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Dear “Brofessionals” and “Brogrammers” and other “Bro-idiots”

As far as I can tell, this is how you see yourselves:

some douchey-looking people in sunglasses

Straight from a "brofessional" site.

I honestly can’t imagine why you would aspire to that. Maybe you think that if you buy some excessively-large sunglasses, pop your collar, gel your hair, and look surly for no reason, then you too can stand next to vacant, surly-looking women in similarly large sunglasses who are paid to stand there and look like that.

Actually, I doubt you put that much thought into it. You probably just got confused about the definition of “cool” somewhere down the line and thought it meant “douchey.” I’d guess somewhere around age 14.

Regardless, the world doesn’t see you that way. Here are just a couple of the ways that the rest of us see you:

Way to go, bro.

 

Bro-potent?

I was going to add more, but having spent 5 minutes looking at bro-morons on Google image search, I must now go gouge out my eyeballs. Good day.

All news is bad news

For much of my life, I lived in or around Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  I moved away when I got married, which was just a few years ago. I still have family and friends in the area, and still have some interest in what goes on there.

So it was with some sadness that I read in Fitchburg’s (truly execrable) newspaper about a possible measles outbreak in the elementary school there. So far it’s unconfirmed, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit. I do know there’s at least some degree of antivaccination sentiment in the town, and the paper has typically been at least somewhat sympathetic to antivaccinationists.  Where you have antivaccinationists, you tend to have measles outbreaks. It’s the sad truth of our science-averse-but-celebrity-worshipping country that fools like Jenny McCarthy get more attention than experts like Paul Offitt, but there you have it.

As much as I deplore antivaccinationists, that’s not what this post is about. Instead, it’s about a strange turn of phrase used in that newspaper article:

Health and school officials are taking precautions Tuesday after what officials described as a “low suspect” case of measles at South Street Elementary School.

Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle described “low suspect” as unconfirmed case but officials are taking precautions to be safe. He said word was sent out to parents on Tuesday explaining the situation.

The strange phrase here is “low suspect,” which appears to be a phrase that Ravenelle made up either because he couldn’t remember the word “unconfirmed” or because he was trying to minimize concern. I wasn’t sure, so I turned to Google for help. What I found was sort of illuminating.

Just a few examples

At the time I’m writing this, there are about 170 hits for “low suspect” + measles, every one of which is about the possible measles outbreak in Fitchburg. Just searching for “low suspect” itself brings up the article as the fourth hit. Further searching does turn up a few isolated instances of the term “low suspect” with regards to SARS or Celiac disease, mostly in the UK.  In these cases, “low suspect” generally meant “unlikely,” not “unconfirmed.”

What this means is that not only is this a term that Superintendent Ravenelle made up/used improperly, it’s also a term that the Sentinel & Enterprise repeated, from which point every other news source ripped it off.  Not exactly shocking, seeing as that’s pretty much all that newspapers do these days. Where it gets fun is in the embellishment.

The other major local paper in the Fitchburg area is the Worcester Telegram, which had this to say: “The student is reported to be a ‘low suspect case’ for measles, according to health officials.”  So not only has Ravenelle somehow become a “health official,” he’s actually become several of them. Well done!

How about TV? New England Cable News felt the need to explain: “There was a low-suspect case at the school, meaning it was unconfirmed.”  Is that so? Maybe they should have called a doctor to see if that was actually what “low-suspect case” means, because I’m fairly confident that isn’t it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but is illustrative of one of the big problems with news reporting and the internet. A measles outbreak is a big deal, so you really can’t blame sources from all over the country reporting on it, and by necessity most of those reports are going to be drawn from local media sources. That’s the nice way of saying that they’ll plagiarize the original article.

