Archive for the 'Humor' Category

We humans are quite full of ourselves

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

It is one of the conceits of our race that we are quite full of our own intelligence. Hopefully, one day we’ll run across a vastly more intelligent species and be put in our collective place. But until then, we’ll keep on calling our own intelligence the best thing since sliced bread — something, I should point out, that our intelligence invented, and still thinks itself mighty clever for having come up with.

Orcs are a classic fantasy villain race.  They are anthropomorphic, but vastly lacking in intelligence in comparison to humans.

Orcs are a classic fantasy villain race. They are anthropomorphic, but vastly lacking in intelligence in comparison to humans.


In nearly every fantasy universe, humans are the smartest creatures around. Even elves, the high variety of which are frequently portrayed as wiser than people, are really just humans with pointy ears. If you don’t believe me, just ask a half-elf, or a quarter-elf, or a third-elf. Now compare that against all of the stupid races in fantasy universes: goblins, orcs, trolls, ogres, etc. They’re all so dumb one wonders how they even manage to put their armor on in the morning.

To make up for their incredible stupidity, these creatures are also given incredible strength. The human protagonists in the story must therefore rely on their cunning, their wit, and their intelligence to triumph over the enemies. Even magic is nothing more than a form of intelligence made physically manifest — the art of spellcasting is portrayed as an academic endeavor, in which the most studious become the most powerful. The concept of fantasy magic is the ultimate in human intelligence navel-gazing.

Even in non-fantasy media, the protagonists typically defeat their human rivals by outsmarting them. The movies in which the protagonist defeats his nemesis simply by beating on him more powerfully are few and far between — and of those that do exist, most of them involve sport, an activity so frequently fetishized by commentators that all connections to reality are lost. You simply can’t have a compelling story without a triumph of the mind. It’s understandable, really: while our eyes merely gaze at the movie screen, it’s our own mind that is truly watching it, and minds do harbor sympathies for other minds.

We value human intelligence so greatly because we are the only beings on the planet who possess anything close to it. When we triumph over a lion, a bear, or a hippopotamus in nature, we do so not by brute force, but through our intelligence. In one-on-one hand-to-hand combat, a fight against an elephant isn’t remotely fair. Allow the human use of a simple hand-held weapon such as a spear and the odds tighten considerably. Now give him a modern weapon that represents the apex of human intelligence — say, an F-22 joint strike fighter — and the elephant is easily reduced to a cloud of pink mist that has no chance whatsoever of retaliating against the human roaring away at Mach 2 a couple miles above it.

It is no surprise, then, that our fantasy worlds mimic very much the real world. Even though we make our villain fantasy races anthropomorphic (an orc is frequently portrayed as being a human with prominent boar features, for instance), even though we give them the ability to speak language, they represent nothing more than the animals of our own world, which we are used to accustomed to dominating completely. Are the fantasy creatures more intelligent? Certainly. It’s not a fair fight if the man-sized enemies don’t use weapons. But ultimately all that they really are is animals. No wonder fantasy story lines follow the races of player characters: humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and others — all of which are pretty much the same as humans, sharing the same relative physical weaknesses, but possessing the same mental prowesses.

So it makes sense that human intelligences are most entertained by the dealings of other human intelligences, and that is thus what our fictions focus upon. It makes sense that in our fantasies we conduct battle against either humans or animals, because that is all we really know about fighting against in our own world — except in fantasy even the animals frequently look like humans because we really are that obsessed with ourselves. Yes, we humans really are quite full of ourselves, but seeing the complete lack of alternatives, who can blame us?

Random sacrilegious thought of the day

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Playing “Clue” with a group of Mormons is no fun. The answer is always Jehovah in the watchtower with the nine-inch nail.

Abandoned blog post ideas, pt. 1

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I have fifty drafts sucking all the air out of my WordPress dashboard at the moment. Very few of them are ever likely to be developed into fully fledged blog posts, but I would feel kind of bad just deleting them outright. So I’m taking a bunch of the ideas and combining them into a hodge-podge post, hopefully for your reading pleasure. So, without further ado …

Workplaces are food sinks, in that if anyone has any extra food left over from a party or other event, they can bring it to work, set it down on a communal table in the kitchen, and it’ll be gone by the end of the day. Workplaces can thus absorb any of the extra food in a society that might otherwise be wasted. I’m not sure how I ever thought this tiny little insight would be expandable into a full blog post, but there it is.

In college, I was a part of an undergraduate research program that had a team of eight people writing a 100-page research paper over the course of three years. The paper was about an educational videogame that we wrote. We all thought that 100 page paper was a big deal at the time. Well, two months ago for work I wrote a 100 page paper over the course of a month with a single coworker. It required a comparable amount of research to the undergraduate research paper. It’s funny how relative ideas of what constitutes an involved assignment change so quickly following employment. I’m laughing at the thought that we ever considered a 100 page paper written by eight people over the course of three years to be a hard undertaking.

