This book, written by Stephan Pile
( Macdonald Futura Publishers Limited, ISBN 0 7088 1908 7;
first published 1979 and reprinted 1980) really deserves
mentioning. It is full of sarcastic and ironic stories and is characterized by its subtitle as well: "The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good
Club of Great Britain". It has been awarded as the funniest book of the year by Irish Times in 1980.
stories in that book are:
The Royal Society for the Preventing of Accidents
held an exhibition at Harrogate in 1968.
The entire display fell down.
In 1976 the Not Terribly Good Club was formed and the founder became elected
president of that club.
To qualify for membership one just had to be not terribly good at something and then attend meetings at which people talked about and gave public demonstrations
of the things they could not do.
The application form contained lines as "fields of special incompetence" and others.
The president and founder of that club collected all the stories and reports on unsuccessful events and incompetences and has published them together as a book.
The book became a bestseller and the president lost his club membership, consequently.
The firemen´s strike of 1978 made possible one of the great animal rescue
attempts of all time.Valiantly,
the British Army had taken over emergency fire fighting and on 14 January they were called out by an elderly lady to retrieve her cat which had become trapped up a tree.
They arrived quickly and soon discharged their duty.
So grateful was the lady that she invited them all for tea (and Sherry?). Driving off later, with fond farewells completed, they ran over the cat and killed it.
Many of you have seen and noticed already similar stories or have
come across of rather odd events alike to those listed above.
What I am interested in particular are stories around University-Life or of the Academic World in general
In Wales there are two official languages: Welsh and English. By law traffic
signs must be in both languages.
The following happened in one of the villages in South Wales.
The residents of a residential area wanted to avert heavy traffic from their street.
So they wanted a traffic sign with a message similar to “No entry for heavy traffic, access only for residents”.
The administrative procedure is as follows:
First an authorized person has to formulate the intended text in Welsh, then an official English translation has to be produced by another authorized person.
So the Welsh text was sent to the translator’s office, and a reply was immediately received: “I am currently out of office”.
This text was taken and put on the new traffic sign.
A producer of expensive cars invited proudly a TV team to record and
broadcast a special invent:
introducing the new automatic distance measuring and breaking system, designed for detecting an unforeseen obstacle.
It is designed to stop the car automatically and avoiding a crash.
According to the announcements a typical scenario would be as follows: another car in front is stopping unexpectedly and the driver of the following car,
e.g. because of sudden dense fog, is not aware of the danger.
The new system should stop the car automatically in time depending on speed and the measured distance.
The cameras started, the testing pilot drove through an artificial fog, behind of which a wall was built.
However: no warning signal was given by the device, no breaking was made and the brand new car crashed into the wall and was damaged.
The only good news are, that the driver remained uninjured.
Naturally he was upset because of this public disaster. So was the car manufacturing company.
The film and story about this heroic failure has been broadcasted (recently, 2005) despite of heavy attempts to persuade the TV team not to do so.
We often experience situations that we can hardly believe. What follows is
one such true case.
The staff of ZID, the central information service of the Johannes Kepler University of Linz (JKU), has provided the following story as a candidate for the collection of heroic failures:
One of the jobs of ZID is the administration of domains held by JKU, the application for new domains, as well as the cancellation of no longer required domain names.
This must be done by NIC.AT, the Austrian domain administrator, according to international Internet regulations.
Now, in a specific case, ZID has been advised by the rector of JKU to cancel a domain with a rather obscure name, after he has been informed about the following:
An unknown person, who apparently found the association between this domain name in question and JKU to be a good joke, has managed to indirectly register this domain to JKU.
It is currently unknown how he or she succeeded to make JKU the official holder of this domain.
Naturally the rector of JKU and the ZID staff have a different view about this matter and a different sense of humor in such cases.
ZID accordingly contacted and advised NIC.AT to perform the canceling procedure for the mentioned domain.
It turns out that this demand developed into a heroic failure story because:
The official reply from NIC.AT, in strict adherence to their administration rules was, that cancellation would only be possible with the personal
signature of Mr. Johannes Kepler.
