August 2015

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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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.


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:


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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