Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Science You Can Use: The Internet Infinite Density Principle

The Internet Infinite Density Principle, as put forward by the Swiss Institute for Groundbreaking Studies, is still a work in progress. Like many other popular but questionable notions such as the “theories” of “evolution” and “gravitation,” it is currently based solely on anecdotal evidence, preschool-level research, and suspected witchcraft—but its proponents hope that, given time and exposure, it will earn the widespread popular and scientific approval currently awarded to, say, the belief that the U.S. government is using airline contrails to poison its own citizens with barium.1 

Simple and succinct (as are many good theories that get made up on the spot), Internet Infinite Density Principle states that
No matter how baldly obvious a joke is, there exists someone in the online community dense enough to not only fail to get the joke, but also fail to recognize that a joke has been made in the first place.

Evidence supporting this principle is so plentiful that listing examples borders on redundancy; it’s virtually impossible to swing a virtual dead cat over one’s virtual head without hitting somebody saying something stupid on the internet. 

However, for the benefit of our readers,2 and in order to add an extra paragraph to this thus-far somewhat lackluster blog entry, a real live example of this principle is that recently unfolded in real time, in Belgian-inflected English, in the comments sections of two related posts at Promethean Times3 (To read the posts, click here or here. If you can’t spot the joke, we wish you the best of luck in your quests to figure out how to work a zipper or cross the street unsupervised).

For clarity’s sake, the Swiss Institute for Groundbreaking Studies is considering adding a corollary to the Principle, stating that the densest of Internet denizens are not necessarily Belgian. Research efforts are underway to find out, definitively, if this is actually true.

Infinite Internet Density: just one of the ways that the online community is working nonstop to bring about the fall of human civilization.4

1. We can’t help but notice that the source for this “information”—a blog called Planet X Nibiru and Other Conspiracies—has more than six times the followers of our own humble blog. This makes us sad for the state of the world today, but mostly just sad for ourselves. When we chose sanity over popularity, we didn’t realize we’d regret it so soon.
2. Cheers to both of you! Please tell that friend of yours about us.
3. If you’re thinking that we’ve either run out of things to write about or are shamelessly shilling for a more-popular blog in the hopes of becoming one of the cool kids, you’re absolutely right on both counts. In our defense, though, it’d take weeks or months to track down a less popular blog, and even if we did manage to find one, what good would it do to suck up to them?
4. The Swiss Institute for Groundbreaking Studies welcomes reader-submitted examples of this principle; please feel free to add them to the comments section below. Readers who submit links to Bowling in the Dark articles will be silently cursed, and will make us cry.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, 2011: One Small Step Backwards

Early this morning, the shuttle Atlantis touched down at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, putting an end to both NASA’s thirty-year Space Shuttle program and, for perhaps the next decade, its ability to send astronauts into space. Until a replacement for the shuttle program is found, getting Americans into space will require paying the Russian space program some sixty million dollars per passenger to hitch a ride on fifty-year-old Soviet space technology—rather than, say, something developed by this country, or in this century.1 Constellation, the project originally intended to replace the shuttle, has essentially been scrapped; plans to return to the Moon and establish an extended human presence there are more or less on indefinite hold; and the idea of a manned mission to Mars has rarely seemed so unlikely as NASA “faces [its] biggest crisis since its formation in 1958.”

Kids of the 1980s who grew up fascinated by space travel are about a dime a dozen,2 so my lingering childhood attachment to the space program is nothing special—except, of course, to me and my fellow nerdlings. I remember wishing I’d been born early enough to remember the Apollo 11 landing, or the first spacewalk, or the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous, instead of just reading about them in books that didn’t have enough pictures.3

And I’m certainly not the only kid born in the 1970s who dreamed of being an astronaut. I think I would have made it, too, had I not been unfairly held back by nearsightedness, mathematical ineptitude, poor coordination, poor reaction time, an aggressive vomit reflex, dislike of hard work and/or getting dirty, and general overall cowardice. I’m lucky I can balance a checkbook or successfully navigate a staircase; operating a billion-dollar piece of machinery in a deadly environment—without throwing up—was out of the question long before I realized it.

It’s possible, then, that I’m taking this a touch harder than I really should, that instead of seeing the somewhat mundane reality, I’m seeing only the childhood dream that’s being whittled away to a nub, and taking it personally.

Not too long ago4 I wrote that the space program once inspired us to be ingenious, intelligent, clever, and courageous,5 and maybe cutting budgets, shunning the notion of exploring the unknown, and laying off hundreds of NASA workers is ingenious and courageous in its own right.6 To me, though, the end of the space shuttle program—with no replacement in sight—and the apparent public and governmental disinterest in space exploration powerfully reinforce the notion that there’s no dream we can’t effectively defer by being sufficiently myopic, small-minded, foolish, and afraid. 

The sky, at the moment, really is our limit.

