I recently wrote a blog entry listing and explaining some of my favourite science, technology, and computing related "geek" jokes. It was fun so I thought I might expand on it here. My aim was to show the joke and also explain why it was funny - or at least why it was supposed to be funny because some of these are fairly terrible!
Walking into Bars
There are a surprising number of geek jokes based on the old line "a [insert the item of interest here] walked into a bar". Maybe it's because geeks really like bars! Anyway, here is a selection of them along with the explanations...
Joke: A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. Upon being asked the price, the bartender responded, "For you? No charge."
Explanation: This one should be fairly obvious to anyone with even a basic knowledge of science. It's a pun based on the fact that neutrons have no (electromagnetic) charge so the bartender doesn't charge for the drink... Yeah, fairly lame, but some of the others are even worse!
Joke: So he leaves. The bartender says "We don't serve your kind here." A tachyon walks into a bar.
Explanation: This one is a lot more difficult. A tachyon is a theoretical particle which travels faster than light, therefore it travels backwards in time. So the whole joke is also backwards. Pretty cool huh? One of my favourites actually.
Joke: A superconductor walks into a bar, the bartender says, "Hey, get out, we don't serve your kind here". The superconductor leaves without any resistance.
Explanation: Superconductors are perfect conductors of electricity so their electrical resistance is zero, so they have no resistance. Another double meaning.
Joke: A noble gas walks into a bar. The bartender says "we don't serve your type here". The noble gas does not react.
Explanation: This one requires a little bit of knowledge of chemistry. Noble gases are elements which rarely react with other elements to form molecules, therefore we have the old double meaning again with the word "react".
Joke: An infrared photon walks into a bar and says "is it hot in here or is it just me".
Explanation: Ah yes, is this funny? The original joke said "proton" but I thought "photon" made more sense. Infrared photons are generated by heat sources, so... Yeah, you must be getting the general theme by now!
Joke: A logic gate walks into a bar. Not.
Explanation: A logic gate is a computer science construct (or a real electronic component) which performs a logical operation on true/false values. So an "and" gate is true if A and B are both true, an "or" gate is true if either A or B (or both) are true, and a "not" gate is true if A is false. Yes, you need to be a real geek to like that one.
Joke: A byte walks into a bar and asks for a beer. The barman asks him "hey, what's wrong?" The byte replies with a sad face "parity error". Yeah, the barman says, you look a bit off.
Explanation: another "inside" computer geek joke. Parity is a way to check the validity of data by adding an extra bit (0 or 1 value) onto the end of the real data. Typically a character might be represented by the first 7 bits of a byte and the last bit (bytes are always 8 bits) is used as a check of whether the character is valid. If the bit gives a bad result it's called a parity error.
Joke: Two neutrinos walk through a bar...
Explanation: Neutrinos are almost massless and don't interact much with anything. They can easily pass through the whole Earth so they wouldn't be stopped by just a bar, would they?
Joke: A statistician walks into your average bar. The bartender says "we don't serve your type here". The statistician says "you're just mean".
Explanation: The word "mean" has multiple meanings. The bartender is using it in the context of "unkind" but a statistician would use it as a more correct term for the word "average".
Joke: A font walks into a bar and the bartender yells "We don't want your type in here!".
Explanation: The word "type" has about 8 meanings. One is the letters that are formed by a font. I guess different fonts produce different type...
Joke: Schrodinger's cat walked into a bar... and didn't.
Explanation: This cat is part of a famous thought experiment created by Erwin Schrodinger, one of the people involved in early quantum theory. The cat was described as being in two states (both dead and alive) while in a box containing poison which might be released by a quantum event (I must emphasise that this was a thought experiment and no actual cats were harmed!) so the joke makes sense when you know that. Doesn't it?
Joke: Three strings walk into a bar. The first one says "I'll have a beer." The second says "I'll also have a beer.' The third one says 'I'll have a shot of vodkadjfjd lskbtj dkl#fla%dkfyej rwejfojp#akjfdi fl[ajeig/iojd@jfa!ljfkldj." The bartender looks at the first two strings and asks "what's up with him". They reply "Oh don't worry about him, he's not null terminated."
Explanation: When I read the first part of this I thought it was about the strings from string theory but it soon became obvious it was about strings (sequences of characters) used in programming. In the C programming language the end of the string (because they can be any length) is marked with a null character (character number zero). So if a string is missing this terminator the program will display whatever junk happens to exist at the end of the real string. The technical aspect of this is clear, why it is a joke less so!
