Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In the Chatroom...

Back in the mid-1990s, AOL was king of the internet and their chatrooms were the place to be. There were chatrooms of all kinds, for bowling enthusiasts and butterfly collectors and left-handed bacon lovers. Not surprisingly, there were lots of comic book fans there as well.

This was also back when you accessed the internet via a dial-up connection and paid AOL for every minute you were online. When DC Comics made a deal with AOL that got staff members "official" screen names with free unlimited online time, it was a wonderful thing.

Some of the DC editors started hosting online chatrooms related specifically to the characters whose books they edited. These chats were scheduled at a specific time each week and quickly attracted a regular audience. I started to "drop in" on these chats and thought they were fun, so  I volunteered to host an hour of my own. The powers-that-be thought it unlikely that DC's Production Director would attract an audience, but agreed to give it a shot. Since it would not focus on a specific DC character and we would talk about anything comics-related, I gave it the name "Anything Goes."

It turned out that I had no difficulty building an audience.  Since I had for a number of years written the "Ask the Answer Man" columns in the books, comics trivia became a mainstay in the discussions. At some point fairly early on, I started asking trivia questions and, not long after, began sending prizes to the people who answered them correctly. The prizes, mostly printer's proofs of upcoming books and covers, were quite popular as well as a convenient way for me to clear stuff out of my office.

A regular AOL chatroom was limited to 24 people at a time; when it was full, people would have to wait for someone to log out (or, as was more likely back then, lose their connection) in order to get in. Throughout the hour, I would be IMed by fans saying, "I can't get in. Tell somebody to leave!"  To alleviate this situation, the size of my chatroom was soon doubled to 48.

My early trivia quizzes were random collections of questions, often inspired by a topic someone brought up in the chatroom. But as they grew to be the most popular part of my hour, I started devoting more energy to them. On February 3, 1997, I presented the first of what would turn out to be a series of almost two hundred "themed" quizzes. It was structured so that the first letters of the dozen questions spelled out "The DC Statues" and the answers involved the characters of which statues had been produced.

How's your comics trivia knowledge? Here's a quiz appropriate for this week...

1. Walker Gabriel was offered “the franchise” by what super-villain?
2. His father tried to cure him of Sakutia, a rare tropical disease, resulting in who getting super-powers?
3. A seemingly indestructible magic book crashed through her roof, restoring the powers to what Superman foe?
4. Two Julius Schwartz-edited 50’s space heroes share the same first name; who are they?
5. Seeking his father’s killer, a man known only as Claggett, which western hero freelanced as a deputy?
6. Invention of a special damper replaced the gloves of “fibro-wax” that kept whose powers in check?
7. No one knew about whose mercenary actions until his son Joseph was kidnapped?
8. Addicted to the pills that powered him, who took a leave of absence from the JSA?
9. New Venice was home base for awhile for which hero?
10. A stolen Legion flight-ring, a Rip Hunter time machine, and a robot named Skeets all played a part in whose origin?
11. Montreal’s 1976 Olympics and a Gold for the decathlon are pieces of the past for which hero?
12. Eventually rescued by teamwork, which Hero Hotline member’s kids were held hostage on a school bus?

As time went on, my "first letter clues" and the quizzes themselves became more elaborate and guessing the theme became another part of the weekly contest. In addition, I would drop "BobRo's Fun Facts to Know & Tell" -- random bits of trivia that often were also hints to the theme -- through the hour. I think I may have had as much (if not more) fun dreaming up the themes and designing the quizzes as the chatroom audience had solving them.

After I left the company in October of 1998, I continued to host the chatroom, though no longer at the official DC/AOL site. Where I had confined the quizzes to DC characters before, now the entire spectrum of comics history became fair game. The trivia became a part of an online column I began writing as well as a daily quiz (which still runs at www.wfcomics.com/trivia).

On September 3, 2001, after some three hundred Monday evenings, I called it a night as I hosted my last chatroom. AOL has long ago lost its lofty status -- do they even have chatrooms any more? -- and the travails of dial-up connections seem like ancient history. Some of my old chatroom regulars are now Facebook friends; many others have disappeared into the ether. But we had a lot of fun during the six years that I did it.

