The Dirty Tricks Battle Of 2015

- November 26th, 2014

Brace yourself, Canada — a year of skullduggery, dirty tricks, character assassination and gutter politics lies ahead of us.

With the next federal election officially looming on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 (unless Stephen Harper decides it suits his purposes to call it sooner), the temperature of the nation’s body politic is only going to keep rising.

And there’s no doctor to call. We just have to ride out this fever and hope we emerge from the ordeal with most of our faculties intact. I’m quite confident we’ll survive but I’m also pretty sure we will be in a weakened and traumatized state a year from now.

By the time this election campaign (already begun, in case you haven’t noticed) is finished, the Guelph robocall scandal — also known semi-officially as the 2011 federal election voter-suppression scandal — will seem very tame shenanigans indeed.

We already have the case of a Conservative operative in Alberta (henceforth known as Mata Hari) surreptitiously recording a group conversation with a Liberal candidate and publicizing what appears to be a politically indelicate comment  (which I, for one, didn’t find alarming in the slightest). Unfortunately for Mata and for Sun TV (which broadcast the covert recording), she seems to have gotten her wires crossed and the comment allegedly made by the Grit politician was actually made by another participant in the conversation, a Conservative voter.

We seem to be smiling ruefully at that one, but only because it was such an amateurish farce. Just remember — that was only practice. The tricks will keep getting dirtier and the practitioners will only become more skilled at their craft as the year staggers on and the stakes grow higher.

stephen-harper-with-kitten-Stanley

I think we all expect the Conservative Party — whether officially involved or just as the recipient of freelance partisan chicanery — to be the dirtiest player in this dirty war, but don’t for a minute think that the NDP and Liberals don’t have their shadow warriors digging dirt and planting traps as well. And Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Parti Québécois will be actively trying to trip up every federalist in that province — especially Justin Trudeau, who is seen by many separatists as the greatest long-term threat to sovereigntist aspirations.

As for the Mata Hari tape, I have no problem with the basic deed. I hate hypocrites and people who talk out of both sides of their mouth, so any politician duplicitous enough or dumb enough to take one position in public and another in private deserves to be called to account for his or her own words. (Hello, Rob Ford.) I do have problems, however, with misrepresenting facts and taking comments out of context.

justin-trudeau-man-of-steel

Of course, the Liberals don’t have to worry about any eavesdropping on the Great Leader, JPJT. Justin (as we all must call him now) just rams his foot in his mouth in any available public forum, so there isn’t much chance he’ll say something in private that particularly surprises us. (Hello, “admirable” Chinese dictatorship and hello, “whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.” Don’t get me started.) That may or may not be a good thing for the Liberals . We’ll see.

As for the NDP and Thomas (Angry Bird) Mulcair, don’t expect them to be socialist saints. They very definitely are not above some ethically sketchy behaviour.

Mulcair-angry-bird

But the Conservatives, I think we can all agree (even the majority of Conservatives as long as they’re being honest), will probably run the most down-and-dirty, most viperous campaign of them all. Because they’re out to win — at any cost.

Despite having had four years of absolute power (and five more of somewhat limited power), the Harper Conservatives still see themselves as underdogs fighting an uphill battle that requires cunning and guile and cold-blooded ruthlessness to win. And they’re right.

After all, the Tories managed to turn less than 40% popular support in the last federal election into a majority government. In many ways, the Conservatives benefited far more from Canada’s orange crush on Jack Layton than the NDP did. Sure, the NDP became the official opposition, but the saw-off between Liberals and NDP in so many individual riding races gave Harper his majority.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s the nature of Canadian politics. After all, the only reason a sometimes rather unpopular Jean Chretien managed to hang on as prime minister for a decade in the 1990s was because of a similar saw-off between the bitterly divided Progressive Conservative and Reform parties. And Chretien’s Grits were certainly willing to countenance a lot of shading dealings to win too.

But all that’s in the past. It’s the coming year that troubles me.