Any efforts to explain that Mr. Kepler would not be able to sign the cancellation form because he died several hundred years ago -
he lived 1571- 1630 – have been without success so far, because NIC.AT insists that in such cases, where the owner has died, a death certificate has to be supplied.
By the way, the cancellation of the domain is finished now: We wonder how ZID managed to get a copy of the death certificate of Johannes Kepler.
In the land of milk and honey the former PTT has been split in to a telephone
company and a group offering ordinary postal services and
acting as a bank too.
It is called “The (= die) Post”. The bank line offers various products, in particular one is advertised as Post Life Pension.
Because post life and post mortem mean the same we can argue that singing hallelujah and
playing the harp in heaven must be expensive and one needs an extra post life pension in order to make post life more comfortable.
This all is in contrast to people who have preferences to Life Pensions.
There is a well known paradox: The barber of a village is defined to be the
person who shaves all villagers who don´t shave themselves.
We have observed that in real life sometimes this situation becomes true as the following shows in a more or less analogous situation,
which exists at a distinguished university.
In order to speed up and simplify administrative work, heads of departments can commit to “verbal contracts” if both parties agree and
the case is simple enough.
A typical example is, when a student has to do a little job in the interest of the department and bills the latter to an agreed sum by
presenting a written (of course) invoice after the job has been executed.
However the administration insists in such cases on “a written statement that a verbal contract has been made” and
does not recognize the signed invoice (checked and signed by both the department´s head, the department’s secretary and, of course,
by the person in question too) as an evidence on a previous mutually agreed verbal contract.
They demand an extra written document in such cases!
It is not very clear what the content of such a document should be: the information required is given by the signed and checked invoice.
If it contained the content of the verbal and therefore nonwritten agreement, then the contract would be transformed into a written one.
In deed, to some extent it comes close to the barber´s paradox.
The following story was reported in the Austrian TV news.
Regardless whether it is true or belongs to what are called “modern legends”, it is worth reading it.
On a motorway in France a sequence of brand new automatic speed cameras has been installed, so that fast drivers could be photographed and fined by the police later on.
Politicians tend to go public whenever it is possible and any opening ceremony (opening a new building, a bridge etc.) is a welcome opportunity.
Therefore also the new speed measuring system was regarded to be appropriate for the minister for traffic and transport to show up in the public.
The point is, being under heavy time pressure, he or his driver drove to fast
on the way to this opening and the minister´s cars was photographed by
one of the recently installed speed cameras.
It happened in a very nice country.
Because of some inefficiencies of Universities of that country a new law was stated in order to reorganize them and to make them more efficient as teaching and research are concerned.
However, there was a need for additional administration staff for the implementation of the new law now.
It is rumored , that as a consequence of these new regulations there is now one University (at least),
where the number of persons working in the administration is greater than the number of researchers.
A young technician was asked by the departments head to transport technical
equipment to a building located somewhere downtown,
where members of the department presented an extramural course to the public.
Being in hurry and lacking parking space the young gentleman entered a car park and paid for the ticket 200 Florins in advance.
Naturally he wanted the money back he had spent in the interest of his department.
So an application for that transaction was written to the administration, but it was returned, because one has to apply for an " journey on duty" in advance.
In exceptional cases however a dispensation can be given, but then there is a need for an additional written statement, explaining in detail the reasons and circumstances.
For all these situations special forms must be used and sent to a different administration branch first, not to the bursary directly.
This was done immediately, but the invoice looked now as follows due to the rules, how to fill out the form correctly:
200 Florins for the parking ticket 12 Florins for driving a private car (4 per mile) in the interest of the department.
This new invoice was fine and met all regulations and used the right form as well. It has been acknowledged at the end.
However another regulation for "acknowledged journeys on duty" states, that all the money paid per mile for driving a car includes any expenses for
parking tickets as lump sum.
A distinguished software development group of a CS Department of an Austrian
University, known and recognized for their contributions to anti virus software,
proudly announced its most recent product and distributed it to selected beta testers.
Unfortunately the distribution disk was infected by a new type of an virus which could not be detected and removed by the previous release of that anti virus software.
