February 27, 2023

New Curve-stitch Designs

I began making curve-stitch designs in junior high school, having been introduced to them by my math teacher, Mrs. Eunice Williams. I quickly graduated from using pencils or ballpoint pens to using drafting pens and India ink on drafting paper. Drawing these figures was satisfying but mind-numbingly tedious. Mistakes could be corrected but only with difficulty. Some people, even more masochistic than my teenage self, produce designs with thread, yarn, or wire on a substrate of some sort. More power to them.

My enthusiasm for curve-stitch designs was rekindled by my discovery that I could produce designs using my computer. Frankly, doing so can be tedious as well, but at least it’s not as physically challenging. Using the computer allowed me to post some of my designs on my Web site and even see them published in China and Australia. I have lately been updating Lionel Deimel’s Farrago and have again begun to create curve-stitch images.

In many ways, my favorite creation is what I call my curve-stitch isometric cube. I too an isometric cube and drew curve-stitch parabolas on all adjacent sides. A framed version of this design hangs in my hallway. It consists of white lines on a black background. Here is a black-on-white version:

I have produced my designs by programming in PostScript. a page-description language designed by Adobe. While updating my Web site, I decided to simplify the code that generates the above image. In the process, I realized that I could generalize this design. My cube has six sides. Here is an analogous design with four sides.

February 22, 2023


I am tired of both politicians and journalists speaking of proposed law changes as “reform.” GOP lawmakers want to “reform” Social Security, by which they mean reduce benefits or eliminate the program entirely. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to “reform” Israel’s judiciary, by which he means stripping power from the courts and giving more power to the Knesset, thus eliminating an important check on legislative and administrative overreach.

“Reform” is a righteous-sounding term that gives a gloss of respectability to any policy to which it is attached. But not only can the word be used to obscure one’s motives but it can introduce ambiguity and confusion into political discourse. Does “reforming” the police mean transferring police duties to non-police personnel or does it mean giving police more money and equipment to help them do their job more efficiently?

We are unlikely to dissuade politicians from using “reform” to bolster support for their proposals, but we can encourage journalists to reform how they speak and write about the politician’s “reform.” Journalists should not just parrot the propaganda of politicians. They can refer to “changes” or they can be more specific about the changes being promoted. Replacing “reform of” with “changes to” is not more specific, but at least it replaces a positive-sounding locution with a more neutral one. In some cases, journalists can be more truthful without being more verbose—“gutting the judiciary” rather than “reforming the judiciary,” for example.

If journalists refuse to automatically repeat calls for “reform,” politicians may actually become less eager to use the term.

February 16, 2023

Non-binary Pronouns

A while ago, I was reading a story of some sort. A few paragraphs into it, I ran into the phrase “they said.” They who? I wondered, as I had as yet encountered only one person’s name. It took me a while to figure out that the “they” of the story was, in fact, the single person named earlier. Apparently, that person identifies neither as male nor female. (I don’t like the term “identifies,” but, when I tried to recast that last sentence without using gendered pronouns, I began to appreciate its usefulness.)

On Zoom, it has become common to see participants whose name is followed by a notation such as “(they, them),” that is, they telegraph “their” pronouns. Other people add “(she, her),” “(he, him),” “(she, her, hers),” or some such. For someone who presents as male or female, the list of pronouns is technically unnecessary, though I suspect it is added to make less prominent the list of those for whom the list is necessary.

Honestly, I don’t understand the whole non-binary thing unless you are an intersex person. On the other hand, I don’t care about it. If you want to be a sexless person, I say go for it. On the other hand, I strongly object to the use of plural pronouns to refer to individual persons. Doing so is a confusing grammatical anomaly. I am sympathetic to the desire of non-binary people to eschew gendered pronouns. I think, however, that they have taken the wrong approach linguistically.

English is unhelpful to the non-binary. It has male, female, and neuter pronouns.  One could argue that the appropriate pronouns should be “it,” “its,” and “itself”. Logic, however, does not account for the discomfort resulting from referring to humans with the same pronouns utilized for file cabinets and garbage dumps. (Some Episcopalians are uncomfortable referring to God as “He,” but they seem equally uncomfortable with “It,” which also seems logical.) The language is really in need of some new, non-binary pronouns. Why not invent some?

That suggestion is more reasonable that it might at first seem. When women wanted an honorific that did not indicate marital status, they—someone, anyway—invented “Ms.” It took some time for this neologism to be widely accepted, but no one gives it a second thought today. It is actually comforting to know that I can respectively address a woman without having to research whether or not she is married. Encouraged by this development, I propose that we adopt new pronouns for non-binary persons.

I would argue that we only need new second-person singular pronouns. Pronouns such as “me” and “them” do not telegraph gender, and there probably is no reason to devise analogous pronouns that do. I will propose specific pronouns, but my concern is simply that we devise some new pronouns. Others may be able to invent more mellifluous ones. By analogy to existing forms, I believe the new words should be monosyllabic where possible and not be easily confused with other English words.

