Posts filed under “General Knowledge”


Dear Dr. Boli: I was telling one of my friends that I was thinking of trading in my husband for a more recent model, and she said that she and her husband had an “open marriage.” So I smiled politely and changed the subject, because I didn’t want to admit that I had no idea what she was talking about. But now it’s bugging me. What does it mean when people say they have an “open marriage”? —Sincerely, Mrs. James K. Polk Brenneman (for now).

Dear Madam: It means anyone can walk into their house and do the laundry, mend the porch rail, take out the trash, wash dishes, and do the other things married people have to do every day. It may sound dreary to you, but some people enjoy that sort of thing.


For the first time in American history, there are sound recordings that are unambiguously out of copyright. The Hatch-Goodlatte Music Modernization Act puts all recordings from 1922 and before into the public domain, and in the future recordings will pass into the public domain after 100 years. This is an absurdly long time, but until now recordings before 1972 were not covered by federal law at all, meaning that they might or might not be copyrighted according to the whims of your state or township, which—given the grasping nature and unlimited legal budget of the music conglomerates—meant that they were effectively copyrighted forever. Now we have an unambiguous rule.

And it happens that there is a great deal of good music to be heard from before 1923. The great misfortune is that all of it was recorded acoustically, which means that the sound was collected by a big horn and the vibrations transmitted mechanically to the cutting needle. The full range of frequencies could not be preserved. The world would have to wait for the electrical process to have sound recordings that were hard to distinguish from the original performance, and the first electrical recordings were released in 1925. They will not be out of copyright for a few more years.

But—and you may have been wondering why Dr. Boli brought up this subject—we have been making some experiments with those old acoustical recordings. It turns out that much of the sound that seems to be missing is actually recorded, faintly though it may be. If a record is in good shape, it is possible to bring back some of that sound by a process Dr. Boli calls “artificial electrification.” That is a fancy showoffy name for a relatively simple algorithm that involves boosting some frequencies and lowering others, so that the bass notes are not quite so much overwhelmed by the midrange. A good mechanical phonograph naturally does that, which is why acoustical recordings often sound more lifelike on a mechanical phonograph. But the same effect can be achieved electronically.

And here is a demonstration. In 1918, Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra made a lively recording of “Hindustan,” a song in the “oriental” mode by Oliver G. Wallace and Harold Weeks. Here is the original recording, unaltered, as it is preserved at the Library of Congress. Listen to a few seconds, and you will have a good idea of what a well-preserved acoustical recording sounds like:

Now here is the same recording after it has been put through Boli’s Patent Artificial Electrification Process:

You notice right away that the music sounds more alive, more like the real performance. You may also notice that whole instruments have come out that were next to inaudible in the unaltered recording. For example, we can hear that the bass line is provided by a bass clarinet—a very unusual choice, but one that works well with the pseudo-oriental style of the music.

Some obsessive types would also try to eliminate all the surface noise, but invariably the noise carries some of the music with it when it goes. Dr. Boli prefers a moderate approach that leaves some of the surface noise in exchange for keeping more of the original sound.

So we have sound recordings that are in the public domain, and we have a means of resurrecting much of the sound of the original performance. What shall we do with those things?

Readers who have been around for a while may remember that, ten years ago, we abandoned a site called “The Lateral Cut,” which was becoming progressively harder to maintain as file-sharing sites dropped out of the Internet or became more suspicious. We have now revived that site at the same address (the site itself, in fact, had never disappeared). The Internet Archive is as reliable a file-sharing site as anyone could hope for; as we donate recordings to the archive, they will be featured at The Lateral Cut.

By the way, the name “Boli’s Patent Artificial Electrification Process” was Dr. Boli’s idea of a joke. No patent is involved. The process uses open-source software (the remarkably capable audio editor Audacity), and we are happy to share the details with any interested persons.


Dear Dr. Boli: I bought a bottle of conditioner the other day, and on the label it says that one of the main ingredients is coconut oil, which it describes as a “traditional West African ingredient.” And below that in big letters it says “empowering local communities.” My question is, What does “empowering local communities” mean? —Sincerely, A Woman Standing Dripping in the Shower Unable to Condition Her Hair Until She Figures This Out.

Dear Madam: It means, “Capitalist god descends from the heavens and grants his faithful worshipers just so much local autonomy as is profitable for his large industrial conglomerate.” The word for this used to be “colonialism,” but American marketers have made the useful discovery that the synonymous term “empowerment” sells more hair-care products. If local communities were actually empowered, of course, they would not require the intervention of an American corporation to “empower” them. They would be dictating terms to the Americans. Fortunately we have put a great deal of effort into making sure that local communities are not actually empowered.


An email ending: “This email was sent because either it is an automatic security/service alert or you requested the alerts. If this alert was not addressed to you, you have no legal right to read it.”

There are still readers who believe that Dr. Boli simply makes things up. Those readers are either too cynical or not nearly cynical enough.


Now with your Microsoft 365 subscription and Teams you can join group calls and talk for up to 30 hours uninterrupted with up to 300 people. No more worrying that time is going to run out too soon. You can take your time and keep the conversation going all-day long.”

If you get over your nightmares about talking to 300 people at once for thirty hours straight, you can devote some nightmare time to that hyphen in “all-day long.”


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To: All Employees

From: The President

Re: Thank You to Essential Workers

All of us here at the Schenectady Small Arms & Biscuit Co. are aware of how deeply the pandemic has affected our lives. Sales of our cookies and artificially cheez-flavored crackers rose to unprecedented levels, as Americans sought comfort and consolation in packaged snack foods. Our stock value rose by 152%, making my own stock options, which were fortunately backdated to 1843, extraordinarily valuable. Your executives and board members have prospered as never before, and of course we have done our duty as Americans by pouring that money back into the economy, causing a significant uptick in orders for the gilded-lawn-statuary industry.

All this is possible through the heroic efforts of our valuable essential workers. Even in the worst of the pandemic, you kept at your jobs, or were brought back to them by the local police under certain emergency powers which my wife’s nephew the sheriff assures me were totally constitutional. Many of you paid a high price for your loyalty. At one point in the middle of last year, our factory boasted the highest infection rate in North America, an accomplishment we bested only a month later when we beat out our own Brazilian division for the highest infection rate in the Western Hemisphere. It must be candidly admitted that our workplace-safety team dropped the ball here, owing to a trivial misreading of CDC guidelines on workstation separation. Who knew that a single tick mark could make the difference between feet and inches?

Yet in spite of the high infection rate, you all worked long hours, loyally remaining at your stations, and once again I should like to thank my wife’s nephew Bud for that.

Now that we have come through the worst of it, the economy is booming, and our market position is more secure than ever. It seems to me, therefore, that it is high time we rewarded the essential workers whose labor made all this prosperity possible. Accordingly, you will be happy to know that I have directed our graphic-design department to produce a 16-by-20-inch poster with the slogan “HEROES WORK HERE” in Helvetica Light type on a white background. (We chose Helvetica Light because it makes a more efficient use of limited ink resources.) A copy of this poster will be displayed on the wall opposite every single production line to show our brave essential workers how much their contributions are valued. After all your hard work and dedication, it’s the least your management team can do.

With warmest regards,
J. Rutherford Pinckney,