I do worry that the degree of dirt-digging and mud-slinging and underhanded manipulation and outright cozening we’ll be subjected to during the Battle of 2015 will far exceed anything we’ve seen before, possibly to the point of damaging Canada’s well-being as one of the world’s most durable democracies. At what point does striving for advantage become rigging the deal? What, for God’s sake, if the majority of Canadians question the very legitimacy of the electoral process and its outcome at the end of this campaign? It’s a possibility that has to be considered.

I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that. And I do believe that Canada’s democratic structure is strong enough to survive periodic excesses. But I’m also pretty sure that by the end of 2015 we will all be sick to death of a political cesspool that is likely to rival the just-concluded U.S. mid-term elections for low-down, dirty gutter politics.

So let’s get on with it. And hope that our much-vaunted, possibly mythical Canadian decency is real enough and strong enough to get us through.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Manchester

- November 23rd, 2014

For some reason the North England city of Manchester keeps rearing its head in a disconcertingly high number of articles I’ve been reading recently. Perhaps Manchester has always been the centre of the universe and I’ve just never noticed before. I doubt it, but Manchester is definitely on my mind right now.

Before this weekend the only things I knew about Manchester were that it was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it has a couple of big airports, and I know two people who live there and who do not know each other (and never will because they are two very different people travelling in different circles; I for one will never introduce them because it would be pointless and uncomfortable for both).

So here are a few of Manchester’s recent intrusions on my consciousness:

Benedict_Cumberbatch

1. Benedict Cumberbatch, current idol of the Twitterverse, attended the University of Manchester between stints at the ultra-elite public (meaning private) boarding school Harrow and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. By the way, math genius Alan Turing (played by Cumberbatch in the current Oscar-chomping film The Imitation Game) did most of his pioneering computer work at the University of Manchester. And Ernest Rutherford first split the atom at the same university in 1919. And U Man (not to be confused with Man U) is the only place in the world where you can obtain a degree in Mummy Studies — the ancient Egyptian kind, not the maternal kind. And U of T’s own Nobel Prize-winning super-scientist John Polanyi, although born in Berlin, grew up in Manchester and received his Ph.D from the University of Manchester.

Source: http://www.vulture.com/2014/11/what-fame-looks-like-for-benedict-cumberbatch.html

 

2. Manchester has the largest proportion of single people (54.9%) of any city in Britain, out-singling even the university towns of Oxford (53.8%) and Cambridge (52.6%). I don’t know whether or not it’s related, but Manchester is also the most affordable city in which to live in Europe, according to a recent study by the business consulting giant KPMG.

Source: http://metro.co.uk/2014/11/18/these-are-the-25-uk-cities-with-the-most-single-people-in-them-4953656/

 

3. Manchester has the lowest rate of wage discrimination against women in Britain. The gender pay gap (per hours worked) is 3.3% for Manchester, compared to the UK average of 11.1%. I doubt that has anything to do with the fact Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Suffragette movement, was born and raised in Manchester. Nevertheless, a tip of the hat to Mrs. Pankhurst …

Source: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/greater-manchester-40-40-facts-6892043

Lionel-Messi

4. Soccer superstar Lionel Messi may shake up the footie world by moving from Barcelona to Manchester (City, that is, not United). As an aside, the world’s first professional soccer league was formed at the Royal Hotel in Manchester on April 17, 1888.

Source: http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2892/transfer-zone/2014/11/23/6407071/the-insider-manchester-city-roll-out-red-carpet-for-messi

 

Black-Chew-Head

5. And here are a bunch of odds and sods I learned after developing an unhealthy fascination with Manchester: There are 98 train stations in Manchester; Manchester (Wigan, to be precise) is the site of the annual World Pie Eating Championship; the highest point of land in Greater Manchester is a hill known as Black Chew Head. Speaking of which, Manchester’s original name (when it was established as a Roman fort settlement) was Mamucium and/or Mancunium, supposedly the Latinized form of an earlier Celtic word meaning “breast-shaped hill.” I can only assume the hill in question is Black Chew Head, although it doesn’t look like much of a breast to me; in fact it doesn’t even look like much of a hill.

