Standard Jokes and "New Classics"
We credit whoever reports a joke (actual origins are usually unknown).
2 lines or less:
If it wasn't for Thomas
we'd all be watching TV...
to the light of a candle.
The contour integral around Western Europe is zero.
(All the Poles are in Eastern Europe.)
If I had three months to live, I'd spend the time in a statistics class...
Three months would seem like an eternity.
They say that we only ever use 12% of our brain.
The other half is never used.
There are three types of mathematicians:
Those who can count, and those who can't count.
There are 10 types of people:
Those who understand binary numbers, and those who don't.
[Russell's Paradox 2010-04-23]
There are two types of people:
Those who can be classified into one of two types, and those who can't.
5 lines or less:
After the Flood, Noah lets all the animals out of the ark and tells them to
go forth and multiply.
A few months later, all are doing fine except a pair of snakes
who beg Noah to cut down some trees and let them live there.
Soon, there are lots of little snakes and everybody is happy.
"How did the trees help?", wonders Noah.
We need logs to multiply."
Returning from a conference,
Polish physicists find themselves in a plane whose pilot dies from a heart attack.
There's only one experimentalist in the bunch
who dares try to fly the aircraft. He has trouble figuring things out and
apologizes to the others:
"I'm just a simple Pole in a complex plane."
An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician are visiting Scotland by train.
They see a black sheep grazing in a pasture.
The astronomer observes that Scottish sheep are black.
The physicist objects that they only know about one such sheep.
The mathematician intones:
"In Scotland, there's at least one pasture with at least one sheep
having at least one black side."
As Derivation approached, all functions fled, except the Natural Exponential:
- "Don't you fear me?" says Derivation.
- "I am e to the x, you can't touch me."
- "Oh, but who says I differentiate along x?"
To an optimist, the glass is half full.
To a pessimist, the glass is half empty.
To an engineer, the glass is twice as big as needed.
Three scientists observed that 2 people entered a house and 3 came out.
The physicist: "The measurement wasn't accurate."
The biologist: "They have reproduced."
The mathematician: "If one person enters the house, it will be empty again."
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) is arrested for speeding :
- "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
- "Very much so, but I didn't know where I was."
A pre-med student rudely interrupts a physics lecture:
- "Why do we have to learn this useless stuff?"
- "It saves lives."
- "How does physics save lives?"
- "It keeps ignoramuses out of medical school."
NASA scientists had developped a gun to hurl dead chicken at aircrafts to study the
effect of accidental encounters with airborne fowl.
When the British used the gun to test a new high-speed train,
the chicken smashed the windshield,
destroyed the console and embedded itself in the cabin wall!
The Britons wired NASA about this...
The answer: "Thaw the chicken."
"catapoultry" story was
heard [ ? ] on the "Late Late Show with Tom Snyder", on 1997-03-03.
On Limericks and Spoonerisms...
The poetic form
popularized by Edward Lear (1845) and many others.
A mathematician confided
That a Möbius band is one-sided,
And you'll get quite a laugh,
If you cut one in half,
For it stays in one piece when divided.
There once was a fellow with a horse.
He taught him all forms of math discourse,
Sparing just one mystery:
You can't put
before the horse !
(G. Michon, 2007-05-07)
Circular credit about an
Infinite Descent proof...
The so-called Method of Infinite Descent
establishes that no positive integer can possibly have a given property
by showing that a strictly smaller
positive integer with the same property would otherwise exist...
The French mathematician Michel Mendès-France
has reported (2001-08-20) that Mike Keane
and himself have credited each other
for a great proof of the irrationality
using the method of infinite descent
(now part of folklore) :
Since 1 < Ö2 < 2,
if a positive integer n was making
an integer, the smaller positive integer
m = (Ö2-1) n
would make mÖ2 an integer also!
Let's be less terse in a slight generalization of that anonymous proof:
The square root of any given integer q which isn't a perfect square
is strictly between two consecutive integers k and k+1.
For any positive integer n which would make
nÖq an integer, we'd
consider the integer m = (Öq-k) n
which would make mÖq an integer also.
Well, m is positive because k < Öq
and it's less that n because
Öq-k is less than 1.
Thus, by infinite descent, no such n can exist.
Therefore, Öq is irrational.
Trick Questions & Lateral Thinking
Legitimate questions can be bad jokes played on students.
Some of the links contain clues, others are just straight information...
The first one is mine (2007-07-28).
I have not tried it on anybody yet...
Ignorance is bliss...
What's the big deal about mathematical texts, anyway?
David W. Cantrell reports the following anecdote involving two married friends of his,
who were both attending graduate school at the time.
The wife is a mathematician. The husband is a physicist.
A certain acquaintance of theirs was then working on her Ph.D. in history.
She became aware of—and appalled at—the glacial pace at which
graduate texts in mathematics and physics were being covered.
She asked them to please lend her
one of their texts so that she could form an opinion.
As she insisted, they lent her a text on
The next day, she returned the book to them,
gleefully proclaiming that she had finished it.
They asked her if she had understood it.
She said that she had.
However, she was wondering why the authors never reduced "fractions"
by cancelling the factors of d...
A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself,
and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.
The Devil's Dictionary
by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
What ignoramuses think the plural of ignoramus ought to be.
