Archive for August, 2009

How to be smug?

August 27, 2009

There are many people in the country today who, through no fault of their own, find it difficult to be smug. This lack of natural smugness is especially bad news for those who harbour middle-class aspirations because let’s face it, a clementine doesn’t taste half as good as an orange without it.

Luckily, smugness can be learned at any age using the right training methods. The trouble is, if it doesn’t come to you naturally, you’ll find it hard to orchestrate scenarios where you can safely and easily exercise it. Safety is paramount, there’s nothing worse than being outsmugged by someone richer, more intelligent or who happens to support a team that beat your favourite team jsut the other day. Or have you ever tried being a grammar nazi only to be told that your spelling sucked? A botched attempt can seriously rupture your ego.

So here’s what you should do instead:

  1. Go to your local WH Smith store on a Saturday.
  2. Pick up a scientific magazine. Ideally, this should be something like Combinatorics, Probability and Computing or Theory of Probability and its Applications, but you’re not very likely to find any of them in there so a Scientific American will do. “They wouldn’t know the difference anyway.” is a good warming up thought to lead you onto the real thing.
  3. You’ll find an awfully long queue at the counter, join it and wait for your “Anyone not waiting for lottery?” call.
  4. This is your big moment! Hold the magazine in such a way that everyone in the queue will be able to see the title as you skirt past them nonchalantly.
  5. Pay up and leave with your head held high.
  6. Watch out for the aotomatic doors though..

Next time we’re going to learn how to become as patronising as a football pundit when a non-league team forces a replay against a Premier League team in the cup.

Dark Matters

August 22, 2009

“Dad, can I go out and play football?”
“Have you done your homework yet?”
“Sure.”
“Then bring it to me, I want to check.”
“Erm, alright. Here it is.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes.”
“A couple of inkblots on a scrap of paper?”
“And a letter ‘a’. The rest is invisible, you know.”
“Invisible?”
“No, as a matter of fact it’s completely undetectable by any means of physical observation. But you can infer its existence indirectly by subtracting the mass of ink used up in the blots and the letter ‘a’ from the amount missing from the pen.”
“It’s still just a scrap of paper though, where’s the rest of your exercise book?”
“That’s invisible too.”
“Is it? Without a doubt there is an indirect way to prove its existence.”
“Of course not, don’t be childish. I merely postulated it.”

And that’s why it isn’t a good idea to teach kids cosmology.

Tipping Point

August 10, 2009

Physicists never cease to amaze me. Not only will they spend time, money and a lot of effort on pursuing such important matters as why a spaghetti never breaks in two, they will go even further.

Whereas a mathematician would be more than happy to reduce a problem to an already solved one and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and trying to prove Goldbach’s conjecture, a physicist will not stop just because something is proven to be impossible.

Take cow-tipping, for example. It’s a well-known fact that it is impossible to sneak up on a sleeping cow and tip it over for the simple reason that cows don’t sleep upright. They just don’t.

Luckily Matt Semke showed us using sophisticated rigid-body modelling that a single human would be unable to exert a force big enough to perform this prank even if they did. (Although two might stand a chance.)

There are two things that are worth noting here.
1. Whatever scientific career Matt Semke has had since or will have in the future, he will forever be famous as “the cow-tipping guy”.
2. Observe the picture labelled “Back View of Cow”. I admire the accuracy with which the author managed to grasp and convey to us the very essence of cowness (or is it cowdom?)

There’s only one thing I don’t understand about the whole subject. What’s all that fuss about fly-tipping then?

To be honest, I could’ve also gone the other way around, starting out with fly-tipping and how disgusting it is to throw your waste around and whatnot, then close it with this rather cheap pun in reverse. It would’ve been more gruesome as well, describing how they’d chuck a cow into a ditch out of the window of a speeding Ford Fiesta.

Er…I’m afraid I’ve ruined the punchline somewhat with this informational remark. It’s a good job it wasn’t very good anyway.

Frequently Asked Questions

August 6, 2009

I get asked a lot of questions all the time.

I reckon these are the most frequently asked:

“How was your weekend?”
“Did you see the match last night?”
“Can I buy a cigarette off you?”

Get Up, Stand Up

August 5, 2009

“At the Guild of Fools and Joculators we discourage laughter. Joking is not a laughing matter. ”
Discworld Fools’ Guild Yearbook And Diary 2001

This is a good one.

Apparently you can actually earn a degree in Standup Comedy at the Southampton Solent University. (Formerly known as the Fox and Goose Pub, I guess.)

Brilliant tabloid fodder, surely “this is beyond a joke” and other, similarly hilarious phrases will be sprinkled liberally over coverages.

But there’s more to it than tomfoolery. What happens, for example, if you pass all your exams with flying colours, yet for some weird and inexplicable reason, completely fail to be funny? Do you still get the degree? If you don’t, that’s not really fair, is it? After all, you learned what you had been told to learn, it’s not your fault. But if you do, then your degree, like all degrees should mean that you can be a practitioner of that particular trade. Except that you can’t because you’re missing one (in fact the only) vital ingredient. What can you do with your degree then? Go into advertising or write for Jimmy Carr?

Maybe the whole subject is more serious than it sounds?

Or maybe they should just abandon the whole idea altogether and start a course on pub quizzes. A much simpler and teachable discipline: picture round, music round, general knowledge, snacks every half term, here’s your diploma and if you’re lucky on the raffle, you get your tuition fee back.

Pigs on the Wing

August 3, 2009

Can anybody remember bird flu?