Ripley’s Believe It or Not – The “Eye Smoker”

Alfred Langevin, the “Eye Smoker”

The miracle of the Internet allows one these days to do a deep dive into the oddities of humanity, and many of Robert Ripley’s stories can be either verified, clarified, or debunked. I was an inveterate consumer of Ripley’s collections as a youth, and this particular item always intrigued me. As it turns out, this story happens to be entirely accurate, as documented at Human Marvels.

Included at the link is a video that shows the late Mr. Langevin demonstrating his odd talent.

Science Source - Artwork of a cross-section through a human skull
Cross-section of a human skull

A lot of the human skull is empty space, and as you can see from the above illustration, there’s a very small partition between the sinuses and the orbits of the eye. All it would take is a small malformation or injury to either the skull or the nasolacrymal duct to connect the eye with the sinuses, and Bob’s your uncle.

Determination: Believe it!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Farticles and Advertorials are Old News

I’ve written often about affiliate marketers who use advertorials and farticles (advertisements designed to look like news articles) in their never-ending hunt for clicks and commissions. It’s an ongoing plague, but one that seems to have become an inextirpable part of the internet landscape.

As annoying as it is, this technique is not new. Here, an example from the Iowa City Daily Press from 16 May, 1905 (page 2). The snippet below is from a section of the paper entitled “News In Brief” and shows two advertisements shoehorned into the section dedicated to short news articles:

It just goes to show that historically, the journalistic drive to ethically bring the news to people has always been intermingled with a desire to earn as much revenue as possible, regardless of how it’s done.

In today’s world, the mad rush for clicks, eyeballs on ads, and sales conversions has turned the Internet into a wild west of unreliable or downright deceptive pages and advertisements, and it’s a true challenge to sift and sort the wheat from the tares. Teaching kids how to tell one from the other would be a valuable class in any high school or college.

The Old Wolf has spoken

An Ode to Trump

This was originally an “Ode to Berlusconi,” written in Italian, which I published earlier. I think it deserves a bit of cultural appropriation; it’s brilliantly crafted. The English translation ©2020 by Old Wolf Enterprises, Inc.

Il Presidente Trump si puo’ definire un por-
tento di abilita’, oltre che un uomo politi-
co di prim’ordine. Meriterebbe di essere de-
cantato con rime sacre come ad altri è gia’
capitato. Meriterebbe un monumento di ster-
minata mole marmorea che fungesse da e-
co indistruttibile nei secoli, in modo che il fe-
lice e caro nome di questo grande comunica-
tore potesse tramandarsi in eterno. Stron-
catore di malgoverni e uomo tutto d’n pez-
zo come nessun altro, il cavaliere ci incu-
te rispetto e ammirazione. Di Trump si par-
la in lungo e in largo e ci condurrà fino alla mi-
tica era di benessere con la sua onesta faccia e
seria. Tutti noi cittadini dell’America unita scor-
giamo in lui l’uomo del destino e perciò lo sor-
reggeremo con tutte le nostre forze nel mu-
tevole clamore delle folle, alzando un applau-
so a Lui e al suo Governo!
President Trump can be defined as a marvel of ability, and in addition, a first-class politician.  As has been done for others in the past, he deserves to be extolled with sacred rhymes. He is worthy of a marble monument of immense size which would serve as an indestructible echo through the centuries, so that the beloved name of this great communicator might be known throughout eternity. A man who crushes misgovernment, a man of impeccable character like no other, this knight arouses within us feelings of respect and admiration. Trump is spoken of far and wide, and with his honest and serious face, he will lead us into that mythical era of prosperity.
All citizens of a united America see him as a man of destiny, and as a result we support him with all our energy amidst the ever-changing clamor of the crowds, raising plaudits to him and his government!

Now…
Read Every Other Line…

Presidente Trump si puo’ definire un por-
co di prim’ordine. Meriterebbe di essere de-
capitato. Meriterebbe un monumento di ster-
co indistruttibile nei secoli, in modo che il fe-
tore potesse tramandarsi in eterno. Stron-
zo come nessun altro, il cavaliere ci incu-
la in lungo e in largo e ci condurrà fino alla mi-
seria. Tutti noi cittadini dell’America unita scor-
reggeremo con tutte le nostre forze nel mu-
so a Lui e al suo Governo!
President Trump is a first-class pig. He deserves to be beheaded. He is worthy of a monument of dung, indestructible throughout the centuries, so his stench might be passed down through eternity. A turd like no other, he buggers us far and wide and will lead us into misery. With all our energy, we citizens of a united America will fart in the face of Trump and his government.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Automated Translation: Facebook, Google, and DeepL

I was first introduced to the world of automated translation in 1977 via Brigham Young University’s TSI (Translation Sciences Institute) which later spawned ALPS (Automated Language Translation Systems); I worked at both enterprises as a linguistic programmer.

