August 31, 2005

Never forever, but it seems like it

Well, okay. I have had a grueling week, but new CDs have been keeping me going (particularly good: the New Pornographers, "Twin Cinema"; and Architecture in Helsinki, "In Case We Die", both available for super cheap with free shipping at Neighborhoodies). And this news should lift my spirits for the rest of the night at least -- the long-in-progress new Kate Bush album finally has a release date, and it's a double album! Can. Not. Wait. I'm ready to forgive you for "The Red Shoes", Kate! Please don't let me down! (Also, I'm free for dinner anytime.)

Posted by Francis at 09:08 PM | Comments (1)

August 30, 2005

Mixed messages

So I was looking up "palindrome" in the online Columbia encyclopedia at for a boring reason, and the entry read, in full, "See anagram." Well, that's odd, I thought. So I went over to "anagram", and this is what it had to say about palindromes:

An anagram that reads the same backward as forward is a palindrome, e.g., “Able was I ere I saw Elba.”

Um...what? I guess that makes sense if we consider that any phrase can be anagrammed to spell itself.

Posted by Francis at 10:48 PM | Comments (7)

John dough

Orange's comment in the cat-photo thread about a reprinted puzzle of mine reminded me that I should plug a collection of honest-to-god new puzzles of mine, a little toilet-shaped book of 10-by-10 crosswords (some themeless, some not). I'm pretty pleased with it, actually.

Posted by Francis at 08:49 PM | Comments (6)

August 29, 2005

We used the "Margaret Keane" filter

Now it can be revealed: the cutest picture in the history of stuff. Our beloved cat Twyla. In a sink.


Posted by Francis at 04:26 PM | Comments (11)

Cats in sinks

We love cats in sinks here at Heaneyland. So of course we love Cats in Sinks.

Cats. In. Sinks.


That is all.


Well, actually that is not all. We also have a picture of a cat in a sink, a picture that is so cute that Japanese businessmen have offered to buy it from us for large amounts of money so that they can make Hello Kitty even cuter (impossible though that may seem). I cannot show you this picture now, but wait. Wait.

Posted by Francis at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)

August 28, 2005

NOAA and the flood

Rose is (understandably) kind of in a state today over the fact that it looks like New Orleans will be wiped from the face of the earth. The warnings from NOAA are unlike anything you have ever seen, except perhaps in the Bible. Rose posted them to a comment thread at Making Light -- you should read them, but prepare to be horrified.

Posted by Francis at 06:00 PM

August 26, 2005

The needle and the damage done

Last Saturday was my second go-round competing in the Haystack (a recount of last year's event is here). Once again, tons of fun, although I liked last year's Haystack better for a few reasons. (And not merely because my team won last year!)

This time around the Haystack, by design, had more puzzles than it was reasonable to be able to solve in the time available -- which just sort of bugs me philosophically, because I am an obsessive completist and want to solve everything. (Maybe this was a reaction to last year, when the organizers didn't expect anyone to solve all the puzzles, but then my team actually did solve all the puzzles.) And I felt like we spent more time on getting from place to place this year; the locations were farther apart, and that combined with the puzzle overload made the day a little more stressful than last year.

The puzzle hunt was set up as a game of "New York Rummy"; solving puzzles gave you cards, which you then could use to gain points in various ways, either by playing them as melds or by using each card's special power (which allowed you to steal points from other teams or get back a card you had already playes; things like that). So the optimal strategy was to figure out which cards you wanted most and solve the puzzles needed to get them.

Well, my team -- this year consisting of me, Greg Pliska (G Natural in the National Puzzlers' League), Jessica Switzer (a Stamford attendee), Joe DiPietro (a local crossword constructor), and Chris Morse (Sprout in the NPL, down from Boston for the event) -- pretty much ignored the cards in favor of solving whichever puzzles we most felt like solving. This was not a winning strategy, but what can I say? We were more interested in the puzzles than the cards. At the end of the day, we finished third with 144 points (and were the highest-scoring NPL team, beating the 4th-place team by a scant 2 points, so, a small victory there), behind two teams with (if I remember correctly), 531 and 901 points. The reason for the massive score gap is because one of the cards allowed you to reverse the digits of your score, and only one team solved that puzzle, I believe; the other team to reverse their score was the one team that solved the puzzle in the final round that allowed you to get any card you wanted, and naturally they picked the score-flipping one. Unflipped, our score beat theirs, but them's the breaks.

