Posts filed under “General Knowledge”


La Récompense de Constance

The housekeeping staff like to try new things once in a while. It is usually harmless to indulge their whims. In the matter of soap, for example, the staff like to patronize local craftspeople who make soap by hand, and there is no reason not to do so as long as the soap performs its fundamental soapy functions in a satisfactory manner.

Yesterday a new soap appeared in the powder room under the grand staircase.

“Do you like it?” asked the downstairs housekeeper, a young fellow in his early eighties who always seems eager to please.

“It seems soapy enough,” we replied.

“It’s a new scent,” the housekeeper explained. “It’s called ‘Elf shoes.’ ”

A faint smile was all we could manage in reply to this information.

But afterwards, Dr. Boli did a bit of thinking. If young people these days like their soap to smell as if an elf has just removed his feet from it, then this suggests a number of other scents that might be equally appealing. Purely as a service to the fraternity of soap-crafters, Dr. Boli has compiled a list:

Pixie Toenails
Leprechaun Lint
Gnome Underwear
Unicorn Exhaust
Goblin Sweat
Fairy Cigar Butts (Cushlamochree!)
Troll Work Gloves
Sylph Hairnet


Escalators at the Wood Street subway station will be out of service until March 1 of 2037 for the escalator-replacement project. Riders who require escalators should use the elevators instead. Pittsburgh Regional Transit apologizes for the inconvenience.

Elevators at the Wood Street subway station are currently out of service while the buttons are being relabeled to conform with the Executive Director’s idea of what elevator buttons should say. Riders who require the elevators should just suck it up and use the stairs. Pittsburgh Regional Transit apologizes for the inconvenience.

The stairs at the Wood Street subway station are closed for repainting by the Lawrenceville Street Art Collective. Riders who require the stairway should slide down the pole instead. Pittsburgh Regional Transit apologizes for the inconvenience.


A flounder

Dear Mr. Flounder: I’ve been worrying about my job lately, because my supervisor has been acting a little odd. I don’t mean to sound judgmental, and it’s certainly true that our company doesn’t have a strict dress code, so, you know, fashion choices are none of my business. But when a guy wears a coat full of medals all the time with a sash and a sort of tiara thing, and when he tells his team he wants to be called His Magnificence Alvin I, Emperor of the West Virginians, then you kind of wonder whether he’s still suited for the lawn-care business, and I think we’ve all been polishing up our resumes. So I was thinking of moving on to some more challenging field of endeavor, such as janitorial services, but I thought I’d ask you whether the stars or the spirits or whoever you talk to had any advice. —Sincerely, His Excellency Stan Fenderman, Exarch of Weirton.

Dear Sir: Directing my gaze upward, which is quite easy for one of my species, I fell into a kind of trance state, during which I was granted a vision by the higher powers. I saw an ostrich with an accordion, but the ostrich could not play the accordion, owing to the inadequacy of its wings for the task of manipulating the buttons; so the ostrich was simply looking at the accordion, which was on the ground in front of it, while humming a medley of polka favorites. Then the accordion sat up and said, “Where do you get off with that square stuff? Make with some solid jive, Jackson, or I’ll blow this joint and find me a hep rutabaga.” The ostrich made a reply which I shall not repeat, and then they both walked ten paces, turned, and fired, but to no effect, since neither one of them was armed. Then there was a mighty rumble and roar, and the earth opened up between them, and from the chasm issued Marie Curie glowing an eerie pale green, and she remarked, “Personally, I prefer heavy metal.” Under these circumstances, it would probably be wisest to continue in your current job while taking night classes at the community college.


No magazine editor can resist the temptation to put together a year-in-review article. It is a chance to squeeze free column inches out of work that is already done. Since the only effectual remedy for temptation is to give in to it, here is a review of some of Dr. Boli’s favorite articles from the past year.

In January, we got some useful tips for managers on how to deal with employees. If you are an employee, you’re welcome.

February was haiku-and-typewriter month, and we spent a lot of time fussing with the meter of haiku. It was therefore a great relief to every reader when we published “When I Am Dead,” which was not a haiku.

March comes in like something and goes out like something else. We published a handy chart of the possibilities. We also suggested a crusade that would unify the left and the right in one harmoniously destructive mob.

