Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Monday, 24 November 2008

As Dead as a Doornail: Origin and Meaning

The meaning is clear. Dead as in "dead as a Dodo", as in not alive or unusable.
Firstly the subtle difference between a nail and a doornail.
A nail is defined as “…a spike or piece of metal with a point and a broadened head so as to be easily driven in by a hammer”. No problem with this, as the nails one finds in any workshop can fit this description.
A doornail has a different description, and runs like this “…a large headed nail with which doors were formally studded” (Note…. past tense)
(Both definitions from Oxford dictionary).
Uses of iron nails goes back to ancient Roman times, and were made by hand. A labor intensive exercise that made them scarce and expensive.
During the 18th centuary mechanical nail manufacture took place and the occurrence of hand made nails decreased significantly.
During the middle ages nails were recycled whenever possible, which makes sense when one thinks of the effort that went into making them.
The problem was with doors the nails were knocked right through, and the part sticking out at the back was hammered back flush with the door. These were most probably bigger than normal nails as they were studded for decorative purposes. The reason for bending the nails back, (called clinching or clenching) I could not find, other than a reference that stated this made the door stronger. Doors were made of two pieces that were nailed together.
These nails could not be recycled and were useless for any further use. Therefore dead as a doornail in carpentry terms..
This expression was in print during the 1300’s and Shakespeare used similar words in Henry VI.
Reference was also found to a “doornail” as a flat piece of metal fixed to the door that one banged the doorknocker on, to get a nice sound so that people would know that there was someone at the door. The dead part was the dull sound the knocker made.
Other references state that the nail on the doorknocker had been hit so many times against the door it must be dead.
Dead as a Dodo has a similar meaning.
Image from Wikipedia

Friday, 21 November 2008

To Fight Fire With Fire : Origin and Meaning

I spent some time looking up the possible origin of this saying, and could not find a source that that made any sense. On the point of deleting my efforts as a job not well done I decided to post what was available.

Fight and fire do not need any further definition in this context.
When one fights fire with fire, the meaning is that you retaliate to a threat or danger by employing the same means as those used against you.

The classic example is that of fighting a physical fire with fire. Here I am on comfortable ground as I was a forester for a number of years. Not all fires can be fought with conventional equipment or preparations. Fire-belts, tankers and manpower are oftentimes just not sufficient to bring a fire under control. That is when one can do back-burning. You create another fire and use the wind and topography to ensure that the two fires meet, and once this has happened there will be no more fuel to burn and you have the situation under control. A decision to back-burn is not an easy decision.
So you are fighting fire with fire. It is debatable whether this is the origin of the saying and who and when this was term first used I could not find.
This term can be used in other contexts, where you retaliate to a threat using the same “instrument” used against you. An example often used is when you are losing business due to a very successful advertising campaign by your competition. By stepping up your sales by increasing your advertising efforts would be fighting fire with fire.
Having said that, if someone pours sand into your fuel tank, and you retaliate by doing the same to him, you are not fighting fire with fire. This is more of an “eye for an eye” situation.
Will keep on looking around to try and improve this post.
Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Straight from the horse’s mouth: Meaning and origin

Not much debate as to the meaning of this phrase, and two possible origins.
Firstly, the meaning. If a person maintains that his information “is straight from the horse’s mouth,” he is implying that the information is credible, trustworthy and reliable. In other words the truth. In essence this means that the information was obtained first hand, direct from the source or origin.
I could find two possible origins.
The first origin is the more credible of the two. A horse’s age can be easily determined by looking at the teeth. Never tried it myself, but those that know are able to do this. So, if you were buying a horse and you needed to confirm the age, you would open the animal’s mouth, stick your head inside, and check the teeth. Hence, your information would be correct and, straight from the horse’s mouth. Not necessary to rely on a third party opinion.

