December 6, 2002

Deconstructing an Icon

We live in a culture suffused with icons we seldom consciously analyze. I realized this the other day when I was expecting a delivery from Federal Express that I had missed the day before. Since it is often difficult to hear someone at the door from my second-floor office, I decided to print a sign to post on the front door to assure the courier that I was indeed at home. I thought I would include the familiar “FedEx” logo to make the sign more attention getting, but neither scanning my missed-delivery notice nor downloading a graphic from the Federal Express Web site yielded an image that was crisp at an attention-getting size.

No problem, I thought. All I need to do is combine a few letters to produce a do-it-yourself logo indistinguishable from the genuine article. No boldface, sans-serif typeface on my computer quite did the trick, however. The x-heights of Arial, Helvetica, and all the other fonts I examined were higher than the top of the middle arm of the uppercase “E.” The FedEx logo, however, has these two heights the same. The logo, I suddenly realized, probably employs a designed-for-purpose font of exactly five characters. The uppercase “E” and lowercase “x” are juxtaposed to the point of contact, thereby outlining a right-pointing white arrow, no doubt intended to suggest the role of an express company in getting parcels from here to there. A classic negative-space trick!

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, look at the Federal Express Web site. Take a close look at the logo and see what I mean.

And my door sign? I finally just used the scan of my missed-delivery notice as a background for the sign and abandoned my logo counterfeiting as too complicated.

October 4, 2002

Letter on Iraq

After thinking about doing so for weeks, I wrote my senators and congressman yesterday about how Congress should deal with the Iraq situation. I am, in fact, uncertain about what either Congress or the United States should do, but I am quite certain that Americans should not simply rely on President Bush to make all the decisions for us. My letter:

I am not yet convinced that the United States should go to war against Iraq, and I think that Congress would do well to proceed with caution in this matter. Although I do not discount the possibility that war may, at some time, become necessary, President Bush has failed to produce a credible argument that now is that time.

I am deeply troubled by the President’s asking for a blank check on such an important issue as war with Iraq, but this action is consistent with his penchant for secrecy and his disregard for voters, Congress, and the niceties of the Constitution. Moreover, he has a flexible notion of international law; I have difficulty distinguishing between his “offensive defense” argument and what used to be called “naked aggression.” His rhetoric does not become a great republic. If international norms need to be changed because circumstances have changed in the twenty-first century, they should not be changed (and cannot be changed) unilaterally by the President of the United States.

I can only urge you to use your good judgment in deciding what Congress should do, but I believe that (1) no offensive action should be taken by the United States without Congressional approval, and (2) no approval should be given before it is absolutely necessary.

Sincerely yours,
Lionel Deimel

September 18, 2002

Inspections in Iraq

Much to the disgust of the Bush administration, Iraq has just agreed to admit weapons inspectors unconditionally, though there are not-so-subtle hints that the freedom of inspectors will be not-so-unconditional. The move on Iraq’s part is no doubt a clever one, and most observers would be surprised if the next batch of inspections isn’t frustrated by the delay, obstructionism, and deceit that characterized the most recent inspection efforts. It will nonetheless be some minor victory at least to re-insert inspectors into the country.

I have a proposal to increase the effectiveness of inspections this time. First, give the process a chance—a month, perhaps. No doubt, some real inspection will be accomplished, but the inspection team will just as surely be frustrated by its efforts to inspect particular sites on a schedule that does not allow for them to be sanitized before the team arrives. Then announce that the inspection procedure will be modified: The Iraqi government will be notified of the sites to be inspected during the next 24 hours. If the inspections cannot be carried out due to governmental obstructionism, we simply assume the worst and take out the target sites with cruise missiles or other weapons. Of course, the inspectors will be held captive, so we must have another list of targets to be eliminated, one per day, until such time as Iraq abides by U.N. resolutions. We should not attack more than one target at a time, but neither should we be deterred by concern for collateral damage or civilian deaths. Discretion suggests that early targets should be ones unlikely to incur civilian casualties.

Though not without its dangers—especially for inspectors, unfortunately—the plan is more likely to advance effective inspection without inviting the onset of World War III than plans apparently now favored by the President and his advisors. It will be hard to argue that the strikes are inappropriate, and they are individually insufficient to provoke enough outrage from defenders of Iraq to cause us or the world any real grief. Who knows, we might actually disarm Iraq and make a “regime change” unnecessary. Of course, George W. Bush would hate that!

