Laughing Outloud: from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

I was reading this book shortly after getting back from vacation in November. There is a lot of funny stuff in this book, but one passage in particular made me burst out laughing, mainly due to the nature of the subject. I received a few strange glances, laughing so hard at something contained within a physicists autobiography. Here’s the passage:

I often liked to play tricks on people when I was at MIT. One time, in mechanical drawing class, some joker picked up a French curve (a piece of plastic for drawing smooth curves–a curly, funny-looking thing) and said, “I wonder if the curves on this thing have some special formula?”

I thought for a moment and said, “Sure they do. The curves are very special curves. Lemme show ya,” and I picked up the French curve and began to turn it slowly. “The French curve is made so that at the lowest point on each curve, no matter how you turn it, the tangent is horizontal.”

All the guys in the class were holding their French curve up at different angles, holding their pencil up to it at the lowest point and laying it along, and discovering that, sure enough, the tangent is horizontal. They were all excited by this “discovery”–even though they had already “learned” that the derivative (tangent) of the minimum (lowest point) of any curve is zero (horizontal). They didn’t put two and two together. They didn’t even know what they “knew.”

From “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman.

Laughing Outloud: On the Metro

People collect different things. I collect books, for instance, while other people collect butterflies. One amusing thing that I have started to collect are snippets from books that I happen to be on the Metro to or from work, and which happen to be funny enough to make my laugh outloud.

This may not seem earth-shattering, and it’s not. What amuses me about it is that I can’t help from laughing. There I am, surrounded by the rush hour crowds on the train, nose buried in a book and suddenly I am laughing. Uproariously. I imagine it must make for an amusing sight to the other commuters.

At any event, whenever I come across one of these passages that make me laugh outloud on the metro, I plan to include a quote from the passage in a blog entry. All entries will be prefaced with “Laughing Outloud:” or you can find them by clicking on the Laughing Outloud on the Metro link on my reading list website.

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Laughing Outloud: On the Metro

People collect different things. I collect books, for instance, while other people collect butterflies. One amusing thing that I have started to collect are snippets from books that I happen to be on the Metro to or from work, and which happen to be funny enough to make my laugh outloud.

This may not seem earth-shattering, and it’s not. What amuses me about it is that I can’t help from laughing. There I am, surrounded by the rush hour crowds on the train, nose buried in a book and suddenly I am laughing. Uproariously. I imagine it must make for an amusing sight to the other commuters.

At any event, whenever I come across one of these passages that make me laugh outloud on the metro, I plan to include a quote from the passage in a blog entry. All entries will be prefaced with “Laughing Outloud:” or you can find them by clicking on the Laughing Outloud on the Metro link on my reading list website.

Started writing a new story

I finally got around to writing a new story today, the first of the new year and the first new story I’ve written in many months. It’s a science fiction story with a working title of “If By Reason of Strength…”. I tried starting this story several months ago, but didn’t have a good grasp on it. Now I’ve worked it out in more detail, enough to where I can get it started. I wrote nearly 900 words this evening and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got so far.

This story is a little tough in two respects:

  1. I am trying to make a murderer into a sympathetic character, which is not easy to do.
  2. Normally, I work out the ending of the story in my head before I ever get started, but in this case, I don’t yet know how the story is going to end. That usually doesn’t work for me; the story wanders too much if I don’t have a target at which to aim.

The important thing, however, is to write, even if what you write sucks. And I’m pretty happy with what I wrote tonight. It doesn’t suck.

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Started writing a new story

I finally got around to writing a new story today, the first of the new year and the first new story I’ve written in many months. It’s a science fiction story with a working title of “If By Reason of Strength…”. I tried starting this story several months ago, but didn’t have a good grasp on it. Now I’ve worked it out in more detail, enough to where I can get it started. I wrote nearly 900 words this evening and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got so far.

This story is a little tough in two respects:

  1. I am trying to make a murderer into a sympathetic character, which is not easy to do.
  2. Normally, I work out the ending of the story in my head before I ever get started, but in this case, I don’t yet know how the story is going to end. That usually doesn’t work for me; the story wanders too much if I don’t have a target at which to aim.

The important thing, however, is to write, even if what you write sucks. And I’m pretty happy with what I wrote tonight. It doesn’t suck.

Back on the chain gang

I received a chain message today, the first one in quite a while. It’s one that I’ve received before. It claims be advice on how to live your life fully. There’s no harm in that. Someone cared enough to forward it to me and that’s nice too.

