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Geek Jokes, Part 2

One of the most viewed blog posts I have ever done (at least on the WordPress version of my blog) is one titled “Geek Jokes” from 2011-05-12. It was a collection of jokes about science, engineering, and programming, and included an explanation of some of them.

So because that was so popular, and because I have been a big negative in recent posts (Market Schmarket, Two Complete Morons, etc) I thought it was time for something a bit lighter but also very cool (well cool in a geeky way, at least). So here is Geek Jokes, Part 2…

Joke 1

Heisenberg and Shrodinger get pulled over for speeding.
The cop asks, “do you know how fast you were going?”
Heisenberg replies, “no, but I know were I am.”
The cop thinks this is a strange reply and calls for a search and opens the trunk.
The cop says, “do you know you have a dead cat in your trunk?”
Shrodinger says, “well, I do now!”

Analysis of Joke 1

Many of these jokes seem to derive their humour from a sense of superiority the geek might gain from understanding the joke when others wouldn’t. Of course, many would say that geeks actually are naturally superior and deserve to be just a little bit smug as a consequence, however I couldn’t possibly comment on the idea.

Anyway, Heisenberg and Shrodinger were two famous physicist who were involved in important work and discoveries in the early days of quantum physics.

Heisenberg is most well known for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which states that it is impossible to know both the location and momentum of an object. The more accurately the position is known, the less well known the momentum (and therefore the speed) *can* be known. This isn’t just a failure in the measuring technique, it’s a fundamental property of the quantum world.

Shrodinger used a “thought experiment” involving a cat locked in a box with a vial of poison which could be released based on a truly quantum event (such as radioactive decay). Because it could not be known whether the event occurred or not it could also not be known if the cat was alive or dead. But again, the truth (or at least one interpretation of the meaning of the phenomenon) is far more subtle. According to one interpretation of quantum physics the cat isn’t just in an unknown state (dead or alive) it is actually simultaneously in both states until the box is opened.

So understanding that the joke is now obvious, right? In fact this is an enhanced version of the orignal which only mentioned Heisenberg. Shrodinger was added to double the geeky goodness of the joke a bit later.

Joke 2

How do you recognize a field service engineer on the side of the road with a flat tire?
He’s changing each tire to see which one is flat.
And the related problem:
How do you recognize a field service engineer on the side of the road who has run out of gas?
He’s changing each tire to see which one is flat.

Analysis of Joke 2

A field engineer is a person who is sent into the field (the client’s workplace usually) to solve problems. This joke seems to fit best with software engineers and related helpdesk and support staff so I’m going to analyse the joke based on that. Part of my job involves this sort of work so I particularly identify with this. I’m not saying I’m guilty of doing it, but I do see it a lot in other people!

Many “lesser” support staff try to solve all problems in pretty much the same way. They might either have a list of instructions they have to go through that they have been given as part of their job, or they might have limited experience and only know a few possible responses to all problems. They also go from one step to the next even when it should be possible to go directly to the source of the problem.

So naturally when your computer has a problem they ask you to restart it, or re-install the operating system, or reset the parameter RAM, or one of a few other common actions. These are real solutions to particular problems but they are often used in situations which are completely inappropriate.

So the analogy with fixing a flat tire is obvious. Anyone with a bit of real knowledge (and the permission from his company to use it) can just be a bit smart about it and analyse the problem and change the correct tire immediately. But that’s not the way most people work.

Maybe this is humorous because it is a situation many people find themselves participating in as the owner of the computer (or car in the joke) and maybe it’s even more humorous for superior software engineers like myself who actually analyse the problem and often come up with the correct solution first time as a result!

Joke 3

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

Analysis of Joke 3

Bandwidth is a term used to describe the speed which data can be transmitted at. If your internet connection works at 10 Megabits per second for example, it can transmit about a million characters (single letters or digits) in a second (note that it takes 8 bits to make a single byte – the most common way to represent a character – plus a bit of overhead for control, so the number reduces by a factor of 10.)

But electronic transmission isn’t the only thing which the concept of bandwidth can be applied to. A pigeon which takes an hour to deliver a 100 word written message has a bandwidth of 100 words per hour, for example. And a computer technician who takes 5 minutes to deliver a 16G flash drive by carrying it to the required destination (sometimes known as sneaker-net) has a bandwidth of about 530 Megabits per second.