August 5, 2002

Too Fond of a Good Thing?

We sometimes seem to get hung up on titles that were once appropriate but are no longer. This thought was inspired by the recent World Youth Day in Toronto, which apparently went on for a week or more. In a casual search, I was unable to determine if the event ever was a single day, but it seems likely that it was. If it never was, then I guess the name is simply Roman Catholic doublespeak. Giving Rome the benefit of the doubt, however, “World Youth Day” is likely a name that people thought sounded good and therefore retained when the event expanded to more than one day. In a similar vein, a local department holds a “One-Day Sale” from time to time. These are advertised as a “One-Day Sale and One-Day Preview.” I asked a salesman what the difference was between a two-day sale and a one-day sale with a one-day preview. He said that the one-day sale was a longstanding monthly tradition, but that the store's new owners wanted to run the sale longer. Thus, the “One-Day Sale” tradition continues. Somehow, there seems to be more honesty in “World Youth Gathering” and “Two-Day Sale,” but perhaps I am simply insufficiently respectful of tradition.

July 5, 2002


I would like to propose a class of puns. I don’t know if this is a recognized class or, if it is, whether it has a name. (Reader comments are encouraged.) If these puns don’t have a name, they need one.

I was listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, and I heard a story about the Museum of Modern Art’s moving to a former stapler factory in Queens, so that its Manhattan building can be expanded. Somehow, the phrase “old factory” stuck in my mind, and led me to the following sentence:

The old factory smelled bad inside.

This suggested a general property of such puns. They involve a word or phrase that sounds like another word or phrase that is not present but which strongly relates to other words or ideas in the sentence. This is a somewhat cumbersome definition, but I have few examples at this point and not much of an idea of what constitutes a good pun of this sort. Notice that, like many puns, the one above is inexact. “Old factory” sounds (approximately) like “olfactory,” which, of course relates to the sense of smell.

Here are three other examples:

“My engineer patient has some truly loco motives,” the frustrated psychiatrist told his colleague.

Opening the windows when the train was moving made the Pullman airy.

What type writer are you if you can’t even use a computer?

If you know of any more puns of this type, know an established name for them, or construct additional ones, please send me e-mail.

June 18, 2002


You never know what you will be remembered for. Of all the words spoken and written by Richard Nixon, for example, the former President is perhaps best known for saying “I am not a crook.” Would Nixon ever have uttered those words had he known how famous they would become?

After reading a ZDNet article on the search engine, I decided to take a second look at AllTheWeb. In one of my trial searches, I discovered that I had been quoted in a 1997 German technical report by Lutz Prechelt, “An Experiment on the Usefulness of Design Patterns: Detailed Description and Evaluation.” The report describes an experiment to determine if software maintenance is facilitated by explicitly documenting design patterns in the code. The appendix showing the code that was used in the experiment is introduced by a sentence from a report on program reading written some years ago by Fernando Navada and me. Prechelt had picked out an item from a list of ideas to keep in mind when reading programs: “Consider the possibility that the programmer did not know what he was doing.”

June 17, 2002


Much has been said of the plan of The Stanley Works’ plan to reincorporate in Bermuda. The plan reputedly will save the company $20,000,000 or so per year in corporate taxes. Stanley, headquartered for the moment in New Britain, Connecticut, has been making tools in America for more than 150 years and is justly viewed as an American institution. Many, especially politicians, however, have called its planned move unpatriotic. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to be too cynical to suggest that using the laws of the country to make more money for your company is very much the American way!

For sentimental reasons, I would hate to see Stanley go. (The move actually involves few jobs—it may actually create some—and no manufacturing is to be transferred offshore.) The wonder, however, is not that Stanley wants to make this move, but that more American corporations are not doing the same. Perhaps Stanley will start a trend. In any case, the Stanley plan is a predictable result of the oft noted but never fixed double taxation that we impose on corporations. We tax corporations, and then we tax dividends they distribute. Partly, I think, this happens because we have declared corporations to be “persons,” and persons have an obligation to support the functions of government. I don’t want to deal with this notion in detail, except to say that Microsoft has neither the same ability to enjoy the fruits of liberty nor the same moral obligations of citizenship as does Bill Gates. We all know this, as we do not let corporations vote. (Well, not directly, anyway.) Moreover, one can certainly imagine revenue-neutral tax schemes that would transfer the burden of what corporations currently pay in taxes to shareholders, bondholders, and ex-shareholders who enjoy capital gains from the sale of stock. The corporate income tax has not been eliminated for two reasons. First, corporations can, through legislation, manipulate the tax system to benefit their operations or to penalize those of their competitors. This activity corrupts the political system and distorts the economy. The other great “advantage” of the system is that it makes it appear that corporations, and not individuals, are being taxed. This makes politicians happy because, as noted earlier, corporations don’t vote.

