I don’t like the blues. I find it dull and repetitive. I also don’t really like singers who are described as “soulful.” And yet here is Son Little with a soulful blues stomper that I really like a lot. WXPN has been playing this song pretty often, and I like it more with each play.
It’s a fairly simple set up with handclapping and a two note guitar riff. Even Son Little’s voice doesn’t seem all that special at first. But there’s some way that all of the elements combine that makes it so much more than the sum of its parts.
And with each verse, more elements are added, a synth sound, some guitar lines, even some bass riffs, building the song’s intensity.
But it’s that chorus–so catchy and ominous at the same time with interesting harmonies that just sound like he is echoing himself. I really can’t get enough of it.
[READ: January 31, 2015] What if?
This book was just entirely too much fun. Well, actually I thought it would be a bit more fun, but Munroe is so scientific that at times (when he got really factually scientific) I just felt dumb. Which lessens the fun. In fact, the first couple of pieces are really heavily sciencey, unlike some of the later ones which are really funny.
But what am I talking about? This book is a collection of the “what if’ section of the website xkcd. There’s no real guidelines on the site for what kind of question you can ask, and many of them are quite strange (and often hilarious). They are hypothetical (what if?) questions and, depending on the arcane rules that Munroe follows he will answer them to the best of his scientific scrutiny. And he will take the questions very very seriously–no matter how stupid your question may seem, he will try to answer it scientifically. It’s fun!
But it’s also serious, and seriously scientific–Munroe is a former NASA roboticist.
So the first one “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity” almost seems to be put in the front to scare off those who might not want to be too scientific. And the second question comes more down to Earth (but also destroys the Earth): “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?”
But aside from thee very scientific questions, there’s also general interest questions like (truncated version of question) “what was Manhattan like 1,000 or 10,000 or 1,000,000,000 years ago?” Or “what if every person on earth pointed a laser pointer at the moon?” (nothing would happen–until he starts using some really really powerful lasers).
We recently went on a tour of Stirling Hill Mine in Northern New Jersey and they actually had a (nonlethal) version of this question: “What would happen in you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks where each brick was made of the corresponding element (the short answer is the end of the world, of course). The Mine’s version is much safer–you can interact with it here.
I love the small print disclaimer that you should not try any of these things at home (especially since most of them end up with the earth blowing up).
One of the reasons for the above disclaimer is questions like “Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?” (the answer is yes)–see cartoon below. Another reason for the disclaimer is the scientific answer to “How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?” An impractical question is how many Lego bricks would it take to build a bridge capable of carrying traffic from London to New York (it would take 350 million 2×4 bricks to connect the two cities, as for actually driving on it, well, that increases the number significantly).
One question that he just says you shouldn’t bother trying is “Would I be able to boil a cup of water by stirring?” The answer is no. Not even with a horse
I also like the simple absurdity of “If you suddenly began raising steadily at 1 foot per second how exactly would you die from freezing or suffocation?”
There’s a fun question about how long would everyone have to stay apart from each other to eradicate the cold (it could happen but people with weak immune systems would mess up the experiment). Or how high can a human throw something–his measuring technique makes me laugh (see below)
I also really loved the absurdity of this question (that someone thought of it and that he answered it): “If you call a random phone number and say “God bless you” what are the chances that the person who answered just sneezed?” (about 1 in 40,000). But I love that he extrapolates what if you called someone who had just killed somebody and said “I know what you just did” (1 in 1,000,000,000).
I also really enjoyed “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?” In college we used to joke that snowfall could happen in one minute instead of hours, so this kind of works on that theory of humor (except that apparently it would do massive damage to the Earth (he even make s dubstep joke here).
One of my favorite recurring jokes is that while everything he discusses has citations in the back, for some of the more, well, obvious, statements, he resorts to the Wikipedia style “citation needed.”
In addition to the actually-answered questions he includes a series he calls: “Weird (and worrying) questions from the What If? Inbox.” Like “Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee?” or “How many houses are burned down in the United States every year? What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say, at least 15%)?”
He usually shakes his head at these, although there is one of these that he answers in the affirmative: “Are fire tornadoes possible?” His answer: “Fire tornadoes are areal thing that actually happens. Nothing I say could possibly add to this.”
Otherwise they have a hilarious punchline with Munroe’s simple line drawings.
That’s right I haven’t mentioned the line drawings. Munroe does a great website called xkcd which features his wonderfully simple and very very funny line drawings. His sense of humor is so deadpan. I like so many of them, so here’s one (based on the machine gun jet pack question)
I particularity enjoy the ones that feature giraffes as measurement of height (as in how high can a human throw something).
There are dozens of funny questions with even funnier answers in the book. Although most of them tend to bring about the end of the world, so I loved that he inverts the last question. It asks about the intensity of the Richter Scale, but he talks about the negative numbers on the Richter Scale.
- Magnitude -2 a cat falling of a dresser
- Magnitude-3 a cat knocking your cell phone off your nightstand.
- Magnitude -4 a penny falling off a dog
- All the way to Magnitude -15.
Even though some of the answers went over my head, I enjoyed this book quite a lot.
For fans of Cecil Adam’s Straight Dope column, (or I guess for fans of xkcd as well) this book is a must.