Archive for the ‘Absurdities’ Category

Barbie’s Next Career

January 15, 2010

While I don’t follow her myself, I’m told Barbie has had over 120 “careers” since her introduction in 1959. Well, it is time for her to choose another, and Mattel wants to hear from you. Please vote for Computer Engineer Barbie! That is clearly much cooler than any of the other choices offered. Vote here.


Igniting the Earth’s Atmosphere

January 15, 2010

As part of background research for a blog entry I’m working on, I went looking for the name of the Manhattan Project scientist who was tasked with calculating whether an atomic detonation could ignite the Earth’s atmosphere and burn everyone on the planet to cinders. His name was Hans Bethe and he apparently concluded the bomb would not ignite the atmosphere. But according to the Wikipedia article on the Manhattan Project, Edward Teller co-authored a paper that also examined this question.

That paper, Ignition of the Atmosphere with Nuclear Bombs, was declassified in the 1970s and it is available as a PDF for your perusal here. I recommend reading the Abstract on Page 3 and the three concluding paragraphs on Page 18. The final paragraph, which I hereby nominate as a monumental understatement, reads as follows:

“One may conclude that the arguments of this paper make it unreasonable to expect that the N + N reaction could propagate. An unlimited propagation is even less likely. However, the complexity of the argument and the absence of satisfactory experimental foundations makes further work on the subject highly desirable.”

Apparently, the “satisfactory experimental foundations” were achieved at Trinity site. Had that gone wrong, it would have brought an entirely new meaning to the term “test coverage.”

[This just gets worse: As my friend Monty points out, the paper is dated August 1946. The Trinity detonation occurred a year earlier, in July 1945.]

Patagonia: The Department of Redundancy Department

November 10, 2009

I recently received an email promotion from Patagonia, the upscale purveyor of adventure clothing and gear, which invited me to visit one of their stores in person (how quaint) and enter their 2009 Holiday Giveaway. Reading the first paragraph of the official rules, I began to wonder if the typical Patagonia customer has landed on their head once too often while adventuring and the company therefore feels it needs to cater specifically to this demographic. Here is what I read:


BUYING WILL NOT HELP YOU WIN. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR ODDS OF WINNING. Your chances of winning without making a purchase are the same as the chances of someone winning who purchases something.

3rd Iraq Aviation and Defense Summit

March 24, 2009

Yesterday I received an email invitation to participate in the 3rd Iraq Aviation and Defense Summit in Virginia next week. I wonder how I possibly could have ended up on a mailing list for this event, which features some very high-level Iraqi military and government speakers and offers the chance for one-on-one meetings with them. Even this doesn’t seem like a feasible explanation.

I didn’t attend the 1st or 2nd Iraq Aviation and Defense Summit so I assume I will not be missed at this event.

Bread and Circuses from Washington

March 19, 2009

Last time I checked none of greed, stupidity, or towering egotism were illegal in the United States. And yet I suspect that is the extent of the guilt of many of the AIG bonus recipients who are currently the target of national ire and political postering.

Yes, it is annoying that these people have received bonuses under the current circumstances. And, yes, they should all be investigated and prosecuted if criminal wrongdoing is uncovered. But absent proof of that, what possible legal argument could be made for abrogating their employment contracts or, even more absurd, passing special legislation to seize their bonuses through taxation?

Don’t misunderstand me: Every single one of these fracking morons who did something illegal should go to jail. And for a long time. But let’s remember: crime first and then punishment.

What the outraged politicians in Washington would like you not to notice is that much of this wrongdoing on Wall Street occurred at least in part due to very poor regulation and enforcement on the part of our own government agencies.

Juvenal was right — and our leaders are savvy enough to know it. So, on with the show!

Toothpaste I Can Live Without

March 2, 2009

It’s amazing what you might find on product labels these days. Take for example the tube of complimentary Aquafresh Extreme Clean toothpaste in my hotel room. It includes the following caution along with the directions for use: “If you accidentally swallow more than is used for brushing, seek professional assistance or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”

Google: So Sorry, but the Web is Closed Today. Please try again tomorrow.

January 31, 2009

Google seems to have effectively shut down the web today, at least for people who routinely use Google to find content.

If you do a search, you will see virtually all (all?) search results flagged with the hyperlinked phrase “This site may harm your computer.” Don’t bother clicking on that since everyone on the planet is clicking it and the servers can’t handle the load.

If you instead click on a link to visit a site found by your search, you will be taken to a Google page telling you that the site may harm your computer. It supplies additional information, including the advice that you can continue and visit that URL at your own risk. While they show the URL, they do not make it clickable so you need to select that text and paste it into your browser to visit the site.

So, for example, if you search for “Sun Microsystems” you cannot get to through Google because of this problem.

UPDATE: Just after I posted this, I could see Google rolling back whatever broken code they had deployed. Repeated searches for “Sun Microsystems” would randomly and less frequently return search results that included the “This site may harm your computer” tag. At this point, I am no longer seeing the problem.

Google’s apology and explanation is here.

Amazon: Ship(ment) of Fools?

December 18, 2008

I realize Amazon is, like its namesake, a high-volume operation. And I realize this can lead to some seemingly bizarre behavior in the quest to streamline operations. Even so, the amount of sheer waste of materials I’ve seen in some recent shipments boggles the mind.

Today my wife received a medium-sized box that included forty linear feet of inflated plastic packaging material to fill the mostly empty box and prevent the (unbreakable items) from moving around during shipment.

Yesterday, I received a box that was roughly 12″ X 4″ X 9.5″ or about 456 cubic inches. Inside was one hard-plastic, unbreakable object that was 0.75″ X 1.75″ X 1″ or about 1.3 cubic inches. By volume about 0.3% that of the box. This could easily have been sent in a padded envelope, but instead a sizeable cardboard box and additional plastic packaging material were all wasted to ship this item.

Yes, everything is recyclable, but that does not make this practice acceptable. Especially when one considers the volume of Amazon’s operations worldwide.

Paypal Refuses to Pay a Merchant on my Behalf

October 10, 2008

Here’s a weird one. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the primary value of Paypal is that it hides my credit card details from merchants I choose to do business with. Am I right?

Imagine my surprise when I saw the error message below when I tried to complete a recent purchase using Paypal:

Ummm. HUH? What definition of “hide” includes the vendor having any idea whatsoever what kind of credit card I’m using?? So long as my credit card is valid and acceptable to Paypal, why should it matter what kind of card it is? I called Paypal to find out what had happened.

The representative was not forthcoming, but from what she told me it sounds like Paypal has a specific agreement with this merchant and that agreement had not been updated by the merchant. She mentioned something about a commercial entity user agreement and told me she wasn’t allowed to explain further because it would expose merchant information. She suggested I contact the vendor and explain that I wanted to use a Mastercard to make a payment to them via Paypal–presumably to encourage the vendor to re-up on their Paypal contract. She couldn’t explain why this related to Mastercard in particular.

The rep agreed with my summary: That some sort of dispute or issue between Paypal and this vendor was preventing me from doing business using Paypal as an intermediary.

That ain’t right.

Buddha’s Message to Washington Politicians

September 30, 2008

Look not to the faults of others,
nor to their omissions and commissions.
But rather look to your own acts,
to what you have done and left undone.