Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair: October 18-23, 2004

Mell’s really mean to Dave sometimes. Helen is right to chastise her.

I’ve mentioned this before, way back in the commentary, but I had the idea in the back of my head that Mell may have dated the little Dave-like character from my high school comic, North of Space, when she was in high school. This may be a factor in her extreme and vocal disinterest in Dave. Still, Mell and Dave hooking up romantically would be amazing, wouldn’t it? I can’t even begin to imagine how that would work.

Okay, I’m sorry, but this commentary is nothing but spoilers. Sometimes, in this storyline, there’s no getting around it.


The Tinasky study is named after Wanda Tinasky, a supposed bag lady in Mendocino County, California who wrote colorful letters to the local newspaper and literary magazine in the 1980s. At the time, Wanda was widely rumored to be Thomas Pynchon, although I don’t know why Pynchon would care so much about the politics and arts scene of Mendocino County. Don Foster–forensic linguist, Shakespeare scholar, and one of my favorite college professors–investigated the Wanda Tinasky mystery and ultimately decided that Wanda was an obscure former Beat poet named Tom Hawkins. Foster’s excellent book Author Unknown goes into more entertaining detail, and I’m sorry for giving away the ending but so does the Wikipedia entry on Wanda Tinasky, so what can you do?

I picked “Tinasky” as the name on the study because it was a case of a man using a female pen name, and the situation here is a woman using a male pen name. Other references to pseudonymous writers come up throughout this storyline.

Man, tons of little illegible book titles in the first panel here. I’ve totally forgotten writing these, so forgive me if I can’t remember the significance. As far as I can make out, from top to bottom they are:

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. Presumably chosen for HAL, a character Lovelace quotes directly (from the movie) in “Professor Madblood and the Everlasting Ices of the North.”

Something by Vonnegut. Don’t know what I was thinking of, but I’m a big Vonnegut fan, so maybe I just wanted to plug Vonnegut some more. If I was riffing on pseudonymous writers, I should’ve gone with Venus on the Half-Shell by Vonnegut’s alter ego Kilgore Trout, a book actually written by Philip Jose Farmer. It’s complicated.

Demon Seed by Dean Koontz, for the AI angle again. I confess to a sick fascination with the movie, to the point that, when I wrote up bios of the characters for the eternally-unfinished Narbonic RPG, I established Professor Madblood’s origin as that of the Demon Seed baby.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, for the online romance between Michael and Barcode. You know, I was flipping through that novel again recently, and it’s pretty good. When I was in college, the characters were my model of what I wanted my adult life to be, only, you know, without all the computer programming. I more or less managed to do this.

Dr. Sbaitso’s Guide to a Happy Love Life, which as far as I know does not exist. Also, I misspelled “Sbaitso,” but can you blame me? I used to love playing with language generator “chatterboxes” like Dr. Sbaitso and ELIZA. I cried a little when Watson won Jeopardy a couple of weeks ago, I was so happy. I wanted to work more references to these old-school AI programs into this storyline, but most of them had to be cut for space. I lose more gratuitous references that way.

In the background: posters for Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Because Helen is a sequel. And also because I just really love Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

The books on the file cabinet are just programming manuals: Java and Visual Basic. You can’t really make it out, but the wastebasket has Darth Vader on it. I think Andrew drew it in when I asked him to put some random image on the wastebasket. Usually, when I ask for something like that, he draws Spider-Man.

I own that adorable Hulk doll on the file cabinet. He makes this little “waah” noise when you squeeze him.

The little round and wedge-shaped magnets on the file cabinet are those tokens you collect to get free pizza at some pizza places. These ones in particular are based on the tokens from Pizza Orgasmica in San Francisco. I’ve never managed to get enough of those together for a pizza.

Some years ago, I came across a journal my mother had kept when I was around two and three, all written from my point of view. It was very unfortunate. I don’t like to talk about it.

Man, Helen’s managed to get a lot of books down into that disused storm drain. There are a lot of copies of staple mad-science journals The Journal of Malology, The New Journal of Malology, Transthanatology Today, and Maniagnosis, which appear in the backgrounds of many other strips. The books in the last panel are collections of The Journal of Irreproducible Results, a title I don’t think I used anywhere else. Too bad; that’s a pretty good one.

This is one of the very autobiographical strips. I like the way Dave sums up the premise of the storyline in the first panel.

On Dave’s desk in the first panel are binder collections of Who’s Who in the DC Universe. They have no significance to the story; I just thought Dave should have them.

SPOILERS: Helen doesn’t say she hasn’t done any groundbreaking research. She just says her name isn’t associated with it. Sly, that.


For the record, Lovelace is the same computer that was running Madblood’s moonbase in “Doppelganger Gambit.” I never specifically established that because it’s not really important to the story. Dave tinkered with Lovelace’s programming on the moonbase, which may be a contributing factor to her interest in him.

Lovelace’s appearance, at least in this storyline, is based on actual supercomputers.