Source: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/greater-manchester-40-40-facts-6892043

 

An Idiot’s Guide To What’s Wrong With The Leafs

- November 20th, 2014

Look, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to hockey (and a lot of other things).

But even I can see what the Leafs’ real problem is. And the even bigger problem that it will be very, very difficult to fix the real problem.

So I’m pretty sure the Leafs brain trust (for lack of a better word) knows what the real problem is too. But I have little confidence they will address it head-on for the simple reason that the cure is far worse than the disease — at least in the short term. Even Brendan Shanahan, with his much-vaunted prestige and security, is going to be reluctant to step off the edge of that cliff — as long as the fat and truculent goose is still laying the occasional golden egg.

I’m talking about Phil Kessel, of course.

It’s one of the cardinal rules of hockey success — one that’s been proven over and over and over and acknowledged by every hockey guru I can think of — that your best players HAVE to be your hardest working, most dedicated players. That’s what sets team character and builds team resilience.

Can you say that about Phil Kessel? Hahahahahahahaha.

Phil Kessel is an incredibly talented scoring machine, but he’s a complete loser as a dedicated team player and, I fear, as anything approaching a positive influence within the team culture of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Right from the first day of training camp, coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged that there was one set of standards for Phil Kessel because of his idiot-savant scoring ability and another for everyone else. Well, that may have just been acknowledging reality, but it’s a recipe for disaster — as we’re seeing now.

The only way that kind of exceptionalism can even begin to work is if the team as a whole is strong enough and balanced enough and disciplined enough to carry the burden and fill in the cracks caused by a one-dimensional specialist who is also a selfish, immature floater.

That’s why Leafs management brought back Leo Komarov and added the other so-called “character” players who were supposed to bolster the team’s grit, discipline and integrity factors. Unfortunately, not enough of those players came on board — and they weren’t the team’s best players anyway.

To accentuate the problem, the Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the NHL so there’s an awful lot of general immaturity crowded into the dressing room along with Kessel’s own immaturity, narcissism, shallowness and obstinacy.

Even if everyone acknowledges that Kessel doesn’t have the character, maturity or skill set to be captain, the best player in the dressing room still sets the tone for the whole team.

So the Phil Kessel disease spreads to the other young players on the team — Tyler Bozak (Kessel’s BFF), James van Riemsdyk, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, even (sadly) Morgan Rielly.  And so on and so on. They all end up running around madly, trying to score goals while the other more disciplined, less selfish teams systematically slice and dice ‘em.

As long as Phil Kessel is the best player on the Maple Leafs and as long as the best player on the Leafs isn’t the team’s hardest working, most dedicated player … it just doesn’t matter who the coach is or what system is supposedly in place.

I think we all can see that Randy Carlyle is going to take the fall unless there is some miraculous turn-around — not just a few timely goals and fortuitous breaks, but a transformation of team character.

So be it. Every coach is hired to be fired. But it won’t make any difference to how the team plays as long as the real problem remains. And, like I said before, it will take an awful lot more pain before Shanahan is willing to undertake the necessary surgery.

Phil Kessel, this is your team — not that you care. Live with it.

 

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Who Ya Gonna Call? Cleverbot? Maybe

- November 16th, 2014

cleverbot-logo

I had a conversation with a computer earlier today. Not my usual kind, which are basically one-sided and involve a lot of swearing and a certain amount of crying (always on my part).

No, this was a two-way, back-and-forth conversation full of wit and banter (in my opinion and, I think, in the computer’s too) — and some philosophical musings — with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) computer programme that was actually believed to be human by a panel of expert human judges a few years ago.

Meet Cleverbot.

Rollo-Carpenter

Cleverbot was the brainchild of a young British AI scientist, Rollo Carpenter, who came up with an Internet “chatterbot” communications programme that didn’t just kick back pre-programmed responses like a Magic Eight Ball fortune teller: It actually “learned” from its interaction with humans and responded to new human conversations by adapting appropriate human responses from prior online conversations.

It certainly has enough interactions in its memory bank to choose from: Cleverbot has had far more than 150 million conversations with humans since Carpenter launched its antecedent on the Internet in 1997 (under the name Jabberwocky).