Here are my suggestions for second-person singular pronouns: 

          tu           tum           tus           tuself

Here is an example of how these words could be used:

Tu attended the party. Janet met tum there. She was surprised by tus outfit. Tu told her that tu designed it tuself.

As I said, I am advocating new pronouns, but I don’t have strong feelings about what these new words should be. I decided to base my words on the French tu, meaning you. This was convenient for a number of reasons. I invite comments and other suggestions. 

February 14, 2023

Views of My New Church

When I moved to Clifton Springs, New York, I was happy to discover that there was an Episcopal Church hardly more than a block away. I have been waiting for a sunny day and an afternoon sun to take pictures of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

This is the shot I had been waiting for:

East side of the church

Unfortunately, I could do nothing about the large shadow on the west face of the building. There is a tall structure across Main St. that is responsible for the shadow. I could not remove that building. Unlike most churches, St. John’s is notable for having the liturgical east end of the church actually facing east. Reviewing this photograph, I wonder if it would have been improved were there a few clouds in the very blue sky.

Leaving downtown driving east, St. John’s is nearly in front of you until the road veers to the right, as can be seen in the map below.

Aerial view of the church neighborhood

As you might guess from the photo of the church, St. John’s has been around for a while. Below is a photo of the cornerstone at the northeast corner of the building.

Building cornerstone

As your car goes past the church you can see this sign on the church lawn:

Church sign

And here is the south façade of the church:

South side of church

Clapping on Jeopardy!

I’m not a fan of quiz shows generally, but I regularly watch Jeopardy! This particular program requires knowledge—often arcane knowledge—imagination, strategy, dexterity, and a little bit of luck. It is fast-paced and challenging for viewers who take the game seriously. And trying to come up with the proper responses can be seriously humbling.

I’ve noticed a phenomenon on the program that I’ve observed (and disliked) on other quiz shows. Contestants sometimes clap when other contestants offer a correct response. Surely this is insincere. Contestants are contesting against one another after all. Generally, a successful response from someone else diminishes your chance of winning. Could that possibly please you if you actually understand the game?

It is possible, of course, that someone might offer an extraordinarily brilliant response to a difficult clue, for which admiring applause might seem appropriate. Although playing the game requires knowledge and cleverness, absolute brilliance is not usually necessary, so I think this situation arises seldom if at all.

Another reason for clapping for a correct response from someone else is strategic. For example, if you are leading another player by a small amount, a correct response by a far-behind third player is not a threat to you and prevents the second-place player from gaining on you by offering a correct response. Your applause could be quite genuine, but it would represent bad sportsmanship. It would be the equivalent of clapping for a missed response.

At the end of the game, losing contestants usually clap for the winner. Unlike other opportunities for applause, this is perfectly respectable, acknowledging as it does, the winner of a hard-faught game. That would represent good sportsmanship.

February 10, 2023

A Hospital Adventure

Moving to a new town requires finding new sources of goods and services—doctors, mechanics, food stores, clothing stores, etc. Yesterday, I had my first visit with my new primary care physician. Because I had been experiencing knee pain, he ordered X-rays of the troublesome joint.

This morning, I walked to Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic to have the ordered images taken. This was convenient, as the hospital is directly behind my apartment building. Although I can see the hospital from my building, my doctor had to tell me how to get into it, as the main entrance is not visible from my building.

I negotiated the revolving door, entered the lobby, and donned the required mask. I explained the reason for my visit to the receptionist, who directed me to another reception desk at a different entrance. I found that quickly enough and explained why I was there. The receptionist tried to find me in her computer system. I told her I likely wouldn’t be found, as I had never had any contact with the hospital or the hospital system of which it was a part. (I would have been totally freaked out had she discovered information about me on her computer.) Once she concluded that I was not in the system she excused herself and left through a nearby door. She returned in a few moments and invited me to follow her. I was handed off to a man in a small office who was apparently going to check me in.

My communication with this clerk began predictably enough. I gave him the order from my doctor and answered questions about my Social Security number, marital status, and so forth. At some point, however, he was clearly having trouble entering the needed information into his computer. He excused himself, presumably to get some advice, and soon returned to his desk. I was surprised that whatever he needed to do did not seem routine, and I expressed my surprise at his difficulties. He told me that new patients do not often present themselves. (Well, that was interesting!)

We made some progress in the intake interview but ran into another snag. The clerk excused himself and returned with another person or two. (I wasn’t keeping track.) Before I knew it, four people were trying to help my perplexed clerk. This collective was able to move the process along, and the four outsiders left the room.  It wasn’t long before this process had to be repeated. The clerk left the room and returned with one helper, who was soon joined by another. Together, they seem to have concluded that the computer system understood that I was at the hospital but did not know why. Entering information about my X-ray needs seemed to have unblocked the intake process. (This step actually did require all three people to complete.) The helpers left, I was required to sign a few documents, and I was handed a piece of paper that was my ticket to the radiology department.