Silly Answers to Funny Questions
The first one of these is the quintessential fruity "math joke"...
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Is it really just to get to the other side?
The fittest chickens cross roads.
The road moved beneath the chicken.
Chickens at rest stay at rest, chickens in motion cross roads.
We're not sure which side of the road the chicken was on.
There was already one chicken on this side of the road.
For fun. [Epicurus]
It had a dream. [Martin Luther King Jr.]
Because the road was there. [Sir Edmund Hilary]
If you saw me coming you'd cross the road too! [Mr. T.]
Thy Chicken Shall Bear Witness. [Victor Sjöström, 1921]
Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I'll find out. [Torquemada]
None of your business; we own the chicken, we own the road. [Bill Gates]
The chicken did not --I repeat: did not-- cross the road. [Richard Nixon]
The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated. [Mark Twain]
That's the way it is. [Walter Cronkite]
I missed one? [Colonel Sanders]
Define "road". [Bill Clinton]
It was a historical inevitability. [Karl Marx]
It is in the nature of chickens to cross roads. [Aristotle]
He was exercising his natural right to liberty. [John Locke]
Gaze too long across the Road and the Road gazes across you. [Nietzsche]
The possibility is encoded into the objects chicken and road. [Wittgenstein]
If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature. [Buddha]
Q: Why did the chicken cross the
A: To get to the same side.
Video : Why
Did the Chicken Cross the Road? by Michael Stevens (Vsauce).
Funny or gripping. Silly or wise. Provocative or inspirational.
(469-399 BC), early moral philosopher.
- The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
(427-347 BC), legendary philosopher (founded Academy in 387 BC).
- Mathematics is like checkers in being suitable for the young,
not too difficult, amusing, and without peril to the state.
- The knowledge of which geometry aims is
the knowledge of the eternal.
- Let no one ignorant of geometry enter [Plato's Academy].
"MHDEIS AGEWMETRHTOS EISITW"
the Academy's entrance]
Archimedes of Syracuse
(287-212 BC), legendary engineer.
- I've got it! [or "Eureka!",
upon discovering the law of hydrostatics]
- Give me a fulcrum and I'll move the World.
"dos moi pou stw,
kai kinw thn ghn"
- Don't disturb my circles!
[His last words, to the soldier who would kill him.]
"mh mou touV kuklouV taratte"
(Latin: Noli turbare circulos meos)
(1214-1294), medieval scientist.
- Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences ... Neglect
of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who
is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world.
And what is worse, men who are thus ignorant are unable
to perceive their own ignorance and so do not seek a remedy.
[Opus Majus, 1267]
of Ockham (1288-1348).
William of Ockham
Occam's Razor is the rule of parsimony:
- Pluralitas non ponenda est sine necessitate.
[ KISS = Keep it simple, stupid. ]
William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865),
- On Earth, there is nothing great but Man;
there is nothing great but mind.
- The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970;
mathematician & philosopher.
- Most people would rather die than think; many do.
- Mathematics possesses not only truth but supreme beauty.
- I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular
to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe--because,
like Spinoza's God, it won't love us in return.
(1877-1947), quintessential mathematician.
- It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority.
By definition, there are already enough people to do that.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955;
- Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.
[Quoting the first part suffices!]
In German :
Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.
In French :
Dieu est subtile, pas malveillant.
- Nothing happens until something moves.
- Imagination is more important than knowledge.
- Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
- If you are out to describe the truth,
leave elegance to the tailor.
- Gravitation cannot be held responsible
for people falling in love.
- Everything should be made as simple as possible,
but not simpler.
- The only reason for time is
so that everything doesn't happen at once.
- Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age
- The telegraph is like a very long cat;
you pull the tail in New York and it meows in Los Angeles.
Radio operates the same way, but without a cat.
- We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used
when we created them.
- As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain;
and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
- Two things are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the Universe...
[ Attribution to Einstein is dubious. ]
- I didn't arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws
of the Universe through my rational mind...
- Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent.
It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
- If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith.
Niels Bohr (1885-1962;
early guru of quantum physics.
- A physicist is just an atom's way of looking at itself.
John von Neumann (1903-1957),
- In mathematics, you don't understand things, you just get used to them.
foremost patriach of modern physics.
- If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics,
you do not understand it.
- Time is defined so that motion looks simple.
[This superbly deep statement was made to express a viewpoint
attributed to Henri Poincaré.]
- We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance.
As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.
Erdös (1913-1996), legendary mathematician.
- God may not play dice with the universe, but
something strange is going on with the prime numbers.
- A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.
Richard P. Feynman
cult figure of physics.
- Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
- I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
- Physics is like sex.
Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.
- I would hate to die twice, it's so boring. [His last words]
Michel Audiard (1920-1985),
known for hilarious dialogs.
- Deux intellectuels assis vont moins loin qu' un con qui marche.
[Two sitting intellectuals won't travel as far as one walking fool.]
Raymond Devos (1922-2006),
French wordsmith and stand-up comedian.
- Un jardinier qui sabote une pelouse est un assassin en herbe.
[A piece of untranslatable humor, unrelated to Science, for good measure.]
leading physicist and cosmologist.
- The effort to understand the Universe is one of the very few things
that lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some
of the grace of tragedy.
