Archive for February, 2009

Ok, this post isn’t technically related to family history.  But this is something that’s driven me nuts for years—trying to remember the difference between metaphors, similes and analogies.  I end up referring to something as a metaphor when it’s probably an analogy, or use a simile and call it an analogy.  Maybe if I write down the definitions, I’ll be a bit more likely to remember which is which.

Here are the definitions.

metaphora figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance

similea figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared

analogya similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based

Ok, that’s a start, but these definitions don’t really help me much.  They all sound like pretty much the same thing.

Let’s take another stab at defining each of these, and provide an example of each.


A metaphor is a figure of speech in which you say that one thing is another.  By treating two seemingly different things as identical, you illustrate the similarities that we may have not noticed were there.  Here are some examples:

  • Life is a journey
  • I am a rock
  • My wife is a pain in the neck

Notice that I’m not saying “life is a journey because X, Y and Z”.  We just equate the two, which is the power of metaphor—the similarities are inferred.


A simile is a type of metaphor where we use the word like or the word as.  It’s more explicit than a metaphor, and less poetic.  It tells us that two things are similar, rather than inferring that they are, by equating them.  Here are some examples:

  • Free as the wind
  • Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall
  • Her feet are as big as battleships


An analogy is more complex and intricate than either a metaphor or a simile.  It’s a way of comparing two different things by showing a number of ways in which they are similar.  We also logically infer that if the two things are similar in some things, they are similar in others.  Here are some examples:

  • A URL on the web is analogous to a file name on your PC
  • The fight for gay rights is the civil rights movement of the 21st century
  • With that last statement, I am the Jerry Springer of the blogging world

The point here is that we’re not pointing out just one characteristic that is similar between the two things mentioned, but drawing a parallel.  In the case of the URL and the file name, you can think of a number of ways in which the URL is like a file name, e.g. it uniquely identifies what you’re looking for, tells you where to find something, it’s what you feed into a tool to view the item, etc.

The other type of analogy that you will run across is the kind found on many IQ or college prep tests, of the form “A is to B as C is to ?”.  Here are a few examples:

  • Medicine is to Illness as Law is to Anarchy
  • Keyboard is to Blogger as Guitar is to Rock Star
  • Finger is to Eye as Knee is to Crotch

(Hey, I didn’t say that they were going to be good analogies).

So Now You Know

There you have it.  A quick overview of metaphors, similes and analogies.  You no longer have an excuse to forget which is which.  Your mind is full—like a pot of pasta.


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Here’s another photo from our family collection that I like.  It’s labeled “Pa – George – Jim – Aug, 1940” and shows my great-grandfather mowing his lawn in Bemidji, MN in 1940.  He’s standing next to my grandfather’s brother George, and George’s son Jim.

Mowing the lawn - August, 1940

(Click to see a larger version, not cropped).

There’s nothing dramatic about the photo, but it tells a little story.  Clearly, “Pa” (my great-grandpa) had been out mowing the lawn and George and Jim walked out to pose for a photo with him.  Pa looks hot, tired and perhaps just wants to finish up the mowing.  His grandson Jimmy just looks tickled to be posing with Dad and Grandpa.

I’m also intrigued by the way that everyone is dressed.  Despite being outside on a hot August day in Minnesota, everyone is wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Pa’s shirt is buttoned all the way up, but he’s at least unbuttoned his cuffs.  George is wearing a tie and even Jim appears to be wearing some sort of warmer outer shirt.

It’s certainly possible that it was a cooler day in August, although our average high for August in Minnesota is 80 degrees F and the average high in September is 71 degrees.

My great-grandpa was 70 years old in this photo, but clearly still mowing his own lawn.  The kids had all moved away, but he and my great-grandma still lived in the family home in Bemidji, MN.  I wondered at first why he’d be wearing his hat while out mowing the lawn.  Was it just his style, to always be this formal?  And then I realized that it was probably just to keep the sun off of his head.  At 70, his hair was probably already a bit thin on top and so the top of his head would be the first thing to burn in the summer sun.

Here’s a closeup of the trio:

Mowing the Lawn, closeup

(You can also click to see an even larger version of the closeup).

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In most high schools, there is a girl labeled simply as “the tramp”.  (Feel free to use a more offensive word in the place of “tramp”).  This is the girl that everyone knows is a complete tramp—her reputation precedes her.