This sort of works if the original source is a good one, but the Sentinel & Enterprise just isn’t. Ravenelle could have said that this case heralded the end of the world, or that the student got measles because his humours were out of whack and the Sentinel would have printed it without question. It’s easy enough to see what would happen next: everyone else would print the same thing.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Ravenelle. He’s a school administrator, not a doctor. He’s bound to say some things that don’t really make sense when you put him on the spot about a medical issue. I was just hoping that the people who consider themselves “reporters” weren’t just a bunch of lazy plagiarists with no fact-checking skills.

Oh well.

Frequently-asked Rhetorical Questions

It has come to my attention that the World Wide Web is littered with websites such as the neuron-apoptosingly stupid Yahoo! Answers, where you can ask strangers to answer questions like “Who was that guy that played Porkins in Star Wars?” and “Is this a tumor?” If my parents ever used this website, their response to every question would be “Go look it up for yourself”, which is why I’m now able to have a conversation without attaching an iPad to my retinas.

I do have one problem, however. Rhetorical questions have  never made sense to me. I know what they are, I know how to use them, I even use them myself sometimes, I just don’t get them, like I don’t get people who think jokes about prison rape are clever. If you and I are having a conversation, or if I happen to be walking by while you’re talking to yourself, and you use a rhetorical question, chances are good that I’ll answer it.

People do not typically like it when you answer their rhetorical questions. Frequently, they’ll point out that their question was rhetorical, which does absolutely nothing to stop me from answering it, and will probably prompt me to elaborate at great length on my original answer. The simple truth is that rhetorical questions are almost always really easy to answer but are frequently presented as somehow either being deep or funny. They are neither, as can be seen quite easily when you answer them.

Allow me to demonstrate with a few rhetorical questions from this page, oddly labeled “Stupid Facts: Rhetorical Questions”. I think they’re supposed to be funny, but something went horribly wrong.

  • Q: “If you take an Oriental person and spin him around several times, does he become disoriented?”

    A: It depends on how you define “several”. If “several” means “three,” it’s unlikely that he will become disoriented. If “several” means “a few dozen,” disorientation may occur. This is true of pretty much all people, not just those of Asian descent. More importantly, why the hell would you spin around a random Oriental person?* And didn’t we stop calling them “Oriental” about 30 years ago?**

  • Q: “Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist but a person that drives a race car is not called a racist?”

    A: Even by its own tortured internal logic, the question doesn’t make sense. “Race” is an adjective used to describe a car, so if everyone must be labeled by their activities, someone who drives a race car should be a “carrist”, or possibly a “race carrist”. Put in simple language, they’re not called a racist because that would be fucking idiotic.

  • Q: “‘I am’ is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that ‘I do’ is the longest sentence?”

    A: No.

* Maybe they’re your figure-skating partner, though in that case I suspect they would have ways of avoiding disorientation. Or you could be running an amusement park ride that involves spinning, and they’re riding it.

** Evidently not.

Songs for the Unemployed

I’ve been unemployed for the last several months. It’s not a lot of fun. Mostly it’s boring and tedious, because looking for a new job is boring and tedious. There are also only so many times you can answer the question “So, how’s the job search going?” before you just want to strangle the well-meaning person who asked it. (Tip for well-meaning people: If it were truly going well, we wouldn’t still be unemployed.)

In an effort to alleviate at least a little of that boredom and tedium, I hereby present a smattering of songs which should either lift your unemployed spirits, give you someone to commiserate with, or just provide you with something to listen to for a few minutes. Baby steps, people.

Woody Guthrie: Do Re Mi

The Clash: Career Opportunities

Loudon Wainwright III: Times is Hard

There you have it. Three different eras, three different songs about how the economy sucks. Enjoy!

How Not to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

wedding zombies

Feeding them cake may or may not be effective.

These days, it seems like everyone has plans for survival in the event of a zombie apocalypse. In fact, it’s hard to keep track of all the new zombie-centric movies, video games, comics, and old-fashioned books that focus on zombies, and a good number of these feature either explicit or implicit tips for survival (Max Brooks’ excellent Zombie Survival Guide being a prime example).

This is great, of course. People need to know how to survive the coming zombie apocalypse, because otherwise things get worse for everyone else. Truly, if you’re not part of the zombie solution, you’re part of the zombie problem.

