On being ... Greek to me!

By Ingrid Sapona

Given that I’m half Greek, I realize it’s ironic to admit that I don’t actually know what that line at the very bottom of the last column says -- but it’s true. I know it’s in Greek letters, but I’m really not sure what it says. All I can tell you is what I originally wrote -- and what happened...

It all started with a two word error message (in English, mind you) that popped up when I tried to send On being … summer distractions. The message read: Word error! I’d never gotten that error message before and, try as I might to make sense of it, I never did figure out what it means. I do, however, know the implications of it.

I usually send On being … using Microsoft Outlook. I start with a blank e-mail that I address to myself and on the “bcc” line I insert my On being … mailing list. Then I copy and cut the column text from Microsoft Word (the program I compose it in), paste the text into the e-mail and hit SEND.

When I did that on August 15th I got the aforementioned error message. The message seemed odd to me because I was in Outlook, not Word, but I often find computer error messages cryptic and unhelpful. Unconcerned with the message’s meaning, I clicked on the “x” to close it. Unfortunately, that immediately shut down Outlook.

Undaunted, I re-opened Outlook and tried again. And again. And again. The same thing happened each time. I even tried the computer fix of last resort: I re-booted and tried again. That didn’t help either.

Determined not to be outsmarted by the computer, I decided to take the message literally: maybe there was something wrong with Word and cutting and pasting from that program was causing a problem in Outlook. (It seemed plausible, since Word and Outlook are both Microsoft products.) With that in mind, I figured maybe I could avoid the problem by simply re-typing it directly in Outlook. So, I did that but when I hit SEND, up popped the same damned message.

Feeling somewhat defeated, I decided I should just send it from my Yahoo account, which is what I do when I’m away. Yahoo isn’t ideal because I find the formatting often changes (characters like accent marks and long dashes don’t always “translate” and Yahoo seems to insert extra blank lines between paragraphs), but at least the column would go out.

So, I opened Yahoo and pasted the column into a new message. Just before I went to send it I noticed I had forgotten the copyright information at the bottom, so I quickly typed it in. Then I hit SEND. To my relief, the message went.

A minute later I received my copy of the column. I opened it and when I scrolled through it I noticed the Greek at the bottom. Much like the Outlook error message, which might as well have been in Greek as it meant nothing to me -- I had NO idea what the Greek words said or how they got there. With my primitive ability to sound out Greek letters -- and given where the text was -- I suspected that somehow Yahoo had translated the copyright information into Greek.

Puzzled by it, I e-mailed a Greek cousin who receives my column to ask him what the Greek at the bottom said and whether he had any ideas about how it happened (as he’s a computer specialist). His e-mail response was puzzling. He said he had no idea what I was talking about, as there was no Greek at the bottom and -- to prove his point -- he forwarded his copy of the column to me.

When I scrolled to the bottom of his e-mail the Greek text was clearly there, so I figured he was teasing me. I decided the only way I’d get a real answer would be to phone him, so I did. To my amazement, he really had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently, on his computer, all the text was in English -- even the copyright information.

In discussing it we realized he had received it through Yahoo and so we figured maybe the mysterious conversion doesn’t happen when the e-mail is sent and received via Yahoo. To test this hypothesis we e-mailed the column back and forth to each other using different e-mail programs, but the bizarre result was always the same: it was all in English when he received it and the last line was always in Greek when I received it.

So there you have it -- a curious computer tale from start to finish. When stuff like this happens all I can do is shrug and admit that when it comes to computers and how they work, it’s Greek to me…

Post script: Those of you reading this on-line probably don't realize I started On being ... years ago as a column that I e-mailed out, which I still do for my original readers. (This column clearly relates to what happened with the e-mailed version of the last column.)

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... summer distractions

By Ingrid Sapona

With my On being … deadline a few days away, I decided I should turn my mind to it. Sometimes, rather like the unpredictable summer lightning storms we’ve been having lately, a topic for the column strikes with no advance warning. But other times I have to comb through the past couple weeks’ doings to come up with a topic.

