The Steampunk Satyricon

Friday, May 23, 2014

What's So Funny?

"Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." — E. B. White

"They" always say if you have to explain a joke, it stops being funny. But "they" are probably assuming that no one ever tells jokes involving the graphs of trigonometric functions. Knowing the deeper meaning of a joke can be a fine thing, especially when it means learning a little bit of math or science along the way. Thus my new semi-, sort-of-, perhaps-regular feature: "The Big Bang Theory Exposed & Explained."

You do watch "The Big Bang Theory," don't you? You're not one of those dirtbag snobby little bitches who proudly declares they don't watch TV, are you? The show's been on since 2008 and if you do own a television, the syndicated reruns are fairly ubiquitous. "The Big Bang Theory" (TBBT) delivers tiny morsels of science to the masses with a cupful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I'm pretty sure there are people who have only ever heard the phrase "algebraic topology" because one of the characters used the term on an episode of the show.

Like most sitcoms, TBBT is really just another show about relationships, not science. But in this case, since most of the main characters' primary relationship is with science (factual science and science fictional science), quite a few of the show's jokes have touched on important scientific principles — anything from higher mathematics to particle physics to Newtonian mechanics and beyond.

Anyone can watch and enjoy the show, but there is so much more to appreciate if you can understand some of the science that gets talked about. Rather than leaving explanations to some lengthy, opaque, possibly wrong, definitely dry and shirtless-actor-free Wikipedia entry, I feel it's worthwhile to present a slightly more relevant and accessible explanation of that thing some character mentioned that you're afraid to admit went clean over your head. Your secret is safe.

So, all that having been said, let us begin the dissection...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


It's a very familiar scenario to those of us who haven't given up on greasy, spectacularly unhealthy fast foods: You step up to the counter of your preferred burger joint and, thinking only of how extremely hungry you are, you order the large fries. You are given a disturbingly huge mound of french fries that any normal human would be extremely unwise to consume at one sitting, so you either throw out the leftovers or -- since throwing away food is wrong because of all the starving children in Africa/China/India -- you take the uneaten fries home so you can stick them in the fridge... and throw them away at a more convenient time. The fries are inevitably destined for the trash because, as everyone knows, cold, leftover fast food french fries taste like rubber. This raises the question: Is there another way this scenario might play out?

You could just stop buying french fries because they're nothing but empty, fat-laden, delicious calories that won't get burned off because your exercise routine is pretty much just a figment of your imagination... but who are we kidding? What's really needed is a strategy for rescuing those cold, dead fries and making them tasty again. The first thing a fry-rejuvenator might be tempted to try is simply sticking them in the microwave for a few seconds, but if you know anything about frying, you'll already know why such a plan is destined to yield less than appetizing results.

There is, in fact, a huge amount one might know about frying. Humans, starting with the Chinese, have been deep-fat frying for the last 3,600 years or so and we still don't know all there is to know about the process. When raw potatoes hit sufficiently hot oil, so much goes on at the molecular level that one could easily spend an entire semester of college studying the subject. Let's see what I can do in about a thousand words...