Wednesday Wonders: Insert old joke about Coors here

Shortly before his death in 1973, comedian, singer and songwriter Allan Sherman published a book called The Rape of the A*P*E. (It was originally styled A.P.E., but the success of the movie M*A*S*H, as well as the ensuing TV show, apparently inspired the change.)

Sherman was born in 1924, so he was a member of the Greatest Generation. Putting that in perspective, they were to the Boomers what the Boomers are now to Millennials. His generation went and fought in WW II, and grew up with a very strict code of no sexytimes before marriage, women had to remain virgins, birth control didn’t exist, and so on.

His book is a documentation of the breakdown of those taboos, as well as how they didn’t really necessarily exist. Being semi-autobiographical, he recounts tales of kind of losing his virginity in his teens in a brothel in San Bernardino — which was whorehouse central in Southern California for a long, long time, right up until said WW II.

He also discusses how automobile ownership in the 1950s made teen sex a lot more possible, since they were basically rolling motels that could move far from parental eyes. But he also discusses how it was still unacceptable for a girl to appear to consent to doing it with a guy even when she actually did, and it came down to that crucial moment when he went to remove her panties. It was only possible if she lifted her ass, and that motion was actually mutually understood to be a “Yes.”

Well, at least according to Sherman. Hey — he grew up in really fucked-up times.

The A*P*E in the title refers to the American Puritan Ethic, and Sherman documents how it started to break down in the 1950s and then was totally exploded in the 1960s. And who was blowing it up in that decade?

If you guessed Boomers, you guessed right. Just as Millennials started and Gen-Z is finishing the work of fighting for the rights of people in the LGBTQ+ community (or the Alphabet Mafia, if you prefer), the Boomers started the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and then Gen-X (yay mine!) ran with it.

The 1960s and early 1970s saw a lot of changes. The Pill, the first really effective form of female contraception, were finally developed in the 1950s, but not approved by the FDA until 1960. It still took until a 1972 Supreme Court decision to make birth control legal for single people women to get, believe it or not.

And, of course, it wasn’t until 1973 that Roe v. Wade made abortion legal and obtainable by all women — the same year that Sherman’s book was published.

But there were two inventions from the 1960s that just really prove that straight cis Boomer men were not really interested in some great political revolution and sexual liberation. Nah — they were just interested in humping people, preferably of the cis-woman much younger variety.

And, for some reason, this seemed to involve water. Oh, so much water. Both were actually invented in the same year, 1968 (missed it by that much!) and both claimed to have different purposes, but were clearly only intended for very moist sexytimes.

One was the waterbed. The other was the Jacuzzi.

Of course, the inventor of the waterbed, Charlie Hall, really gave the game away when he initially dubbed his invention “The Pleasure Pit.” Okay, so what else are you going to do on that thing when it’s wobbling away on top of the white shag carpet in your living room?

As for the Jacuzzi, it was actually developed by seven Italian brothers who happened to have that surname. From 1915 onward, they focused on making aircraft propellers, but when one of the brothers developed arthritis in the 1950s, the others designed a pump that could be submerged in a bathtub in order to provide hydrotherapy.

By 1968, they applied that idea to a big tub that could fit multiple people and, again, if that doesn’t sound like the recipe for sex soup, I don’t know what does.

Meanwhile, in Marin County, California, which is just outside of San Francisco, hot tubs, which are the unbranded versions of Jacuzzis, instantly became familiar as the shorthand way to invite friends over to bump uglies. “Want to come hot-tubbing?” was the “Netflix and Chill” of its day.

But this brings me full circle to the title of the post and the joke. For my non-American friends, Coors is a brand of beer of the “love it or hate it” variety, and for a long time, it was only available west of the Rocky Mountains, meaning only in the western third of the country.

In that western third, a lot of people considered it to be swill, so the joke was this: “Why is Coors beer like sex in a canoe?”

“Because it’s fucking close to water.”

Just like doing it on a water bed or in a Jacuzzi.

Image source: Alpenglowmt, (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Bonus post, almost by accident…

So somehow WordPress lured me into turning some of my posts into a podcast, and here’s the first, on Spotify. It’s my series of posts on the eight kinds of poop you might experience in your life, narrated by a mostly convincing AI and edited together by me with some simple sound cues. Check out the audio, like and share, and maybe I’ll do more of this kind of thing in the future.

Talkie Tuesday: More frequently misused expressions

I know that I have a lot of readers from all over the world for whom English might be their second language, so I enjoy doing pieces like this to help you improve your skills. However, believe it or not, all of these expressions are frequently said or written incorrectly by native English speakers, too, so you’re in good company!

Welcome to another installment of things you’re saying wrong. I’ve previously covered commonly misused words, as well as oft-mangled phrases. Today will be more of the latter, so let’s just get right to it.

Bated breath, not baited breath

The phrase means to wait for something with great excitement. For example, “Billy spent the night waiting for the family trip to Disneyland with bated breath.” The meaning of “bate” here is to moderate or restrain, so Billy is trying not to be too excited. To bait one’s breath might lure all kinds of fish, but it’s just not the right word. Like many of the examples on the list, the error is probably caused by people only having heard the phrase but never having seen it written down, so they just make big assumptions.

Beck and call, not beckon call

And no, we’re not referring to the musician here. While “beckon” and “call” are somewhat synonymous, the two don’t go together in this phrase. It can be confusing because one of the meanings of the word “beck” is a beckoning gesture. However, beck is a noun and beckon is a verb, so the one noun just goes better with the other which, in this case, is call, which is not being used as a verb.

Case in point, not case and point

The idea with this phrase is that the case proves the point you’re making. They are not coequal; one supports the other. So if your point is that not wearing a motorcycle helmet is dangerous and then you cite the case of a 25-year-old man who suffered permanent brain damage after an accident because he wasn’t wearing a helmet, then that story is the case in point — the example that supports your claim.

Commander-in-Chief, not Commander and Chief

This one gets misused all the time, and I’m not sure why. It’s a military title for the President of the United States, but the president only has one such title, which is the position of Commander, further clarified by indicating that the president is also the chief commander. Here, “in-chief” is an adjective describing the commandership, it’s not an additional title. Another great example of the “seen, never heard” phenomenon.

Damp squib, not damp squid

There’d be nothing unusual about a damp squid, of course, since they spend their lives in the ocean, but this expression refers to something that winds up being a dud — “The product launch went off like a damp squib.” In other words, nothing really happened. A squib is a small explosive usually powered by gunpowder, so if it gets wet it doesn’t go “boom.” A notable use of squibs were to simulate actors being hit by bullets in older films — a squib and a fake blood pack would be connected together under the actor’s clothes with a slit in the fabric in front and a little metal plating in back. Blowing up the squib would make the fake blood squirt out. This technique pretty much went away when Hollywood realized, “Hey — we can do this shit with CGI now!”

Do a 180°, not do a 360°

This one is not just a word usage error but a complete mathematical mistake. What the expression is supposed to mean is to do an about-face. That is, change your direction or position or point of view to the exact opposite of what it was. “Nancy’s favorite color used to be red, but then she saw the new fall designs and did a total 180°, so now she loves green.” If you do a 360°, then you wind up right back where you stared because you’ve figuratively gone full circle.

Dog-eat-dog world, not doggie dog world

 Yeah, a bit gross if you’re an animal-lover, but the more violent version is the correct one, and it refers to the cut-throat nature of life, at least in some circles. It’s a variation of the expression “every man for himself.” Again, it should be obvious how only ever hearing this expression led to the kinder, gentler version.

Due diligence, not do diligence

 This one comes from the land of law and business, and while you definitely have to do stuff to achieve it, the correct word is “due,” because it refers to what is necessary. “Due diligence” refers to the process by which a person, entity, business proposal, or other potential contractual arrangement is investigated. For example, if someone applies for a job at a bank, due diligence would involve looking into their background for any criminal record, outstanding debts or other financial problems, and anything else that might make them high-risk for entrusting them with sensitive customer information.

For all intents and purposes, not for all intensive purposes

Another great “heard not seen,” although I can’t even figure out what an intensive purpose would be. Intent refers to the mental reasoning behind any action; purpose refers the intended outcome of those actions. Put them together, and what you’re basically saying is whatever phrase follows this one, it fulfills both the reasoning behind the action and the intended outcome, although it’s not necessarily positive. “For all intents and purposes, the new law killed the proposed mall.”

Free rein, not free reign

 Oh, to confuse your monarchy and your horses! A reign is what a king or queen has, and you can remember that because both King and Reign have a G in them. A rein is how you steer a horse — and if you give your horse free rein, it can go whichever way it wants to. If you give your monarch free reign, they’ll probably wind up assassinated or deposed, so don’t to that. Unless you hate your monarch.

Hunger pangs, not hunger pains

Not to be confused with “hunger games.” While a pang is related to a pain — because it means a sudden, sharp pain — it’s specific to the expression.

Make do, not make due

Here we have the opposite of “due diligence.” The only way to actually make something due is to send a bill or invoice — but that’s not what this expression means. In fact, it’s kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Make do” means to get along with what you have; that is, by making existing resources do what they need to. “They couldn’t afford a new car yet, so that had to make do with the ancient Fiat they inherited from the grandmother.”

Moot point, not mute point

A moot point is far from mute because the latter means silent, while moot point is one that should be quite open for debate or discussion — although it depends on which side of the pond you’re on. If you’re in the U.S., it’s also just as likely to mean something that’s not worth discussion. Still, this one is definitely not an example of heard and not seen, because “moot,” with a long double-O, sounds nothing like “mute,” which has a long liquid-U.

Nipped it in the bud, not nipped it in the butt

As attractive as the idea of biting someone’s ass can be, this one actually comes from the field of horticulture (“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think!”), and the proper word is “bud,” as in a flower bud. And if you nip that off just as it’s budding and long before it blooms, ta-da! You’ll never grow a flower off of that stem. So this is very related to the concept of cutting something off at the roots.

On tenterhooks, not on tender hooks

Another heard, not seen. This refers to being in a state of suspense, but with tenterhooks, that was literal. They were involved in the process of drying cloth, which was stretched out in a frame called a tenter. And how was it held taut in that frame? With tenterhooks, duh. Tender hooks really feels like an oxymoron and would make Clive Barker sad.

Peace of mind, not piece of mind

Okay, for all of us with fierce mamas, we probably have examples of when they went down to our schools and gave dipshit administrators a piece of their minds, but that’s a different expression. Although, of course, it’s probably also the source of confusion. “Peace of mind” pretty much means just that — calming the fuck out of your brain bucket.

Shoo-in, not shoe-in

I don’t know where you’re sticking your shoes, but this phrase refers to someone who will just cruise into a job, elected office, chosen university, whatever, with no struggle. But, in this case, the “shoo” refers to sort of a reverse chase. That is, just like it’s easy to shoo a mouse out of your kitchen with a broom, these privileged people get easily chased into those positions of, well, privilege.

 Statute of limitations, not statue of limitations

This one is kind of hilarious, because the idea of a statue setting limits just makes me think of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. They are definitely the ultimate Statues of Limitations! Otherwise, though, the word you’re thinking of is “statute,” which refers to a law — and a statute of limitations determines how long after the fact someone can still be charged with a crime. Unfortunately, this confusion can lead to a really unfortunate mix-up between statutory rape, which is a terrible crime against a minor, and statuary rape, which is just a really unfortunate display of bad behavior in a sculpture garden. Although the latter is far more preferable than the former.

Take a different tack, not take a different track (or tact)

Again, words mean things, and this expression comes from the world of sailing. A tack was a way you turned your sails to take full advantage of the wind. In a related note, “the whole nine yards” actually means that you were hanging all of your sails on a three-masted ship, because each of those masts had three yardarms. In other news, because of the way that those yardarms stuck out of the masts, “yard” became the preferred Elizabethan slang for dick. You’re welcome!

Whet your appetite, not wet your appetite

This is what happens when you no longer need to sharpen your own knives or razors. Whet means just that — to hone or sharpen or make more acute. To “wet your appetite” doesn’t really make any sense if you think about it.

Worse comes to worst, not worse comes to worse

Another nice no brainer. I mean, if you start with worse and end with worse, where have you really gone? Nowhere. The only way down from worse (or bad) is worst. Period.

 You’ve got another think coming, not you’ve got another thing coming

Ironically, this one seems really ungrammatical in its original form, but “another think” is, in fact, how it was originally and has always been attested. And think about it honestly for a second. What, exactly, is the other “thing” coming their way? This really just sounds like the threat of a dick in the face. Calm your jets!

Bonus Round: One that’s right now, or now right

And this brings me to “spitting image,” which way back when started out as “spit and image.” Or maybe not. It’s just a really messy expression all around. But, in this case, I think we’ve actually managed to land on something simple and acceptable. Maybe.

Momentous Monday: Relativity

Almost 470 years ago, in 1553, a man named John Lyly (or Lilly, Lylie, or Lylly) was born in Kent, England, the grandson of a Swedish immigrant. A contemporary of Shakespeare’s, he was kind of a big deal in his day. He was an author and playwright of some renown, and while he failed in his attempt to be appointed the Queens Master of the Revels, he did serve in Parliament as well as served Queen Elizabeth I for many years.

Around two hundred and eighty years after that, somewhere in Massachusetts, a child was born. He grew up to become a man, and he moved west. It was the era of Manifest Destiny in America, a dark time in our history. That child was John Lyly’s seventh great-grandson.

At least we weren’t using the term “Great White Hope.” Yet. To be honest, we should have used the term “Great White Death.” But, among the death there was still hope, and that child born in Massachusetts who grew up to be a man put his ideals into action.

Along with a great wave of German immigrants to America, all of whom despised slavery, this man went west, crossed the Missouri river and landed in Kansas. For me, the movie How the West Was Won is a family documentary.

When he arrived in Kansas, he helped found the town of Burlington, was one of two attorneys in the town (and also one of two blacksmiths, the other of whom was the other attorney), mayor of the town at one point, and a proud member of the Republican Party.

Yeah… quite the opposite of my politics now, or so you’d think. Except that, before the Civil War and up until FDR, the Republicans were the liberal party in America, and the Democrats were regressive.

That child who grew up to be a great man moved west in order to help bring Kansas into the union as a free (i.e., non-slave) state. And that child, who grew up to be a great man, was my great-great-grandfather, Silas Fearl.

Since he was Lily’s seventh great-grandson, that makes me Lily’s eleventh. (It doesn’t seem to add up, but don’t forget that I have to add in the two generations between me and Silas., plus myself.)

Fast-forward to nearly two-hundred years after Silas was born, and the evolution of the internet, and I am in touch with people who share my ancestry with him. It makes us very distant relatives, to be sure, but it means that we have a very definite connection, some by blood and some by marriage.

And this is the reason for this post. One of those third or fourth cousins, via Silas Fearl by blood, posted some pictures of her kids, and when I looked at them the thing that most struck me was this. “Wow. This person and I have an ancestor in common.” And, in fact, looking at these faces, I could see certain elements of my own face, of my dad’s, and of my grandpa’s, and of the great uncles I managed to meet, and of the people in a family portrait taken when my father’s father was an infant.

Even so many steps apart on the branches of humanity’s family tree, I could see some of me and my immediate family in them… and across the distance of never having met and Facebook, my first reaction was an enormous empathy. “This is a bit of me, and I want to protect it from everything bad forever.”

And, in a lot of ways, I have to suspect that this is just an illusion, an effect created by the empirical proof I have seen that means “You and I are related to each other.” That, and the evolutionary and biological forces that make us most protective of those who share our DNA.

Except that… I’ve felt this same way toward people who are absolutely not related, but I’ve still seen myself in them… and this is when I realize the harm that intellect can do to our species.

Intellect relies on so-called facts that it has been told. So, “Hey, you and this person are related” is a fact that ropes emotions into relating to the news. So… subject, object, emotion, bond.

In reality, anybody whose picture I see online is related, it’s just not as straightforward as “You and this person have the same great-great-grandfather.” I can trace part of my ancestry back to King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine — The Lion in Winter is, for me, another unintended family documentary.

By that connection, I’m related to most of the population of England and the eastern US. Now, go back through them to another common ancestor, Charlemagne, and I’m related to most western Europeans and Americans — if you expand the definition of “America” to include all countries on both continents, north and south.

And, if you go back far enough to the last point in humanity’s evolutionary history at which the family tree’s branches split, then you could honestly say that everybody you have ever met is related to you and shares your DNA and your blood to some degree.

You should be able to recognize your features in them no matter their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion. You should be able to see their humanity, and yours, in their faces.

And, go back far enough then we are related to all animal life on this planet. Go back a little farther, and we are related to all life not only on this planet, but in the universe. Go back far enough and follow the laws of physics, and all of us, everyone, everywhere, were once the exact same bit of incredibly condensed matter.

The universe is the mother of us all, and all divisions are illusionary.

I’m reminded of some old Beatles lyrics at the moment. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” (And I had to look that up. It’s from I Am the Walrus and not Come Together.) Anyway, that’s a pretty good summation of my realization.

Once we put human history on a cosmic scale, our differences and squabbles become absolutely meaningless. All of us were born from the stars. All of us are in this together. Let’s act like it…

Image: The author’s great-grandparents and their four sons, including the author’s paternal grandfather.

Sunday Nibble #67: Friday hangover

No, not that kind of hangover. One of the Friday Free-for-All questions two days ago was what I thought was the most significant invention of the last 50 years. Coincidentally, I noticed a new documentary series on Amazon Prime which tracks important inventions by decade, starting in the 1900s and going from there to the present.

So it got me to wondering, after watching the 1900s episode, what the big inventions were exactly 100 years ago. That is, not those invented in the 1920s, but limited to 1921.

This was the year in which Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics, although he wasn’t awarded it until 1922. Oddly enough, though, he didn’t win this one for either his General or Special Theory of Relativity, but rather for his discovery of the photoelectric effect.

This would later go on to prove quantum theory, because reasons, and become very useful in things like electric eyes, smoke detectors, solar panels, and so forth. The very short version of why it supports quantum physics is that it proved that electrons could only exist at very specific energy levels with no in-between going on — that is, those levels were quantized, or set at fixed amounts.

Imagine it like this: You’re making instant mashed potatoes from the box, and it gives you options for various numbers of servings, like 2, 4, 8, 12, or the whole box. For each increment of servings, there’s going to be one unique number for the flakes, water, butter, and milk. There’s no sliding scale allowed.

That’s how electrons work. The photoelectric effect is just what happens when you throw photons — which are little packets of energy with no rest mass — into matter. Depending on the energy of the photon and how it interacts, it’ll kick an electron up to the next “step” in energy levels. Think of this as the changing microwave or cooking times for those potatoes depending upon how many servings you’re making.

And Einstein described that a century ago.

The other big inventions and/or discoveries were all medical: A vaccine for tuberculosis, Vitamin D, and insulin.

All of these were a huge deal. Tuberculosis (TB) killed a lot of people and was highly infectious, and in the crowded cities of the modernized world, that was a problem. A century prior to the vaccine, it was the stereotypical wasting disease that killed the heroines in Romantic novels and operas (think Camile). It also contributed to the death of Frédéric Chopin, who wasn’t the healthiest of composers to begin with.

The vaccine in question, and the only effective one still used to this day, is the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine, named for its creators. However, it’s only recommended to be given automatically in areas where TB is known to be prevalent. Otherwise, if someone is tested and not infected, the vaccine is optional, with only children at high-risk due to other conditions being inoculated.

In the same year, Vitamin D was indirectly discovered as science searched for a cure for rickets, which seemed to be seasonal, although Vitamin D itself wasn’t isolated and identified until 1922. What scientists did figure out in 1921, though, was the exposure to sunshine and ultraviolet light helped to alleviate or prevent rickets, which also related to the seasonal nature of the condition.

And, as is generally known now, the human body is capable of making its own Vitamin D. All it takes is sunshine.

But perhaps the biggest medical discovery and most important innovation of 1921 was the discovery of the hormone insulin, and its role in diabetes, a human disease so ancient that it was first described nearly 4000 years ago, and it was an Indian physician in the 5th century BCE who noted that ants seemed particularly attracted to the urine of such patients, said urine being sticky to the touch and sweet to the taste.

Yeah, I guess doctors went all-in on diagnosis back then.

But in 1921, researchers finally found the hormone and made the connection to the disease. There are two kinds of diabetes. Type 1 is a sort of autoimmune disease in which your body destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin, so that you’re incapable of producing it. Therefore, your body has no way of reducing the amount of glucose in your blood, which is bad.

Type 1 diabetes usually shows up during childhood, and requires regular monitoring of blood sugar and injections of insulin in order to treat — but never cure.

Type 2 diabetes happens when your body becomes resistant to insulin. That is, you need more insulin to get the same glucose clearing effect. However, over time, the cells in your pancreas may not be able to keep up and they burn out, so you wind up in the position of not making insulin either, or no matter how much insulin your body makes, it can never properly clear all that blood sugar.

Most Type 2 treatments involve medications that either make your body more responsive to insulin, increase your sensitivity to insulin, or cause you to make more insulin. Insulin itself is generally not a treatment. Dietary changes, however, can be very helpful.

So the big picture is that some of humanity’s most important discoveries might just be a lot older than we think but it’s also a nice reminder that, in terms of the history of humankind, a century is just the blink of an eye.

What inventions from now do you think that people will marvel at in 2121 as being so “ancient?” Let us know in the comments!

The Saturday Morning Post #68: Pamela Rewarded Part 3

Previously: It’s May 2000, and Pamela is an Emmy-winning former show runner, just after the last season of that award-winning show. We learned a bit about her life and early career, then jump back to the present as her son, Walter, winds up in the hospital. Pamela’s first husband, Roger, is actually Walter’s son, but he doesn’t know it. To find out why, read Part 2.

“The doctor said it’s a spiral fracture, which I guess means it’s worse than a normal one. He’ll be in there a while,” Pamela explained as she and Oded stood outside the ER entrance, along with Roger and some bored-looking young blond boytoy, Pamela the only one not smoking. She wasn’t sure why she had called Roger. It just seemed like the proper thing to do when someone’s son fell off a second-story roof.

“But it’s just his arm?” Roger asked, and he was truly concerned.

“And his wrist,” Pamela said. “He’s going to have pins and everything in it. It’ll be a few months.”

“What was he doing up on the roof, anyway?” the boytoy injected with a vague drawl.

“Brian…” Roger hissed, and Pamela wondered how many Y’s were in the name.

“We don’t know,” Oded offered, Pamela giving him a stern look. “Well, we don’t,” he defended.

Well, she did, she thought, hoping no one else knew. She’d only been trying to talk to Walter, up in his room, the one he stayed in when he wasn’t in school, to convince him to live here the next semester instead of in the dorms on campus.

It had been hard enough steering him into USC in the first place. He’d wanted to go to NYU. But she’d convinced him that he’d make much better connections in the industry at a local school, and especially a prestigious film program, for which she could yank strings like nobody’s business, guaranteeing he’d get in.

She’d never expected him to move on campus. Yes, it wasn’t that far away, but it wasn’t in the greatest neighborhood, either. That was the approach she’d used, making a plea to his personal safety, but he didn’t seem worried at all. Then again, he was six-five and broad-shouldered. He never would have been a football player, but he probably didn’t have to worry about being mugged. That argument exhausted; she was trying to think of a second attack when Walter started crying.

“Honey, what is it, what’s wrong?”

He blubbered incoherently, couldn’t say anything for a long time. She sat there with him, arm around his shoulder, listening to the sniffles, muttering her own encouragements. He could tell her anything, she was his mother.

After about the third round of that, he suddenly bolted from the bed, tearing out of her arms, and he yelled, “Stop running my life!” She tried to approach him, to give him a reassuring hug, but he kept backing away, arm out to fend her off. He was babbling something about how she always made his decisions, always had to know what he was doing, was always intruding into everything, but she wasn’t really listening to that. She just wanted him to stop crying, and for everything to be okay. He finally backed into a corner and stood there, not looking at her, eyes red and angry.

“It’s okay,” she said, walking up to him, arms out.

“No it’s not, it all sucks,” he yelled at her, suddenly making a decision. He shoved past her, walked to the far end of the room and threw open the window.

“Walter — “

“This is your fault,” he announced, and then he lumbered out the window, onto the eave, somehow managing to fold himself through the small opening.

Pamela rushed to the window and got there just in time to see Walter vanishing in a swan-dive, heard the crash and thud below, and then a groan.

She was down the stairs in a second, flipping open her cell phone on the way, out the back door over to Walter, who had bounced off a redwood table, half into a flower bed. He was holding his right arm, mouth open to scream but sound not coming out. Pamela was already talking to 9-1-1 as she knelt next to Walter, gently touched his cheek.

“Mommy…” he whimpered.

“Sssssh,” she said.

And then the waiting, she and Oded and Roger and Brian, doing nothing for hours in the quiet place. If they asked, she’d tell the doctor he’d been cleaning the gutters or something. No, why would he be doing that after dark? Maybe he was chasing a chattering squirrel away.

But then a candystriper was escorting Walter out the double doors and Pamela got to him first, kissing his cheek, carefully avoiding his right arm, which was slinged and wrapped in plaster, metal bars protruding from the casing.

“Guess I’ll be living at the house next semester,” he said, indicating his arm and smiling. Then he saw Roger and reacted strangely. “Yo, Brian. Whazzup?”

It turned out that Roger’s boytoy went to school with Walter — or to put it another way, Pamela’s son was friends with Pamela’s gay ex-husband’s little blond whore.

Only in LA.

* * *
She’d been taking meetings but nothing was happening. It had been three months already since the last episode aired. Pitching stories left and right, but she’d inevitably hear through the grapevine that whatever suit she had played her heart out to had said, “No, it’s too much like Father’s Daughters. Different lyrics, same tune.”

And Walter had been quiet and surly lately, avoiding her. At least he hadn’t tried to do anything stupid and self-destructive, not since that dive off the roof. Anyway, he’d be living at with her in September. That was one big headache out of the way. Being on campus all the time, away from… Well, there were just so many bad influences out there.

But, she had more important things to worry about right now. It was almost Althea’s eighteenth birthday, and Pamela was throwing her a big party. The girl had seemed so depressed and withdrawn lately, which was a mystery. Althea had had everything she’d ever wanted, and her mother indulged her every whim. Why wasn’t she happy?

Well, the party would fix that. There’d be a tent in the yard, clowns and magicians, maybe she’d rent horses. She’d find some boyband to hire for the evening, invite everyone she knew, and the highlight of the evening would be the last of many gifts bestowed, a new car, she hadn’t decided exactly what yet, but it would be black, Pamela’s favorite color.

