Tales from the Spraulsonian: The New Mutants

In doing some cleaning and straightening up in my basement, I've come across a number of cultural artifacts that I want to share with the world. I call this collection the Spraulsonian. Some of these items are valuable, some are not, but all of them have a story to tell.

The first artifact is pictured below.

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The official Spraulsonian catalog entry for this item: [The New Mutants. Issue #1. Comic Book, Marvel Comics. 1983.]

So what's this comic book about? Apparently the X-Men were getting too old and maybe too heavy for some of the readership (e.g., the "Dark Phoenix Saga" that had concluded a couple of years prior). Marvel tried to introduce a new, younger set of mutant heroes to augment the X-Men. Oddly, Professor Xavier (he's the ghost head on the cover there) specifically rejects the notion that these youngsters are some kind of new X-Men, but this is undercut by having them wear X-Men uniforms.

As you can see from the cover, Marvel was clearly trying to cover a lot of diversity bases with the team: Native American, Latino, Asian, Kentuckian, and, um, Werewolf. To be fair, Marvel does a better job here at making real people than the Superfriends did when they introduced heroes like Apache Chief and El Dorado.

I have the first four issues of this title. To be honest, I don't remember if I  liked it or not. To see what I missed after these four issues, I did a quick skim of Wikipedia. Here's a bit of plot summary that I love:

The entity known as the Beyonder encounters the New Mutants, and in his curiosity, he kills them. They are resurrected by the Beyonder soon after, but this trauma leaves the team deeply shaken.

Yes, I can well imagine it might.

According to an online price guide, this comic might be worth a whopping $12 in mint condition. I don't think my copy is anywhere near mint. To be honest, it's probably not worth much more than the cover price of 60 cents.

On the back of the comic is a great ad for an Atari 2600 game:

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Super Cobra is the name. I had forgotten that Parker Brothers made Atari games. This is a home version of an arcade game of the same name, made by Konami, who also made the very similar game Scramble, into which I dropped many tokens back in the day. If any grammarians read the ad copy, they will note that Parker Brothers writes UFO's when they mean UFOs. The small print on the ad is a nice reminder of two fun facts from the Early Age of Video Games: 1) The Atari 2600 was called the Atari Video Computer System for much of its run. 2) It was also sold as the Sears Video Arcade. When was the last time someone thought: I want to check out the latest and greatest video games...time to get to Sears?

Up next from the Spraulsonian: A mesmerizing movie soundtrack.

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The True Story of Random Numbers

My latest book, How Software Works, covers a lot of the most interesting secrets behind the software we use every day. Even so, there were a lot of cool topics that I wasn't able to include. So I've decided to "showcase" my "animation skills" (have I downplayed that enough?) by making videos to cover them instead. The first of these is about random numbers. Few people know how many types of programs depend upon random numbers—or that it's impossible for a program to create them. Sound like a paradox?

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Coming Soon: How Software Works

HSW CoverI'm  excited to announce that the imminent release of my new book, How Software Works. Whereas Think Like a Programmer was written for programmers-to-be, How Software Works is for everyone who is curious about what goes on behind a computer screen, whether they have any interest in programming or not.

I suppose I've been interested in technology my whole life, but one thing that's a little unfortunate about the dominance of software is that you can't learn how it works by watching it. When I was a boy, I used to love playing records on my parent's big console stereo, which had an automatic record changer. I remember once my dad had the panel off to fix it, and then I could get an idea of what it was actually doing. Taking the case off a computer, though, doesn't help you understand what it's doing at all.

So my fear was that we're heading into a world where many of the tools we rely on are just "black boxes" we'll have to accept and not understand. And that's sad, not just because we shouldn't have to live in a world we can't comprehend, but also because the secrets that make software go are really cool--maybe even cooler than the mechanism of an automatic record changer.

I've made a little overview video...check it out:

I'll talk more about the book as we get closer to release. I should point out that you can actually buy the book now under my publisher's early access program. You'll get a discount, and be sent the "beta" version of the e-text now, then get the final e-text and a printed copy when they are ready.

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Here's to You, Bart Starr

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I've been saddened to read of the ongoing health troubles for football legend Bart Starr. In the great divide of college football in Alabama, I'm an Auburn Tigers fan, but unlike some, I've never thought that rooting for one team meant rooting against the other. I mean, it's not like Venus Williams talks smack about Serena, although presumably she would like nothing than to crush her sister when they meet on the court. So there's lots of people involved with U of Alabama football that I greatly admire (at the top of the list is Gene Stallings, one of the last coaches who dressed like a man who took his job seriously. Bill Belichick, please take notes.)

