July 1, 2013


Volume 7, Issue 37 – July 1, 2013


July Is Here…

I’ve always liked July.  Up in New England, or in my growing-up town of Syracuse, NY, July is always great.  The weather is fine, you can go to the beach or the lake, and most folks take some vacation.  I always felt a little bit cheated because everyone else got to celebrate their birthday in school with a little party, but I never did, because my birthday is July 15.   My sister Drorit didn’t have it any better—her birthday is August 14.  July also has the 4th of July, of course, and we always made it a point (still do!) to go see the fireworks.  I generally don’t go into the big city for that—it’s too crowded.  In New Hampshire, we generally went to the small towns of Salem or Derry, or sometimes took a cruise on Lake Winnipesaukee and watched the fireworks from a cruise ship.  Down here, we usually go to Kennesaw, rain or shine.  So, happy 4th of July to all.


Meetings, Meetings, Meetings…

As always, there were lots of meetings last week, and I’ll try to provide some highlights of what transpired.

On Monday, there was a meeting for the various web editors to let them know some new things that are happening regarding the University website.  The biggest change is that the website is now going to be responsive to what kind of device you are accessing it from.  The pages will rearrange depending on whether you are doing this on a desktop/laptop computer, an iPad, or a smart phone.  It’s pretty cool, though it will have some consequences on any pictures you use, since when the page reorients parts of the picture may be cut out.  Thus, effective pictures will need to be framed in particular ways to avoid losing the “critical” part of the photo.

Tuesday began at 8:00 AM (boo!) with a breakfast meeting of folks who will be working on Polyday.  You may recall that Polyday was inaugurated last year, and involved faculty, staff, and administration working together to identify and contact companies where we have contacts, in order to get them to become friends of the University.  Last year, about $150,000 was raised in the faculty/staff campaign and the Polyday campaign.  If you are interested in working on this, or have some contacts you feel may be appropriate to this effort, please let VP Ron Dempsey know.

Tuesday also featured a meeting with Vice Chancellor and CIO from the BoR Curt Carver, meeting with me, Sam Conn, and several deans.  Curt is an interesting guy who is always interesting to talk to.  Among the topics discussed were how the USG is exploring potential use of MOOCs, and online learning in general.  This will be a discussion topic at the upcoming RACAA meeting (July 7-9), and I’ll give a full report after the meeting.

Also on Tuesday, I met with the Advising Task Force.  This coming year’s mandatory advising update will be on the subject of DegreeWorks.  We want every student to develop a two-year plan that moves them toward or to graduation using DegreeWorks, so its important that every faculty member doing advising know how to use it.  For those who don’t remember, creation of a two-year plan is a requirement of SPSU 1001, and is an element of our QEP, which makes knowing how to use DegreeWorks doubly important.  Other topics discussed involved how we implement P&P 308.0 on Academic Advising, specifically how we might measure how well advising is taking place.  Some preliminary evidence indicates that the current status of advising is <ahem> uneven.

Tuesday concluded with a retirement party for Barry Birckhead, our Dean of Students.  Barry has been at SPSU like forever, and it won’t be the same place without him.  I’ve enjoyed working with Barry these last eight years, especially since he’s a guy who always has the students’ best interests foremost in his mind.  He’s also a mean drummer in the faculty/staff band.  Best of luck to you, Barry, on the flip side.

Wednesday featured a Deans Council meeting where the main topics of discussion were the recommendations from the Advising Task Force (including issues of how to deal with the problem that different departments have vastly different advising loads due to differences in numbers of majors), and an article that claimed “Half of Faculty Say Their Job is More Difficult Today Than Five Years Ago” and what we might do to mitigate some of the issues raised.  While people always believe that things were better in the past (when the oxen  had bigger heads), there are some things that have changed, such as higher expectations for familiarity with technology.  We’ll be soliciting input as to whether there are any issues (Other than more money!  Believe me, we’re all aware of that one!) where increasing faculty support might be helpful.

SPSU on the Air

Something new that recently crossed my desk is that two of our colleagues in UITS, Dave Parham and Jamie Boardman, have an audio podcast about new technological stuff called “UITS Update”.  The third installment of said podcast features two of our librarians, Amy Coughenour and Aaron Wimer, talking about how technology is used in our library, and it’s very interesting.   If you’d like to give it a listen, just click here—and you want episode 3.



Why I Like Nancy

One of my favorite iPhone and iPad apps is called GoComics, which allows you to “subscribe” to your favorite comic strips from a list of hundreds.  While not every comic strip published is there, quite a few are, including many that aren’t published in the AJC or the MDJ.  My favorite strip in the AJC is Luann and there are several other good strips (Zits, Crankshaft [which is usually terrible, but occasionally goes into the past in “picture-framed” sequences which are superb], Stone Soup, Brewster Rocket, reprints of Peanuts), though it’s quickly downhill from there.  On Sunday, there are a few additional strips, of which Nancy is frequently the best.  Nancy is also a daily comic strip, but the AJC doesn’t carry it.   Fortunately, GoComics does.  GoComics is also available here on the web.

That Nancy is a good comic strip is an odd thing—Nancy has been published seemingly forever, and was originally written and drawn by Ernie Bushmiller.  Anyone who has ever read a Nancy strip by Bushmiller will know that it was about as simple a comic as there could be—everything was stripped down in order to propel the joke, which was understandable to anyone from 4 to 104 years old.  Lots of people concluded that Nancy was the dumbest of all comic strips.  I was among them, but then I started to wonder: if it was so dumb, why did I read it every day?  Why was it so popular?  I concluded that it was so simple it was easier to read it than to make the conscious decision to not read it.

There are comic strip aficionados who love Bushmiller’s Nancy and think he was a genius who distilled the comic strip to its purest Zen essence—there was nothing in the drawing that wasn’t absolutely necessary to tell the joke.  They present many arguments about why they think he was brilliant, the most interesting of which is the so-called “three-rock theory”.  You see, if Bushmiller wanted to draw some rocks in the background of the strip, he’d always draw three of them.  Why three?  Because one is just a rock, two are a pair of rocks, and four is one more than what was absolutely necessary to convey the idea of “some rocks”.

bushmiller_1960_01_01An obvious joke from Bushmiller.  Note the three rocks.

You can read about why Nancy is actually a brilliant Zen masterpiece in a very interesting article: “The Lawrence Welk of Cartoonists: Ernie, Nancy, and the Bushmiller Society”.  There’s even a Zen card game called Five-Card Nancy, that you can learn the rules for here.  To illustrate how much Nancy entered the cultural zeitgeist, Andy Warhol did a painting of Nancy and Joe Brainard did several more.  The American Heritage Dictionary even uses a Bushmiller Nancy strip as the illustration for its definition of “comic strip”.

picasso-nancy Joe Brainard’s “Picasso Nancy”

The comic strip was originally called Fritzi Ritz, who was a pretty young flapper with a boyfriend named Phil Fumble, written and drawn by Larry Whittington.  It began in 1922 and Ernie Bushmiller took it over in 1925.  He introduced Nancy, Fritzi’s niece, in 1933.  Nancy became more and more popular within the strip, which was renamed Nancy in 1938.   The other main character in the strip, Nancy’s lazy friend from the other side of the tracks, Sluggo, was also introduced in 1938.  Aunt Fritzi and Phil Fumble were pretty much written out of the strip by the 1940’s, with Aunt Fritzi occasionally being referred to, but never seen.  Bushmiller died in 1982, but not before winning the Reuben Award (the top cartooning award) in 1976.

After a rather dull set of interregnum writers and artists, Nancy is now drawn by Guy Gilchrist, who is doing some very interesting (and often touching) things with the comic strip.  Most significantly, fairly frequently, there is now some continuity in the daily strip instead of the old gag-a-day format. Aunt Fritzi has returned as a major character who is Nancy’s single parent.

08dec92093f00130340b001dd8b71c47Nancy and Aunt Fritzi.  Note the three rocks in the 1st panel.

In the past year or so, Phil Fumble has returned as Fritzi’s boyfriend.

58ce825046fe01301089001dd8b71c47Three torn packets of sugar, standing in for the three rocks.

Also in the past year, a full 75 years after Sluggo was introduced, the comic strip has explained how he became Nancy’s boyfriend and how he supports himself.   In fact, it looks like the story is being set up to have Fritzi marry Phil and adopt Sluggo.

In addition to the continuity, Nancy often contains references to all kinds of music in it.  Whenever a major musician or cultural icon passes away, a loving homage appears in the strip.  Faithful readers will recall the homage to Annette Funicello in the May 13 BLAB.  The simple humor is also present these days, with Zen-like strips showing up from time to time.  A lot of the strips are quite touching, especially those for most holidays, which have special strips drawn for them.


d0b987109bfd0130cc50001dd8b71c47 Yes, the three rocks are here too.  Did you spot them?

And to show that Ernie Bushmiller has never been forgotten, almost every Sunday comic has three rocks somewhere in it, and some of the dailies do as well.  As to the name of the town in which the characters all live? Three Rocks, of course.


Last Week’s Trivia Challenge

Last week’s trivia challenge focused on Superman.  Our winner was Jacqueline Stephens, with a fabulous five correct.  Here are the right answers:

  1. Newspaper Clark Kent works for.  The Daily Planet.
  2. Superman’s Kryptonian name.  Kal-El.
  3. Villain who stole the city of Kandor from Krypton, shrank it, and put it in a bottle.  Braniac.
  4. Original two creators of Superman.  Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
  5. The two women who played Lois Lane in the 1951 television series “The Adventures of Superman”.  Noelle Neill and Phyllis Coates.



This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Today’s trivia challenge focuses on the word “blue” and related friends.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO zszafran@spsu.edu, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Popeye’s main enemy.
  2. Classic Roy Orbison song.
  3. He’s under the haystack, fast asleep.
  4. 1930 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings.
  5. The two Beatles songs with “Blue” in their name on Magical Mystery Tour and on the White Album.
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One Response to July 1, 2013

  1. Bob Brown says:

    OK… I can’t use Google, but this time I have a personal advantage. C’n I check with my friend Sebastian, author of Sebastian’s Rock’n’Roll Calendar? He knows all about Orbisongs and the Beatles. Otherwise, I get only two. {sigh}

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