That's why I call my computer HAL
I’m not an astronaut, but I play one every day in front of my iMac. Well, the astronaut I play isn’t real. He’s Dave Bowman from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a film about a human being deeply involved with a paranoid, possessive computer named HAL.
Like HAL, my computer spends entirely too much time second-guessing me with suggestions, most of them condescending. Okay, for the sake of honesty, I’ll admit that if you polled every computer I’ve ever used, they’d most likely tell you I’m not the easiest human to get along with. For one thing, I tend to pound the keys a bit too hard. And I’ve been known to sprinkle doughnut crumbs on the keyboard. My files are disorganized. And from the very beginning of my online experience, I’ve had an irrational hatred of the AOL voice that says, “You’ve got mail!” Maybe because most of the mail delivered to me is junk, whether or not it’s identified as SPAM.
So I try to remember to render that voice mute before I check my mail. When I forget, and the voice gets through, I mockingly repeat the words. Yes, I talk back to my computer (just the way I do my television, especially during particularly obnoxious commercials and idiotic sports commentary).
Silent, my computer still communicates with me in ways I find annoying. And scary. The fear has been reinforced by one of my favorite television programs, “Forensic Files,” which has taught me I should have no expectation of privacy on my computer. (Likewise, never use a cellphone to make a confidential call, particularly if what you’ll be discussing is illegal.)
NONETHELESS, the fact I am in my own home and sitting alone at the keyboard momentarily lulls me into thinking that what I am doing is just between me and an inanimate object ... until I am interrupted by a message informing me a new version of a certain software is available; would I like to download it now?
This lets me know my computer is not giving me its undivided attention. I’m pouring out my heart, but it’s ignoring me because through the back door it is receiving a message from Mission Control telling the computer to inform the bozo at the keyboard (that would be me) that he hasn’t updated his software since the day before yesterday. Does he want to be out of touch with the latest technology?
We all know there is nothing in this updated software that will actually benefit me. I figure the average software program is capable of performing thousands of tasks ... and I’ll never need 96.3 percent of them.
Those software reminders also tell me Mission Control is spying on me, that someone outside my home knows what software I’m using and what I’m doing with it.
So maybe I’m the one who’s paranoid, but, truth is, I haven’t felt comfortable with technology for many years, not since I called our Rhode Island cable company to report a problem and was told by the man on the other end that he could make the adjustments while we talked. No home visit was needed; all I had to do was follow his instructions, which I found encouraging ... until a few seconds after we were finished and he asked me to check to see if my TV reception was back to normal. Without telling him which one, I clicked to a favorite channel and the man correctly told me what I was watching. “How do you know that?” I asked. Big Brother responded with a sinister chuckle.
TROUBLE IS, the computer – like television – is addicitive. I can’t escape them, though I trust neither one. Television insults my intelligence and shows me pictures of people looking into toilet bowls while I’m trying to eat my lunch. The computer enjoys pointing out my mistakes.
Most of my computer time is spent writing nonsense like this, tinkering with pages on my website or catching up on the day’s events via some newspaper websites. The more time I spend on the computer, the more occasions I have to use Google, which means I waste a lot of time dealing with the message that begins, “Did you mean ... ?”
Granted, this message is sometimes helpful. Unlike people who use computers on television and in the movies, I often mistype things. I mean, have you ever noticed that when the fate of the world depends on a keystroke that must be made in two seconds or less, the character on screen always does it flawlessly?
I was a much better computer typist years ago when keyboards were larger. The one I have now is too small for my hands, but I’m trying to adjust. In the meantime, when I type words and names into a search engine, I make mistakes. But not always, especially on the names of people. I usually mean what I type, but Google resists. My favorite example was when I tried to get information on baseball players with unusual names and I correctly typed in “Charlie Chant.”
“Did you mean Charlie Chan?”
No, I mean Charlie Chant.
“Seriously, did you mean Charlie Chan?”
Which prompted me to type in Chan as one of the unwanted words. Google got the message, but responded like I’d hurt its feelings.
AS MENTIONED, I visit a few newspaper websites every day. They are my news sources. They have real stories written by real reporters.
I also check my email at least once a day. And I do this via AOL, though I can offer no good reason why I haven’t set up an email account elsewhere. It might be worth it just to escape AOL’s efforts to become my electronic newspaper. Their idea of news is to regurgitate everything that comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth or pass along some nonsense involving “American Idol.” Sorry, not interested. Sarah Palin is an idiot and “American Idol” a waste of time.
The fact I’m aware of AOL’s daily headlines is due to two things: My reflexes and my peripheral vision. Those reflexes aren’t what they used to be. So when I click my way out of AOL mail and get switched to the AOL home page, those headlines are waiting for me. Which is how I know my peripheral vision still functions pretty well because it always latches on to at least one of those headlines, most of which don’t actually involve news, but rather the kind of features you’ll find in the National Enquirer. Which means they’re a lot like unsolicited tips you might receive from eavesdropping strangers. (“You know, you could have saved three cents if you bought that meat at Wal-Mart.”)
