Posts filed under “General Knowledge”

NEW TOBACCO WARNINGS.

Tobacco products are festooned with dire warnings about their effects on the user’s health, and yet people continue to use tobacco products. That is because health is not very high on the list of things tobacco users really care about. Thus new government-mandated warnings will be introduced next year that will, it is hoped, strike deeper into the minds of the purchasers of tobacco:

Warning Cigarette Smoking

Warning Pipe Smoking

Warning Chewing Tobacco

Warning Cigar Smoking

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THE ANSWER.

The first edition of Modern Chivalry by Hugh Henry Brackenridge. This copy includes four volumes as they were issued: the first two published in Philadelphia, the third in Pittsburgh (misdated 1713 instead of 1793), and the fourth in Philadelphia again (after Brackenridge quarreled with his Pittsburgh publisher).


If you had visited Pittsburgh in the later 1700s, you might have been surprised to find that the little frontier city seemed to have a thriving literary culture. It had a little paper filled with witty and clever items that would shame many of the Eastern papers—the Gazette, which by random luck has survived since 1785 (through various combinations) to be one of the world’s oldest metropolitan newspapers. Bookshops displayed interesting and useful volumes printed in the city. There was every indication that Pittsburgh was becoming a haven for authors of substance.

You might have been even more surprised to discover that all this culture was the work of one man. Hugh Henry Brackenridge financed the Gazette and persuaded its editor to haul a press across the mountains to Pittsburgh; Hugh Henry Brackenridge wrote the cleverest columns in that little newspaper (under the names of numerous fictitious correspondents who frequently argued with one another); Hugh Henry Brackenridge poured forth an unending torrent of pamphlets, treatises, and poems; and—above all—Hugh Henry Brackenridge wrote the novel that everyone was reading, and talking about, and laughing over.

Modern Chivalry was the book described by Charles Frederick Heartman as “one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language.” It is a rambling picaresque tale of a wandering captain and his Irish servant, often compared to Don Quixote—but with this difference: that the master is usually the voice of sanity, and the servant carried away by delusions. Nevertheless, it is the ignorant servant who succeeds in American society, which of course is the satirical point. There is no place for an accomplished gentleman; the new country belongs to the unprincipled rogues.

Fashion is probably the main reason for the eclipse of Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s memory. He is the only American novelist of the school of Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne. When he wrote, romanticism had already taken over serious literature; and it is a principle of all arts that the fashions of the generation immediately previous are always repudiated as the most barbarous fashions in the history of art. By the time the United States developed a strong literary culture of its own, Brackenridge was ignored by serious readers—who, by the way, also found Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne far too vulgar for their tastes. When the canon of American literature was forming, Brackenridge was left among the sweepings on the floor. He was still read, though: editions of Modern Chivalry continued to appear throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, snapped up by the old folks who remembered it as that book they had laughed at so much when they were young. (John Quincy Adams was a big fan.) One very attractive edition had pictures by F. O. C. Darley, the best American illustrator of the middle nineteenth century.

The novel is still reprinted about once a generation, when some academic rediscovers the book and attempts to bring it back into the public eye through a university press. These editions usually end up in remainder bins.

A review of an 1847 edition of Modern Chivalry tells us this story of Brackenridge and President Washington: “Judge Brackenridge was accounted a great wit in the days of Washington, whom he endeavored to entertain with his stories upon one occasion at a public dinner, but without effect, the Presidential decorum not relaxing a muscle; but at night when the Father of his Country was laid aside with the buff and blue, the humorist had the satisfaction of hearing the bottled-up laughter of the day explode with many a gurgle through the thin partition which separated their bed-rooms. Such was the prudence of Washington, and such the humor of Brackenridge.”

Hugh Henry Brackenridge is well represented in Dr. Boli’s Anthology of American Humor, the book your bathroom has been begging you for.

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IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD GROCERY.

CHILD IN CART. Wait, Mommy! I need one more thing! Mommy, I need one more thing! I need one more thing, Mommy! Mommy! Mommy, wait, I need one more thing! I need one more thing! Mommy, I need one more thing! I need one mo——

MOTHER. Okay! Okay! What’s this one more thing you need?

