Let ε < 0.


The science of the suckpoint

Filed under: Science humor — Travis @

This story appeared anonymously at alt.folklore.urban and rec.craft.homebrew. It is very likely false, but still humorous anyway.

The following is a letter sent to Miller Brewing Company early in 2000.

Miller Brewing Company

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have been a drinker of Miller beer’s for many years (actually, ever since that other company donated a big chunk of change to Handgun Control Inc. back in the mid 80’s).

Initially, my beer of choice was Lite, but some time in mid 1990 while in Honduras I switched to MGD smuggled up from Panama. Now, for nearly six years, I have been a faithful drinker of MGD.

For these past years, I have come to expect certain things from Genuine Draft. I expect that whenever I see that gold can of MGD, I am about ready to enjoy a great, smooth brew.

But wait! Sometime around the first of the year, my beloved MGD changed colors, so to speak. That familiar gold can was no longer gold! Knowing that I am, by nature, somewhat resistant to change, I forced myself to reserve judgment on the new can design.

Gradually, I grew to appreciate the new label. That was until about May of this year. That was when I discovered (empirically) that I really didn’t like the new design. Further investigation of the cause of my distress resulted in the following observations:

  1. Your cans are made of aluminum.
  2. Aluminum is a great conductor of energy.
  3. Your beer is commonly consumed outside, and thus, the container may be exposed to sunlight.
  4. Sunlight striking the can causes radiant warming of the surface of the can.
  5. The resultant heat (energy) is transferred through the aluminum, by conduction, to the contents of the can (the beer).
  6. Warm beer sucks.

This is a process that can be observed in just about any beer. However, this process is significantly accelerated in MGD because you painted the damn can black!

Who was the rocket scientist that designed the new graphic for the can and implemented the change right before summer? Granted, this process may not be real evident up there in Wisconsin, but down here in Oklahoma where the summers are both sunny and hot, this effect is quite a problem. There’s no telling what the folks in Texas and Arizona are having to put up with.

Knowing that you would probably not address this issue unless you had firm evidence of a problem, I and several other subjects conducted extensive experimentation. The results of these experiments are listed below.

The experiments were conducted over two days on the deck next to my pool. The study included seven different types of beer (leftovers from a party the previous weekend) that were initially chilled to 38 (and then left exposed to sunlight for different lengths of time. These beers were sampled by the test subjects at different intervals. The subjects, all normally MGD drinkers, were asked at each sampling interval their impressions of the different beers. The length of time between the initial exposure to sunlight and the point where the subject determined the sample undrinkable (the Suckpoint) was determined. The average ambient temperature for the trials was 95 degrees F.

Beer Type Average Suckpoint (min)
Miller Lite (white can) 6.2
Bud (white can) 5.5
Bud Lite (silver can) 5.2
Ice House (blue and silver can) 4.4
Coors Lite (silver can) 4.1
Miller Genuine Draft (black can) 2.8
Coors (gold can) 0.1

It was evident that the color of the can directly correlates to the average suckpoint, except for Coors which was pretty much determined to suck at any point.

It is to be hoped that you will consider re-designing your MGD cans. All beer drinkers that are not smart enough to keep their beer in the shade will thank you.


Bradley Lee


Much to his surprise, Bradley received the following letter for the folks at Miller.

Dear Bradley Lee,

Thank you for your letter and your concern about the MGD can color as it relates to premature warming of the contents. Like you, we at Miller Beer take beer drinking very seriously. To that end, we have taken your letter and subsequent experiment under serious consideration. Outlined below are our findings and solution to your problem. May we add that we have had similar letters from other loyal beer drinkers, mostly from the Southern United States.

First, let us congratulate you on your findings. Our analysis tends to agree with yours regarding Coors. It certainly does suck at about any temperature.

Now, it was our intentions when redesigning the MGD can to create better brand identity and brand loyalty. Someone in marketing did some kind of research and determined we needed to redesign the can. You will be pleased to know, we have fired that idiot and he is now reeking havoc at a pro-gun control beer manufacturer. The design staffer working in cahoots with the marketing idiot was also down-sized.

However, once we realized this mistake, to undo it would have been even a bigger mistake. So, we took some other actions. From our market research, we found a difference between Northern beer drinker and Southern beer drinkers.