The second one relates to horse racing, specifically betting on races. If one was looking for a sure bet, you would most probably run into “somebody in the know” who would be able to give you that golden tip. If questioned as to his source, the answer would most probably be “straight from the horse’s mouth”, and no further explanation would be necessary.
As a horse cannot speak, this confuses the situation somewhat. So, my interpretation is that the source is someone as close as possible to the horse, as in a stable employee or jockey, that has inside information not available to others.
Image from Wikipedia

How a good woman can bring balance to your life....

Image received via email
Source unknown

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Robertson South Africa : Mountain Image


Makes one forget about the damage caused by the floods
Taken with mobile phone about a month or two ago
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Monday, 17 November 2008

Hercules’ Eighth (8th) Labor: The Mares of Diomedes.

Hercules’ eighth labor, set by his cousin Eurystheus, was to capture and bring back to him, the four mares of Diomedes.
Diomedes, the king of the Bistones, was a troublesome warrior that enjoyed a fight. He was the son of Ares and Cyrene.
He owned four man-eating mares, named Podargus, Lampon, Xanthus, and Dinis. These were savage animals and some sources say that they were fastened with iron chains to brass feeding troughs, and fed human flesh by Diomedes himself.
Hercules set off to Bistonia with a number of his friends. On arrival they managed to subdue the grooms looking after the animals. Before they could leave with the mares Diomedes became aware of their intentions and gathering a number of soldiers set of to confront Hercules. Abderos was left to look after the animals while Hercules and his friends did battle with Diomedes. During the fight Hercules killed Diomedes, and his soldiers fled.
On returning to the mares Hercules discovered that the animals had killed Abderos. Some sources say he had been eaten and others that he had been dragged to death.
Hercules fed the body of Diomedes to the animals. After eating their previous owner the animals became calm and subdued, never to eat flesh again.
Hercules then established the town Abdera in honor of Abderos.
Hercules then took the mares to Eurystheus who was terrified at the sight of them. So much so he his in his underground jar to escape them and Hercules.
The animals were then set free to roam around Argos, and legend has it that Alexander the Great later owned one of their offspring..
Another version is that wolves later killed the animals
Image from Wikipedia

Summary of the 12 labors and links to other posts on this blog can be found here

Friday, 14 November 2008

What does the word Fart mean? Origin and meaning

“Farting, an endless source of humor for men of all ages”, are the words that come to mind when I think of this topic.
Either one accepts the word for what it is, or you avoid it as vulgar, repulsive and offensive. My experience is that very few people have grey areas when it comes to whether this word is acceptable or not. But then there is a vast chasm between on one preaches and what one does.
The fact of the matter is that the word Fart is one of the oldest words in the English language, and it is necessary to have insight to the origin and meaning. My much-used second hand, 60 year old, Oxford Dictionary, (the shorter version that has only 2 hefty volumes), gives the following definition.
“ to send forth as wind from the anus”
“ not in decent use”
‘From Teutonic Feortan/Fertan”
1632 AD.
Now, this unmentionable word was not always considered indecent or vulgar. It would appear that this word was is common use for a long time with no stigma attached. The negative connotation seems to have come about towards the late 1800’s when it was used in a personal context, as in “you old fart” etc. Then it was banned from polite conversation and the printed media, as is the case today.
I am not going to venture into the use of the word, which would be farting around with no logical conclusion.
Having said that, I did see a definition that stated there must be an “audible” sound. If one cannot hear it, is it a fart? Per this definition the answer is “No”, as there is no sound. So, vulgar people fart (with sound), polite people pass wind (no sound).
Lastly, I found a reference to a new term called a “brain fart”, which is a momentary lapse in concentration or occurrence of forgetfulness. Also a period of low achievement. It can also be used to define those instances when the filter between your brain and your mouth malfunctions and you say something uncalled for that has bad results. (Wikipedia).
I could not find an image of a fart to go with this post.
I will most probably regret doing this post.....