But these things really annoy me because they preface their sage advice with warnings of impending doom if you do not forward the message to everyone you know within the next 6 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a carrot too: your life will improve if you send it along to the people you care about. I don’t believe that one way or the other, but the current incarnation of the message takes exception to this:

It must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES. Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.

Well! I am not superstitious, and I’m exceedingly agnostic. I’m not even sure I understand what “faith impaired” means. Is it like “vision impaired”? I take some exception to the fact that if this message doesn’t leave my hand within 6 minutes, I will get a very unpleasant surprise.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that I will get a very unpleasant surprise. The fact is, I may very well get an unpleasant surprise, but there is no causal relationship between the unpleasant surprise and my lack of action. Instead, it would merely be an unfortunate coincidence.

People want their lives to improve, but they don’t want to do the work necessary to improve them. Instead, they want to forward an email around and wait for the improvements to happen as if by magic.

Not all of the “advice” in the message is bad. Some are more amusing than others, however:

Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

Certainly getting the chain letter was more than I expected. I don’t know whether the sender was cheerful when they sent it. One might deduce, however, that they were desperate to improve their life.

Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

As an alternative, marry a man/woman to whom you like to write or send email. As you get older, you will have someone to whom you can forward all of the chain email letters you receive. The reciprocal nature of the relationship should, according to this chain letter, doubly improve your lives together.

Don’t judge people by their relatives.

Relatively speaking, I’d say this is good advice. But why limit it to relatives? Why not simply say, “Don’t judge people”?

Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.

This is my favorite. Don’t believe all you hear. I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I don’t believe any of the rewards and admonitions contained in the chain letter. What is particularly amusing about this statement is not that it contradicts the spirit of the chain letter. Instead, its the mutual exclusivity of the statement. Note that it’s not an “and” statement, but an “or” statement. Essentially, what this is saying is: choose one of the following: don’t believe all you hear or spend all you have or sleep all you want. Why can’t you do all three?

Actually, maybe it makes sense after all. If you choose not to believe all you hear, then by definition, you may choose not to spend all you have and sleep all you want. If you spend all you have, you will clearly not be able to sleep all you want because you will working three jobs to get back what you had. If you sleep all you want, however, you will have some trouble spending all you have, especially if you sleep a lot. So maybe that’s a good thing.

But really, what’s the big deal? It’s just another chain letter, one of many. Doesn’t it count for anything that someone thought enough of me to forward this along to me? After all, it means that there are people out there who are thinking about me. Well, it’s a pleasant thought, but skeptic that I am, I simply don’t believe it. Why?

The message was sent to “undisclosed recipients”, which means it was BCC’d to a long list of people. 9 out of 10 times, that means that someone sent the message to everyone in their address book. There may be people in the address book that haven’t been thought of in years. It’s possible that’s not the case here, but I’m just too skeptical to think otherwise.

I think the list of advice for leading a happy life is missing one item:

Always be considerate of your friends and family; never send them chain letters.

I realize that mine is probably not the most popular opinion on the matter, and that people might even find my attitude rude. Well, I’m sorry about that, but that’s how I feel about chain letters. Want to show someone you care about them? Be honest with them.

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Back on the chain gang

I received a chain message today, the first one in quite a while. It’s one that I’ve received before. It claims be advice on how to live your life fully. There’s no harm in that. Someone cared enough to forward it to me and that’s nice too.

But these things really annoy me because they preface their sage advice with warnings of impending doom if you do not forward the message to everyone you know within the next 6 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a carrot too: your life will improve if you send it along to the people you care about. I don’t believe that one way or the other, but the current incarnation of the message takes exception to this:

It must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES. Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.

Well! I am not superstitious, and I’m exceedingly agnostic. I’m not even sure I understand what “faith impaired” means. Is it like “vision impaired”? I take some exception to the fact that if this message doesn’t leave my hand within 6 minutes, I will get a very unpleasant surprise.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that I will get a very unpleasant surprise. The fact is, I may very well get an unpleasant surprise, but there is no causal relationship between the unpleasant surprise and my lack of action. Instead, it would merely be an unfortunate coincidence.

People want their lives to improve, but they don’t want to do the work necessary to improve them. Instead, they want to forward an email around and wait for the improvements to happen as if by magic.

Not all of the “advice” in the message is bad. Some are more amusing than others, however:

Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

Certainly getting the chain letter was more than I expected. I don’t know whether the sender was cheerful when they sent it. One might deduce, however, that they were desperate to improve their life.

Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

As an alternative, marry a man/woman to whom you like to write or send email. As you get older, you will have someone to whom you can forward all of the chain email letters you receive. The reciprocal nature of the relationship should, according to this chain letter, doubly improve your lives together.

Don’t judge people by their relatives.

Relatively speaking, I’d say this is good advice. But why limit it to relatives? Why not simply say, “Don’t judge people”?

Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.

This is my favorite. Don’t believe all you hear. I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I don’t believe any of the rewards and admonitions contained in the chain letter. What is particularly amusing about this statement is not that it contradicts the spirit of the chain letter. Instead, its the mutual exclusivity of the statement. Note that it’s not an “and” statement, but an “or” statement. Essentially, what this is saying is: choose one of the following: don’t believe all you hear or spend all you have or sleep all you want. Why can’t you do all three?

Actually, maybe it makes sense after all. If you choose not to believe all you hear, then by definition, you may choose not to spend all you have and sleep all you want. If you spend all you have, you will clearly not be able to sleep all you want because you will working three jobs to get back what you had. If you sleep all you want, however, you will have some trouble spending all you have, especially if you sleep a lot. So maybe that’s a good thing.

But really, what’s the big deal? It’s just another chain letter, one of many. Doesn’t it count for anything that someone thought enough of me to forward this along to me? After all, it means that there are people out there who are thinking about me. Well, it’s a pleasant thought, but skeptic that I am, I simply don’t believe it. Why?

The message was sent to “undisclosed recipients”, which means it was BCC’d to a long list of people. 9 out of 10 times, that means that someone sent the message to everyone in their address book. There may be people in the address book that haven’t been thought of in years. It’s possible that’s not the case here, but I’m just too skeptical to think otherwise.

I think the list of advice for leading a happy life is missing one item:

Always be considerate of your friends and family; never send them chain letters.

I realize that mine is probably not the most popular opinion on the matter, and that people might even find my attitude rude. Well, I’m sorry about that, but that’s how I feel about chain letters. Want to show someone you care about them? Be honest with them.

Science and Law on SCIAM

This month’s “Antigravity” column in Scientific American (by Steve Mirsky) was really funny. For anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Scientific American (shame on you), the Antigravity column is on the website. You can find it here.

The author takes issue with the fact that Supreme Court nominees should be familiar with business law. He thinks they should be more familiar with science and has ten (very funny) questions that he would ask all nominees if here were on the Senate committee.

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Science and Law on SCIAM

This month’s “Antigravity” column in Scientific American (by Steve Mirsky) was really funny. For anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Scientific American (shame on you), the Antigravity column is on the website. You can find it here.

The author takes issue with the fact that Supreme Court nominees should be familiar with business law. He thinks they should be more familiar with science and has ten (very funny) questions that he would ask all nominees if here were on the Senate committee.

Winter cleaning?

Upon awakening this morning, I was overcome by the sudden and unexpected need to clean the house. And I mean clean. I went at it for several hours and it’s still not all done, although I made a fair amount of progress. Such was my sickness, that I moved and vacuumed under my bed. And I got rid of stuff. A lot of stuff. the more stuff I got rid of, the more I wanted to get rid of even more stuff. Fortunately, trash pickup is tomorrow (since today was a holiday). There is line of trash bins, and boxes in front of my house. It felt good, though, like getting a short haircut after allowing your hair to grow a little too long. Or mowing the lawn in the spring after being out of town for two week.

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Winter cleaning?

Upon awakening this morning, I was overcome by the sudden and unexpected need to clean the house. And I mean clean. I went at it for several hours and it’s still not all done, although I made a fair amount of progress. Such was my sickness, that I moved and vacuumed under my bed. And I got rid of stuff. A lot of stuff. the more stuff I got rid of, the more I wanted to get rid of even more stuff. Fortunately, trash pickup is tomorrow (since today was a holiday). There is line of trash bins, and boxes in front of my house. It felt good, though, like getting a short haircut after allowing your hair to grow a little too long. Or mowing the lawn in the spring after being out of town for two week.

Revamped reading website is online!

Well, the newly revised reading website is done and is finally available online. Most of the functionality is there now, but some will have to wait for next week. This is the second day in a row that I spent more than 12 hours coding to try and get it completed and at this point I’m pretty burnt out. I’d rather spend the rest of my long weekend reading or writing (to say nothing of cleaning up the house a bit).

It’s 2:15 AM now, however, and I’m off to bed.

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