[Last sentence of "The First Three Minutes", 1976]
- At the deepest level, all we find are symmetries and responses to
symmetries. [1986 Dirac Memorial Lecture]
- We ought to try and preserve the meaning of words,
and "God" historically has not meant "the laws of nature".
[Criticizing S. Hawking]
- Good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things.
It takes religion for good people to do evil things. [ cf.
(1942- , FRS).
Former Lucasian Professor at Cambridge
- What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes
a universe for them to describe? [...]
Why does the Universe go to all the bother of existing?
[From the closing sentences of "A Brief History of Time", 1988]
Douglas Adams (1952-2001).
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- I love deadlines... and the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Sean Stephenson (1979- ).
- When you find the purpose to your pain, you will find
the drive to go through it and out the other side.
Pattier (2011-06-03) Please translate
Ben Franklin's quote:
"Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late."
The ongoing challenge is to translate that quote into as many languages as possible.
in your own answer in any language that you happen to know very well.
Make it as elegant and idiomatic as possible...
The only noteworthy trap is that Franklin's words do not
necessarily imply that we get old before we get wise
(which would be really tragic).
A quote from Benjamin Franklin
||Life's tragedy is that
we get old too soon and wise too late.
|On d'vient vioque trop tôt et cador trop tard, c'est tragique.
||La [grande] tragédie de la vie c'est
qu'on devient vieux trop tôt et sage trop tard.
||Zivotna tragedija je sto nam starost dodje prerano, a mudrost prekasno.
||Tragediya zhizni shto mui stareem slishkom buistro
i preobretaem mudrost slishkom posno.
||A tragedia hogy gyorsan yon az oregseg de lasan a okosag.
||Największą tragedią w życiu jest to, że starzejemy się za wcześnie,
a mądrzy stajemy się zbyt póżno.
||La tragedia de la vida es que nos hacemos viejos demasiado temprano y llegamos a ser sabios demasiado tarde.
The above entries are posted in the order received.
Give the name of the target language in English.
If possible, provide a link that identifies you.
(2003-05-03) Famous Last Words
Guesses from the best experts are just guesses...
Jérôme LeFrançais de
(1732-1807), French astronomer.
- L'homme ne volera jamais.
[May 23, 1782. Man did fly
one year later.]
Thomson, Lord Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907),
- Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. 
- Radio has no future. 
- X-rays will prove to be a hoax. 
Harry Warner (1881-1958)
oldest of the four Warner Brothers.
- Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? 
(1867-1947), leading US economist [Yale University].
- Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.
- There is not the slightest indication that energy will ever be
obtainable from the atom. 
Thomas John Watson, Sr.
(1874-1956), chairman of IBM.
- I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. 
The Crystal Ball:
from Here to Eternity
Famous Last Words
On November 6, 1919,
Eddington (1882-1944) announced the results of his
on May 29,
which had confirmed Einstein's prediction of the bending of light by gravity.
The occasion was a joint meeting of the Royal Society and
the Royal Astronomical Society.
The chairman for the session was
J.J. Thomson (1856-1940;
Nobel 1906), who
was then president of the Royal Society
(he held the position from 1915 to 1920).
In his concluding remarks, Thomson said that:
"No one has yet succeeded in stating, in clear language,
what the theory of Einstein really is."
As the meeting was dispersing, this statement prompted the polish-born physicist
Ludwig Silberstein (author of an early book on Relativity)
to come up to Eddington:
- Professor Eddington, you must be one of three persons in the world who understands
general relativity... Don't be modest.
- On the contrary, I am trying to think who the third person is.
The full story was told by Eddington,
at a dinner of Trinity College during the Christmas recess of 1933,
in the presence of his famous student
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995;
It appears in Chandrasekhar's 1987 book "Truth and Beauty", and/or in an earlier
article of his, entitled
"Einstein and general relativity: Historical perspectives".
This is probably the origin of the popular myth that:
"Only three people in the world understand Relativity."
The 67th Mersenne Number
The number 2n-1 (now called the nth Mersenne number)
can only be prime if the exponent (n) is itself prime.
This necessary condition is not sufficient :
Although 11 is prime, the eleventh Mersenne number is 2047, which is not (it's
the product of 23 and 89)...
In 1644, Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) gave the first values of n
for which the number obtained was thought to be prime
(Mersenne primes may be used to form
This mysterious list
started correctly with 2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 17, 19, 31...
However, Mersenne's next entry was incorrect, as he omitted 61 which does belong
(as first shown by I.M. Pervushin, in 1883) and included 67, which does not.
The Mersenne number corresponding to n = 67
is huge: 147573952589676412927.
This number was shown to be composite well before the computer era
(by Edouard Lucas,
around 1875) and it wasn't clear whether
an explicit factorization
of such a large number could ever be found.
So it was thought in October 1903, when
Nelson Cole (1861-1926) walked up to the blackboard,
at a meeting of the American Mathematical Society
The announced title of his presentation was
"On the Factorization of Large Numbers".
Cole silently calculated by hand the 67th power of 2, subtracted 1,
and wrote the result (147573952589676412927) on one side of the blackboard.
Then, he multiplied 761838257287 by 193707721 and obtained the same result...
Cole did not utter a word and simply went back to his seat,
under the first and only standing ovation ever recorded at an AMS meeting.