Joke: A molecular biologist walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, "AGCAAAAGCGGAATAAU?" The biologist replies, "I'm going to need a translation."
Explanation: The letters refer to a sequence of bases, the "language" of molecular biology. Translation is both a process of converting from one language into another and a biological process for converting sequences in DNA (or the mRNA which is produced from them) into proteins, so it's a joke, isn't it?
Crossing the Road
Another common theme is jokes involving something (typically chickens) crossing the road (or other, more esoteric objects). Here's a few jokes from that genre as well...
Joke: To get to the same side. Why did the tachyon cross the Mobius strip?
Explanation: This is similar to the joke about tachyons above but with an additional twist (excuse the pun which will be explained below - even my explanations have jokes in them). The joke has the answer before the question because tachyons travel faster than light and backwards in time (remember they are a theoretical particle and may not exist). The "twist" is the addition of the Mobius strip which is a band with a 180° twist in it giving it only one surface. Therefore the "other" side of a Mobius strip is actually the same as the first side.
Programmers are perhaps the ultimate geeks (or does that position of ultimate honour belong to mathematicians - it's debatable) so programming jokes might be the ultimate examples of geek humour... or maybe not!
Joke: What's got feathers and goes "Pieces of seven, pieces of seven" A parroty error.
The words "parity" (a computer term describing a method of performing error detection and correction) and "parroty" (presumably meaning "like a parrot") sound the same. Therefore a parrot (what else has feathers and sounds like a pirate?) making an error by saying the wrong number in the famous pirate phrase "pieces of eight" (a piece of eight was an historical Spanish coin) is a "parroty error".
Joke: There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't.
Explanation: It's simple. Binary refers to base 2, the numeric base computers (and real programmers) use for calculations. In the base most people use (ten) there are ten symbols: 0 to 9. In base 2 (binary) there are just 2: 0 and 1 (this is convenient for computers because the 0 and 1 can correspond to a "switch" being off or on). In binary you count like this: 0 (real programmers always start at zero) 1 10 11 100 101 110 111 1000 1001 1010 1011 1100 1101 1110 1111 (by the way, you can count to 1023 on your fingers if you use binary - try it). So 10 in binary is the same as 2 in decimal (our normal base). Put 2 where the 10 (which is actually one zero, not ten) and the joke makes sense... doesn't it.
Joke: Why do programmers always get Christmas and Halloween mixed up? Because Dec 25 == Oct 31.
Explanation: Sometimes binary isn't very convenient so occasionally base 8 (octal) is used instead (it uses the digits 0 to 7 instead of just 0 and 1). Octal is often abbreviated "oct" (but it could also mean October). The base most people use is base 10, also known as decimal and this is often abbreviated "dec" (but that could also mean December). The number 25 in decimal means 2 sets of 10 plus 5. The number 31 in octal refers to 3 sets of 8 plus 1. Add those up and they are the same. No wonder programmers get confused! The symbol "==" is the "equals" operator in C (and related languages). So yes 25 in decimal does equal 31 in octal!
General Science and Technology Jokes
Finally I present a motley collection of more geeky jokes which just didn't seem to fit into any of the categories I have above...
Joke: One atom says to another atom... "I think I've lost an electron.." The other says... "Are you sure?" He says... "I'm positive."
Atoms have a neutral charge because the negative charge of the electrons is balanced by the positive charge of the protons. If an atom lost an electron one of its (positive) protons would no longer be balanced so it would be positively charged, we would say it was "positive", a pun with the word positive, meaning certain. Yeah, you get it, don't you.
This is apparently a true story. It took place just outside of Munich, Germany: Heisenberg went for a drive and got stopped by a traffic cop. The cop asked, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Heisenberg replied, "No, but I know where I am."
Explanation: According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, you cannot simultaneously know both your position and speed (it's usually applied to sub-atomic particles). As you more accurately measure one the other necessarily becomes less accurately known. This isn't a problem with the measuring technique, it's an intrinsic property of the universe. Of course this doesn't apply to any measurable extent to real macro-scale objects, but this is just a joke. (And I doubt whether it really is a true story)
Having analysed these jokes I think I have discovered why geeks find them funny. It's because they understand them and most other people wouldn't, giving the geek a feeling of superiority, which is entirely deserved of course (note that I proudly count myself as a geek).