Lamp vs Light


You know you live in a “Big Bang Theory” sort of family when you have discussions like the following. Susan’s makeup mirror light burned out so we needed to replace it. We took the lamp out of the fixture and went to Lowe’s trying to find a replacement.

As we headed into the store, I recounted to our son Stephen that we needed to replace the lamp and that common language would call that a light bulb. However, as my lovely wife has taught me, it is not a bulb, it is a lamp. The device that holds the lamp is a fixture and that may be a part of a larger display device … but the thing that had burned out is a lamp.

Well, go ahead and try to find a replacement lamp at Lowe’s and you are going to be directed to the place they sell fixtures …

All this prompted me to check on the famous biblical phrase from Psalm 119 in the Old Testament which seems to also differentiate between the word lamp and light. So, I went back to the Hebrew and here is what I found. The Hebrew does indeed capture the difference. The lamp is the device (e.g., a candle) while the result of the device working is to provide light on the path so you can see.

So, what is the point here? Psalm 119 is all about success in life and it is full of beautiful thoughts. Much of the Hebrew is poetic and loses a lot when translated into English, no less the King James Version that people quote. We don’t speak that form of English anywhere any longer … thank God!

But, we do talk technical talk to each other and the average customer does not understand much of what we are saying. They don’t know what a kWh is nor do they frankly care very much either. Edison felt so strongly about this that he insisted the industry would have to sell light … the result that customers wanted. Maybe we are too smart for our own good. It really isn’t dumbing things down. Rather, it is helping customers understand what they should do and where they can buy things that work and help.

This of course can create funny misunderstandings. I have been told of a church pastor contacting a utility to get a temporary electric service for their new church building. The utility asked for the service plan and the pastor said there would be bible study at 10 and worship at 11.

This also reminds me of a prior life when I set care standards in hospitals. We had to write out instructions for housekeeping staff about cleanliness standards. Removing feces might be technically correct, but it simply would not cut the mustard in practice. You had to call a spade a spade, even though it might sound a bit crude.

It does make me cringe to talk about buying light bulbs … after all … I live with someone who knows the difference. But, when in Rome …


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We still ask each other “did you reboot” your computer when we are asked how to fix a MS Windows operating system problem. That seems to be the “universal fix” when everything else fails. And, it often does. But, did you know where the word comes from? Once again, from Wikipedia:


Boot is short for bootstrap or bootstrap load which derives from the phrase to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The usage calls attention to the requirement that, if most software is loaded onto a computer by other software already running on the computer, some mechanism must exist to load the initial software onto the computer.

Early computers used a variety of ad-hoc methods to get a small program into memory to solve this problem. The invention of read-only memory (ROM) of various types solved this paradox by allowing computers to be shipped with a startup program that could not be erased.


Before zippers made getting into tall boots less of a chore, this type of footwear had leather attachments by which the wearer would pull them on. Some boots still do. The image here for the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is to raise yourself off the ground by pulling on your bootstraps. This is obviously impossible.


Well then, is suggesting to a person that they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps meant to discourage them since it is impossible? No, the message is really meant to imply that achieving your goals will require as much hard work as levitating yourself would take. But, is there still a bit of sarcasm in that?


The more I think about it, it reminds me of the Olympic level wind surfer I met years ago. I have always admired that sport and given I am an avid sailor, I wanted to learn. I told him that I had tried to learn to wind surf several times but had failed miserably at it. He told me the key was that I had to be prepared to fall a 1,000 times. If I was, and kept that perspective, I would learn … and it wouldn’t take nearly that many falls.


I was not and to this day still cannot wind surf. Good life lesson … kind of like the mental model of pulling yourself up by your boot straps.

Headline: Moore’s Law Is Showing Its Age



A recent Wall Street Journal article about the famous prediction of how many transistors can be put into a piece of silicon has been revised … again! And, all of us techies jump on the article wondering whether things have gotten better or worse.


Read it for yourself: Moore’s Law is Showing its Age 

If you can’t access the link copy and paste this URL into your browser:


What you will quickly realize is that the law is and never really was a law in the technical realms of science or math, but simply an observation. You also finally learn that the observation is still true … albeit adjusted by the laws of economics … but just slightly.

In a world of growing technological bombardment, I guess writers have to search for ways of getting your attention. And, to their credit, they got mine. So, perhaps there is nothing new here. But, I think the editors need to read the reactions to their articles to see whether the readers believe they are newsworthy. After all, that is the reason people will read WSJ in the first place.

Asking questions like “Does homework cause cancer?” in the announcement of a news segment on nightly TV will get people to wait around to hear (or skip forward to watch) that segment, but people become jaded when fear mongering is used to get them to watch.

Perhaps we are not measuring the right things in our journalistic quest for eyeballs and ears. Maybe we also need to move to Net Promoter Score style measures? Maybe we need to find out what people really need?

No, we will persist in customer sat. A recent example in our home was ComCast told us we had to upgrade our cable box … so we agreed and they sent us the DIY kit to do that. In frustration, we gave up and agreed to the service call, only to find out that the device they sent was defective. To ComCast’s credit, they called to do a customer satisfaction survey right away, but the person doing that said they were only doing a survey … they couldn’t help at all with our complaint. And, by the way, the only questions on the survey were about the service technician being on time and being courteous and helpful. The surveyor would not take our feedback on what was really on our minds.

There are many lessons here. Do we simply want to pat ourselves on the back when we get more activities in our programs, or are we really interested in making true progress in the eyes of our customers. To do that, you at least have to be asking the right questions. And, you have to be presenting truly newsworthy information.