Still, how to survive is only half the story. Equally–if not more–important is what you should not do when facing a zombie apocalypse. The things that may seem like a good idea when you’re discussing survival plans over a few beers, but in reality will get you killed.

As such, I now present a preliminary guide to what not to do when the zombie apocalypse occurs. This is not meant to be all-encompassing, and will certainly need to be expanded upon in the future, but it’s a starting point.

Things not to do when faced with the zombie menace.

Don’t shoot them in the head.

  • Counterintuitive for sure, but unless you have extensive firearms training and experience shooting humans in life-threatening situations, you have no business even trying to shoot them in the head. Why not? Because you’ll miss, and then you’ll be out a bullet. With each bullet you lose, you become less capable of survival. Save them for hunting. You need food more than you need one dead zombie.

Don’t set them on fire.

  • Contrary to what movies may indicate, bodies take time to burn. A cremation usually takes at least a few hours, and that’s with a 1500 degree oven. Granted, you don’t have to get to cremation level, but it’s still going to take more than a few minutes for that zombie you just set on fire to stop moving. During that time, it’s more than capable of spreading fire all around. If it’s to other zombies, that’s great. If it’s to your shelter, that’s not so good.

Don’t barricade yourself inside.

  • It’s very tempting to get yourself to a really sturdy building and just barricade yourself inside, safe from the immediate menace of being eaten by a zombie. However, unless you’ve got enough food for everyone inside to live long and healthy lives, you’re probably going to starve to death and then get eaten by the other survivors.

    Besides the supply concerns, why would you want to take away your one advantage over the zombies? They’re relentless, numerous, and tireless, but they’re really slow. More and more can just keep surrounding your shelter until you stand no chance of ever leaving. Don’t count on your secret escape route not also being overrun by zombies. But if you stay out in the relative open, then not only can you see them coming, you can also run away from them.

Don’t deny the existence of zombies.

  • Yes, as far as anyone today knows, zombies cannot exist. That’s very comforting, and it’s easy to see why some people would cling to that belief even in the face of evidence to the contrary. But no matter how skeptical you are of zombies right now, if zombies show up tomorrow then it’s time to reexamine the evidence.

    This is especially important when it comes to deciding whether or not to allow someone who was bitten to join your party. If you refuse to admit that zombies exist, you’re far more likely to let the victim join, ensuring that this new refugee will eventually kill everyone else, and probably you. Recognize what’s going on, and act accordingly.

 

And that’s it for the moment. These tips just scratch the surface of what you shouldn’t do (a list that’s considerably longer than what you should do, I’d argue). I hope they serve you well, should you ever need them.

How to fix the internet, with words!

Okay, internet, we’ve got a problem. I thought it was just a small issue: some typos on some websites. No big deal.

Mexico is supposed to speak English?

Mexico is supposed to speak English?

But it’s gotten into my head. I’ve seen the word “lose” misspelled as “loose” so many times that I now just reflexively correct it.

This is all well and good, you might think. Not so! Unfortunately, the word “loose” itself still has meaning, but I’ve become so used to seeing it mangled that I automatically read it as “lose.” This creates problems when someone is complaining about their pants being loose. Instead of understanding that they are wearing some ill-fitting pants, I spend precious fractions of a second wondering where they lost their pants. A more entertaining thought, for sure, but still wrong!

Having recognized this scourge of crappy internet language use, I will now present my solution. We need new words! People are going to screw up simple words no matter what, and sometimes they’ll take out innocent bystander-words in the process (as “loose” having lost all meaning to me demonstrates). Instead, let’s give them some new words that they really can’t screw up, because I just invented them!

I have three general ideas, but we’ll start with the example I’ve given above:

Problem: “lose” becomes “loose”

Solution: “Lose” is, admittedly, a pretty stupid word. It doesn’t look like it should be pronounced the way(s) it is. It should be more like “hose,” really. It deserves another “o” in there, which is probably why it becomes “loose” so often. But “loose” is okay as it is. It’s like “moose” and “goose” and “mongoose,” all perfectly lovely words.

