Miscellaneous Humor

Unclassifiable stuff I've saved over the years.

We're loyal to you, Illinois. . .

Letter by Hollis Summers to the Champaign-Urbana (Illinois) News-Gazette published in late 1985. Essential background: the Fighting Illini, football version, ended the season with a mediocre (8-4-1?) record. Now there is a tradition that postseason bowl play is "earned" by a team performing well, but when an offer to appear in a lucrative but third-rate affair (Peach Bowl?) arrived the Athletic Association jumped at the chance. AA Director Neale Stoner waved some smoke about a victory "redeeming" the team, but the motivation was obviously money. An attorney of our acquaintance wrote to the News-Gazette proposing that as a regular fundraising scam the Illini should each year play the worst team in the nation in the "Neale Stoner Bowl." This is Hollis' build on that concept.

[BTW the Illini got stomped in their bowl appearance.]

New UI team name would boost profit

To the Editor:

The Athletic Association, and the University of Illinois that exists to serve it, should reject Marvin Gerstein's timid proposal (letter, Dec. 5) that our football heroes oppose the worst of the nation's teams in a yearly Neale Stoner Bowl.

While imaginative and completely consistent with the ideals of Athletic Association-sponsored intercollegiate competition, this idea lacks adequate potential for profit.

I'm surprised that Gerstein, who pretends to recognize director Stoner's entrepreneurial acumen, advances a scheme that would ensure only the football team a gigantic payday only once a year. In contrast, junking the name Illini and replacing it with a name that will provoke a strong response will guarantee every team a bonanza.

Calling the teams Viet Cong will ensure the entire United States will focus rabid attention on each competition.

Students, the community and the state may initially balk at trading the name of guerrillas who were completely defeated and extirpated for the name of guerrillas who triumphed and endured. However, as I'm sure director Stoner will point out, sentimentality for the antique ignores the bottom line.

Because of the nation's renewed pride in patriotism, the new name will give the Athletic Association teams a higher profile, make them easier to merchandise and vastly increase their profit potential. Without sports that yield profits, only the quality of its education and research would distinguish the University of Illinois.

The only drawback to the new name I can think of is that it might offend some Asian Americans. But since the university has never worried about native Americans being offended by the old name, I'm sure it will adopt the new one immediately.

Hollis Summers

When He Reemerges

A piece from The New Yorker, mid-1988, by Randy Cohen. And during the summer months there is a fair chance that my T-shirt reads "I don't care if he's dead, I still want to IMPEACH NIXON."


You've got a terrible cold. Riding home on the bus, you feel a sneeze coming on. As you reach for a Kleenex, you notice that sitting across from you is Richard M. Nixon, the only American President ever to resign from office. Do you still cover your mouth?

At a dinner party you're startled to find him on your right. He says, "Pass the Triscuits, please." What do you do? Remember: The entree will be veal with a wonderful Sauternes sauce. Seated to your left is supermodel Elle MacPherson; Mel Gibson is across from you. They both find you wildly appealing. Stay or go?

He appears on "Sesame Street" to teach kids conflict resolution. He suggests: if you disagree with a playmate get tough; threaten to set him on fire. Would you continue to watch "Live from Lincoln Center" on that same station?

You fall wildly in love and foresee a future of unalloyed bliss. Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, returns to do a single broadcast, exposing your fiance as Richard Nixon. Having undergone successful reconstructive surgery at a secret government installation, he's thoroughly transformed, inside and out. These procedures cost billions of tax dollars that otherwise would have gone to rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure. Do you call the caterers and cancel the wedding?

A contestant on TV's "$25,000 Pyramid," you find yourself paired with the saurian former President. Do you give him good clues? Perhaps you deliver a stirring denunciation to host Dick Clark and stalk off the set? Suppose all the prize money goes to the Heart Fund. What if the Republican Party's elder statesman took you aside during the first commercial and personally apologized for the Christmas bombing of Hanoi? You're convinced he's really sorry. Dick Clark presents the first category, "Things dropped out of a B-52." What do you say to President Nixon?


Don't script a Nixon vehicle. Can you spot the three dismal high-concept projects in the rest of this paragraph? Remake those classic Jerry Lewis movies with R.N. in the lead; start with "The Nutty Professor Is Not a Crook." Update: "The Man Who Would Be Imperial President," with Nixon/Kissinger for Connery/Caine. "Miracle on 34th Street '88," with Bloomingdale's as Macy's and R.N. as a wiretapping Santa.

Don't lend him a three-cent stamp to augment his twenty-two if he's mailing a letter written under the pen name Senator Muskie's Wife.

Don't hire the jowly, unindicted co-conspirator to manage your American League East baseball team if he persists in seeing the other teams in the division merely as Soviet proxies. Do overrule him if you're leading Baltimore 3-2 in the ninth and he threatens to use nuclear weapons to block the route to the Orioles' bullpen.


Pretend you're the ghost of Roy Cohn. (Ask your mom for an old bedsheet. Talk in a scary voice.) Invite Mr. Nixon to dinner at "21" and dancing at Regine's. Reminisce about the good old days with Joe McCarthy. Sneer at the stupidity of your critics--what a bunch of jerks!

In a singsong voice chant something Presidential as you jump rope. Think of rhymes for Operation Phoenix. Go double Dutch: try rhyming Executive privilege, protective reaction, Greek colonels.

Build a Play-Doh model of Cambodia. Drop cans of peas (ugh!) and beets (yuch!) and Spaghettios (yum!) all over it. Drop a canned ham on Phnom Penh. Pretend your dog is on a Senate oversight committee; deny everything.

Use your crayons to draw a jail with Jimmy Hoffa inside. Now draw one without Jimmy Hoffa inside.

With flour and water and strips of ripped-up newspaper, build a model of President Nixon and of his national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Have your new dolls make sophisticated chitchat about silly things Daniel Ellsberg said on the telephone when he didn't think they were listening. Pretend your Nixon and Kissinger dolls are kneeling in prayer. What do you suppose they're praying for?


Nipper (voice of Cyndi Lauper) says, "Don't be a prig. You don't have to share a guy's politics to share a beer." (Nipper is the worldly one.) "Everybody makes mistakes. I'll bet there's plenty of stuff in your past you're not so proud of. Wait, there's the doorbell. It's Dick! Come into my lodge, pal. And look who he's brought--Attila! He scourged the known world. But hey, let bygones be bygones. Let's not dwell on the past. And look who else is here--enteric parasites! They've laid waste millions. But what could they do? Bacteria got to swim, viruses got to fly. Besides, being nice to R.N. creates a lot of jobs."

Chipper (voice of Danny DeVito) days, "Oh, right--if it happened five minutes ago, it doesn't count." (Chipper is up to here with indignation.) "Hound that evil monster to the grave! And then throw stones at his statue!"


For our noble cause, I would accept hors d'oeuvres from the Devil himself.

I'm just here to research this novel I'm writing. A few years from now. I keep a journal. When I remember to write in it.

It's easy to sit on your backside and criticize, but it's darn hard to topple Chile's elected government and dispose of Salvador Allende.

What do you call that jelly stuff? You use it to burn people to bits? It's like Saran Wrap?


Turn off the lights. Be very quiet. Hope he thinks there's nobody home.

Stand at closed window and mime: We've all got the measles. (Hint: Sounds like "easels;" move your arms like an artist painting at his easel. It also sounds like "weasels;" kill a chicken and drink its blood.)

Say, "We're just on our way out. Care to join us? We're going to blow up the neighbors' garage. We don't like their cat."

"I'm sorry; you can't come in. You were bad."

