Oct 06

Silly stuff

My last couple of posts have been kind of grim, so it’s time for some frivolous, inconsequential things.
Check out this freaky optical illusion — it looks like it’s constantly moving, but it’s not. Notice that the apparent motion only takes place in your peripheral vision. The circle you’re looking at doesn’t move, but all the other circles seem to. And if you don’t look at any of them (for example, while reading the text above the picture), they all seem to move. Weird!
Be careful on this page. The little creature that lives there collects mouse pointers, and it will steal yours if you get too close. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Jan 07

Don’t get cocky

My alma mater, the University of South Carolina, scored a victory at bowl game on New Year’s Day — specifically, the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. It’s true that the Gamecocks did not, technically, play in the Capital One Bowl. But team mascot Cocky won the College Sports Mascot competition. According to this newspaper article, Cocky defeated 11 other finalists, including “a bear, an alligator, two fierce felines and two large dogs.”
When I pointed this out to Bob (who also went to USC), he commented that a popular vote was a lame way to resolve such a competition. “It should have been a fight to the death,” he said. “I’d like to see how a chicken would fare against bears, alligators, and dogs.”
“Well, remember that this is a cockfighting chicken with razor-sharp blades strapped to his feet,” I said.
“Yeah, but it’s still a chicken.” Bob replied. “Unless it’s wearing armor and is packing a gun, my money is still on the carnivores.” I can’t argue with that.

May 10

Brown paper bags

Ruth says that she plans to take some brown paper bags to the prom in case she and her friends get bored. This is an excellent idea. In addition to the “lookin’ at a thing in a bag” joke, the bags have lots of other uses:

  • Inflate a bag and then burst it to make a loud bang, causing the chaperones to call the police because the prom is being attacked by terrorists.
  • Walk up to a guy you don’t like, hand him a bag, and tell him it’s for his date to wear over her head. Then run.
  • If you get overexcited while doing these things and start hyperventilating, breathe into a bag until you recover.
  • Wear a bag over your own head (with eyeholes, of course) to avoid being identified while carrying out other pranks.
  • If there are any bags left when the prom is over, use them for the time-honored flaming dog crap joke on the way home.

I’m just speaking hypothetically here, of course. I’m sure Ruth won’t actually do any of these things.

UPDATE: Ben points out that Flaming Dog Crap would be a good name for a rock band. (It’s an excellent description of several rock bands I could name.)

Apr 19

Income tax strategies

Matt has a point , but I think his analysis is somewhat simplistic.

Sure, simply being chronically unemployed will dramatically reduce your income taxes. But it also leaves you without any money! The trick is to become unemployed at just the right moment, so that you end up with a bunch of money when you can really use it. Here is the strategy I used:

  1. Be gainfully employed for the first half of the year, earning lots of money and paying taxes at a breathtaking rate (based on what the government thinks you’ll earn over the entire year).
  2. Lose your job in June and don’t work again for the rest of the year, slashing your annual income in half and placing yourself in a much lower tax bracket.
  3. The following April, file your tax return, collect a large refund from the government, and deposit it in your bank account.
  4. On your way home from the bank, stop off at your auto mechanic’s shop to ask him why the words SERVICE ENGINE SOON have appeared in glowing letters on your dashboard.
  5. After the mechanic finishes replacing your transmission, write him a check for all the money you got back from the government and drive home.

See what you can accomplish with a little planning and strategic forethought?

Feb 17

Useless junk

In a recent post to his blog, Bob wondered why it’s so much easier to acquire stuff than to get rid of it. This was obviously a rhetorical question, but I e-mailed Bob the following answer anyway. He insisted that I post it here.

Getting rid of things, even things we have no use for, is difficult because we, as a society, lack a single clearly understood definition of value. Instead, we have several mutually incompatible notions of value, most of which are bogus. First of all, the myth of “intrinsic value” persists, bolstered by such things as the appraised and/or tax value of real estate, the “manufacturer’s invoice” or “book value” of cars, and buzzphrases such as “fair market value.” Many people also confuse price with value, which leads them to believe that an item must be worth what they paid for it, even if that was decades ago. Then there is the idea, championed by Labor types, that the value of a thing is derived from the amount of work that went into its creation. In general, there is poor understanding among non-accountants of the concept of depreciation; many people find it hard to believe that an object’s value can decrease over time while it still works, to the point where it’s worth less than the raw materials that were used to make it.
I’m not saying that you don’t understand these things; I’m just saying that the whole notion of value is severely muddled in our culture, and that we all have to make an effort to dismiss these popular misconceptions about it. Even if you know, in an abstract sense, that a thing is worth only what someone will willingly pay for it, it’s very difficult to accept that a gadget you spent your hard-earned paycheck on, that still looks brand new, and that functions as perfectly as the day you bought it, can be worthless. It doesn’t seem fair. But it’s often true.
The only thing more worthless than an obsolete gadget is a gratuitous lecture on economics.

