Quite often I run into someone who knows I’m a professor and assumes I know everything. I don’t. As an example, last week someone asked me, “Do you know anything about italics?”

I said, “Well, I know they are responsible for some great art works and they make an excellent lasagna.”

Other Person said, “Oh no, I meant italics, like in slanty writing.”

I admitted I didn’t know much about italics at all and Other Person looked so disappointed I decided to do some research on the subject. Apparently most Other Persons have no idea it’s possible to do this. In other words, I get the feeling that if I can’t answer their question they never will know.

My research in to the world of italics showed me more things than I really wanted to know about italics but at the same time led me to a discovery about italics that I believe is groundbreaking.

Now, I assume most of us know there must be some common use for italics. Otherwise why would they make it so easy to use italics in even the most basic word processors? Note that I used one of the functions of italics there. That is to emphasize a word or words. Other not so common uses include using italics for a title as in, “Why don’t you check The Encyclopedia Britannica, you moron?” Not that I would ever say it like that. Which demonstrates another use of italics: when writing a single letter as the I in “Not that I.”

It was a surprise to me to find there are dozens, well many, uses for italics that I had never crossed my mind. For example, how many people would guess that citing legal cases should be italicized, as in the case of Ho v. Hum ? But I also made a new discovery about italics that I can’t find any reference to. In other words, I believe I have stumbled upon a major discovery about italics that in the lexicography world ranks right up there with the discovery about dangling participles and the I before E except after C rule. Or is that the other way around?

Allow me to demonstrate what led to my discovery. I will write two statements. One contains italicizing that the other doesn’t. Look carefully and see if you see any discrepancies.

1. John could see no use for italics.

2. John could see no use for italics.

Do you see the difference? Well neither did I at first. Actually in Line 1. the word italics. is different from the word italics. in line 2. The period at the end of line 2 is not italicized!

So, the new rule which should be added to all the references is, “A period or a comma can be italicized or not as the writer pleases.”

Before the rule goes before the International Punctuation Committee next June it might be a good idea to omit reference to the comma. I think the same rule applies but I haven’t researched the comma as thoroughly as I did with the period or, as some people call it, the dot.

The Old Professor
Carmel, CA
October 26, 2007



I'm hoping this will be readable because if I just told you it was in the paper this morning you wouldn't believe it but right on the front page was this little item:
In case you can't read it here is the plain text version:

Man trying to hide

from police gets

stuck inside dryer



Herald Staff Writer

A Salinas man got stuck in a clothes dryer early Wednesday when he tried to hide from the law, police reported.
Shortly after midnight, 27- year-old Andre Jameson was approached by police, who said he was sitting in a "suspicious" parked vehicle at Marin Avenue and Leslie Drive.
Police said when they attempted to do a pat-down search of Jameson, he ran east toward Natividad Road, where he tossed a plastic bag containing what officers suspect was rock cocaine and marijuana.
Surrounded by officers who began conducting yard-to-yard searches, Jameson was spotted hopping fences in the area of Saratoga Drive.
Officers said they saw him enter a residence in the 7C block of Los Coches Avenue.
After a check inside the build- ing failed to locate Jameson, one officer took a peek in the garage,
Jameson, who is 6 feet 1 inches tall, jammed himself into a clothes dryer, police said, and he couldn't get out.
Police said it took some 20 minutes before he could free himself from the tight spot.
When he did, Jameson arrested and booked on charge of drug possession, resisting a police officer and concealing evidence.
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or jreynolds@montereyherald.com

This can also be viewed at the paper's web site:
though it usually doesn't stay there very long.

I would say this man has some serious problems coming up in his life if this is the best he can do when forced to think on his feet-- so to speak.

The Old Professor
Carmel, CA
October 18, 2007



In mentioning the subject to others over the years I am guessing the most Senior Citizens still can recall their early sex education or perhaps the lack of it. I was the eldest of 4 children and I recall what my parents taught me as if it were yesterday. I must have been around 12 or 13 years old when I think my parents probably got together and my mother must have told my father, “It’s about time you had a talk with Junior about -- you know.”