Beer drinkers in the South tend to drink slower than beer drinkers in the North. We are still researching why that is. Anyway, at Miller Beer, it was never our intentions to have someone take more than 2.5 minutes to enjoy one of our beers. We pride ourselves in creating fine, smooth, quick drinking beers and leave the making of sissy, slow sipping beers to that Sam guy in Boston.

However, it is good to know that you feel our Miller Lite can last as long as 6 minutes. However, may we suggest in the future you try consuming at least two in that time frame.

From your letter, we had our design staff work ’round the clock to come up with a solution that would help not just MGD but all our fine Miller products. We hope you have recently noticed our solution to your problem. We found that the hole in the top of the can was not big enough for quick consumption. So, we have now introduced the new “Wide Mouth” cans. We hope this will solve all your problems. Might I also suggest that if you want to get the beer out of the can even faster, you can poke a hole on the side near the bottom, hold your finger over it, open the can, tip it to your mouth and then pull your finger off the hole. This is a common way to drink beer at parties and impress your friends. This technique is known as “shot-gunning”. You should like the name.

Again, thank you for your letter and bring to our attention that there might be other beer drinkers taking more that 2.5 minutes to drink our beers. Let me assure you that I am have our advertising department work on campaign to solve this problem, too.


Tom B. Miller

Public Relations

Miller Brewing Co.

P.S. And remember, at Miller Beer we do favor gun control, too. So please use two hands when firing.


A party of physicists

Filed under: Puns, Science humor — Travis @

One day, all of the world’s famous physicists decided to get together for a tea luncheon. Fortunately, the doorman was a grad student, and able to observe some of the guests…

Everyone gravitated toward Newton, but he just kept moving around at a constant velocity and showed no reaction.

Einstein thought it was a relatively good time.

Coulomb got a real charge out of the whole thing.

Cavendish wasn’t invited, but he had the balls to show up anyway.

Cauchy, being the only mathematician there, still managed to integrate well with everyone.

Thompson enjoyed the plum pudding.

Pauli came late, but was mostly excluded from things, so he split.

Pascal was under too much pressure to enjoy himself.

Ohm spent most of the time resisting Ampere’s opinions on current events.

Hamilton went to the buffet tables exactly once.

Volt thought the social had a lot of potential.

Hilbert was pretty spaced out for most of it.

Heisenberg may or may not have been there.

The Curies were there and just glowed the whole time.

van der Waals forced himeself to mingle.

Wien radiated a colourful personality.

Millikan dropped his Italian oil dressing.

de Broglie mostly just stood in the corner and waved.

Hollerith liked the hole idea.

Stefan and Boltzman got into some hot debates.

Everyone was attracted to Tesla’s magnetic personality.

Compton was a little scatter-brained at times.

Bohr ate too much and got atomic ache.

Watt turned out to be a powerful speaker.

Hertz went back to the buffet table several times a minute.

Faraday had quite a capacity for food.

Oppenheimer got bombed.


Parable of units

Filed under: Science humor — Travis @

Few questions have made physicists lose their sense of humor more often that that debated by a committee in Paris in 1932: electromagnetic units. One topic was “Are the flux density B and magnetizing force H quantities of the same kind? Is their ratio mu a pure numeric, or should it be treated as a dimensional quantity?” The committee was divided along national lines, with the British on one side and the French on the other.

Although we pay less regard to the authority of the past, the controversy is by no means dead, because one system of electromagnetism tends to be incorporated into the MKS system of units. This article appears, incongruously, in a 600-page Festschrift dedicated in 1968 to Georg Busch and published in a volume of Helvetica Physica Acta.

On a related note, one recommended British unit of thermal conductivity, useful for calculating the heat transmission of walls, is the BTU/hr/ft2/cm/oF.

A parable of units

–H. B. G. Casimir

Once upon a time there was in a faraway country a great, great kitchen in which many cooks plied their trade and in which there was a great profusion of pots and pans and kettles and cauldrons and bowls and basins of every size and kind and description. Some of these vessels were empty but others contained eggs or rice or apples or spices and many other delectable things. Now the cooks, if they were not busy broiling and baking and cooking and frying and preparing sundy soups and sauces, amused themselves with philosophical speculation and so it came to happen that the art of tagenometry (from the Greek, for frying-pan) was developed to great perfection. Sometimes it was even referred to as panmetry, the art of measuring everything, but the ignorant scullions, misinterpreting the word, promptly also spoke abot potmetry, much the same way in which the tranatlantic chefs have supplemented the hamburger with a cheeseburger.