There were no questions. Cole was a professor at
He had worked every sunday for 3 years to find this factorization.
Professor Cole served as AMS secretary for 25 years. Two
prizes (in Algebra, and in Number Theory) have been
founded in his honor.
about famous scientists
Parodies and Hoaxes
Clever practical jokes help make the intellectual world a healthier place.
Well, at least some of them do (some others have depressing outcomes).
In 1931, three physicists (including future Nobel laureate
managed to publish the famous spoof article reproduced below
[in an English translation taken from "A Random Walk in Science",
a compilation by R.L. Weber, edited by E. Mendoza and
published in 1973 by the Institute of Physics (London)].
This short article actually ridiculed the mystical kind of numerology
which was once advocated by
Sir Arthur Eddington,
when our experimental knowledge of
fine structure constant
(a) was consistent with the value 1/137
[the currently accepted value is 1/a = 137.035 999 76(50)].
Spoofingly equating degrees of freedom and degrees of temperature
in the centigrade scale (which would officially be named after
Anders Celsius in 1949),
the authors offer an "explanation" for the fact that the absolute zero of temperature
(-273.15°C) happens to be numerically close to
Remarks on the quantum theory of the absolute zero of temperature
by G. Beck, H. Bethe, and W. Riezler
in Die Naturwissenschaften, (1931) volume 2, pp. 38-39
Let us consider a hexagonal crystal lattice.
The absolute zero temperature is characterized by the condition that
all degrees of freedom are frozen.
That means that all inner movements of the lattice cease.
This, of course, does not hold for an electron on a Bohr orbital.
According to Eddington, each electron has 1/a
degrees of freedom, where alpha is the Sommerfeld fine structure constant.
Beside the electrons,
the crystal contains only protons for which the number of degrees of freedom
is the same since,
according to Dirac, the proton can be viewed as a hole in the electron gas.
To obtain absolute zero temperature we therefore have to remove from the substance
2/a - 1
degrees of freedom per neutron.
(The crystal as a whole is supposed to be electrically neutral;
1 neutron = 1 electron + 1 proton.
One degree of freedom remains because of the orbital movement.)
For the absolute zero temperature we therefore obtain
To = -(2/a - 1) degrees
If we take To = -273,
we obtain for 1/a the value of 137,
which agrees within limits with the number obtained by an entirely different method.
It can be shown easily that this result is independent of the choice of crystal structure.
During World War II, the legend was born that the U.S. Navy
had perfected its degaussing
of warships (which made them effectively invisible to magnetically-triggered mines)
and could achieve total invisibility to radar and ordinary light, with the same type
of technology... For good measure, it was also claimed that the method,
secretly devised by Albert Einstein, could also make
ships and their crews dematerialize and teleport to remote locations.
Allegedly, some glitches had made human body parts
fuse with the metal of the ship upon rematerialization.
This gruesome side-effect was supposedly the reason why the Government kept covering up
its initial experiments
(including a whole destroyer dematerializing in Philadelphia).
It's difficult to imagine how anyone could believe such a crazy tale but it
has remained popular for decades.
After many years, in 1979, the central "eyewitness" confessed
to be the perpetrator of the hoax. However, the story refused to die.
He recanted the confession and remained at the center of the delusion he had created,
for the rest of his natural life. And beyond.
This man passed away at a Colorado nursing home in 1994,
under his pen name of
Carlos Miguel Allende (1925-1994).
His death certificate also lists what he fancied himself to be:
"Science consultant, electromagnetic force fields".
He had enlisted as a seaman half a century earlier (number 7416175) under
his actual birth name, Carl Meredith Allen. RIP.
The True Story of the Philadelphia Experiment (video) :
In 1988, the so-called channeling craze
(which had began in earnest around 1972) was in full swing,
spearheaded by actress Shirley MacLaine
and many others.
The professional magician
James Randi (the Amazing Randi)
was approached by Channel 9 from Australia with an offer to debunk the whole thing
(hear an interview
of James Randi, also posted by the
Round Earth Society).
Randi took up the challenge and taught his friend
José Alvarez a few tricks to impersonate the channeler
of a fictitious 35000-year old spirit dubbed "Carlos".
As it turned out, "The Great Carlos" received a lot of media attention in Australia
(culminating with a show at the Sydney opera house)
and eventually developed a rather large following there...
Surprisingly, many continued to believe in "Carlos" and his silly messages,
even after the hoax was publicly revealed!
James Randi speaks (video) :
The Carlos Hoax
Carlos Hoax Cont'd
In 1996, the phycisist
published a paper with a pompous title:
Transgressing the Boundaries
Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity
#46/47, pp. 217-252 (spring/summer 1996).
It was, in fact, a cleverly disguised [and hilarious] parody,
which had only the appearance of serious scholarly work:
In the very first paragraph, Sokal criticizes the "dogma" [sic] according to which
"there exists an external world,
whose properties are independent of any individual human being".
The rest of the paper is similarly salted with nonsense.
Yet, it suited so much what the editors of Social Text
wanted to see that they did not even blink,
and Sokal's article was duly published,
next to other pieces of fashionably correct prose...
This controversy is about the supposedley rigorous process which takes
place before scientific doctorates are awarded.
It's one thing to fool the editors of a cultural journal using scientific gibberish,
like Sokal did.
