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


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