Posts filed under “General Knowledge”

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OUR MOST PERENNIALLY POPULAR ARTICLE.

Day after day, year after year, our most popular feature is the Free Blank Sheet of Paper we provided more than four and a half years ago. It has always fascinated Dr. Boli to see that most of the traffic to that page seems to come from search engines, suggesting that there are people all over the Internet looking for exactly what that article has to offer. The comments on that page, however, suggested that some visitors went away disappointed.

Dr. Boli will be perfectly frank with his readers: he was not actually intending to meet a real need with that article. Every once in a great while, Dr. Boli feels compelled to vary the usual serious tone of his Magazine with a little frivolity: a joke, if you will. The number of people searching for a printable blank sheet of paper has therefore always puzzled him a bit.

Just yesterday, however, a comment was left on that article that provided a good and legitimate reason why one might want a printable blank sheet of paper, and Dr. Boli will admit that the reason had not occurred to him. In response to this comment from “Kdon,”—

U people are so dumb- If you can print this sheet, you have blank paper because it is in your printer.

-Geezus

—a reader named “iggy” replied yesterday (expressing himself in the English of the Future),

not if your in school and your not allowed to open the printer like me

So Dr. Boli has met a legitimate need, and he is very happy to see that his hard work in producing a blank letter-size PDF was not in vain. To the Internet at large: You’re welcome.

GUESS THE PROFESSION.

Here is an amusing little puzzle. Before following the link to the Web site, can you guess what profession these people practice from the introductory text on the home page?

“As you can see, fragments are the key to our website. Projects, visual alphabets and different disciplines are freely mixed together, in order to provide an impression of emotions, rather than an archive of projects. Our oeuvre is a continuous combination of parts, and its overall image is the very subject of our work. For this reason, we present individual projects as fixed fragments in a mobile system. They are the tangible and partial materials of an abstract flux of ideas.

“The projects are the linguistic components of an ongoing puzzle that is never completed. The sense lies in the progressive utopian hypothesis of reaching an impossible synthesis; sense lies in this expanded, centrifugal movement that has no end. The message of our work lies in this atmospheric dust, this polyphonic rhythm. A throng of figures full of contrasts.”

Now here is the link, and you may go to the Web site and see whether you can guess it from there.

STILL MARVELING AT MACHINE INTELLIGENCE.

Google Photos has all sorts of tricks up its sleeve. One is “Estimated Locations,” by which it can identify where your picture was taken just by looking at it. Our friend Father Pitt provides us with a few examples, though he was very reluctant to show them, because they are unedited and therefore full of lens distortion and other embarrassments.

This picture was taken in Oxford just around the corner from the Ashmolean Museum.

PICT5952

Father Pitt swears he was standing across the street from the Kaufmann’s department store in Pittsburgh when he took it, but apparently his lens has a longer range than he remembers.

This one is in the middle of Tower Bridge in London:

PICT0195 - PICT0199_exposure_layers_0002

It appears to be part of the central tower of East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh (which Father Pitt intended to be part of a giant composite picture of the church), but appearances can be deceiving.

This one is in Bath:

 

100_8129

—or at least Google says it’s in Bath, but then shows us a map of Salisbury:

Bath UK 2

Close enough. Father Pitt says the building bears an astonishing resemblance to the Burke Building on Fourth Avenue in Pittsburgh, but he bows before the superior intelligence of the machine.

But it is possible to fool Google. The machine identifies this as a photo from France:

Phipps-Conservatory-2019-06-16-Red-Vineyards-Near-Arles-01

 

Ha! Father Pitt put some effort into fooling Google here. This is Phipps Conservatory’s version of Red Vineyards Near Arles by Vincent van Gogh, rendered in plants. Phipps Conservatory is not near Arles at all! We sure fooled Google this time.

 

REVISED INTERNATIONAL PHONETIC ALPHABET.

When it is necessary to spell out words unambiguously over a connection with poor sound quality, the International Phonetic Alphabet will be found invaluable.

Ambrose
Ballyhoo
Chesterton
Dendrobium
Emphysema
Frankenstein
Gargle
Heliotrope
Ironic
Jehosaphat
Karma
Lysistrata
Mesembryanthemum
Nonentity
Oleomargarine
Punchinello
Querulous
Ranunculus
Salmagundi
Terpsichore
Ululation
Vercingetorix
Withlacoochee
Xanthippe
Youngstown
Zymurgy

FATHER PITT’S RECENT ENDEAVORS.

Our old friend Father Pitt, whose ultimate ambition is to let nothing in Pittsburgh escape his camera, has been experimenting with a simpler site designed to load very quickly and, more importantly, not to bog down your browser with advertising, the way his old site has been doing more and more as a certain blogging service scrambles for more and more pennies. Since he has been experimenting for a few months, and has filled the very auspicious number of thirteen pages with new photographs, he asked Dr. Boli to make an official announcement that, for the moment, he is publishing at a new location:

Father Pitt’s New Location

The newer site is hosted on a free server, so there is always the chance that Old Pa Pitt’s host could yank the rug out from under him, so to speak, leading to a very comical but very annoying silent-movie pratfall. For now, however, this is where Father Pitt will be.

ERROR!

You visit one of those Web sites where an ad pops up in front of the text you intended to read, which in itself is annoying enough to make you think twice about visiting the Web site. But what if this is the ad?—

Error

Now what do you do? Do you agree that it is OK that there was an error? That seems to be the only option, since the red X in a circle is not an active link. Nothing but clicking OK will dismiss the white box that blocks the content of the page. But what message is one sending by clicking OK?

