Soon after the Internet became accessible to the general public, we started seeing email chain letters about Darwin Awards. These are short stories about people who significantly improved the human gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race in an astonishingly stupid way (they receive only an "Honorable Mention" if they manage to survive the experience).
An example of a full-fledged Darwin Award recipient would be the guy who decided to stand on a wheeled chair on the balcony of his 23rd-floor condominium apartment in order to clean his bird feeder. Not surprisingly (to most of us), the chair rolled and our hero plunged to his death. (As the the police later noted: "No fowl play was suspected").
Perhaps the best (and most well-known) Honorable Mention goes to Larry Walters, whose boyhood dream was to fly. Larry purchased forty-five four-foot weather balloons from an Army-Navy surplus store; he tied them to a lawn chair that was tethered to the ground; then he inflated them with helium. Larry's plan was to float about 30 feet above his yard whilst quaffing a few beers, munching a few sandwiches, and watching the world go by. However, when he strapped himself in and cut the cord anchoring the chair to the ground, he shot up into the air like a bullet and didn't level out until around 16,000 feet!
At one point Larry drifted into the primary approach corridor of Los Angeles' LAX airport and several startled airline pilots radioed incredulous reports. Eventually Larry shot a few of his balloons with a pistol he had brought along for that very purpose and he slowly descended . . . into a power line, thereby blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood. After climbing to safety, Larry was arrested by members of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The reason I mention this here is that I recently ran across The Darwin Awards book (ISBN 978-0-452-28344-2). In fact, it seems that there are now three volumes of these tales (check out the website at www.DarwinAwards.com). This is great; these are quick one-page stories that one can peruse and savor whenever there's a free minute.
As Lady Bracknell says in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest: "I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone."
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me – Clive "Max" Maxfield – at firstname.lastname@example.org). And, of course, if you haven't already done so, don't forget to Sign Up for our weekly Programmable Logic DesignLine Newsletter.