Category Archives: Humour

Humour

On limbo

I found a brilliant expression in a newspaper review recently which I subsequently have adopted. It finds its best use whenever something seems to be almost ridiculously low-brow and attention-seeking. As in:

Did you see that TV-show yesterday? They were just dancing limbo beneath the lowest common denominator.

Limboista!

It works even better by sounding less mathematical in Danish, so your mileage may vary.

Comics! (for those who care for such things)

You know what? I like comics. A single wellwritten and conceived comic strip can express some deep truths that would be impossible to convey properly in any other medium. By connecting simple images and dialogue while leaving plenty to the imagination to combine, comic strips can be like zen koans, absurd theatre, ponderous comedy and pop cultural references rolled into one single nugget of uncertain wisdom.

Web comics do this very well, since most of them do not seek to please. They are simply an outlet for the writer. A way of letting go of their thoughts. Of course, some people eventually make a business out of it, but with genuine web comics (ie. comics only published on the web, and as a pastime at first), the original nerve is that freedom to write what feels right. Without seeking to please anybody.

My first webcomic love was Achewood, which I still read. It is a bottomless font of new English slang and curious incidents. The first strip sums up the style quite well.

It combines wide-eyed wonder with world-weary slang. It’s basically like treasure.

I also had a brief fling with one called Men in Hats, which upon rereading it is a bit of a letdown. Still, some of them do have that sarcastic distance which seems almost zen.

My latest infatuation is with the aptly named xkcd, which brings wonderful honesty and a deep fascination with mathematics together. Now I may not know mathematics, but somehow this still manages to be funny:

George Clinton, BA

Especially those ponderings of love struck some rare chord with me. As well as those pseudo-scientific theories that erupt from time to time.

I think most people find themselves in situations where whatever they’re thinking just isn’t relevant to anybody around them. I hope to be able to think in strange ways, even if it isn’t the Bellman-Ford algorithm.

Gender and computing

It is well-known fact that the realm of computing and programming tend to be very male-dominated. There are lots of discussion as to why it is so, and some people are trying to actively change it.

A few months back I received this little story per email that doesn’t explain it, but does use it as a premise for fun:

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

“House” for instance, is feminine: “la casa.”

“Pencil,” however, is masculine: “el lapiz.”

A student asked, “What gender is ‘computer’?”

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether “computer” should be a masculine or a feminine noun.

Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men’s group decided that “computer” should definitely be of the feminine gender (“la computadora”), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

The women’s group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine (“el computador”), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can’t think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.

At the Revue..

Last night I was treated to a rare experience: The Mathematics Revue at the University of Copenhagen. My friend Jakob was playing saxophone in the revue band and had invited us to spectate. It was good fun. It reminded me of Biella Coleman’s research on hacker wit and humor, and it seems that this sort of punny, witty humour isn’t just for hackers but are common throughout the hard natural science subjects.

Actually, many of the best punchlines of the night were delivered by the lively audience rather than by the performers themselves. And whenever the lights dimmed for a change of scenery, the merrily drunk mathematicians (and physicists and computer scientists) happily began singing their favourite (mathematics-related drinking songs), beating a rhythm with their coconut shells (one of many Monty Python references).

It was all in Danish, and most of it pretty complicated stuff, punning on mathematical principles in ways I couldn’t make much sense of. But lots of it was pretty easy to follow, and with lots of pythonesque humor. As with all good revues, there were a number of songs – in Danish to wellknown Danish melodies, but here’s an bit that might give you an idea of the humor involved (the song is called “Det gode ved matematik” – which would translate as “What I like about math” – to the tune of “These are a few of my favourite things” from “Sound of Music”:

Diagonale komplekse matricer
Søde lemmata med smukke beviser
Operatorer og lækker logik
Det er det gode ved matematik

which roughly translates as:

diagonal complex matrices
sweet lemmata with beautiful proofs
Operators and luscious logic
That is what I like about math

.. It is self-deprecating irony and at the same time a straight-faced celebration of their subject’s weirdities. The encore was a pastiche on the Beatles’ “Let it be” which became “Få det læst!” (eng.: “Get it read!” or “read it now!”:

Jeg syn’s at matematik er herligt, frem for alle andre fag
Så jeg bør jo kunne få det læst
Men der er andet man kan lave, drikke løs og fyr’ den af
Jeg kan ikke klare det, få det læst!

Again, translated:

I like mathematics better than any other subject here
So I should be able to get it read
But there are things to do, getting drunk and naked, yeah
I’m not gonna make it, get it read!

Again, as I said, it was good fun.

Demotivational posters

John, an American anthropology student currently on exchange here in Copenhagen showed me a site selling demotivational posters today. Almost all of them are recommended for disaffected college students, so there might be something there to like.

Of course, this is a spoof on proper motivational posters which some business managers actually believe will work. Put up a poster and morale will soar. I have read enough Dilbert to know that that won’t work.

Here are some of the demotivational posters I thought were good:

Indifference
.

Inspiration
.

Irresponsibility.

Motivation.

Potential.

Worth.