Thursday, 13 November 2008

What does the word POSH mean? :

Before getting to the origin, the meaning. Dictionary definitions are abundant. These reflect the most popular
Elegant, Smart, Splendid, Fashionable, Money and Rich .
According to my 60 year old Oxford Dictionary, the word is from obscure origin, English and first use is given as 1918. Relatively new word in the greater order of Things.
They most popular origin of this word is based on things nautical, specifically passages from England to India. The best sought after and consequently most expensive berths were those facing away from the sun. Both India and England being in the Northern hemisphere this would mean cabins on the port side (left) would be coolest on the trip to India, and on the starboard side (right) on the return trip. So, if you had enough money you could book your passage accordingly.
So for the shipping line to define this type of booking the letters P.O.S.H would be entered onto the ticket. Meaning Port Out Starboard Home. With time the abbreviation became the acronym Posh.
Problem is that there is absolutely no evidence that this was the case. Experts have done extensive digging around, and no written proof can be found. Shipping lines have no record of this procedure ever being implemented. As this took place in the past 100 years or so, there should be someone or a document of sorts that could verify, but there is nothing, zilch, nada.
Officially this is not the origin. One could argue that if this was not official then it could have been in the spoken word only. Subjective decision that one.
Another version is that the word had its origin from the Romany (Gypsy) coin, Pash that became English slang for money in the late 18 and early 1900’s.
Another possible origin was from the English magazine Punch. A satirical account of a man called Posh, that had all the attributes as per definitions, and dating from the late 1800’s.
The most popular version is therefore not necessarily the correct one, but the Jury is still considering this one.

Robertson, flood Images



Taken on the way to work this morning
Damage in town and farms not reflected on these, could not get into town
Yesterday has passed and this afternoon the sun is out
Town is a mess, still a bunch of roads closed, some for a long time
"Rooibrug" water running over bridge at 12hoo today
Up to 340mm measured up into the mountain
Hannes Bruwer > 200mm
Town 180mm
Montagu has the most damage, road between Ashton and Montagu closed
Roads around Bonnievale have serious damage
Clean upp has started

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Veni, vidi, vici, (I came, I saw, I conquered): Origin and meaning

“I came, I saw, I conquered”. The meaning is evident, but it is not so much as to what was said than the how, when and why that gives these words a deeper or second level meaning.
There is no doubt to the origin. Julius Caesar. (Not Shakespeare’s Caesar).
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his legions in 49 BC, in defiance of Roman law forbidding such an action. This resulted in civil war, and Pompey running off to the eastern provinces to continue his fight with Caesar on the battlefield. After a number of military campaigns Pompey, his biggest political and military adversary was defeated. Then, after defeating Pharnaces of Pontus, the tide had turned in his favor. He was now in control and on his way back to Rome. He sent a message to the patrician Senate containing only these three words “ Veni, vidi, vici”. This stressing the fact that he was now the power to be dealt with and was returning to Rome as the victor.
These three words are often cited as a perfect example of a laconic message. Brief, to the point, and an amount of rudeness or contempt that he had for the Senate. Meaning was greater than the sum of the words.
From the English translation of the works of Suetonius, the following passage (XXXVII)
“ In his Pontic triumph he displayed among the show pieces of the procession an inscription of but three words “ I came, I saw, I conquered”, not indicating the events of the war, as the others did, but with the speed with which it was finished”
( Post to be edited……..too much of a hurry today)
More Caesar quotes at another post

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What does the word Laconic mean : Origin, meaning and examples

“Brevity of speech” are possibly the three words that globally define laconic. Dictionary definitions abound, and these are a few
- Brief and to the point
- Effectively cut short
- Short, terse
- Curt, almost to the point of rudeness.