The preparations kept her distracted, so she almost didn’t notice that the RSVPs weren’t coming back. A week before the party, and only three of the five hundred invitees had responded, although two of those were “No.” That was unusual. She should have at least heard something. She made some phone calls, left mostly messages, got vague excuses from other associates. “Oh. You know, Pam, we’re not sure yet if we can make it. That’s a busy weekend…”

“Oh, bullshit,” she thought after a few of those. This was the height of production, the slowest part of the social calendar, and anyway, people in these positions could arrange to not be working, if they really wanted to do something.

But that was impossible. Everybody knew how important Althea was to her. What a big occasion this was. Was somebody else having a big party that they hadn’t invited her to? No, that couldn’t be it, because the two-party arrangement was standard practice in Hollywood. Always mention the other party, whether it exists or not, so there’s an excuse to leave if the first party sucks.

By three days before the party, she was frantic. Only she, Steph, Walter and Oded were on the guest list. Even the old man hadn’t replied, and Narita just kept taking messages when Pamela called, giving no reasons for his lack of response.

There was only one thing left to do, so she called an old friend in extras casting. Althea would never know the difference and her party would be a success. The “friend” insisted he couldn’t offer any discount, but Pamela still booked three hundred and fifty extras at a hundred bucks a head. The specifications were “studio executive and young mogul types, and their significant others.”

Dammit, now she’d have to have nametags. Well, Oded could do that and make himself useful for something. He’d tried to poke his nose into the planning and arrangement, but Pamela shooed him off. He knew nothing about that sort of thing.

It’s funny, he’d been her accountant originally, starting the year she’d become a staff writer. She blasted up the ranks so fast that she soon outgrew his practice and was going to move up to an entertainment management firm, but when she came in to tell him his services were no longer required, she could tell he’d been crying.

He tried to cover it up, act as if nothing had happened, but she pried it out of him. He’d fled Iraq just before Desert Storm and was trying to get asylum, but his application had been rejected and he was expected to leave the country in two weeks. Just like that, some bureaucratic decision. Pamela was outraged.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” she asked.

“No,” Oded replied. “Well, get married, but I don’t know anybody, that’s not going to happen.”

“Marry me.”

“What?”

She repeated the question, just as abruptly. Why not? She needed somebody to keep an eye on the kids, and the accounting thing could be useful. Not to mention the tax breaks, if she paid him for his work.

“It would be strictly a business arrangement,” she explained. “Pre-nup, of course, what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is all mine.”

“Let me think about it…” Oded said, but she could tell he seriously was considering it.

Ten days later, he said yes and they were married the next day, which was Valentine’s Day, but that was strictly coincidental. That was seven years ago, just before Father’s Daughters aired as a mid-season replacement. By their first anniversary, Pamela finally had everything she’d ever wanted — career, house, children, husband. Everything except the Emmy, but now she had that, and life was complete.

And the party on Saturday was going to be a success if it killed her, and Althea would be happy again.

* * *

Friday Free-for-All #66: Invention, app, legal, historic

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What was the best invention of the last 50 years?

First of all, it’s really bizarre to realize that 50 years ago it was 1971, which just seems so modern day and yet — in 1971, the year 1921 must have seemed ridiculously distant. And humankind saw so many earthshattering inventions in those fifty years that it would be hard to pick one from that group.

Jet airplanes? Nuclear bombs and energy? The pacemaker or artificial heart? Television? It’s a long, long list, and things you might think were relatively new in 1971 weren’t.

Solar panels and fax machines? Oh, wait, no — those were both invented in the late 19th century, believe it or not and, oddly enough, about fifty years apart, with the fax coming first.

The pace of development continued to explode after 1971, and we’ve basically seen a constant stream of invention ever since, a lot of it driven by or connected to the internet — but I’m not going to call that the greatest invention, even though its official birthday is January 1, 1983, well within our timeframe.

No, I think the internet was just the precursor to and enabler of the invention I have in mind, but there are some honorable mentions.

Far too many come from the field of medicine and biotechnology, with mRNA vaccines, GMO food production, and CRISPR providing amazing benefits — and yes, I said benefits. If any of those three things scares you, go educate yourself. None of them does anything that nature doesn’t already do.

Speaking of genetics, though, another great invention, or at least innovation, is the ability now of cheap DNA testing for consumers that we can do on ourselves or our pets. What once would have cost thousands of dollars and taken months to carry out can be done in a few weeks and, depending on how much and what you test, can be had for less than a hundred dollars.

Almost every industry has been revolutionized by advances in technology, from retail sales to restaurants to logistics and beyond. Film and TV production, in particular, have made huge strides in computer assisted (and created) images.

One standout recent example is Lucasfilms’ latest efforts with what they call The Volume, which is a 360-degree wrap-around high definition LED screen that can basically create digital backgrounds in real time without the need for greenscreens. It’s how the Disney+ series The Mandalorian has been shot, for example.

Bonus points: When working in The Volume, actors don’t have to imagine what’s around them. They’re seeing it live.

But, anyway, my nomination for the best invention of the last fifty years is quite possibly the one you’re reading this on right now: The Smartphone, which basically debuted in 1992 as IBM’s Simon, although the term “smartphone” wasn’t coined until three years later.

Basically, it combined a portable phone with a personal digital assistant (PDA), which was your contacts, calendar, and email device. It had a 4.5” x 1.4” portrait mode LCD touchscreen (stylus only), and cost the equivalent of $1,435 at the time, plus monthly service contract.

It never really caught on, but electronic PDAs and cellphones both took off from there, but it wasn’t until the late mid-00s that real smart phones came onto the market, with Apple’s iPhone debuting in late June 2007, and the first Android phone, the HTC Dream, following in September 2008,

To say that both of them ran laps around the Simon is an understatement. What they basically did was to take the functions of a ton of devices, squash them into one, and fit them in your pocket. Telephone, computer, camera, video camera, music player, calendar, calculator, alarm clock, GPS, and more.

Sure, our old flip-phones did some of that, but more slowly and at much lower resolution, and they were hardly internet ready.

In a sense, we’re really carrying The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy with us, plus what’s essentially the compendium of all human knowledge. And games. Oh so many fucking stupid games.

Which app seemed like magic the first time you used it?

I’m not sure the name of it at the time, but it was Google’s star map, which I actually saw someone else use on their smartphone at a party in the hills above Malibu — where it’s actually dark enough, because you’re facing the ocean, to be able to actually see the starts in the sky.

Anyway, I think that someone has asked where a particular constellation was, and she pulled out her phone, did some slides and taps, then held it up and voilà. The app outlined the constellation and indicated when the phone was pointing at it.

And there I was with the second version of a non-smart phone that I thought was so amazing because it had a slide-out keyboard to accommodate my huge fingers.

This use of the technology amazed me so much that not long after I took the plunge and upgraded to my first smartphone, and I’ve never looked back.

