Posted in Dave Barry, zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Unidentified Flying Felines

People are talking a lot about UFOs again lately although our heads of state don’t usually join the conversation. Trudeau has been silent but I’m sure that if he ever managed to get his hands on an extraterrestrial he would threaten to grab it with both hands and stuff it into one of his nasty quarantine hotels faster than you can say Avro Arrow.

Trump didn’t give UFOs much airtime(!) when he was in office although he is the first US President to admit that he had been briefed on UFOs. Reportedly he was skeptical of the whole business.

Biden is apparently under a gag order and ducked questions about the topic last month. He simply told the press to ask Obama.

Biden following UFO gag order

Obama is the exception: seems he can’t keep his mouth shut, holding forth about UFOs recently on the CBS Late Late Show with James Corden (aka The Early Early Show with James Corden) and also on The Ezra Klein Show (aka The Ezra Klein Show).

“This had better not have anything to do with Calculus. I hate Calculus.”

He had this to say:

We’re just a bunch of humans with doubts and confusion. We do the best we can. And the best thing we can do is treat each other better because we’re all we’ve got. And so I would hope that the knowledge that there were aliens out there would solidify people’s sense that what we have in common is a little more important. Plus, there are also a whole bunch of us here who think cats are actually an alien species sent to Earth to spy on us and report back to their home planet.

Full disclosure: I probably made up that last bit.

What Obama really said was that he had no doubt that were aliens to be proven real, it would impact the political and social climate on Earth and he also noted that: “there would be immediate arguments about like, well, we need to spend a lot more money on weapons systems to defend ourselves. New religions would pop up. And who knows what kind of arguments we’d get into? Besides the cat thing, I mean.

I don’t know why Obama would be so fixated on this Unidentified Flying Felines issue. He’s not into cats. In fact, he owns two Portugese Water Dogs named Bo and Sunny. Incidentally, and in the interests of inclusiveness, Bo and Sunny can be arranged to: “and Boy Nuns”. But I digress.

Here’s how to estimate the probability that you or someone you know (such as your daughter, hypothetically) believes the “cats are alien spies” narrative:

<1 (aka zero) cats in house: Person probably doesn’t believe cats are not of Earth

1 or 2 cats in house: Person sometimes entertains thoughts about alien cat spies. But not very often.

3-12 cats in house: Person is totally down with Obama’s narrative. Said person also invests heavily in pulverized walnut shell litter futures and options. You know who you are and you know what I’m talking about.

>12 cats in house: Person is an alien recruit facilitating transfer of cat-sourced data back to home planet. (This begs the question why a species advanced enough to have mastered interstellar travel would send out spies lacking opposable thumbs.)

To save all the skeptics out there some time, I somehow found this site:

Are Cats Spies Sent by Aliens? A Deep Examination of One of the Internet’s Best Conspiracy Theories

The author cites various observations in support of the theory including ancient Egyptian cat references, our inability to understand how cats purr, the uncanny similarity between cats and “grey aliens”, their superior vision, hairballs, their habit of suddenly darting out of a room (presumably to give report) and their ability to defy gravity and always land on their feet after falling out of a window or a hot air balloon.

The grey alien is the one with the opposable thumbs (not shown)

Indeed, these are compelling observations.

Here is another compelling observation found on the THINK website:

“Mind you, it’s hardly clear why extraterrestrials would travel many trillions of miles through the dangerous voids of space simply to pirouette above our heads and occasionally play cat-and-mouse (emphasis mine) with the Navy. But — full disclosure — we really don’t know what the aliens find interesting to do. Maybe they have their reasons.”

Yah. Their reasons are that their ships are piloted by alien feline spies. Duh.

And if you’re still not convinced, check this out:

This is an actual unretouched photo of a new spy which has just touched down in its landing pod. It is already hard at work, gathering information.

I rest my case.

P.S. Another full disclosure: I have two cats. My daughter has three

This is one of my cats, Zoe, gathering information on our front porch. And also guarding the door.
Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Craggy Island Calculus Problem

For the sake of argument, say that you happen to be standing on the edge of a beach off the coast of Ireland, directly facing a little island called Craggy Island. Fans of the British television series “Father Ted” will be getting excited at this point, since Father Ted and his fellow renegade priests were exiled to Craggy Island due to some unspecified but nevertheless unsavory behaviour.  But more on that some other time.

Where was I?  Oh yes!  For some inexplicable reason, you have been seized by a powerful urge to kayak to the island, but you don’t know how far away it is.  Assume you’ve never seen “Jaws”.  How could you determine the length of your impending voyage?

Personally speaking, I would just call the Craggy Island Department of Tourism and Limpets (1-877-LIMPETS), and ask them how far it is to their island.  But maybe there’s no answer when you call and maybe you just don’t like taking the easy way out.  So now what?