In April, as a service to all the shipping professionals in our audience, we offered a set of useful shipping labels you can print. We also remembered the existence of Xavier Cugat.

In May, we published a review of The Beekeeper in three parts. Our review of this “business fable” actually generated a kind comment from the authors inviting Dr. Boli to a discussion. Dr. Boli is still considering how to respond, but he will probably come up with a reply any month now.

June brought representatives from all over our great nation to Pittsburgh for the American Public Transportation Association’s Rail Conference, so in honor of this momentous occasion we donated space for an expert from Pittsburgh Regional Transit to answer some frequently asked questions about Pittsburgh’s rail-transit system. We also heard the famous tale of How the Zebra Got His Stripes.

In July, we offered some Useful Safety Signs You Can Print, which we are confident made the world a safer place.

In August, our friends at Malt-O-Cod sponsored The Adventures of Dictionary Guy, a superhero whose one superpower is surprisingly effective against certain kinds of villains. We also published our essay on the terms and conditions to which we are forced to agree every day, and how they compare to the founding documents of the United States—an essay that has since become one of our most popular features, although it seems as though nothing can equal the permanent value and interest of the Free Blank Sheet of Paper we offered nine years ago, which the Internet at large still finds more useful than any of our other articles.

In September, we suggested a scheme for a new world’s largest museum dedicated to a single artist to beat the old record set by the Andy Warhol Museum, and with minimal effort and small expense.

October brought us a new adventure of Backstory Man and Angst Boy. We also learned from a visit to the Strip District in Pittsburgh that we’re doing potato chips wrong, and we were delighted to settle the old and vexed question “What is a poem?” by referring the matter to artificial intelligence for a definitive answer.

For the benefit of students of creative writing, November brought Dr. Boli‘s Celebrated Three-Act Structure Chart.

Finally, in December, we paid tribute to a well-informed passenger on the streetcar. We also read an excerpt from an unpublished science-fiction novel by Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle.

These were not necessarily the best articles of the year. Perhaps there were no best articles this year. But articles did appear; you cannot deny them that virtue. Moreover, something appeared every single day of the year.

Will there something for every single day of 2024? It might happen, or it might not. Dr. Boli has found that the best way to succeed in life is not to promise some accomplishment beforehand, but rather to accomplish it first and then afterward boast of having done it.


What goes on in the modern office? Most readers probably know the answer; many of our readers may in fact work in offices. But the question comes up because Dr. Boli’s keyboard started screaming a while ago.

A little background may be necessary. Our story begins with the IBM PC-AT.

Dr. Boli never liked the IBM PC when it was new, and he does not like it any better now that it is an antique. He never liked the DOS operating system. He does not miss the good old days of having to write a little program, in effect, just to move a file, and he is not about to wax rhapsodic over the joys of monospaced green text on a black screen.

But the IBM PC-AT had one advantage that its successors cannot boast: it came with the best computer keyboard in the world, the famous Model M. What made it the best was the “buckling spring” in each keyswitch, which—without going deeply into the mechanics of it—causes a click that you can hear and feel at the exact moment when the contact is made and the signal is sent to the computer. No other keyswitch does that. The purpose of the design is to make typing quick and accurate by making it instinctive.

You can still get a lineal descendant of that keyboard. A group of refugees from IBM bought the design and the tooling and still makes keyboards with buckling springs in a little town in Kentucky called Lexington, where keyboard-making is the main traditional craft of the hardy mountain folk. Dr. Boli does most of his writing on one of these keyboards when he writes directly on a computer, and he will even mention the company’s name: Unicomp, which is exactly the name Dr. Boli would invent if he were writing a comic novel about a group of former IBM employees who founded their own company. Unicomp has updated the plastic housing in its “New Model M” (although you can still get the “Classic” if you’re a purist), but the springs still buckle under those keys.

“Mechanical keyboards” are a big fad right now, and most of them use a different kind of switch. In fact there is a bewildering variety of switches in mechanical keyboards, but the ones that work most like the Model M have switches that click almost at the point of electrical contact. Dr. Boli did some research into these alternatives when his keyboard started screaming.