The Stanley case illustrates yet another way that tax laws can distort the economy. Does anyone think that The Stanley Works has any rational (i.e., not tax-related) reason be being headquartered in Bermuda? It is past time to consider seriously the elimination of the corporate income tax. Owners of corporations (stockholders) and owners of corporate debt (bondholders, etc.) can be taxed on their profits, at a high rate, if necessary. The biggest objection to this idea, other than pure inertia, seems to be that foreign companies can operate in the U.S. and export profits with impunity. Well, perhaps. But we live in a global economy, and few significant foreign firms are without U.S. stockholders or debt holders. Moreover, eliminating the corporate income tax would provide an incentive for foreign firms to come here, where they pay local taxes and create jobs. The biggest advantage of the elimination of the corporate income tax, however, would be the freedom it would give corporations to act with economic rationality, instead of distorting their actions to take advantage of tax laws. After all, money paid to lawyers, accountants, consultants, and auditors to avoid taxes is fundamentally wasted money. It produces no goods or services that contribute to human happiness. Even in the best of circumstances, determining whether a corporation has made a profit depends upon judgement and accounting rules; it is not clear-cut. Dividends and interest paid and capital gains earned, on the other hand, can be identified with great objectivity. The plan might even help keep politicians honest. Well, maybe not.

June 13, 2002

ADM as God?

A recent NPR underwriting announcement referred to “ADM: Maker of natural vitamin E.” Can ADM make something that is natural? Does not ADM purify or isolate natural vitamin E?

June 11, 2002

Homeland Security

President Bush has finally decided to ask for a Department of Homeland Security. In his speech to Congress back in September, I thought he was proposing a cabinet-level office, but he merely established the tight-lipped but feeble White House office headed by Tom Ridge.

I have an open mind as to whether creating a new federal department is a good idea. It is, in principle, I think, but the devil is in the details. What I am certain about—as I was in September—is that “Homeland Security” is a horrible name, perhaps even an un-American one. Americans may talk about their “home,” but not about their “homeland.” The word “homeland” sounds very foreign, and suspect. The Nazis could appeal to citizens to protect the German homeland when an appeal to defend the Nazi government would have been ineffectual. However fond we are of “America the Beautiful,” it is our way of life that Americans want to defend; our homeland could be on the Arabian Peninsula and our feelings for the nation would be essentially the same. (We might vacation differently.) In fact, before September 11, 2001, asking a citizen where his homeland is, would likely have elicited a response such as “Italy,” or “Ireland,” or “Africa.” America is an idea, rather than a place.

So, what alternative names are available for a cabinet department? The most obvious choices are Department of Internal Security and Department of Domestic Security. Department of National Security would be a good choice were NSA being folded into the department, but it isn’t. “Homeland Security” is no doubt supposed to sound friendlier (and less fascist) than, say “Domestic Security,” but the word “security” itself has certain heavy-handed connotations in a political context. Perhaps Department of Domestic Defense or Department of Domestic Safety would be more acceptable to civil libertarians. Anything but Department of Homeland Security.

P.S. Does anyone on the planet believe President Bush’s assertion that his government reorganization will cost no more money because each agency will simply be doing what it is doing now? And, if every agency is simply going to be performing the same job, why should we take comfort in the fact?

P.P.S. (Admission) When I did a site search on “homeland,” I was reminded that I had used the word in my poem “11 September 2001.” As indicated in the annotation, I was under the influence of President Bush’s September 20 speech when I wrote the poem.

May 21, 2002

Did I Miss the Coup?

Are other people tired of hearing administration spokesmen suggesting that anyone who expresses a view different from that of George W. Bush is somehow disloyal? I certainly am. For example, Vice President Cheney said last week that less than glowing comments by Congressional Democrats are “thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.” Repeatedly, Americans have been chastised for daring to express ideas of their own when there is a war on. At the same time, we are being told that the current war has no end in sight. President Bush, quite correctly, I think, sees it as something more like the Cold War than World War II. But does this mean that free speech must be suspended for the duration? If we are fighting for our freedom, perhaps we need to be fighting our own government, not Al Qaeda. Did we have a coup while I wasn’t paying attention?