It would be another thing entirely if the same tactics could be successfull
with a doctoral jury...
Many people hastily talked about a "reverse Sokal hoax",
when physicist Max Niedermaier first blew the whistle
in an e-mail he sent to several friends around 2002-10-22.
Niedermaier himself has since apologized and recognized that the Bogdanoff brothers
"genuinely believe in what they are doing".
The whole thing would probably have gone unnoticed if the Bogdanovs had not been
television celebrities, but this does not make the issue go away...
The twin semioticians Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff were born in 1949, in a castle
of Gascony (southwest France).
They are gifted science-fiction writers who became famous in France as
hosts of their own television show
(Temps X) which premiered on April 21, 1979
(it aired prime-time on TF1 from 1980 to 1990).
With the philosopher Jean Guitton (1901-1999), they coauthored a subsequent bestseller
entitled "God and Science" (Dieu et la science, Grasset 1991, ISBN 2-246-42411-9).
Doctorates in mathematical physics
from the French Université de Bourgogne
were recently awarded to
Dr. John Baez and
others (including Field medalist
Connes) have since reviewed both doctoral dissertations
and at least four related journal articles published by the Bogdanovs:
To summarize bluntly,
the latest scientific jargon is clearly there,
but actual scientific substance seems to be lacking...
Or is it?
The Bogdanoff twins resumed their TV careers on
October 3, 2002,
weekly staging digital clones of themselves in 2-minute spots for public French television
Dr Arkadiusz Jadczyk
By checking links to my own site
I discovered [the above] relatively balanced, and well done, review of the
[To me, this does not belong in a humor page, though.]
me quote [Bion and] Plutarch:
" Though the boys throw stones at the
frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest."
But I appreciate your personal perspective -- after all, the stones hit
the target, and it must have been "fun!"
You have a point, Ark:
Regardless of the scientific merits of their work,
the Bogdanovs didn't deserve the public ridicule they were initially submitted to.
Let's just state that a page about humor may include
a few things that are not meant to be funny,
including possible examples of unethical uses of derision.
The Bogdanoff papers
(e.g., Grichka Bogdanov & Igor Bogdanov,
2001) have been
reviewed by Lubos Motl
(The Reference Frame,
Other recent reviews are less ambiguous and rate as "nil" the scientific value of the Bogdanov's
contributions (Bogdanov update by Peter Woit,
Frauds & Hoaxes
Museum of Hoaxes
Age of the Universe is a Function of Time
Web Hoaxes and Misinformation
Frauds, Scams & Hoaxes
Fakes, Forgeries, Frauds, Grifs, Hoaxes, Rumors, Scams, Schemes,
Swindles, Urban Legends
The day of reckoning...
Often engraved on sundials: Omnia vulnerant, ultima necat.
(All [hours] hurt, the last one kills...)
The famous algebraist and inventor Jerome
(1501-1576) was also proud of his
reputation as an astrologer. He once predicted the day of his own death.
He did die on that fateful day (Sept. 21, 1576).
He may have committed suicide.
When the mathematician
noticed that he was sleeping 15 more minutes each day,
he extrapolated this to find the day where he would be sleeping 24 hours a day.
He died on that day (Nov. 27,1754).
Our top picks of funny units...
[See also the serious side.]
The beauty of
launch a thousand ships.
Thus, in the Troy system of units,
the millihelen (mHel) is the amount of beauty which can launch one ship.
Its value in natural units [natural beauty] is about
A microhelen is roughly the amount of beauty
required to motivate one sailor.
The symbol for the helen
Hel is pronounced "hell" [the beauty of the Devil].
The microcentury is 52 minutes and 35.76 seconds and was introduced
by Enrico Fermi as the "standard" duration of a lecture period.
It's equal to exactly 3155.76 s, as an exact submultiple of the
scientific Julian century, which is
defined to be equal to 36525 days of 86400
(SI) seconds each.
The attoparsec (apc) is the only official unit in this bunch;
it's about an inch (1.215" or, more precisely, 3.08567758149... cm)...
Well, as they say,
"Give some people an attoparsec and they'll take
In August 2012, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) gave the
of the "astronomical unit" (au) in metric terms as
149597870700 m. Since a parsec is defined as
the radius of a circle whose circumference is 1296000 au, an attoparsec is
the radius of a circle whose circumference is exactly
Modern astronomers have thus squared the circle
the same way the ancient Egyptians
did (by having separate units for the radius and the
circumference of a wheel). The following
value of pi is an exact one:
9.69394202136 cm / apc
A nanoacre is exactly 4.0468564224 mm2.
The microfortnight is an FFF unit
equal to 1.2096 s.
(In the RAF,
this used to be called a yonk, according to
Michael Spencer, 2011-10-03.)
The furlong per fortnight is about 2 ft per hour (0.1663 mm/s).
The millicochrane and microcochrane are submultiples of a unit
of subspace distortion, named after
Zefram Cochrane (2030-2117).
If you think the above is pretty bad, check some of the entries
there, or below:
| 0.001 ||ink machines
| 0.001 ||on
| 1000 000 000 000 ||microphones
units of measurement.
Funny prefixes & dubious proposals
[ updated yearly ]
There are no official metric prefixes
above 1024 or below 10-24.
What are some proposals to remedy that?
