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.