May 18, 2002

Back Again!

My Web hosting service informed me a few weeks ago that Lionel Deimel’s Farrago was to be moved to a different server. I received detailed information about what was to happen and what I needed to do to assure a smooth changeover. Not surprisingly, I was not actually told everything I needed to know. Most aspects of the migration went smoothly, but there were hangups, most of which could have been avoided had I been given another paragraph or two of instructions. In other words, 80% (or more) of my effort required to keep the Web site up and running was consumed by 20% (or fewer) of the tasks I had to do. So, what’s new? My last real problem was getting BLOGGER, which I use to maintain Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, to update the log properly. BLOGGER could not seem to log on the the server to upload files. The tech support people for my Web hosting service were little help, and I did not even want to think about trying to get technical support from BLOGGER. In the end, I guessed the likely source of my problem and apparently guessed right. The password for my account on the new server was outrageously long, and I thought that perhaps the BLOGGER FTP client could not handle such a long password. I changed the password to something shorter (and something I had already memorized) and bingo, it worked. Well, BLOGGER was able to log in, anyway. I had to change a few configuration settings I had wrong, but that was relatively easy.

All this is by way of saying that Lionel Deimel’s Web Log is back in business, and additional posts should follow. Stay tuned.

April 18, 2002

Things Might Have Been Different

I recently saw a pharmaceutical industry ad on TV that showed a young woman explaining how she had benefited from new drugs taken for her breast cancer. “Ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today,” she said gratefully. I understood generally what she meant, but her statement is curious. After all, ten years ago, she could only be sitting somewhere ten years ago. What exactly was the statement supposed to mean? One possibility is something like: “Ten years ago, there was little likelihood that I would be sitting here today, ten years later.” To an advertising manager, that no doubt sounds too coldly statistical. What may have been meant is: “Had I been born ten years earlier and contracted cancer at the same age as I did, I probably would not have lived as long as I have.” That sentence is hardly a memorable sound bite. Clarity is not always euphonious.

April 2, 2002

Gloomy Words

I was invited to attend a Tenebrae service on Good Friday. This is a service associated with Holy Week, at which candles are used and are, one by one, extinguished, leaving the church in darkness. I was disappointed that I was unable to go to the service, as I have never actually experienced Tenebrae. The name comes from the Latin for darkness, which seems appropriate. There are several potentially useful English words, admittedly obscure, that come from the same root. Tenebrific, for instance, can refer to something that tends to darken or obscure, or it can simply mean obscure or dark. One could, I suppose, use this word symbolically, though this use may be uncommon. (Whereas the first speaker was insightful, the second was tenebrific.) This is apparently a newer word than tenebrous or tenebrious, which both mean dark and gloomy. Dark-and-gloominess is, of course, tenebrosity. The most wonderful word of this rather odd lot, however, is the five-syllable tenebrionid, which is someone who avoids light. I must find a use for this word.

March 31, 2002

How’s That Again?

According to an NPR obituary, retired CNN executive Ed Turner (no relation to Ted Turner) "tried to launch two unsuccessful cable news channels" after leaving CNN. NPR likely got this wrong. Mr. Turner no doubt intended to launch successful channels, but he failed to do so. The original sentence is not easily fixed. "He tried unsuccessfully to launch two cable news channels" is technically ambiguous. "He tried, unsuccessfully, to launch two cable news channels" clarifies Mr. Turner's intentions, though, in a brief news item, the distinction between this sentence and the previous one might be missed. I suspect that the cable news channel launches were consecutive, rather than parallel efforts, which is made clear by none of the sentences considered so far. "He was unceccessful in two attempts to launch cable news channels" probably comes closest to what was actually intended.

The faulty sentence heard on the radio supports linguistic theories that assert that we construct meaning in our minds before we map that meaning to a particular sequence of words. Errors in that final mapping process sometimes yield sentences that we understand perfectly, even though modifiers are misplaced or a suffix that belongs on one word is mistakenly placed on another.

March 19, 2002

World Premier

My hymn “O Lord the Invisible” received its first public performance (as the sequence hymn) at my church Sunday morning. After living with the hymn for a year, it was gratifying to at last hear it sung by a large congregation.