Of course those two solutions do vary in speed depending on the distance they must cover, plus there is a second concept which comes into play: latency. That is the time spent waiting for the transmission to begin. In the case of the flash drive the data comes in quite quickly but it takes 5 minutes to start!

So the joke is that sometimes the old way is best (in general, as well as in the specific case of data transmission). It might be possible to fit a thousand 100 Megabyte tapes into a station wagon and even if it takes an hour to reach its destination that is still a bandwidth of 300 Megabits per second. That might be faster than sending the data down a high speed data link!

Joke 4

There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary, those who don’t,
and those who knew we were using ternary.

Analysis of Joke 4

This is an extension of the classic joke I mentioned in the previous geek jokes post. I didn’t explain it there so I will here, including the added extra component, of course.

Initially it looks like the claim is that there are ten types of people in the world because that’s usually what “10” means. But if you are working in a different base then 10 means something quite different. In fact in every case it means the number of the base. So in base ten (our usual base) it means ten. But in base two it means two and is more properly called “one zero” rather than ten or two.

Computers work in base two at the most basic level because it it easiest to handle signals which are either off (0) or on (1) very quickly. Most programming can be done in base ten, our normal base, because the computer (or more correctly a program called the compiler or interpreter) does the conversion to binary. But in many cases it is useful to undertand binary and any half decent programmer can work in binary with some proficiency.

But just to fool anyone who thinks they are smart enough to make the assumption the number is binary the joke goes on to make the claim it could be ternary (base 3) in which case the number is 3. Of course, that is unlikely because ternary isn’t used in computing applications, at least not as far as I am aware!

Finally, on a similar theme I present joke 5, which is in the form of a geek love poem…

Joke 5

Roses are #ff0000
Violets are #0000ff
All my base
Are belong to you!

Analysis of Joke 5

Base 2 can be quite clumsy to use because it involves long sequences of zeros and ones (for example one thousand in base 2 is 1111101000) so it’s usually best to use higher bases. But ten isn’t suitable because ten isn’t a power of two, and 8 bits (known as a byte) is a common unit meaning base sixteen (where two digits make a byte) is more useful. Because base sixteen requires more than the ten digits, 0 to 9, we usually use it extends these to the letters A to F. So fifteen is F, sixteen is 10, and two hundred and fifty five (the biggest number which can be stored in a byte) is FF.

When we represent colour on a computer (or any other device for that matter) we usually make use of the fact that the human eye has three colour sensors: for red, green, and blue light. By mixing different amounts of these three “primary” colours any other colour can be created. For example red and green make yellow and all three colours make white.

Note that devices which use ink instead of light use a different set of primary colours – cyan, magenta and yellow – which are the secondary colours of light. Also note that your printer uses a fourth colour, black, but it doesn’t strictly need it because theoretically black can be made from cyan, magenta and yellow mixed. However in real life that usually looks more like a muddy brown, plus it uses a lot of ink to produce the most common colour.

So light producing devices, such as computer displays and TVs, use RGB (red green blue) colour, and ink devices such as printers use CMYK (cyan magenta yellow black – black is K because B was already used for blue).

If we want to specify a colour for the screen we just use three numbers for the amount of red green and blue, and because we usually use use a byte (a number from 0 to 255) for each colour a two character base sixteen number makes sense. So ff0000 means 255 (maximum) red, no green, no blue (pure red) and 0000ff means no red, no green and 255 blue (pure blue). Any my favourite colour? That would be #3797ff, a rather nice sky blue.

That explains the first two lines (roses are red, violets are blue) but the other two are a bit more involved! Well, not really.

In 1989 a Japanese video game called “Zero Wing” was released in English. If the game beat you an evil character appeared announcing that he had taken over all of your bases. The translation was a bit odd though and came out as “All your base are belong to us”. For some reason this phrase sort of caught on in the geek world and that is the origin of the final two lines.

A true geek would understand all the jokes without any effort at all. I wrote these explanations entirely without reference to other sources, and I seem to have spent far more time discussing geeky tech stuff than the actual jokes, so I claim uber-geek status based on that. And finally, I would like to add my two bits to this whole discussion: 1 0. Thank you.

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