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Archive for ‘The Friday Fillip’ Feature

The Friday Fillip: Paris, the Sights, Sounds . . . and Smells

It’s still August, which means that the locals have left the city and not yet returned — a great time to visit Paris. What’s that you say? It’s just not possible at the moment for you to hop on a plane and plunk yourself down in the city of lights? Tant pis.

But the Friday Fillip to the rescue, if only virtually. Besides, this way you don’t have to exercise your execrable French and get excoriated by the experts. Our trip to la région parisienne is strictly a faute de mieux thing, requiring nothing from you other than a . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Chagrin De Merci

In the words of songwriter Charles Dumont, “Non, je ne regrette rien!” I tend to think that lamentation makes an unlovely sound and is largely a waste of time and effort. Except that I caught myself today indulging in a regret. I heard a replay of Michael Enright interviewing Jesse Winchester, a singer who died in April. Now I really like Jesse Winchester’s songs and really, really liked his performance of them. My regret? That I never wrote to tell him how much pleasure his work gave me.

Would he have cared? I suspect so. In the interview he . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Rain

“For the rain it raineth every day”

I like rain.

I’ve figured out that it allows me to escape the parental injunction to go outside and play when all I really want to do is curl up in a chair with my nose in a book. Funny how these things stick around from childhood. But they do, and for me a rainy day drops the curtain on the infinite horizon and snugs things up cosily, whether I’m out in the wet complaining about it or inside and dry.

We get plenty of rain here in Canada — though it’s not . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Ado About Achoo

Ah— ah— ah— achoo!

That’s how we sneeze. (Or fnese, as old English once had it, back when we had “fn” as an initial consonant cluster.)

If we were Polish, however, we’d sneeze “a-psik!” and if Japanese then “hakushon!” And, curious fact, if we were deaf we’d sneeze with no sound at all, revealing that the loud part of this reflex is not reflexive at all but learned.

Reflexes. Wikipedia lists nearly forty of them. They’re helpful short circuits in our neural system, sending signals to the spinal cord, whence action signals are relayed back in what’s known . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Chickens in the Air

Around my house we sometimes ask “Do chickens anticipate?”. This is a roundabout way of saying “No way,” of course. It’s one of a number of chicken questions that aim at the same thing, another being “Do chickens have lips?”. Or “Do chickens fly?”. But the answer to that last is, surprisingly, yes. Which fact makes the intro to this fillip somewhat plausible.

It’s a fillip of four puzzlers, brain teasers — simple-seeming questions that have difficult or surprising answers. And the first has to do with a truckload of chickens:

  1. A truck transporting live chickens is overweight and will
. . . [more]
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The Friday Fillip: Loco Motion

After more than a decade in one place, I’ve recently moved to a new neighbourhood — which means new eyes for what’s around me. And because it’s summer and near beaches, I’m seeing a lot of families with children, noticing, as I do every so often, how children move, how they get from point A to point B, eventually.

If there’s a low wall they walk on top of it. If the surface is relatively level, they skip. If it’s rainy, they wade straight through the middle of puddles. If there’s interesting stuff around them — and when is there . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Alpha Wolf

You have to wonder whether Stephen Wolfram was thinking of top dog when he named his . . . what shall we call it? . . . marvelous machine Wolfram|Alpha. After all, the man is not noted for his humility, though I have to say that when you look at his biography you might conclude that any immodesty on his part is merited.

I’m sure that most of you have at one time or another visited the “answer machine” that is Wolfram|Alpha. If you haven’t been there in a while, I encourage you to go again now and tour . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Binaural

Here’s a pair for your ears.

I enjoy injecting sound into the stream of fillips from time to time, because sound has no intrinsic meaning — unlike the words we wield every day — and despite or because of that it can be beautiful and intriguing.

Today you get to compose, or at least to set free a small program that will run its musical course and either fall into repetition or modulate into endless variation, rather like the Game of Life I pointed to a great many years back and that demonstrates how complexity can emerge from a very . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Surprise!

Like most of you, I’m sure, I get momentarily caught whenever I see the word “law” in something I’m reading. Much of the time it has nothing to do with our business and means to describe only some regularity, whether scientific, logical or folkloristic. That’s the way it was when I stumbled across “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” (See, e.g.,the title of this piece in the Economist.) Curiously, this “law” almost never gets framed as such, and from what I can tell amounts to nothing more than the observation that we’re not too good a predicting the future, particularly when . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Pants

Pants: Rubbish; nonsense. Freq. in pile (also load) of pants. (Brit. slang)

Which is one reason why I’m going to talk about trousers instead. (Another reason, also grounded in respect for our British readers, is that in that green and pleasant land “pants” refers to undergarments and can cause fourth form giggling.)

What piece of clothing could be more humble than a pair of men’s trousers?

Socks, perhaps. Though, socks have the potential to be colourful and to display strange and wonderful designs, something that trousers continue to resist, the recent craze for red jeans notwithstanding. Yet . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: What’s the Big Idea?

When I was younger I had a fondness for big ideas — or, a few of them, at least. Only natural in a tyro trying to learn how to dance to the ineffable ruck and roil of life itself and looking for some Arthur Murray guidance.

Now, Big Ideas are potentially dangerous, as that originating interesting concept expands to a full-blown idea, idea inflates to Big Idea, which in turn can bloat to ideology, gripping the mind and wresting all awareness away from the pragmatic to the programmatic. Perhaps I’m too intellectually lazy ever to have worked my way up . . . [more]

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The Friday Fillip: Ups and Downs

Odd that downs are ups.

Apparently in their full regalia they’re “downlands,” which are open chalk hills: exposed layers of chalk wear away into rounded hills, which then are covered by a thin layer of surface soil and grass. Of course, downs are “dunes” in another context, that being sand. (Not sure how “downs” got associated with racecourses, as in Kentucky’s Churchill Downs; it might have to do with the treeless grassy nature of some English downlands, making them suitable for horse racing.)

We dig holes and make mounds: it’s what human beings do when given a spade and a . . . [more]

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