Dr. Boli is not gentle with keyboards. He learned to type on a mechanical typewriter, and any computer keyboard that cannot take the light but percussive strokes that make a typewriter go will not survive long on his desk. The Model M took years of writing thousands of words a day, but even it finally succumbed and began to scream. That is, it began to repeat the letter E continuously, line after line of “eeeeeeeeeeee,” which is not the sophisticated kind of literature the readers have come to expect from this Magazine. E is Dr. Boli’s favorite letter, the one he uses more often than any other, but he is not quite so stuck on it as all that.

Well, a keyboard that had taken so much percussion with so little complaint was entitled to a nervous breakdown after so many years. Dr. Boli had one of the backup keyboards brought from storage, but it was an inferior rubber-dome keyboard, not fit for a good typist to use for a long time. Here was an opportunity to see what other people said about keyboards, and whether there was anything else worth trying in the great universe of keyboards.

It turns out that the Internet is full of advice about keyboards, and site after site says the same thing: keyboards with audible feedback are best for typing, and you can’t use them in an office. Apparently American offices have all become Trappist monasteries in the past couple of decades, because the sound of typing is considered too offensive to tolerate. It should be pointed out that this is not a typewriter sound, like the sound you young people remember from old movies about newspaper reporters; it is a click, not a smack or a thump or a kaboom. But over and over, the same advice:

“Clicky switches aren’t normally well-suited to office environments…”

“…the clicking sound can be annoying or distracting for co-workers…”

“Orange switches are tactile, but barely make any sound, making them better-suited to office environments…”

“Although you may like the click sound, using a mechanical keyboard with clicky switches at the office or in a library may not be a good idea, as they are loud and may irritate those around you.”

“All Linear switches have quieter keystrokes, which ensure you don’t get called into the HR office often or get rebuked by your co-workers.”

Called into the HR office! Dr. Boli began imagining a job interview. “So can you explain why you left your previous job?” “Well, I was fired for typing. But I won’t do that again.”

Is silence really so universal in the modern office?

Well, here Dr. Boli has to admit that he has wandered into some modern offices—admittedly as a visitor. Modern offices have characteristic sounds. The endless drone of the top-40 station on the loudspeaker. The hiss of the espresso machine. The bellow of the vice president chewing out the temporary administrative assistant. The crash of breaking down silos.

All these are louder than the sound of typing. So what makes typing such an offensive sound?

Dr. Boli will open that question to the audience. He has his own hypothesis. The sound of typing is offensive because anyone who is typing is getting measurable work done, and that is an offense against orthodoxy, which says that time in the office must be spent optimizing performance, differentiating behaviors, focusing on the mission, being vulnerable, demonstrating agility, impacting collective growth, embracing change, and being cultural transformation stewards. The sound of quantifiable work being accomplished is therefore an implied threat to overturn the establishment.

Meanwhile, Dr. Boli is typing this article on an exact replacement for his late Unicomp keyboard, and he has not heard the neighbors complaining yet.


Attention all consumers: It has been brought to our attention (we promised to keep our informant, Ms. Angelina Rockbottom of Emsworth, Pennsylvania, anonymous) that certain consumers of over-the-counter medications have been taking pink pills to treat insomnia instead of blue pills. This is in clear violation of the directions printed clearly on the box, or rather on the underside of the label affixed to the box with cyanoacrylate adhesive, or (in newer batches) on the head of the pin stuck through the box, which clearly state that pink pills are for the treatment of allergies. Some guilty parties have attempted to extenuate their misdeeds by claiming that pink pills contain the exact same active ingredient as blue pills, and in exactly the same dosage, and that the pink pills are more widely available at a lower cost per pill. All this is true, but it is missing the point. Pink pills are pink. Pink is not the color of sleep. Blue is the color of sleep. Marketing experts here at Jenkins, Lambkin & Jenkins Pharmaceuticals spent many millions of dollars and drank scores of martinis determining the correct color for sleeping pills, and it is not pink. It is blue. We are issuing this friendly warning now because federal prisons are quickly filling up with pink-pill abusers, and it would be just as well if you were not among them. So please, follow the instructions on the label. And report pink-pill abusers to Jenkins, Lambkin & Jenkins’ National Pink Pill Abuse Hotline at 1-888-JLJ-PILL.


The Marquess of Volesbury-Lowbottom collects right-footed argyle socks, but only if they are made of more than 58 per cent polyester.