An awkward call back action was necessary.
The following contribution was made by a scientist from Finland:
Challenged by Multimedia
This is a true story of educational multimedia experts and their effort to appropriate new mediational means in order to provide the EU citizens with
multimedia expertise and to enter the world wide educational market in multimedia.
But this is also a very frustrating story as technology seems to
fight back at every possible corner of the experts' path to riches.
Technology first attacked the experts in Finland, a country whose interest in technology dates back to its heroic epic,
which has given a Newsweek article (May 24, 1999) the idea to claim that the Future is Finnish.
The multimedia experts had got together with great hopes for their second project meeting.
Unfortunately, they were confronted with the fact that instead of being on their side, technology was their enemy.
Nothing worked as expected: the videoprojector was not operational as the bulb had broken.
Also, there were great problems to copy the meeting documents as the files the co-ordinators of the project brought with them were not compatible with
the systems of the host institution.
At that time no one realised that this was only the beginning, a kind of pilot experience of what was to follow.
The third time the experts got together off the continent, in merry old England.
At the beginning there was a welcome address to the members of the group of experts.
Unfortunately the microphone was out of order and the spokesman had to raise his voice accordingly.
The meeting then started with the co-ordinators' announcement that the meeting documents were not available due to the fact that the copying machine
the hosting institution had planned to use during the meeting was out of order.
All the needed documents were available only on the screens of the co-ordinators' lap tops.
Luckily, the co-ordinators had produced some transparencies of some of the documents. However,
their effort to operate the OHP(overhead projection device) in the meeting room failed.
After being occupied with the OHP for several minutes a voice from the "audience'' asked the continentals to leave the problems to be solved by the islanders,
i. e. the hosts of the current meeting.
The hosts succeeded in switching on the OHP, but none of the experts around the OHP was able to adjust the automatic focusing which resulted in a tiny
dim projection of the transparency on the OHP screen.
None of the participants could see anything, but instead, everyone could hear the OHP :
the noise it made was much too audible and overpowered the co-ordinators' voices.
This resulted in a request that the OHP be switched off.
The copies of the meeting agenda arrived at a later stage of the meeting,but by that time everybody had started their own system of documenting the discussions,
and the efforts of the co-ordinators to have any control over the proceedings collapsed.
The fourth meeting of the project will be held in a country that according to information from various sources belongs to the less advanced as regards multimedia in Europe.
A person had recently had a new multimedia computer installed on his/her
He/She had had it for a week when he/she rang the IT department.
He/She explained that he/she was getting on fine with the new toy apart from one thing.
The problem lay with the cup-holder on the front of the computer, which kept going back in and spilling his/her coffee.
The cup-holder was in fact the CD-ROM draw.
People at Liverpool (UK) are well known for their specific sense of humour
and witty replies.
This story is a typical example: a gentleman from abroad asked at the underground station "Please, when is the very last train running back from Chester to Lime Street Station?"
And he, enjoying what is called recursion and recursive descriptions in Computer Science,
was delighted hearing the following reply from the person behind the information desk:
"We regret, the very last train has been cancelled this evening, so you have to take the train before (it)".
A group of social scientists investigated whether people can be addicted to
Internet surfing or chatting in the Internet.
What they have found out is not so surprising, because a similar phenomenon is well known in connection with computer games.
What really surprises is the remedy and therapy proposed: they offer an Internet Chat room where those can meet each other electronically who are addicted to chatting already.
A distinguished center for visualization of a well known US-University offers
a special web site dedicated to visualization and related projects in
order to attract visitors and to present ongoing research results.
To the visitors surprise however the home page in question just consists of an empty, full page white area.
If you know such stories or if you can
report on "least successful events" in particular concerning Academia, please
e-mail them to me.
Please be honest: do not invent stories, report only on what you really know or what you have seen!
I would appreciate if your e-mails contain the keyword "FUN"(or: "fun") in the subject field.
This allows me to transfer your contribution automatically into a dedicated mailbox of my account.
Copyright 2014 JRM - All rights reserved.