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April Fools' Day - Tech Prank Roundup

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Yesterday's April Fools' Day was packed with pranks; here are a few of my favorites:

Gmail Paper - "Everyone loves Gmail. But not everyone loves email, or the digital era. What ever happened to stamps, filing cabinets, and the mailman? Well, you asked for it, and it's here. We're bringing it back." Gmail Paper offers a new button in the popular email service, to request a free print-out of the email in question, mailed to you at Google's expense. (Google fans, check out their classic Pigeon Rank prank.)

Star Trek: Demastered Edition - "The all new 'Star Trek: Demastered' product line will allow Trek fans to download their favorite episodes in a new 'demastered' format, which scales back any damage done by the recent high-profile 'improvements' to the original Star Trek masters. ... Sure to be a hit with fans, this announcement is especially good news for those who long to watch Star Trek the way they remembered it from the good old days: on a small, wood-paneled console television, possibly in black and white in 4:4 ratio, and with the original Moldovan-broadcast commercials."

ThinkGeek WiiHelmThinkGeek WiiHelm - "The average gaming geek is just not up to the strenuous task of vigorous arm movement for longer than 10 minutes. This makes those extended play sessions a thing of the past... and who wants to beef up at the gym just to play video games on your couch? We sure don't. ... After extensive scientific study it was found that manipulating muscles in your neck for 10 minutes uses 64% less energy than waving your arms about like a lunatic. The WiiHelm works great with all of your favorite Wii games and the included foot pedal allows easy button presses using minimal toe effort." (The web site has video of the WiiHelm in action.)

Google Toilet Internet Service Provider (TiSP) (BETA)â„¢ - "a free in-home wireless broadband service that delivers online connectivity via users' plumbing systems. The Toilet Internet Service Provider (TiSP) project is a self-installed, ad-supported online service that will be offered entirely free to any consumer with a WiFi-capable PC and a toilet connected to a local municipal sewage system."

Here's to another good year for fake news!

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The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey
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Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Watch the Original Spinal Tap Short Film
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Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images

Spinal Tap formed in 1979, five years before the classic film This is Spinal Tap premiered. They performed on TV and began developing their personas as idiotic heavy metal monsters.

When the band, along with director Rob Reiner, went to pitch their mockumentary to production companies, nobody "got it." It wasn't clear what an unscripted comedy pseudo-documentary would feel like. So Reiner asked for the screenplay fee—$60,000—to be paid up front as a budget for a short proof-of-concept film.

That skimpy budget went a very long way, allowing the group to produce The Last Tour, a 20-minute Spinal Tap film exploring some of the plot (and many of the songs) that appeared in the later film This is Spinal Tap. There's a surprising amount of concert footage, as various bits that were repeated in Tap (some interview clips were even used in Tap unaltered).

The Last Tour is delightful because it shows a well-developed idea being implemented on the cheap. The wigs are terrible, the sound is spotty, but the vision is spot-on. The characters and the core story of the group (including a string of dead drummers) is already in place, and we get to see the guys improvise together. Tune in (and be aware there's plenty of salty language here):

(Note: Around 4:38 in the clip above, we see Ed Begley, Jr. as original drummer John "Stumpy" Pepys in the "Gimme Some Money" video. Stumpy died in a gardening accident, of course.)

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