If you’re one of the three people (like me) who hadn’t seen the Large Hadron Rap yet — absolutely divine. A worthwhile 5 minutes of your time.

In the spirit of science raps you can also check out the Exploratorium Explainer’s fabu rap for Einstein’s birthday (which also happens to be Pi Day… March 14).

And while we’re on the theme, Cocktail Party Physics let us all know about this video that I haven’t been able to get out of my head, “I Will Derive”.

At first I was afraid, what could the answer be?

It said given this position find velocity.

So I tried to work it out, but I knew that I was wrong.

I struggled; I cried, “A problem shouldn’t take this long!”

I admit, I just love geeky humor like this. And it’s not just science geek humor that’s funny. ANY kind of geek humor is funny. I’m using geek in one of it’s original senses, “A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest” (from Wikipedia). I contra dance, and I find stupid contra dance jokes (about certain dance figures, for example), hilarious. My mom’s a retired librarian. Librarian jokes are de rigeur in our household (Anyone see the movie Party Girl? A real stitch for librarians). These kind of in-jokes are just so terribly funny. I’ve always wondered why that is. “In jokes” have a certain brand of funny, you know what I mean? In part, I imagine it’s making fun of ourselves. In large part, too, I imagine it’s seeing something familiar in a new way — a pun on a word that we use in all seriousness quite often, for example, or (as in the YouTubes posted above) a song about something that we’re used to taking seriously. It turns something familiar on its head, and our brains seem to love that.

I might get flamed for posting this after the lively discussion on women, science, stereotypes, and smart vs pretty.  But I’m never one to skirt around an issue.  Ahem.  Last week A Blog Around the Clock posted an article about Science vs. Britney Spears, about how the public is more likely to be surfing the internet looking for information about Britney+Spears+naked than about the Large Hadron Collider (hmm, maybe my blog stats will go up when I post this!)

So I’m taking this as an opportunity to point people to a place where the twain SHALL meet — the wonderful Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics. No, really. It has nothing to do with Britney Spears, except for the delightfully tongue-in-cheek photographs sprinkled throughout the rather good primer on semiconductor physics. I used the attached photo as an illustration in a presentation I gave in a graduate physics class while getting my PhD. I was the only woman in a room of 5 men. The professor shook his head and said, “You’re the only one in this room who could get away with that.”

I guess that’s sort of like how it’s OK for Jewish people to make jokes about Jewish people.

Oh my goodness, check out this hilarious video from Eppendorf pipettes. Do you love pipetting? You’ll love their new EpMotion. Here’s a snatch of the lyrics:

And it’s called epMotion (whisper: ‘cause you deserve something really great)
Girl you need epMotion (whisper: yeah girl it’s time to automate)
It’s got to be epMotion (whisper: no more pipetting late at night)
Only for you epMotion (whisper: girl this time we got it right)

This is totally not science, but I couldn’t resist. This one’s hilarious. Check out this New Yorker article for Fourteen Passive Aggressive Appetizers, including

For a taste of the U.K., fry up mini-servings of fish-and-chips. Take it to the next level by wrapping them in small pieces of newspaper, which, oddly enough, all seem to be printed with unfavorable reviews of Jeff ’s novel.

It’s all in the name of science… The British Association for the Advancement of Science (which is the AAAS’s counterpart across the pond), set out on a bold mission — to find the world’s funniest joke. Well, not quite, they were studying humor and its dependence on culture, gender, age, etc. To this end, they invited people to submit jokes to their website, and they set up a rating system so people could vote for their favorites. The project’s called Laughlab — visit their website for more information.

They looked across several countries and, I gotta say, the US rated pretty low in terms of how funny we found the jokes. What gives? Germany won out with an easier sense of humor. It was also interesting that the British-oriented folks (UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand) preferred jokes with word-play in them. Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where someone looked stupid (letting us feel superior).

They also did some MRI scans of people’s brains while they read the joke, and saw that an area of the brain behind the frontal lobes (prefrontal cortex) was important in understanding why a joke is funny. Fittingly, people with damage to this area tend to lose their sense of humor. The website says:

Most jokes work because they surprise us – they set us thinking in one direction, and then we hear the punchline and realise that there is a completely different way of seeing the situation.

For example, take the old joke:

Two fish in a tank.
One turns to the other and says ‘Do you know how to drive this?’

The first line makes us think the fish are in a fish tank – then the second makes us realise that they actually are in an army tank!

The part of the brain shown in the image above (called the Prefrontal cortex) plays a vital role in the type of flexible thinking needed to understand a joke. It makes sense of the punchline and produces a strong sense of surprise.

So, what was the winning joke? Here it is (I’d heard it before), and you can find more on their website.

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”. The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

I have to admit, this joke is one of those that I kind of smirk and shake my head… I know it’s funny but it doesn’t make me laugh, you know?

Here’s what the Laughlab people say about why this joke is funny:

The joke is interesting because it works across many different countries, appeals to men and women, and young and old alike. Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal.

Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons – they sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking events, or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realise the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality.

A fantastic play on the “it’s all physics anyway” mantra, posted from xkcd webcomic.


Thanks to Dave at Damn Lefties for posting a link to this.

I just had to repost from the Deep Sea News blog, which points out an alarming 300% increase in the number of shark attacks in the last year in a particular town in Mexico:

Aren’t statistics wonderful things? That’s why when you read something in the medical news about “50% fewer heart attacks” or some such due to XYZ drug, your first question should be “but what was the number to begin with”?

In this case, a 300% increase means 3 attacks instead of one. That’s hardly a statistically robust difference. But the local papers surmised that Sharks are hunting humans. Blogger CR McLain writes in Deep Sea News:

Thankfully the Mexican Navy has been called on to track down and kill these death wielding beasts.

PLEASE PEOPLE! Although tragic, three attacks and two deaths is not extraordinary that searching for pattern or cause is necessary. You don’t see people freaking out about pigeon related deaths. An increase of one to three is hardly a pattern. In four tosses of a penny this morning I just got 1 head and 3 tails…it happens. The fact that the media is in a frenzy combined with Mexico actually spending money on searching for causes and using sophisticated Naval ships to exterminate the sharks is nothing short of absurd. Let’s get a bit of perspective…

Americans killed by guns in the U.S. each year: 30,000

Americans killed by tobacco in the U.S. each year: 418,000

Americans killed after being struck by police Tasers in 2004: 40

U.S. murder rate: 5.9 per 100,000

U.S. traffic fatalities each year: 39,000

People injured/killed by lightning each year in the U.S.: Struck: 700, Killed: 70

Deaths from obesity per year in the USA: 112,000

I will take a shark any day over a Twinkie, lighting strike, the flu, a tsunami, Taser, cigarette, hand gun, war, or a car any day.