CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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I Found a Penny Today, So Here’s a Thought

Today — October 28, 2016 (permalink)

"A Saint Louis scientist has discovered that we shall all be crazy by the year 2016.  This, alas, is not the worst of it.  We shall also be dead."  From The Ottawa Evening Herald, January 27, 1902.
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October 24, 2016 (permalink)

Here's the age-old Chinese science of what makes a ghost, from the works of Wen-Chang Ti-Kyüin, 1876, as quoted in The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal.
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October 4, 2016 (permalink)

This is the symbol left in the crib after the Lindbergh baby was famously taken away.  "There has been no genuinely convincing analytic work done on [this symbol] with respect to the Lindberg story" (Jerry Kroth, The Lindbergh Kidnapping, 2011).  [Note that the three black rectangles are actually holes that were punched in the paper and are not technically part of the design.]  The shaded object in the center is, of course, the "black egg" of alchemy, symbolizing the nigredo (a stage of putrefaction; the final step toward the "philosopher's stone" of enlightenment) and expressing "the precarious balance of the hermaphrodite, exalted by a [threatened] equilibrium" (Johannes Fabricius, Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art, 1994).

This 1932 photo of the symbol is courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
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September 26, 2016 (permalink)

Clive Bell suggested that "Art transports us from the world of man's activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation.  For a moment we are shut off from human interests; our anticipations and memories are arrested; we are lifted above the stream of life" (Art, 1914).  Our photo is courtesy of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.
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September 17, 2016 (permalink)

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"Some declare that the photographer is trying to imitate the painter, and the result is something between a photograph and a painting — a spurious art, neither photography nor painting. ... This means that everything that tends to make photography 'pictorial' is effected by painters' methods." —Dr. W. Warstat, "Photography and Painting," Photo-Era Magazine, 1916
Our illustration is a Portrait of King Olav V in the studio of painter Agnes Hiorth.
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September 14, 2016 (permalink)

"We must make the best of that which is, and must believe it best for the present, and accommodate ourselves to it" (Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, 1839).  (Photo courtesy of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.)
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September 13, 2016 (permalink)

Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.
—Tom Robbins (via Jeff McBride)
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September 9, 2016 (permalink)

The headlines at the top of our collage proclaim that Mr. Hogan is a prophet who has a "vivid air dream," yet in the clipping he doesn't remember his first flight and tends to think about his next dessert while piloting.  How can we reconcile this seeming conflict?  "Sometimes the visionary's discernment is blinded by familiarity" (Jackie L. Green, Vanguard of Visions and Dreams, 2012).
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September 5, 2016 (permalink)

There's a hilarious questionnaire over at Biblioklept:
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"What a tragedy that a number of people bewitch themselves through reading toxic literature!" (Ecloss Munsaka, Timely Wisdom from Grandfather).  Just how toxic can literature get?  We actually found a dump site within a book entitled Disposal Area Monitoring System Annual Data Report: 1978, Supplement C.

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September 4, 2016 (permalink)

If you'll indulge us, there are so many great lines in this funny 1840 article on ghosts.  The author is adamant that a ghost should never pull someone by the nose, as it's undignified.  "Here again I may be asked, 'Have ghosts ever been addicted to nose-pulling?'  I am not certain; but the story goes that they have."  When a ghost appears in metamorphosis, it "should come in a shape befitting the sublimity" of its character.  "I knew a ghost once that came in the shape of a teapot, and another that took the form of a leg of mutton.  These are unghostly shapes; for what have legs of mutton and tea-pots to do in the invisible world?"  The author posits that ghosts should by all means avoid poetry: "most of the ghost-rhymes current are as bad as any stuff I ever read in the newspapers."  The author exhorts ghosts not to wear night-caps: "If a ghost has any sense of propriety, let him appear with a bare sconce; it is much more respectable.  Some indulgence may perhaps be claimed for a bald ghost, especially considering the coolness of the night air."  We learn that only the ghost of a tobacconist should allowed to take snuff.  The author also objects to ghosts cutting capers.  "Some may say it is difficult for them to avoid this, considering how light they are; but that is their affair and not ours.  A ghost, I maintain, ought to behave with sobriety, and not play fantastic tricks.  My aunt Grizzel for instance, saw a ghost jump over a broomstick, and another grinding coffee: now any body could so these things, therefore a ghost ought not to do them.  A ghost was seen once, that jumped over a dining-table, flung three summersets in the air, and made sixteen pirouettes on the top of his right toe, without putting himself out of breath: I have no doubt this was the ghost of a Frenchman."  
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August 25, 2016 (permalink)

