Unpredictably Predictive

This week I was delighted to discover that computers are now capable of writing stories for us using predictive text. I had already suspected as much, since these days my iPhone can pretty much compose text messages all by itself. If I type “Are…”, it will automatically fill in “…you still coming today?”

This is an unavoidable result of dealing with contractors who are genetically incapable of showing up as promised; and it also proves that my iPhone is at least as smart as they are.

Um… no, I’m not bitter; why do you ask?

Anyhow, back to predictive-text stories: Botnik Studios fed all seven volumes of Harry Potter to their computer, and then turned it loose to write the next great Harry Potter saga.

Amazingly, the computer did create a story that has taken the internet by storm. Not because it’s so good, but because it’s so hilariously bad. Check out “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash”.

Better still, talented artist Megan Nicole Dong couldn’t resist the challenge of illustrating the particularly bizarre bits.

Inspired, I turned to my iPhone. Surely it had the world’s next bestseller locked away in its little electronic brain!

Here is its magnum opus:

I don’t know what to tell you about the other day but we’re not going to get any more time. Officially the best thing to do is to get a new job. Jobless claims are still coming up in a couple of months but I haven’t been able to make any changes to the company.

I forgot to ask you about the foundation of your job and how to make it work. The next time we have to make sure you get the house. The beams are not going to make it any better than the last time I had a chance to look at it and I haven’t done anything for the last week. I want to see what we can do to get the job done.

I admit I was disappointed in its painfully dry prose; but at least the whole composition was more coherent than a lot of business memos I’ve seen.

Moving on from ‘predictive’ to ‘predictable’… Christmas holidays are here again!

And that means I’m going to skip next week’s blog post so I have time to remove a few pounds of dust from Every. Single. Surface. In the house.  Including the Christmas tree, all the Christmas decorations, and the (formerly nicely) wrapped gifts, because the contractors (who were supposed to finish a month ago) exploded Dustpocalypse in our house the day before our houseguests were due to arriveGRRR!!!

*breathes deeply through a dust mask for a few minutes*

Okay, I’m all better now.  Ish.

I’ll also be taking time to prepare some festive calorie-laden goodies for my guests.  With any luck I’ll be able to keep the dusting separate from the cooking; but if not, at least I’ll be serving high fibre (if oddly-flavoured) meals.

Merry Christmas to those who observe it; and whatever your December traditions may be, I wish you joy, comfort, peace, and prosperity.

‘See’ you on January 3, 2018!


Screen Crud

I was typing merrily away when I saw it:  a renegade period in the middle of my sentence.  I backspaced to delete it but even after my cursor passed by, it remained impudently in place.

What the…?

Closer examination revealed that it was actually a bit of crud stuck to my computer screen.  When I cleaned it off, though, I realized exactly how much more crud there was.

It looked like tiny splatters of… something.  I have no idea what.  I don’t eat while I’m typing, so it can’t be food.  (Although if I had a third hand I probably would eat at the same time.  Maybe our children’s children’s children will evolve a convenient third appendage after generations of keyboarding.)

Anyway, I don’t have a third hand, so the crudfest isn’t food.

Even though I’ve come close to spewing a mouthful of tea over my screen when I run across something particularly funny, it’s never actually happened.  So it can’t be beverage droplets.

If I’m going to cough or sneeze I contain it.  The crud definitely isn’t snot.  (Which is a comforting thought, because, eeuw.)

We don’t have kids and Hubby has his own laptop, so it’s not someone else’s crud.

Back in the days when cats shared our house I could have pointed the finger of blame at kitty noses, but the last of our elderly felines departed this world over ten years ago and my laptop is much newer; so that theory’s shot.

If I used voice-to-text I might suspect aerosolized spit, which, to my own embarrassment, I discovered we all emit while talking despite our best efforts.  But I don’t talk while I’m working.  Not even unintelligible muttering, which would theoretically reduce the spray range.

But if I’ve eliminated all the likely suspects, what is the screen crud?

I’m stumped.

I suppose it could be deliberately flung there by evil relatives of the sock imps:  Computer imps that reside in the cracks between the keys.

I’m imagining something like our university dining hall a couple of eons ago, where the meal wasn’t complete until at least one person had catapulted a spoonful of Jello onto the ceiling and made it stick.  By the end of the term that ceiling looked like a stained-glass window designed by a lunatic.

So maybe when I close the laptop at night, the laptop imps creep out and fling imp-Jello up at the screen.

Or it might be the invisible ghosts of long-dead copyeditors who are trying to change the punctuation in my work, only to be frustrated when I continue to type and the text scrolls down.

Maybe it’s a squadron of microscopic incontinent flying insects on organized strafing runs.

Or maybe it’s tiny spiders hanging from the ceiling, taking a dump on me as a comment on the quality of my work.  (Spiders are a tough audience.)

I dunno; but if you see me hunched under an umbrella while typing away on my laptop, you’ll know why.

Anybody else have theory as to the origin of screen crud?  Please tell me I’m not the only one getting dumped on by spider-critics!

* * *

New topic over at the Virtual Backyard Book Club:  Life-Changing Fiction — What book(s) changed your worldview?  Click here to have your say!

(Note:  I’ve just discovered that the WordPress theme I’m using for the VBBC has a weird glitch:  If your browser window isn’t wide enough, it doesn’t show the comment box.  If you’ve been unable to comment, I’m so sorry!  Please expand your browser window and the comment box should appear.)

Boom. Splat.

That’s the sound of my brain exploding.

You may recall my computer died a couple of weeks ago.  The reload went pretty well, until… *cue ominous music* …I loaded a new(er) version of my accounting software.

It crashed.  Even my geek skills couldn’t persuade it to work, so I phoned and waded through the usual labyrinth.  Why do companies choose automated telephone systems?