A brief, concise and to the point answer to a question can be defined as laconic. A laconic speaker will also use no more words than necessary to carry his message across.
An example of a laconic answer quoted from many sources is the following.
King Phillip of Greece wanted to conquer Sparta.He sent a message to the Spartans saying :-
“ If I invade your country, I will destroy your great city”
The answer that was taken back to him was short and sweet,:-
This brings us back to things Greek and Roman. The Spartans were well known for their ability to suffer hardships and live simply. This simplicity was carried over to their method of speech, that was as frugal as their way of life. Said it as it was, no bells or whistles.
Now, Sparta was the capital city of Laconia, which gave rise to the word laconic.
Another example I like was the answer of a Spartan king on been questioned why the list of Spartan laws was so short. His reply was “ men of few words require few laws”
My favourite must be Julius Caesar and his “ Veni, vidi, vici”, (I came, I saw, I conquered). This was the message sent to the Roman Senate after a significant military victory. This battle was the turning point in his favor after crossing the Rubicon and the consequent civil war. His enemies both military and political had been beaten.

This statement has brevity, significance, a touch of rudeness as well as a bit of dry humor.

Update : 22 January 2009.
Heard this on the History Channel, can also be used as an example. Before the historic battle against Persia the Spartans were told that they were to face 250,000 soldiers, and they had so many archers that their arrows would block out the sun. The Spartan General commented "Good, then we will fight in the shade"

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Stymphalian Birds: Hercules’ Sixth Labor

Hercules’ sixth labour was to drive out the Stymphalian birds from the marshes surrounding lake Stymphalus in Arcadia. Whether he was sent by Eurystheus to kill or get rid of the birds is unclear. Some sources refer to “destroy” and others to “drive out”.
Nevertheless, where did the birds come from? By all accounts these were pets belonging to Ares, the god of war. These birds were mean creatures. Firstly they had very sharp feathers made of bronze that could be shot out like arrows. In addition they had very sharp bronze claws and excrement that was poisonous.
What made these birds bad? They destroyed virtually everything they came into contact with. Crops, buildings, trees, hand harvests were destroyed on a large scale and terrorized the local habitants. Legend has it that they were fond of human flesh as well.
How did they get to lake Stymphalus? Again, sources differ, some say there was an annual migration from places unstated, and others that they fled from wolves. The living conditions at the lake were so good that they thrived and multiplied into countless numbers.
Anyhow, when Hercules arrived at the swamp he was at a loss as to how to tackle them. There were countless numbers, high up in the trees out of reach, marsh underneath and as so dark they could not be seen. Killing them all was an impossible task.
Legend had it that he then had help from Athena, goddess of invention, in the form of Hephaestus, the smith god, who forged a pair of “krotala” from bronze. By banging the two together an awesome sound was made. (References are made to castanets, clappers, castanets, rattles, and drums)
Hercules ten took up position on a mountain side overlooking the swamps and commenced banging away at his krotala. The noise was such that the birds were forced to fly up and away, never to be seen again. Other sources say he killed them or some of them with poisoned arrows. Images on ancient pottery also depict slings and catapults.
In any event the birds left the swamp and he completed his task

List of the 12 labors and links to other posts on this blog can be found here

Monday, 10 November 2008

Obituary of Mr Common Sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: Knowing when to come in out of the rain; Why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and Maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6 -year- old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer Tylenol, sun lotion or a band-aid to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents , Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 3 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.

Received via email, source unknown

SPARTA History (Spartan)

