856: Trochee Fixation
Title text: If you Huffman-coded all the 'random' things everyone on the internet has said over the years, you'd wind up with, like, 30 or 40 bytes *tops*.
A trochee is a type of metric foot. A foot is a measure in poetry, it consists of stressed beats and unstressed beats. A trochee is a foot which consists of one stressed beat followed by an unstressed beat. "Trochee" itself is an example of this as you stress the first syllable and don't stress the second syllable ("TROH-kee".) In the comic, an unidentified young girl develops a fixation with words that are trochees, such as robot ("ROH-bot",) raptor ("RAP-tor",) and Jesus ("JEE-zus".) Megan explains her behaviour. She proposes a "radical trocheeotomy." Cueball misinterprets Megan's intent as a "tracheotomy", a removal of the girl's vocal cords, of which he is in favor.
Megan proceeds with the trocheeotomy, but it sadly does not have the intended effect. Though the previous trochees have been removed, the girl immediately generates new ones: "BAN-jo," "TUR-tle," "JET-pack," "FER-ret," and so on. Megan therefore resorts to Plan B, implied to be removing the girl's trochee fixation via cranially-applied brick.
There are references to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, both of which are examples of actual, trochaic TV show titles. Additionally, there is a reference to sci/fi author Neal Stephenson who has written Snow Crash, Anathem and many other books.
"Jetpack ferret" could be a reference to 20: Ferret, although the ferret in question only had wings.
Huffman coding is a lossless data compression algorithm that works by recording a specific string and then only recording that the string is repeated a certain number of characters later on until eventually it only contains a "dictionary" of unique substrings and then mentions of where those substrings repeat. In highly repetitive data this can cut down the file size immensely, which is what Randall is implying by saying you would only end up with 30–40 bytes. Most of the "random" stuff said on the Internet has been said before.
- Girl: Robot ninja! Pirate doctor laser monkey! Narwhal zombie badger hobo bacon kitty captain penguin raptor Jesus!
- Megan: We'd been seeing this brain damage for years, but only recently did our linguists identify the pattern behind it.
- Megan: The patients fixate on animals and types of people whose names are trochees (two syllables, with the accent on the first).
- The malfunction causes a rush of dopamine whenever these trochees are heard or spoken.
- [Chart shows "internet" and "brain," with arrows marked "trochees" traveling both ways between them. An arrow marked "dopamine" loops from the brain back to the brain.]
- The warning signs appear in childhood:
- [Child sits in front of TV.]
- Child: Yeah! Mighty teenage morphin' ninja power mutant turtle rangers!
- Social reinforcement focuses the fixation on a few dozen words.
- Cueball (off-panel): Is there a cure?
- [Girl is reclining under a big machine pointed at her face.]
- Megan: We're about to try a radical trocheeotomy.
- Cueball: Rip out her vocal chords? I'm in favor.
- Megan: No, we're modifying her vocabulary* to erase the words she's fixated on.
- *Digitoneurolinguistic hacking! It's totally real! Ask Neal Stephenson.
- Megan: Either the gap will be filled by normal words, or she'll just generate a new set of trochees.
- Megan: Here goes.
- [She pulls the lever on a large panel.]
- kachunk bzzzZZZZZZ
- [Girl is waking up.]
- Girl: ...GzZhRmPh ...
- Girl ...banjo turtle!
- Girl: Jetpack ferret pizza lawyer! Dentist hamster wombat plumber turkey jester hindu cowboy hooker bobcat scrapple!
- Megan (off-panel): Sigh.
- Megan: Time for plan B.
- Cueball: Someone get a brick.