Let this be a lesson to those who tell me that I should post to this blog more often. Be careful what you wish for — you may get it.

Feb 14

Code Level Gray

Now that this week’s Terror Alert has turned out to be a false alarm, what are you supposed to do with all the duct tape that you rushed out and bought because the government told you to? Well, you could just add it to your stockpile of Y2K supplies (snort). Or you could use it to make a costume for your local Duct Tape Ball.
What do you mean, your community doesn’t have a Duct Tape Ball? Organize one!

Feb 11

Six degrees

It was only a matter of time:

Sources inside the State Department have indicated that Colin Powell will reveal top secret evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Hollywood movie star Kevin Bacon. This evidence, in the form of satellite images and tapes of Iraq Cinemax, could be revealed as early as Wednesday.

There’s more, including evidence that Iraq is producing Movies of Mass Destruction.

Aug 06


Bob reports that, while sorting through some old documents, he discovered a scrap of paper that reads as follows:

“Everything explodes eventually.”
— P. Berry

At first glance, this would seem to be an insupportable assertion. After all, it’s not difficult to find examples of objects that have existed for centuries or millennia without exploding: the Great Wall of China, the Rock of Gibraltar, Strom Thurmond, and so forth. But before we dismiss the notion out of hand, we should examine our definitions of “explodes” and “eventually.”
“Eventually” means that there is no time limit whatsoever. We have to consider the explosive tendencies of any object not just over a period of centuries or millennia, but over the entire remaining lifetime of the universe. On that time scale, no object can endure forever, no matter how durable it is.
With “explodes,” there is also a question of scale. When an object like a bagel or Adam Sandler’s head explodes, we know this has happened because it’s an event on a scale that we’re able to perceive. But if the explosion takes place on a microscopic scale, we may not notice it. Individual atoms explode all the time; it’s called nuclear fission, and every atom of an unstable isotope does it sooner or later. If theories about proton decay are correct, even stable isotopes eventually break down at the subatomic level (although this will take place over a period of time far greater than the current age of the universe). So it is possible to maintain that everything explodes eventually — with the qualification that most objects will do so very slowly, one particle at a time.
I can’t say whether this is what I had in mind when I made the statement; I don’t remember saying it, so I have no idea what the context was. At one time, I had a journal in which I recorded everything I said to anyone about anything (along with the date, time, place, and circumstances), which would have been enormously helpful in investigating this matter. Unfortunately, the journal spontaneously detonated in 1997. I’m afraid the origin of the quotation will have to remain a mystery.

Oct 08


In an open letter to the terrorists (posted to a CNN message board), Laurence Simon points out that they should be afraid of us because we are crazier than they are. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a sample:

We sell hot dogs in packages of ten and the buns in packages of eight.

We can’t even decide if pitchers should have to bat for themselves or not. All those baseball fields we’ve got… none of them are even remotely the same size.

We think Elvis is still alive.

We put our money into dot-com businesses that have no imaginable source of revenue whatsoever, and then scream when their stock values plummet to zero in the frenzy of sudden realization. We lay off thousands upon thousands of workers because it is good for the bottom line and stockholders, when it’s the bosses who are the real stockholders with options for even more stock.

We gave millions of dollars to a guy that told us that God was going to kill him if he didn’t raise enough money. When he didn’t get enough money, he didn’t die. So we gave him more money in celebration of the fact that God didn’t make him die.

We’ve managed to keep the formulas for Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken secret for decades, we encrypt the most banal communications on our Information Superhighway, and yet we given away our most important nuclear secrets to the Chinese and Russians at the drop of a hat.

He’s right. Heck, this explains why so many of our former enemies (Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, Japan) are now staunch allies. They realized that we’re heavily armed and stark raving mad, and decided that it is much safer to be our friends.

Historical note: When it first appeared, the open letter was attributed to someone else by a lot of people, including me. But Laurence Simon sets the record straight on his own blog, and also provides annotations for all of the things he alludes to.