Sparta was the most formidable rival of Athens in ancient Greece. Sparta was a city-state, a race of warriors, known for their strength, courage, bravery and specifically their perseverance and endurance.
The adjective “Spartan” today is used to describe the character of the Spartans and any person showing the same qualities. By the word Spartan one can relate to hardy, courageous, undaunted by pain or misfortune.
Sparta was not a big city. More like a large group of straggling villages. Sparta prided itself on its courageous men, in contrast with Athens that placed great value on art and learning.
Spartan government was based on the principle that the life of all individuals belonged completely to the state, from the moment of birth. New-born children were inspected by the elders of the community, and the weak and sick children were ordered to be left outside to die. By doing this Sparta made sure that only the physically fit survived.
Children were raised under a rule of iron. At the age of 7, Spartan boys were removed from the control of their parents, and organized into small groups over which the strongest and bravest were made captains. Their living conditions were austere to say the least. Simple and scanty clothing, meager rations, public dormitories and hard beds were the order of the day.
They were drilled daily, in gymnastics and military exercises, and were taught to endure pain and hardship without complaining. They had to obey orders without question. It would appear as though they were purposefully not given sufficient food to eat, and were encouraged to make up the rest by stealing and pilfering for themselves. Not so much to promote dishonesty, but to create an understanding of self-survival.
A story often read is that of a Spartan boy who had stolen a fox, which he hid under his coat. When confronted he allowed the fox to gnaw at his flesh rather than to disclose his theft by crying out.
All male Spartans between 20 and 60 served in the army. They were allowed to marry but could not stay with their wives. They had to sleep and eat in public barracks.
Hardships by today’s standards were many. Possession of gold and silver was forbidden, only war songs were permitted and education was minimal. Even when they spoke, few words were used. Short and to the point, which gave rise to the word “laconic” derived from Laconia, the name of the district of which Sparta was the capital.
--To be continued…….
Image from Wikipedia, rest - bits and pieces from just about anywhere

Friday, 07 November 2008

Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die: Meaning and origin

These words are from the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, after the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.
One of the most famous battles in the history of the British army was the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. This took place during the Crimean War in which Britain, France and Turkey were fighting against the Russians.
Balaclava was a small harbour town occupied by the Allied army, 8 miles to the southwest of the harbour city of Sevastopol. Balaclava was defended by lines of earthworks, built on the hills around the harbour.
On October 25, the Russians tried to break these lines. After defeating the Turks on the heights, they seized their guns and moved down into the plain. Here they attacked the British forces and were driven back across a low ridge of hills crossing the plain by the Heavy Brigade of cavalry.
Then, owing to a mistake in the giving of an order, the Light Brigade initiated a suicidal charge a mile and a half along a valley to capture some Russian guns. Tennyson referred to this valley as the “Valley of death” in his poem. More than 600 cavalry were involved of which more than half were killed, wounded or captured.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs was not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

So, these words were written to do justice to the bravery of soldiers under orders, irrespective as to whether the orders were foolish or not.
Lots more interesting stuff on the details of the battle and analysis of the orders given, at Wikipedia.
Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, 06 November 2008

Tuesday, 04 November 2008

The Labors of Hercules: Ninth labor, the Belt (Girdle) of Hippolyte an Amazon Queen

Hippolyta was a warrior woman and one of the queens of the Amazons. Ares the god of war gave her a belt of armour. Some sources refer to a belt of leather and others to a golden girdle. Nevertheless, she wore this belt around her upper body and used it to secure her sword and spear.
I could not find much on what made the belt special, but it was important enough for Eurystheus to send Hercules off to find the belt and bring it back to him as a present for his daughter.
This was Hercules’ ninth labour.
Hercules did not undertake this task on his own, and a number of his Greek friends accompanied him, to help out if needed. The Amazon woman were well known for their bravery and fighting skills.
When Hercules arrived in the land of the Amazons their ship was peacefully welcomed by Hippolyta herself, who would have no problems in handing over the belt to Hercules as a gift of love.
This was not what Hera wanted. She then disguised herself as an Amazon woman and spread a rumour that Hercules and his men were there to kidnap queen Hippolyta. To protect their queen the Amazons donned their armour and went to her aid. When Hercules and his men saw the armed Amazons quickly approaching on horseback ready for war, he responded, and a fierce battle took place.
Other sources state that Hercules killed Hippolyta before a battle could take place, and took her belt and weapons from her body.
In any event, Hercules took the belt from her, and returned it to Eurystheus as a gift for his daughter Admete

