Apr 10

Asymmetric warfare

This is a public service announcement directed at the world’s five-year-old children. I am aware that if you decide to attack me, I can be overwhelmed by a sufficient number of you. However, I will not go down without a fight. And according to this test, I am capable of taking almost two dozen of you with me:


Bear this in mind as you make your plans.

Feb 18


In the latest Dork Tower strip, the characters tackle one of the classic stupid questions: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Why do I call it a stupid question? Because it is. Fish, amphibians, and reptiles were laying eggs for millions of years before the first bird appeared on Earth. Obviously, the egg came before the chicken. I don’t understand why anyone thinks this question is remotely challenging.

Okay, actually, I do. Generally, when people treat this as an insoluble conundrum, their unspoken assumption is that “egg” really means “chicken egg”. So eggs laid by fish and reptiles are excluded. I see no reason to limit the question that way, but fine. Even if we accept that interpretation, answering the question is no problem. It becomes a simple matter of definition. Here’s how I would handle it:

SILLY PERSON: Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?
ME: Define “chicken egg.”
SP: An egg that a chicken hatches out of.
ME: Okay, by that definition, the very first chicken hatched from a chicken egg. So the egg came first.
SP: No, wait! A chicken egg is an egg laid by a chicken.
ME: All right, then the chicken came first. Obviously.
SP: But —
ME: I think we’re done here. Why don’t you take this amusing quiz?

Nov 25

Chicken chicken chicken

This scientific paper is a triumph of form over content. (How do I know it’s a scientific paper? Well, just look at it. What else could it possibly be?)

It’s also available as a PowerPoint presentation — but this video of the author presenting it to the American Association for the Advancement of Science is, perhaps, more amusing.

UPDATE: Was Doug Zongker inspired by this children’s book? Or this comic strip?

Sep 10

Tessellate the cheese

Ruth brought this cartoon to my attention:

This reminded me of something from my own experience. When Bob and I were at university together, the main cafeteria at the student center had several serving lines, one of which specialized in Mexican fast food: tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and so forth. The food was pretty good, but the staff didn’t seem to understand burritos. They were folding the tortilla instead of rolling it, so the burritos came out square, which is just plain wrong.

Bob found this greatly annoying. The cafeteria had a suggestion box, so he wrote what was undoubtedly the most detailed suggestion they ever got: a page-long set of instructions on how to roll a burrito properly, complete with diagrams. (This was many years before either of us had any idea that Bob would end up pursuing a career in technical writing.) I don’t think the cafeteria’s burrito-rolling technique showed any improvement as a result, but at least Bob knew that he had done all he could to address the problem.

Since this story is all about Bob, you may wonder why I’m telling it instead of him. Actually, I suggested that he write a blog post about it, but he says he has no memory of the whole thing. Well, I was there, and it really happened, no matter what he says.

UPDATE: Ben points out this Consumerist post: Subway’s Incorrect Use Of Isosceles Cheese Actually A Vast Conspiracy

Sep 06

The politics of zombies

I recently became aware that some people are supporting Zombie Reagan as a presidential candidate in the 2008 election. Their Reagan nostalgia is understandable, but the idea is doomed to failure.
Most people don’t know this, but zombies are not eligible for the office of President. After the constitutional crisis of 1945 (in which Zombie Roosevelt challenged the succession of Harry Truman), the Constitution was amended to specifically prohibit undead Presidents. The amendment has been the focus of continued debate among constitutional scholars, some of whom have suggested that a zombie would have been preferable to certain postwar Presidents. But no proposal to modify the prohibition has gained sufficient support in Congress. This is is probably because undead politicians prefer to pursue careers in the Senate (which has no ban on zombies and no term limit), and would rather not call attention to the issue. Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, and Ted Stevens have all reportedly used their influence to ensure that any zombie-related bills die in committee.
Some students of Futurama have suggested that the repeal of the no-zombie-Presidents rule is inevitable, citing the victory of Richard Nixon’s head in the 3000 election. Critics have countered that Nixon’s head was elected President of the United States of Earth, not the USA. And it remains unclear whether a severed head kept alive in a jar meets the legal definition of “undead”. The question will probably have to be settled by the Supreme Court, and we won’t know whether this has happened until new episodes of Futurama are produced.

Mar 16


A penpal of mine in upstate New York once told me that that region has just two seasons: “winter” and “July”. Years later, after I moved to North Carolina, I learned that there were four seasons in that state, but they weren’t the usual four. The North Carolina seasons are “almost summer”, “summer”, “still summer”, and “Christmas”.
I’ve heard other variations of the Seasons Joke, and I’ve come to believe that every region of the U.S. (if not the world) has its own version. Gerard Van der Leun, who used to live there, wrote that New York City has two seasons: “winter” and “road work”. Southern California reportedly has four: “wildfire”, “mudslide”, “earthquake”, and “riots”. What are the seasons in other parts of the country? If you know another version of this joke, post it in a comment.

Jan 24

Virus warning

On Saturday I went to Raleigh Little Theatre to help hang lights for Blue, the next play that opens February 11. Rehearsals for Blue are already in progress, and I saw that the call board (a sort of easel-mounted bulletin board) has been set up in the house near the stage. Along with the rehearsal sign-in sheet and a couple of other routine notices, I spotted this on the call board:

Warning – New Virus!

There is a new virus. The code name is WORK. If you receive WORK from your colleagues, your boss, via e-mail, or from anyone else, do not touch it under any circumstances. This virus wipes out your private life completely.

If you should happen to come in contact with this virus, take two friends and go straight to the nearest bar. Order drinks immediately and after three rounds each, you will find that WORK has been completely deleted from your system.

Forward this virus warning immediately to at least five friends.
Should you realize you do not have five friends, this means you are already infected by this virus and WORK already controls your life.
If this is the case, go to the bar on your own and stay until you make at least five friends. Then retry.

I think I have five friends, but am not entirely positive so I’m headed for the bar anyway…..it never hurts to be safe.

This virus could definitely be a problem for RLT. I’m sure WORK can disrupt the process of rehearsing a play. Fortunately, most of the theatre people I know are already applying the recommended countermeasure on a regular basis.