October 17th, 2011

krazy koati

Their names are called; they raise a paw

The Ig Nobel prizes came and went again, giving people the chance to snicker for a while at the idea of someone bothering to study an obscure animal, and wonder why the prizes seem to be for less amusing notions than they used to be. But I tease them relentlessly; surely while it's hard to squeeze humor out of the dry routine of academia it's worth trying.

But I think it's not just my fowl attitude keeping me from getting lost in the mirth of this year's batch, which includes a study of why it is discus throwers get dizzy while hammer-throwers don't, studying how the urgent need to urinate affects the quality of decisions being made (here, I think the results are really interesting: people get worse at some kinds of decisions, but better at others), characterizing the different emotional signals being sent by different sighs, or identifying what concentration of airborne wasabi would serve to wake people in case of emergency. That last gets a bit of a grin from me, but even that attracts to me more of a ``hey, yeah, why not use scents too?'' response.

What gets me is the Literature Prize, given to John Perry of Stanford, for a Chronicle of Higher Education essay from 1996, titled, ``How To Procrastinate And Still Get Things Done''. The point of the essay is that chronic procrastinators can best get done what must be done by putting a pile of plausibly higher-priority stuff in front of them, and letting the procrastination instincts work for them.

A fine and correct idea. Also one that Robert Benchley explained to perfection ninety years ago in his essay ``How To Get Things Done'', wherein he explained Benchley's Principle: ``Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it is not the work he is supposed to be doing at the time.''

Obviously there's no eligibility period for Ig Nobel awards, so, why give the credit to what appears to be an independent re-inventor rather than the person who gave the idea its most perfect expression?

Trivia: Among the costs the Marconi Wireless Telegraph company had to bear in 1905 while setting up its Whittle Rocks shore station (in Labrador) were six kitchen chairs ($2.88 total), an armchair ($1.75), a rocking chair ($3), and a reading chair ($4.25). Source: Thunderstruck, Erik Larson. (I don't know if that's United States or Canadian/Newfoundland dollars.) (Though Newfoundland was its own dominion at the time its dollar was supposed to be at par with the Canadian, if I'm following the money talk correctly.)

Currently Reading: Space For Hire, William F Nolan. It's trying really, really, really hard to be wacky, so it kind of makes my teeth hurt even before the protagonist gets two other versions of himself pulled in from parallel universes, and they turned to an ancient man, a baby, and a Plutonian fish-bird.

(Also: checking October 17 on Wikipedia for potential trivia-item matches I find that on this date in 1814 was the London Beer Flood. This seems like it should be at least as Internet Popular as the Boston Molasses Flood, so I wonder why it is not.)