It’s a huge field now, much more than it was in the ’60s and ’70s when the technologies and theories were merely a-borning; much has been written about automated translation since the ’60s and even earlier. The history is out there on the Net if you want to do your own research ¹ (and that doesn’t mean watching two hours of YouTube videos that tell you what you want to hear). There’s also some funny stuff out there. ²

A post from one of my Facebook friends and translation colleagues was the source for some Japanese text; this is just a raw comparison, and you can draw your own conclusions or dig deeper if you want. Or don’t. But it’s something that fascinates me, and I could study it for a lifetime. Wait, I did. Whatevs.

Google Translate began by using statistical machine translation (SMT), which uses the analysis of huge bilingual text corpora to generate translation based on statistical models. They later moved to a combination of SMT and neural machine translation (NMT) which uses an artificial neural network to predict the likelihood of a sequence of words.

Facebook began using Bing translate (otherwise known as Microsoft Translator) but later developed their own translation engine, first based on SMT and now entirely AI-driven using the neural network model.

DeepL is a relative newcomer to the automated translation scene, but has received high praise from translators and governments alike. It uses neural machine translation, but its power comes from the massive Linguee database. While it currently works with only 11 languages as compared to Google Translate’s 109, the results appear to be consistently better and more natural.

Below you will find two examples of highly colloquial Japanese and the output from the three different translation engines.

Example 1

Original Japanese:

えーーー?だれ?もっていっちゃったのは!たぶん、カメラに写っているよね。返してー
(Eeee? Dare? Motte itchatta no wa! Tabun, kamera ni utsutte iru yo ne. Kaeshitee)

Facebook translation:

What? Who is this? I took it! Maybe it’s on the camera. Give it back

Google translate:

Eh? Who? What I brought! Maybe it’s in the camera. Return

DeepL translator:

Ehhh? Who is it? I’m the one who took it! Maybe you can see it in the camera. I want it back.

Example 2

Original Japanese:

そんなことをする人には絶対にばちが当たるヨ〜
(Son’na koto o suru hito ni wa zettai ni ba chi ga ataru yo 〜)

Facebook Translation

People who do such a thing will never win ~

Google Translate:

People who do such a thing will definitely be hit

DeepL translator:

People who do such things are going to pay dearly for it.

Neural network translation is interesting in that repeated submission of a single phrase can often result in different outputs:

返してー
返して.
返してー

when given to DeepL results in:

I want it back.
Give it to me.
Give it back to me.

Whereas the original phrase reduplicated (返してー返して.) produces:

Give it back! Give it back! Give it back!

The technology has made multiple quantum leaps since the earliest forays into automated translation. My Pixel 3XL phone is many times more powerful than the IBM 370/138 that BYU was using to develop their one-to-many interactive translation system based on Junction Grammar, both in storage capacity and processing speed. To be very honest, I don’t know what kind of hardware these systems are running on, whether distributed or mainframe or supercomputers that are capable of processing whigabytes of data at processing speeds that almost don’t have enough greek prefixes to describe. I just know they’re big, and fast, and they’re only getting bigger and faster all the time.

That said, translation, particularly literary translation, is just as much of an art form as it is a mechanical process, one that has cognitive components that no computer will ever be able to duplicate. No machine would ever be capable of translating Les Misérables into English, or Harry Potter into Hebrew, for example, and preserve the wonder of language; I challenge any machine, now matter how sophisticated or fast, to translate things like this:

“I stepped off the train at 8 P.M. Having searched the thesaurus in vain for adjectives, I must, as a substitution, hie me to comparison in the form of a recipe.
Take a London fog 30 parts; malaria 10 parts; gas leaks 20 parts; dewdrops gathered in a brick yard at sunrise, 25 parts; odor of honeysuckle 15 parts. Mix.
The mixture will give you an approximate conception of a Nashville drizzle. It is not so fragrant as a moth-ball nor as thick as pea-soup; but ’tis enough – ’twill serve.
I went to a hotel in a tumbril. It required strong self-suppression for me to keep from climbing to the top of it and giving an imitation of Sidney Carton. The vehicle was drawn by beasts of a bygone era and driven by something dark and emancipated.”
-O. Henry – “A Municipal Report”

The need for human translators is in no danger, and never will be – but that’s not to say that technological advances have not brought both advantages and disadvantages to human translators. Back in the day, it was pencil and paper, and hard-copy dictionaries, and rolodexes. Now it’s translation memories and electronic dictionaries and segmentation systems that allow for rapid recall of already-translated words and phrases and best-guessing (fuzzy matching) for things that are close. This speeds up the work and increases consistency, but as a result translation agencies have taken to telling translators that they’ll pay, for example, 9¢ per word for new material, but only 4¢ for fuzzy matches, and almost nothing for 100% matches. This means that translators have to turn out much more material to generate the same amount of income – but what agencies don’t care about is that every word needs to be processed and reviewed through the skillset of the translator as though it were brand-new. What’s more, the proliferation of free online translation services means that any schlub in India or China can claim to be a translator and charge 2¢ per word, and the agencies love that – but in exchange they’re getting lousy output and dragging down the rates of pay for the entire industry – which is exactly why I got out of the business of freelance translation. It’s a crime, and I won’t put up with it.