Empire: Telegram to Everyone

Empire is a multiplayer game of exploration, economic and military development, and conquest apparently still played on a variety of computer systems. Back in the late 1980s Leif Bennett rewrote a Unix version of Empire in Mesa, the native language for the Xerox D-machines. The resulting client and server ran in the Xerox Development Environment; thanks mostly to the spiffy GUI and attendant ease-of-play Empire was rather popular on the Xerox net for a few years until the corporate move to Sun and Intel hardware displaced most of the compatible workstations.

The surface of the Empire world looks like a rectangle, but as opposite edges are connected it is actually a torus (doughnut-shaped). Here's part of a debate, from the first public Xerox Empire game, on how to tell if you're living on such a surface. (Yes, I wrote this particular nonsense - which, I hasten to point out, is topologically accurate.)

To: Demetrius Mercator, Professor of Oceanography, Mirkwood University
Cc: MapInterest^.T

My Dear Professor Mercator:

While recognizing the difficulty of definitively disproving all competitors to the Toroidal Theory, we at the Institute feel strongly that this ongoing debate is not well-served by the appearance of misleading data in the popular media. Had "Mirkwood's leading scientists" submitted their findings to a properly refereed journal (e.g. /Transactions on Topology and Metrology/, the Editorial Board of which I have the honor to chair) certain shortcomings in their analysis could have been corrected in advance of publication. In particular:

> 1) The curvature of the surface of a toroid is more pronounced in the
> radial direction than around the circumference. However, experiments
> conducted by fishing boats in the coastal waters off Mirkwood reveal no
> difference in curvature between the north-south and east-west directions.

The "curvature" which can be determined by measurement within the surface in question and without observation of any "horizon" is curvature in the sense of a sphere (positive) or saddle (negative). A convenient semi-local method is to determine if the sum of the angles of a large triangle is greater (positive curvature) or less (negative curvature) than pi. (Note that the curvature of a cylindrical surface is zero.) For the specific toroidal shape which a "doughnut" approximates, the curvature would be positive on the extreme outside and negative within the "hole." There are perforce two annular areas ("top" and "bottom" for a doughnut resting on a table) of some extent over which the measured curvature is to any desired approximation zero; thus the significance of the reported null result from the Mirkwood fishing-boat experiment cannot be assessed without additional information.

> 2) According to the prevailing theory of gravitational attraction, the
> force of gravity is dependent on mass and distance. If so, those on the
> inner surface of a toroid (the "hole") would experience a marked decrease
> in weight.

This conclusion, speculative on its face, implicitly assumes that the mass distribution within the toroid is uniform, which is by no means certain.

> 3) . . .This ["Magic"] map shows the surface of our planet as a square
> which "wraps around" when scrolled in any direction. However, no one (to
> our knowledge) has circumnavigated the planet in both the north-south and
> east-west directions. . . .

Dual circumnavigation of the Empire domain would in no wise establish its shape as toroidal as such would be possible on many other surfaces (e.g. a sphere).

> [T]he Toroidal Hypothesis does not explain why distances are constant
> throughout the square (since the circumference of the inside of a toroid is
> much smaller than the circumference of the outside).

"Toroidal" is not be restricted to the classical "doughnut" shape; strictly, it applies to any surface formed by an arbitrary plane closed curve rotated about a nonintersecting coplanar axis. If the curve is a highly eccentric ellipse with its major axis parallel to the axis of rotation (think of a tall doughnut; here is a rough drawing of its cross-section:

			.          .
		       / \        / \
		       |  |       |  |
		       |  |       |  |
		       |  |       |  |
		       \ /        \ /
		        '          '

) the circumference of the outside can be arbitrarily nearly equal to the circumference of the inside (and the minor circumference [around an ellipse] can be arbitrarily nearly equal to either). Of course near the top and bottom of this diagram one might expect to observe odd effects, but in a universe where, at least until recently, teleportation was possible can we be certain that space cannot be bent in this manner undetectably?