To every vessel tagenometry assigned a volume V. This was measured in cubic inches and determined by measuring dimensions with great precision and by then applying the formulae of solid gemetry or in case of irregular shapes by numerical integration on a beanheaded abacus. But to every vessel there was also assigned an entirely different quantity, the volumetric displacement W. This was measured in gallons and determined by filling the vessel with water, pouring out the water, weighing said water in pounds avoirdupois, correcting for temperature and dividing by 10. The ratio of volumetric displacement to volume was referred to as the volumetric constant, e = W/V. In the course of time it became clear that this volumetric constant had the same value for every empty vessel; this became known as the volumetric constant of empty space, e0. But for other vessels the volumetric constant behaved in an erratic way. It changed after thermal treatment, or simply with time; it depended on the speed of measurement. Also the dynamic behavior of moving non-empty pans posed curious problems.

One day a wise man entered the kitchen and after having listened to the worried cooks he said: “I can solve your problems. There is really only one tagenometric quantity, let us call it the volume and measure it in cubic centimeters. Weighing water will give the same value for an empty vessel if you take the weight in grams. So your volumetric constant of empty space is just unity. But in a non-empty pan part of the volume is occupied by edibles like potatoes or pears or plums; let us call this valume P. Then, with the water-method you determine VP. In many cases P will be proportional to V, that is, P = kV. Then the water-weight volume, your volumetric displacement, is W = VkV = (1 – k)V, and hence e = 1 – k. What you should study is P and its independnece on the constitution and preparation of the victuals. And instead of studying the dynamics of a non-empty pan, you should study the motion of the things it contains.”

The cooks understood, yet they looked crestfallen. “But our beautiful units,” they said. “What about our goldplated pounds and ounces and drams? Look at that wonderful half-perch in yon corner, neatly subdividied into 99 inches. It would be ill-convenient to change all that.” The wise man smiled. “There is no real need to change, ” he said. “As long as you are sure to remember that e0 is just a way to change from one unit to another and that P and k are the only physically relevant quantities, you can work in any system of units you like.”

The years went by. The wise man had died, new generations of cooks worked in the kitchen and got restive over the principles of tagenometry. “How crazy,” they said. “Isn’t it obvious that V and W are quite different quantities, since they are determined in quite different ways? And why should the volumetric constant of empty space be unity? Is a pot of rice not just as good or better than an empty pot?” These protests prevailed. It was decided at an international congress that even if volume and volumetric displacement were identical in magnitude the one should be measured in Euclid — this being a cubic centimeter — the other in Archimedes. The volumetric displacement of empty space — although equal to unity — had the dimension Archimedes/Euclid. And after having created order in this way, the new generation has returned to inches and pounds, and brands as reactionary anyone who heeds the wise lessons of the wise man.

That is how today’s cooks spend their moments of leisure; let us hope that their cuisine will not suffer.


Standards for incosequential trivia

Filed under: Puns, Science humor — Travis @

–Philip A. Simpson

10-15 bismols: 1 femto-bismol

10-12 boos: 1 picoboo

1 boo2: 1 boo-boo

10-18 boys: 1 attoboy

1012 bulls: 1 terabull

101 cards: 1 decacards

10-9 goats: 1 nanogoat

2 gorics: 1 paregoric

10-3 ink machines: 1 millink machine

109 los: 1 gigalos

10-1 mate: 1 decimate

10-2 mentals: 1 centimental

10-2 pedes: 1 centipede

106 phone: 1 megaphone

10-6 phones: 1 microphone

1012 pins: 1 terapin

From The NBS Standard, No. 15, January 1, 1970.

In a similar theme, might I also suggest this.