Such a premier is a special kind of event for a non-professional. As in the case of the singing dog, people tend to be less amazed by the quality of the work than by who is responsible for it. Of the parishioners who know me, most are unfamiliar with my poetry, and even those who are were mostly unaware that I had set one of my works to music. In these circumstances, one must discount words of appreciation—and there were many—for the ordinary-person and friendly-venue factors. That said, there was reason to believe that people genuinely liked the hymn and would have liked it even without knowing the author. Despite its unexpected melodic and rhythmic turns, for example, the congregation did a good job of singing it. Musicians, who should have had the good sense to keep their mouths shut if they did not like the hymn, had quite positive remarks about it. Indeed, our organist/choirmaster, a composer himself and arranger of the hymn, tells me that his experience is that, if people at St. Paul’s do not like a composition, they simply say nothing.

I had had less confidence in the tune than in the words, but Sunday’s experience was reassuring with regard to both text and music. Doug’s imaginative unison setting and his brisk tempo no doubt contributed to the likeability of the hymn. (I am grateful to Doug, by the way, for his gracious failure, in his introduction to the hymn, to mention his role in its development.) The music had a dance-like quality that some identified with Celtic music, though this notion may have been influenced by the fact that Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day!

In his sermon, our rector seemed to give more credit for the hymn to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit than to me, which some saw as a backhanded compliment. Whereas a priest may have reason to flatter a parishioner, however, there is no need to flatter the Holy Spirit, so I took the compliment as genuine.

March 16, 2002

Ins and Outs of Completing Forms

A few days ago, I was formatting a form for presenters to provide information about their presentations at a workshop. It occurred to me that “to fill in a form” and “to fill out a form” mean essentially the same thing. Dictionaries prefer “fill out,” but the well-established phrase “fill in the blanks” inevitably, I think, leads to the phrase “fill in a form.” The “fill in” usage emphasizes placing information in particular places, whereas “filling out” emphasizes expansion to a completed state of the form (analogous to saying that a child’s face or figure “filled out” and related to the idea of “completing a form”). No doubt, the equivalence (or near equivalence) of “to fill in” and “to fill out”—a seemingly paradoxical state of affairs—results from these phrases having originated in different takes on the process of using a form. Curiously, we never speaking of “filling a form.”

March 4, 2002

On- and Off-line

Some trips to the library are more helpful than are others. I wrote on 2/19/2002 about AOL’s use of “Online,” pronounced “on´-line” in its television ads. I finally got to the Mt. Lebanon Public Library yesterday to check this usage in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). What I found was in the Volume III Supplement of 1982.

I am reluctant to trust a 20-year-old reference as a guide to current computer jargon, but I take some comfort in the absence of “online” (one word) in the OED. (The Encarta World English Dictionary of 1999 does recognize both “online” and “on-line,” but it offers neither a pronunciation guide nor derivation. I find it difficult to take this book seriously.) The OED describes the stress of “on-line” as “variable,” and in no case, where a stress pattern was indicated, was the first syllable stressed to the degree that it is in the AOL ads.

My speculations about the origin of “on-line” appear to have been off the mark. The OED offers various definitions for both “on-line” and “off-line” as adjectives and adverbs—the latter term seemingly the older by a few decades. The earliest reference was from 1926 (“off-line offices”) in the sense of not situated or performed by railway or by rail. No analogous use was noted for “on-line,” although, as I mentioned in my earlier note, the term is certainly used that way (as in “on-line industries”) and has been for some time. The OED did acknowledge a similar sense in relation to airlines, but the earliest meaning cited for “on-line” was indeed in a computing context, referring to peripherals directly connected to a computer. Amazingly, this appeared in a book, High-speed Computing Devices, edited by W.W. Stifler, Jr., and assembled originally as a report for the Office of Naval Research in 1950. The usage that I thought might be oldest, having the same meaning as “on stream” (no hyphen), as in “the plant came on line” (also no hyphen), was represented by a 1968 reference, although “on stream” itself dates from at least 1930.

March 1, 2002


President Bush soon has to decide whether the U.S. will impose punitive tariffs on imported steel. The president of the United Steelworkers was explaining on NPR’s “Morning Edition” today that there is excess steel making capacity in the world, which is why so much steel is being imported. However, none of the excess capacity, he earnestly told us, is in the U.S.

