Posts filed under “Science & Nature”


Dear Dr. Boli: What is the secret of your longevity? I’m asking for a friend. —Sincerely, Elizabeth R., Buckingham Palace, Westminster.

Dear Madam:  Dr. Boli refuses to die until he is given a positive guarantee that no one will attempt to memorialize him with a decal on the back window of an SUV. At present no one has offered a guarantee he considers sufficiently positive.


Dear Dr. Boli: The Food Festival supermarket in my neighborhood has started carrying Irish butter in the dairy department. But it’s much more expensive than butter from Pennsylvania dairies. So what is the difference between Irish butter and the local butters? —Sincerely, A Famous Chef Who Prefers to Remain Anonymous.

Dear Sir or Madam: Irish butter comes from Ireland. Is it Dr. Boli’s imagination, or are these questions getting easier?


Vectors of disease and serious choking hazards.

Many consumers are unaware of the best practices in food safety, with the result that consumers all over the country are dropping like mayflies. Be aware of these important food safety facts to prevent sudden agonizing demise in your family.

Food wants to kill you. This is the first principle of food safety. To prevent food from having its way, make sure you eat only foods produced under carefully controlled conditions.

Raw meat is the most dangerous of all foods and should be handled only by fully qualified professionals, as it can carry not only diseases but also serious choking hazards in the form of “bones.” It is a useful principle to remember that raw meat is always more dangerous than the animal it came from. Yet most consumers seem to be unaware that cooked meat comes directly from raw meat. The only safe way to eat meat is to obtain meat that has been carefully prepared and neutralized under laboratory-like conditions, as is done, for example, in the packaged processed snack-food industry. Packaged processed snack meats come in many convenient forms, most of them vaguely cylindrical, all of them carefully neutralized with improving chemistry “for thine especial safety,” in the words of the immortal Bard.

Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are technically meat at one remove. Standards for cheese are appallingly low, and it is a known fact in the industry that some cheese is sold in such an advanced state of decay that it is literally mottled with fungus. To be safe, insist on cheese that has been carefully stripped of its harmful properties, such as, for example, that found in many “cheez”-flavored packaged processed snack foods.

Fish is simply meat that lives under water. The safest way to consume fish is in the form of small crackers baked in sanitary factories and coated with safe and delicious cheez-flavored topping.

Fruit is a kind of meat produced by plants to seduce the unwary into spreading their filthy seeds. Fresh fruit is a known vector of many diseases and may contain inedible components, such as stems, cores, etc., which are technically the bones of the fruit and present similar choking hazards. Fruit is best consumed in the form of flavored processed snack foods, as the “froot” flavor can be safely produced in a laboratory without any contact with the dangerous meat of wild fruit.

Vegetables are nothing more than the meat of plants, with all the dangers of disease and choking that come with raw meat. The most reputable food scientists advise avoiding vegetables altogether.

This handy guide to food safety is brought to you by the North American Association of Delicious Packaged Processed Snack-Food Manufacturers (NAADPPSFM), promoting Food Safety Through Plastic Packaging.


Fall is a season during which weather may occur at any time. Protect your family by getting ready for these fall weather hazards:

Drizzle can occur whenever the weather is too indolent to produce rain at full scale, and meteorological indolence is a common condition during the fall season. Drizzle can cause dampness, which can be exacerbated by chilly autumn temperatures until you catch your death of cold. If drizzle is forecast for your area, honestly, it’s not even worth getting out of bed.

Falling leaves occur with increasing frequency as the season matures. One falling leaf can completely obscure your vision if it falls on your face, causing you to walk off a cliff and fall onto a shed full of high explosives, such as are commonly built at the bottoms of cliffs. Furthermore, colored leaves attract children, and we all know that children bring a myriad of hazards with them. Be safe. When you see leaves changing color, your best course is to stay inside until mid-December.

Scattered clouds may obscure and reveal the sun alternately, producing tremendous fluctuations in light levels that negatively impact visibility, causing you to lose your way and walk into a bad neighborhood where you will be robbed and beaten to death. When you see fluffy white clouds in the sky, retreat to a sturdy room in the basement, or an interior room on the lower level if you have no basement.

Frost may coat pumpkins and other hazardous vegetation with a deceptively attractive sparkle, obscuring their true nefarious intentions. Don’t be fooled. When you see frost on the windowpane, pull the blanket over your eyes.

Pleasant temperatures and sunny days can encourage you to venture out of doors, where you may be hit by a streetcar. Do not be seduced by the transient delights of autumn. Lock your doors and stay inside.


Learn to read Braille. The ability to read in the dark will considerably diminish your lighting bill.

