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March 26th, 2017

The Village Idiot

If we can put a man on the moon ...

Jim Mullen

By Jim Mullen

Published August 7, 2015

If we can put a man on the moon ...

They say my laptop has several-million times the computing power of the ones NASA used to put a man on the moon, even though it's only a fraction of the size. I need all that power to watch cat videos on Facebook -- when I'm not playing "Candy Crush" or "Words With Friends," things they could only dream about doing on their way to the moon. Those poor astronauts must have been so bored. It makes me realize how lucky they were to make it to the moon at all. What if their computer worked perfectly during thousands of hours of tests and then, when they got into space, it suddenly started acting like mine -- balky, cranky and hard to please?

Whenever I say to people, "Hey, watch this," the video I want to share with them will refuse to start. Or it will say "buffering," or it will just sit there as if the keyboard is disconnected. As soon as the people walk away in disgust, knowing that I have wasted 15 seconds that they could have been spending on Facebook, the computer returns to normal.

I wonder if there's a word for it -- the "InterNot"?

If only it were just the computer. I have a radio that squawks and hisses every time I come near it. As soon as I move away, everything is fine. It's like owning the world's worst theremin.

I have a GPS unit that works fine, as long as I know exactly where I am going. When I don't need it, it works perfectly and is never a problem. If I'm in a strange neighborhood full of zombielike pedestrians looking at me behind the wheel as if I were a succulent, aromatic, hot-off-the-grill steak, the thing won't work at all. I haven't got a clue whether the next left turn goes into a dead-end alley or just a gang-infested, open-air drug market.

Our electric oven has even started to go off while Sue's making dinner. She'll put a roast in the oven and when she comes back, the oven has conveniently turned itself off and there's no way to know how long it's been off. It's hard to tell if it's been off for five minutes or 30. Is the roast half-cooked or quarter-cooked? If this is a feature on all new ovens, she'd rather not have it.

I have an alarm clock that goes off at 7 every morning -- weekdays, weekends, rain or shine, no matter what time I set it for. I had to turn off the sound so when it goes off I don't have to hear it. So now it's just a clock, not an alarm clock. It's good for letting me know how late I am for important appointments. Well, not all the time. The slightest random nanosecond power failure will make it and almost every other clock we own start blinking "12:00, 12:00, 12:00" until we reset them.

Countless times we have picked up the ringing phone to find that no one is on the other end. Of course, we know it's a computer calling us. We know it because, like mine, it is shy in front of strangers, which is a shame, because we love to take phone surveys at dinnertime and hear about new low interest rates from the same people who are now charging us high interest rates. The only question is: Why do they have to ask? If it's such a good deal for me, why don't they just do it? I promise I won't complain.

Wouldn't it be funny to find out that the computers that keep track of our credit cards and run our nuclear reactors and operate our missile defense systems come out of the same factory as my laptop, GPS, radio and oven?

Well, maybe not.

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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."

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