I would be delighted to learn that there is excess oil production capacity in the world. Why should I not have the same reaction to analogous news about steel making capacity? Moreover, who’s to say that a steel plant in Gary, Indiana, does not represent excess world capacity, but a steel plant in Russia does? Clearly, Russia is more desperate to sell steel at a low price than is U.S. Steel. By my understanding of economics, that makes the Indiana plant seem like one plant too many.

The issues may be somewhat more complicated than that, but, I suggest, the USW is quite selective in its arguments. The USW president emphasized that relatively little labor is required to make domestic steel, and domestic plants produce only modest pollution. That may be true, but American steel producers are still burdened by high labor and benefit costs that can be traced to the postwar era, when big business and big labor conspired to produce steel at high prices with high-wage workers, and with little concern for plant modernization. At the time, of course, steel was essential to the economy, and the foreign competition was meager.

Times have changed. Even big steel has changed, prodded by upstarts like Nucor (which, to its shame, is supporting protectionism for steel). On the other hand, why should I pay higher prices to support steelworks and misguided investors?

Of course, President Bush will approve the tariffs. Labor votes are at stake, and the Republicans need them. The public be damned.

February 22, 2002

Sarah Hughes

Figure skater Sarah Hughes was at the center of an Olympic drama last night that people will be recounting for decades. Though she finished only fourth in the short program, behind first-place heir apparent Michelle Kwan, it was the 16-year-old Hughes who wore the gold medal when “The Star Spangled Banner” was played following the long program competition; Kwan wore bronze.

The expectation of NBC commentators seemed to be that Hughes was likely to remain just out of the medals, behind Kwan, Russian Irina Slutskaya, and American newcomer Sasha Cohen. To end the competition in first place, Hughes had to skate better than the front-runners, but Slutskaya also had to earn higher scores than Kwan. Only when the numbers for final skater Slutskaya were reported were the medal winners determined.

Despite the common sports rhetoric about overcoming difficulty and adversity with hard work and determination, the most delightful performances are those that, despite difficulty, are made to seem effortless. Even in their best moments, the performances of the top three women in the long program were tightly controlled, eliciting anxiety, rather than delight in spectators whenever a difficult maneuver was essayed.

And then there was Sarah. With limited prospects of earning a medal after a somewhat stiff performance in the short program, Sarah skated with gay abandon. She entered the rink with a broad, sincere smile, and she seemed to enjoy every moment she spent on the ice. After her first flawless jumps, spectators were captivated and reassured; they could relax in the expectation that more of the same was to follow. It did, and Sarah’s smile at the end bespoke both joy and amazement. Even though the leaders of the competition had not yet taken to the ice, Sarah brought down the house. If you missed that moment, you may as well have not watched any of the Olympics.

Update, 8/1/2012. Watching and writing about women’s gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympics, I was reminded of this post I wrote more than 10 years ago. Sarah Hughes’ performance in the long program is the greatest Olympic performance I have ever seen, and I want to share it with others. You can read about Sarah Hughes here, and you can watch her medal-winning performance below.

February 19, 2002


American Online has been heavily promoting its version 7.0 software on television lately. AOL hype is generally irritating, of course, but I have been particularly jarred by the pronunciation of the reputed word “Online.” (The word should probably be “On-line,” but I can spot a trend when I see one.) Since the word in question comes from the two words “on” and “line,” “on-line” (or “online”) is generally pronounced as two syllables with nearly equal emphasis. In various circumstances, I think, one or the other syllable may receive slightly more emphasis. The American Heritage Dictionary shows both syllables accented, the first more heavily, but I am at least slightly skeptical of this analysis. I assert that, in a sentence such as “I’m on-line,” the accent is likely to be on the second syllable. The AOL commercials, however, refer to “America On´line.” But no one speaks of being on´-line unless he is peevishly correcting someone who has insisted that he is off-line.

I had hoped that some historical analysis might help clarify the pronunciation of “on-line,” but the dictionaries that I have available in my library and on the Web have been only so helpful. Most dictionaries suggest that the word is applied primarily to computing devices (or perhaps to computer users), but I suspect the word had a more industrial genesis. One source suggested a 1950 origin, which almost certainly would have been in a non-computer context. Railroads refer to “on-line industries,” which are plants adjacent to a rail line (i.e., railroad track). I suspect that the original line may have been an assembly line, however. A trip to the library seems indicated.