On several occasions, I've run into Starr at the local Taco Bell, which saddens me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking Taco Bell. After all, I eat there, too. But then, I'm not a two-time Super Bowl MVP. I'd like to think that when Bart Starr is sitting on his couch and gets a craving for some Tex-Mex, he could just clap his hands and announce, "Fajitas!", at which point someone in an impeccable white chef's coat would start grinding some pepper on a skirt steak. Instead Starr is schlepping off for a Nachos Bel Grande like the rest of us.

I've also run into him at Panera Bread, but somehow that's not the same.

Anyway, even though I've stood right behind him at the drink fountain several times, I've never said anything to him, partly because I figure he's had his fill of random people saying hello, and partly because it would feel awkward to begin the conversation with anything other than, "Roll Tide," which I don't know that I could deliver with full conviction. And now when I can't expect to see him at the Taco Bell again any time soon, I'm sad because of something I've often wanted to tell him, which is: thanks.

Thanks, because when I was a boy, Starr's book Quarterbacking provided my first real instruction in football. Let's face it, football is a complicated game, and like many young fans, I understood most of the rules, but couldn't perceive the high-speed chess match that takes place during a play. Despite the name, Starr's book was about far more than his position. It introduced me to the world of football strategy, offensive and defensive alignments, player responsibilities, reads and keys, route trees, the whole thing. I started seeing the game in a different light after reading that book, and I'm not sure I would still be a football fan today if Starr hadn't revealed the depth of the game.

Others may think of Starr as a great quarterback, a class act, and a guy with one of the coolest names ever, and rightly so. But let it also be said he's been a fine teacher and ambassador of the game. So here's to you, Mr. Starr. Get well soon.

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Map App Detective: A Game for the Internet Age

I don't know about anyone else, but I find mapping software like Google Map, Bing Maps, etc., absolutely fascinating. Seeing locations from the air you've only seen from the ground allows for some interesting discoveries, and can make the world seem smaller. Probably because of that, I came up with a game to challenge my map app skills.

To play, you have to start with a television show or movie with an exterior scene shot on location. To make this fair, this location has to be in a locale other than the one where you live. Then, using clues in the show and the assistance of a map app, you find exactly where a particular shot was taken. For extra challenge, use a classic show instead of a current one.

Here's an example from Adam-12. This is from Season 4, Episode 13, "Pick-Up." Officers Malloy and Reed are behind a red Porsche when the driver pulls over and dumps a girl on the shoulder, then takes off. Reed stays with the girl while Malloy takes off after the car, which eventually parks:

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So where exactly was this shot taken? On the curb, we see the number 8601, and when Malloy calls in, he says the car pulled into 8601 Royal Oaks Drive. But the street name, at least, is fake. To find the real address, we need to back up. Just before the girl is thrown out of the car, Reed calls in their location as westbound on Mulholland Drive. This is a well-known road in LA, and in this case they aren't kidding with the address.

When Malloy takes off, he loses the Porsche "near the intersection of Royal Oaks and Mulholland." Again, there's no Royal Oaks that intersects Mulholland, but we see Malloy leaving a hilly, barren stretch of Mulholland to where houses pop up again. Look at an aerial view, we see several places this could be. But here's the first intersection:

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As an aside, because of MASH, all television shots of low California hills covered in scraggly brush makes me think, "Korea." Anyway, Malloy is emerging from the hills with a big left turn and there's a short guardrail. That puts him here, just west of Laurel Canyon Park:

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Malloy turns off on a side street. Then we see this shot:

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That gives us another house number, 8374, and 8374 Mulholland is right after where I showed Adam-12 on the previous image. So we're on the right track. Malloy turns down a side street, then we cut back to Reed with the girl. When we come back to Malloy he's here:

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He pulls up to the stop sign, looks across the street, and that's when we get the shot of the Porsche in the carport seen at the start of this article. I had to assume this was all filmed in the same neighborhood, because otherwise I had nothing. I looked at streets in the area; I knew Malloy was looking across the street from the upstroke of a T intersection, so I looked at T intersections and tried to find that white house in the previous shot. The other clue from the shot of the Porsche is that there doesn't seem to be another house to the immediate left of the house with the carport, and we can see hills behind. Found it!

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The green dot is Adam-12's location, pointed north, and the red dot is the Porsche. I would have found this faster but the problem is that the show cheated. In this shot, Malloy is actually driving back from a dead-end; but this means he would have already spotted the Porsche before he turned up the street.

Anyway, as you can see, there's some kind of drainage pond to the west of the house with the Porsche, which is why the house has no left-side neighbor. And the 8601 on the curb is not fake; it's 8601 Edwin Drive. From Google Maps street view, I can see that the carport is now an enclosed garage, so we have no way of knowing whether the Porsche is still there. (Yes, I am joking.)

So if you like map apps, are dedicated and a little bit odd, you too can play Map App Detective. If you want a fairly easy one to get started, try figuring out in which hotel the Brady Bunch stayed during their ill-fated trip to Hawaii...

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