List of the 12 labors and links to other Heracles posts on this blog here

EDIT on 5 November 2008
After doing the above post I felt that I had not really done justce to the occasion, but published anyway. My argument is to create an awareness and stimulate further reading and finding out.
I received this article from Arras and am posting it as well. Excellently written and really does justice to the occasion. Thank you Arras

Arras said...
The girdle was a symbol of office, like the ceremonial necklaces that mayors still wear today for their inaugurations and parades--a bit of regalia. The point of sending Herakles after it was, as with all the labours, to get him killed. Eurystheus was Hera's agent, and each labour was chosen not so much to test Herakles but to finish him off. The bait to lure him to his death was the promise of immortality if he could succeed at all of them--he may have been a demigod, but he was still fully mortal at the time.

The presumption in this case was that sending him into the Amazon capital to steal their regalia would be an impossible task. So far from home, surrounded by thousands of angry Amazons, he'd surely be slaughtered.

Hera's miscalculation in this case was that she expected Herakles to stupidly barge in and try to steal the girdle, which would have certainly been his undoing. Instead he and his companions were diplomatic and respectful of the Amazons and their customs, and were treated like guests--famed heroes from Athens (Theseus, the slayer of the Minotaur and future King of Athens was with him)--and this set a very different kind of tone.

Herakles and Hippolyte had great respect for one another, from one champion to another, and they hit it off. He explained to her the nature of his labour and what it required, and she willingly gave him the girdle as a token of her respect.

Hera, furious at this clever circumvention of her murderous plot, appeared among the Amazons as one of their number and incited them by claiming that Herakles and his men were about to kidnap the Queen. The Amazons rose up and attacked Herakles and his companions, accidentally killing Hippolyte when she got in the middle.

Badly outnumbered, the men fled to their ship, but they did not leave empty-handed. Herakles had the girdle he came for, and Theseus brought with him Hippolyte's sister Antiope, who had technically become Queen when Hippolyte died. Some versions of the story paint this as a love story, with Antiope having fallen for Theseus and agreeing to return to Athens with him, while others are clear about it as a trophy kidnapping. In any case, it was the event that would spark the Attic War, when the Amazons massed to attack Athens itself to rescue their Queen

National Geographic images of Camels in the Desert

An image received via email. At first glance it appears as though the dark shapes are the camels. Not so....the dark shapes are shadows, if you look carefully you can see the sun reflecting off the "real" camels. Amazing image. It must be extremely difficult to be a National Geographic photographer. The standard of images is amazing , and they still manage to get better and better.
This was considered one of the best images in 2005, taken by George Steinmetz. Took 3 years to get to me...

Monday, 03 November 2008

To Turn the Tables: Origin and meaning

What does it mean if you “(to) turn the tables on someone?”
A search on “turn the tables” resulted in more than six million hits. Without looking up formal definitions I read a bunch of articles related to turning the tables. All posts refer to changing or turning a situation around in such a manner that your current undesirable position is changed to a more desirable or advantageous position. Three broad areas of application can be found: -

Firstly, to turn a current situation around to the disadvantage someone else. To cause harm, revenge, payback, reprisal and vindictiveness are words that come to mind when reading this type of post. This appears to be the most popular application.

Secondly, where you can reverse a current situation, to gain an advantage by improving your own situation. A positive action. Sales are bad so you appoint better salesmen and increase advertising, resulting in better profitability. The tables were turned in that a negative situation was turned around into a positive situation.

Thirdly, where one looks at situation with a different perspective. In other words one would turn the tables around and view the situation as a competitor, client or another 3rd party to gain a better insight. Not often used, but one I like.

Origin of tables from Latin meaning board, with specific reference to board games. Board games have been around since 3000BC, and the “table” refers to those games like backgammon that have 4 tables on the board. To turn the tables would mean to turn the game around so that your side would be changed for that of your opponent.

Image from Wikipedia.