CS Jokes

Posted December 9, 1998 at 1:48 am | No Comments

cslounge.jpg (14702 bytes)
The CS undergraduate lounge.

The CS undergraduate lounge is pretty nice.  Lots of whiteboards, comfortable couches, a vending machine that sells 20-ounce bottles of Cherry Coke for 50 cents… I used to feel really privileged to be able to go there.  Then I realized that the place was absolutely crawling with CS majors.  What a bummer.

At least when I go there I get to pick up the occasional bit of CS humor.  For example, the other day when I stopped in to buy a Dr. Pepper, I overheard this little gem:

Q: How do you get your ML program to work correctly?
A: Use the system library, and have it call your C program!

Is that a thigh-slapper or what?  Man, that ZML sure is a bucket of laughs.

Our TA for 15-213 is also quite a card.  Check out the joke he told us during a review session:

Q: Why do programmers win at hangman?
A: Because they play it in binary!

Knock them all you want, but I think that there’s something to be said for really bad CS jokes.  Obviously they’re very painful at the surface, but if you can fight your way through the initial feelings of anger and disgust, you can reach through the joke’s exterior, driving your mind deep beneath its surface to awe at its spectacularly pure, unadulterated geekiness.  That’s where the true humor lies.

In that vein, I’d say that the best CS joke I’ve ever heard has to have come from Pablo:

“Make like a binary acyclic connected graph and left and right equal NULL!”

Five bonus points if you get it.  This might help.

Cracker Jack Toys

Posted December 6, 1998 at 1:48 am | 13 Comments

Is it just me, or have the toys that come with Cracker Jacks really gone to shit lately?  I remember back when I used to ask my dad buy me a box of Cracker Jacks at the baseball game even when I wasn’t hungry, just because I wanted the toy.  Back then, Cracker Jacks came in a box, and the toys were things like magnifying lenses, plastic trucks, and secret message decoders made of red cellophane.   These days, Cracker Jacks come in a bag, just like every other snack food around, and the so-called “toys” are nothing more than stupid little pieces of paper.   They still use the little sailor boy mascot with his dog, which I suppose is cool, but the “GUESS WHAT’S INSIDE?” message written on the cover of each toy kind of loses its meaning when all the toys are just little squares of cardboard that are indistinguishable by feel.  Today I’d like to take a few minutes to explain Why Cracker Jack Toys Suck.

cj0.jpg (21000 bytes)
The outside cover of
a Cracker Jack “toy”.

cj1.jpg (15109 bytes)
Setup for the “Micro Magic Trick”
from the Cracker Jacks box.

Exhibit A: This “toy” came in a box of Cracker Jacks I bought last week.  It’s what the clever people at Cracker Jack call a “magic trick”.  Here are the instructions:

Separate the four cards and place all but the Micro Magic card in a row.  Tell your friend that you can predict what he likes best about Cracker Jack®.  Place the Micro Magic card face up and ask your friend to slide it to his favorite — popcorn, peanuts, or toy.

cj2.jpg (14653 bytes)
The trick’s amazing conclusion.
Notice how the back of the peanuts
card says “YOU WILL CHOOSE
PEANUTS!”

Sound fine so far?  Here’s the kicker:

Turn over the card that your friend selects and show him the message on the other side.  Whatever your friend picks, you will have predicted it.

Pretty amazing, huh?  I’ll bet nobody will be able to figure that one out.   If the people at Cracker Jack were smart they would modify the trick so that it had just two cards, “popcorn” and “toy surprise”, and on the back of both of them it would say “YOU WILL CHOOSE POPCORN”, since you can be pretty damn sure that nobody’s going to pick “toy surprise” with toys like this.

Exhibit B: The assembly instructions for a Cracker Jack “Blowracer”.  In case you’re having trouble reading the instructions, I’ll summarize them for you:

  1. Take the little piece of cardboard we gave you and tear out the four corners.
  2. Fold the flaps down.
  3. Congratulations!  You’ve succeeding in transforming a standard piece of cardboard into a standard piece of cardboard with some folds in it!
cj4.jpg (19127 bytes)

My Blowracer was called the “Air Rocket”.  It was number two in a series of five.  “Collect all five,” the instructions suggested, “and you can race your friends!  Then see how far you can drive them in one breath!   Try making jumps and doing some stunt racing!”  No thanks.  If I really wanted more I could just take a piece of notebook paper and make 15 of them.I suppose that you might enjoy Blowracers if you’re the sort of person who’s fascinated by the idea that when you put a piece of paper on the table and blow on it, it actually moves forward.  But I think that most people will agree with me when I say that Blowracers really blow. cj3.jpg (23396 bytes)

Jane Eyre

Posted December 4, 1998 at 1:47 am | No Comments

I hate to take a good topic and beat it to death, but I just thought of another really cool story related to interpretive dance.  This one took place near the end of my senior year of high school.  In my English class, we were studying Jane Eyre, a very tedious yet very classic Victorian romance by Charlotte Bronte.  As a final group project, we were required to present an “artistic creation” inspired by a section from the novel.  Most of the groups made a mural, a painting, or a diorama, but our group decided to do an interpretive dance.