February 14, 2002


A few blocks from my house, the old Overbrook trolley line, which has been out of service for seven years, joins the Beechview light rail line, which was rebuilt about 15 years ago. That junction, and about one hundred yards of track adjacent to it, had been rebuilt to the high light rail standard and was regularly used as a siding for maintenance-of-way equipment and trains about to enter service. I was quite surprised, therefore, when workers began tearing up the rail there and removing the catenary and its steel supports.

The reason for the demolition is that a transit station is being built near the junction of the two lines, which will require a realignment of the right-of-way. The sudden removal of the catenary supports revealed an unobstructed sky, especially remarkable because Willow Street, which parallels the now-removed rails, is about a dozen feet lower than the roadbed.

We city dwellers (particularly suburban dwellers, anyway) often do not realize the degree to which our environment is cluttered with utility poles, wires, cell phone towers, and the like. We often excise these ugly modern appliances from our mental landscape, only becoming aware of them when they show up unexpectedly in our photographs or disappear to reveal sky or field or building that they used to obscure.

February 10, 2002

Tech Support

I never heard back from the tech support folks I thought might be able to help me with my PC problem. (Actually, I didn’t really think they could help, but the call was free, so what the hell?)

I called Microsoft—I had gotten their hours wrong and called two hours before they were scheduled to close (or perhaps stop taking calls). I was asked for a product ID and learned that I was eligible for two additional incidents at no charge. (I had used one of three free incidents, apparently.) Happy day!

Of course, I was put on hold. Microsoft’s on-hold music is not my taste, but it wasn’t too irritating. I booted into safe mode while I waited for help. Eventually, Angela answered. Because she had an accent, I occasionally had to ask her to repeat something she said, but she was friendly, competent, and, above all, patient.

I won’t go into everything we did (and undid) on my computer. (I lost count of how many times we went into and out of safe mode.) Suffice it to say, the call lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it looked like we were doomed to failure near the end, though Angela had seemed quite upbeat until that time. Finally, however, we were able to restore the system to a stable state from a couple of days ago using a feature I did not know existed in Windows 98 and which Angela warned me is not for the fainthearted.

So, in the end, I got free tech support from Microsoft that solved my problem, even though it took nearly three hours. Of course, I hold Microsoft responsible for causing the problem in the first place, though I should have been more skeptical of the driver download that caused all the trouble. I will recommend aggressive use of Windows Update to unsophisticated users with less enthusiasm in the future.

It’s good to be back on the Internet with my computer.

Windows Update

In a paroxysm of administrative fervor yesterday, I increased the available space on one of my hard drives by creating Zip archives to replace folders of old versions of client databases. After increasing my free space by 300 MB, I made a routine trip to the Microsoft Windows Update site to see if there were any updates to Windows 98 Second Edition that might be of interest. At the end of the list, I found an Intel IDE driver of some sort. It is unusual for me to find new drivers of any kind posted, so I should have read carefully whatever documentation was available for this software. Being on a roll, however, I selected the checkbox and proceeded to download the driver. Not surprisingly, I was told I needed to reboot to complete the installation. When I did so, I received two messages from Norton AntiVirus about missing files, then got the dreaded message “Windows protection error. You need to restart your computer.”

I am writing this item from my backup computer, as my primary machine still cannot boot to the desktop in other than safe mode. I tried many tricks either to resolve or diagnose the problem, but I am still unable to get past the Windows protection error. I have searched the Microsoft Knowledge Base—though not thoroughly—and called a 24-hour support service I thought might be able to help. I’m waiting for a call back from a second-level tech and have decided that it is not a good use of my time to continue troubleshooting on my own.

Windows Update is a great mechanism for keeping copies of Windows up-to-date, particularly by inexperienced users. It usually works flawlessly. I have seen it fail in various ways, however, though never as badly as this. I was even ready to switch to my backup Windows Registry, but I discovered that it does not exist. I am now ready—positively eager, even—to pay Microsoft to get me my computer running properly again. (The Sunday support hours do not begin until later today.) I will, however, make the case that Microsoft got me into this fix and should therefore get me out of it at their expense. Check back for updates.

February 9, 2002


Without being obsessive about it, I watched much of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City last night. Although I am not an aficionado of such extravaganzas, this one provided the sort of good-natured entertainment that Mormons seem to be good at.