The Old Wolf has spoken, Der Alte Wolf hat gesprochen. Le vieux loup a parlé. Il vecchio lupo ha parlato.


¹ If you want to dig into the history of machine translation, you can start here, following the references at the end of the article for more. Warning: It’s a very, very deep rabbit hole.

² I’ve addressed academic nonsense before, but it’s worth a mention here.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not – Premature Aging

THE BOY WHO DIED OF OLD AGE BEFORE HE WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD

Cross-posted from Livejournal

THIS strange anomaly of an aged youth attracted considerable attention during the last century. He was Charles Charlesworth, born of normal parents in Staffordshire, England, March 14, 1829. He reached maturity and grew whiskers at the age of four and died suddenly in a faint (syncope) when but seven years old.

Charlesworth was of small stature and proportions, and with imperfectly developed clavicles, lower jaw, and membrane bones of the skull. His face was wizened, hair and whiskers white, skin shriveled, hands knotted with conspicuous veins and tendons, voice piping, and gait and standing posture those of an old man.

Ref.: “Progeria” and “Premature Senility” in any Medical Text Book.


Progeria is now a well-known and well-understood phenomenon, although there is no known cure. It was not described until 1886 by Jonathan Hutchinson and independently in 1897 by Hastings Gilford, after which it was named Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome (HGPS). In 2003, it was discovered that progeria caused by a point mutation in position 1824 of the LMNA gene, replacing cytosine with thymine, creating a form of the Lamin A protein which cannot be processed properly and accumulates in the cell nucleus. Lamin A is a major structural protein of the human cell nucleus. When Lamin A is altered, it affects the shape and the function of the nuclear envelope. These changes cause other cells to die prematurely. (see Progeria at Wikipedia.)

One other famous case of accelerated aging was also documented by Ripley in a later series. His description, accompanied by one of his own illustrations, was lifted almost verbatim from the Huntingdon, PA “Daily News” of 25 September 1830:

Clarence was also written up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of September 27, 1830 (this photo also appeared in Charles Addams’ Dear Dead Days (Putnam, 1959, p. 18)

Time Magazine of Monday, Oct. 06, 1930 described the event in these words:

At Toledo, Clarence Kehr Jr., 6, standing 4 ft. I in., weighing 87 lb., was barred from both public and Catholic schools because he has a bass voice, smokes, has to shave, is as strong as a grown man. He can lift persons bulking 250 lb., 200-lb. dumbbells, can push without strain a lawn roller, or an automobile filled with passengers. Prime stunt: lifting Jack Dempsey when Dempsey scaled 202 lb. Born normal, Clarence Jr. continued so until 9 mos. old. Between 9 mos. and 3½ years he grew ten years physically in all things except height. When 4½ he was physically 14½, at 6 he is 16. He has no use for girls his own age, prefers them 16 or older.

Doctors attribute his precocity to some defect in his pineal gland. This ductless gland, apparently the rudiment of a third eye,* lies in among the interior folds of the brain. Its functions are not well understood. One thing it certainly does is to inhibit sexual development of children. Because all the ductless glands of the body delicately control and balance one another’s forces, when one acts abnormally as in Clarence Kehr’s case, or in Harold Arnold’s case (see col. 2), it incites a physiological riot. Clarence Kehr’s parents plan to appeal to Ohio’s State Board of Education. Meanwhile he is being tutored privately.

*In some lizards and other reptiles and in the larva of the lamprey, the pineal gland is on a stalk (like a crayfish’s eyes) and is near the top of the head. Here it has a distinguishable retina and lens. French Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) believed: “There is a small gland [the pineal] in the brain in which the soul exercises its functions more particularly than in the other parts.” Contemporaries agreed.

It appears that Kehr was not a victim of progeria – Psych Web Resources describes Kehr’s case in this manner:

Accelerated aging can also be produced by hormonal imbalance, as shown by the case of Clarence Kehr. This illustration is from a 1931 article in American Psychologist titled, “A clinical study of ‘Toledo’s Strong Boy'” (McClure & Goldberg, 1931). It reports “the strange case of Clarence Kehr, Jr., who skipped from the cradle to adolescence in physical development.” Clarence, shown at age 6, is in the middle of the photograph, with his brother and sister on either side.