By covering the soil in his planters with fine mesh, turning the pots upside-down and hanging them from wires attached to the drainage holes, and installing a strong daylight-spectrum lamp on the floor below the plants, Mr. Robin Makeweather has created an Australian tropical forest in his basement.

Ms. Anna Maria Czerniewniec keeps an album of unsolicited commercial mail documenting more than 285 ways of misspelling her name.

Mr. Emsworth Barker Praed has built every proposition in Euclid’s Elements out of ramen noodles. He has now begun work on Lobachevsky.

The poet Evelina Grock, an avid collector of rejection letters, was saddened and disappointed when a perfectly awful poem she had submitted to the New Yorker was accepted for publication. She was able to obtain her rejection letter after all, however, by sending a revised version of the poem with one hundred thirty-eight added lines in praise of Adolf Hitler.


Are you ready for a career in marketing? Consider these real-life situations and see how close you come to making the correct marketing decision.

Let us suppose that you are a seller of toothpaste to the grateful masses, and let us suppose that your toothpaste comes in a five-ounce tube, which is packaged in a cardboard box. How can you convince the wary consumer in the store that your toothpaste is a bargain?

25% free

Yes, that should do it: “25% FREE.” You are not just getting five ounces of toothpaste: you are getting one more ounce than you would if you bought four ounces at the same price. This is time-honored marketing logic.

Now let us suppose the bean-counters have counted their beans and come up one bean short, and it is determined that your company will sell tubes of toothpaste in a cardboard box of exactly the same dimensions, but with only four ounces inside instead of five. How will you, the marketer, label these boxes to show at a glance that, though they occupy the same space on the shelf, they have less toothpaste inside?

60% free


TO: All Employees
FROM: Your President
RE: Change in Management Direction

All of us here at the Schenectady Small Arms & Biscuit Co., Inc., are very proud of the progress we have made since 1843, when my great-great grandfather J. Horatio Pinckney founded this company with nothing more than a vision, a drive to succeed, and a large inheritance from his maiden aunt Euphemia. Since then we have risen to be the largest manufacturer of snack foods and munitions in the Capital District, and it would be false modesty to deny that our success is attributable to the wisdom and perspicacity of your management team. I had to look up perspicacity in Funk & Wagnall’s, but I think it’s the right word.

Nevertheless, times change, and the world moves on. Although if what my fourth-grade science teacher said is right, the world ends up right back where it started in a year, so perhaps “the world moves on” is not a persuasive argument. Regardless, you should know that your management team is constantly adapting and learning new things, because we read in a management magazine last April that management should be constantly adapting and learning new things, and we believe everything we read in management magazines.

From our extensive research in these magazines, and especially in the advertisements in the back, we determined that it was necessary for your management team to attend a week-long management seminar in Las Vegas. My memory of the events of that week is a little hazy, but one thing that stood out through the alcoholic haze is that the top-down management model is definitely a thing of the past. Instead, the up-to-date successful business demands a bottom-up approach.

Let me explain the difference between the two management models. In a top-down management model, upper management, meaning myself, determines what is to be done and issues suitable instructions to employees. In a bottom-up management model, on the other hand, employees gather for brainstorming sessions, form committees to meet on a regular schedule, make sure that every voice is heard and no employee is left behind, and take responsibility for results, and then upper management determines what is to be done and issues suitable instructions to employees. The difference, in other words, is in who takes the blame. I am sure I do not need to enumerate the advantages of the bottom-up approach, at least from the point of view of upper management.

The immediate intent of this memorandum, therefore, is to inform you that all employees will be required to attend a two-hour brainstorming session every Monday morning in your department. Since this will be two hours during which no productive work is accomplished, the two hours spent in the brainstorming session will be made up on Tuesday. The two hours of Monday makeup on Tuesday will be made up on Wednesday, and so on, and employees will be required to work two hours Saturday mornings going forward, or Sunday mornings if they are going backward. And when you are brainstorming, remember that your prospects for advancement will be greatly increased if your suggestions are made in line with the decisions your management team has already made. Think of it as a guessing game. Together, we can all make our implementation of the bottom-up management model a success.

Yours sincerely,
J. Rutherford Pinckney,