I was especially pleased by several things. First, the program was light (“lite,” if you like) on trendy musical performers and genres. Attempts to be too trendy sometimes make these things seem dated half an hour into them. Mahler and Stravinsky, on the other hand, will be around for the long haul, though I was disappointed by the lack of Prokofiev. (Correct me if I missed “Love for Three Oranges” while I was in front of my computer.) I was also pleased by the emphasis on native tribes (i.e., not Mormons), something which is always a surprise in Utah. Mostly, however, I appreciated the Winter Olympics version of the Golden Spike ceremony, the joining of the two segments of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Whereas no one could mistake the fanciful representations of trains for the real thing—nothing quite substitutes for an actual steam locomotive, but even the Olympics has a budget—the people who put together this particular segment clearly had done their homework. The stand-ins for the “Jupiter” and No. 119 strongly suggested the actual locomotives involved, even if most viewers could not care less.

I hope the games will be as much fun.

Out of This World

I saw a piece on television the other day about how debilitating being in space can be. The lack of gravity causes muscles to atrophy, even though astronauts pursue a rigorous exercise regimen. The possibility of creating artificial gravity by spinning our spacecraft was mentioned, but NASA apparently thinks this proposal is too expensive.

NASA's attitude is very curious. Many of my generation are surprised that spinning space stations have received so little attention. Walt Disney was telling us in the '50s that this was they way to go, and 2001: A Space Odyssey made it look so reasonable. My own theory is that NASA has painted itself into a corner. It has emphasized microgravity experiments because selling space as a place to do commercial fabrication impossible on earth is a more effective pitch to politicians and businessmen than is selling the idea of exploring the universe. If you cannot spin everything, why spin anything? Another problem is that NASA, until recently, seemed to be redesigning its current space station every second Thursday. Something large that spins in space requires a plan you stick with. On the other hand, a gravity-less and amorphous assemblage of stuff is always easy to add to.

How Much Power Can It Take to Run a Map Light?

I got into my car Thursday night to make the short drive to church for choir rehearsal. I immediately got a bad feeling when I saw that one of the map lights had been left on and was glowing anemically. Sure enough, when I turned the key, I only heard the dreaded clicking sound—the battery had been drained. I began considering alternatives. I could walk, but I would be late (and perhaps tired) by the time I arrived. I could call AAA, but this would no doubt delay me even more. Besides, after the short drive to church, I would still have a dead battery. Instead, I ran into the house, grabbed my church directory, and began thinking of who passed near me on his way to church. I called one number and got an answering machine. My second call reached an alto who was running late. We agreed to meet on a nearby corner, so I ran out the door.

It was perhaps ten minutes before the cute little Volkswagen pulled over to the curb to let me in. While waiting, I had been watching cars negotiate a four-way stop. (This was the intersection that inspired my essay on this type of intersection.) It was interesting to note that not a single car—quite a few passed—actually stopped at the intersection except out of absolute necessity. Every car slowed down, usually to a very slow pace, but none literally stopped. I guess this has become the standard procedure for negotiating such an intersection. Anyway, I arrived at church 15 or 20 minutes late, enjoyed a good rehearsal, and got a ride home.

I decided to call AAA the next morning, as I had no early obligations. Once I was dressed, I made the call, and the car was running about 15 minutes later. I kept it running for two hours, by which time, the battery seemed to be fully charged. I was surprised that one map light could do so much damage. As it happened, I had not used the car Thursday until it was time for choir, so the map light—which I had turned on to read something after I had shut down the engine sometime Wednesday night—had been on for the better part of a day. Some quick mental calculations failed to convince me that the map light should have drained enough power to prevent the car from starting, but perhaps it is more of a glutton for electricity than I realize.

Be sure to turn the map light off when you park your car.

Web Log

Although I spend much of my life in front of my computer and connected to the Internet, it took an article in Time to bring blogs (“Web logs” or “weblogs”) to my attention. I had seen blogs on the Web, of course, but I had not thought much about them. Why, after all, would I expect anyone to be interested in my sex life or what I had for breakfast? What the Time article did was to make me aware that there is clever technology that makes it quick and simple to upload notes to the Web from any computer connected to the Internet. Perhaps a blog is an excuse and a mechanism to post thoughts worthy of sharing but that do not justify the time needed to write an essay or a poem. Or I might just have found a place to write about my cats.

Anyway, I visited the BLOGGER Web site and spent some time reading and fooling around. The result is Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, the latest appendage of my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago (see links at left). I cannot tell you what this will become, but expect more political commentary and less personal gossip than in the average blog.

And so, to you, visitor, I say welcome. Come back often and see what this experiment becomes. I cannot say if you are curious, but I certainly am.