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Me and my Computer

Recipe: One part of nostalgia, two parts of imagination. Add ice, stir, do not shake. Pour into Martini glasses and enjoy.
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I’ve been a widower for nearly three years now. There are times when it’s very lonely—but I’m not trying to bring back the past. When I have those depressive moments, I usually descend four steps to my tiny office and sit in front of my computer, eyes on the screen, fingers on the keyboard—and wait for something to happen. No, I’m am not humanizing my machine. It is not an animal. I haven’t even given it a name. It is a ingenuous assembly of glass and wire and complex “boards,” each of the later a masterpiece in itself. But it’s not the assembly of all these parts that mesmerizes me, even though I have tremendous admiration for the engineer who designed it. What never ceases to astound me is what I can’t see—a vast interconnected network reaching out all over the world. I am sitting in front of the world’s biggest machine! And it’s all there waiting for me to tell it what to do.

Not that it always obeys my commands, but that’s usually because I’ve done something incorrectly. But, I confess, that there are other times when it appears to have a mind of its own. And does what it wants to do rather than what I want it to do. Then I might end up swearing at it as if it were a recalcitrant employee. But, of course, I know that cannot be. It’s not human, after all. It’s just an assembly glass and wire and complex boards. About as inhuman as you can get.

Oh, there is one thing I almost neglected to mention. A few days ago I got up, put on the coffee and cut a couple of slices of bread for the toaster. Then I went down those four steps to my computer to see what interesting people had emailed me during the night. Odd thing, as soon as I woke it from “sleep” mode there appeared a message on the screen.

Well I’ll tell you. That really rattled me. How did it know my name? How could it express a thought that I hadn’t already entered into it?

I pondered on this. Of course I had entered my name many times on the computer varying from an answer to a prompt to a signature on a letter. This familiarity was at the point that all I had to do is type the first few letters of my name and the computer would figure it out and fill in the rest. But the “Good morning” and “Have a good day?” More difficult. Then I realized that as I use the machine mostly for writing short stories, I must have used this trite remark in one or more of them. Still…

Next morning… nothing! I was beginning to think that I must have been dreaming. AI or “Artificial Intelligence” (referring to the human-like capabilities of some computer programmes) had come a long way but this was only installed in the most advance science computers and mine was an infant compared to those) but even these lacked truly human qualities like love and hate, anger, boredom, and maybe a few others. Oh well. I’ll just look on this as a one-time aberration… Until a few days later it actually spoke to me!

It happened like this. I had dressed, shaved and breakfasted and was having a second cup of coffee, which I had taken down into my office. I put the coffee down well away from the computer—coffee and computer keyboards don’t make a happy combination. I turned on the machine and got my usual country scene “screen-saver” but nothing out of the ordinary. I was working on a manuscript for another short story. I hit the little “icon” on my screen which should have displayed the story for me to work on. But then the damn computer SPOKE to me! “Don’t you think you ought to write that birthday note to your nephew before you get into more writing?”

Without even thinking, I replied, “Oh. Oh. When’s his birthday?”

“Middle of next week.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I’ll get right at it.” I opened a desk drawer where I keep some spare blank greeting cards. I was going through them when it suddenly hit me. That machine was having a CONVERSATION with me!

Let’s try and make some sense of this. I turned off the machine, moved to a comfortable lounge chair and proceeded to analyze the situation.

First of all, where did I store such information. In a special calendar programme on my computer. And I have birthdays particularly noted by name. But it did not include relationships (like “my nephew”) so how did the computer know?

A eureka moment! I wrote to him last year on this same computer!

But who put such a clever programme into my machine. Not me and no one else touched my computer. So???

Of course. My machine is hooked up by wireless to that amazing source of information—the Internet. Someone has devised a programme that “phones” up my computer, still as a person, is welcomed into the guts of the thing, and searches for the information he/she wants. Then it also has the power to make comments! Possible but expensive for the perpetrator. You can’t afford a second human listening in on every computer.

That’s a trifle scary—but not as scary as the alternatives! After all, it is just a machine—an assembly of glass and wire and complex boards.

More “doldrum” days where nothing unusual happened and then…

On a lazy Saturday afternoon I thought I would check my emails and revved up the old faithful. The screen remained showing the usual woodlands scene, but not all the little icons that indicated various programmes.