But every once in a while, someone discovers that a girl’s reputation is completely unfounded.  You actually get to know “the tramp” and discover that the rumors all derive from some mean comments that one guy said about her several years ago.  (Ironically, likely because her behavior is the opposite of what the boy claims).

What’s interesting is how fast a negative impression can spread, whether it’s true or not.  In the case of the tramp, word spreads quickly and pretty soon everyone simply labels her as “the tramp”, without questioning where the label came from.  Even people who have never met her don’t bother to question the label.  It’s also not a reputation that she can hope to overturn, short of moving to a new school or changing her name.  People who get to know her might realize how untrue the label is.  But the majority of the school continues to think of her as the tramp, because that’s what everyone says.

Windows Vista as the Tramp

In the world of PC-based operating systems, Windows Vista is the tramp.

Vista’s reputation has been trashed by bloggers, technical reviewers and pundits all over the web.  The bad impression is so pervasive that even the non-technical guy at the water cooler admits that he just special-ordered a PC with Windows XP because “Vista sucks”.  Even Google agrees with his assessment—the phrase “vista sucks” will net you 210,000 results, while “xp sucks” will only turn up 16,100.

Does Vista really suck?  If not, how did it get such a horrible reputation?

Vista does not suck.  In fact, many people believe that it works even better than Windows XP.  I’ve been running Vista on a number of machines for well over a year now and I haven’t had a single problem with it.  Every piece of software I’ve ever installed has worked fine.  Every hardware device I’ve hooked up to it has also worked fine.  The user experience is just prettier, cleaner, and more efficient than Windows XP.  Performance has been fine—it actually doesn’t seem to degrade over time like Windows XP used to, as you install more and more applications.  If you don’t believe me, go read some in-depth reviews done by people like Paul Thurrott and his Windows SuperSite.

Like the high school tramp, Vista got her bad reputation mostly through word-of-mouth—and because people delight in sharing negative information.  Some high profile bloggers posted some very negative reviews when it first came out, and other bloggers wrote posts of their own, merely repeating the same bad impressions.  Before long, everyone’s bad impression of Vista was cemented, despite the fact that many people harshly critical of Vista had never installed or used it in any meaningful way.

That’s not to say that Vista didn’t have some problems when it was first released.  Many hardware vendors failed to write new drivers, so their older hardware just didn’t work with Vista.  If people tried upgrading an older system, or tried using older peripherals with Vista, they found that the hardware didn’t work.

The problem with drivers is really the fault of the hardware vendors, rather than Microsoft’s fault.  For these vendors, writing new drivers for old hardware is a low priority.  They’d much rather sell you new hardware (which did work with Vista) for your new machine.  This is also nothing new—we saw exactly the same thing with Windows XP when it first released, in that older Windows NT drivers didn’t work.

The driver problems are old news, though.  These days, it’s hard to find a piece of hardware built in the past few years that doesn’t just work when you plug it into a Vista machine.

Should You Be Using Vista?

Like the tramp, Vista’s reputation clears up completely once you get to know her.  Once you start using Vista on a regular basis, you start wondering what all the fuss is about.  And you find it hard to go back to Windows XP.

So should you use Vista?  If you’re buying a new machine, the answer is—absolutely, yes.  You’ll find that everything will just work, both hardware and software.  Unless you’re buying a really low-end machine, the performance will be just fine.  Just shoot for at least 1GB RAM (2GB is even better) and at least 2 GHz dual-core processor.  (You can get a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with 2GHz dual-core and 3GB RAM for under $500).

What about if you’re running an older machine—should you upgrade to Vista?  The simple answer is—no.  If you have an older machine running Windows XP and you’re happy with it, stick with it.  There’s no compelling reason to jump to Vista.  And—all other things being equal—Vista will perform more slowly than XP.  This has always been true.  If you had installed XP on your old Windows 98 box, it would have been pretty slow.  The truth is that hardware gets faster and faster all the time and newer versions of Windows take advantage of those performance gains.  That’s a good thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If we agree that Vista’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished, is there anything to be done about it?


At this point, too many bad things have been said about Vista.  The damage has been done and it will never recover its reputation.

So, like the high school tramp, Vista is doing the only thing it can do.  It’s moving, changing its name, making a new start.  Sometime later this year it will surface again—and we’ll be calling it “Windows 7”.

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