(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘humor

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…'”*…

It’s that time again: the IgNobel Prizes for 2021 have been awarded!

An experiment that hung rhinoceroses upside down to see what effect it had on the animals has been awarded one of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes.

Other recipients included teams that studied the bacteria in chewing gum stuck to pavements, and how to control cockroaches on submarines.

The ceremony couldn’t take place at its usual home of Harvard University in the US because of Covid restrictions. All the fun occurred online instead.

The science humour magazine, Annals of Improbable Research, says its Ig Nobel awards should first make you laugh but then make you think.

And the rhino study, which this year wins the award for transportation research, does exactly this. What could seem more daft than hanging 12 rhinos upside down for 10 minutes?

But wildlife veterinarian Robin Radcliffe, from Cornell University, and colleagues did exactly this in Namibia because they wanted to know if the health of the animals might be compromised when slung by their legs beneath a helicopter. It’s an activity that increasingly has been used in African conservation work to shift rhinos between areas of fragmented habitat.

However, no-one had done the basic investigation to check that the tranquillised animals’ heart and lung function coped with upside-down flying, said Robin. He told BBC News: “Namibia was the first country to take a step back and say, ‘hey, let’s study this and figure out, you know, is this a safe thing to do for rhinos?”

As has become customary with the Ig Nobels, the prizes on the night were handed out by real Nobel laureates, including Frances Arnold (chemistry, 2018), Carl Weiman (physics, 2001), and Eric Maskin (economics, 2007).

The winners got a trophy they had to assemble themselves from a PDF print-out and a cash prize in the form of a counterfeit 10 trillion dollar Zimbabwean banknote…

For more on the very real importance of the rhino research, and a complete list of other winners, e.g.,

Biology Prize: Susanne Schötz, for analysing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat-human communication.

… see “Upside-down rhino research wins Ig Nobel Prize.

* Isaac Asimov

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As we take our knowledge where we find it, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that president John F. Kennedy gave what has become known as the “space speech.” Officially titled “the Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort,” it characterized space as a new frontier, in an attempt to win support for the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

The full text of his speech (and video clips) are here.

Kennedy speaking at Rice

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 12, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower”*…

Humor is said to be the quintessential humor capacity, last thing that AI could– will?– conquer…

New Yorker cartoons are inextricably woven into the fabric of American visual culture. With an instantly recognizable formula — usually, a black-and-white drawing of an imagined scenario followed by a quippy caption in sleek Caslon Pro Italic — the daily gags are delightful satires of our shared human experience, riffing on everything from cats and produce shopping to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Yorker‘s famous Cartoon Caption Contest, which asks readers to submit their wittiest one-liners, gets an average 5,732 entries each week, and the magazine receives thousands of drawings every month from hopeful artists.

What if a computer tried its hand at the iconic comics?

Playing on their ubiquity and familiarity, comics artist Ilan Manouach and AI engineer Ioannis [or Yiannis] Siglidis developed the Neural Yorker, an artificial intelligence (AI) engine that posts computer-generated cartoons on Twitter. The project consists of image-and-caption combinations produced by a generative adversarial network (GAN), a deep-learning-based model. The network is trained using a database of punchlines and images of cartoons found online and then “learns” to create new gags in the New Yorker‘s iconic style, with hilarious (and sometimes unsettling) results…

Comics artist Ilan Manouach (@IlanManouach) and AI engineer Yiannis Siglidis created The Neural Yorker: “Computer-Generated New Yorker Cartoons Are Delightfully Weird.”

For comparison’s sake, see “142 Of The Funniest New Yorker Cartoons Ever.”

Alan Kay

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As we go for the guffaw, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the first chapter in Walt Disney’s career as an animator came to a close when he released the 7th and next-to-last “Laugh-O-Gram” cartoon adaption of a fairy tale, “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Disney’s first animated films began in 1920 as after-work projects when Disney was a commercial artist for an advertising company in Kansas City. He made these cartoons by himself and with the help of a few friends.

He started by persuading Frank Newman, Kansas City’s leading exhibitor, to include short snippets of animation in the series of weekly newsreels Newman produced for his chain of three theaters. Tactfully called “Newman Laugh-O-grams,” Disney’s footage was meant to mix advertising with topical humor…

The Laugh-O-grams were a hit, leading to commissions for animated intermission fillers and coming attractions slides for Newman’s theaters. Spurred by his success, the 19-year-old Disney decided to try something more ambitious: animated fairy tales. Influenced by New York animator Paul Terry’s spoofs of Aesop’s Fables, which had premiered in June 1920, Disney decided not only to parody fairy-tale classics but also to modernize them by having them playing off recent events. With the help of high school student Rudy Ising, who later co-founded the Warner Brothers and MGM cartoon studios, and other local would-be cartoonists, Disney [made 7 animated shorts, of which “Jack, the Giant Killer” was the penultimate].

Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-grams

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me”*…

The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology has a large collection of some of the most important apparatus and objects related to psychological science and practice covering the past 150 years.  There are brass chronoscopes from the 1800s that measured reaction time in one-thousandths of a second.  There are a variety of rat mazes, tachistoscopes, and Skinner boxes.  The “shock” machine used by Stanley Milgram in his famous obedience studies is in the Center’s collections as are a Bobo doll from Albert Bandura’s research, guard uniforms from Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison study, a surrogate monkey head from Harry Harlow’s studies of love in monkeys, and one of B. F. Skinner’s air cribs.  The Center is always looking to add to its collections, including items that were of questionable scientific value.  One such item is the Psycho-Phone [pictured above].