1. Of course, the Space Shuttles weren’t designed in this century, but they were at least American-made. So that's one for two.
2. Not adjusted for inflation.
3. We reserve the right to switch from the “editorial we” to the first-person singular whenever it suits me. We just hope that I avoid doing so in mid-sentence, because we worry about the odds that I will confuse myselves.
4. Yesterday.
5. Or something like that. I wasn't really paying attention.
6. It’s not.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20,1969: One Giant Leap

Forty-two years ago today, Apollo 11's lunar module, Eagle, touched down on the Moon. The first human steps taken on another world—taken the following day by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin—were the culmination of one of the most stirring and enduring achievements in the history of the human race, and powerfully reinforced the notion that for a people visionary, ingenious, intelligent, clever, and courageous enough, even the most improbable goals can be achieved. 

Decades later, this remarkable event still inspires awe, even among those who might not have been alive to see it happen.

Silly, humorous awe still counts as awe,
as far as we're concerned.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Butterflies: Nature’s Financial Planners


For reasons perhaps too complex for mere humans to fully understand, monarch butterflies, like many birds, migrate north and south with the seasons. They’re the only species of butterfly that does so.1

Hundreds of thousands of butterflies—perhaps millions; it’s really tough to count them because of all the fluttering and flapping, and their looking exactly the same from more than about six inches away—winter over in the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, a forested mountainside outside of Valle de Bravo, Mexico, some two hours2 west of Mexico City.

Tourists fortunate enough to visit Valle de Bravo can, with the help of local guides, hike up the mountainside to view the remarkable sight of swarms of monarch butterflies in their winter habitat, their bright wings swirling in the quiet sky like cascades of autumn leaves.

Perhaps more remarkable is that no single butterfly actually survives long enough to return home. The round trip takes several times longer than the typical two-month lifespan of the monarch butterfly, so an entire migration can span some three to four generations.3

What we have here, then, are creatures with the foresight to act in a way that is not particularly useful—or even detrimental—to themselves, but are vastly beneficial to future generations. The monarch butterfly has no written language, no history, and a brain smaller than a toenail clipping, and lives (as far as we can tell) almost purely by instinct, but has the insight to work for the good of descendents that it’s certain never to meet.

We wonder what that’s like.

Butterfly photos by Dr. Mrs. Some Guy.
1. At least among the species we’ve interviewed.
2. Or four and a half hours, if your driver isn’t sure where he’s going and the major highway is closed.
3. We welcome quibbling with our facts from the butterfly experts amongst our readership. We readily acknowledge that we are not scientists, and presume that the authors of the Wikipedia page we’re reading aren’t either.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Does Your Sense of Humor Suck? Tell the World!

Do you have a crappy sense of humor? Do you lack even the most rudimentary sense of comic timing? When you try to say funny things, do reasonably intelligent people fail to even recognize them as jokes, much less laugh at them?

If you’re dying to let the waiting world know that you’re barely more entertaining than a natural disaster, then the homemade demotivational poster may be for you. 

While it’s true that demotivational posters can be mildly amusing or even (rarely) genuinely funny, for the last several years they have been a cornerstone of the internet community’s effort to give inarticulate people easy, low-cost opportunities to suck at expressing themselves and then failing to be funny. In fact, a groundbreaking 2011 study by the Swiss Institute of Groundbreaking Studies has revealed that the demotivational poster is the single most efficient way of proving that you wouldn’t know funny if it walked up and kicked you in the crotch.1

The good news is that the novice poster creator isn’t simply thrown into the process without proper guidance on how to fuck up a joke. Indeed, humorless humorists have the option of borrowing liberally from several existing comedic styles, rather than struggling to make up their own awful style on the spot. Those existing styles include, but are not limited to, the following:

The Dennis Miller: You’re the smartest guy on Earth.
Make sure everyone knows it.

The Dane Cook: Punchlines? Who needs punchlines?

The Robin Williams: Sure, it doesn’t make a lick of
sense now, but if there’s enough cocaine involved,
this shit is hilarious.

The Carlos Mencia: 1. Find somebody else’s joke.
Repeat it. 3. Hope nobody notices.

The Carrot Top: If you don’t know how to write a joke, better bring a shitload of props.

The Andrew Dice Clay: insulting people is cruel and unfunny—and that’s what makes you a piece of shit.

The Internet Meme: Don't even bother making a joke in the first place. Just repeat the same non-joke several million times.

Unintentional Irony: Mocking laziness while at the very same time being too lazy to notice your grade-school spelling mistakes might have been funny, if you’d actually meant to do it. But you didn’t.

That’s all there is to it—so gather up your goofy pictures and your fumbling grasp of the English language and get to work! When genuine humor takes its last, desperate, rattling breath and then dies at your feet, you can hold your head high, knowing that you did your own small part to help it along its way.

1. The second most effective method of proving you’re unfunny is “being Larry the Cable Guy,” with “writing an unpopular, obscurely-named blog” coming in a distant third.

Irony, Illustrated

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

You’re Quoting Shakespeare, and You Probably Don’t Even Know It

you cannot understand my argument, and declare “It’s Greek to me,” you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is farther to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise—why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then—to give the devil his dueif the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then—by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no buts!—it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare. 

—Bernard Levin, from The Story of English

Friday, July 1, 2011

Words that Changed the World VII

“Grblb blabt unt mipt speeb!! Oot piffoo blaboo.”1

1. Bloom County comic strip reprinted here without permission, but also without intent or even hope of financial gain.