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I took a photograph of the Great Falls section of the Potomac River on a camp field trip. Not too long after, I uploaded said photograph to Wikipedia for use in an article. All was well and good for awhile, until it was transferred to Wikimedia Commons (an image repository run by the Wikimedia Foundation) and the person effecting the move completely munged the image attribution. He attributed the photograph to a user who did nothing more than decrease the image quality by reducing the size of the image (an action which was later reverted). I understand that thousands of photographs are processed for transfer to Wikimedia Commons every month, but you really have to get the details correct! Put in the extra few minutes to carefully check the image’s history and verify that credit for it is actually going to the one who deserves it. I’ve since corrected the attribution on the image, but now I face the nuisance of regularly trawling through all of my uploads just to make sure none of them have been mistakenly attributed to someone else. Another complicating factor here is that only administrators can view deleted revisions, and the revision that established me as the content creator was deleted on Wikipedia. So I could see it and point out the error, but the average editor/reader cannot.

I have several computers participating in the Seventeen or Bust distributed computing project, the goal of which is to prove that 78,557 is the smallest Sierpinski number (it seems a much nobler goal if you understand the mathematics behind it, trust me). If you have any idle computing power, you should join it too. The attraction it offers versus most other distributed computing projects is that it has a finish line in sight. They only have five more primes to find (out of an original 17, hence the project name), and once they do, the project ends successfully. Compare that with, say, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, which just keeps looking for larger and larger primes and thus never ends. The Seventeen or Bust project currently holds the record for having found the largest non-Mersenne prime.

I’m tired of pseudoscientific pablum on television, especially when it’s on otherwise respectable networks such as the History Channel. This kernel of an idea for a blog post was inspired by an especially heinous paranormal television show on the History Channel. Luckily, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy and others are putting together a new television show called The Skeptologists that will provide a counterpoint to all of the pseudoscientific nonsense on television. Hopefully it makes it to air.

And last but not least, I was going to write an entire blog post about a freaking screwdriver. It was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek ode to a great tool that my dad bought for me many years ago and that has served me well all throughout high school and college (and I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many computers it has taken apart and put together). One of my remarks in the draft notes that “Its orange color makes it easy to find”. But as I wrote more and more about it, the ode became more and more serious, and eventually I scrapped the whole blog post idea as being patently ridiculous. Unfortunately, this was not before I took multiple pictures of said screwdriver, one of which I present for your mocking scorn and frivolous amusement:

And with that, my WordPress drafts queue is down from 50 to 44. I should do this more often. If you think any of the above ideas could have merited a full blog post, by all means, let me know in the comments below. I’m not promising anything though. Hopefully with most of these you can see why I decided against expanding them into full blog posts.

The best Nerf war I have ever seen

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Okay, so usually I don’t ever do posts that consist solely of an embedded YouTube video, but this one you have to see. Check below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

I KNOW HOW TO PROGRAM WITH C++

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Thankfully, I no longer live in the rundown rented house that I called my home during my senior year at University of Maryland, College Park. That means no more housemates setting their socks on fire in the microwave (no, really). It also means no more contact with my former West African roommate who believes that shamans control the weather. Well, that was the idea anyway. But on the day that I moved out, I foolishly gave him my email address, and he just contacted me:

Hello Mr BEN,how are you doing?I just thought about you,and i would like to send you an email.I hope you are enjoying your job.I wish you good luck and success.By the way,whenever you will find a job’s opportunity in COMPUTER SCIENCES,try to reach me.I KNOW HOW TO PROGRAM WITH C++.Also,i know you are able of all when you want.THANK SO MUCH and i hope your candidate JOHN MCCAIN WILL WIN THE ELECTION.

I cannot come up with any kind response to him, so I won’t. But I don’t mind responding here, simply because there’s vast humor potential in his message. There’s the random capital letters. The meaningless platitudes trying to soften me up for the pitch (and in one of them he seems to think I am omnipotent). Then there’s the pitch itself: he’s really contacting me because he’s looking for a job in computer science. Apparently he thinks that the one semester of Intro to Programming in C++ he took (which I helped him with, mind you, so I’m aware of his lack of skills) is enough to qualify him to do the same kind of job I’m doing. Of course, I have a dozen years experience and a college degree in the field — but hell, he took Intro to Programming! I would love to hook him up with all of these various “computer science” companies I know so well, and they would be blown away by his qualifications!

This is the same guy who applied for a $999,999 educational loan online in response to spam (inputting all of his personal details in the process), was infected with numerous viruses and malware that took me several hours to clean, and eventually corrupted Windows, necessitating a reinstall (which I did, of course), because his version of shutting down his computer was to unplug it. He didn’t even know how the lock on the door to his room worked, so he ended up locking himself out several times, and I would come home from classes only to find him moping about in the common area waiting for me to pick the lock for him. Despite explaining many times that he should verify that the knob turns from the outside of his door before shutting it, he never really got it. So I have already helped him a lot in the past simply out of a sense of housemate’s responsibility, and now that I no longer live with him, I feel no more obligations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jimmy Wales tangles with the wrong woman

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

If you haven’t been following the ongoing breakup saga between Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Rachel “Canada’s Ann Coulter” Marsden, then you’re really missing out on a lot of drama. The Sydney Morning Herald article does a good job of explaining what’s going on, though it does kind of miss the conflict of interest angle that Valleywag covers.