Now, my dad wasn’t very talkative man. He was a man of few words but they usually meant something. I always felt if I looked up the word “taciturn” in the dictionary I would see a picture of my father.

So, one evening, out of the blue, my dad announced he had to go out for some reason and suggested I go along “for the ride”. After we had been driving for 10 minutes or so in dead silence I began to suspect something unusual was up. I was afraid I had done something and was about to get a lecture about it so I just sat there quietly waiting for what was to come.

Finally, my dad sort of cleared his throat and said, “Don’t play with yourself.”

I said, “Okay.”

Then we drove home in silence. As a youngster all I learned about sex was summed up in a 20-minute car ride and a 4-word statement.

Well, that isn’t quite true. One week before I was to be married my mother felt compelled to give me her thoughts. I can still see her dusting a table and, without looking up, saying, “I’ve been very concerned about this young lady you are marrying. (she called her by name) She seems so frail. And there’s one sure thing about a marriage; if a man doesn’t get sex regularly he gets cranky.”

I forget what I said then but it was probably something very guarded because I really didn’t want to sound cranky but then again I wondered how would she interpret my lack of crankiness.

Nowadays I think the situation might be reversed. Perhaps the son is the one who brings up the subject and while visiting his dad in “The Home” he might wrap the blanket around him and tell his dad, “You shouldn’t play with yourself in public.” Or something like that. And the father might drool a little; nod his head and say, ”Okay.”

The Old Professor
Carmel, CA
October 17, 2007

Oh yeah, did you click on the word taciturn?



Some time in the past two years I exposed one of my semi-brilliant scientific ideas. I had read of the remarkable coincidence of some things that often happen in the aging process and how, when nearing the end of life, people often go through the identical stages they went through starting life. The source I read pointed out that we start out unable to walk or talk and because we have no teeth we can’t even chew food. It’s remarkable that we often end up the same way we started. It even pointed out that old age often puts a person back to using diapers just like the beginning of life.

Well, I, in my scientific exploration, began wondering what happens to older people when some one asks the how old they are. You know how it goes with children.

“How old are you little girl?”

“Free”, she says holding up three fingers. They always seem to need the fingers held up so we understand the number.

Now how can an older person do that? We only have ten fingers. This is where I came up with the solution. –- Roman Numerals! In fact, I wondered if that wasn’t where Roman Numerals came from. Way back then a person would ask that question and the answer could be given with fingers. You know, an “I” means one and a “V” stands for 5 and “X” means 10 though I found it really takes two hands to make an “X” with your fingers. All of these could be shown with 10 fingers and in combinations to cover most ages.

Now here I must apologize for making a serious scientific error and I’ll explain after this.

If a man were 91-years old and someone said, “And how old are you old timer?” All he would need to do is mumble a number and since the Roman Numerals for 91 are XCI he would hold up his fingers like this:

Do you see the error in my brilliant method?

It was several days later while testing this on some random subjects that I found my system had a serious flaw. In the example I used above the old person holds up his fingers and HE reads this as XCI with no problem but the person on the other side who is reading it will see “I” and a something and an “X” but that doesn’t make any sense.

So, right now I am researching to find other cases where other famous scientists made errors the first time. It might make me feel better if I knew I wasn’t the only one.

The Old Professor
Carmel, CA
October 14, 2000



The other day I posted a brief blog that referred to "The Fence". In thinking about it some more I came up some other interesting uh, stuff. Like this: The following is an imaginary meeting between an imaginary Government Bigshot and an imaginary Old Professor.