Toledo’s Strong Boy” (from McClure & Goldberg, 1931)

Clarence’s development was radically accelerated. He was able to lift his mother off the floor at the age of 5. He had prominent muscles, a mustache, and a baritone voice at age 6.

Clarence was proud of his weight-lifting abilities. He boasted of being the strongest boy in the world. He did not associate with other children, preferring “to do the same things that older people do.” His mustache began to appear when he was 11 months old. By the age of 4, his sexual development was the same as a 14-year-old boy, and he was interested in girls.

X-ray studies revealed that Clarence, at age 6, had bone structure typical of a sixteen to eighteen year old. At the time the article was written, Clarence’s parents were trying to work out a program of private instruction for him. Mentally, he was a normal 6 year old with average or below-average academic abilities. For example, he could not copy a diamond pattern, or verbally describe a picture, both standard items for 7-year-olds on the 1930 Stanford-Binet IQ test.

Verdict: Believe it!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

We deserve way more than we’re gonna get

This is a bit modified from something I saw in a meme dump recently. That one was about relationships, but this one is about all of us and our relationship with our nation’s leaders.

No matter who gets elected in 2020, whether it’s the Orange Screechweasel or Joe Biden, we’re not even going to get the bare minimum.

The current *administration is dedicated to self-aggrandizement and personal enrichment; The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office is a pathological narcissist and serial liar, and Moscow Mitch is concerned only with his ego-orgasms every time he spites the Democrats.

While you can be sure I’m going to cast my vote for Biden if he’s anointed the official Democratic candidate, and I’ll do so with only a little less gall rising in my craw than I had in 2016 when I pulled the lever for HRC, it’s not what I want for our nation.

Instead of this clown-circus dumpster fire, I want a government that is driven by one principle and one only:

“If it doesn’t make the world a better place… don’t do it.”

Robby Novak, “Kid President”

I want a government that is willing to play in the World Game, defined by R. Buckminster Fuller as:

“[Making] the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

This isn’t pie in the sky. This isn’t utopia. It could be done if human beings would drop their “us/them” mentality, and stop with the “I’ve got mine, screw you” philosophy. Many humans would be willing to do this. The ones who won’t… well, that’s why we need government regulation. Trust busting. Taking down the robber barons. Punishing the Enrons and the Wells Fargos and the Bank of Americas. Taking on the Facebooks and the Amazons, closing loopholes that permit companies and the super-rich, legally, to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by offshoring profits and other accounting skulduggery.

And it’s been done in the past – just have a look at history. When the people of our nation got tired of being treated like serfs, they rose up and elected men and women who were willing to make the world a better place. FDR was a democrat, and he gave us the New Deal programs. Eisenhower was a Republican, and he kept the world at peace, balanced the budget three times, ended the Korean war, gave us the Interstate system, and sponsored the Civil Rights Bill of 1957¹.

I want people like this again. They were not perfect, but they gave a rat’s South-40 for you and me, and our kids, and everyone. What we have now is a disgrace, a sham, and a grave embarassment to the Republic our founders gave us.

Unless some miracle happens, American’s best chance for a democracy that works for everyone, with no one left out, was sidelined by the moneyed interests of the Democratic National Committee. Bernie Sanders offered an opportunity to elect someone who wasn’t bought and paid for by superPAC dollars, instead of the corporate shills who pretend to represent their constituents.

Congress should be killed. : killthosewhodisagree

So whatever happens in 2020, it’s not going to be what America deserves. But the dream is still alive, and the struggle continues. If we keep working, new torchbearers will arise to carry that dream into reality. I may not be around to see it, but perhaps my children and grandchildren will.

As long as I have breath, I will continue to fight.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹Sadly, the bill was amended by Congress which severely weakened its effectiveness, but it was a worthy effort.

Scam – Beware of Finetwo.com

No photo description available.

This was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who got stung – apparently this outfit claims to have ample supplies of sanitizer and masks, but when you order you get shoddy merchandise or, in most cases, nothing at all.

The company claims it has been in business for 10 years, but Whois shows that the website was created on March 21, 2020. Because this website is operating from somewhere outside the USA, recourse is limited to calling your financial institution and asking them to reverse the charges; sometimes this is a major hassle as it involves having your credit card cancelled, issuing a new one, and then registering it with all the places you use for automatic payment, but at this point it’s all we have.

I’d like to blame China because they have all the ethics of a starving honey badger and the CCP turns a blind eye to such jiggery-pokery, but in all honesty it could be running from anywhere.

So be careful, and if you get stung – it’s easy to do, even if you’re on the lookout – don’t hesitate to call your financial institution.

The Old Wolf has spoken.