I had started the day by waking up early and keyed-up, so I ran four miles in the park, which is, honestly, an odd way to start a day on which one is expecting to do a lot of walking. But I did feel energized by the time our team met up in Harlem, and stayed in pretty good spirits for most of the day, until the final round, when I acquired a SPLITTING headache and ended up working on a (god help me) sudoku puzzle. But then we got to the final meeting place -- a Vietnamese restaurant -- and once I had some food and a beer, I felt much better. And then some NPL folks invited me to go drinking, and on the way home I thought perhaps the second beer had been not such a swell idea for a fellow who'd been having mood problems, but it was still enjoyable catching up a bit with people.

As for the puzzles, my favorite was the Joker puzzle from round three. The main part of the puzzle was not especially exciting -- it was just a regular old logic puzzle -- but the payoff was brilliant, involving comparing info in the logic puzzle to a massive Monopoly board on the wall at Toys R Us in Times Square. Very cool. Some other highlights: Queen of Roaches in round one (a nice little wordplay puzzle), the Joker in round two (a follow-the-directions puzzle; far from difficult, but very entertainingly written), Six of Roaches in round two (hard to describe, but fun), Jack of Cabs in round three (a crostic with a clever gimmick), and King of Mammon in round four (a cool little word puzzle, even though I didn't solve it through my headachy haze).

Oh, and the damage done? That would be the massive leg cramps I had the next morning. Must remember to stretch after walking all day!

Posted by Francis at 01:37 PM | Comments (1)

August 22, 2005

Coffee and cigarettes

As promised (in the comments of a previous entry, so if you don't know what I'm talking about, what's your problem? Too fancy to read comments, are you?), here is the story of my time on the front lines of cigarette-related activism.

This was back in the early days of the smoking ban in restaurants. My then-girlfriend Cheryl and I were delighted about the ban, because, you know -- cigarette smoke smells gross! I don't even like smelling it when I'm not eating. I am certainly not some bluenose who thinks people shouldn't be allowed to smoke; hell, I'd be perfectly happy if restaurants had a section for people who wanted to shoot up heroin. (No smoke, and the people would be nice and quiet.)

But we lived in the East Village, home to many people who smoke a lot and like to think that they are rebels, maaaaan -- so there were a lot of people with no interest in obeying the new law. Once, Cheryl and I and our friend Charles were at Sidewalk (a hipster bastion of a restaurant) and a woman at the next table lit up. And Sidewalk was one of the few restaurants that actually had a smoking section! (In another room, with separate ventilation, as required.) You will be unsurprised to learn that we were not sitting in that smoking section. Cheryl asked the woman to put her cigarette out and she replied, "No hablo inglés." But she learned how to speak English pretty quickly when I tried to grab the cigarette out of her mouth! Or maybe "Hey, what are you doing?" was the first sentence in her Spanish-to-English phrasebook. Eventually a waitress came over and the woman grudgingly put out her cigarette (only, of course, after arguing with the waitress for quite some time, and continuing to smoke all the while).

The more memorable incident happened at the Cooper Square Restaurant on 5th Street (where we once met Quentin Crisp). The restaurant (which has since moved to the other side of Second Avenue) had a seating area that was almost-but-not-quite outside, in an area that would normally be taken up with sidewalk, but completely glassed in. At the table next to ours, one of the windows to the street was open, and one of the two men sitting there lit up a cigarette. We tried to ignore it, but having the window open was doing nothing to help ventilate the smoke; really, the wind was just blowing the smoke back inside. We called over the waiter, pointed out the problem, and asked him to tell the guy to stop; the waiter went over, talked, and came back with a shrug. "The window is open..." he lamely explained, clearly having been too timid to stand up to the guy.

Soon we were having our argument directly with the smoker, and with a guy at another table who felt a need to chime in and question our love of civil liberties. It was pret-ty annoying, I tell you what, to be asking for something very simple -- that someone please not smoke in a place that they are not supposed to smoke -- and then to be attacked after the waiter has thrown you to the wolves. We were fed up, and left without ordering. That might have been the end of it, but as we walked past the windows, the chant beloved by vindictive twits everywhere began: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye."

