Wednesday, September 03, 2008

September 4: Light Bulb Joke Day

Today is the anniversary of the opening of the first commercial electric power station. On September 4, 1882 Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) pulled the switch that lit the streets of New York City (one square mile) for the first time.

Edison held over one thousand patents, but his best known invention is the one he invented in 1879: the light bulb or the "electric lamb" as it was known in those days. But the light bulb is just one component in a much larger system that was perfected by Edison. We take electricity for granted today, but before any single bulb can be lit, an entire power network must be set up and made operational. As explained by Edison biographer Neil Baldwin, lighting the streets of New York took much more than just screwing in a light bulb:

You have to think of the dynamo that generates the electricity, the wire that goes under the streets, the wire that goes from the streets to the actual apartment or factory, the fuses, the measuring system for the meters, the filaments of the bulb.

No one before or after Edison had demonstrated such a capacity for innovative thinking. He generated an amazing quantity of new ideas and transformed those ideas into practical inventions that changed the lives of every man, woman, and child in America. In addition to the light bulb, the phonograph, motion picture camera, telegraph, telephone, and typewriter are just a few examples of the innovations he either developed or improved. Not only were his ideas numerous, they were also practical. His Menlo Park laboratory laid the foundation for the modern research laboratory -- companies like General Electric that bring teams of people together to research, test, and manufacture the latest technology. Edison had a seemingly boundless reservoir of energy -- he was known for working for one hundred nights in a row in his lab -- but he also knew how to collaborate with others to multiply his efforts.

Speaking of working alone versus working with groups, one offshoot of Edison's invention -- one that he most likely did not invent -- was the light bulb joke. These jokes are an example of a genre of jokes, like "Knock, knock jokes" or "Why did the chicken cross the road jokes," that have endless variations, covering just about any group of people imaginable: religious, professional, cultural, or special interest group. The set-up question is always the same: How many (name of group) does it take to change a light bulb?

The answer to the question is the punch line, which inevitably pokes fun at the target group.

Today's Challenge: The Bulbs They Are A-Changin'
Joke writing, like any genre of writing, requires creative thinking and attention to structure. Below are eight sample light bulb jokes from Energy Quest, the energy education website of the California Energy Commission. Read the jokes, and then take a your own "turn" at writing some of your own light bulb jokes.

1. How many telemarketers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but they have to do it while you're eating dinner.

2. How many Valley Girls does it take to change a light bulb? "Oh my GOD! Like, manual labor? Gag me with a spoon! For sure."

3. How many reference librarians does it take to change a light bulb? I don't know; I'll have to check on that and get back to you.

4. How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence.

5. How many paranoids does it take to change a light bulb? WHO WANTS TO KNOW?

6. How many procrastinators does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, but he has to wait until the light is better.

7. How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and one to give a surprising twist at the end.

8. How many dull people does it take to change a light bulb? One. (2)

Word of the Day: elucidate
To make clear, as in explaining or clarifying something that is unclear. Originates from Latin lucidus meaning “light, bright, clear” that same root as the adjective “lucid” (3).

Quote of the Day: Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. --Thomas Edison

1 - Baldwin, Neil. "Thomas Edison." Booknotes Life Stories. Ed. Brian Lamb. New York: Times Books, 1999.

2 - Energy Quest. California Energy Commission.

3 – Online Etymology Dictionary

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