Monday, April 30, 2007

Grapes and Lemons

When most people need answers, they ask Google. So where do Google engineers get answers to our questions? Well, that's why we have whiteboards.

At Google, a whiteboard is a communal free-association machine. For example, suppose I were to write on the whiteboard, "What is the answer to life?" Within 5 minutes, someone would walk by and write below it, "42." That's just how whiteboards work.

A few months ago, on my way to get a cup of coffee, I stopped to write this:
Q: What's purple and commutes?
In the time it took me to fill my cup and return, someone had already written below it:
A: An Abelian grape.
Q: What's yellow and equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?
Cute. But no time to respond; time for meetings. The next time I walked past the whiteboard, a third person had written below that:
A: Zorn's Lemon.
Q: What's an anagram for Banach-Tarski?
Now I had never heard of that last joke. Fortunately, I learned the answer an hour later, from a fourth person's handwriting:
A: Banach-Tarski Banach-Tarski
Then, below that, in a fifth style of handwriting:
I don't get it. What's Banach-Tarski?
And you can probably guess what was below that:
A: Google it
And that's how Googlers ask questions. Credit goes to Michael in the comments for reminding me of that exchange.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Airport Security Likes Google Too

One of the perks of working at Google is that something like 25-30% of the company budget goes towards t-shirts like this one.

In any case, I was wearing one such Google NYC t-shirt when airport security stopped me with this great one liner:
So you work at Google? Wouldn't it be ironic if we searched you?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

An Engineer, A Mechanic, and a Computer Scientist

Eric's joke reminded me of this one, via Kris McNall:
An engineer, a mechanic, and a computer scientist are driving in a car. Suddenly, the brakes stop working. The car starts rolling down the hill at a terrifying rate, and all 3 scream for their lives. But they get lucky: the car gets to the bottom of the hill safely, and eventually rolls to a stop.

All 3 get out, and the mechanic looks under the hood for about 5 seconds.

The Mechanic: "The problem is obvious! We're missing a Johnson rod. Each of you give me $500, and I'll walk to the nearest garage and get a replacement."

The Engineer: "What? How can you possibly know that? We must completely take apart the car and stress test each individual component to determine the exact point of failure."

Well, the engineer and the mechanic argue for a bit. And then they notice that the computer scientist hasn't been participating in the debate. He's been pushing on the car's front bumper. They ask him why.

The Computer Scientist: "I'm going to push the car back up the hill, get inside, and see if it does it again!"

Mayonnaise and Theoretical Computer Science

I ordered a Philly cheesesteak at the NIST cafeteria on Wednesday. The woman behind the grill shouted, "You want mayonnaise on that?" What? I didn't know people ever had mayonnaise on that. I told her so. She furrowed her brow. "You're not from around here are you? Yeah, I can always spot the foreigners." She slows down her speech at this point, just in case I might have trouble speaking English. "In America, we eat our cheesesteaks with mayonnaise."

The guy from Jersey standing next to me almost dropped his tray. He didn't completely stifle his laughter. But he tried.

At this exact moment, Eric Norman sidled up next to me and asked me this:
Q: What's the difference between a mathematician and a theoretical computer scientist?

A: A mathematician knows how to prove things without using induction.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Last weekend I told a joke.

I told this joke to a bubble-headed girl, in a white blouse, holding a glass of red wine. You can probably guess where this is going. At the time, this seemed like an appropriate joke, since the girl had studied engineering in college:
ex is at a party. But he's kind of depressed, so he sulks in the corner and drinks by himself. The host sees him and asks, "What are you doing all alone in the corner? You should be having fun! Mingle! Socialize! Integrate!"

ex responds: "It wouldn't matter."
Now, this isn't a very good joke. It's actually a pretty bad joke, even in the range of jokes about ex. (There are certainly better jokes about ex.) But the girl snorted with laughter, and spilled the wine all over herself. So for the rest of the night, every time she met someone new, she would have to explain how she got to be soaked in wine, which of course means that I had to tell the joke many times over.

I'm sorry to say that no one else understood what the hell the joke was about.

Perhaps they would have gotten it if I had told a superior ex joke, like this one:
Three no-good, divergent functions are hanging out on the street corner: x, x2, and ex. They spot a differential operator walking towards them. "Yo, man, we better get out of here," x says to x2, "before he differentiates us down to a constant."

ex, cool and collected, talks back, "Dudes, chill! I'm ex. He doesn't scare me. You just wait here and I'll take care of this."

So x and x2 hang back. ex walks directly into the path of the differential operator, holds out his hand, and growls, "Hey man. I'm ex. What the hell are you doing on my turf?"

The differential operator nonchalantly looks him up and down, then responds, "Nice to meet ya, ex...I'm the differential operator with respect to y."
Now that's an ex joke worth ruining a shirt over.

Peter Winkler once said that normal people exchange jokes, and mathematicians swap puzzles. OK, but I submit that mathematicians have some great jokes too. And I need a central place to dump them, and a blog is as good as any. I'll cite my sources when I can.

The ex jokes are courtesy of Bart Blackburn.
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