Obviously, I couldn't let these people have the last word. I stalked back, leaned in the window and explained, "Look. It's very simple. You're smoking in a restaurant, which is against the law. Spitting in someone's coffee is perfectly legal, though, I believe." And I spat in his coffee. (And it was a juicy one.)

Having done this, I was vaguely concerned about, oh, getting punched in the face, but the smoking guy really just looked kind of stunned and nonplussed; and there was silence. And there continued to be silence (at least until we were out of earshot). It felt great.

Posted by Francis at 03:25 PM | Comments (17)

August 20, 2005

Weird Francis

Is there any lower art form than the filk? Perhaps not, but nonetheless, Jason Falkner's cover of "Photograph" (the Def Leppard song) came up on my MP3 player while I was jogging in the park this morning, and -- well, you remember how it goes, right?

I'm outta luck, outta love
Got a photograph, picture of
Passion killer, you're too much
You're the only one I wanna touch

I see your face everytime I dream
On every page, every magazine
So wild, so free, so far from me
You're all I want, my fantasy

Oh, look what you've done to this rock and roll clown
Oh, look what you've done

Photograph, I don't want your
Photograph, I don't need your
Photograph, all I've got is a photograph
But it's not enough
You've gone straight to my head

So anyway, I couldn't stop myself.

I'm doing science, I'm in a lab
Piece of equipment, I wanna grab
Metal turret, you're too much
You're the only thing I wanna touch

I dream of you when I'm lying in bed
And of looking like Eraserhead
So sleek, so tall, with a metal ball
On top, you rock, I'm in your thrall

Oh, look what you've done to my nicely coiffed head
Oh, look what you've done

Van der Graaf generator
Van der Graaf, static maker
Van der Graaf, I put my hand on the Van der Graaf
And it's such a rush
You go straight to my hair!

I'm so sorry.

Posted by Francis at 09:33 AM | Comments (5)

August 19, 2005

The sound of science

Jonathan Coulton has recorded an EP's worth of songs inspired by articles in the latest issue of Popular Science magazine (he is listed as "contributing troubadour"). Awesome. Download the songs here.

Posted by Francis at 02:37 PM

August 18, 2005

And now we wait for the New Yorker to call

These days I'm taking things as they come, whether there are six of them or not. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I have a one-panel cartoon for you, inspired by a comment in an e-mail exchange with Erin.


Posted by Francis at 06:56 PM | Comments (6)

Not not heat

For those of you who remember the days of receiving conditions and problems being restored, I am happy to report that we have just heard the first new language in a while over the intercom-via-which-we-get-fire-related-updates: "We are conducting a test of the fire-alarm system. Please disregard any tones or strokes." Disregard the strokes, eh? After "Room on Fire", I'm way ahead of you.

Posted by Francis at 06:53 PM | Comments (1)

One out of three is...well, I guess that's bad, actually

There's this focus group company I used to periodically sit on panels for, and I still get e-mails from them even though I haven't done anything for them in ages. Somehow I think I'm not going to qualify for this study they just sent me a little questionnaire for:

Car You Drive (ex:Mitsubishi Galant): Subway
Cigarettes You Smoke (ex: Marlboro Light 100's): I once spat in someone's coffee because he wouldn't stop smoking in the nonsmoking section of a restaurant
Brand of MP3 Player You Own: Rio

Posted by Francis at 12:17 PM | Comments (4)

I know, I know, it's not a cartoon, but if you haven't figured out by now that this blog is all about my whims, you haven't been reading long enough

This is a song I wrote...about five and a half years ago? At the time I didn't think I was writing about anything in particular -- the opening couplet just popped into my head as I was playing the chord pattern -- although in retrospect I think I was subconsciously writing about what turned out to be my impending breakup with my then-girlfriend Cheryl, the relationship having been on the rocks for quite some time by then.

Anyway, as I've been having problems with my mood over the past few months, I broke the song out again in an attempt to convince myself that, you know, yes, sometimes external things are out of your control and beyond your ability to fix, and that can be depressing, but maybe you should get a grip already.