Well…if you happen to know how fast the lighthouse beacon is rotating, and if you happen to know how fast the beam is sweeping toward you when it hits the (eerily-straight) shore 1/2 kM north of where you’re standing, you could say to yourself: “This sounds like a related-rate problem!  I might be able to use Calculus to solve it!”


Since you have nothing better to do, you resist the urge to start paddling, so you fly home and spend the next few nights covering page after page with chicken scratch, basically re-deriving Calculus from first principles, since you haven’t taken it for 38 years or so.  (The picture which should pop into your head at this point is that of a large beetle flipped over onto its carapace in front of a blackboard, feebly waving a piece of chalk clutched in its foreclaw.)

beetle-on-backFinally, your son (who oddly enough happens to be taking Calculus at school) takes pity on you after witnessing your struggle and says, “Dad, why don’t you just Google it?”

Since you were born well before Al Gore invented the Internet, you look at him with a dumbfounded expression and reply, “What the heck would I Google?”

He regards you with a sorrowful expression and says,

“I dunno.  Google is pretty clever.  Try typing: ‘Calculus Lighthouse Problem.’ ”

You dutifully follow this directive and to your undying amazement, this search phrase returns a long string of hits, and one of them even refers to Craggy Island!

From there it’s just a short hop to a YouTube video clip (Calculus tutorial) made by an endearing fellow named Bart Snapp who solves your exact problem right before your very eyes!  You really should watch this clip, mostly because I took the trouble to transcribe the intro almost word-for-word, but also because you will find yourself swept away by Bart’s patently obvious love of teaching in general, and Calculus in particular, and also because this guy is great at reading out loud.  I quote:

“Hello there!  Now we’re going to do a problem (waves hands energetically) about a beacon in the ocean, also known as a lighthouse of sorts.  But we’re going to call it a beacon.  All right?

“All right!  Let’s see the problem! (Reads problem enthusiastically and eloquently.)

“All right.  So we have our problem and now we have to… (he pauses for dramatic effect)…Draw a picture! (Bart starts sketching rapidly on a whiteboard)

“All right.  So we have a, we have the shore here, and the shore’s supposed to be straight.  (Draws more-or-less straight line)

“Well.  Well that’s straight enough I guess.  Here’s point A.  (Draws the beacon on a line perpendicular to point A, and presses on)…the beacon has some light that is shining and let’s see…(adds some more notations like dϴ/dt and dx/dt to his diagram).

“What else?…Aha!

“And the water…This is all supposed to be water here.  (Draws blue squiggles.)  That’s great.”

And really, it is great because at that point you see that the beacon, the place where you’re standing directly opposite the lighthouse, and the point where the beam hits the shore 1/2 kM north of you, form a triangle, and you can relate the rotational speed of the beacon (in radians/sec of course) to the sweep rate of the beam along the shore, through trigonometry!


From there it’s only a matter of a couple more days of calculations until you figure out the lighthouse is 1 kM straight out from where you’re standing.  You can easily handle a 1 kM paddle but then you find out that the last person who tried it was eaten by sharks.  What should you do?

The first thing you should do is ask yourself whether this whole eaten-by-ravenous-sharks while-attempting-to-paddle-to-Craggy Island thing is true or is it an urban legend?  And does Craggy Island even exist, or is it the product of the imagination of a couple of half-baked Irish writers named Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan?

This is important because urban legends are everywhere these days, thanks to Al Gore, and you just can’t be too careful.  Consider the story I read recently about an intoxicated Marine in the state of Kansas who was arrested after a failed attempt to foil his car ignition interlock by having a raccoon breathe into it.

Right away you have to be suspicious that this is an urban legend because there are no raccoons (or Marines for that matter) in the state of Kansas.  Actually, I’m lying.  I made up the Kansas part, and if you consult Google, you will discover that Kansas is literally teeming with raccoons.  I quote from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website: “Highly intelligent and adaptable, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is one of our most abundant furbearers. “ But all that aside, your first clue that the story is b.s. is that everyone knows Marines don’t drink.

Anyway, the point is that you have to be careful not to waste your time on drivel like the story of The Raccoon and The Breathalyzer. Instead I want you to recall The Owl and The Pussycat, a poem by British artist, illustrator, musician, cookbook author and all-around oddball Edward Lear (1812-1888) and then check out the poem I just wrote.


With apologies to all the people of Britain, except Prince Charles:

The Owl and the Pussycat did some maths, with the aid of Barton Snapp
They related dtheta to dx (by dt) but they found themselves in a trap
They set forth for the Isle but in a short while, the water began to boil
Attacked by a shark, in the cold and the dark, off shuffled their mortal coil(s).



Well, it’s time to shut this thing down.  I’m going to heat up a plate of leftover limpets and then get ready for my paddle to Craggy Island first thing in the morning.  But just one nagging thought remains:

I think I’m going to need a bigger boat.