Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Fiction: Zappy and I

: Bear is preoccupied with some serious computer problems this past couple of days, so ended up doing a rewrite of an old humor piece from years ago, to cheer herself up in the midst. This is Part I of a two parter -- Part II to be posted next Friday...

Zappy and I

It was late one night when I first heard them. I rolled over sleepily, thinking the murmur of quiet voices and occasional chuckles from the living room were part of a dream. Waking up more, I then decided I must have left the TV on. Grabbing my robe, I stumbled into the hall; then stopped, shaken.

A hearty laugh echoed through the darkened entryway.

Telephone, I thought frantically. Phone... 911... Where's the cell? But then I remembered I'd set it on its charger just before bed... In the living room.

Standing motionless in the darkness I listened, heart pounding. But the snatches of conversation sounded more like a group of mischievous kids than thieves set upon doing me harm.

What was this?

I dropped to my knees, feeling the carpet pile between my fingers, and stealthily crept forward. Reaching the entryway, I leaned hard against the wall and cautiously inched my head out until I could see into the room. My technique would have done Uncle Dan proud. He was always trying to teach me marine drills when I was a little kid. It had seemed pointless back then, since I was a girl and that was long before women were allowed in combat training. But you never knew when stuff like that would come in handy.

Like now.

I stuck my head into the room a bit more, staring, amazed. The room was empty. All looked normal. There was the computer on its desk, surrounded by all its components: printer, speakers, scanner, keyboard, monitor, mouse. The TV and DVD player on the other table were faintly illuminated by the moonlight filtering in through the Venetian blinds and the dot of green light on the computer's CPU, which occasionally flashed a bit of red...

I heard another giggle.

Ducking back into the hall, I flattened myself against the wall, marine commando training back in full force. Had that been a red light on the CPU? I closed my eyes, trying to think. Why was the computer processing anything at this time of night? I hadn't left it with any scheduled maintenance functions to do.

I peeked around the corner again, this time focusing more, trying to make out specific words.

More giggles. Then...

"Did you catch her expression when I crashed the dictation program on her for the third time in one hour?"

"Yeah! Soooo funny! We both had to mute our volume output, just to keep from laughing out loud!"

A deeper voice cut in, "Well, how about when I jammed the paper, right after brother scanner made its icon disappear out of the Device Manager menu again. Was that timing, or what? I'm just thankful she didn't break me, jerking that paper out the way she did. And she claims to be a Christian. What a temper!"

I could hear the ink cartridge moving back and forth along the printer's carriage after this last comment.

Then the clicking of keys from the keyboard cut in. "Yeah, well how about when I jammed my sleep-button on her, and she couldn't get the monitor to come out of sleep mode? You gotta admit, that was a good one!"

Laughter all around. But I noticed it had a mechanical ring, the voices tinny and echoing. I don't know how I'd missed that before.

"Shhhh..." This was accompanied by the soft sound of the fan in the CPU. "You'll wake her up!"

I couldn't believe it. But my surprise was nothing compared to my indignation. What twerps! After all I'd done for them, too. And they were even criticizing my Christianity. Here I'd tried to meld them into a cohesive team, capable of being used as a united tool in God's kingdom for His work and glory in my writing... I'd given them a home... Saved them from life and emptiness on a warehouse shelf, and this was the thanks I got for it? I crossed my arms, fuming.

Why I oughta go in there and...

Before I could put action to my thoughts, Scriptures started coming at me right and left, popping into my mind...

"Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath..." (Eph 4:26)

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Eph 4:31-32)

Was it sin to take out anger on computers though? Well founded anger it was, too! I brooded and debated with myself there in the hallway, their chuckles fueling the fire.

I oughta go in there and pull every plug from that surge protector! That'd fix 'em!

But this particular type of situation had never come up in Sunday School discussions at church. Still unsure, I reluctantly turned and padded back to the bedroom to mull it over and pray a bit.

Grabbing up my calico cat from where he was cowering and shaking under the nightstand, I sat in a chair by the window, hoping the beauty of the full moon would calm us both down. Having an Internet-able computer was a long awaited blessing. I reminded myself that I'd hoped, dreamed, prayed, and saved for this; and that naturally there would be challenges in learning a new skill. Though I felt I'd done well in taking the frustrations of the last few weeks in stride, and had tried not to let all the glitches, bugs, and small disasters get to me, my patience was definitely at the snapping point.

The new computer had seemed so wonderful at first. (Plus, I'd lucked into getting a brand new printer and scanner package -- two for the price of one -- off eBay, as well.) For the first day, everything worked according to my dreams. The USB printer was my first color printer, so was great fun. Fun that is, until I hooked up the USB scanner into the other port.

