Thursday, December 14, 2006

Craziness: the antidote to boredom

From Chemmybear's page comes an excellent example of the kind of ubiquitous curiosity that makes a good hacker. It's a passage written by Ira Remson in a book by Bassam Shakhashiri.

While reading a textbook of chemistry I came upon the statement, "nitric acid acts upon copper." I was getting tired of reading such absurd stuff and I was determined to see what this meant...

In the interest of knowledge I was even willing to sacrifice one of the few copper cents then in my possission. I put one of them on the table, opened the bottle marked nitric acid, poured some of the liquid on the copper and prepared to make an observation. But what was this wonderful thing which I beheld? The cent was already changed and it was no small change either. A green-blue liquid foamed and fumed over the cent and over the table. The air in the neighborhood of the performance became colored dark red. A great colored cloud arose. This was disagreeable and suffocating. How should I stop this?

I tried to get rid of the objectionable mess by picking it up and throwing it out of the window. I learned another fact. Nitric acid not only acts upon copper, but it acts upon fingers. The pain led to another unpremeditated experiment. I drew my fingers across my trousers and another fact was discovered. Nitric acid acts upon trousers. Taking everything into consideration, that was the most impressive experiment and relatively probably the most costly experiment I have ever performed...


That reminds me of this diagram from the infamous Ghetto Indoor Pool Caper.





Crazy things always make better stories later on, regardless of whether they work or not. They also teach you more. The trick is really a two-step process:
  1. Do more crazy things
  2. Tell the stories about them so you remember what you learned
The second one (especially if your listeners are enthusiastically receptive) will usually get you excited enough to do more of the first, leading to a positive feedback loop and the end of any semblance of boredom.

2 comments:

Gui C. said...

Story of my life...

Can we make a better-looking diagram and make a shirt out of it?

Mel said...

Absolutely. Please poke me about this tomorrow after Expo is over, and we'll go do it.