I’m Old, Part LXXIII: So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

When I was in high school, the local NPR station broadcast the BBC Radio production of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was a wonderful production that made fun of science fiction tropes perfectly. I listened to every episode and bought and read the books as they became available. I loved them. When I went off to college, a friend gave me a copy of HHGttG translated into French. Shortly thereafter, Douglas Adams went on a US book tour for his recently released “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”. One of his tour stops was Oberlin College, where I went to school. He was advertised as “Star Wars Meets Monty Python”.

Of course I went.

He did a reading in Finney Chapel, answered some questions and signed books.

I got in the signing line and handed him my book and then fan-boyed. In his books, he described the infinite improbability drive, a star drive that worked by passing through every point in the universe simultaneously. He also described invisibility as being “hyperimpossible”. I put the two concepts together. I said, “if invisibility is hyperimpossible, it’s an infinite improbability with your destination the same as where you start. You’re invisible because most of the time you’re in all the other points in the universe instead of your actual location, so you’re invisible.” Adams looked up at me and said, “Well, aren’t you a clever Dick. First you hand me a copy of my own book in French, then you tell me I’m wrong.” I shrugged. As the crowd dwindled a small group remained and one of my peers, Marcus, invited Adams to come back to a dorm and share pizza and beer. He accepted.

Of course I went.

It was an up-close-and-personal Q and A with him. The pizza was good, the beer was shit. Adams was fantastic. I asked him if it was true that he was two inches funnier than Graham Chapman. His eyes wrinkled as he smiled. “Yes.” He recounted a story about how the funniest British comedians were all 6’5″, which was Adams’ height. Chapman was only 6’3″ and therefore 2 inches less funny.

Today, I stopped by my local comic book shop, which is closing tomorrow. I brought them a home made cake because who doesn’t like cake? I bought a couple of books, one of them a Dirk Gently comic collection. As a parting gift, I told this story and another one that a friend of mine at Adobe experienced with Adams.

I’m sorry that Adams died as young as he did and I’m sorry that the comic book shop is closing, but the stories live on and are worth sharing.

I’m Old, Part LXXII: Scrabble Humiliation

My mom was a wonderful person with an incredible education and an astounding vocabulary. We had a Webster’s unabridged dictionary in the house as well as a copy of Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words to supplement it. I remember a time when me and my brother got into a fight (I was 11) and our punishment was to look up the words ‘bellicose’, ‘belligerent’, and ‘pugnacious’.

We played Scrabble and the games turned into competitions of playing powerhouse words. I thought because of my exposure to this that I was good at Scrabble. Turns out, I was very wrong.

One of my co-workers on Acrobat, Gordon Dow, was very much a Scrabble and wordplay enthusiast. He had been working on his own Scrabble application for the Macintosh since the existing ones were not so good. He tracked changes in the OSD and had Very Strong Opinions about them.

He invited me to play.

When we sat down, he gave me a few cheat sheets: useful q words, legal 2 letter words, j words. Then he proceeded to destroy me in the nicest possible way. I thought I knew how to play Scrabble and I was very much mistaken. Gordon lured me into traps, played 3 letter words that scored in the 30’s, blocked me from hitting triples, all the while complimenting me when I managed to throw a boulder at him. I learned more about the strategy of playing the game in that one resounding defeat than I did by scrubbing the dictionaries. I doubt that I could hold my own against Gordon today (certainly better than my initial showing), but I’d certainly be interested in learning more.