Government Bigshot: Hello and welcome to Washington.
Old Professor: Thank you for seeing me, sir.
GB: Well, what can I do for ya?
OP: Well, I was wondering about some of the things going on in Washington they don’t seem to make sense to me.
GB: Really? Like what?
OP: Well, I’m hearing a lot about illegal aliens.
GB: Oh yeah, them foreigners who come here and ruin our schools and hospitals.
OP: How do they ruin the schools, sir?
GB: They go to them, that’s how. They go there and they don’t know nothing.
OP:Isn’t that what schools are supposed to do; teach them?
GB: Well now, how we supposed to learn someone who can’t speak English right? You know, some of them don’t even know what illegal means.
OP: In this context, what does it mean?
GB: What? Are you one of them?
OP: One of what, sir?”
GB: One of them illawful aliens.
OP: Illegal aliens?
GB:Yup, that’s it. They shouldn’t oughta be here at all.
OP: Why is that, sir?
GB: Well, ya see ya got your country and all around the country are borders on every side. Well, we don’t count two sides because they got water there. Oceans, ya know. But these borders are supposed to keep people out. That’s what borders mean. That's in the Constitution. You can look that up.
OP: I see. But how do these borders work to keep people out?
GB: Well, there’s two ways. First we got guards waiting at the border. They stop everybody coming in and ask them if they are illegal what you called them there.
OP: Aliens?
GB: Yeah, that’s it, illegal aliens.
OP: That sounds incredible. Do some admit they are?
GB: Well, the time I was there 7 years ago there weren’t none but every once in awhile they get one who admits it.
OP: Admits he is an illegal alien?
GB: Well, maybe they don’t admit the illegal part but we got agencies that are experts in illegal stuff.
OP: But there must be many who somehow get through.
GB: Yah, but not past those guards. They sneak in some other way.
OP: How?
GB: They come across the border where the guards ain’t. Sometimes they do it at night.
OP: How do you prevent that?
GB: The answer to that is obvious. We seal the borders.
OP: How do we do that?
GB: We’re gonna build a fence 700 miles long across the US-Mexican border.
OP: What about the Canadian border to the north?
GB: It’s terrorists we're talking about.
OP: I don’t understand. What about terrorists?
GB: Oh, well, it’s the terrorists we’re worried about and they never come in that way. You see terrorists come from the Middle East and it’s very hot there. Canada is too cold for them so they go to Mexico where it’s warmer.”
OP: I see, but will that fence thing work?”
GB: Of course it will work. Just ask China. They had the idea centuries ago and they built that famous wall that’s thousands of miles long.
OP: How did that work out for them?
GB: They don’t have many Mexicans there.
OP: Well, who picks their lettuce then?
GB: They don’t have none. Ya see, over there they eat with those giant toothpick things.
GB: Yah, chop picks. They eat with chop picks and they can’t pick up lettuce good.
OP: So, as I see it, you seal the borders to protect against terrorists but what about that schools and hospitals thing.
GB: Well that too. Ya can see it ain’t easy sitting in this chair.
OP: Yes, I can see that and thank you for enlightening me.
GB: Come by anytime and say “Hi” to the wife for me.

The Old Professor
Carmel, CA
October 13, 2007



Right now there are many people in the United States government who seem to be in a panic about the number of illegal aliens in the country. If one were to step back and listen to the arguments you would believe you were in some sort of Alice in Wonderland thing. Most of these people just don’t make any sense and no one even seems to notice that.

Many avoid saying it out loud but when referring to “illegal aliens” most of the time that is a synonym for Mexicans, though other Latin Americans fit in the group too. Now, most of these xenophobic people seem to think our borders are not protected and there are “illegal aliens” sneaking across. We even have pictures of some of them doing just that during the night. We must protect our borders from – uh, terrorists, that’s it, terrorists.

Everyone remembers the 9-11 Trade Towers incident and we sure don’t want to let that happen again. “So what shall we do?” ask our government officials.

The answer is obvious, “We seal the borders.”

“How do we do that?”

“We build a fence 700 miles long across the US-Mexican border.”

“What about the Canadian border to the north?”

“Oh, well, terrorists never come in that way. You see terrorists come from the Middle East and it’s very hot there. Canada is too cold for them so they go to Mexico where it’s warmer.”

“I see but will that fence thing work?”

“Of course it will work. Just ask China. They had the idea centuries ago and they built that famous wall that’s thousands of miles long.”

“How did that work out for them?”

“They don’t have many Mexicans there.”

Don’t look behind the curtain!

The Old Professor
Carmel, CA
October 10, 2007