Similar in principle to audio devices today that play messages during a person’s sleep, for example, alleging sleep learning, the Psycho-Phone was the invention of Alois Benjamin Saliger (1880-1969) who patented his machine in 1932 as an “Automatic Time-Controlled Suggestion Machine.”  The device was essentially an Edison-style phonograph with a timer that played the contents from a wax cylinder during the period of sleep.  Saliger believed that the messages delivered during sleep would enter a person’s unconscious and have a powerful influence on the individual’s behavior…

The machine was quite expensive, selling for $235 in 1929.  That would be the equivalent of $3,250 in 2017.  It came with several wax cylinders, each with messages relating to a different theme; one was labeled “Prosperity”, another “Life Extension,” and a third “Mating.”  Eventually Saliger expanded the record library to more than a dozen titles, even one in Spanish.  According to a story in The New Yorker in 1933, the message on the Mating recording included the following statements: “I desire a mate.  I radiate love.  I have a fascinating and attractive personality.  My conversation is interesting.  My company is delightful.  I have a strong sex appeal.”  Saliger was convinced of the effectiveness of the Psycho-Phone noting that 50 of his customers reported finding a mate…

From the annals of self-help: “The Psycho-Phone.”

[TotH to Ted Gioia (@tedgioia)]

“Stuart Smalley”

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As we get better every day, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Mandrake the Magician first appeared in newspapers. A comic strip, it was created by Lee Falk (before he created The Phantom)… and thus is regarded by most historians of the form to have been America’s first comic superhero.

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“It isn’t easy, coming up with book titles. A lot of the really good ones are taken. Thin Thighs in 30 Days, for example. Also The Bible.”*…

“What’s in a name?” mused Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (first published in print in 1597 as An Excellent Conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet). Would he have said the same, one wonders, if he’d been around to hear that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was at one point titled Trimalchio in West Egg; or that for Dracula, Bram Stoker considered The Dead Un-Dead? There is certainly an art to the great title, as demonstrated by the late English humourist Alan Coren, who when choosing a name for a collection of essays in 1975 noticed that the most popular books in Britain at that time were about cats, golf and Nazis. So he called his book Golfing for Cats and slapped a swastika on the front cover.

We also learn that care should be taken to avoid tempting an ironic fate. Bill Hillman, the American author of the 2014 guide Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, was gored by the bulls of Pamplona that same year—and again the next year. And in the 2017 British national election, the Conservative politician Gavin Barwell, author of How to Win a Marginal Seat, lost his marginal seat.

The humorous literary award known as the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year has been running since 1978, with past winners including Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1986) by Glenn C. Ellenbogen, The Joy of Waterboiling (2018) by Achse Verlag and The Dirt Hole and its Variations by Charles L. Dobbins (2019). But we can go back centuries earlier to find their ancestors…

For example…

An Essay upon Windwith Curious Anecdotes of Eminent Peteurs (1787) by Charles James Fox

Sun-beams May Be Extracted From Cucumbers, But the Process is Tedious (1799) by David Daggett

How to Cook Husbands (1898) by Elizabeth Strong Worthington

Fishes I Have Known (1905) by Arthur A. Henry Bevan

Does the Earth Rotate? No! (1919) by William Westfield

Thought Transference (Or What?) in Birds (1931) by Edmund Selous

The Boring Sponges Which Attack South Carolina Oysters (1956) by Bears Bluff Laboratories

A Weasel in My Meatsafe (1957) by Phil Drabble

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1977) edited by Tatsuji Nomura et al.

Just a taste of the delights at: “77 Strange, Funny, and Magnificent Book Titles You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” From @foxtosser.

* Dave Barry

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As we nominate, we might send bright birthday greetings to Greg Sherwood Cohelan; he was born 70 years ago today. An accomplished marketing consultant, he is best known for his decades on the radio and television (as Greg Sherwood) in the San Francisco Bay area.

The son of Don Sherwood, “The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey” (who ruled the Bay Area airwaves in the 1950s and 60s), Greg began his on-air career while in high school as a correspondent for his father, doing a call-in show as he drove across country, “Young Man on the Road”; he followed that with a stint as a morning traffic reporter, flying around in a helicopter doing traffic reports for his dad.

After college he joined KQED, the local public television and radio organization, first as a volunteer, then as an employee. Over the years, he’s become the face of KQED-TV and the voice of KQED radio, hosting interviews, anchoring award-winning documentaries, and especially during pledge periods.

“Call right now, 1 (800) 937-8850.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

“A party without cake is really just a meeting”*…

The pandemic has been, for many, a time of home confinement. So, in search of both solace and diversion, lots of folks turned to baking… with mixed results…

27 more at “Failed Quarantine Baking Attempts.”

* Julia Child

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As we go back to the bakery, we might recall that today is National Empanada Day. The savory turnovers were born in Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain (and across the border in Portugal), where they were large baked “pies” served in slices; they made their way with Spanish settlers to Latin America, where they took their current form. They are typically baked, but sometimes fried (in which form, your correspondent can attest, they are at least as delicious as they are baked).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 8, 2021 at 1:01 am

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