And you got penalized for not throwing in every transition?”

“Maybe. Yes.”

This. Will. Not. Stand. HOME SCHOOLING. I can see where a teacher might think that using every fargin’ tool in the box is a sign of technical mastery, but the reason my child only used the fade is because I have taught her to avoid every single transition except for cross-dissolve, the occasional focus dissolve, and the rare iris-out at the end for comic effect. I wish I could show you some of the animations she’s created. And she got a low grade in technology?

“Hah,” she said on the way home from karate today. “Look at that license place. 404.”

“What if you parked it in a lot and then it wasn’t there when you went back?”

“Server not found,” she says.

Yeah, give her a low grade in technology.

But I’m grumpy. Another cool sunless day. We get four months of shorts weather, and it feels as if 25% has been sacrificed, lost, squandered – and it wouldn’t be so bad if the cool had been sunny. Or the cloudy had been warm. This eternal ceiling with frosty breezes feels like a meteorological crop failure. Pa, are we gonna starve now – I mean, be all layered up and pasty? Looks that way, son. Sure looks that way.

I can’t believe I’m reading this. And as a real book, too. Not a Kindle ebook, but a bent and dog-eared paperback, too. I found it in the stack of cast-off items at the office, a shelf that usually contains flotsom and detritus generated by the company, or PR agencies, or a worker who dumped the unloved items out for all when he or she took to the wind. I took it intending to scan the cover, since that’s the version I had when I first read it years ago. Difficult to understate the impact on general geekery of a certain age; I remember a day years ago, talking to some middle-aged fellow in a bar in Pennsylvania, and he was discussing his conception of Washington DC as a place apart from the rest of the country, its culture specifically related to the maintenance of empire, and since we’d been talking about Star Trek a while before, I said “Trantor.” And he got it. That’s all you have to say.

So there I am doing my daily steps, up and down for half an hour, briskly, reading about Trantor, reminding myself that George Lucas stole all of this. All of it. Filled it with cartoon politicians and hocus-pocus; instead of historians tending the spark of knowledge at the edge of the galaxy, he gave us dudes in robes walking around slicing things and protecting Queens and performing trade negotiations. He stole Trantor, and gave it the rusty corrupted name “Coruscant,” which is the stupidest name for a planet ever. Makes it sound rusty. But Lucas was always bad at names, with a tendency to pun; surprised there wasn’t a guy who spoke through a locked jaw from the planet of Tetanus IV.

Well, it’s a column night, and I hope to play some more “L. A. Noire,” even though my button-mashing skills are as poor as ever. Before then, some novel. Something interesting happened last night. Wrote this: narrator, the photographer, is going to City Hall with the Reporter, to cover the arrest of the suspect in the Casablanca slayings.

We push through the revolving door, nod at the bull sitting at the reception desk. I look up; I always look up. Six floors of marble balconies dim light trickling through the skylight above. Two staircases spill into the room, splash against the base of a statue: Mister Mississippi: the Father of Waters, a reclining giant who represents the river where the town began. We both rub his toe for luck as we head to the elevators. Everyone does. It’s what you do. It’s probably why everyone has a cold at the same time.

We ride up to third, down the wide white hall. It’s not booking we’re going. It’s the Mayor’s office.

I did not expect them to go there. I don’t know why they did, but that’s how these things happen. Stopped, checked the date, yes: the Mayor of Minneapolis in 1947 was an ambitious chap with his eye on the national stage. Fellow by the name of . . . well, you can guess.

Lest you think this is a short weak day on the site, there’s four pages of exhaustively annotated 1968 TV Guide up, HERE. I had to redesign the format to accommodate more text, but that was a minor thing. Enjoy!


89 Responses to Let me say this about that

  1. swschrad says:

    @bgbear: they had at least one celebrated (after the fact) oops at INAL. found out what happens in reactors if there is One Critical Control Rod. the whole reactor dome lifted and impaled the guy whose wife had been seeing one of the other three overnight engineers with part of a control rod. to the inside of the containment dome.

    just another day at the office, where you have a tiger by the tail.

    had some issues with EBR-1 melting down, too.

    that’s why it was hidden away so well. like sausage, you don’t really want to see powerful new technology being made.

  2. Shah Guido G says:

    I’m glad to hear OGH is delving into classic Asimov.


    In my teens, I read every book by Asimov the library had, fiction and non-fiction, except the Bible commentary. Now I would like to read his Bible commentary.

    I don’t know if I could bring myself to re-read the Foundation trilogy. It just wasn’t as fun as his other work.

  3. efurman says:

    bgbear (roger h) says:
    May 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    “Want out of the way, try the area around the nuclear labs in Idaho.”

    Yes, the only good thing about the ridiculous movie ‘Idaho Transfer’ was seeing the incredible landscape of Craters of the Moon lava fields in Idaho.

  4. efurman says:

    And yes I am a sucker for bad science fiction movies, but that was just not good. Not ‘so bad it felt good’ bad.

