Who first said something or someone was
too stupid for words? It's an unfortunate
phrase, since as English speakers we have a lot of words at our disposal to say how
stupid something might be. Whether it was coined out of a (misplaced) surplus of diplomacy
or a deficit of creativity, it is hardly as cutting a comment as it might once have been.
That is because we are entering The Age of Aquarius for Dummies!
I did not see The Age of Aquarius for Dummies in Barnes and Noble. I did see
Chihuahuas for Dummies, and Hockey for Dummies, and RF Engineering
for Dummies. If I spent a little more time browsing in Barnes and Noble and a little
less time staring at the shelves in the math library or the shelves in my office, I might
start to automatically associate yellow covers with the phrase
For Dummies; but I have
too many Springer math books with bright yellow covers, and a title like
Perturbation Theory of Linear Operators for Dummies seems unlikely to yield
much profit. I also flipped through an essay in The Philosophy of the Simpsons
Lisa Simpson and American Anti-Intellectualism (it was after the chapter on
Homer and Aristotle).
The For Dummies series doesn't particularly bother me -- no more than the woman with the worn pump sneakers making asthmatic-pug-dog noises who dawdled up the hill in front of me this morning. It's more like mushrooms growing after a rain storm, paper mushrooms with virulent yellow covers which are fascinating to observe and perhaps, with some expert guidance to help avoid unfortunate side effects like hallucination and death, good to eat.
I passed the Dummies books by on general principle, but I did buy something from
Barnes and Noble this weekend. Actually, I bought two somethings. First, I got the next book
Aubrey and Maturin series, which I will probably put info my fiction
reading queue immediately after Count Zero. Second, I bought Joel on
Software, a collection of essays much like those on the web site
www.joelonsoftware.com, which is amusing for many
of the same reasons most things written by Eric S. Raymond are amusing. The essays are
insightful, and possibly relevant to me as a software worker... but who am I kidding? I got
it because of lines about carpenters who are only allowed to use nails
and they stamp
them into the wood with tap-dancing shoes because nobody told them about hammers.
The book is funny.
Of course, this may be the same sort of humor that led to Dave, Patxi, and I gasping with laughter over our idea of putting a T-Rex skeleton on a shake table fitting it with sensors, hiring undergrads to wrap wet towels around the joints, and trying to use this to build an experimentally verified single degree-of-freedom model for a running dinosaur. We thought it was hilarious; Winnie and Esther were mildly amused, and most of that amusement probably came from watching us laugh. But while ridiculous jokes, bad puns, and poetry about branch predictors may not be the best way to win friends and influence people, they're still a lot of fun for me and thee (assuming thou hast as quirky a sense of humor as I have).
On an unrelated note: Winnie and I walked to the Pacific East Mall in El Cerrito on Saturday
in order to have some pho and look at Chinese language books (I found a book with color
pictures of espresso drinks which was pretty, if incomprehensible). There I learned a valuable
soda drink with preserved plums should properly be translated as
carbonated brine with brown lumps. Exploration is good, but perhaps next time we'll
stick to lemonade or Thai iced tea.