“Hey, let’s take customers who are already frustrated by our product and irritate the shit out of them by making them respond to ten minutes of increasingly obscure menu choices before putting them on hold.”

“Ooh, good idea!  And let’s set it up so if they press the wrong number they have to hang up and start again.”

“Right on.  Should we play music specifically designed to promote speechless rage?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea, but I think we should intersperse it with monotone assurances of how important their call is to us.”

“All in favour?”

“AYE!”  *roars of demonic laughter*

I finally got through to a human being.  In India.  Obviously I missed a point in the decision-making process:

“Let’s route the call to someone with a tenuous grasp of English, an unintelligible accent, and absolutely no hands-on experience with the product.  Both the now-frothing customer and the poor underpaid bastard in India should suffer as much as possible.”

“Support” refused to help me unless I a) paid for the call; or b) bought the 2013 software.  After reflection, I bought the new software, comforting myself that it was probably good to get the latest version anyway.

I installed it… and discovered it’s impossible to update contact names.  Call me crazy, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to direct invoices to the person who’ll actually approve them?

I called India again.  When I finally vanquished the automated menu, the support guy put me on hold for several minutes while he searched for my customer ID.

He couldn’t find it despite the three numbers I supplied from my receipt.

He told me I’d have to pay for the call.  After a terse conversation and some deep breathing on my part, he finally unearthed evidence of my purchase(!) and agreed to help me.

Apparently the definition of ‘help’ was lost in translation.

I explained the problem.  He put me on hold for several minutes while he consulted his helpdesk database before coming back with a completely unrelated answer.

I explained again.  Hold.  Another unrelated answer.

Repeat six times until he grasps the problem.

Then he put me on hold for several more minutes before trying to get me to change the invoice template.  That would solve the problem for the one invoice I’d called about… but completely mess up the umpty-thousand other invoices in the system.

I (not-so-)patiently explained to him how his product works.


Repeat until I bleed from the eyes.

An hour later, I gave up and requested a case number so I could try another day.

Hold for ten minutes.  Then he came back with another useless attempt at a solution.

Slow, distinct enunciation:  “Just.  Give.  Me.  A.  CaseNumber.”

Hold for five more minutes.  He finally spouted a (probably random) number, and I hung up.

I got a survey from the company.  The first question was ‘Were you satisfied with your recent technical support call?’  When I chose ‘No’, their next question was ‘Please explain why your issue was not resolved.’

Boom.  Splat.

Uh… I dunno… maybe because your support system sucks?

I never did complete the survey.  I just couldn’t get past that question.  Can anybody help me out with an appropriate answer?

P.S. I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week: Curmudgeon-at-Large wrote a fabulous Fallen Arches post, “Corned Beef on Spy“.  It’s hilarious in its own right, but if you’ve read my books, you’ll get the satire (Updated: Oops! That should’ve been “parody” – I just looked it up) immediately.  I laughed my ass off.  Go.  Enjoy!  (C-a-L, I’m sorry for my brain fart – thanks again for honouring me with your wit.)

Confessions of an Undercounter Lurker

I’m an ice cream addict, and my nephew recently offered to let me hide under the Dairy Queen counter so he could feed me any treats he’d made wrong.  Little did he know that lurking under counters is not a new activity for me.  (And I didn’t enlighten him.  There are some things a fifteen-year-old doesn’t need to know.)

If you’d told me twenty years ago that I’d spend a substantial amount of time on my knees under co-workers’ desks, I’d probably have slapped you.  And a few years later, I’d have had to apologize.  Because I ended up doing exactly that.

Wait a minute.  If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, not exactly that.  Jeez.

For a lot of years, the joke around the office was, “If you can’t find Diane, look under your desk”.  I was working as a network administrator, and I spent far too much time hunched under desks, connecting and disconnecting various computer-related plugs and cables.

Aside from the carnivorous dust bunnies, I didn’t mind having to crawl around on the floor frequently.  I hate dressing up, and it gave me an excuse to never wear a skirt to work (or any particularly nice clothes, for that matter).

And it was peaceful down there.  Nice and dark and quiet.  Sometimes it was tempting to just hole up for the day and spout incomprehensible technical jargon if challenged.  Kind of like a deranged techno-troglodyte:  “Back!  Back, I say!  Or I’ll ping your IP ‘til your CAT5 sizzles like an electrocuted snake!  I’ll FDISK your drive ‘til it can’t find its FAT with both hands!  RAM!  FAP!  Buwahahaha!”

I can’t understand why my coworkers always seemed… wary.

I’ve actually hidden under a desk to avoid people, too.  I prefer to call it “a clever strategic decision”, not “cowardice”, but you can form your own judgement.

I was hiding from my ex-husband.  Who had just encountered my brand-new boyfriend at the door to my house.  There was a dog and a bag of cherries involved.  Let’s just say it was complicated.

I couldn’t decide whether it would be worse to make an appearance and potentially exacerbate the situation, or to get caught huddling under my desk.  How do you explain hiding like a kid, when you’re thirty-three years old?  “Um, I just dropped something…”  Ten minutes ago, when the doorbell rang for the first time.  Yeah, right.

Anyway, I didn’t get caught, both the dog and the cherries ended up where they belonged, and both males departed unscathed, if not unruffled.  I like to think I made the right decision on that one.

I’m going to skip the Dairy Queen gig, though.  Wouldn’t want this undercounter thing to become a habit.

Any other lurkers out there?


As Charles points out in the comments, you can’t just leave a situation with an ex-husband, new boyfriend, a dog, and a bag of cherries without explanation.  So go for it.  Use your imagination, and drop your best explanation of “what *might* have been” in the comments below.  I’ll pick a winner next Wednesday and send out a (probably not so) magnificent prize.