  5. Eek swschrad, sounds like a job for Columbo.

    I stopped by EBR-1 but, no one was around to conduct a tour. There is also two oddball nuclear jet engine prototypes and a lead lined train engine for transporting them (or moving a nuclear jet airplane around).

    as efurman said, with the nearby Craters of the Moon, it is a much cooler out of the way place you expect nukes to be designed rather than the bucolic Lawrence Livermore Labs here in Livermore, CA. Oakridge seems too pleasant as well.

  6. Chas C-Q says:

    Ahem: that’s “Oak Ridge.” (Waving from East Tennessee, over here.)

    It is indeed pleasant, when you’re not driving; a notorious speed trap.

  7. swschrad says:

    @bgbear: your lead-lined train engine… believe there was a thought of developing nuclear-powered train engines in the 50s. obviously it got to a prototype stage. that probably scotched the nuclear aircraft.

    believe it was Project Orion where they intended to power spacecraft by dropping little pocket nukes down like Cokes from a vending machine, and blowing them up past a blast shield. that got to a high level of design study before somebody got the willies about using about 20 nukes to get out of the atmosphere.

    and let us not forget Project Plowshare, where little pocket nukes would plow fields and open water wells for irrigation.

    not every idea should be capitalized.

  8. hpoulter says:

    There is also two oddball nuclear jet engine prototypes and a lead lined train engine for transporting them (or moving a nuclear jet airplane around).

    You mean that secret UFO technology that we got from Nazi scientists captured in their secret base under the north pole? The DARPA thing is just a cover story.

    And nuclear powered trains? Refer to this documentary:


  9. sorry chas, I am a left coaster.

    swschrad, the train engine was an otherwise typical diesel(diesel-elelectric?) engine that looked like a switcher with small round windows. I think any nuclear plane developed would have been both heavy and “hot”.

    A nuclear train? I think that was “Supertrain”


  10. hah, hpoulter, you beat me to it.

  11. In the conclusion of Footfall (an excellent aliens-attacking-the-Earth novel, by the bye) Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle used the Orion idea to get our gun-bristling space battlewagon Michael into orbit to save us.

    The fact it took around twenty or so full-sized nukes the get the monster there was troubling, but not as troubling as the alternative, which was the certainty of the entire planet getting stomped flat by ETs.

  12. Kevin says:

    How coincidental that tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of Humphrey’s birth. (Has Mark Steyn been alerted?)
    And regarding Asimov, I once heard this curious factoid, that he is the only author with a book in all ten major sections of the Dewey Decimal System.

  13. Larry says:

    Today is John Wayne’s Birthday 104 yrs

  14. Larry says:

    The “Big Bus” was better movie

  15. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – here’s the thing about a nuclear powered train… it’d be cheaper and easier to electrify the lines and build a nuke plant next to the railyard.

  16. Larry says:

    I think this is the first BWR it’s in Livermore Ca parts of it are still in use.

  17. @larry, see what I mean, bucolic, moo, I mean were is the soullessness and desolation.

    Of course Pleasanton would be a good ironic name in a SciFi thriller. I can see the “Welcome to Pleasanton” sign looming large as guys in hazmat suits are loading up the bodies.

  18. Larry says:

    I have rode my mountain bike on the Sunol / Pleasanton ridge and have seen little mail box’s with the “Livermore Lab” do not open test units on them and I do not mean one or two, They are all over the place. Moo

  19. MJBirch says:

    hpoulter: loved your story about the teacher who thought the Road Runner was just a cartoon.

    In the sixth grade, I did a report on Australian animal life, with drawings (by me) and I had to show the book to the teacher before she’d believe me when I said that yes, there actually was an animal called the Tasmanian Devil. At least she laughed. “I thought it was just that THING on the Bugs Bunny cartoon!”

    (Flattery will get you nowhere.)

  20. ScottG says:

    “Larry says:
    May 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    The “Big Bus” was better movie

    Ah yes, the movie that reacquainted me with the Beatles….

  21. Bill Miller says:

    I have that exact paperback of Foundation; thanks for the impetus to re-read it.

  22. Chas C-Q says:

    My fourth grade class played “Animal Alphabet,” where you all sit in a circle and each say an animal name in turn, very fast, incremented one letter. The kid to my left said “lion,” I said “manatee,” … and got tossed out. The teacher had never heard of it.

    In Florida, this was.

  23. bellczar says:

    James: Until 1991, the mayor’s office in Minneapolis was a cavernous office (the private office was 32×24 feet) on the FIRST FLOOR of City Hall, adjacent to the 5th Street entrance. Under Fraser the office moved to its current location on the third floor.

  24. Justene says:

    I threatened to home school my daughters all the time. They have been out of high school for 2 years now and when someone repeats a tale, I start muttering, “I should have homeschooled you.”