The space program has long been accused of faking the moon landing, and artificially enlarging the celestial orb in photographs doesn't help their credibility.  (As any photographer will attest, the moon never looks this big in a photo without special effects.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to doctor a photo.)  Our photo is as scanned by the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.
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August 21, 2016 (permalink)

Secrets of Alchemy for Modern Whizzes

The wizards of old were "freelance intellectuals whose main stock in trade was good advice" (as historian John Michael Greer puts it).  In the 1920s, a master alchemist called Fulcanelli shared priceless advice for novices -- guidance that also applies to anyone seeking to be a whiz at anything.  In his book proving that gothic cathedrals aren't churches but rather elaborate stone books communicating the coded secrets of alchemy (Les Mystère des Cathèdrales), Fulcanelli spells out his formula for learning the greatest mysteries.  Shall I stop or go on?—I hesitate.  Perhaps I'll paraphrase from his final chapter, though I'll preserve the slightly antiquated tone of Fulcanelli's prose.

It is not enough to be studious, active and persevering, if one has no firm principles, no solid basis, if immoderate enthusiasm blinds one to reason, if pride overrules judgment, or if greed expands before the prospect of a golden future.

[There's a mighty oak tree of wisdom contained within that acorn of a sentence.  But Fulcanelli has more.]

The mysterious science [of whatever happens to be one's passion] requires great precision, accuracy and perspicacity in observing the facts, a healthy, logical and reflective mind, a lively but not over-excitable imagination, and a warm and pure heart.  It also demands the greatest simplicity and complete indifference with regard to theories, systems and hypotheses, which are generally accepted without question on the testimony of books or the reputation of their authors.  It requires its candidates to learn to think more with their own brains and less with those of others.  It insists that they should check the truth of any principles, the knowledge of any doctrine and the practice of any operations from Nature, the mother of us all.

Devotees will derive greater benefit from their studies provided they do not despise the works of the old Philosophers and that they study with care and penetration the classical texts, until they have acquired sufficient perception to understand the obscure points of the practice.

No one may aspire to possess the greatest secret, if they do not direct their lives in accordance with the researches they have undertaken.

By constant exercise of the faculties of observation and reasoning and by meditative contemplation, novices will climb steps leading to:


A simple imitation of natural processes, skill combined with ingenuity, and the insight born of long experience will secure for them the:


Having obtained that, they will still have need of patience, constancy and unshakeable will.  Brave and resolute, they will be enabled by the certainty and confidence born of a strong conviction to:


Finally, when success has crowned so many years of labor, when their desires have been accomplished, the Wise Ones, despising the vanities of the world, will draw near to the humble, the disinherited, to all those who work, suffer, struggle and weep here below.  As anonymous and mute disciples of eternal Nature, as advocates of eternal Charity, they will remain faithful to their vow of silence.

In Science, in Goodness, one must evermore


[About the illustration: Alchemy has been called "an infinite regression of mirrored mysteries.  And so, if we are not careful, we end up finding only the face of our own bias.  The secret protects itself, even when it is displayed in plain sight" (Jay Weidner and Vincent Bridges, Monument to the End of Time, 1999).  Our illustration appears in Le Vray et Methodique Cours de la Physique Resolutiue, Vulgairement Dite Chymie by Annibal Barlet, 1653.]

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August 19, 2016 (permalink)

Here are cut-out paper spectacles for seeing more than is readily apparent in any book.  They're from our Machinarium Verbosus: A Curiosity Cabinet of Gadgets To Transform Any Book & Reader, To Be Sure.  But please note that Machinarium Verbosus is a book for the few—the very few.  If it's important to one's psychological well-being that the machinations of the Universe be neat and tidy and wholly comprehensible by the human mind, then absolutely do not proceed with this book's experiments.  Let this constitute a very serious warning: do not take these experiments lightly, as any one of them may induce an existential crisis.

Cut out and don these transformative specs before you read.  (Wear them along with your prescription glasses, if necessary.)  Reading offers "new lenses for seeing [one]self and the world in different ways.  Reading transforms [oneself]" (Jeffrey Wilhelm, Action Strategies For Deepening Comprehension, 2002).

Why symbolic glasses?  Symbols invite us "to see more than is readily apparent, to intuit something other than the obvious" (Krzysztof Kieslowski).

"You can learn to keep the lenses of your symbolic glasses fairly free of the dust of ignorance, the grease spots of prejudice, the grime of hatred and fear.  You can learn to bend and stretch the frames if they don't fit comfortably; but you can never take the glasses off" (Lew Sarett, Basic Principles of Speech, 1958).

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August 13, 2016 (permalink)

From our guide on How to Be Your Own Cathere's the foreword by acclaimed poet and novelist Gary Barwin:


There’s a cat at the center of the universe.