MP3: "I Fucked Up"

Posted by Francis at 09:28 AM | Comments (10)

August 15, 2005

The caret and the shtick

Friday night I went to see a one-woman show about life as a Conde Nast copy editor, "Elements of Style". There were a couple slow bits (mainly one character -- a snobby features editor -- that I thought was overdrawn to the point where the character was stepping on her own jokes), but overall it was quite good (and pleasantly there-go-I-grace-of-God-or-no), with one clear highlight, when the daughter of the main character read a spoken-word piece called "I Am Not Your Hyphen". Hilarious. I also loved that the table holding all the props and costume pieces doubled as the "free table", the place where promotional items sent to magazines go up for grabs. (Oh the treasures I have gotten from the free table! I wasn't quick enough for "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", but that just means I must be more vigilant in the future!)

It was not a foregone conclusion that I would get into the show. I went with my friends Apollinaire and Alexandra; Apollinaire was reviewing the show, and Alexandra was her plus one. So they had tickets, but I didn't, and the show was sold out. I went along to the theater nonetheless, in case there ended up being extra seats. The ticket saleswoman said that if there were still seats available when the show was about to start, they would go ahead and sell those seats at the last minute, so I bided my time in the lobby while everyone else was seated.

It was, naturally, in my interest that people not show up to pick up their tickets, so I was very attuned to the arrival of extra audience members. A couple arrived at about 8:40 (the show was scheduled to start at 8:45), about 10 minutes after I got there. They had not bought tickets in advance, and were told that the show was sold out, and then there was a conference, held in an intense, clearly audible whisper: "What do you want to do? Do you want to buy tickets for another night?" "But we know so-and-so! Maybe she can get us in." So they asked about so-and-so's whereabouts and were told she had already gone into the theater. They asked if they could go in to see her "just to say hello." Uh-huh. The ticket saleswoman relented, they went into the audience area, and were met at the door by so-and-so. I distantly heard an apologetic-sounding murmur in which I could make out something like "Yeah, it's totally sold out." The couple left. I was pleased.

Then at about 8:48 (yes, a few minutes after the show was already supposed to have started, but shows never start on time), four horrible women arrived. They also had not bought tickets in advance, and immediately got all entitled when they were told it was sold out. "Well, we tried to buy tickets, and everyone told us we could only buy tickets 15 minutes before the show!"

"Well, you can buy tickets in advance online up to 24 hours before the show, or you can buy them at the Fringe box office, and then, yes, after that you can only buy them at the theater, if any are still available. But the show's been sold out for a while, and there are people who have been here for 20 minutes who are waiting for seats, so...."

"But we talked to so many people and they all told us different things, and it was very confusing! And what box office are you talking about? We didn't see any 'box office' listed on the website!"

"Oh, you didn't? Well, that should definitely be there. We'll look into that."

"I hope so, because the website is very unclear!" and on and on and on, and it was obvious their subtext was, "Look, we deserve tickets, and we are not accustomed to not getting things our way, and can't you see it hurts us to not get our way? It hurts us, and you should give us tickets." A couple sitting across from me (who were also waiting to see if there were open seats) were quite obviously rolling their eyes, and the female of the couple was making either a playing-the-violin-it-is-so-sad or a slitting-my-wrist-with-a-postcard gesture, I wasn't sure which, but it was funny either way. We all shared a glance of "Christ, these people are awful. Don't they know that even if there were seats available, this poor woman hates them and would pull random people in off the street before she sold tickets to them?" Oh, we knew what was up.

The thing that finally broke me was when one of the horrible women said, "Well, I mean, yes, we could have bought tickets online, but you know there's a service charge. I mean, I wasn't going to pay a service charge for a fringe show." I couldn't take it anymore. I loudly announced to no one in particular, "Well, I mean, of course not! It's a fringe show! Why would you do such a thing for a FRINGE show? It's not like it's a real show!"

They quickly decamped as the six of us waiting for tickets busted up with laughter. And then some seats became available; two people with Fringe passes went in first, and I knew that the violin-playing-or-wrist-slitting couple had been there before me, so they took the two seats left that were together, and that left two of us, and I wasn't sure which of us had arrived first, but the other fellow said that I had, and I thought, wow, we are all very polite and nice and grownup, aren't we! We are like a living rebuke to those horrible people. Yay for us!

