5 Unimportant Things With Giant Armies of Crazy Advocates
If you happen to wander into one of the moister corners of the Internet, there's a type of conversation you might wade into about which video game system is the best video game system, and which one is "winning" whatever "war" these people think video game systems fight. For example, at this moment there are approximately 1 billion threads around the Internet in which Sony fans are mocking Xbox owners for the fact that their system has 900 peas instead of 1080 peas.
Video games: Serious Business.
This isn't a new trend; the same argument has been going on for decades, just with different peas to argue about with every new generation of hardware. Whether it's analog controls, exclusive games, or blast processing, people don't just get super excited about how great and how well-marketed their toy is, they also feel the irrepressible urge to tear down someone else's toy.
"Why, PS4_fan2345!? How can your heart be filled with such poison?"
It turns out that this insane need to advocate trivial things shows up in all sorts of other places. Here then, for your side-picking pleasure, are five more bizarrely petty things that people have become crazy advocates for.
You can probably guess what a text editor is from the name alone. It's not for hammering nails.
"But you could with the right extensions!" -Emacs Nerds
They're programs for editing text, widely used by programmers, in particular on Unix and Unix-like systems. (If you don't know what a Unix system is, that's fine. Healthy even.) Two of the more notable text editors are called vi and Emacs, and you would not believe how many yellowed underpants have gotten into a twist during arguments about which one is superior.
Hint: All of them.
I can program a bit, but have never really used either, which makes me a) neutral in this discussion and b) a useless idiot. But I know enough to broadly describe the features and benefits of both. Vi has an arcane, profoundly unintuitive interface that involves strange modes, baffling commands, and lots of angry beeping. But, once you understand all of those things -- and I've seen vi pros claim that it's really not that hard -- you can churn out or edit complicated text, really, really quickly.
I'm not entirely sure what's happening in this video (the firewall might be getting mainframed?)
but I can certainly confirm that it's happening quickly.
Emacs, on the other hand, uses an interface that is more or less comprehensible to human beings. All the shortcuts and stuff that you'd expect to find in a word processor are there, along with about a thousand other tools, although they require you to have a few extra fingers to trigger. Emacs is also known for being incredibly extensible; with the right extensions, it can do everything vi can do. But that's not all; everything can apparently be done in Emacs if for some reason you need to. Web browsing, music playing, pornography appraising -- basically anything a computer can do can be done in Emacs. Why you wouldn't let one of the many other programs on a computer handle these tasks instead of your text editor is beyond me, but like I say, I'm a useless idiot.
Cleaner underpants, though.
Arguments about this have gotten seriously heated, and unlike some of the other things on this list, there aren't really any justifications for it. Even arguing about video game systems has kind of a point; if the system you own is more popular, then more games will be made for it, and it becomes even better to own. But there's no such networking effects at work here; if someone else uses a different editor, that doesn't affect you in the slightest. There's no benefit to this debate at all.
Indeed, laundry scientists calculate that every keystroke spent arguing about text editors
is in fact doing irreparable damage.
Here's another one about computer programmers (they're an excitable bunch). This one has to do with something that's seemingly even more trivial: indentations.
Not quite. Close, though.
In the programming world, an indentation is when a block of text is offset from the text surrounding it. Think of a tab to mark the start of a paragraph, or the way a bulleted list offsets itself.
This is really important when writing code to make it clear which blocks of code should be considered separately from others; there are brackets and things to do that formally, but the indentations make everything a lot more readable. Which is why every programmer agrees that indentation of some format must be used, but no one can ever agree on specifically what format that should be. For example, the debate about whether to indent using tabs or spaces has resulted in countless fights, tears, and salty, wet keyboards.
"BSD_fan45! How could you betray me like this?"
Surprisingly, this isn't just nerds being completely insane. Reading code that is consistently written in the same format is easier than reading code written in a variety of formats. It's easier to understand, and spot errors in, and add to. Which means that getting everyone else on your side would actually make your coding life easier. Whether one specific format is better than others isn't really the point, even if that's what the argument always hangs on. So long as everyone (especially everyone working on the same project) uses the same format, very real benefits start to appear.
So there you go. Arguing about tabs isn't completely trivial.
Still boring, though.
The Oxford comma is a super big deal to a certain type of person, which is usually a person with a little bit of food in their hair. Basically, in ordered lists of words, like ...
Apples, oranges, and bananas can all fit in my butt.
... the Oxford comma is the comma between "oranges" and "and." Compare that to the sentence without it ...
Apples, oranges and bananas can all fit in my butt.
... and you can see that holy shit this is super boring. OK, hang with me. In that case it doesn't make that much of a difference. But look at these next two examples:
The list of people Cracked has invited to our offices to wrestle includes the best animal husbandry experts, Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
The list of people Cracked has invited to our offices to wrestle includes the best animal husbandry experts, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney.
Here the Oxford comma seems to make a big difference. Are Pitt and Clooney the animal husbandry experts? Or were they invited alongside the animal husbandry experts? The version with the Oxford comma (the second one) makes it clear that they're not animal husbandry experts, and that we've invited a lot more than just these two celebrated actors to our offices to wrestle.