It seems that Mirkwoodian "fish stories," or indeed any local measurement, cannot resolve this issue. But there *is* a test which is unambiguous. Consider the map below, which follows the conventions of the "Magic Map:"


Note that each set of letters forms an orthogonally connected "country" (for example, the two Es at the top connect to those at the bottom, and those on the left edge connect to those on the right), and that each of the seven countries borders the other six. If one attempts to color this map so that no two adjacent countries carry the same hue one will find that seven colors are necessary. It is well-known that for the plane (or its topological equivalents such as the sphere) four colors suffice; for a toroidal surface, however, seven are required.

Thus if the Map does not lie about connectivity (that is, if it is everywhere accurate when it shows that one can move directly from square A to square B), Empire is a torus; this result does not depend on "equality of distances" or any other metric which might in fact be only approximately true. And connectivity is amenable to experimental verification; one merely tests on the ground whether a pattern of countries can be constructed which requires more than four hues to color.


Professor H. M. Wogglebug, TE
Bourkina Fasso Institute of Empiremetry

[Note of transmittal:

The peace-loving Government of Bourkina Fasso wishes to disassociate itself from any implication which the narrow-minded might read into Professor Wogglebug's monograph that alterations of existing international boundaries might be desirable for *any* purposes, including scientific ones. While The Cabal fiercely defends the absolute right of our valued citizens to free speech (and invites skeptics to identify, by name, address, and next of kin, any resident of Bourkina Fasso who disputes the sincerity of this commitment), Professor Wogglebug's views are his own and, despite his high position, reflect no public policy. Indeed, if the Professor writes with a certain air of belligerence this may reflect his non-Bourkina Fassan cultural background; he is, after all, a refugee from Oz, indeed one of the first to avail himself of the generous advantages extended under The Cabal's "Wernher von Braun Memorial Humanitarian Scientific Relocation Outreach Program."

Etienne Shrdlu
Minister for External Affairs
Bourkina Fasso]

Do It Yourself?

Some thoughts on software support by Chaz Heritage, from the Xerox internal "IBMPC" distribution list in August of 1992.

>Once again, the ancient argument 'Give me source, or give me death' rages upon this DL.<

I am not a programmer. I am a hardware type. I am always baffled by the differences in philosophy between the hardware and software communities.

CheapUsually expensive
GuaranteedNot guaranteed
Product-liable as usualAll liabilities excluded
Diagram sometimes suppliedSource never supplied
Minimal control of cloningCopyrights enforced by FBI
Difficult for user to fixDifficult for user to fix
May be repairable by expertBuy Version 2'
Free use of things producedLicensable run-time libraries, etc.
No supplier's control of useKey disks, dongles, etc. common

One could go on and on. Essentially the software community have it all their own way, apparently for no better reason than that they always have. Their stuff costs far too much, and they expect to be protected at the taxpayers' expense from those who try to circumvent their profiteering, and from anyone who uses their so-called 'tools' without handing over at least a credit and preferably a percentage.

I would like to see anyone from the software business try to survive one day in the hardware world, really I would...

"Well, of course, if the machines don't work then it's entirely your fault. It's probably something to do with the stuff you're running on them. Smoke coming out of the back? Yes, that's a known feature of that version. It's doesn't happen with the new version. Contact our upgrade desk. Sudden shutdown? Well, I see here that you haven't maintained your user group subscription. We will send out a replacement hardware lock as soon as we clear your cheque. It has electrocuted the office cat? That is an excluded liability. The last machine delivered was what? Half a pound of 1970s TTL loose inside the box? Well, if you read your licensing agreement, you will see that we guarantee *only* that the case will contain devices made of silicon. Fix it yourself? It is not yours to fix; it is only licensed to you to use. If you would like to register as a developer we will supply a circuit diagram, subject to a confidentiality agreement, and a screwdriver - though if you make anything else with the screwdriver then it will belong to us..."

And now Mr. Leisner wants the software suppliers to shut down their (rather ineffective) helplines, and supply source code, and let us all get on with making their hideously poor-value-for-money products work, on their behalf, and in our own time. Presumably he would accept that any modifications or improvements made by users automatically become the commercial property of the software manufacturer - they would certainly expect him to.