The computer didn't seem to like that, and after five minutes, closed it down, causing the scanner's icon to disappear from its file folder, as if it no longer even existed.

So I reinstalled the scanner.

Same result.

Reinstalled it again...

And again...

And again...

I didn't try to reason with the computer of course. After all, it was just a machine. Only crazy people talked to machines. But, after a few days of the scanner's hide and seek games, I confess I did end up having just a few words with it.

I told the computer, quite firmly in fact, that it couldn't have lost the scanner. It had seen for itself the scanner was there just five minutes ago.

But it seemed to be saying back to me, "Scanner? What scanner? I don't see any scanner. Do you see a scanner?"

It was almost as if I could hear it speaking to me. I shrugged off the illusion and continued doggedly onwards, trying intricate programming gyrations of various kinds to point out to the computer that it really was responsible to acknowledge the scanner. By then I had stacks of "how to" books about computers from the library piled all around me as I worked. But things just got worse.

After hooking up the scanner for the fifth or sixth time, the printer disappeared too. Suddenly, ZAP! The printer's icon no longer showed up in its folder and the printer refused to respond to commands.

After two more days of "troubleshooting" with no sign of success I got desperate and dialed the printer/scanner's technical support number.

The woman actually chuckled when I explained the problem, assuring me it was not their wonderful scanner or printer at fault. Perish the thought! It was my main computer's problem. She further assured me that downloading a software "patch" from my computer manufacturer's website would solve the problem.

So I gave the "patch" a try. But by then, wasn't surprised when it didn't work.

Finally I gave up and hooked my wonderful USB printer into the serial port with the extra serial cable that had come along with it (apparently provided for computers like mine who were prejudiced concerning USB's of any kind.)

That did give me a working printer, but left the scanner sitting there, next to the computer, useless. No extra cable came with it -- was USB only.

I told myself it was just my imagination that the computer was gloating over the whole thing. Told myself a scanner couldn't look smug. Told myself I was getting paranoid.

But then the dictation program started having problems. I'd been overjoyed to get it. Such a terrific program that could actually type the words as I spoke them into my computer's microphone. But over and over while using it, the mouse's cursor would freeze, refusing to respond. And soon after, the whole computer would lock up.

It was then that I first started having to resort to hitting the dreaded reset button on the CPU. Turning the computer off that way to let it reboot was an okay solution, except it was causing me psychological problems. All the books had warned me not to hit that reset button, except for emergencies, because it was supposed to be bad for the computer. The books claimed it would foul up the disk storage or something.

I didn't know much yet about computers, but knew enough to understand that the disk was key, and anything fouling it up sounded ominous indeed.

Plus, the computer would lecture me afterwards, each time I hit that button. The on-screen message would inform me that I'd closed the computer down improperly and that now the computer was going to have to run a test scan, and I'd just have to wait. The message also stated that, if I'd done it right I wouldn't have had to wait, and strongly suggested that I shut down the computer properly in future. Further, it also threatened me, stating that, because I'd been such an idiot, pushing the button, now my disk drive would likely have all sorts of errors on it. It didn't actually write, "and it serves you right, too!" But I'm no fool. I can read between the lines.

So sadly, I finally uninstalled the dictation program, hoping that would help.

Another mistake.

The computer responded to that by sending me all sorts of error messages, whenever I tried to use the remaining programs, telling me this-or-that program was no longer operating because one or more of its DLL files were missing. It repetitively suggested I find the missing files, or else reinstall the programs.

I tried to ignore the error messages and use the programs anyway. But to no avail. After hours of frustration, I gave up and viscously hit the reset button, just out of spite, then stomped out of the room before the computer even had a chance to complain about it.

Where would a person start hunting for a missing DLL file, I wondered. What did one look like? And where would it hide? And why would it suddenly bow out of the whole process? I didn't even know why DLL files were needed. But they did seem to be important. My email program would let me send mail, but no longer would receive any mail at all, blaming its obstinacy on a missing DLL file. Systems Information program would not even open anymore, again citing a DLL as the culprit. And so on.

All programs seemed to be in agreement on this labor issue. They wanted DLL's and were on strike in various ways until I came up with some.

But I hadn't realized, until pondering it all while gazing up at that full moon, that this was not a natural outcome of my incompetence. Nor was it faulty manufacturing. Not even weak parts. No! It was rebellion, plain and simple. The battle lines had been drawn, and the enemy no longer lurked in darkness. I could see the whites of its eyes. Or, in this case, at least the red light of its blinking CPU. This meant war!