Schrödinger’s cat. And according to this cat, you’re in a box. Of course. The entire universe is a box of darkness and stars and some other stuff. You may be there or not there, alive or dead. You may love this cat or not. The cat is sorry not sorry.

Because the cat’s mind is a ball of yarn. Except that yarn is made of equal parts mouse

and sunlight, excitation and indolence, quantum enthusiasm and prey, silver bells, black matter, catnip and irony.

And you? You are a nanoflea, a human neutrino somewhere on the distant spiral paw of that cosmic yarn which is the mind of a cat. Unless you’re not.

No matter. You exist by the grace of your cat. And by the silken magnanimity which your cat does not possess. But let’s imagine that somewhere inside the obvious and galootish void of your loutish being you have an inner cat. Oh, if such a doltish fleshbag of a human could contain something so subtle and soft, something so evanescent, lithe and glimmering.

But imagine that your inner cat, supple and artful inside you, is both asleep and awake in a box the exact size of itself. Of course, to your cat, any universe is the exact size of your cat.


And this cat, watching and preening inside you, wants its sheen and mindful not-mindfulness to be on the outside. A cat is always a Möbius strip, a bend of light, an ampersand of gravity. A cat is always a parable and a paradox.

But what is the difference between you and a cat? If you have to ask, you’re not a cat.

And so this book—agile and quick, mysterious, surprising and sly as any cat—is not for you. It is for the cat that you are, the cat that you can be.

Of course you want to be your own cat. To be plain as even a blunderous sapiens could grasp: If you were your cat, you’d know that you’d always wanted to be your cat.

But each of the cat’s nine lives is lived in nine dimensions and so this book is an introduction to feline physics, a mouser grimoire, a grimalkin guide, a siamese travelogue, a numinous catalogue of the non-Cartesian, a Manx how-to, a tabby joke book of recipes and kitten lore for the aspiring puss or tom, domestic ocelot, jaguar or lynx.

Yes, perhaps by now it is clear why you want to be your own cat. In this book, the erudite Professor Oddfellow, already always part shimmering and inscrutable cat, explains how. The only question, now, is when?

When you become your own cat, you will learn that when bends as spacetime bends to the immensity of planets, to the will of your own cat. Perhaps even now, you have already begun the journey to being your own cat. Even now your nimble tongue licks a paw as you begin to turn the first page…


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August 11, 2016 (permalink)

Here's a 5-star review of our How to Be Your Own Cat:
Well-thought and whimsically delivered, How to Be Your Own Cat by Professor Oddfellow puts you in touch with your inner feline. Along with carefully chosen, classic illustrations, this guide is reminiscent of an early 18th century manual. Each passage is a contemplation that is a door to Zen practice. While we are reminded of our baser animal selves, we are also reminded of the Zen nature of our being. Our feline friends remind us of our true essence and stillness. A delightful book that reflects on our spiritual core in a playful, catlike way. —David Manley, puppeteer
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Either the typesetter forgot to remove the dots when putting in the row of asterisks, or it was supposed to be this way.  Either way, our eyes see the dust motes, the acacia blossoms, the glimmers of twilight, the successive bits of time while one waits.  From "The Girl With the Fan" by Sterling Heilig, in Pearson's, 1909.
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August 10, 2016 (permalink)

Joel Burget asked "Why hasn't anyone combined ellipsis / question mark to parallel the interrobang?"  Such a mark actually goes a long way back.  Here's an example from Pearson's magazine, 1909.
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August 3, 2016 (permalink)

We're honored that Robert E. Neale, author of This is Not a Book, says our How to Be Your Own Cat goes beyond Martin Buber's "I and Thou" relationship toward more silliness and more honesty:

What fun!  And what confusion!  I have a bias against responding to a cat as a human.  And against responding to a human as a cat.  I guess that I assume that both of these approaches are one-way deals.  But I now suspect that they must always be two-way deals.  Neither creature can go it alone.  Each needs the other in order to become the other.  Who knows my inner cat better than Max?  And who knows Max’s inner human than I?  So the two deals become one deal.  This leads to spiritual silliness beyond the Martin Buber “I and Thou” relationship.  And maybe it is even more honest.  To meet the other is to become the other as well as remaining oneself.  Empathy is not just walking on the shoes of the other, but borrowing the feet as well.  Well, I guess the Buddha is not only that meditative frog on the lotus, but the cat basking in the sun in crazy positions.  Or to rephrase some metaphysical positions as well, the ground of the cat and the ground of the human are one.  This is sunny basking.  Let the sun grant us fun.

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Original Content Copyright © 2016 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.