SPOILERS: One problem I had in plotting this storyline is that the central mystery–who is Milo Tinasky?–is pretty easy to figure out, or at least I thought it was. I mean, there’s only so many people it could be. One way I tried to obfuscate things was to open with another, smaller mystery–who is Lovelace?–have Helen brought up as a possible answer, and then have it turn out to be someone else. My hope was that this would leave readers less inclined to suspect Helen in the other mystery. I have no idea whether it worked.

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41 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair: October 18-23, 2004

  1. @Shaenon: You can’t even begin to imagine how that would work?!!  If that were true, Andrew wouldn’t be smiling in all those pictures.

  2. I was going to make comments, but I realized they were all spoilerish. So instead, I’m going to go out and buy shoes.

  3. Remember the Kzinti Lesson:

    A reaction drive’s efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive. —Larry Niven

    Even the things Dave makes that aren’t intended as weapons could probably be used as ones by Mell. After all, if you’re surrounded by nails targets, you’re probably going to start looking around for something to use as a hammer gun…

  4. (TUNE: “Maria” from “West Side Story”, Bernstein & Sondheim)

    Tinasky …
    Discussing the work of Tinasky!
    He tries to find out why
    A clever girl or guy
    Goes mad!

    Tinasky …
    He studies mad genius, Tinasky!
    When we go off the brink,
    Somehow, he seems to think
    That’s bad!

    If the genes can be isolated,
    Then my foes can be e-lim-i-na-ted!

    Tinasky …
    Just who is, we ask, he?

  5. Tuesday:

    Truly, to have the powers of malevolintelligence, of unholy omniscience, in one’s full control, would be the ultimate mad science. The great vault inside of which lies either humanity’s great mental ascension, or its irrevocable mental destruction.

    All that remains to be asked, though, is why mad genius has the innocuous formal name of “Walton’s disorder”.

    P.S: I’ve often wondered how Artie can sit comfortably on the side of Helen’s dome. I feel he’d be much more comfortable if Helen got into the habit of wearing a sombrero more often.

  6. I enjoyed Venus on the Half Shell back in high school.  The pictuere of “Kilgore Trout” on the back is marvelous.

  7. tune: “Weird science,” Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo, Dead Man’s Party, 1985)

    I am an experiment
    They want to see how it went
    At the conference

    Mad science
    I’m my momma’s favorite clone
    Now I’m fully grown
    Lab rats of my own
    I’m full of

    Mad science
    The Tinasky study shows
    An insane brain grows
    Inside the next generation

    Mad science
    Mother knew what I would do
    Study mad brains too
    Of this concept, I’m proof

    Mad science
    N-A-M-S-S will see
    Helen Beta (me)
    Helen Beta (me)

    Her creation . . . Am I mad?
    I’m her creation . . . her creation
    I’m her creation

    I am an experiment
    They want to see how it went
    At the conference

  8. Wednesday:

    One of my favourite lines in the secret story is “If this disorder is genetic then there is a 100 percent chance that I have inherited it.” It’s great not just because of Helen’s distant, clinical tone of resignation, but also because of the oxymoron of “100 percent chance”.

    Silent Penultimate Panels: 32. Yes, but what a lovely panel it is! Helen’s underplayed reaction nicely counterbalances Dave and Mell’s overreactions.

  9. To the tune of The Incredible Hulk animated series circa 1996:

    Dun… dun dun dun!

    Dundundundun, dundundundun.

    Hulk! Do dooo, doodoodoodoo-doo, Adorable Hulk!

    Do doo, doo doo doo DOO DOO Hulk! Adorable Hulk!

    Lalala laaa, lalalala laaalaa, lalala LAALAA LALALADUN


    BOMBOM (Hulk) BOMBOMBOMBOM BOMMM, Adorable! Adorable Hulk BOM!




  10. (TUNE: “I’ve Got No Strings”, Harline & Washington)

    I’ve got no genes
    To call my own!
    They’re hand-me-down,
    ‘Cause I’m a clone!
    I blow things to smithereens,
    ‘Cause I’ve got crazy genes!

    I got these genes
    From Mommy dear,
    Who makes the world
    Cry out in fear!
    She brings death, and violent scenes,
    And now I’ve got her genes!

    Hey, hey, my DNA,
    Is the same my mother had!
    Yes, yes, when under stress,
    I just went completely mad!

    I turned out just
    Like Mama planned,
    Because my genes
    Are second-hand!
    I know what my genome means,
    I’ve got these pre-owned genes!

  11. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is one of the very, very few cases of a sequel being better than the original. Excellent Adventure wasn’t bad, but Bogus Journey is just awesome.

  12. I’m confused as to how that’s a Gremlins 2 poster, when that’s so clearly a visible 1

    I suppose it’s possible it’s a skewed 2 and I’m being a sh*thead for pointing out.

    If so, my bad

  13. And, we learn more of Helen’s back-story.  Where is the filename story living these days, anyway?

  14. Pete:  Well, both B&T movies were basically surface romps with surprisingly serious undercurrents.  BTEA was one of the few movies I’ve seen where they got short-range time-travel right!  “The future belongs to the winners”.  And then in BTBJ, we see how a couple of highschooler rockers become qualified to start a new religion.  (Come on, if surviving and defeating Death doesn’t cut it, what would?)