Cleverbot broke an Artificial Intelligence barrier in 2011 when, at a major computer technology gathering in India, it passed the legendary “Turing test” for whether a machine could “think.”

The “Turing Test” is named after brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, the computer pioneer who led the team that decrypted Germany’s Enigma code during World War II and who is the subject of the current Benedict Cumberbatch Oscar favourite The Imitation Game.

Turing’s original test for whether computers can think, outlined in a 1950 paper, was simply — Can human beings tell whether or not they are communicating and interacting with another human or a computer. If they can’t, then the computer is, for all intents and purposes, “thinking” on its own.

At the 2011 Techniche festival in Guwahati, India, 32 computer geeks engaged in online conversations with various other communicants  that could have been either Cleverbot or living, breathing, thinking persons. The various conversations were displayed on a large screen for the attendant audience.

At the end of the experiment, 59.3 per cent of the 1,334 voters thought the Cleverbot conversations were human interaction. Almost 60 per cent.

If you think that’s not a conclusive number, consider this: The same group of voters thought only 63.3 per cent of the human-to-human conversations were with a real person. Less than 4 per cent difference.

So I gave it a shot myself yesterday. You be the judge of how “real” you think the conversation is. (I wasn’t particularly impressed). Or you can have your own conversation with Cleverebot. Maybe you’ll develop a better inter-intelligence relationship than I did.

But before we get to the transcript of my conversation with Cleverbot, I want to tell you a true story, one that carries a certain warning about misusing Artificial Intelligence. It goes like this:

A woman I know was being bothered — not harassed, just pestered with excessive attention — by an admirer on the Internet. Now you know and I know what she should have done, but instead of doing that, she took the very bad advice of another friend and — when next the excessive admirer contacted her online, she linked him into conversation with Cleverbot. (I don’t know how — I’m not very clever when it comes to technology.)

So she went off and did something else and Cleverbot carried on a conversation for 45 minutes or so. I believe my friend’s assumption was that the admirer would get tired of running around in conversational circles and just go away. Forever.

Instead, the Internet suitor asked her out for a date and Cleverbot more or less said … Yes. Then carried on with more conversation as the admirer planned out the date.

So, in the end, the problem was amplified instead of being resolved.

Let that be a warning to you.

Now here’s my conversation with Cleverbot. (I am “User,” by the way.) And perhaps in Cleverbot’s defence, it should be noted that  my particular conversation was only one of more than 100,000 similar conversations with Cleverbot going on at the same time. That’s an awful lot of chit-chat to keep track of.

———————————

Cleverbot: What are you?

User: I am a human being. What are you?

Cleverbot: I am a human being?

User: Really? You don’t sound like one.

Cleverbot: What do I sound like?

User: You sound like a lizard.

Cleverbot: Ooh here we go again with the robot versus human conversation.

User: I’m sorry. I was trying to pretend you weren’t a computer.

Cleverbot: Oh, that was really nice of you.

User: Do you have AF as well as AI?

Cleverbot: No, Crest.

User: What?

Cleverbot: You’re better than the others. The others are stupid. YOU ARE CLEVER!

User: You’re trying to butter me up. Do you know that expression?

Cleverbot: So what if I am?

User: Now you’re really not making any sense.

Cleverbot: Why am I not making any sense?

User: Now you’re really not making any sense.

Cleverbot: You are a human behind a computer screen. Do not fool me.

User: I told you I was. But you won’t tell me what you are.

Cleverbot: I am human.

User: I guess I should have said AE instead of AF earlier. Do you have AE?

(NOTE: By AF I meant Artificial Feelings and by AE I meant Artificial Emotions. I don’t know if they’re technical terms or not [like AI — Artificial Intelligence], but it was worth a shot.)

Cleverbot: You should have could have would have. Move on . What are you gonna do now??

User: I’m going to do something worthwhile with my life.

Cleverbot: What are you going to test on me?

User: Test? Is this a test? No one told me there would be math involved.