All I can say is Jimmy’s relationship with Rachel definitely ended in much lulz, complete with his dirty clothes being auctioned off on eBay. Now that is quality. Oh, for such a “great” man to confront such pedestrian troubles, and then get steamrolled by them.

Garfield does have its moments of brilliance

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

The comic Garfield has taken a lot of grief on the web in the past few days, most of it deserved. The comic has been around since the 1970s and it really just isn’t that funny. For instance, Garfield Without Garfield makes the strip much funnier by removing Garfield entirely. The resultant strips show Jon Arbuckle talking to himself, with hilarious results. The description says it all:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness in a quiet American suburb.

And then there’s Lasagna Cat, which is a collection of cleverly edited “tributes” to Garfield cartoons that start with a hysterical live actor costume reenactment of a Garfield strip, then segue into bizarre musical numbers. You must see it.

However, Garfield has also had its moments. This series of six strips, published in the week leading up to Halloween 1989, is actually very clever and thought-provoking. I wish more Garfield comics were like this, then I might actually bother reading it regularly. Some urban legends seem to be circulating saying that these strips are hoaxes; they are not, and were published in all newspapers in which Garfield was syndicated. I’ve linked the comics to Garfield.com’s archive as proof.

Garfield 1
Garfield 2

Read the rest of this entry »

Rick’Bowled

Friday, February 29th, 2008

I played a few games at the bowling alley earlier tonight with my coworkers. They were playing some great music — Time by Pink Floyd, Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf, even some Jimi Hendrix. Then everyone at the bowling alley got Rick’Rolled. I heard the opening bars of the song, wondering why it was so familiar, because I had never heard the song in a non-ironic context before, and bam, it hit me, and I was rockin’ out and I was never gonna make you cry, never gonna say good-bye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

You can’t rest in my Jesus, it’s full

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I was talking with a friend recently and she brought up the concept of resting in Jesus, which has something to do with easing your troubles by taking comfort in knowing that Jesus will take care of them for you. It’s a perfectly vacuous concept, of course, except I had never heard it called by that name. So my first response when I heard her say “resting in Jesus” was, and I kid you not:

“Oh, you mean like a tauntaun?”

I am:

  • A. Incredibly glad she’s not religious, because:
  • B. She got the Star Wars reference

I’m hard-pressed to conjure up another spur of the moment thought that’s quite as offensive as the thought of slitting open the belly of the Christ and resting inside his corpse.

The Internet sucks because idiots are legion and vocal

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I’ve been pondering for awhile now why the Internet sucks so much. Sure, it has its good points (like free knowledge), but it also has the largest collection of idiots ever assembled in one place, virtual or not. All you have to do to verify this for yourself is to spend a few minutes browsing through random profiles on MySpace (don’t spend too long though; that level of stupidity is contagious). Some of that has to do with the anonymity that is frequently afforded on the Internet; after all, if you fear no repercussions, no damage to your reputation, then you won’t hold your tongue. But the problem goes deeper than that.

The problem is that the morons are incessantly vocal with their idiocy while the smart people generally know better and only pipe up when what they have to say is actually worthwhile. Let’s use this blog as a case study. The level of commenting here is overall pretty decent (though active moderation plays a bit of a role in that). But there’s one particular post that has attracted attention from the absolute worst of the web’s denizens: my post about Zwinky.

Zwinky is a crappy online “game” targeted at children, and it shows. The comments on that post are simultaneously ignorant, vulgar, poorly put together, and unnecessary. Like an intrepid scientist studying a fatal disease in a Petri dish, I have resisted destroying that which I know is evil in order to better study it, so the comments remain thoroughly and dangerously unsanitized. I dare you to read through all of those comments in their native state and not feel terrible for the prospects of humanity’s future.

These kids are just so damn dumb. They don’t know how to spell, they don’t know how to punctuate, they don’t really know how to write at all. It’s as if their English teachers tried their best at the Sisyphean task, realized the futility of it, and then, in sheer desperation, began having sex with their students in order to be sent to adult prison, where at long last they are no longer tormented by idiot kids. This is what IM speak does to people! And it’s horrendous! I tried to make a “New Rule” to elevate the level of conversation:

All comments must observe proper written English punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization, and proper style. All offending comments will be subject to immediate disemvowelment at my sole discretion. I don’t know if it’s all the lessons on creationism or sex with teachers, but it seems like they’re not teaching kids writing anymore in schools?!


Read the rest of this entry »