The clerk walked me to the hallway and directed me to radiology. He apologized profusely for my having to wait so long to be checked in and thanked me for my patience. I replied that the delay was no problem and was actually very amusing. Checking in had taken about 45 minutes.

In the radiology waiting room, I handed in my paperwork and took a seat, expecting to read a bit of the book I had brought along. I had read perhaps one paragraph when I was called for my X-rays. Happily, I did not need to undress or put on a hospital gown; all I had to do was stand in front of the X-ray machine. The process took perhaps five minutes. It took longer than that for me to find my way back to the main entrance.

When I next have business at the hospital, I expect that check-in will be easier. 

Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic
Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic

February 8, 2023

Table of Contents Returns

For quite some time, I couldn’t update my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. Because of this, I couldn’t keep the table of contents for Lionel Deimel’s Web Log current. I am pleased to report that an updated table of contents is now available. You can find it here. On this or other blog pages, you can find a link to the table of contents in the column at the right of the page under the heading “LINKS.”

Finding an older blog post can be difficult. Whereas Web sites often have site maps, blogs generally do not. As a result, older blog posts are seldom visited. A post can perhaps be found using a search engine such as Google, but one may not know a good set of search terms needed to find it. And a blog post may appear far down the list of sites returned by a search.

In the case of this blog, there is a Google search box at the top left of every page. This is helpful only if you have a clear idea of what it is you want to find. At the right of blog pages under the heading “BLOG ARCHIVE,” posts are listed by the month in which they were written. In principle, one can generate a chronological list of all posts using this resource, but doing so would be tedious.

The blog table of contents not only lists all posts and the dates of their composition but also gives brief descriptions of the posts themselves. Posts are color-coded, distinguishing those about language, about church matters, about the blog itself, and about everything else. (Actually, that last category is large.)

My hope is that visitors will use the table of contents to find particular remembered essays or simply to browse through the more than two decades of blog essays.

February 6, 2023

More Frustration from Facebook

When I first opened the Facebook app on my phone this morning, I was asked if I wanted to complete a survey about my use of Facebook. I have complained about the mechanics of Facebook both on my blog and on Facebook itself, and I thought the survey might provide an opportunity to communicate some of my complaints directly to the people responsible.

Almost immediately, I got to a question about where I would like to see changes to the system. (For reasons that will become obvious, I cannot say exactly how the question was phrased.) I immediately checked the “Other” option and began thinking about how I wanted to describe my complaints in the associated text box. After a few moments, I decided that I needed time to consider my response and that I should write it out on paper before entering my comments into the survey. I left open the survey and read items from The New York Times while I ate breakfast.

When I returned to the Facebook app, the screen was blank. When I clicked on the Back button, I was asked “Are you sure you want to exit the survey?” The choices were “EXIT” and “KEEP GOING.” I chose the latter, of course, and found myself back to the black screen. I repeated this little dance a couple of times, always with the same result. Finally, I selected “EXIT.” As I expected, this took me to my news feed without any option to respond to the survey.

Can’t Facebook do even the simplest things right? (In this case, the app simply needed to do nothing at all!)

February 2, 2023

Pull Out All the Stops

 The phrase “pull out all the stops” is a common phrase meaning to do everything in one’s power, using all resources at one’s disposal, to achieve an objective. If, for example, a large asteroid was headed for a collision with the earth, humans would do well to pull out all the stops to prevent disaster.

Stops are selected using the knobs to the left and
right of the manuals (keyboards).
As a musician, I have always assumed that this phrase derives from the world of organs. In organ parlance, a stop is a collection of pipes intended to produce notes of different pitches but having similar sound quality. A stop may be a single rank of pipes or may involve more than one rank. (A rank is a group of pipes of identical construction differing only in length, and therefore pitch.) An organist controls which pipes sound when a key is pressed by choosing one or more stops. This is most often done by pulling (drawing) a knob labeled with the stop name (see photo). That knob is called a draw knob or stop knob or simply a stop. To pull out all the stops of an organ means to pull all the draw knows, which causes all the organ pipes to sound at once.

Merriam-Webster attests that the meaning of “pull out all the stops” indeed derives from the world of organs. I was therefore surprised when I read a different explanation of the origin of the phrase. I was reading the chapter titled “Generator” in John R. Stilgoe’s Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene. The chapter deals with electrical generating stations, both their architecture and their mechanics. Stilgoe writes

The colloquialism “pull out all the stops” derives from the safety governor that spun atop most stationary engines; removing one or more of the weighted metal stops caused the engine to work faster and faster—removing all meant running the risk of a runaway engine, broken belts, and catastrophe.

Merriam-Webster notes that a stop can be a device for arresting or limiting motion, so Stilgoe’s explanation certainly makes sense. I suspect that the phrase applied to organs is more venerable, though I cannot prove that.

Tracking down the origin of words and phrases can be a tricky business.