Teachers sometimes tell students that there are no stupid questions. This is a huge lie; many questions are so stupid they make my teeth ache. I don’t have a great definition of “stupid question” but it’s something like:
A question that only wastes time. Neither the asking nor the answering benefits anyone.
Here are a few of my own stupid questions:
- What’s the right way for a male professor to explain male/female connector terminology to a female student? (No, I haven’t been asked this, but one of my colleagues has.) The hazards to avoid are mortal embarrassment or a sexual harassment case.
- Why do so many blog authors populate their entries with images not at all related to the topic of the blog post?
- What’s the beverage with the highest alcohol content that a person could survive on indefinitely? I mean, if food was plentiful, but no other liquid was available? Clearly some sort of 0.5% near-beer could sustain life indefinitely, and clearly bourbon would kill you even faster than unassisted dehydration. But what about 3.2% beer or low-percentage wine?
- Why do alcohol-related web sites in the US ask for age verification before permitting entry? Also, why is this age verification so stupid that a competent six year-old could get past it?
- Why do computers suck so much? I’m constantly on the verge of apologizing for being a computer science professor. (Not to students — they asked for it — but to regular people who are forced to interact with crappy software systems.)
- Why am I not hungry when I wake up, even if I was ravenous before going to bed?
- How can Amazon.com’s search engine suck so badly after 15 years in the business? I just used their book search form to look for author “King, Stephen” and title “It” and the obvious match was 10th in the list (a few years ago I did this search and it was 20th). I routinely use Google, instead of Amazon, to search for books in Amazon.
- Why do drivers making left turns often get only partially into the left turn lane? Why do they also routinely swing right before turning left, even though they’re driving slowly enough that it’s obviously unnecessary to increase the radius of the turn?
- Why is it a tiny bit embarrassing to run into a coffee shop employee who I know from a previous coffee shop they worked at?
- Why are there students who make the effort to come to class and then read the newspaper the whole time? (They even do this when it’s 100% clear there will be no pop quiz or similar.)
I shouldn’t wonder about these things but I do.