Nonstandard measurements

Filed under: Puns, Science humor — Travis @

Basic unit of laryngitis: 1 hoarsepower

Half of a large intestine: 1 semicolon

Ratio of an igloo’s circumference to its diameter: Eskimo Pi

Shortest distance between two jokes: A straight line

Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement: 1 bananosecond

Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour: Knot-furlong

Weight an evangelist carries with God: 1 billigram

1 millionth of a fish: 1 microfiche

1 millionth of a mouthwash: 1 microscope

1 kilogram of falling figs: 1 Fig Newton

1 unit of suspense in an Agatha Christie novel: 1 whod unit

2 monograms: 1 diagram

2 wharves: 1 paradox

2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital: 1 I.V. League

3 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital: 1 I.V. League

8 nickels: 2 paradigms

10 rations: 1 decoration

100 rations: 1 C-ration

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone: 1 Rod Serling

52 cards: 1 decacards

365.25 days of drinking low-calorie beer because it’s less filling: 1 lite year

453.6 graham crackers: 1 pound cake

1000 aches: 1 kilohurtz

1000 cubic centimeters of wet socks: 1 literhosen

2000 mockingbirds: two kilomockingbirds

2000 pounds of Chinese soup: Won ton

1 million bicycles: 2 megacycles

1 million microphones: 1 megaphone

1 trillion pins: 1 terrapin

100 Senators: Not 1 decision

Most of these were sent to me by David Glickenstein.


Murphy’s Law

Filed under: Science humor, Upper-division jokes, Urban legends — Travis @

–D. L. Klipstein

Murphy’s Law, in its simplest form, states that “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Or to state it in more exact mathematical form:

where ↵ is the mathematical symbol for “hardly ever.”

To show the all-pervasive nature of Murphy’s work, the author offers a few applications of the law to the electronic engineering industry.


1. Any error that can creep in, will. It will be in the direction that will do the most damage to calculations.

2. All constants are variables.

3. In a complicated calculation, one factor from the numerator will always move into the denominator, or conversely.

General engineering

4. A patent application will be preceeded by one week by a similar application made by an independent worker.

5. The more innocuous a design chage appears, the further its influence will extend.

6. All warranty and guarantee clauses become void on payment of invoice.

7. An important Instruction Manual or Operating Manual will have been discarded by the Receiving Department.

Prototyping and production

8. Any wire cut to length will be too short.

9. Tolerances will accumulate unidirectionally towards maximum difficulty of assembly.

10. Identical units tested under identical conditions will not be identical in the field.

11. If a project requires n components, there will be (n – 1) units in stock.

12. A dropped tool will land where it can do most damage; the most delicate component will be the one to drop. (Also known as the principle of selective gravity.)

13. A device selected at random from a group having 99 percent reliability will be a member of the 1 percent group.

14. A transistor protected by a fast-acting fuse will protect the fuse by blowing first.

15. A purchased component or instrument will meet its specifications long enough, and only long enough, to pass Incoming Inspection.

16. After an access cover has been secured by 16 hold-down screws, it will be discovered that the gasket has been omitted.

Condensed from “The Contribution of Edsel Murphy to the Understanding of Behaviour in Inanimate Objects,” in EEE: The Magazine of Circuit Design, August 1967.


Modern engineering design principles

Filed under: Science humor, Urban legends — Travis @

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did ‘they’ use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts? The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels and wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for, or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s rear end came up with it, you may be exactly right-because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Now the twist to the story… There’s an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses’ behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses behinds.

So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined by the width of a couple of horses’ asses.


Holy crap! A talking atom!

Filed under: Goofy graphs, Science humor, Walks into a bar — Travis @

I think I actually did this joke already!


Glossary for research reports

Filed under: Academic humor, Science humor — Travis @

A. Terms used in writing research papers

It has long been known that
I haven’t bothered to look up the original reference

Of great theoretical and practical importance
Interesting to me

While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to these questions
The experiments didn’t work out, but I figured I could at least get a publication out of it

The W-Pb system was chosen as especially suitable to show the predicted behavior
The fellow in the next lab had some already made up

High purity / very high purity / extremely high purity / super-purity / specroscopically pure
Composition unknown except for the exaggerated claims of the supplier

A fiducial reference line
A scratch

Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study
The results on the others didn’t make sense and were ignored

Accidentally strained during mounting
Dropped on the floor

Handled with extreme care throughout the experiments
Not dropped on the floor

Typical results are shown
The best results are shown

Although some detail has been lost in the reproduction, it is clear from the original micrograph that
It is impossible to tell from the micrograph that