  25. Ross says:

    Think nothing of it–I like nothing better than to introduce someone to some of the usually overlooked McKimson gems. And, although I’m not positive, I think I remember at least one other WB ‘toon that Backus added a voice to. Blast–that one’s gonna bug me all weekend…

  26. pentamom says:

    But requiring kids to write “First,” “Second,” and “Third” every time they write an introductory paragraph isn’t a skill set, it’s a flaw set. One essay in a thousand that follows that structure isn’t a bad thing, but the idea that essays should generally, let alone always, use those words in that format is just plain false and makes writing bad.

    I agree that giving them a template isn’t bad, but giving them a bad template and then marking down for not following it to the letter is inexcusable.

  27. MikeHu says:

    “Let me say this about that…”

    Now there’s an expression straight from the “New Frontier” (or at least a JFK press conference).

  28. mariner says:

    Holy sh*t!

    Gnat is in high school?!

  29. Milwaukee says:

    Who was it who said “I refuse to let school interfere with my educational process.”

    Good idea: give the students a set of slides and make them apply the transitions to the slides. Then see who can get their epilepsy triggered with outrageous transitions. Power-points about supposed to be about content, not graphics or transitions.

    My plan is to go with project based high schools. Turn the students loose, let them learn and love learning.

  30. Synova says:

    My youngest came home with a list from her teacher of words to use instead of “said” when writing dialog.


    Might as well skip the said-bookisms and go straight to Tom Swifties.

  31. koblog says:

    Only amateurs use every hokey transition, PowerPoint or video. The kid’s got it right and the teacher is… well, a unionized public servant, most likely “teaching” a subject s/he knows nothing about.

    “You watch, the New Wave will discover the slow dissolve in ten years or so.”
    — Billy Wilder, c 1969

    [from The Book of Hollywood Quotes, p 53.]

  32. Milo says:

    Way back when – the late 50s and early 60s, there was a pulp Science Fiction monthly magazine called Analog. I was addicted to it. I looked foreward to John Campbell’s Brass Tacks and, hopefully, one of Azimov’s articles on Science Fact. Those two men did more for my education and my critical thinking than anyone. Too bad they are both gone as the hole has not been filled. This younger generation will never know how much they are missing.
    So far as I can find, no one has made a compilation of these two men’s articles in Analog. I would make for some great reading today.

  33. BillyDee says:

    What is it with fourth grade teachers? My fourth grate teacher told me that mercury couldn’t be a metal because it was liquid. He asked me where I had gotten such information. Even as a fourth grade public school student I knew better then to site my favorite DC comic “Metal Men” as my source!

  34. Jane says:

    In 8th grade, for a class called “Creative Writing,” I chose a story based on an image of three country boys stirring up a beehive. I wrote their dialog in the vernacular I imagined them using — some improper grammar and “country tawk.” I put it all in quotes, but my teacher marked their dialog as me using improper spelling and grammar and gave me a “D.” (I was way above my peers in English all my life, so it’s still a bad memory.) I got her back when I wrote a suggestive Haiku that she read out loud.

    And I didn’t hesitate to homeschool my three children. My 5th grader pointed out 15 spelling and grammar mistakes on the local 5th-grade teacher’s website last week just for fun. And no, I’m not a task master. It takes a minimum-to-moderate amount of time to get good results, because I am one teacher with three students and no travel time.

  35. jgreene says:

    More parents, if they have the time and income, should homeschool their children.

    As far as the Asmimov novel is concerned and the comments pertaining to it – huh!

  36. bt says:

    I grew up in Oak Ridge. I may glow in the dark, but it doesn’t keep me up nights.

    You do indeed want to read the Asimov Bible commentary. I own it, as well as all the foundation novels, most of the robot (R. Daneel Olivaw) series, etc. I almost want to read his chemistry books…

  37. SteveBrooklineMA says:

    Star wipe? Homer Simpson approves


  38. RetiredE9 says:

    My last job in the USAF was working for a very high ranking General. His time was valuable and very limited and he saw powerpoint presentations several dozen times a week.

    After awhile it became my job to speak to the (almost always) junior officer preparing the PP presentation.

    As a very senior NCO I was bulletproof and very grizzled, a plus in my discussion with the young officer in question.

    Here is my almost verbatim instruction:

    “Captain Smith, you are scheduled to present your briefing to General Brown at 13:00. It is important to General Brown that you understand the ground rules of the PP presentation. There will be no fades, no fireworks, no special transistions, and most importantly no sound effects in your presentation. The presentation will not last more than eight minutes. If you can’t make your point in less than 8 minutes, the General questions your ability to hold a commission in the U.S. Air Force.

    If your presentation ‘beeps’ ‘boops’ or indeed makes any noise the General has authorized me to neuter you in the most painful way that can be managed without causing death.

    Do you have any questions sir/ma’am?”

    Almost every one of them gulped and ran out of the room to re-arrange their presentation. I can assure you that I never neutered anyone…….that didn’t need it.

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