What we need here is another word, so that people can express that they lost something without accidentally suggesting that something is poorly fastened. I have the perfect word. It’s got the two “o”‘s beloved by misspellers, and goes well with Cheez Whiz (beloved by illiterates the world over!). The word is…

“looze”

Now, that’s a word that’s impossible to screw up! It’s phonetically  pretty straightforward, despite that trailing “e” (which is really just for ease of transition for loose-lovers). As far as conjugation goes, it’s simple enough that I don’t think I need to really explain it. I looze, you looze, they looze, et cetera. And if you are big into loozing, you’re a loozer.

One controversial aspect may be that “lost” will probably need to be replaced with “loozed,” for the sake of consistency. Chances are this could happen in a few hundred years anyway. So let’s just change it now, and save ourselves the headache later.

Problem: “Your” and “you’re” and “there” and “their” and “they’re”

Solution: The internet is full of homophonophobes, who, overwhelmed by having two or more options to spell out the same sound, just say “aw, fuckit” and choose one at random. Are they uneducated and unable to pick the correct word? Are they “hooked on phonics” the way other people are hooked on heroin? What’s their deal?

I don’t know, or care. All I know is that I’ve got the words to solve their problems!

I recommend “yoy” as a replacement for “your.” It’s shorter, snappier, and has that “zazz” that all the Hollywood bigshots enjoy so much. It’s the complement to “my”. I have my stuff, you have yoy stuff. Simple. Also, it sounds very positive (like “yay!” or “joy”), which is always good for marketing. Having replaced “your” with “yoy” we find our homophone-driven confusion will dissipate, and people will no doubt start spelling and using “you’re” correctly.

The “there,” “their,” “they’re” triangle is a little trickier to navigate, since now we’re dealing with three homophones. Once again, I propose outright elimination of the non-apostrophized options. We’ve already got a perfectly good word to replace “there” with: it’s “yonder“. So just use that. As for “their,” we may need to get a little more creative. “Their” is really just the plural form of “his” or “hers” or “its” (don’t even get me started on this one), so let’s stay consistent! It should really be “theys.” And yonder you have it. The problem is solved. Now “they’re” can take over as the only spelling of that particular sound, and homophonic interlopers are no longer a worry. Problem solved, internet.

Problem: spelling “you” as “u,” “be” as “b,” and “to,” “two,” and “too” as “2″

Solution: This is just unacceptable idiot shorthand. Maybe it’s okay if you’re currently on the run from the law and sirens are blaring right behind you and you really need to text “will not b home 2nite” to your spouse/kids/dog, but otherwise it’s just not ok. Don’t do it, don’t encourage it, and ruthlessly mock the dullards who actually think this is a legitimate way to communicate. They should be shunned even from impolite society.

Also, people who use “lol” as a comma, period, or any other punctuation mark should be tossed into live volcanoes.

Saint Patrick, Historical Jerk?

It’s St. Patrick’s Day!

This is the day we celebrate Irishness by drinking green beer, wearing green clothes, and vomiting green vomit.

I’ve never much cared about St. Patrick’s day, but there’s a pretty sizable Irish population in my area, so I tend to be surrounded by people who actually do care about it. However, I learned just within the past couple of years that I apparently have some Irish ancestors. Maybe I should get in on the nationalism and celebrate the life of this St. Patrick guy!

Unfortunately, problems arise.

St. Patrick wasn’t Irish, for one thing, so there goes my nationalistic fervor right off the bat. He was British, under Roman rule at the time (roughly 400 C.E.). When he was 16, Irish raiders attacked his family’s estate and kidnapped him into slavery. He spent the next six years or so in Ireland as a slave/shepherd.

