Sunday, August 15, 2010

Useless skill sets and the people who love them.

It's remarkable to me that the Spelling Bee has become an institution on ESPN in this day and age. After all, it's not the 1980s when they had no programming to speak of and filled countless hours of time with Australian Rules Football. (Go, Geelong! All for you, St. Kilda!)

I understand the interest in watching it. It's people having to perform a difficult task under pressure. The drama is obvious. But the skill itself is nearly obsolete because of spell check software.

The operative word in the last sentence is "nearly". Here are the words from a late round of this year's contest.

foliocellosis, trompillo, pyroligneous, conjunto, nematodiasis, caprifig, brachydactylous, congener, marouflage, intercolline, genioglossal, borborygmus, Bayesian, lorimer, fazenda, gaminerie, icteritious, keratolysis, dysautonomia, lassi, paravane, metarteriole, Brumalia, mirin, Aufgabe, leguleian, hyleg, bacalao, siffleur, genethliac, meperidine, Bundestag.

My spell checker in Word and in Blogger only recognize Bayesian and Bundestag. I know conjunto because I like accordion music and lassi because I eat at Indian restaurants. These really aren't words people need to know how to spell on anything like a regular basis and there's no shame in hitting the dictionary when stuck with a really tough word with no good synonym.

I call the skill these young folks excel at useless with no disrespect, because I am also a master of a skill that is becoming less useful as time goes by. I still love trivia, but with the Internet, the actual value of having a head full of useless knowledge is becoming less and less useful every day.

Want to know who played Nero Wolfe on the TV show from earlier this century? Go to Or I can tell you. It's Maury Chaykin, the portly Canadian actor who passed away recently. Whether it's entertainment trivia or sports trivia or fun facts about dinosaurs, the computer you are currently sitting at can get you almost anything you want.

If you can ask the right question.

I went to see Inception this week with my niece Holly and her husband Cleavon, and before the film we were chatting about shows we watch and things that have been recommended. Cleavon had friends that talked about a show which sometimes they liked and sometimes they didn't. It was very strange and he couldn't remember the name, though he has seen at least one episode.

"Do you remember anything about it?" I asked.

"There's like... a milkshake?"

"Oh, yeah. Aqua Teen Hunger Force." I said in my most helpful quiz boy manner.

If you type "milkshake cartoon" into the Google, Master Shake and his pals show up three times on the first page of images but only once on the first page of the web search. Sometimes, it's better to have three pounds of gooey gray matter encased in skull bone and chock full to the brim with useless crap instead the best relational database the world has ever seen.

'Cos we are the Aqua Teens!
Make the homeys say ho, make the girlies wanna scream!

Just sayin'.


Anne said...

So what did you think of Inception? Did I miss that? FWIW I thought it was pretentious tosh with some great special effects, but am willing to hear another point of view.

Matty Boy said...

I didn't hate it as much as you did, but I don't think it's a classic. I thought the ending was obvious, but some people think it's a wonderful mind-bending mystery. I didn't find it very mysterious and my mind does not show any signs of being bent.

I didn't love it or hate it, so I'm not going to review it on the blog. When it comes to movies about the nature of reality, it can't hold a candle to the first Matrix or Donnie Darko or A Scanner Darkly.

Anne said...

Thanks, Matty - interesting to hear your view. I guess my tone of Brit loftiness didn't quite come through: I didn't hate it so much as disdain it, ever so slightly. It passed the time well enough, but given the time again I'd pass it differently.

But life's too short to spend talking about this when there's Toy Story 3 to consider.