Rank is also an adjective

July 16, 2004

There’s an obsession on television, or at the very least basic cable, with shows that list and rate events, other television shows, people, and various bits of trivia. I think this obsession with listing and rating started around the end of the century with lists of the greatest sports figures of the century and the greatest books of the century. This was fine, especially since the inclusion of "Finnegan’s Wake" in the top ten proved that Mark Twain was right when he said "A classic is a book people praise but don’t read." And then there was the list of the greatest films which left a lot of people scratching their heads and saying, "Citizen who?"

But I digress. The list shows are an old idea now. Actually they were old even before the need to scrape the barrel just a little more produced lists like "The Fifty Worst Songs Ever" and "The Twenty-Five Most Outrageously Shocking Celebrity Parking-Lot Blunders Caught On Tape". I can understand why these shows proliferate. They’re cheap, easy to produce, and they give jobs to out-of-work sitcom actors who will do anything for a buck, third-rate comedians, and media critics. What’s a media critic? Well, there are two ways to become a media critic. You can either go to Columbia University and take graduate courses in how to be made fun of by Woody Allen, or you can be a third-rate comedian who knows enough about the blonde performer of the month to have been hit with a restraining order.

But I digress. There is another marginal value to these shows: they give ordinary people like you and me who can’t find anything else to watch but would rather not spend the evening mopping the floor or learning to read Akkadian a chance to contemplate the jigsaw pieces of our culture and how they fit together. These faux value judgments ive us a chance to ask and debate important questions such as, Why is the commercial success of The Macarena more shocking than the death of Tom Fogerty? Ultimately I hope this fad will pass. Even third-rate comedians have the potential to add something of value to culture, instead of just sitting around yapping about it. Sooner or later we’re going to run out of things to list, and that would be worse than having to actually read "Finnegan’s Wake".

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy. –Joseph Campbell

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history–with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila. –Mitch Ratliffe

A human being is a computer’s way of making another computer. Yes, we are their sex organs. –Solomon Short

All parts should go together without forcing. You must remember that the parts you are reassembling were disassembled by you. Therefore, if you can’t get them together again, there must be a reason. By all means, do not use a hammer. –IBM maintenance manual, 1925

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers. –Pablo Picasso

Computers will never take the place of books. You can’t stand on a floppy disk to reach a high shelf. –Sam Ewing

Hardware: the parts of a computer that can be kicked. –Jeff Pesis

It was not so very long ago that people thought that semiconductors were part-time orchestra leaders and microchips were very small snack foods. –Geraldine Ferraro

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft …and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. –Wernher von Braun

No computer has ever been designed that is ever aware of what it’s doing; but most of the time, we aren’t either. –Marvin Minsky

One thing a computer can do that most humans can’t is be sealed up in a cardboard box and sit in a warehouse. –Jack Handey

There is only one satisfying way to boot a computer. –J.H. Goldfuss

The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That’s where we come in; we’re computer professionals. We cause accidents. –Nathaniel Borenstein

To err is human — and to blame it on a computer is even more so. –Robert Orben

Wow! They’ve got the Internet on computers now! –Homer Simpson

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