As for all those trivia quizzes, well, I just recently came across a set of floppy disks -- remember them? -- with virtually all of the questions, answers and even the Fun Facts saved for posterity. I've decided to collect them into a book which will soon be available alongside The Secret History of AA Comics and The Junkyards of Memory. (Watch that column on the right side of this page!)


Don't worry, I didn't forget about the Trivia Quiz answers.
In honor of President’s Day, some of the men who have held the highest office are spotlighted…
1. Chronos (David CLINTON)
2. Beast Boy (GARFIELD Logan)
3. Yellow Peri (Loretta GRANT)
4. ADAMS Strange and Blake
5. The Wyoming Kid (Bill POLK)
6. The Human Bomb (Roy LINCOLN)
7. Deathstroke (Slade WILSON)
8. Hourman (Rex TYLER)
9. Aquaman (ARTHUR Curry)
10. Booster Gold (Michael Jon CARTER)
11. Black Lightning (JEFFERSON PIERCE)
12. Microwave Mom (Belle JACKSON)

Friday, February 17, 2012

President's Day Fun Facts to Know & Tell

Once upon a time we celebrated George Washington's birthday on February 22nd. And in a number of states (including New York), Abraham Lincoln's birthday was observed on February 12th. Every six years or so, the 12th would fall on a Friday and the 22nd on a Monday, resulting in back-to-back three-day weekends.

In 1968, it was decided that holiday observances needed to be standardized and almost all federal holidays were moved to Mondays. The exceptions were Christmas, New Year's Day, and July 4th... and Thanksgiving, which remained on Thursday. As a result, Washington's birthday morphed into President's Day on the third Monday in February, a choice that made it impossible for the holiday to ever fall on the 22nd.

Since then, in part to reduce heating costs as a result of the energy crises of the '70s, schools in the more northern climes have opted to close for the entire week. In fact, many now refer to it as President's Week.

But how much do you know about the 43 men who have been our 44 Presidents? For your edification and amusement, here are some Fun Facts to Know & Tell...

Grover Cleveland is both our 22nd and 24th President. Benjamin Harrison served a single term between Cleveland's two.

The aforementioned Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, also known as "Old Tippecanoe." The elder Harrison held office for only one month, having caught pneumonia on Inauguration Day. He was succeeded by John Tyler.

The death in office of Harrison -- elected in 1840 -- was the first in what many believed was a jinx on the men elected in each subsequent 20th year. Abraham Lincoln (1860), James A. Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren G. Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940) and John F. Kennedy (1960) all died in office (though Lincoln and Roosevelt had been reelected in 1864 and 1944, respectively). Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy were assassinated; the other four died of natural causes.The jinx was broken with Ronald Reagan, who survived an assassination attempt.

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were not the first father and son to be elected President. That distinction goes to John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Of the rest of the Presidents, the only ones who were related were Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, who were distant cousins. In fact, Teddy was a closer relation to Eleanor, Franklin's wife, who was a Roosevelt even before she married FDR.

FDR was the only President to be elected more than twice, beginning in 1932. The two-term limit was made law during Harry Truman's tenure. Prior to FDR's four election victories, it was tradition, based on George Washington's decision that eight years was enough, to retire after two terms.

Prior to being elected President, Dwight D. Eisenhower had never been elected to any public office. After leaving office, John Quincy Adams ran for and was elected to the House of Representatives; he was the only President to do so.

Fourteen of the men who served as Vice President became President. Eight of them (Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson) took office as a result of the death of the President and one (Gerald Ford) as a result of a resignation. Ford (who was born Leslie King, Jr.) is the only President who was not elected to the office or that of Vice President. He was appointed to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned as VP, and then became President when Richard Nixon resigned.