Instead of cooking your vegetables in a conventional oven, use cardboard, newspaper, and foil or reflective tape to create a parabolic reflector. Then place the vegetables in it and leave them outside for the groundhog to eat. Result: vegetables disposed of without use of conventional fuels.

Instead of using powered machinery to dig holes, split logs, hoist pianos, &c., have your children do it. What did you have children for, anyway?

Tie a chain to the rear bumper of your neighbor’s car and the front bumper of your own. Your neighbor ought to be doing his bit to reduce fossil-fuel consumption, after all, and here is a concrete way of encouraging him. He may not always go where you had been planning to go, but you can learn to like the places your neighbor frequents.

If you carry moonbeams home in a jar, they may be next to useless for domestic illumination, but the philosophers Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen have demonstrated conclusively that you will be better off than you are.

Always charge your electric car from random strangers’ porch outlets.

Turn down the thermostat and wear a hat. It is a well-known fact, verifiable by asking your mother, that human beings lose 90% of their heat through their heads. If, therefore, you wear a hat and nothing else, you will still be nine times warmer than if you were fully dressed without a hat.


Dr. Bill Gargling of the Young Earth Institute has published a new variant of young-earth creationism in the Institute’s journal, Creation Studies. According to Dr. Gargling, the universe was created by God last Tuesday with the appearance of age, including our own complete memories of previous existence. The Institute is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who can prove Dr. Gargling’s theory wrong. Dr. Gargling, having received a number of applications for the reward already, informs prospective applicants that calling him a moron will not be accepted as conclusive proof.


Would you like to translate this page?” Chrome asks.


The page in question is simply a list of species in the family Araceae (the arum family, which includes the locally abundant Jack-in-the-Pulpit, as well as familiar ornamentals like Callas, Philodendrons, and Anthuriums) that grow in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Pushing the translate button was too great a temptation. This was the result:


Although most of these terms turn out to be the same in Latin and in English, there are some actual translations. For example, it turns out that “foetidus” is “smelly.” Good job, Google! It also turns out that the arum family in Latin is the tomato family (Solanaceae) in English. “Atrorubens,” which Dr. Boli had thought meant something like “dark red,” turns out to mean “McNeal” instead. And “Symplocarpus” means “Robinsonella,” which “is a genus of flowering plant in the family Malvaceae,” according to the omniscient Wikipedia; that is to say, a genus of plants that have nothing to do with the arum family.

The algorithms that produced these translations are probably opaque to human understanding, but it is comforting to know that the era of reliable machine translation has arrived at last.


Once again, as we saw before, Google uses the terrible power of artificial intelligence to identify cats in one’s photo collection.


Let us hope that Google’s algorithms never fall into the hands of America’s enemies.


The enmity between dogs and computers is legendary (surpassed, perhaps, only by the enmity between cats and computers). Researchers at the Boli Institute have catalogued eight different ways a dog can unplug a computer charger from a power strip, all of which were observed in the space of one morning:

1. Leap up in a fit of barkolepsy and kick the charger all the way across the room.

2. Catch the cord and yank the charger out of the surge strip.

3. Catch the cord and yank the surge strip out of the wall.

4. Catch the cord and yank the charger cord out of the computer.

5. Turn off the switch on the power strip.

6. Get so tied up in the cord that the master has to unplug the computer himself to untie the knot.

7. Walk over to the power strip and simply bat the charger out of the outlet with one paw.

8. Stare very hard at the power strip and cause the charger to fall out of the outlet by telekinesis.


Dear Dr. Boli: This bag of Himalayan pink salt I just bought says, in big letters, “100% NATURALLY PURE.” It also says that it “contains up to 84 minerals and trace elements.” My question is this: Huh? —Sincerely, A Confused Dollar-Store Shopper.

Dear Sir or Madam: Obviously, by the usual laws of English denotation, “Pure” means one thing, and “contains up to 84 minerals and trace elements” means something entirely different. The single word in English that best describes “contains up to 84 minerals and trace elements” is contaminated.

Dr. Boli did some research to make sure he was giving you the correct answer here. Bailey’s Dictionary, for example, defines “pure” as “simple, uncompounded.” Dr. Johnson gives us “Unmingled; not altered by mixtures; mere.” Worcester says “Free from mixture with any thing else.”

But we are standing on the frontiers of lexicography here. It is often true that lexicographers, even ones as recent as Worcester (Dr. Boli consulted the 1860 edition), lag behind the common sense of the people in questions of meaning and usage. As with the word “comprise,” the word “pure” may be coming to mean its opposite. This is a development we should encourage in more words. The more ambiguous our language, the less we can definitely be accused of having said any one thing in particular, and the fewer people we shall offend as a result. Eventually we shall reach the happy state of not being able to communicate at all, and wars will cease at last.