After six years of hanging out with sheep as a slave, Patrick turned to Christianity for comfort. At this point, God supposedly spoke to him in a dream, telling him to leave Ireland. Which is pretty weird, actually. Not the “deity giving advice in a dream” part, but the fact that apparently a slave had the option to just leave. Why the hell did he need a dream to tell him that in the first place?

Regardless, he walked what is purported to be about 200 miles to the coast, where he escaped to Britain. Presumably, God also set up a boat ride for him.

Back in Britain, Patrick kept having wacky dreams.  This time an angel told him to go back to Ireland as a missionary. God didn’t tell him this time, because that would just be embarrassing, after telling him to leave Ireland and all. Wouldn’t want to seem inconsistent.

So Patrick went to priest school for a little while, then it was back to Ireland, to convert the heathens and drive out the snakes, while making himself a tidy profit in the process!

Of course, there never were any snakes in Ireland in the first place. They couldn’t get there, what with it being an island in a cold climate, and them being reptiles with poor cliff-climbing skills. New Zealand , Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica don’t have any snakes for similar reasons.

So what’s the deal with St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, like the old myth goes? Simple, the “snakes” were Druids.

Menacing Druid with his pet snake!

St. Patrick was just like any other missionary. He was there to drive out the Druids and other pagans so he could impose Christianity on the country. In other words, he was a dick. Luckily, it’s not like the introduction of Christianity to Ireland has ever caused any problems, right?

How about the holiday itself, though? Maybe we can celebrate it despite St. Patrick being sort of a douchebag. Well, the important thing to know about it is that it falls during Lent, and historically allowed people to get away with eating meat and getting super-drunk during a time when they were supposed to be fasting sadsacks. It also borrowed a lot from the bitchin’ fun pagan parties that Patrick was complicit in eventually wiping out.

So go ahead with the green beer and debauchery, by all means! But do it for the Druids. They’re the ones who threw the good parties in the first place.

So, what the hell is Occam’s Panda?

Obviously, “Occam’s Panda” is the  name of this blog. But it’s also my shorthand for the manner of thinking that leads people to develop conspiracy theories.

The name is obviously a play on Occam’s razor, which in its most simple form posits that the simplest or most parsimonious explanation for something is likely to be the correct one. Clearly, it’s not an iron-clad rule, but it’s a handy heuristic. If my car gets a flat tire, it’s pretty likely that I ran over something sharp and punctured the tire. It’s a lot less likely (though not impossible) that there was a hobo on the sidewalk throwing darts at passing cars and he happened to puncture my tire. It’s even less likely that a minuscule wormhole formed directly inside my inner tube and rapidly sucked the air from my tire into the vacuum of space.

Maybe these more complicated reasons are actually correct, but it’s pretty unlikely. So when I get out of my car and try to figure out what caused my flat, I’m going to look for a nail in the tread before I start checking for dart-tossing hobos or wormholes. Of course, if I see a dart-tossing hobo on the side of the road or smell a wormhole (I presume this is the proper method of checking for intra-tire wormholes), then those may become the most parsimonious explanations, even if they’re not the simplest, and I should probably look into them more deeply.

Occam’s razor cuts away extraneous and overly complicated explanations, leaving the simplest. Occam’s panda is basically the polar opposite. It’s a manner of thinking that prefers complicated explanations over simple explanations. Unlike the simple, sharp blade that cuts away unnecessary hypotheses like so much dead hair, Occam’s panda is hugely complicated and quite furry. Anything you throw at it will stick, and it will just grow more and more complicated and convoluted.

That is how I view conspiracy theories. They’re rejections of simple explanations in favor of ridiculously complicated theories. Of course, just like Occam’s razor by itself can’t prove anything, Occam’s panda by itself doesn’t disprove anything. Some conspiracy theories may be right. But most fold like a house of cards under the weight of their own complexity (and because they’re simply wrong).

So, there you have it. In addition to being a catchy name for a blog (in my opinion, anyway), “Occam’s panda” is simply shorthand for a way of thinking that prizes extremely complicated answers over simple and parsimonious ones.