My friends and I had been slackers all semester, and none of us had even remotely enjoyed reading  Jane Eyre, but for some reason we decided to devote a ridiculously inordinate amount of time to preparing our dance.  I suppose it was our way of making fun of the assignment.  “If we’re going to look like idiots in front of our teacher and our classmates,” we figured, “we might as well go all out.”

We decided that no end of costumes, music, and choreography would make our dance complete if we didn’t have any special effects, so the night before the presentation we bought ten pounds of dry ice.  The plan was to turn off all of the overhead lights in the classroom, leaving only a few dark blue spotlights, and then to place the dry ice in a pot of hot water to create a surreal fog effect.  We ran into a problem during rehearsal though: after about 40 seconds of thick fog, the water became chilled to such an extent that the dry ice began to sublime very slowly.  We decided that we’d bring Vince’s water boiler the next day to keep the water hot and the fog thick.

We were assigned the section of the novel in which Jane spent an unhappy childhood at Gateshead Manor.  We convinced Geoff to wear a pink dress and a blonde wig; he was to play the role of young Jane.  We went to the hardware store and bought fifteen dollars worth red spray paint and PVC piping, with which we fabricated a large red cage.  Geoff knelt inside the cage grasping the bars with despair, in a gesture symbolic of the feelings of entrapment and oppression that Jane experienced during her stay at Gateshead Manor.  The rest of us dressed in black bodysuits and choreographed a complex dance routine, synchronized to a series of dark, ominous music clips.  Each segment of the dance was representative of one of the characters at Gateshead who had tormented Jane.  Jane was eventually able to leave Gateshead Manor for boarding school, so in the final dramatic conclusion of our dance, Jane (Geoff) was liberated from her (his) red prison, and we all danced joyously in unison to a driving techno beat.

That was how the dance worked during rehearsal, anyway.  The actual presentation went a little differently.  Our routine was going beautifully at first: the darkness and fog enveloped us; Geoff was shaking the bars of the cage; we were gracefully poking him with leftover PVC piping; and the somber music was resounding throughout the classroom.   Suddenly Kristina whispered, “Um… carpet’s on fire.”  None of us really reacted.  We thought that she was joking, and we were way too absorbed in the dance to pay any attention.  Five seconds later, she repeated much more loudly, “The carpet is on fire.”  That’s when we turned around and saw that the carpet was indeed burning vigorously.  Chris Moon’s initial reaction was to shout, “Oh fuck!  There’s a fire!  Put it out!”  Fortunately he then had the presence of mind to run over and stomp out the fire before it got any bigger.  I’m still amazed that he did this despite the fact that, like the rest of us dancers, he wasn’t wearing any shoes.

Apparently the electric cord to Vince’s water boiler was defective.  It had short-circuited in the middle of our interpretive dance, causing a small electrical fire.   We started the presentation again, but the flow was kind of ruined.  At least we had the satisfaction of knowing that we were probably the only English students ever to set fire to the floor and swear loudly during a group presentation of Victorian literature and still receive an A+.

TCP and UDP

Posted December 2, 1998 at 1:46 am | 1 Comment

Lately I’ve been really into interpretive dances.  Not watching them, but doing them.  I think it started when we were walking back from Jimmy Tsang’s and we started doing dances to represent different Chinese dishes.  “I am the chicken,” I would announce in a deep voice while bobbing around in circles, “I am General Tso’s chicken.”  Matt was quick to pick up the concept.  “I am the mustard!” he shouted, making horns with his hands, “I am the HOT mustard!”   These dances were followed by even more creative ones representing soy sauce, rice, and wonton soup.

Yesterday in my computer systems recitation section I told our TA that it would be really cool if he would present more of the material in interpretive dance format.  I bet that the concepts would be more memorable that way.  He didn’t take me too seriously.  I think that the closest he ever came to an interpretive dance was the time that he enacted a one-man play.  It didn’t have a title, but a good name for it would have been “TCP vs. UDP: A Play in Two Acts”.  It was the deeply thought-provoking and intensely powerful saga of two network protocols that just couldn’t get along.  It went sort of like this:

Act I : TCP

Machine A: Hello Machine B.  Are you there?
Machine B: Yes.
Machine A: Please send the data file.
Machine B: Are you ready to receive the data file?
Machine A: Yes.  Begin transmission.
Machine B: Beginning transmission.
Machine A: OK, I’m done.
Machine B: Are you ready to break connection?
Machine A: Yeah, I’m ready.
Machine B: OK, I’m ending the connection.
Machine A: Bye.

Act II : UDP

Machine A: Machine B, please send the data file.
Machine B: OK, here it is.

This was all very humorous to the geek crowd, but think how much better it would have been if he had pranced around the room transporting containers symbolizing data packets and exclaiming things such as “I am UDP!  Watch me dance!  I am an unreliable but highly efficient transmission protocol for small-scale networks!”   The crowd would have eaten that right up.

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