Dr. Boli pondered this conundrum for some time. Then he closed the browser tab. Then, just to be certain, he closed the computer.

 

IS “STEM” EDUCATION ENOUGH?

Noah Webster, famous educator.

We have heard a great deal about STEM education in the past few years. Dr. Boli admits to having been puzzled the first time he heard the term: why was botany suddenly so important to American competitive vigor, and why not the roots, leaves, and flowers as well? But he soon discovered that we were dealing with an acronym. The power of acronyms in political thought would be a subject for another essay; for now, we may note only that, once an acronym for it has been discovered, the thing becomes true, and the necessity of implementing the acronym cannot be questioned.

But is STEM really what we need? Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are all good things, in moderate quantities. But they are not the whole universe. The United States already leads the world in the number of computer-science graduates working at Starbucks until they can get a real job. Do we really need to create more? Is the demand for baristas really so insatiable?

It seems to Dr. Boli that what is lacking in the discussion of STEM is balance. It is good to teach our young people to think scientifically, but they should also be able to think in other ways. An architect, for example, ought to have a solid grasp of engineering, or his buildings will fall on his head, or on someone else’s head. But if he has nothing in his head but engineering, then we shall be subjected to the aesthetics of the second half of the twentieth century, and it was enough to live through the International Style once. Engineering should be made to serve an artistic vision, which is precisely what is missing from the discussion of STEM in education.

So Dr. Boli would propose diverting the discussion of STEM education into a broader field. He identifies four main components of education, and all four of them are necessary if we are to build the world Dr. Boli wants to live in.

First, we must not abandon Science. The ability to think scientifically is necessary in every discipline. Even a poet needs to recognize when her meter is defective. Science, in Dr. Boli’s mind, includes mathematics, which is the most scientific of all the sciences, as well as technology and engineering, which are the application of scientific principles to useful purposes.

But we also need the Humanities. By the Humanities, Dr. Boli means everything that appeals to the soul by other means than pure reason, but especially in written form. Poetry, religion, criticism, fiction—the great works of the human spirit are as necessary to the formation of young minds as the great principles of science.

To the list Dr. Boli will add Art. Not that art might not be included in the humanities, but Dr. Boli makes it a separate field of education because he believes that young people must be creators of art, and not just consumers of it. Every child ought to learn to draw: not just by being given paper and a box of crayons, but by being taught that there are methods of reproducing on the paper, with the crayons, what one sees in life.

For the same reason, Dr. Boli separates Music as its own special category in education. Every young person ought to be proficient in at least one musical instrument, even if it is his own voice. Again, the production of music, rather than mere passive consumption, is what is wanted.

Dr. Boli believes that any child educated in these four fields will become a well-rounded adult fitted for any station in life and welcome in the best society. Science, the Humanities, Art, and Music are the foundations of not only a balanced curriculum but a balanced life. As it happens, they also make an easily remembered acronym. Dr. Boli therefore humbly suggests that his readers write their state legislators and inform them that we, the concerned citizens of such and such state, will not rest until all our children are given the SHAM education they deserve.

THE CODE OF THE GENTLEMAN.

It is no secret that it is easier in our North American society to be male than to be female, to be heterosexual rather than anything else, and to be white rather than any of the other decorative colors in which the human species is available. There is much hand-wringing by self-identified liberal white males about how unfair it is that they have this advantage, and much grumbling among self-identified conservative white males about how everybody seems to be trying to make them feel guilty for the way they were born.

Dr. Boli would suggest that the liberals and the conservatives, though they may never agree in politics, may come to an accommodation in everyday social intercourse. He proposes that men who wish to get along in modern society should adopt the old-fashioned code of the gentleman.

A gentleman always treats others with respect, even if he privately thinks their heads are full of excelsior. He may have the most bizarre opinions of his own superiority, but a gentleman is as courteous to people he considers his inferiors as he is to the ones he considers his peers.

If males of privileged classes, whatever classes those might be, could bring themselves to behave as gentlemen, at once all the inequalities of their position would begin to fade away. The questions that most provoke us simply would not come up.

Racism? A gentleman knows certain forms of courtesy that are universally applicable; he has them ready to hand, and even if he privately holds the most disgusting ideas on the subject of race, they will not affect his actions in society in the least.

Sexism? A gentleman simply would not interrupt a woman, or denigrate her opinions, or attempt to stand in the way of her ambitions—because he would not do that to anyone. It simply isn’t done.

Gay marriage? It is not a question for a gentleman. A gentleman may have his private opinions on the subject, and his private opinions may be measured or lunatic, according to the particular gentleman’s mind; but a gentleman cannot conceive of how the details of a particular couple’s intimate life would be of any concern to him. A marriage to him is a public declaration that a couple intend to share dishwashing duties according to an agreed-upon schedule.

Transgendered persons? If a gentleman meets someone who identifies herself as a woman, it simply does not occur to him to say, “I doubt that.” That would not be a gentlemanly thing to do.

Sexual harassment in the workplace? It is impossible, because it brings down on his head, quite automatically, the most horrific penalty a gentleman can imagine—the penalty of hearing others say, That man is not a gentleman.

In fact, there is no reason such a code cannot be adopted by all classes and however many sexes you like to count. One does not have to call oneself a gentleman, of course. One can be anything one likes and still follow the code.

Dr. Boli does not mean to suggest that all the problems of the world would be solved if we all adopted the code of the gentleman. He merely suggests that it would bring the solution a little closer.