Two Presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached. Both were acquitted and neither was removed from office.
The first fifteen Presidents were clean-shaven. Abraham Lincoln had a beard and, except for Andrew Johnson and William McKinley, the next ten sported facial hair. Woodrow Wilson was clean-shaven, as are all the Presidents since.
Six men named James have been elected President (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, and Carter). There have been four Johns (Adams, Quincy Adams, Tyler, and Kennedy) and three Georges (Washingtoon, Bush and Bush). And we have also had Presidents with the uncommon names of Millard, Ulysses (Grant), Rutherford (Hayes), Grover, Woodrow (Wilson), Dwight, Lyndon and Barack.
Finally, referring to the President by his initials (FDR, JFK, LBJ, etc.) or by a nickname ("Ike") came about when newspaper editors wanted to save space, particularly in headlines. Last names of more than six letters were cumbersome so the shortcuts were taken. Since Lyndon Johnson's term in office, only one President has had a last name of more than six letters, Clinton, whom the papers often referred to as "Bill."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just Making a Cup of Coffee

Readers of Bil Keane's comic strip, The Family Circus, are aware that he regularly would do a strip in which Billy would go from Point A to Point B in the most roundabout route possible. Every so often, I have one of those adventures.

A couple of days ago at work, I got up from my desk to make a cup of coffee.  We have one of those K-cup machines and a variety of flavors to choose from. I made my choice and realized that it was the last K-cup in the box. So I put the old box in the trash, got a new box down and opened it up.

I inserted the K-cup and realized that the light was flashing on the machine; it needed to be refilled with water. I removed the water canister and went to fill it from the water cooler. The water cooler was empty and needed a new jug. Well, the jugs are rather dusty, so I first had to wash it off.

I put it on the counter next to the sink and reached for a paper towel to wipe it off. There was one towel left on the roll, so I was able to wash it off, but not wipe it dry. Since the men's room is right next to the kitchen area, I got a second paper towel from there, but noticed that there were only a couple of towels left there as well.

So I went out into our warehouse, where the kitchen and bathroom supplies are kept, and got new roll of towels for the kitchen, a package of towels for the men's room, and, since I was there, a few more rolls of toilet paper.

After putting the paper towels were they needed to be, I realized I needed to wash my hands because the box they were in in the warehouse was pretty dusty. As I should have expected, the soap dispenser was virtually empty, so I had to refill it from the big bottle under the sink. Doing that emptied the big bottle, so it went into the trash with the empty paper towel roll, the K-cup box, and the rest.

Surprise! The trash can was now filled and needed to be emptied, so I pulled out the bag and brought it out to the can in the warehouse, then came back and installed a new bag.

Then I finished wiping down the water jug and put it in place. Then I refilled the water canister for the coffee maker. Then I finally did what I had started out to do.

As I was returning to my desk, one of my co-workers said, "Gee, it sure took you a long time to make that cup of coffee."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100% Chance of Blog

As I was driving to work this morning, the weather forecast was that there was "a 60% chance of showers" today. This was followed by, "Right now, it's 49 degrees and raining." I can't verify the temperature, but I could certainly agree that it was raining.

That would mean that there was 100% chance of showers. Because, when you come right down to it, either it is raining -- 100% -- or not raining -- 0%.

But it got me wondering. How do they decide that there is a 30% or 60% or 95% chance of rain in a forecast?  Do they look at the radar, see rain somewhere else and then calculate the odds that those rain clouds will arrive in our area?
This works pretty well in the extreme short term: It's raining in Massapequa and the wind is blowing from the south. Since Farmingdale is just north of Massapequa, the odds are good the rain clouds will get there.
But when they are looking at rain in Tennessee, do they use some super-duper calculation to determine that there is a 30% or 70% chance it will make it to Long Island?

Does it have to do with what day of the week it is? Maybe someone has accessed the past 130 years of weather records. Perhaps they show that it has rained on more Tuesdays than Fridays, which would lead someone to forecast a higher chance of rain on a Tuesday, say 60%, than a Friday, say 35%.
Still, as they say in the investment business, past performance does not guarantee future results. The bottom line is that either it is raining or it is not raining. So a forecast, ultimately, comes down to a 50/50 chance: Either it will rain or it won't.

Kind of like this blog. Either I write an entry... or I don't.