Tag Archives: Humor

Modernity and youtube production values

We sometimes think (in our age of progress) that if we look back, we must see very primitive creatures. 

But even if we go back ten thousand years, we don’t find primitive humans. We find modern humans.  Genetically, we have not changed very much in 10,000 years. What has changed? We have learned a huge amount of chemistry, biology, etc. Of course we didn’t know which bits were useful. It took a hundred years to figure out. That’s how science works. 

The discoveries of past centuries created some rapid changes. Example of progress: within a few hundred years we went from knowing what gunpowder was, to seizing guano Islands, to synthesizing ammonium nitrate to nuclear weapons. 

Ancient impulses with modern weapons are weird. I have this picture in my head of an angry person saying “I’m going to get that guy. I’m going to go lay claim to a guano Island, refine potassium nitrate, make black powder, and use an explosion to propel a small metal ball through his body.” Then the pre-modern human says “I’d just hit him with this rock. Simpler.”


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Innervated follicles and spider-moms


Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells | Nature

Why do we go gray after stress? Linkages between nerves and stem cells in our hair follicles! This happened to me in the month before my dissertation: I got gray in my beard. So strange.


Have the Boomers Pinched Their Children’s Futures? – with Lord David Willetts – YouTube

I am not an economist, but I think this talk articulates important issues. Larger cohorts have a strange weight in democracies.


Gregor Czaykowski on Twitter: “ha ha happy new year https://t.co/29c2r0hrBk” / Twitter


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In Brief: Ze Frank, humorist, making Video Essays on Time.com

Ze Frank is doing videos on Time.com. I’m a fan of Mr. Frank from years ago when he was doing The Show. In the same spirit, he’s doing 3 minute videos at Time.com.

The one that is most salient for The Big Upshot is his little introduction to the Healthcare Debate, which I think sums up a lot of the absurdity. Have a look, you’ll get a chuckle, I think.

Ze Frank on the Healthcare “Debate”


Medical Hypotheses about belly button lint

There’s an article in C&EN that led me to about this article in Medical Hypotheses about belly button lint. A real scientist, Prof. Steinhauser of Vienna University of Technology made a careful study of the stuff. I almost wrote serious scientist, but I think Prof. Steinhauser would agree that he is a funny scientist.

The upshot is that his hypothesis seems to be true: if you have belly hair, you are probably more prone to belly button lint.

The reactions to this 2+ year trial have been mixed. I certainly think he deserves an IgNobel award. That is mixed praise at best. But I will say this: there is a place for frivolous science. Frivolous is not the same as wasteful. A study that is funny, interesting and still rigorous and well designed constitutes a feat.

I would make the analogy of a serious columnist writing a humor piece. It’s still journalism and it’s still an opportunity for good writing. In a similar way, science with a spirit of levity still deserves to be called science.


Darth Vader's Work Ethic

It struck me this evening that we don’t really know much about Darth Vader’s work ethic. Does he work late? Weekends? It’s totally unclear. What are the hours like for a sith apprentice? For that matter, what about the Emperor, Himself?

It has a lot to do with a TED talk on glamour. By the old definition of the word, the Dark Side has a lot of glamour. It has a seductive, deceptive allure. But glamour has nothing to do with hard work. In fact, if it turned out that Darth Vader spent a lot of his time studying prospective spacecraft designs, thumbing through blueprints and tapping his chin, it clashes with his whole image. I find it strange to think that a character who represents ruthless effectiveness is not superimposable on the prerequisite behavior for effectiveness.

In fact, Vader fails at almost everything in the films. He has no self control. He loses the Death Star and his command ship. I think the films could have emphasized Anakin’s laziness more. I think that’s what got Vader into trouble. Always trying to take the easy way out and get everything at once. That’s what gets him in trouble again and again.

There’s a lesson there.