Posts filed under “Books & Literature”


Our friends at Serif Press have received a letter from Amazon addressed to “St. Augustine.” This was a little baffling, because St. Augustine does not live there. But the letter was indeed for St. Augustine himself:


The mystery is explained. Serif Press has recently published a very attractive edition of St. Augustine’s Confessions in the translation by Richard Challoner, the English Catholic bishop who is most famous for his revision of the Douay Bible, and Amazon supplies the printing. It seems that Amazon, identifying St. Augustine as the author, decided to reach out to him personally, ignoring his representatives at Serif Press, which is arguably a bit impolite.

The book may be found here:

Meanwhile, if any readers know where St. Augustine may be found, they might convey the message that he has a letter waiting for him at his publisher’s office.


We here at Twist Tie Manufacturers and Wholesalers magazine would like to convey our sincere good wishes to the incoming administration. We trust that the new Secretary of Commerce will understand that the prosperity of the nation as a whole depends upon a strong and resilient twist-tie sector.

Our Paris correspondent reports that Forest Green, long dominant in the paper-coated side of the twist-tie business, is gradually being edged out by Ruby in the Paris twist-tie shows. American manufacturers are generally a year or two behind their French brethren in adopting new fashions, but it behooves them to monitor the Parisian innovations closely, as customers may soon be demanding them.

The Southern Tie & Clasp M’f’g Co. of Darien, Georgia, has quietly retired its line of Marconi brand wireless twist ties. The novel manufacturing process was, in the opinion of most wholesalers, never able to turn out a satisfactory tie, and sales failed to meet expectations.

It is a satisfaction to report that all participants in this year’s Twist Tie Trade Association conference have recovered from their injuries, and only two remain hospitalized, with expectations of a speedy discharge. Future conferences will be organized in such a way as to separate the paper-coated and plastic-coated divisions, thus, it is hoped, avoiding more unseemly brawls.

Drummers traveling the Northwest circuit report that a half-length baguette in a transparent plastic sack makes the most effective “prop” for demonstrating a complete range of twist ties. In the Southeast, however, commercial travelers are advised to respect the conservatism of the region and rely on the traditional bag of pork rinds.

Humorous anecdotes and jocularities are earnestly solicited for our column “Twisted & Tied” on the back page of every issue. Successful submissions will illuminate some aspect of the twist-tie business, will not be unnecessarily offensive, and will leave readers with a pleasant but dignified smile, which is frankly about all we can hope for from humor in this line.


Dear Dr. Boli: I always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been reading quotations from famous writers to inspire me. Like I just came across this one from some guy who was, like, a writer, I think.

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.

——Charles Bukowski, So You Want to Be a Writer.

So I wanted to know if this is like good advice, or what? —Sincerely, Olivia, Mr. Cramer’s 10th-Grade Creative-Writing Class.

Dear Miss: Professional writers often give advice like this to aspiring writers. You must be sincere above all, they say. Every word must force itself out of the depths of your soul, and you must never set pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, until you cannot bear to keep silent. Professional writers give you advice like this because they know that, if you follow it, you will never be a professional writer, and thus their competition will be reduced in the marketplace. Professional writers can be very devious.


Dear Dr. Boli: Under certain circumstances a key combination on my computer will produce an emoji, which is a graphic substitute for thought that has become very popular among the lower classes lately. Since it is possible to hit one of these key combinations by accident, my question is this: is there some adjustment I can make in the preferences that will prevent my computer from ever producing another emoji again as long as I live? —Sincerely, 😠.

Dear Sir or Madam: An amendment to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to tamper with the emoji system in any software, even if the software is otherwise open-source. A reporting requirement is included in the amendment, which probably explains the pounding at your door right now.


To spoil the surprise for you, the answer appears to be no. Not yet.

Zoho Writer is actually a very good online word processor, which Dr. Boli mentions because has no wish for Zoho, by all accounts an honest and upstanding Indian company, to suffer on account of anything he is about to say.

But when you are advertising your advanced artificial-intelligence capabilities, you ought to have someone outside the coding pit check to make sure that your AI assistant is not in fact as dumb as a box of rocks.

Writer comes with Zia—an AI assistant trained to help you improve your writing. It understands the context of your sentences and comes up with grammar, readability, and style suggestions to further polish your piece.

Sounds swell! Now look at the screenshot. (You can click on it to enlarge it.) This is not text Dr. Boli made up to put Zia through her paces. This is the screenshot Zoho published as a demonstration of Zia’s advanced artificial intelligence.


In this text, Zia has made two suggestions (three if we count underlining the “of”’ after “due”). Of those, one is completely wrong. Adverbs of frequency do in fact usually come before a simple verb, though you can probably think of a dozen exceptions before you finish reading this sentence. (“Do you come here often?”) However, the usual placement in a compound verb is between the auxiliary and the main verb. The original text is correct: “She has always been” is much more natural than “She always has been,” though the latter may be used to emphasize the “has.”

Now read that original text, and you will find a few questionable things that Zia has not flagged. Among them: the incomprehensible phrase “tour of visiting us,” the Donald-Trump-style capitalization of “Airport,” the missing “up” in the expression “to pick her,” the extra space between “was” and “from” at the beginning of the second paragraph, the un-English relative clause (“who could speak” where “and could speak” would be the English norm), “spain” and “spanish” without capitals, the un-English article in “had a lunch,” the missing article in “having amazing day,” the missing apostrophe in “Its,” and of course the non-native expressions throughout, which (to be fair) might be natural to a speaker of Indian English. Dr. Boli may have missed a few, but this is a very good list for nine lines of text. In nine lines with at least twelve obvious errors, Zia has flagged two and has flagged one correct expression as wrong.

Once again, Dr. Boli has decided to wait a little longer before he has a fit of panic about the coming artificial-intelligence apocalypse.