CSotD: Passing Thoughts

Sunday’s Bizarro (KFS) provoked both a laugh and a sigh. My dad, who died 30 years ago last week, did indeed get a label maker at one point — the old school plastic-strip type — which became a brief but intense obsession.

The “brief” part is likely what kept our mother from clonking him in the head with a carefully labeled pan.

For an engineer, the temptation to categorize and systematize was irresistible, including things that made sense, like putting little labels on the rotor box for the TV antenna with the channels we could get by turning it to this or that point, though a little knowledge of geography would tell you where to point the antenna to get Syracuse or Watertown or Kingston or Ottawa or Montreal or Plattsburgh.

As an amateur cartoonist — this is our 1953 Christmas card — he was into self-deprecating humor and would have gotten a kick out of Piraro’s gag, particularly the exhausted, exasperated expression on the wife’s face.

So a laugh, and a sigh. Hardly the first thing I’ve wished I could share with him over the past 30 years, but a darned good one.

F-Minus (AMS) sparked a laugh without a sigh, and, in fact, one with a guffaw.

In 1970, “computer dating” was at just about this stage. You’d fill out a questionnaire and send it in, they’d convert it to punch cards and your dream date would be revealed.

Or the closest they could come, given the small pool.

One of my roommates was a biker who was known as Beachball because he was about 5’4″ both vertically and horizontally. He was muscular, long-haired and covered with tattoos in an era when only outlaws sported ink.

When he told us he’d sent in to a dating service, we laughed, but he said, “I told them I was looking for a good-looking girl willing to have sex on a first date,” which made sense, at least in a Beachball sort of way.

I don’t know how many people were in their system, but I suspect not many, because they fixed him up with a nice Jewish girl who still lived at home, and, while it seemed an unlikely match, they went out for a couple of weeks.

I mention her religion because, when her parents finally got a look at Beachball, with his Harley, his Fu Manchu mustache, his tats, his conchos and engineer boots and biker colors, they immediately shipped her off to a kibbutz in Israel, and that was the end of that.

Though they might have suspected that the brick through their picture window was somehow connected.

True love never runs smooth.

Computers have come a long way since, and the latest shock to the system in cartooning world is artificial intelligence that can produce what computer programmers seem to think is art, to the outrage of people who create the real thing.

Sage Stossel, however, points out that we’ve been transitioning into a world of artificial intelligence for the past several years and yet it has somewhat snuck up on us. This is only a brief snippet of her worth-the-click reflection on the bowl of virtual pottage for which we have traded our birthright, and I strongly suggest you go have a look.

But do come back and read the rest of this before you unplug.

(That’s a joke. You won’t unplug.)

As this Carpe Diem (KFS) indicates, it’s too late. The machines are becoming sentient and, perhaps, self-conscious.

Perhaps he means the counters of diners, but I took it otherwise.

In fact, I would suggest the real Turing Test is whether machines recognize that it is improper to make small talk while standing at the recharging station and doubly improper to glance at anyone else’s plug.

I’m not buying Frazz (AMS)‘s “nineteen-something” wisecrack, though I’ll admit to some confusion over how long ago dates in that millennium occurred and that 20 or 23 years should be long enough to adjust.

But the obsolescence of paper checks is a rant worth taking on, because I’m a lot older than that little girl and I’m unclear on the concept, too.

I write one check a month to the landlord, and I’ll probably write another this month to renew my car’s license, unless I go over to City Hall and do it in person, in which case I’ll swipe a card.

I doubt I wrote more than a half-dozen checks in 2022, beyond those 12 rent checks.

My debit and credit cards keep far better track of my spending than I ever did. If I stop for groceries, the transaction is on my banking website by the time I get home, while someone of my approximate age is still holding up the line back at the store, balancing a checkbook.

And, as long as I’m ranting, stores could save a lot of money by asking if you want a receipt rather than printing it out automatically. Even in the rare instances where a purchase is tax-deductible, the receipt, if it isn’t lost, has faded to blankness by tax time.

And most stores will take returns without a receipt, though you could print out the proof from your banking site if they get finicky.

To which I would add “Dagnabbit,” only this isn’t an age thing.

Except for my eagerness to rant about it.

But I will add a “Dagnabbit” to this Rabbits Against Magic (AMS) strip, because however old Eightball the Rabbit is, Jonathan Lemon is old enough to have a better sense of historical flatulence than this.

Though, granted, Wikipedia tells us that, while Joseph Pujol, known as “Le Petomane,” may have been called a flatulist, fartist, or professional farter, his gift was somewhat different:

Rather, he was allegedly able to “inhale” or move air into his rectum and
then control the release of that air with his anal sphincter muscles.

This seems a fine point; I knew a fellow at Camp Lord O’ The Flies who could belch the entire alphabet in one take, but it wasn’t spontaneous: He first swallowed air. We still considered it burping.

Anyway, I find it hard to believe that a cartoonist who once worked for a magazine called “Poot!” would be unaware of a man who inspired as many cultural references as Le Petomane did.

He may be pulling our legs.