One "proposal" which is not funny is the subreptitious introduction,
a few years ago, of 10 bogus prefixes
(revo, tredo, syto, fito, ento, hepa, otta, nea, dea, una)
which found their way next to legitimate ones in many serious
summary tables floating around the Internet.
There does not seem to be any way to get rid of those, except by encouraging
whoever maintains a legitimate table to flag those prefixes as bogus.
Just removing them entirely is simply not good enough, as long as there are tables around
which will look "more complete" by listing the bogus information
(and thus reproduce faster).
We took the initiative of starting the curative debunking by putting online a
reference table that's hopefully
clearly better than previous ones, in the hope that it would look
authoritative enough to anyone researching the subject on the Internet.
EPILOGUE: The above approach caught on.
appeared which were simply based on our own vetted table, while others
[ 1 | 2 ]
have included a footnote with a link to this site.
Either type of "bogus" warning serves as an erratum
for all other similar tables a websurfer may be faced with.
The above hoax has been all but eradicated.
Unfortunately, as reported below, newer schemes keep popping up which cease
to be funny when they are taken seriously by people
who aim to educate others (on Wikipedia or elsewhere).
A few "proposals" gleaned (so far) for the next pair of metric prefixes
| || |
or British slang)
in eponymous game)
(French neuf )
|Jeff K. Aronson
X + ennea
|James V. Blowers
|"hell of" =
(N. California slang)
In advocating his scheme,
the Oxford clinical pharmacologist Jeff K. Aronson
argued that the "pattern" of abbreviations Z and Y
for the latest official SI prefixes should be extended backward through the alphabet,
by making X, W, V and U the abbreviations of the next large prefixes
(and using x, w, v and u for the next small ones).
Since the letter T is already used for tera-,
the scheme would only allow 4 more pairs of prefixes...
This didn't stop Jim Blowers who made a similar independent proposal
(with slightly different names). Blowers just assigns two-letter prefixes
whenever the single-letter prefix is already used and he goes on and on, well
beyond the point where those things are physically useful !
Aronson advocated the names
"xenna", "weka", "vendeka" and "udeka", for the larger prefixes
("xenno", "weko", "vendeko" and "udeko" for the smaller ones).
We don't know how serious
Professor Aronson really was about this...
Unfortunately, this is being propagated as a fait accompli,
so the thing has turned into yet another annoying hoax.
Aronson's names for the first three prefixes are a strange merging
of the letters from the bogus "pattern" (X, W, V) with the legitimate
Greek roots for 9, 10 and 11 (ennea, deka and endeka).
This gives the scheme a fake scholarly appearance
up to that point (U is left out)
which may have enthralled unsuspecting souls.
Yet, the Aronson joke has probably not yet turned into the alledged crusade
reported by a Wikipedia contributor who seemed impressed by the
registering of related domain names
(e.g., vendeka.org by
Such misguided efforts will probably keep popping up
until the CGPM finally adopts
something for the next prefix pair
(preferably avoiding "X and x" to discourage extensions of the aforementioned
dubious pattern ).
"millikan-" (mkan) could be another natural name to propose for the
10-27 prefix (mkan = milli-kilo-atto-nano),
which is so much needed just below yocto-
(the current smallest official prefix).
The mass of an electron would thus be expressed as equal to "about 0.91 mkang".
That would be a way to honor
A. Millikan (1868-1953) who was cursed with a name that makes it otherwise
impossible to achieve the same kind of SI immortality
(deserved or not) as
or Alexander Gram Bell (sic ;-)...
Either that, or we have to call a kan the charge of 1000 electrons
(so each single electron would carry a millikan of charge).
For the record, this very silly idea of mine dates back to 1995,
and I am almost ashamed to repeat it here.
The Lamppost Theory
Look under the the lamppost for there's not enough light elsewhere.
Also in the early 1990's, I coined for myself the term Lamppost Theory
which I shared at a few cocktail parties. Nowadays, an
would reveal that a number of people apparently had the
exact same idea (probably independently)
to denote this very important scientific concept,
which may sound so ludicrous at first...
The name comes from a classical joke:
A drunkard is looking for the keys to his house under a lamppost near his home.
A neighbor comes to the rescue and helps him search.
As they don't find anything, the neighbor begins to have doubts:
- Are you sure you lost your keys under this lamppost ?
- Well no, but there's no way I'll find them elsewhere; it's too dark !
The drunkard is right when it comes to scientific investigations:
Don't ever look for obscure solutions,
because you can't find anything in the dark vicinity of such solutions.
If there's nothing under the lamppost, just give up.
If you're lucky, there might be a flashlight
under some lamppost.
It's hard to catch a black cat in a dark room,
especially if it isn't there.
Alternatives to orthodoxy.
A car is speeding at night through a deserted town.
The driver doesn't stop at red lights.
They have a near miss
(which really means a near hit)
that doesn't seem to bother the driver
and the puzzled passenger is getting really scared:
- Why don't you stop at red lights?
- It's a tradition; we never do in our family.
Suddenly, they arrive at a green light and the driver hits the brakes...
- Why are you stopping now? The light is green... Go!
- Heck no! My brother might be coming the other way.
Build your own anagrams at
- Marriage: A grim era.
- Mathematics: I'm the AMS act.
- Clever proofs: Recover flops.
