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4 Internet Memes Guaranteed to Baffle Your Grandparents

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When Ted Stevens, the elderly senator from Alaska, infamously referred to the internet as "a series of tubes" during hearings on a 2006 net neutrality bill which he himself had sponsored, he unwittingly entered into a kind of irony vortex. Stevens had simultaneously proved himself clueless about the web -- at one point saying "an internet was sent by my staff" in reference to an email -- and had also created an internet meme, his "tubes" comment earning him a place among such hallowed meme icons as the Numa Numa guy and "2 Girls 1 Cup" (not to mention President Bush's infamous neologism "the internets.") In honor of Stevens' irony-laced accomplishment, here are five other memes which have needlessly clogged his tubes over the years.

1. Bert is Evil

In the late 90s, a new conspiracy theory was born. Pictures began to pop up around the net of Bert, of Sesame Street fame, consorting with various nefarious figures from history, from Hitler to Jack Ruby, and more recently, Osama Bin Laden. The theory being that mild-mannered, eggheaded Bert (who looks pretty dang evil when you arch his unibrow up, we grant you), is actually a malevolent mastermind responsible for some of the twentieth century's greatest atrocities. After winning a Webby award in 1998, the "official" Bert is Evil site was taken down due to a crushing amount of traffic, but Evil Bert lives on, popping up in the most unlikely places -- just Google him.

2. All Your Base Are Belong to Us

A simple case of bad "Engrish" -- in this case a horrendously translated "cut sequence" from a 1989 Sega Genesis game called Zero Wing -- sparked an memetic internet phenomenon some eleven years later. Anyone who grew up playing Nintendo games is at least glancingly familiar with Engrish mistranslations (upon beating the classic game Ghosts 'n' Goblins, I was rewarded by a puzzling screen that read "Congraturation. This story is happy end. Thank you") -- the "All Your Base" phenomenon, to gamer nerds at least, is twenty times more hilarious. A Flash animation began circulation around 2000 that featured shots from the original Zero Wing game with some remixed music and some Photoshop magic -- the result was internet gold:

3. Rickrolling

One of the few meme neologisms which also happens to be a verb, "to Rickroll" someone is to sucker them into clicking on a particularly tempting link rickroll.preview.jpg(say, to pictures of Jason and Mangesh in the buff), which then turns out to be the music video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." Hit counts for the Astley video online indicate that between 13 and 18 million people have been Rickrolled thus far -- and in an amazing twist, the phenomenon has begun to spread (virally?) to the real world. Public events like basketball games, local newscasts, even Scientologists have been Rickrolled. On April Fool's Day this year, YouTube Rickrolled the world by making every one of their front page videos a link to "Never Gonna Give You Up" (which means the phenomenon will probably jump the shark pretty soon -- yikes, another meme).

4. LOL-things

LOLcats have been covered to death (on this site especially), but it's hard to talk about weird internet memes and not mention them. Also known as an anthropomorphic image-based macro, LOLs can and have featured cats, walruses, anteaters and other animals in funny or uncompromising poses, paired with superimposed text supposedly uttered by the animal (and thus, of poor grammatical quality). The phenomenon has become so pervasive, covered in Time and elsewhere, forwarded and linked to death, that there's even a project underway to translate the Bible into LOL. Its creators and contributors hope to have the New Testament finished by the end of 2008. Here's the LOL version of John 3:16:

So liek teh Ceiling Cat lieks teh ppl lots and he sez 'Oh hai I givez u me only kitteh and ifs u beleevs in him u wont evr diez no moar, k?'

"Ceiling cat" being God, of course. (Satan is referred to as "basement cat," people as "kittehs.")

Here's my favorite LOL, the LOLrus:
lolrus.jpg

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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