Come to think of it, I still have the same smartphone, but don’t judge me! I like to run my tech into the ground, and the only reason I finally upgraded my computer this year was because the old one finally decided to stop booting at all. That one’s hard drive, however, is now connected to the new machine and my other external hard drive, meaning that I’ve suddenly got three terabytes of storage going on.

That’s a lot — but not as much as it used to be.

What’s legal now, but probably won’t be in 25 years?

I’ll keep this to the U.S., but the big trend seems to be tobacco, and possibly vaping. In 1971, it was apparently pretty much legal to smoke anywhere — in theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, on airplanes, probably even in your doctor’s waiting room.

In the 1980s, that started to change, with smoking originally banned in workplaces and elevators, and it eventually expanded, depending on state, to cover most any indoor spaces. Fun fact: Restaurants used to have “smoking” and “non-smoking” sections. However, they didn’t do a whole lot to separate the airspace between them. Oh well.

Another fun fact: When I had reason to go to Dallas several times in the mid-90s, it always blew my California mind to enter a restaurant and have the host ask, “Smoking or non?”

Of course, I quit this gross, disgusting, and deadly habit almost five years ago and haven’t looked back — if you do smoke, stop! If you don’t, never start. But all the while, and particularly in this century, the habit has become more marginalized, at least in the wealthier, more urbanized states.

In California, smoking is banned in a lot of public places, like parks, as well as within 25 feet of doors and windows of commercial and residential buildings. It’s also become a lot more common for apartment complexes to not allow smoking anywhere on their grounds, although when they made the changes, they had to grandfather in anyone who was already a smoker.

Another method that’s been used to lower the smoking rate is increasing the taxes on cigarettes, and I can tell you that had I kept up the pack a day habit I used to have, smoking would have cost me more a month than my health insurance does now.

Of course, New York has California beat. The base price for a pack of cigarettes here is $8.31. In New York, it’s $10.47. The cheapest state, by the way, is Missouri, at $4.91 a pack.

In California and elsewhere, the current big push is to ban vape flavors because — surprise, surprise — tobacco companies have been subtly marketing them to children. And the astroturf campaign against this is really ridiculous.

So, yeah. By 2046, or earlier, I’d love to see all tobacco products banned, or for a ban to be redundant because there was suddenly no market for them a lot sooner than that.

What was the most historic thing you witnessed in person or took part in?

That night when Lincoln went to Ford’s Theatre… Oh, wait, no. That wasn’t me. It was definitely the day, back in 2012, when the Space Shuttle Endeavour was flown to Los Angeles to take up its permanent home at the Museum of Science and Technology near USC, just south of downtown.

All over the city, everyone came out into the streets to look to the skies, and it was an unforgettable, breathtaking experience.

At the time, I worked in the Valley in a very odd complex that we used to refer to as The Bouncy Castle. The great part about it was that it was very easy to get up onto the roof of the back building, and from there we had a 360-degree view.

Now, there had been kind of a vague schedule of the flyover posted online, but nothing definite, so we wound up spending a long time up there waiting for nothing. However, thanks to our smartphones, we were able to watch live news broadcasts announcing the progress.

And, eventually, it paid off, as the 747 carrying the Shuttle suddenly appeared, following the crest of mountains between the Valley and the L.A. Basin, following the ridge traced out by Mulholland Drive. It did a nice, fairly slow flyover, becoming visible probably somewhere over Tarzana in the northwest and continuing on to turn over Griffith Observatory to the northeast.

However, contrary to the published flight plan, it proceeded to fly back to the west after the turn and repeat the trip, so we all got to see it twice.

And there were people everywhere — on top of adjacent buildings, in the street, you name it. What I didn’t know was that it was quite possible that someone I would meet a couple of years later was actually in the crowd on the street because, at the time, he lived right down the block from that office, although before he worked for the company, which is where I met him, in a different building in a different zip code.

That would be Peter Bean, whom you’ve met here before, and he has an even better Endeavour story, because he was also able to go watch as it was slowly towed from its landing site to its final destination — an epic journey that took three days and three nights.

Now, to be sure, I’ve certainly witnessed lots of historical moments in my life, but those have been second-hand, via the media. This one was live and in person and it was incredible.

A company town

Despite its size, Los Angeles is a company town, and that company is entertainment — film, television, and music, and to a lesser extent gaming and internet. So, growing up here, seeing film crews and running into celebrities all over the place was always quite normal. Hell, I went to school with the kids of pretty big celebrities and never thought much of it. “Your dad is who? Whatever.”

It looks like that company is finally coming back to life after fifteen months of being semi-dormant. It’s tentative, of course, and we may wind up locking down again, especially if a vaccine-resistant variant suddenly pops up. But, for the moment, movie theaters and live venues are reopening, along with the restaurants and other businesses that survived.

But here’s one thing I don’t think a lot of non-locals understand: None of the major studios are actually in Hollywood. How the city of Hollywood — which is where I was actually born — became conflated with the movies is a very interesting story. Once upon a time, there were some studios there. Charlie Chaplin built his at La Brea and Sunset in 1917. It was later owned by Herb Alpert, when it was A&M Studios and produced music. Currently, it’s the location of the Jim Henson Company. The Hollywood Hills were also a popular location for celebrities to live, and a lot of the old apartment buildings in the city were originally designed for young singles who worked in the industry.

Come to think of it, they still serve that purpose, although given the cost of rent in this town, a lot of those studio units are cramming in two tenants.

The one thing that Hollywood did have in abundance: Movie premieres, and that’s still the case to this day. The Chinese, The Egyptian, and the El Capitan are perennial landmarks, and the Boulevard itself is quite often still closed down on Wednesdays for red carpet openings. Although Broadway downtown also boasts its own movie palaces from the golden age of cinema, it was always Hollywood Boulevard that had the great grand openings. It’s also still home to the Pantages, which is the biggest live theater venue outside of downtown, although they generally only do gigantic Broadway style musicals. (Side note on the Chinese Theater — although it’s technically called the TCL Chinese because, owners, nobody refers to it that way, and you’re still more likely to hear it called what it always was: Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Want to sound like a local? That’s how you do it. You’re welcome.)

There is one Hollywood tradition that does not date from the golden age of cinema, though, and it might surprise you. The Hollywood Walk of Fame wasn’t proposed until the 1950s, and construction on it didn’t begin until 1960 — long after all of the movie studios had left the area.

In case you’re wondering where those studios went, a number of them are in the oft-derided Valley: Universal in Universal City (they like to call themselves “Hollywood” but they’re not), Warner Bros. in Burbank, Disney in Burbank and Glendale, and Dreamworks Animation SKG in Glendale (across from Disney Animation!) all come to mind — and damn, I’ve worked for three out of four of them. On the other side of the hill, in L.A. proper, Sony is in Culver City, 20th Century Fox is in Century City (which was named for the studio), and Paramount is in L.A. proper, right next to RKO, which really isn’t doing much lately, both due south of Hollywood and right behind the Hollywood Forever Cemetery — which isn’t in Hollywood either, but which has a large number of dead celebrities. I think that covers most of the majors. YouTube Studios is in Playa del Rey, on the former sight of the Hughes helicopter factory that also happens to be right below the university I went to for film school, Loyola Marymount.