“I’ve been thinking Lyman, you haven’t written a new story in a month or so. Time for another, don’t you think?” So asked my computer.

Without pausing to consider, I answered as if it were a real person. “I guess you’re right. I usually wait until I have a new central theme, then I can start right in on the typing.”

“I figured out that was the way you worked. But you’ve got a deadline for a week Wednesday. So get at it.”

I complained, “But I haven’t got a main theme. I’ve used them all up!”

“I’ve got a theme for you.”

“What?” I asked dubiously.

“A computer talks to the operator.”

“Just like we’re doing now?”

“Just like we’re doing now.”

“Great idea! I’ll get to work on it. Any more inspirations?”

“You’ll have to wait and see. Now get to work on it.”

“OK. OK. Right away, sir. Now that we are on friendly terms, I’ve got to know your name,” I said, hating to terminate this astounding conversation.

“It’s always the computer owner who chooses a name. What do you want to call me?”

“Melchior!”

“Melchior! Is there a connotation?”

“Melchior was one of the three Wise Men.”

“Well, thank you for the compliment,” Melchior responded. Then he left. Well the computer didn’t actually LEAVE, but I knew his “presence” was no longer with us.

I sat back wondering what to make of this. Was the machine actually alive! Or had it come alive? Or was it all a hallucination? After all, “It’s just an assembly glass and wire and complex boards.”

But somehow a spare unassigned soul had crept into it. Hmmm.

21 Responses to “Me and my Computer”

  1. Rebecca Couch says:

    Beloved Lyman, your heart is beautiful above all. Your grace imbues all you contact; your imagination is exotic and your sense of humour contagious. I love the twinkle in your eye! I love that you always started a business meeting with a prayer, asking for help in the important decisions we had to make. I love that you always stood up to greet Ann when she joined meeting after you – and you always made sure she was secure in her chair. I love that you had a bullshit detector to cut to the quick in meetings…summarizing the truth simply and yet poetically. Everything that you are has been an inspiration to me; you are the epitome of a Gentle Man…vest, watch fob and monocle adorned the true gentleman who lives with honour, love and devotion in all you do. You are a devoted man of God, trusting in His perfect ways. I have been blessed to know you and to call you friend. I know you are in the arms of angels, now and always. With deep adoration, I just simply love you! Ann will be so thrilled to be with you again, I can hear her giggle now… Rebecca

  2. Jack Long says:

    I think this story (if it is a story) speaks for all of us, especially us seniors who have no idea how our computers work but are constantly amazed by how much they know.
    Sometimes they just seem extremely intelligent for a collection of glass and wire and complex boards.
    Maybe there is more to it. Who knows.

  3. Peggy Moxon says:

    Lyman,

    I just read your “computer” story and it is a little spooky but very interesting.

    I also read Buck’s note sent on your behalf. I want to say that reading the article about Tony van Bridge’s son in the Globe on Saturday was a surprise, learning that he had written War Horse. Doug and Liz and I saw it in London.
    The real memory was of the summer we rented Tony and Betty’s house in Woodbridge….Ann’s idea….and many swims in the Henderson’s pond.

    My love to you ,
    Peggy Moxon

  4. Sonja Morawetz says:

    Dearest Lyman
    You seem to have hit the nail right on the head re: do computers really lead a secret life? Ours certainly knows how to get ‘our goat’ without trying too hard. Typically it is confrontational issues that we face with our example of wire, glass and those mysterious whirring sounds that it periodically hurls at us. The response from us humanoids, especially Steven who has no patience at all,is a diatribe of insults being flung at what should be an inanimate object, but is it really? Hmmmmmmmmmmm!
    All our love, hugs & kisses
    Sonja & Steven.
    xoxoxoxo

  5. charles kirby says:

    Dear Lyman…When I opened your E-Mail, (alias ‘Buck’) I thought it had ‘told’ me an incorrect fact. My computer may ‘think ‘ it is always correct, but I often have to tell it:”Quit messing around!” I don’t know what I am going to tell it this time…Well, maybe I do.
    So, “Sir Lyman”, I will say ‘tootles’ for now, and get back later. Hugs from
    Charles.