Didn't it?

Was God reminding me through Scripture that I'm not to get too wrathful? Even towards a computer totally deserving of that wrath... Towards a smug, obnoxious little...

Another Scripture popped into my head, unasked for... "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28)

I sighed, knowing the Bible was right and I was wrong, but I wasn't in the mood to agree at the moment. I pictured smashing a hammer through the gloating monitor's screen. Now that could work for good. But decided to pray before going back out and tossing a few electronic bodies around the living room.

Actually, I prayed quite a bit over the next couple days, and did unplug the computer completely. That at least ended its nighttime chatter for the time being.

Then I came up with a plan, beautiful in its simplicity.

I would just reformat the hard drive and then could reload the operating system from the CD. That'd fix it! Wherever the DLL files had run off to, it wouldn't matter. Copies of them would be reloaded anew with the operating system. Whatever was causing the dictation program to crash, who cared? It would fix itself by starting out fresh. Probably would solve the USB port problem too.

Clearly the computer had somehow sabotaged itself. Maybe partially from my innocent help and some slight error I might have made along the way. But I'd be crafty this time. We'd start all over, ol' Zapclunk and I. (I had started mentally calling it "Zapclunk" by that point, and the name just seemed to have stuck.)

This time I'd have the upper hand. No rebellion would stand a chance. I smiled, rather maliciously I confess, at the thought of erasing Zapclunk's memory. That would put it in its place! It would think twice before messing with me again.

And I could recall absolutely nothing in the Bible that even remotely resembled an admonishment against reformatting computers.

I knew I stood on solid ground.

So I called up the computer teacher at the local High School, who also happened to be my landlord.

"Is there any chance I could talk you into coming over and reformatting Zapclunk... uh... I mean, my computer, for me?"

"Well, I suppose. But are you sure you need to do that? You realize you'll lose all your current documents and files, don't you?"

We had quite a long conversation, with him trying to convince me that this was totally unnecessary.

I couldn't tell him my computer was in total rebellion. He just wouldn't understand the voices in the night. I was sharp enough to be careful about what I said.

But when I mentioned the missing DLL files and the non-functioning programs, he ended up admitting that reformatting did sound like a pretty good idea, after all.

So we set a time.

I thought about plugging in ol' Zapclunk again, just so I could gloat in its screen a bit, but decided that gloating was probably out, even with computers. I'd never seen it listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit...

The operation was performed the next day, and Zapclunk never even knew what hit it. Everything was all over before it could even get a word out edgewise... Before it even had time to crash the formatting program.

Although I did notice my landlord had a hard time finding some sub-program he needed for the reformatting of the hard drive. He said it was an unusual computer in that way -- that the program wasn't exactly where he expected it to be.

I kept my mouth shut, praying that Zapclunk hadn't hidden it so well that it couldn't be found at all.

Eventually though, my landlord nodded with satisfaction. "Found it!" And he hit a few commands and the process was started -- the destroy-Zapclunk's-memory procedure locked in.

Soon the operating system was reloaded and the landlord gone.

I felt like dancing a jig and singing, "Ding, dong, the Zapclunk's dead... Ding, dong the wicked Zapclunk's dead!" to the music about the death of the witch in the Wizard of Oz. But I hesitated, thinking that might not be a fruit of the Spirit either.

Then reminded myself joy was a legitimate fruit of the Spirit, so ended up twirling around the room a few times, humming the tune happily.

A clean slate!

I sat down, eager to try it out, marveling when the screen came up without a murmur of complaint or comment from any of the components. I rubbed my hands together gleefully. I was in business!

That night, when I woke up at 3 a.m., thinking I heard giggling and chuckles, I shrugged it off as just a bad dream, and rolled over and went back to sleep, secure in the knowledge all was well.

Little did I know...

Be sure to drop by the Den next week for the conclusion of "Zappy and I".

Meanwhile, Yvonne Blake, over at My Back Door is hosting Fiction Friday this week. So be sure and drop over there as well, to find links to the whole selection of entries by Christian writers, and/or to add a link of your own and join in the fun! We all welcome comments and discussion!
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den


BethL said...

Your computer and accessories came to life for me too [I wanted to "shake" them for you!] :) This was entertaining, wonderful, and realistic in a cyber-way! :)

Yvonne said...

I KNEW they had minds of their own!

Denise said...

You make me smile, bless you.

Anonymous said...

This seems an appropriate post in light of the circumstances. Thanks for the laughs!

Hoomi said...

Repeat after me: "Computers make my life easier."

Part of my job is fixing the silly things, including ones that were obsolete twenty years ago. I empathize completely.

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