Posted by Francis at 12:42 AM | Comments (7)

August 14, 2005

A passel of tongues for a Parseltongue

I love Wikipedia. Here is a list of what foreign translations of the Harry Potter books have used as Lord Voldemort's real name (to accommodate the anagrammatic etymology of his alias).

Posted by Francis at 02:49 PM | Comments (2)


I just got the Muppet Show season 1 DVD -- an artifact for which I have waited many a year -- and I'm loving it, but confused as to why a handful of skits have been left off. For instance, the Vincent Price episode is supposed to end with Vincent Price singing "You've Got a Friend", and it doesn't seem plausible that there was an issue with music rights, because that same skit appeared on the previously available "Best of the Muppet Show" collection. So what the hell, man?

Posted by Francis at 02:08 PM | Comments (2)

August 11, 2005

Link dump

Still busy. But perhaps these links will provide some entertainment during my existential absence.

Toti, the four-day-old orangutan, is Homer Simpson. (Via Monkeywire.)

One of the best poems I've read in ages. (Via Making Light.)

CBGB's lives! (Via BoingBoing.)

The Creed loves the Coop.

Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men (Via the A.V. Club Blog.)

I am so going to try this tomorrow.

Apparently a song on the upcoming Broadcast CD is based on a cryptic crossword.

I never get tired of high-speed photography. (Via Happyscrappy.)

And, finally, a little trip back in time to a few of my favorite answers written for the Internet Oracle (one signed, the rest un-): a Seinfeld/Stephen King crossover, Og's adventures at the World Cup, and a "Choose Your Own Life" adventure.

Posted by Francis at 07:10 PM | Comments (3)

August 10, 2005

Commitment to civil-rights activism tested, found wanting

You may have noticed my current inability to keep up with even a super-easy two-day-a-week comics schedule (although I still have three days! We'll see how it goes). It's mostly because I've been experiencing massive levels of burnout on just about every front. I worked over 60 hours at Cargo last week, had another 12-hour day yesterday, and have about 60 hours of freelance work that I need to finish over the course of the rest of August, plus actually filing the taxes that I got an extension on in April, plus remembering to socialize with people so I don't go crazy, plus trying to finish recording some songs while Rose is out of town (it's easier to work on recording when I'm the only person in the apartment), plus work on the inchoate article I'm trying to write about the recent NPL convention, plus plus plus. It's hard to stay in good spirits, or, indeed, focus on any of those things at any given time when the need to work on all the other ones is looming.

I did manage to wake up early enough to run this morning, and it felt great to get some exercise after a week of really. Intense. Sitting. Did the first 2-mile lap in 15:30 and the second in 18:10 with some walking; 33:40 overall, 8:25 per mile average. A decent time for my first run in over a week.

Running in the morning is good for me not merely because, you know, exercise is good, but also because it short-circuits my usual morning loop, which involves me sitting down to check my e-mail and then idly surfing the Web for far too long and then ending up running late for work. So even with a few last-minute oh-crap-I-forgot-something moments involving running back up the stairs for this or that, I got out the door at 9:20, which is the time I generally need to leave by in order to get to work at 10:00 or at least near enough that I can claim on my time sheet that I arrived at 10:00.

Oh, but there's always an "except" when I tell a subway story, isn't there? Yes. I got to the station just as a train was pulling in, but I couldn't speed through the turnstile and run down the stairs as is my wont, because my Metrocard had run out. Well, them's the breaks, I thought, and I turned to get a new Metrocard from the machine -- except all the machines were sold out of monthly Metrocards. They only had single rides available. Naturally, it offends me to have to pay two dollars to get on the subway when I'm only going to be buying a monthly Metrocard later in the day anyway, so I stalked out and started the long walk to the other entrance, where the token booth is. (This involves crossing over a highway via a pedestrian overpass, so it's more time-consuming than your average two-block walk.)