I think Mr. Leisner must be a saint, whose kindliness and consideration are such that he would voluntarily protect even the mighty Bill Gates from the consequences of his own company's behaviour.

Either that or he is some variety of barking looney.



'Bloody thing. Won't work.' [attr. Charles Babbage]

Paradigm shift utility

Parody of a number of things, among the least of them the Unix man page format. . .


        pshift - paradigm shift utility

        pshift [-zzeitgeist] [-rragelev] [-v] [-c] [-wn] [+|-n]

        The pshift operator performs a paradigm shift on its input stream
        within the context of the current or specified zeitgeist.

        -z      Specify the zeitgeist context.  May be specified here or from
                the environment variable $ZEITGEIST.

                Supported values of zeitgeist are judeo_christian (default),
                postcommunist, new_age, and when_god_was_a_woman.

        -r      Specify rage level. Acceptable values of ragelev are
                ennui (default), deep_seated, and consuming.

        -v      Set to verbose mode.  Normally pshift operates silently; in
                verbose mode it publishes a 500+ page bestseller entitled
                "Rethinking [input stream] in the [zeitgeist] Age", and then
                begins soliciting honoraria until the operator types ctrl-c.
                On some systems it runs for Congress.

        -c      Set to collective IO.  Normally pshift takes its input from
                stdin and outputs to stdout;  in collective mode it takes its
                input from the Collective Unconscious and writes to the Body

        -wn     Specify first, second, third or fourth wave.  Acceptable
                values for n are 0,1,2 or 3, with 2 (third wave) being the

                [On Sun systems, the logical waves are 0,3,2,1, which map to
                physical waves 0,1,2,3; see Sun Technical Manual for details.]

        +|-n    Specifies the number of times to prepend 'post' to the
                zeitgeist context, if positive, or 'pre' if negative.
                The default is 11.


                source $DEITY | pshift -zpostcommunist -rdeep_seated -v +1

        On most systems, the above command will output a hardcover volume
        called "Rethinking God in the Post-Postcommunist Era", in which the
        irrelevence of erstwhile religious concepts is seen to have
        triggered a global, deep-seated rage vis-a-vis traditional
        sociopolitical norms leading to a premature breakdown of emerging
        postsoviet infrastructure.

                pshift -znew_age -rennui

        The above command produces no output, but privately processes a
        vague discontent which it will share if its space is honored.  May
        be redirected to /dev/null.

                pshift -c -w3 -1

        Taking its input from the collective unconscious, the above command
        rejects the failed socioeconomic policies of the last thirty years
        and replaces them with a futurist, fourth wave polemic of
        traditional values, the two-parent family, and the supremacy of the
        private sector that was the foundation of the American utopia of
        the 1950s.  Use a prepend value of -2 to restore the American utopia
        of the early Industrial Age, a value of -3 to restore the European
        utopia of the Enlightenment, -4 for catholic hegemony, etc.
        (note:  Requires grass root permission.  In verbose mode, it may
        also require a $4 million advance.)


        You must have root permission to use consuming rage.

        Robert Drucker (robert@ocean.washington.edu)
        copyright 1995 Robert Drucker.
        Robert Drucker is a trademark of Robert Drucker.

A sure sign that "mad cow disease" is affecting the British diet

The appearance (in mid-1996) of the group "uk.people.consumers" on the Usenet feed at Caltech.

Frank Zappa quote encountered in rec.autos.sport.f1

In article <4k0bj0$339@nntp.hut.fi>, kimmo@alpha.hut.fi (Kimmo Pyykkö) writes:

If it can be conceived as music, it can be executed as music, and presented to an audience in such a way that they will perceive it as music: "Look at this. Ever seen one of these before? I built this for you. What do you mean, 'What the fuck is it?' It's a goddam ETUDE, asshole."

July 20 1998