Saturday, December 02, 2006

Curse you, Ken Jennings!

Ken Jennings's blog is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with the internet.

It started because we were talking this week in Evolution about the average brain size of various hominid species. The point came up that within Homo sapiens, brain size not correlate with intelligence. True story. A great example is Anatole France, who had one of the smallest "normal" brains ever measured, but still won the Nobel Prize in literature. I knew this already from the 1984 Guinness Book of World Records (long may its memory survive in the firmament of encyclopedic awesomeness). But I didn't bring it up with my students because, er, I wasn't sure how to pronounce his name (lame, I know). Anna-toll? A-nat-oh-lee? So I did some web searching (turns out it is Anna-toll).

I also wanted to know something about the man, so I checked out his Wikipedia entry. That led to the entry on Project Gutenburg. From there I went to the entry on Google Book Search because I wanted to know how their copyright infringement lawsuits are going (I'm on Google's side here). That led to the entry on A.I., which led to the entry on the Turing test, which led to the previous post, and also to Ken Jennings's (yes, the Jeopardy guy) blog. Because he had a funny piece about how his three-year-old son failed the Turing test.

So far, so good. Or so bad, actually, but we'll get to that in a minute. Jennings's blog is actually pretty cool. He writes entries that are smart, funny, and brief. I blew the better part of an hour snapping them up.

And that's the problem. Jennings's blog is bad because it's just interesting enough to keep me hooked. I can read stuff like that all day without really learning anything and without getting anything done. It's not just that surfing the net eats up my work time. It also eats up my play time. Surfing the net is fun, but it's less rewarding than actually reading books, even if they're blatantly escapist, and it's certainly less rewarding than building rockets (to be fair, almost everything is). It's like eating a double handful of Tootsie Rolls when I could have had a big slice of chocolate cake.

And I not only blow the time doing it, I blow some more blogging about it. Sheesh! know, this could be the answer to the Fermi Paradox.

And just putting in the link to that quip led me to this. "You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."

It's such a good discovery, I can almost accept all this as time well spent.


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