CHILD IN CART. Um… I don’t know.

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RETURN OF THE TRACFONE UNLOCKING POLICY.

Hey, kids! Remember this from last October?

Can you unlock a cell phone you bought from TracFone and use it with another provider? Yes, says this page [the page has now been revised]. TracFone will be happy to unlock it for you if your phone meets certain criteria. Here are two of them:

The TracFone device was first introduced for sale on or after January 1, 2014.

The TracFone device has been in service for at least 12 months with paid, verifiable airtime.

So good luck with that unlocking thing.

The amusing thing, of course, was that, last October, there had not been twelve months since January 1, 2014, so it was literally impossible to fulfill these conditions.

One of those “laws” that people love to quote on the Internet is called Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” In that spirit, we were inclined to imagine that the policy created impossible conditions simply because someone had not thought it through very carefully.

But an alert observer has just pointed out to Dr. Boli (you know who you are, and thank you very much) that Tracfone just announced a new unlocking policy. And it begins with this preamble:

Handsets offered for sale by TracFone (with the exception of iPhones) are locked to TracFone service, and not technically capable of being unlocked. TracFone has recently entered into an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding handset unlocking. Next year TracFone will begin launching handsets which are capable of being unlocked.

If this is correct, then it seems that TracFone was not unlocking phones at all, because it was not possible to do so. We still do not attribute the former policy to malice, because of course that might be libelous; but the stupidity takes on brighter colors. Meanwhile, it is good to see that the FCC is doing some of the work we hired it to do.

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ASK DR. BOLI.

Dear Dr. Boli: Google has changed its brand identity. How will I continue to live? —Sincerely, Despondent.

Dear Sir or Madam: You could always use Bing.

Ha ha ha! But seriously, you’ll get used to the new look. Google changes its logo once every couple of years or so. But while it is true that each of the logos has been ugly in a slightly different way, they do all have a certain aesthetic in common. That is to say, they all look like something designed by a five-year-old who has just discovered that you can highlight the individual letters in a word and make each one a different color. The current generation of five-year-old has also discovered how to make different pieces of the same letter different colors, and you can see the obvious appeal of that discovery to the five-year-old demographic. So you will very quickly become comfortable with the new “identity family.”

And if not, there’s DuckDuckGo.

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THIS PACKAGE OF YEAST REALLY DOES SAY…

“GLUTEN FREE—Ideal for Bread Machines”

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HELPFUL HOUSEHOLD HINTS.

Make a list of all the lists in your house.

Clean your refrigerator once a month with an industrial sander.

When you buy a new table, take a detailed overhead photograph of the surface. Then, if the table becomes stained or scratched, you can print the photograph at 1:1 scale and paste it over the tabletop.

Keep a pet leopard to discourage unwanted interruptions.

Napkins will fold themselves if you instill proper discipline in them from a young age.

Many stubborn stains can be undone with a simple time machine.

Instead of ironing clothes individually, fold them and stack them in a single pile, and then leave them under your anvil overnight.

Keep children’s rooms tidy all year by sending the children to boarding school and summer camp.

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NOVEL USE OF THE PHRASE “AS LOW AS.”

As Low As

To be fair, Olympus cameras have a good reputation, and the lens does add substantially to the price.

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NEW FEATURE.

Look at the top of the sidebar, or just click on the pointing finger.

The new random autobolificator will take you somewhere on this site, but there is no telling where. That is the joy of it.

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A LESSON IN INTERFACE DESIGN.

A Windows user recently updated Adobe Flash Player. Adobe attempted to install foistware on his system, as even the most legitimate software sources in the Windows world always do, which raised the blood pressure of our correspondent to dangerous levels. At the end of the installation process, the program presented this message, which our correspondent preserved in this screenshot:

You may need to rest

Yes, indeed, a rest sounded like a very good idea. But hovering the cursor over the message—something almost no one would think of doing—revealed that this was not in fact the whole message. The rest of the message appeared in a tooltip: “You may need to restart your browser.”

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