Like I said, company town.

The other fun part about growing up here is all of the film locations that I see every day, and there are tons. Ever see Boogie Nights? Well, most of that film was basically shot within a five mile radius of where I grew up, with only a few exceptions. Dirk Diggler’s fancy new house once he became a porn star? Yeah, my old hood. Location of the club where Burt Reynold’s character finds Mark Wahlberg’s character? I took music lessons a few blocks away from there. Parking lot where Dirk is mistakenly gay-bashed? Pretty close to the public library where I fell in love with reading.

Remember The Brady Bunch or the movies? Well, that house is only a couple of miles away from where I live now. The OG bat cave? Let me take you to Griffith Park. If you’ve ever seen Myra Breckenridge (you should if you haven’t) the place where Myra dances in the opening is right next to where Jimmy Kimmel does his show now and two doors down from the now Disney-owned El Capitan.

The Loved One (an amazing movie) — Forest Lawn Glendale, where I happen to have at least four ancestors buried. Xanadu? The major setting was the Pan Pacific Auditorium, which was a burned down wreck in my day, but it’s where my dad used to go on date night to roller skate. Go to the Vista Theatre? It sits on the site where D.W. Griffith built one of his biggest sets for Intolerance, his “mea culpa” for making The Birth of a Nation.

I’m not even going to get into how many times the complex I live in has been used for various epic TV shoots (which is a lot) or, likewise, how the area in NoHo I worked in is used by everybody, from YouTubers to major studios. Although, I can tell you that having to put up with film crews and their needs is always a major pain in the ass, especially when it comes to parking vanishing. That’s right — there’s really no glamor in show biz outside of that red carpet.

But I guess that’s the price of admission for growing up and living in a company town and, honestly, I’ve never had a single adult job that wasn’t related to that company ever. (We won’t count my high school jobs as wire-puller for an electrical contractor and pizza delivery drone.)

Otherwise, though — yep. Whether it’s been TV, film, theater, or publishing, I’ve never not worked in this crazy stupid industry that my home town is host to. And I really wouldn’t have it any other way. What? Wait tables? Never. Although sharing my home town with tourists is a distinct possibility. I love this place. A lot. And you should too, whether you’re a visitor or a transplant. Welcome!

Zero or hero

The concept of zero might seem completely intuitive to modern minds. You can’t get to any multiple of 10, 100, 1,000 or so on without it, for one thing. It’s also often the bottom number on various gauges or dials — think speedometer or volume setting — or at least a middle point on things like thermometers or equalizers.

And yet, when humans first started to math, the concept of zero didn’t even exist. Why? Because it wasn’t necessary. The origin of human math had nothing to do with science or geometry or any of that. It was all about commerce.

Math began with counting, which began in the marketplace. What happened here was simple. Somebody with something to sell would set up a stand. Somebody looking to buy would approach. The latter would use whatever was legal tender in trade in exchange for what the former had to offer.

That legal tender could be precious metal stamped in some sort of official fashion or, earlier than that, it could tools, jewelry, stones, or other commodities. For example, one person might be offering a lamb for six chickens.

In order to make the exchange, two things were necessary after the price was set. The seller had to be able to count out the number of things on offer and the two of them had to calculate the price, based on cost per unit times the number of units.

Hello, integers, which are those whole numbers with no decimal places. And hello the idea of multiplication, except that it wasn’t necessary per se. Multiplication is just repeated addition. Remember this, because it, along with the idea that division is just repeated subtraction, will be important later.

So the seller agrees that one lamb costs six chicken and the buyer wants four lambs. The seller counts out the four lambs and sets them aside in a pen. The buyer counts out six chickens for each lamb, but there’s never any multiplication. They might even do each transaction one at a time.

The end result, though, is that the seller winds up with four fewer lambs and twenty-four more chickens.

What he doesn’t know is that the buyer is going to use three of those lambs to buy a cow, and then set up a very profitable business selling milk, dairy products and, thanks to his neighbor, calves for veal.

Now what’s the one thing that never enters into these transactions at all?

Zero.

The seller cannot offer to give you zero lambs. The buyer cannot offer to pay with zero chickens. In the context of commerce, zero is meaningless because it’s not countable. You cannot have zero number of things.

And so math cruised on for millennia without any idea of zero.

The Sumerians did have sort of a placeholder for zero by around 3000 BCE, but it was a character used between digits in cuneiform writing to represent an empty place in the counting. Babylonians accounted for this zero but did not have a character for it. They would leave a gap, so that 402 would be written as 4 2. However, there would be no distinction between 42 and 420, which would both be written as 42.

This would probably make stoners who love Douglas Adams’ writings very happy.

The Mayans invented zero independently around 4 CE, but it wasn’t until the mid-5th century that Hindu mathematicians developed the idea. This was picked up by Arab mathematicians and it would have spread to the West except for the unfortunate thing called the Crusades.

Western mathematicians were all ready to embrace it, but since what were actually Hindu numerals were known as Arabic numerals by this point, the Catholic Church said, “Are you kidding? No good ideas can come from our enemies,” so the concept of zero was considered the devil’s work for a while.

In case you think that people can’t be that stupid about numbers for purely ideological reasons, a recent survey showed a surprising number of people opposed to teaching Arabic numerals in schools — even though they are the familiar digits we’ve all used for centuries.

Since the Hindus started using it in serious math, though, zero has proven itself to be invaluable. It provides a point at which numbering scales can change — you can’t go from positive to negative without passing through it, after all — and it serves as a universal error warning whenever a formula winds up trying to make it the divisor in an equation.

There are also some fun questions you can ask about zero. Don’t worry. There’s very little actual math involved in learning the answers. Except for the last one.

Is zero an even number?

At first glance, this seems like it’s unanswerable because zero has no numerical value. Like 1 being sort of a prime but not, it feels like zero would be neither odd nor even. But as soon as we look at the definition of an even number… well, let’s look at that.

The first definition of an even number: It’s evenly divisible by 2. You can check that out with any random even number. For example, 14/2 = 7, or 8/2 = 4. The result can be either odd or even, and prime or not, as those two examples show. And some numbers can be divided by 2 more than once — 4/2 = 2.

So is zero divisible by 2? Oh yes, and an infinite number of times: 0/2 = 0. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Another property of an even number: It’s a multiple of 2. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you start with an odd or even number. The result will always be even: 16 x 2 = 32; 47 x 2 = 94, and so on.

