Computer keyboardby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 2/1997

Last week, I had a “bad technology day.”

It started innocently enough last Saturday morning, when I decided it was time to finally change the outgoing message on our answering machine and drop the words, “Happy Holidays” from the greeting.

Simple enough and a task done many times before. I approached Herbie, our answering machine, and began the reprogramming. (I should note here that I ordinarily don’t give names to household electronics, but the answering machine says cute little messages like, “Hello, you have three messages,” or “That was your last message. I will save your messages,” or “Danger Will Robinson!” He’s a friendly little guy, so I call him Herbie.)

Anyway, reprogramming the message isn’t too complicated, and after the obligatory rehearsals and botched messages due to the dog barking and my own uncontrollable giggling, I proceeded to record my new nine-second masterpiece.

I was about to walk away as Herbie droned, “I have detected a malfunction. Please check your greeting.”

Obligingly, I pressed the “check” button and heard my voice say, “Hi, you’ve reached 543.” No more, no less.

Miffed, I repeated the “record” instructions and left an ever better message. This one seemed to work fine, until Herbie again repeated, “I have detected a malfunction. Please check your greeting.”

After much prodding and some threats about using Herbie for a Frisbee, I finally managed to get the outgoing message working properly.

From there, I sat down to catch up some writing on the computer. Unlike my top-of-the-line Pentium computer at work, my home laptop is a 386-25, or in non-technology terms, “A slow as molasses antique that fits the general parameters of what we might call a computer, but without any of the bells and whistles, such as speed and reliability.”

Anyway, I began my typing when I noticed that the words on the screen weren’t exactly matching those on the screen. I typed “the” and got “^F],” I typed “computer” and got “~jpc+^]q.” Just like that crypto-quote puzzle, one letter stood for another.

As a computer programmer by profession, I spent the next several hours meticulously trying to diagnose the problem, and determined the problem to be caused by either a) A computer virus; or b) the fact that universe was once again mad at me.

I drove to work and got some virus scanning/cleanup software, and returned home to find the laptop face down on the living room floor.

“Honey,” I called to my beloved, “did you leave the computer on the floor?”

“No,” came the reply. “Why?”

“Because either the dog knocked it over or I think it jumped off the couch to its death.”

I picked up the suicidal computer, stuck back the one key that came loose, and ran the virus-away software. Thankfully, the computer returned to normal (AKA “ludicrous slow”) operation, and typing “the” once again yielded “the”.

The night was still young, and the next malfunctioning electronic item was about to make its entrance: The VCR wasn’t working properly. Actually, this one was a loaner from the Sears repair shop. (I remember that because this VCR has the words “LOANER” spray-painted in white across the top of the unit. I assume this is a security feature designed to prevent me from pawning the thing if times get desperate.)

“Where’s the remote?” I asked.

“The Sears repair guy forgot to give us one.”

I digested that last bit of information as I realized that without the remote, I was limited to playing the VCR tape and that was about it. Ever the resourceful technology boy, I played with our old remote and actually got the Sears loaner to respond.

As I scrolled through choices of English, French or Spanish, I came across a menu item that read, “Which remote? VCR (1/2).” As I foolishly pressed “2,” the VCR stopped responding to the remote.

More buttons were pressed, threats were made, but the VCR wasn’t listening.

“Uh, honey,” I said, “I think I just told the VCR to ignore me.”

Giggles from the kitchen. “Um, why did you do that?”

“Because I’m an idiot, sweetie.”

I pleaded with the VCR to stop ignoring me, all the while wondering why in the world any rational person would add an “Ignore remote” option to a VCR. Isn’t that like adding an “Ignore heart attack” option to a hospital heart monitor?

“We’d better call Sears,” I said as I picked up the phone. In response, Herbie droned, “I have detected a malfunction. Please check your greeting.”

As I raised serious questions about the chastity of Herbie’s mother, it occurred to me that we had another answering machine.

“Hah!” I said triumphantly to Herbie. “Your malfunctioning piece of tinfoil, you’re out of here!” Then I asked about the new answering machine. “We got that new answering machine before we moved in. Let’s use it.”

“We can’t,” my beloved replied. “I want to wait until we can mount it on the wall so it doesn’t get broken, and we need to paint the wall first.”

I took all of this in.

“I’m going out for ice cream,” I finally said.

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