Friday, May 28, 2010

Accounting for R&D

People who choose a career in science and technology — where work is hard and poorly paid, the nights are long and lonely — tend to be on the lower side of social skills. Therefore, research institutions have always had a certain level of dysfunction.

Currently, the trend is to take it in and sulk in the silence of a cubicle. In the heydays of big science, one of the outlets were jokes. They were often dry, with an undertone of sarcasm, making fun of the big brass or the bean counters. By today's standards, they were mostly politically incorrect (a term that did not even exist then), so they are being edited out of history.

A couple of weeks ago, PARC's Bob Taylor was interviewed by NPR's Guy Raz. Of the 90 minutes taped, only a part will finally be aired later this year. As a treat for the upcoming long weekend, here is a politically correct joke Bob Taylor narrated about 82 minutes into the interview. Enjoy!

This is a joke that came out of my NASA days. There were a set of people at NASA who cared very much about the weight of the spacecraft that they were launching and they would come around and weigh various components of the spacecraft.

A group of weighers showed up one day and said "we are here to weigh the computer for your spacecraft." We'd say, "OK, here is the computer." They weighted it, and said "fine, fine, good. Now we want to weigh the software."

We said "the software does not weigh anything." They would not believe me; they would not believe us, I should say. They argued for a while and then they finally gave up and went away.

A few days later they came back, and they said: "You did not tell us the truth. We found your software! It is in shoe boxes, in a closet full of shoe boxes, and each shoe box is full of cards, with holes punched into them, and all these cards and shoe boxes weigh a lot!" And we said "the software is in the holes…"

1 comment:

  1. Good joke, but fun and games were not always foremost, even in the heydays of the socially crippled.

    It was with considerable shock that I read in Farmelo's Dirac bio, that Robert Oppenheimer tried to poison Dirac's friend, the experimental physicist Patrick Blackett, in 1925 with a chemically laced apple. (Shades of Turing)

    Oppenheimer's parents persuaded Cambridge not to expel him but rather put him on probation with the agreement that he would regularly see a psychiatrist. (Shades of modern Hollywood) A few months later, Oppenheimer switched to theoretical physics. (Immensely encouraging) Maybe that's the joke(?)