So, with nothing more pressing work-wise, I decided to spend the afternoon considering what to write about and I thought the balcony might be a great place to seek inspiration. I put on my sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat and grabbed a magazine, figuring that a little light reading might be just the spark I needed.

Fortunately, it was a lovely summer afternoon that was perfect for sitting out … and (as I soon found out) for dozing off. My unplanned little nap ended when I realized the phone was ringing. Since it was within normal working hours and I was kind of playing hooky, I headed inside to answer it. It was a friend and we chatted for some time. When I hung up I went back out on the balcony to resume my task at hand: coming up with a column topic.

Before long, a column idea popped into my head -- actually, it kind of dripped down my neck and back: On being … wilted. Man, it was hot out there! I rationalized that the sweat was just my body re-adjusting to the heat, having been in the air conditioned living room while on the phone, and I tried to convince myself that I’d be fine. Well, a few minutes later, rather than risk dehydration, I headed back inside.

Not wanting to completely lose the lazy summer mood I was in, I decided to make myself a mojito. (After all, I reasoned, I’m growing mint on the balcony just for mojito-making.) I finished going through the magazine at about the same time I finished the drink, so I brought the empty glass back to the kitchen. That’s when the butter and eggs that I took out that morning to make a batch of cookies caught my eye.

Hah! Another column idea: On being … my summer cookie. I know, it sounds odd, but I can explain. Ever since I was a kid there’s been something that has come to memorialize a particular summer. During high school and college there was always a “song of the summer” -- some catchy tune that -- to this day -- instantly transports me back to a particular summer. (A prime example is Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” -- oh to be 16 again…)

It’s been a long time since a song has represented a particular summer for me, but I have found other means of conjuring summer memories. A few years ago, for example, I started the tradition of picking a “wine of the summer”. Every aspect of this ritual is enjoyable. It starts by going to a few wine tastings (a cost-effective, not to mention fun, way of trying lots of different wines) in April and May. Then, once I’ve chosen the wine (usually an affordable white), I buy a case or two and that’s what I serve après sailing and at barbeques and get-togethers all summer. Though this may sound odd, I even derive pleasure from seeing the number of bottles on hand dwindle because I know every bottle gone was enjoyed with friends and family. So, for example, the Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc will forever remind me of the summer of 2004…

In a similar vein, the past few summers have been marked by my quest for the cookie of the summer -- one that elicits such satisfaction among those whom I serve it to that the next time we’re together I know they’re hoping I’ve brought a tin of them with me. The idea of a cookie of the summer all started when I came across a recipe for muesli bars. It initially appealed to me because I thought they’d be the perfect treat to serve on the boat: they wouldn’t melt (like ice cream) or go bad – and they were chock full of things that were “good for you” -- honey, oats, nuts, and seeds. (Well yes, butter and sugar too – but they are a cookie, after all!) The reaction I got the first time I served them made it very clear that I’d be making more of them before that sailing season was over.

Last summer’s cookie featured chocolate chips, toasted almonds, toasted pecans, and raisins -- all held together with the wee-est bit of dough. Delicious -- and a huge hit with everyone who tried them. Anxious to keep up the tradition of choosing a different cookie each summer, this spring I found a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe with a twist: oats and coconut. I made them, but it turns out I wasn’t crazy about the taste (the coconut and oats were weird, and there weren’t enough chips). But, a few batches (and a fair bit of tweaking) later I christened the summer of 2009 cookie: a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie that is, if I must say so myself, perfection.

Well, well, I seem to have gotten a bit distracted here. But then again, that’s what summer’s all about, isn’t it? Lazy afternoons enjoying this or that…

I hope your summer’s going well and that you’ve had some time to enjoy your favourite summer distractions -- whatever they may be. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some cookies to make…

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona