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Archive for December, 2008

BAD COMPUTERS – Y2K

y2k
When the first computers came about, space was a fairly limited commodity. They used punch cards for memory, and in order to save room, the programmers chose to designate chronological dates with a simple two number variable. The year 1964 would be represented as 64, and so forth. This all worked fine until the end of the century, when analysts suddenly realized a big problem. Computer systems were going to automatically switch from 99 to 00, and think (incorrectly) that it was the year 1900.

Did this really matter? Experts said yes, and predicted that nuclear power plants would fail, airplanes would fall out of the sky, and soda machines would start vindictively shooting their cans at people, just like in Maximum Overdrive. Unless something drastic was done, it would be the downfall of society as we knew it!

Approximately $100 billion dollars was thus spent to rectify the error. Computer programmers went through countless lines of codes, fixing the systems and adding backdoor programs so they could sneak in later to loot the companies, while ordinary people stocked up on canned goods and rifle ammunition in preparation of the mass chaos to come. The apocalypse clock ticked ever closer, and finally at 11:59 PM, December 31, 1999, the world held its collective breath…

And nothing happened. Despite the fact that numerous computers across the globe still possessed the fatal glitch, the end of the world did not occur. Life pretty much went on as normal, which essentially involved a bunch of people being unpleasant to each other, and is expected to continue as such until the year 10,000. That’s when the next problem is supposed to happen, due to the programmers foolishly choosing to use five digits for their Y2K complaint systems instead of six.

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grills
Braces are an awkward rite of passage in many adolescents lives. Most people tend to get them around middle school, right at the same time that everyone else has suddenly shot up three feet and hair has begun to appear in strange and unexpected places. Braces only add to this embarrassment, and teenagers who wear them often try to hide their existence by keeping their mouths shut as much as possible and refusing to answer questions in class. When people ask them if something is wrong, they respond with an uncomfortable, “Mrmm Hmrmm Mrmr?”

It is thus somewhat ironic that grills are viewed as a legitimate fashion accessory. Outkast, Ludacris, Lil John, and other famous hip hop artists have intentionally purchased these faux braces on the assumption that they are a symbol of financial success. What they really represent is conspicuous consumption and bad judgment on the part of the purchaser. They serve no purpose other than to get bits of food stuck into them, and consistent use may result in gum disease or bone loss. A small price to pay, it would seem, to look like the skinny kid you used to make fun of back in gym class.

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teen-talk
Barbie dolls are one of the most popular toys to have ever been created. They have appeared in thousands of different variations with thousands of different fashion accessories, and a great mystery has surrounded the iconic character since she first appeared on the market – what does Barbie sound like? More importantly, what pearls of wisdom would she impart to her fans? The answer to this cryptic question was finally provided in the early 1990’s, when Mattel released Teen Talk Barbie to the world.

Each doll was designed to say four inspiring phrases out of a potential 270, so while one might ask “Want to go shopping?”, another would state “Meet me at the mall!” Truly, a role model for our children. The most famous thing that Teen Talk Barbie ever uttered, though, was “Math class is hard!” This led to some rather distinct criticism from women’s groups, who claimed that the toy reinforced out-of-date gender stereotypes among young girls. The company spokeswoman just tee-heed the objections, but the offending statement was quietly removed from the dolls a few months later.

Other phrases considered for Teen Talk Barbie, but not used:

“Women shouldn’t wear shoes.”
“Well, I don’t need the right to vote.”
“Thinking is for losers.”
“Let me fetch your slippers, dear husband.”
“I’m sorry I burnt the pot roast!”

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black-sox1
The Chicago White Sox were the team to beat in the 1919 World Series. They had Shoeless Joe Jackson, not to mention such great starting pitchers as Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte. It therefore came as a greater surprise when they received a resounding thrashing by the Cincinnati Reds, who, while a decent team, had played nowhere near as well during the baseball season. Even stranger, the loss could be attributed to a number of odd fielding choices and inexplicable errors on the part of the White Sox.

Rumors began to crop up, and a grand jury was eventually summoned to investigate the incident. It didn’t take long for two of the players, specifically Cicotte and Jackson, to confess their involvement in the matter. They stated that the team had agreed to throw the series on the behalf of professional gamblers in exchange for $100,000. They also protested that they had very little to do with the matter, and had mostly succumbed to peer pressure (everyone else was doing it!) and implied threats against their families by Swede Risberg, the shortstop for the team.

Somewhat surprisingly, all eight of the players involved were found innocent, but this was mostly due to key pieces of evidence (including the signed confessions) disappearing during the trial. Major League Baseball was nowhere as near forgiving, and the commissioner banned all of the individuals from playing baseball for the remainder of their lives. Shoeless Joe Jackson ended up working in a liquor store, though he would later relocate to a cornfield in Iowa.

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mistranslation

Bad English isn’t always the result of poor education or carelessness when it comes to proper syntax. Quite a lot of the time it’s because English isn’t the person’s native language, and they don’t understand the numerous linguistic rules. Something gets lost in translation, and “I ask that you do this for me” becomes “I demand this request be transferred into answer!” The basic gist is usually apparent to the listener, but the language has still been beaten up pretty badly in the process and should probably be taken out for a stiff drink.

Colloquialisms are particularly hard to translate. If you’re not from an English-speaking nation, there’s no real way to know that “Kick the bucket!” means to expire, or that “Dressed for bear” doesn’t mean they should start dressing like a furry. Along similar lines, the Liberal Democratic Party is actually the ultra-conservative party in Japan, but unless you know that you are likely to gain a skewed version of politics in that country. The only real hope is to build up a resistance to poorly chosen words or phrases before you lose your marbles (figuratively) and start throwing dictionaries at people on the subway.

A few mistranslations from around the around:

Switzerland – Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
Japan – Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.
Romania – The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time, we regret that you will be unbearable.
France – Please leave your values at the front desk.
Norway – Ladies are requested to not have children in the bar.
Greece – Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.

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BAD HAIR – Toupees

toupee
The comb-over isn’t the only way that a sadly desperate man can hide his growing baldness from the world. Toupees are a less common, but equally horrible method that can be used, should matters grow dire enough. These artificial hairpieces allow for the illusion of hair by covering up the numerous bare spots on the scalp, and are particularly favored by politicians and TV weathermen. Unfortunately, most toupees look like a dead hamster that’s been clandestinely stapled to the front of the person’s head, so they’re not really fooling anybody.

Some toupee dealers offer a series of hairpieces that are meant to be worn subsequently and which gradually increase the amount of hair. You wear a toupee for the first week that has just a little bit of extra hair, so that it ‘naturally’ blends in, and then switch to the second a week later. This one has a moderate amount of hair, with enough to comb to the side, and then you switch to the next toupee, and the next, until you finally show up one morning with a full head of hair. Your co-workers, family and friends are sure to never notice the difference.

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Macbeth is a classic tale of a doomed king that has been performed by acting troupes for centuries. It remains one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, though theatrical productions have long been said to be plagued by accidents. There were a lot of powdered-wig related calamities in the olden days. This was supposedly due to the inclusion of actual witchcraft in the play, more specifically the “Double-double, toil and trouble” routine which clued in astute viewers towards the many despicable uses of eye of newt and blind worm’s sting.

It was thus a common superstition that anyone foolish enough to say the name ‘Macbeth’ would have horrible tragedy befall them. Such misfortune could theoretically be prevented by spitting over one’s left shoulder, twisting the person’s nose, or speaking a sentence from one of Shakespeare’s other plays. “If we shadows have offended…” was generally considered a suitable choice, but “He will give the Devil his due” was not a good idea. The actor had already drawn the attention of Old Scratch, and didn’t want to give the nasty fellow any ideas.

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