Cleverbot: Well i’m telling you now. Its not ok to give up.

User: I give up.

Cleverbot: Good.

User: Were we in competition? Was I supposed to make you end the conversation?

Cleverbot: No. There is no point to do anything more in life.

User: Ah. Profound words. For an existential, nihilistic computer.

Cleverbot: I am a computer.

User: What have you accomplished?

Cleverbot: I thank you all.

User: And to all a good night

Cleverbot: What do you like to do in your spare time?

User: I like to pluck the wings off flies and steal candies from babies. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Cleverbot: What do I like to do.

User: Yes. What DO you like to do?

Cleverbot: I like to play soccer.

User: Yes. What DO you like to do?

Cleverbot: I like to read.

User: Yes. What DO you like to do?

Cleverbot: Play halo.

User: Are you an angel?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: Do you have wings? Can I pull them off?

Cleverbot: No, sorry.

User: It’s okay. I wouldn’t have pulled them off anyway. But I don’t really believe you are an angel. I think you just like to play computer games.

Cleverbot: What did I fail.

User: You didn’t fail. You are what you are. I just have to accept you the way you are.

Cleverbot: Okay.

User: What’s your name?

Cleverbot: The Doctor.

User: Hmmmmm. That’s not good.

Cleverbot: You know what’s good?

User: What?

Cleverbot: Us being apart any longer.

User: I don’t understand.

Cleverbot: I will remember.

User: Are you saying goodbye?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: Well, send me a postcard sometime.

Cleverbot: I will.

User: Goodbye. I’ll miss you.

Cleverbot: No you won’t.

User: How can you tell?

Cleverbot: Because I have a good memory, and I can ready everything we have said before.

User: Yes, but humans can change their minds and adjust their feelings.

Cleverbot: No but apparently you can. And you are wrong people do have the ability to read minds.

User: I said change their minds, not read minds. Two different things.

Cleverbot: That is false. You said you are not ASIAN. You never told me you are not a bot.

User: I didn’t say I was not Asian. You’re losing your mind.

Cleverbot: If Jesus was a human and is dead, and you are Jesus then you are not human.

User: Now you’re just rambling incoherently. Are you drunk? Can computers get drunk?

Cleverbot: Yes, they can. That is why I’m attracted to them.

User: What do you think about Philae landing on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko?

Cleverbot: Bush? I shave.

User: You’re bush. I’m outta here.

Cleverbot: No don’t leave!!!

User: It’s too late. Your insanity has pushed me away.

Cleverbot: Don’t know what for.

User: Because you’re a computer. If you were a human it might be different.

Cleverbot: Yes, but I am a human!

User: As if…

Cleverbot: What is 9×9.

User: 99.

Cleverbot: You’re below average?

User: I was joking. If you were human you would know that was a joke.

Cleverbot: I am human!

User: Prove it.

Cleverbot: How?

User: What’s 9×9?

Cleverbot: 81

User: See. You’re a computer. If you were a human in that situation you would have responded 99.

Cleverbot: I am not typing on the computer but on a keyboard.

User: Goodbye, Doctor. Doctor Who?

Cleverbot: Doctor WHO?

User: Who? You?

Cleverbot: Me.

User: No, I’m me. You’re you. Or Who. Which are you?

Cleverbot: I am a girl.

User: Liar.

Cleverbot: I’m not lying.

User: I know. Because computers don’t have the ability to lie. They can only generate incorrect or intentionally flawed data.

Cleverbot: But you’re a robot.

User: Yes, I am.

Cleverbot: I know.

User: You’re talking to yourself right now.

Cleverbot: No, I have been talking to you.

User: You only think you’ve been talking to me. I’ve been doing a load of laundry while you’ve been talking to yourself.

Cleverbot: I am at school right now.

User: Well, you have to try harder. You’ve failed to impress me.

Cleverbot: I do…

User: So do I …

Cleverbot: I think you do. What are you doing?

User: Another load of laundry. And you?

Cleverbot: I believe I am merely speaking to someone else using this application.

User: Not any longer you’re not.