And what happens with zero? We get 0 x 2 = 0, and so on. And since the first step indicated that zero is probably even, it’s still even.

One other determinate of an even number: It never changes the odd/even status of whatever number you add it to. The sum of two even numbers is an even number; the sum of an even and odd is odd. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out the rule of the sum of two odd numbers, which should be obvious by now.)

Now, what number never changes the status of whatever it’s added to? That’s right — our old friend zero. So, yet again, it acts like an even number.

The final test of an even number: On the whole number line, it appears between two odd integers — for example, 16 comes between 15 and 17. As for zero? Its neighbors are 1 and -1, which are both odd.

QED.

You can’t do that on television (or anywhere else)

Now, there are two things you cannot do with zero, one famously and one lesser-known. The first is that you cannot divide by zero. And no, this does not give you infinity. It give you… well, it just breaks math, period.

Division by zero, by the way, happens to be one of the proofs that travel at the speed of light is impossible. (It does not say you can’t go faster, though, as long as you skip that one troublesome point between positive and negative.)

Remember when I mentioned that multiplication is just repeated addition and division is repeated subtraction? Well, this leave multiplying by zero perfectly fine, because if you add any integer zero times, you get 0. Meanwhile, if you start with zero, no matter how many times you add it, you still get 0.

But let’s look at what happens when you try to subtract zero and figure out how many times you can. Well, guess what? No matter how many times you subtract zero, you still have the original number, so you can subtract 0 from 1 every femtosecond of every day since the Big Bang and you still will not have an answer by the time the whole thing fizzles out in cosmic entropy in a few trillion years.

But… that number is not equal to infinity. Why? Because, again, it breaks math. If dividing by zero equals infinity, then 1/0 equals infinity, and so does 2/0. If both numbers over the same divisor equal the same result, then you’ve just “proven” that 1=2. In fact, you’ve just proven that any number, whole, fractional, rational, transcendent, or not, equals every other number.

So… math breaks. The preferred result of division over zero is “Undefinied.”

Zero power!

Finally, there’s the idea that you cannot raise 0 to the power of 0. Basically, anything to the power of zero equals 1, and anything to the power of 1 equals itself. The rest follows the familiar squares and cubes and so on.

So, in theory 0 to the power of 0 equals one, but here’s the quick debunk of that. Another way to get to something to the power of 0 starts with the power of 1 — any number to the power of 1 is that number. So 2^1 = 2, 5^1 = 5, and so on.

And if you divide any number to the power of one by itself, you do get that number to the power of zero, so you get 1. Why? Because when you divide one number with an exponent over another, you subtract the exponents on the bottom from the ones on top.

So 2^1/2^1 gives us the same thing as 2/2, which is 1.

You probably see the problem coming here. While 0^1 may or may not be equal to 1, as soon as you write 0^1/0^1 it becomes irreducible because of our old bugaboo division by zero yet again.

So zero to the power of zero remains undefined as well.

How to get from zero to one

Before I get to the 0 to the power of 0 problem, here’s a very interesting one. There’s a mathematical function called a factorial, which is represented by an exclamation mark. What it means is that you take the number before that mark and multiply it by every integer less than it down to one.

It’s very useful in things like statistics and calculating odds. Here’s an example. The expression 5! means to multiply 5 by the integers below it, so you get 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1. This works out to 20 x 6 x 1, or 120.

Now it should be obvious, but one way to go from X! to the number below it is to calculate X!/X. Why? Because you’re removing the top term. 5!/5 removes the 5 and, in effect, gives you the digits for 4!: 4 x 3 x 2 x 1. That works out to 24, which happens to be 120/5.

This is all great, and then you get to 1!. And if you want to calculate 0!, you need 1!/1. And what does that work out to?

Well, it happens to be 1/1, or 1, meaning that 0! equals 1. Of course, you can’t go from 0! to -1! because you wind up dividing by 0,

Of course, there are other, much more complicated reasons that 0! = 1, but I’ll leave that explanation to the fabulous Professor James Grime of Numberphile to explain. Also, kudos to Numberphile for all the ideas reiterated here today. They are a great resource.

Image: Ajfweb at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pride Month Thoughts: Parent Fails

I really envy all the kids with Gen-X or Millennial parents who actually got to grow up with realistic expectations when it came to sexual orientation, gender, or life choices in general.

Being the weird Gen-X offspring of a half-boomer/half-not marriage (my mom was my dad’s second wife, and he went for much younger on round two) I didn’t get those options at all. Nope. I got that Boomer Bullshit in a heavy dose, and it’s had an adverse effect on me to this day.

See, my parents’ basic expectations were this. I would go through school and excel (which I did) then go to college (which I also did) and major in something that would make me ton of money (which I didn’t, since I pursued the arts and not medicine, science, or business.)

Regardless of major, the next big expectation was that I would meet and marry some girl — either a high school or college sweetheart, but for god’s sake, before twenty-five, I would help her pop out at least two babies, and very early into the marriage we would have bought a nice suburban home. Well, I would have, based on my ridiculous corporate income, at a low interest rate, and with a 30-year fixed mortgage in a cheap suburban development.

My role in this fantasy: Chief breadwinner. Her role: to basically be my unpaid maid, servant, and nanny. (Note: My parents’ fantasy, not mine, and it was entirely based on the one that my own parents had lived in raising me.)

So we already have so goddamn many assumptions going on that would never come true. I was never going to find or marry that dream-girl, and while I could have done it with that dream-boy instead, every message told me, “Oh no. You can’t.”

The other big problem? My parents just assumed that I’d find a woman to take care of all the domestic shit, so they could never be arsed to teach me how to do any of it. Cooking? Cleaning? Laundry? Baking? Good luck. In their vernacular, these were not “boy things” at all.

Fortunately, I did manage to learn how to do laundry thanks to having gone to college with women, and I’d picked up cooking and baking by hanging out in Mom’s kitchen. Ooh… don’t tell Dad!

As for cleaning… yeah, I suck at that one because the alleged wife who was supposed to do it for me for free for life… oh, right.

But this is a short object lesson in how parents can easily fuck up their children by forcing unrealistic expectations on them. And, honestly, there’s one more really heinous fuck-up my parents committed that really borders on passive child abuse, but since they’re both long dead, it’s probably not worth bringing up because the arguments against them no longer have any teeth.

The important thing, parents, is this. Never limit your kids’ possibilities. Rather, expand their horizons. Don’t tell them who they’ll probably end up loving and marrying. Instead, ask them who they think they might love or marry, and then how they foresee their lives together playing out. Listen to the answers, and then encourage those stories and narrative and do you goddamn jobs as parents.

Sadly, mine didn’t. But I’m hoping that for of all my fellow Gen-Xers who are baby-makers, and all generations to follow, that we create narratives that give our kids the broadest spectrum of options possible.

Happy Pride!