When I got there, I was startled and underdelighted to see that our station was being manned by three policemen, one of whom wanted to search my bag, and the other two of whom wanted me to let him. I did -- because what was I going to do, buy my Metrocard and then take another five-minute walk back to the other end of the station, where, for all I knew, terrorists were entering willy-nilly, what with the total lack of police presence there? (Perhaps the city assumes that terrorists would be confused enough by our American-style revolving-door turnstiles to be rendered helpless and unable to enter the station.) When John Law was done shining a flashlight at the altogether-too-many heavy notebooks and folders and whatnot in my backpack, I slung it over my shoulder without zipping it, since I was just going to be getting a book out of it momentarily anyway. One the cops helpfully pointed out, "Your bag's open." "Yes, I know," I grumbled, mentally adding, "because I just watched it get searched, duh."

The train ride itself was perfectly pleasant, though! I ran into Doug Gordon and we traded book updates (his comes out on New Year's Day) and stories about our copy editors. And the rest of my ride was taken up with reading more of the not-yet-published-but-it's-coming-out-much-sooner-than-Doug's-book David Rakoff essay collection, which is absolutely hilarious, and I would say that even if he hadn't written one of my blurbs.

Posted by Francis at 01:18 PM in Subway | Comments (7)

August 09, 2005

I'm a Nancy boy

Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and the only librarian to have her own action figure, gave a very nice review to Holy Tango of Literature on NPR!

Posted by Francis at 02:10 PM in Self-promotion | Comments (13)

August 07, 2005

Spamments repurposed

Some of my recent (blocked) spam comments, with "empire poker" (or whatever) replaced with other card games:

Take your time to visit the pages in the field of euchre
You may find it interesting to check the pages about cribbage
Please check some relevant information dedicated to canasta
In your free time, check some relevant pages about bezique
You can also visit the sites dedicated to old maid
Take your time to take a look at the pages on whist
Take your time to check out some relevant pages dedicated to pinochle
Please check the pages on go fish
You can also take a look at some relevant pages in the field of war

Posted by Francis at 09:05 AM | Comments (5)

August 05, 2005

Let's go for 8,675,309 reps

I have a friend (named Jenny, you will soon be unsurprised to learn) who haaaaaaates the Tommy Tutone song "Jenny" with a deep, abiding passion. But I think even she might be amused by this version, which features Arnold Schwarzenegger acting as a personal trainer over the course of the song. Or not.

(Thanks to Emily for the link.)

Posted by Francis at 10:41 PM | Comments (4)

August 04, 2005

Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion

Six things.


Posted by Francis at 11:59 PM in Six Things | Comments (6)

August 03, 2005

Powerful pain relief

I have spent much of my free time today going through the archives of The Pain. You could do worse than to do the same. Here's a quote that pleased me inordinately, from the commentary on one of the comics:

But that’s liberals for you: never happy, always agitating for change, clamoring for some hopeless pie-in-the-sky fantasy world where gay people get married and health care is free and nobody has to be poor, or where women work in offices and frequent saloons and Negroes can vote and must be addressed as “Mister”, where slavery doesn’t exist and men live without kings to rule them. Dream on, crackpots!
Posted by Francis at 07:25 PM | Comments (2)

August 02, 2005

To be continued

Six things.


Posted by Francis at 11:08 PM in Six Things | Comments (6)

August 01, 2005

Hey, let's play "Twenty Stultifying Questions"!

The methods by which tries to persuade me to pay for a gold membership are truly amusing sometimes. Here's part of a typically breathless e-mail they just sent me:

Someone from College of Santa Fe chose these Q&A answers to reveal details about life, love, family, or career:

Q: What are the indoor hobbies you enjoy? (Check all that apply)
A: Books; Computers

Q: What kind of car do you drive? (Check all that apply)
A: Luxury car; Sedan; Sports car

Q: What is your main source of current events?
A: Television

Q: How do you meet most of your friends? (Check all that apply)
A: Work

Q: How would you describe your current living arrangement?
A: Own a House

Think you know who this is?

I'm not sure, but I'm excited to find out! Even if it's not someone I actually remember, I feel like I know them already!

Posted by Francis at 03:11 PM | Comments (5)

Grimmest. Spam. Ever.

Seems like I've been getting a lot more Nigerian scam e-mails lately. Unlike regular spam, I actually enjoy receiving such messages, because they're always phrased so wonderfully. Just now, I received one that began with this dark thought:

As you read this, I don't want you to feel sorry for me, because I believe everyone will die one day on this earth.

And on that note, I think I'll have some breakfast.

Posted by Francis at 11:43 AM | Comments (4)