- Faulty proofs: Poor lay stuff.
- Computers: CMOS erupt / Cute romps.
From the anagram page
of GG Wiz:
- Dormitory: Dirty room.
- Evangelist: Evil's agent.
- Mother-in-law: Woman Hitler.
- Desperation: A rope ends it.
- Television: Evil on site.
- Astronomer: Moon starer.
- The Morse code: Here come dots.
- Snooze alarms: Alas, no more Z's!
- Vacation Times: I'm not as active.
- Clint Eastwood: Old West action.
- Alec Guiness: Genuine class.
- Margaret Thatcher: That great charmer.
- George Bush: He bugs Gore.
- The Democratic Party: Pretty chaotic dream.
- The United States of America: Attaineth its cause, Freedom!
A few gems from www.anagrams.net:
- Houses of Parliaments: Loonies far up Thames.
- Sears Tower : Worst rates.
- Hillary Clinton : Only I can thrill.
- Christopher Evans: He is a rich TV person.
- General Custer: Cruel Sergeant.
- Admiral Nelson: Mainland Loser.
- Lara Croft: Oral Craft.
- Elle Macphearson: Hall poser menace.
- Indira Gandhi: Hi, grand India.
- Nelson Mandela: Lean and solemn.
- Los Angeles: Legal noses.
- St. Petersburg: Best pert rugs.
- The Louvre: True hovel.
- Guinness Draught : Drug naughtiness.
- Saddam Hussein: Humans' sad side.
- François Mitterand : Mad strain of cretin.
The odrer of the mdlide lteters deson't rlealy mtetar.
As lnog as the fsrit and lsat lteetr of ecah wrod are trehe,
polepe dno't hvae tbuorle rianedg txet at namrol seped.
Mnemonics Neatly Eliminate Man's Only Nemesis:
Insufficient Cerebral Storage...
My Nasty Editor Might Occasionally Not Interpret Commas...
Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.
[Operator Precedence: Parentheses, Exponent,
Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract]
FOIL : First, Outer, Inner, Last.
(a+b)(x+y) = ax + ay + bx + by
[The 4 terms in a expanded product of two binomials]
Important! Very eXcellent Learning Can Demand Memorizing.
[Roman numerals: I V X L C D M]
King Hector Doesn't (Usually) Drink Cold Milk.
[Original Metric Prefixes (1793):
kilo, hecto, deca, (unity), deci, centi, milli]
Dairy Cows Make Milk Not Pink Fruit, Airhead!
deci, centi, milli, micro, nano, pico, femto, atto]
Those Girls Can Flirt And Other Queer Things Can Do.
Talc, Gypsum, Calcite, Fluorite, Apatite,
Orthoclase, Quartz, Topaz, Corundum, Diamond]
Pregnant Virgins Never Reveal the Truth
[Ideal Gas Law: PV = nRT ]
Oxidation Is Loss (of electrons); Reduction Is Gain.]
Cary Grant eXpects Unanimous Votes In Movie Reviews.
[Electromagnetic spectrum, highest frequency first:
Cosmic rays, Gamma rays, X-rays, Ultraviolet, Visible, Infrared, Microwaves, Radio waves]
My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets.
[Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune,
Mon vieux, tu m'as jetté sur une nouvelle planète.
[Mercure, Vénus, Terre, Mars, Jupiter, Saturne, Uranus, Neptune,
I eat green carrots [ Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto ]
Galilean moons of Jupiter (3 mistresses of Zeus and his Trojan
Roy G. Biv (Richard Of York Gave Battle in Vain)
[Colors of the Rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet]
Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me! (Right Now Sweetheart!)
by Henry Norris Russell
Spectral Classification Scheme: O, B, A, F, G, K, M, (R, N, S) ...]
Oh My, Such Great Apple Pie! (Sweet As Sugar!)
glutaric, adipic, pimelic (suberic, azelaic, sebacic).
Lili Becta Bien Chez Notre Oncle François Nestor.
Napoléon Mangea Allègrement Six
Poulets Sans Clamser Après.
[French mnemonic for chemical elements.]
Numerical values and constrained writing
Count the number of letters in each word to obtain each digit of the number.
(A ten-letter word represents a zero digit.)
- c = 299792458 m/s [= Speed of Light =
- My ingenious astronomy student remembers an easy light mnemonic.
- We guarantee certainty, clearly referring to this light mnemonic.
- e = 2.718281828459045235360287471352662497757247...
- By omnibus, I traveled to Brooklyn.
[271828 -- David Mage]
- It enables a numskull to memorize a quantity of numerals.
[2718281828 -- Gene Widhoff]
- I'm forming a mnemonic to remember a function in analysis.
[2718281828 -- Maxey Brooke]
- It repeats: A constant of calculus, a constant of calculus.
[2718281828 -- Jeffrey Strehlow]
- To distrupt a playroom is commonly a practice of children.
[2718281828 -- Joseph J Guiteras]
- To express e, remember to memorize a sentence to simplify this.
[27182818284 -- John L. Greene]
- We require a mnemonic to remember e whenever we scribble math texts.
[271828182845 -- Joona Palaste (of Helsinki; 2004-11-07 e-mail)]
- p = 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751...
- Yes, I have a number. 
- How I wish I could calculate Pi nearly right. 