Or our thumbs.

15 thoughts on “CSotD: Passing Thoughts

  1. The “nineteen-something, I’m guessing” joke refers to when checks were a thing. Sorta like when the doctor’s office asks me to fax them something, and I tell them my time machine is all out of dilithium crystals. Or, I guess more directly, “the twentieth century called, they want their antiquated form of payment that takes way too long and wastes everyone’s time back”.

    1. My mother had the coil replaced on her air conditioner last week. Putting it on a credit card would have meant an extra $120 or so due to the card processing fees that the AC company couldn’t absorb. Fortunately, I still have some checks, which this one time came in handy.

  2. Once again, it’s a great honor of being selected as Comic Strip of the Day. I actually have a copy of the Pétomane bio by François Caradec and Jean Nohain in the bookcase next to my desk as an essential reference volume, although I believe he would be more correctly referred to as a “fartiste”. See also last years 10/13 Alley Oop strip https://www.gocomics.com/alley-oop/2022/10/13

  3. I think we should all be forced to go back and read Asimov before commenting on any kind of sentient AI. Whether it’s the AI that figured out how to create universes, or the one that became sentient and immediately wanted to die, he anticipated most of the issues we’re thinking about today.

  4. As retail people, we often ask customers if they want receipts, if they want bags for their purchases, whether they’re value club members, etc. I have switched to telling our cashiers to stop asking questions if there are more than two people waiting in line. The simple question, “Would you like a bag?” can turn a customer’s brain to Silly Putty. The transaction stops, they have to assess their purpose in life, and whether they’ll sound environmentally irresponsible if they say yes. Further complications arise if credit/debit cards are involved, especially with the invention of “tap” or “touchless” data input. The customer stands there, staring at the sigcap (the credit card keypad thing) and can’t figure out what to do next, where to wave their card, whether it should be inserted or swiped and so on. Multiply all this by the sheer number of customers at small stores near a tourist destination (up to three million unique visitors a year) and you can see the cumulative effect. By the way, some retail point-of-sale software prints receipts automatically for credit card transactions unless it is instructed not to by your friendly IT guy.

    1. And then there are the little horrors that ask if you want an emailed receipt and offer you a terrible little keyboard to miskey it into before you finally hit Print Receipt in desperation.

  5. Checks are still helpful for some charitable orgs that otherwise have to eat the credit card processing fees.

  6. True, Tom, but $22.50 of a $25 contribution I made on-line is better that $0 from the contribution I kept meaning to make by mail. It’s also a whole lot better that $12.50 of a $25 contribution made to a bundler who takes 50% off the top. Charities have a lot of pitfalls to negotiate!

  7. And, Bud, issues can be handled: My co-op — which is four full-sized grocery stores, not a groovy hole-in-the-wall — doesn’t print the receipt until you ask for it, but that’s a single key punch. They also ask if you want a bag, but, again, not at a time or in a way that holds anything up.

    Part of the solution is a system that assumes these things, one is training consistent with those assumptions.

    The enemy, as with a lot of good ideas, is turnover and apathy. They have to know, and they have to care. And that’s mostly a management issue, with Lao Tzu’s admonition in mind:

    “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, They fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

  8. Some of us who are modern enough to use debit cards still want paper receipts so we get the right amount in our (gasp!) checkbooks, which we leave at home . And no, I can’t check my smart phone because I still have a flip phone and don’t do any banking online.

    And I usually tell the cashier I don’t need a bag. Even though I’m still wearing a mask, they seem to get the message.

    1. Mary and Me, the last two humans still using flip phones.
      But don’t get me started on waiting for the person ahead of me going through five debit cards to find one that will cover the charge. More frequent (and upsetting) than the rare waiting for someone to write a check.

  9. It’s nice to see Watertown mentioned in an article that isn’t about some blizzard or ice storm. 🙂

    Also, a few months back I found myself checking out at the pharmacy and realized I’d left my debit card at home, but for some reason had a checkbook in my purse. I was relieved to find out that they still took checks there.

  10. I still use checks for a few things. Besides the church pledge, there are some small service businesses that come to our house that prefer checks to save the CC fees.

    I remember those old plastic tape label makers. My dad was an engineer as well, and loved them!!!

  11. I write from Australia where I’ve had a fairly complex financial life (retired now, much easier!) and for the last 15 years I’ve used a simple programme called iCompta (I think it originated in France) to keep track of where the money went.

    It tells me that last time I received a payment by cheque was in 2020, when I recall there was a mix-up about bank account numbers. The time before that was in 2014.

    The last time I wrote a cheque myself was in 2011, and there were only a small number written in the years before which all seem to have been directed to bureaucratic entities which had been slow to get into the modern world. I used to write a lot of cheques once, with a “not negotiable” stamp and a book of postage stamps to hand. I found my old chequebook in a drawer when we moved house last year, and tore it up. The idea of balancing my account while in line at the checkout seems quaint beyond imagining.

    Thanks for your column, it’s informative and entertaining and has become an indispensable part of my day. Happy new year!

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