Presumably at longer times
I didn’t take the time to find out

The agreement with the predicted curve is excellent




As good as could be expected

These results will be reported at a later date
I might possibly get around to this sometime

The most reliable values are those of Jones
Jones was a student of mine

It is suggested that / It is believed that / It may be that
I think

It is generally believed that
A couple of other guys think so too

It might be argued that
I have such a good answer to this objection that I shall now raise it

It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding…
I don’t understand it

Unfortunately, a quantitative theory to account for these effects has not been formulated
Neither does anybody else

Correct within an order of magnitude

It is hoped that this work will stimulate further work in the field
This paper isn’t very good, but neither are any of the others in this miserable subject

Thanks are due to Joe Glotz for assistance with the experiments and to John Doe for valuable discussions
Joe Glotz did the work and John Does explained what it meant

B. Terms used in presenting research papers

A reference to work of an author whose work is to be attacked

A surprising finding
We barely had time to revise the abstract. Of course we fired the technician.

Preliminary experiments have shown that
We did it once but couldn’t repeat it

The method, in our hands
Somebody didn’t publish all the directions

A survey of the earlier literature
I even read through some of last year’s journals

Careful statistical analysis
After going through a dozen books, we finally found one obscure test that we could apply

We are excited by this finding
It looks publishable

We have a tentative explanation
I picked this up in a bull session last night

We didn’t carry out the long-term study
We like to go home by 5 pm. What do you think we are, slaves?

The mechanism is not clear
We plan to do a second experiment as soon as we get home

C. Terms used in discussing research presentations

We say this with trepidation
(a) We are going out on a limb when in the presence of an author whose work is to be, or has been, attacked, or
(b) We are about to make a statement about something we know nothing about

Could you discuss your findings?
Tell us know. Don’t hide it in some obscure journal.

Have you considered the possibility…?
Have you read my work?

Have you any ideas at all…?
What are you keeping from us?

Would you care to speculate…?
I wonder if you agree with me?

Why do you believe…?
You’re out of your mind

I would like to make one comment on these suggestions

We cannot reconcile the data
Are you telling the truth?

We have repeated your experiments in our lab
Brother, were we surprised!

Did I read your slide correctly?
Did you write it correctly? I never make mistakes.

D. Conclusion

It is evident that the field of scientific semantics offers ground for fruitful investigation (which means “I never expect to do it myself, but if someone does, this statement will give me a claim of priority”).

The material in Part A is from C. D. Graham, Jr., from Metal Progress, 71, 75 (1957). The material in Parts B and C is from David Kritchevsky and R. J. van der Wal, from Proceedings of the Chemical Society, May 1960, p. 173.


Lotsa riddles 9: mathematicians, et al.

Filed under: Riddles, Science humor — Travis @

Q: Why can’t mathematicians tell jokes timing?

Q: How can you tell that a mathematician is extroverted?
A: When talking to you, he looks at your shoes instead of at his.

Q: How do you tell that you are in the hands of the Mathematical Mafia?
A: They make you an offer that you can’t understand.1

Q: How does a French mathematician try to pick up chicks?
A: He asks “Voulez vous Cauchy avec moi?”

Q: What do a mathematician and an engineer have in common?
A: They are both stupid, except for the mathematician.

Q: What do you do when a civil engineer throws a grenade at you?
A: Pull the pin and throw it back.

Q: What does a mathematician do when he’s constipated?
A: He works it out with a pencil.

Q: What is the difference between a PhD in mathematics and a large pizza?
A: The pizza can feed a family of four.2

Q: What would you hear at a mathematicians dance party?
A: I draw the sine, by Ace of Log-base.

Q: Why are mathematicians so negative?
A: Because they are nonplussed.

Q: Why did the computer scientist die in the shower?
A: Because he read the instructions on the shampoo bottle, “Lather, rinse, repeat.”

Q: Why did the cat fall of the roof when he lost his voice?
A: He lost his mu.
[ To help explain: "mew" is the sound a cat makes, while "mu" is the coefficient of static friction. ]

1. This is attributed to Cambridge mathematician Tom Korner.

2. Sent in by Ian Garduna and Mike Cowan.

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