- See, I have a rhyme assisting my feeble brain. 
- May I have a large container of coffee? Thank you.
- Our own update (2003-11-04)
to a well-known classic:
[The first two verses are attributed to
Sir James Jeans (1877-1946).]
|How I want a drink, alcoholic of course,|
After the heavy lectures
involving quantum mechanics.
All of thy geometry, Herr Planck, is fairly
And thy calculus may be
forever unearthly tough !
- Cadaeic Cadenza
by Mike Keith, © 1996.
A short poem by Joseph Shipley (1960):
|But a time I spent wandering in bloomy night;|
Yon tower, tinkling chimewise, loftily opportune.
Out, up, and together came sudden to Sunday rite,
The one solemnly off to correct plenilune.
Famous French Poem:
Several minor variants exist (I touched up this one).
The first verse used to be known by most French schoolchildren:
Que j'aime à faire connaître
ce nombre utile aux sages !|
Immortel Archimède, artiste, ingénieur,
Toi de qui Syracuse loue encore la gloire,
Soit ton nom conservé par de savants grimoires.
Jadis mystérieux, un problème existait|
Dans l'admirable édifice, l'oeuvre grandiose,
Que Pythagore découvrit aux anciens Grecs.
Ô quadrature ! Vieux tourment du philosophe !
Insoluble rondeur, trop longtemps vous avez|
Défié Pythagore et ses imitateurs:
Comment arpenter l'espace plan circulaire
Valant un polygone mesuré en superficie ?
Approche innovante: Archimède envisage|
Cercle et polygone approchant une aire
Inscrite en excès.
Son plan de s'y réduire
Dédoublera chaque élément antérieur.
Résultat de l'idée ancienne curviligne,|
Laquelle limite donne l'arc, la longueur
De cet inquiétant cercle, ennemi trop rebelle.
avec zèle !
This gives p (Pi) to 126 decimals (127 digits in 127 words).
The first quatrain
is beautiful and worth memorizing (it's perfectly metered and features
some rhyming). The other stanzas are less than perfect...
Phonetic Numerical Mnemonics (Hérigone's System)
Endearing as it may be, the above method of encoding one digit per word
isn't quite practical:
Once you have memorized a sentence, it takes a while to retrieve
the corresponding digits by counting the letters in each word...
A more efficient approach was invented by the French mathematician
who had the idea of assigning consonants to every digit
(like-sounding consonants being assigned to the same digit).
of Hérigone's system were subsequently devised and revised
by several people, starting with
Just Winckelmann (1620-1699) in 1648.
Leibniz drew some
inspiration from Winkelmann's code for his own scheme of
writing all languages phonetically.
In 1806, a German monk from Salem (near Konstanz)
Gregor von Feinaigle,
started to make a name for himself with his own version of
Hérigone's system, which he demonstrated brilliantly
(along with the rest of his mnemonic methods)
at lectures in Paris, in 1807 and 1811.
believes that a misunderstood reference to Feinagle's mnemonics
in Lord Byron's Don Juan (1818)
may have been the origin of the word finagle,
which eventually acquired a pejorative meaning in the 1920's
to describe all sorts of deceitful methods.
The modern version of Hérigone's system, presented below,
was perfected around 1820 by the Frenchman
Aimé Paris whose book on mnemonics was
re-edited many times
(Principes et applications diverses de la mnemonique,
7th ed., Paris, 1834).
In English, that code became known as
The Major System in the 1840's,
because it was popularized from London by a Polish refugee
known as Major Beniowski
(Handbook of Phrenotypics, 1845).
This system can be used, in English or other Indo-European languages,
to associate "striking" words or sentences with important numbers
(dates, security codes, telephone numbers, etc).
In the 1970's,
it was advocated for that purpose by the memory artist
Harry Lorayne (1926-).
| 0 || 1
|| 2 || 3
|| 4 || 5
|| 6 || 7
|| 8 || 9
|w, h, y
T. Benjamin presents one dubious sentence to memorize
the first 24 digits of p
with that code (vowels and unlisted consonants are discarded):
|My ||turtle ||Pancho ||will,
||my ||love, ||pick ||up
||my ||new ||mover ||Ginger.
|3.||1415||9 2 6||5
||3||5 8||9 7|| 9
||3||2||3 8 4|| 6 26 4
> 11. Mnemonics >
p (in French) by
or alternate interpretations for established ones.
See also below for acronyms
[supposedly] used in computerized chats and/or Internet posts.
The following ones do not fall into that category:
ACRONYM: Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding Meaning.
BAD: Broken As Designed.
DAP: Parents Against Dyslexia [sic].
PCMCIA: People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms.
(Personal Computer Memory Card International Association)
TLA: Three-Letter Acronym.
TTP: The TTP Project.
[Engineering classic, submitted by Tony
More precisely, TTP stands for: The "The TTP Project" Project...
(In the comic strip of
that's whatever Dilbert
is working on.)
Other such recursive
acronyms have actually been used.
When the recursion is placed on the first letter (instead of the second one,
as in TTP)
that first letter is totally arbitrary. The best known example is
GNU (GNU's Not Unix)
which was the model for naming the defunct
GNE (GNE Non-Encyclopedia)
formerly called GNUPedia (which was, arguably, one of the
two precursors of Wikipedia).