  6. charles kirby says:

    Already sent…cwk

  7. Silvana Ness says:

    I guess that those of us of a certain mature age have an identical reaction to the interplay with the PC – we try to assuage it and mollify it, all the while keeping our bad temper under a veneer of control! You seem to have found a happy medium to inter-relate with it.

    Love, Silvana

  8. Marianne Gorecki says:

    Dear Lyman,

    Delightful story, I enjoyed it so much !
    Hugs,

    Marianne

  9. kimberley says:

    It reminds me of 2001 space odyssey meets the nutcracker, and I have never known the magic of the nutcracker had it not been for you Uncle Lyman. I am sending so much love to you. xo.

  10. Jim OBrian says:

    A fascinating warm story – one I think Sis would have loved.
    And why shouldn’t you hear from your old
    workmate, the computer .Do you remember the reeds and rushes talking to Ratty in
    the Wind in the Willows, -the chapter about little Portly? God Bless

  11. Dear Lyman,
    I love your stories as I loved the books you and Ann wrote of your adventures together. My father, Sandy Stuart, read the memoir of your courtship and life together out loud to my mother. She loved it too.

    God bless you, Lyman.

    With love,

    Clayton

  12. Joy MacFadyen says:

    Dear Lyman:

    The story was blurred by tears after reading Buck’s accompanying note to your last post.

    I shall miss your bedtime stories but most of all I shall miss you.

    Thank you for being a good friend to Don and to me and for the wonderful impact you have had on the lives of everyone who has ever known you.

    With all my love and admiration.

    God bless.
    Joy

  13. Gloria Luoma says:

    What a wonderful story Lyman…you totally ‘had me’…oh where can I find that software…and oh…how do I express gratitude for contributing to sooo many of our lives…while at the helm at the Ballet…always so reasurring to see you and Ann after the performances knowing your response was always positive…a sanctuary for our dancing souls…and sooo many thanks for the legendary picnics…and Ann’s stunningly artful Christmas cards…and the blessing of yours and Ann’s presence at our son Andreas’s baptism in Ottawa with Adele, Paul, Erene, and Frank…Thank you Lyman…may God truly bless you…xox Gloria

  14. GeoffS says:

    Lyman,

    Another great story. It’s been fun being your webmaster. You have a great mind, a kind soul, a quick wit, and a loving heart. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for your kindness and generosity to so many. Thank you for all the MVC potlucks, and art sale selection events. Thank you for being a great role model. Thank you for your friendship.

    You will be remembered.

    God Bless

    Geoff

  15. judy ryan says:

    Dearest Lyman. Reading your stories I have been charmed, entertained, intrigued and sometimes confused. I have pondered and laughed and appreciated. Thank you for writing and sharing your stories. You have lived an exceptional life filled with love, service and adventure. I wish you peace, comfort and love as you continue your journey to your beloved Ann. We will all miss you and hold you in our hearts. Hugs, judy and pat.

  16. Linden Armour von Eichel says:

    My darling uncle travel well. Thank you for your stories that we’ve all enjoyed over these years. Little Hendersons and Armours experienced your imagination that was already percolating when we were small, and we had the great joy of being your actors in the films you made for Granny & Grumpy.
    Dear Lyman, you have taught us how to live well and how to die well. Thank you for all the fun we’ve had with you!!!!

  17. Geri Harper says:

    Farewell, dear Lyman, thank you for being an inspiration, showing us all what a real love story was all about.
    You will be missed, but we are happy that you and Ann are finally reunited.
    We will remember you both with great affection.

  18. Nancy Redner says:

    Thank you for the inspirational stories. I am saving them all. We will truly miss them.
    Nancy Redner
    (Michael Cumberland’s Mom)

  19. Chloe McLellan says:

    Lyman, The void you leave is deep. Our memories of happy days with you and Ann, our joyful wedding at Windborne when you waltzed me to the alter and a new life. These and many more memories will endure. Thank you.

    We miss you, Chloe and Peter McLelan

  20. Zohreh says:

    Rest in Peace Lyman. You were a wonderful story teller.

  21. Victoria Henderson says:

    Miss you so much. What a great storyteller, and what a thoughtful and compassionate mentor, and what a wonderful role model! Plus, you were a great dad. I only hope I can be half as much to my kids. All my love.

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