Sadly, they were both busy with other projects.
OK, so the Oxford comma is great. All hail the Oxford comma. Let's all motherfucking buy one of the dozens of T-shirts that advocates the Oxford comma. Well, hold on a second. Consider these next two examples.
Cracked invited the elephant, Leonardo DiCaprio and a giraffe to our offices to receive enemas.
Cracked invited the elephant, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a giraffe to our offices to receive enemas.
OK, so is Leonardo DiCaprio the unlikely name of our elephant or are we referring to the famed star of Growing Pains? The version with the Oxford comma (the second one) is ambiguous because it could be interpreted as saying the elephant is named Leonardo DiCaprio. Which of course is ridiculous.
"Hi it's us again. Has Mr. DiCaprio reconsidered participating in our article on grammar?"
What you can see is that using the Oxford comma is no guarantee of an unambiguous sentence; sometimes it works and sometime it doesn't. Writers just have to understand when and why their sentences are ambiguous and rewrite as necessary to fix that. There's nothing here worth T-shirt levels of advocacy.
You just look like the Riddler's shitty cousin.
Order of Operations
Quickly now, what's the answer to the following question?
Got it yet?
I'd answer 2, as would all sane people, but it turns out that sanity isn't that common of a character attribute these days, and around half of you will look at that and say the answer is 288.
That must have taken a long time on your hands.
The confusion lies in the exact order of operations being used, and in particular whether the equation simplifies to: (48/2) * 12 or 48/(2 * 12)
If you're finding this boring, congratulations; that is the correct response.
People have gotten seriously fucking mad at each other about this problem, which probably says more about the way we act on the Internet than it does about anything else. Both sides have reasonably strong claims as to which is correct, the major fault line being whether we should apply the PEMDAS (or BEDMAS) order of operations, or whether we should complete the implied multiplication around the parentheses -- the 2(9+3) portion -- first.
Another hit column, Bucholz.
The really hilarious thing about this is how completely artificial the debate is. There isn't a living human being who uses the division sign when doing math past puberty, and the decision to use it while not using the "x" multiplication symbol is completely insane. Anyone with even the smallest amount of math experience would write that expression as either 48/(2(9+3)) or (48/2)(9+3) depending on what the hell they were trying to do. Which makes this question flamebait in its mathematically purest form, and I invite everyone to ignore the fuck out of the comments section of this column for the insanity which will soon pour forth to argue about it.
This is an area I've learned a surprising amount about in the past year, although, without getting into too much personal detail, I think I can safely reveal that I have not been actively involved in the breast-feeding in this household.
"What the actual fuck do you intend to do with that, dad?"
But I have read a bit of the literature and blogs and Facebook posts and can confidently report that holy shit, dudes, you have no fucking idea how seriously some people take breast-feeding.
You thought the stuff about indentation was intense.
Basically, some mothers are super into breast-feeding. That's fine and good and even admirable. But along with being super into it, some of these mothers take a special interest in berating mothers who don't breast-feed (whether by choice or for medical reasons, doesn't matter). Shit gets nasty when these two groups start talking to each other on the Internet; I'm honestly surprised there aren't more, like, curdling issues.
"Mom, you need to not use Facebook within an hour of nursing. Shit."
In the interest of collecting tons and tons of hate mail from angry mothers wanting to correct me, I'll roughly lay out the reasoning behind both sides of the argument. On the one hand, there have been lots and lots of studies that have found links between breast-feeding and all sorts of positive outcomes. Fatter, healthier babies. Smarter babies. Handsomer babies. Everything, really.
On the flip side, the results of those studies have always been weaker than most people realize, plagued by hard-to-eliminate biases. Recent sibling studies (where one sibling was breast-fed and another formula-fed) have found that the benefits of breast-feeding are there but pretty marginal. Most doctors still recommend breast-feeding but also point out that it's not an especially big deal if the mother can't or doesn't want to. "It's not worth fighting over," they add.
"Please, please stop punching each other in the breasts about this."
It's not just breast-feeding, though; essentially the same argument shows up when discussing any number of other parenting techniques and philosophies. Sleep training. What to feed them. Work/home balance.
Which I think is a debate about what age a kid should start working.
So why does this argument keep happening? People take the health of their kids seriously. That's a good motivation to have, and it's why we lose so few of them to jaguar attacks these days. But it also leads to crazy fights like this. When you make a choice about what's best for your child and someone else makes the exact opposite choice, that person isn't just making their own decision. They're saying you're wrong. You're wrong about the health of your kid. And that's something that people will get pretty worked up about.
"I WILL STRANGLE THAT BITCH WITH HER OWN GODDAMNED BABY BJORN."
So yeah, these squabbles about breast-feeding are trivial. To the outsider. But for the participants, these boob-fights are literally about the most important thing in the world.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. His first novel, Severance, is incredible, coming out on Dec. 9, and available for preorder on Amazon or Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
For more Bucholz, check out 5 Huge Problems Solved by Doing the Worst Thing Possible . And then check out 28 Shamefully Irrational Fears That Secretly Haunt Us All.