THE WAY I see it, these headlines are AOL’s way of sticking its nose into my business and I figure the company has an angle. I mean, some AOL bigwig has either got a huge ... crush on Sarah Palin or has invested heavily in her political future. I’ve read that AOL was spun out of Time Warner an an independent company, but it sometimes comes across like a mouthpiece for Fox television. Which is neither here nor there because, as I said, most of its headlines that have penetrated my defense are non sequiturs. Like this one that appeared on AOL on April Fool’s Day, or shortly thereafter:
Don’t buy a car on Easter Sunday.
The headline was both amusing and offensive. (“Sure, honey, we’ll still go to church. But hold off Easter dinner until we’ve done our car shopping!”)
Then there was this one:
10 lessons from Nicholas Sparks movies
To which I responded, “Who the hell is Nicholas Sparks?” And it’s true, I had never heard of the guy. Later I Googled him and discovered I’d actually seen a film made from his books. Apparently I learned one lesson from that experience: Do not watch any more Nicholas Sparks movies.
AOL seems devoted to stimulating the real estate market. Hardly a week goes by without one of these headlines:.
This house can be yours for $50,000
The amounts change, but the rest of the headline remains pretty much the same. The house that caught my eye one day did look like it could be a bargain at $50,000. The catch: It’s located in Akron, Ohio.
I’ve got nothing against Akron. I worked for six years at that city’s fine newspaper, the Beacon Journal, and while there I came this close to buying my first house. However, I don’t think any house hunters in, say, Virginia or Georgia, will quit their jobs and move to Akron in order to get a good deal. (Frankly, if you want a terrific deal on a house, look at those available in the Syracuse, NY, area. I promise that nowhere else can you get so much house for so little money. However, there’s the matter of property and school taxes ... )
AOL also has suggestions for eating:
5 new ways to try hard-boiled eggs
Sorry, but the only use I’ve ever had for hard-boiled eggs is an Easter basket. The thought of actually eating one makes me gag.
Bacon vs. bagel: which is better choice?
The answer is a no-brainer. Nothing is a better choice than bacon. I know it’s not healthy, so I rarely eat it, but it is soooooooooo good. As for bagels, well, with about six of them and a couple of breadsticks you can make a ring-toss game. Eat a bagel? I’d rather eat a hard-boiled egg.
AOL also seems desperate to stir up entertainment controversies.
Host made things uncomfortable on ‘Today’
The simple act of tuning in to “Today” would make me uncomfortable. The program has a remarkable history. Ever since Dave Garroway left – when was that, about 200 years ago? – the program has never had a host who didn’t make me squirm. Hell, the sight of one of them, Bryan Gumbel, used to make smoke come out of my ears. It's what I call the Jim Lampley Syndrome.
This just in from AOL – baseball predictions:
Will Albert Pujols be named NL MVP again?
I dunno. Was Albert Pujols last year’s MVP? There are a lot of things that are automatically rejected by my memory bank. Oscar winners top a list that also includes people who receives trinkets on entertainment awards shows and athletes honored by sportswriters. Really now, is there anything worth less than a sports prediction? (Kentucky to take it all!)
On a different note, AOL promised to reveal ...
The real secrets of Victoria’s Secret
There’s only one secret of Victoria’s Secret than I’m interested in and I knew the AOL story wouldn’t tell me. Once upon a time my wife purchased something from Victoria’s Secret, a gift for one of our daughters. It was done several years ago, but since then my wife has been on the Victoria’s Secret mailing list, which is why – no exaggeration – she receives at least two catalogues from them every week. Hell, for all I know, those catalogues may be arriving every day, with most of them stolen by a neighborhood pervert.
Anyway, the secret I’d like to know is how do we get off the mailing list? My wife has tried, really she has.
As for a real secret of Victoria’s Secret, well I guess it must be that the company’s models are all 13-year-old girls who’ve had breast implants.
Do ‘sex rehab’ programs really work?
Please, one thing at a time. I’m still waiting to see a pig fly.
Don’t choose the wrong oil for your car
I love this one, especially since I have my oil changes done at the dealership. I could go elsewhere, but we had a bad experience a few years ago at a small local auto service company. Anyway, I can feature going to my Honda dealer and reminding the service department manager to use the correct oil. Especially if I did it with a condescending wiggle of my right index finger. An hour or so later, when I picked up the car, I’d notice the job was a bit more expensive than usual. “Well, Mr. Major, that’s because this time we used extra virgin.”
Kate knows key to making khaki pop
Khaki pop? Is that a new energy drink?
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s happiest moments
Like you, my happiest moments come when I’m not thinking about Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.
I could go one and on, but I’ve just been informed there’s a new version of a software program I downloaded just before I started writing this.