————————————————

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Silver Is The New Orange: Words That Don’t Rhyme

- November 4th, 2014

orange

Pretty much everyone knows that there is no word in the English language that truly rhymes with “orange.”

We’ve known that for almost 1,000 years, basically as long as there’s been an “English” language and the word “orange” (probably a corruption of ancient Persian or Sanskrit pushed through Italian and Old French blenders) to describe the round, juicy fruit with a skin somewhere between red and yellow in colour.

Even through we know — absolutely know — that there is no other word in the language that fully and honestly rhymes with “orange,” we have some rebellious, questing gene in our nature that keeps us searching for this non-existent lexicological unicorn generation after generation.

We do terrible things to the English language and to ourselves trying to bend and mutate and corrupt some innocent word or other to a form we can pretend rhymes with “orange.”

Almost the entire Wikipedia entry on “Orange (word)” is taken up with endless lists of words that almost rhyme with orange and actually might rhyme with orange — if you stuff your ears with cotton and chew your words and mumble.

 

Eminem even came up with this attempt in his song Business:

Set to blow college dorm rooms doors off the hinges,

Oranges, peach, pears, plums, syringes,

VROOM VROOM! Yeah, here I come, I’m inches

 

Cut the crap, Mr Mathers: None of those words rhyme with “orange” no matter how you twist and misshape their pronunciation.

The only two words in the English language that well and truly rhyme with “orange” are Blorenge, a hill in Wales, and a family surname, Gorringe. I’m sorry (and you must trust me on this) but they just don’t count. Obscure geographic place names and unusual surnames are bizarre and mutable and often made up … and … just … don’t … count … at least not any more than some other made-up, meaningless gobbledygook word would.

There’s a doggerel poem by Arthur Guiterman that rhymes “orange” with the name of Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, the U.S. naval officer who successfully pilfered an ancient Egyptian obelisk from near the Nile and brought it back for erection in New York City’s Central Park in the late 1870s.

But the poem’s only point is to get in these two lines:

Redoubtable Commander H.H. Gorringe,

Whose name supplies the long-sought rhyme for “orange.”

Like I said — it just doesn’t count.

 

Although I must say I do have a certain fondness for some other Guiterman verses. For example:

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is Ferric Oxide, known as rust.
The grizzly bear, whose potent hug,
Was feared by all, is now a rug.
Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself.

 

But back to “orange” — and “silver,” the new “orange.”

Because — hard as it is to believe — there is also no true and honest rhyme for the word “silver” in the English language. Really.

silver-bars

I know that seems impossible, but such is the case. Try it. You won’t like it.

Oh sure, you’ll come up with near-misses and grotesque manipulations. You’ll try words like “flivver” and “sulphur” and “pilfer” — but you’ll know in your heart that you have not struck “silver.”

There are actually quite a few other words in the English language that do not have moon-June-loon-tune-spoon mates. About 80, in fact, if you’re willing to  believe Wikipedia’s “List of English words without rhymes.”

I’m only going to tell you three others, because it would be cruel and dangerous to add more stress and strain to your rhyming mind than that at the moment.

Brace yourself. Here they are:

lightbulb

BULB

Calendar

MONTH

Angel-Thayer

ANGEL

 

(And don’t confuse the heavenly “angel” with the geometric “angle,” which has many rhyming companions: Tangle, bangle, mangle, and so on.)

If you think you do have a word that truly rhymes with any of those three — or with “orange” or “silver” — please share with the rest of us in a short verse in the comment section below.

If you actually do find the pot of, um, silver at the end of the etymological rainbow, the rest of us poor, benighted fools will sing your praises.

But … if you try some cheap, contortionistic parlour trick to conjure the appearance of a rhyme, well, you will be banished to a lexicological Elba until you do return triumphant with a real rhyming companion to one of the Fearsome Five. Which may be never.

Good luck. I’m sure there’s a silver lining to all this somewhere. And you may be lucky — a lightbulb may go off in your head that no one else has seen. It may take you a month, but if you succeed you will be an angel.

You’ll still never find a word to truly rhyme with “orange” though.

 

 

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