  15. Thursday:

    A lesser comic contriver would have probably ended this episode at panel 3. The last panel serves a nod of respect to the reader, to denote that the punchline isn’t just Dr. N’s maternal ridiculousness, but Helen’s sheer shame in it being her scientific debut.

    Maniagnosis is a beautiful name. I especially like that its component word is ambiguously either “gnosis” or “agnosis”.

  16. IIRC, the Annals derive from when the Journal‘s staff had a fight with their publisher, and decamped en masse to found a new journal (taking the Ig Nobels with them).

  17. Friday:

    It’s sort of a shame that Helen doesn’t wear that bun for the entire rest of the webcomic. It gives her head a rather pleasing shape. Combined with her bangs and her two hair tentacles, it’s almost reminiscent of a squid.

  18. (TUNE: “Walking In Memphis”, Marc Cohn)

    Put on my Evil shirt, and
    Put up my hair …
    I’m only a clone, as I sigh and moan
    In my subterranean lair!
    I’m already thirty,
    And my maddest work’s been done!
    I should at least have a mutant army
    To threaten Washington!

    But a flesh-eating algae
    Named after me, that would suffice!
    Yes, a flesh-eating algae
    Named after me, would be so nice!

  19. Sam, thanks for the link.  Also, it seems Happygoth — a prior collector of the filename story — is now guest-starring over at The Devil’s Panties!

  20. @mental_mouse: There’s been a Happygoth character in The Devil’s Panties for years; presumably she’s a friend of Jennie Breeden’s. Whether she’s the same Happygoth as the one who collected the filename story, I have no idea.

  21. It may have worked too well on me, I didn’t even notice that there was such mystery around Tinasky until rather late in the storyline (after Titus shows up).  I figuredhis cover was just so that he’d be a more effective foil to play on Helen’s insecurites as a clone, which is where I thought you were really going.  I just assumed she would have to confront her mother someday.

    So, yeah, good work.

  22. Saturday:

    To tell the truth, I don’t think I even suspected Helen of being Lovelace throughout these three weeks of strips. Consider that Lovelace has been established as A) a hacker, and B) someone Helen appears to be jealous of, even outside Dave’s presence. To be secretly conducting a grand scientific experiment throughout the entirety of this webcomic’s run is one thing, but to pull off a ruse of this magnitude is unthinkable.

    Bet let’s not forget the other important revelation in today’s strip: Lovelace’s voice has been upgraded to Chicago. Madblood has finally accrued a modicum of taste.

  23. (TUNE: “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”, Bernstein & Sondheim)

    Where’s Lovelace online?
    Can’t find a trace online!
    Tracing IP’s and worm attacks …
    She’s quite good when she hides her tracks!
    Does she … seek me?

    My name is googled by Lovelace,
    Checking on Friendster and MySpace,
    We race …

    As we try to go
    Identify our foe,
    Search for Lovelace distracting me,
    Won’t ask, “Who can Tinasky be?”
    Who’s he?
    Who’s she?
    Search me!

  24. Similar to confusador, I never had any reason to think that there was any mystery around Tinasky’s identity. I don’t think this was due to the Lovelace mini-mystery though.

    Man, Friendster. Apparently they’ve rebranded themselves as a “social gaming portal,” as if that isn’t also a space completely dominated by Facebook. (Or maybe they’re going after Kongregate’s much-smaller slice of the pie.)

    Also the idea of a supercomputer as a singular giant monolithic entity is also pretty dated now. Even the big iron from IBM (the only real contender in the classical “supercomputer” space anymore) is really made up of a giant cluster of smaller regular desktop-class PCs. Today’s large-scale computing infrastructure isn’t about single gigantic units of computation, it’s about breaking up your computation in a way that thousands of normal-sized units can work on it effectively. (If you have ever heard the computing terms “Beowulf” or “MapReduce,” that’s what those are about.)

  25. I went to the Los Alamos labs in 2002 and accidentally walked in to their live supercomputer datacenter lab.  It was awesome!  2 or 3 Connection Machines, very cool (to a computer geek).  The actual Los Alamos museum had their first supercomputer, a Cray, on display, which was also totally awesome.

    @fluffy: I take it you haven’t seen an HP Superdome?  Big chassis, lots of computational blades inside the guts.  Very little cubage required in your data center, maybe 90 cubic feet.  But it is more common for discrete units, like the USAF’s new PS/3 supercomputer, some 1700 Playstations networked together.  Guitar Hero SXSW!  Every band AT THE SAME TIME!  At the fair grounds SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!  Ladies half-price!

    (sort of sorry, it’s early and my brain is still sorta free-wheeling.)

  26. For what it’s worth, it floored me (well … seated me) when the Tinasky mystery was revealed.  Not sure if that is due to your obfuscatory skills; I tend to immerse myself in good stories and experience them as the characters do.

  27. @Wayne I think a blade counts as the very embodiment of “lots of small computers working in concert,” and not “giant single-core monolith.”

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