I just can’t hack it.

My computer is possessed.

I’m nearly certain of it. I say nearly because this is strictly a gut instinct based on years of a Catholic upbringing, recalling bloodcurdling, spine-chilling words whispered by the nuns who taught our catechism classes and warned us of the imminent dangers when messing with the dark side. They listed all the classic signs of demonic domination:

Flickering lights? Check.

Erratic movement and activity—not by your hand? Check.

Bizarre and spasmodic sounds impossible to locate or predict? Check.

The ability to levitate of its own accord? … Not yet, but I’m totally prepared for this to happen and won’t be caught off guard when it does. Seeing that will explain absolutely everything else.

Most folk, in this modern day and age of tech talk, gadgetry and regularly giving birth to children who can reprogram satellites by the age of six, have grown accustomed to the idea that they either keep up or bite the dust. It’s like running alongside a train that’s picking up speed and every time you brush the fingers of the guy who’s reaching to pull you in, someone slams the door shut and slides open the entry to the box car in front of it. And instead of just somebody new reaching for you, they’re now also offering you a cool drink—which at this point you’re desperate for, but still can’t quite reach. And so it goes.

LastTrain (800x419)

Somewhere within the time frame of barely grasping word processing (plus a couple of DOS code commands) and grappling with the concept that someplace in the air above me floats everything on my hard drive, smart phone and tablet, there is another sector of computer practice that befuddles me to the core. Other people are using it. Let me make this clearer:

Other people—people I don’t know, have never met, and haven’t given permission—are using my computer.

GoogleRain (498x800)

I first recall seeing “remote” usage of my computer when, years ago, after unsuccessfully thumbing through the eight manuals that accompanied that dinosaur and holding on the phone for approximately the same amount of time it takes to make cheese, a pricey technician was granted access to fix some niggling problem. Seeing the arrow my mouse used to have control over being manipulated by a faceless operator proved fascinating. Sadly, it always moved to quickly for me to register what to click or unclick should my problem reoccur.

Shortly thereafter, I remember thinking the world was full of hackers. The news raged over them, spy novels were rife with them, Hollywood made blockbusters about them and I sat staring at the index to my “help” files wondering how in the world folks could overcome the quirks of their own computers and then manage to have leftover time to mess about with somebody else’s.

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The whole hacking culture is a bit of a head-scratcher to me, and what defines this group is heatedly debated. There are classifications and subgroups that depend upon the attitude, the aim and ambition of each individual. Do you hope to breach security, make money, send a message or befuddle the Luddites? Then you might be a white or a black hat, maybe a script kiddie, a neophyte or a hacktivist, or even simply a cracker. If you’re going to be one of these, you will need a cutting-edge education of computers and their networks. There is no technical help line that will walk you through the steps of ‘How to hack into Twitter accounts.’

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In addition, there is another brand of hacker I came to admire simply from having enjoyed the college tour at MIT. Here, our guide told stories about the much loved school tradition of demonstrating technical prowess and jaw-dropping ingenuity in the form of institutional pranks. These are not your typical ‘Animal House’ fraternity shenanigans, but rather, “We’re going to need a crane and a squadron from the National Guard to fix this,” type of tomfoolery.

The one thing both of these groups have in common is what baffles me most.

Time.

Knowing how long it takes me to defrag my computer and run a simple disc cleanup, I’m wondering when these people have an opportunity to do laundry. It’s not surprising to find out that a sizeable chunk of these tech-savvy cool cats are young enough to still occupy a room down the hall from their parents—which explains my query regarding their dirty clothes.

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Recently, I walked passed my daughter’s laptop and stopped to watch what I thought was a pretty nifty screensaver. When I asked her about it, she informed me that, no, this was not some downloaded piece of fluff, but that she had actually loaned her computer to science. Apparently, when she’s not using it herself, she lends her computing power—along with multitudes of others—to analyze data while it scours the universe for intelligent life. Hers is part of a virtual supercomputer for SETI@home. Those pretty squiggles were simply an indication that her laptop was actively reading radio bandwidth.

And now I look askew at my own PC, wondering if she has rigged my computer to service science, if a huckster has hacked my doohickey, or if indeed a demon has bedeviled my data processor.

I’m just waiting on the floating keyboard. Call it an old Catholic stirring, but I’m pretty sure a phantom has floored my firewall.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

I see dead people.

There is something so tantalizing about going into someone else’s home, especially if they’re not present. Even more so if the folks are dead.

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey (Photo credit: Ed Bierman)

Not newly dead and outlined in chalk, but rather long ago buried and part of a history book and some schoolmarm’s lesson plan.

It has to be said, history remained stone cold if I simply read about it in Mr. Schook’s classroom. It did, however, find new life during visits to historical wax museums or abandoned ghost towns.

I can even stand in the waving tall grasses of a carefully preserved battlefield and strain to catch the cries of men slipping through some crack in time. My imagination runs rife with other people’s supposed memories, their hardships and suffering, the easy to imagine tweets they’d post on Twitter.

Okay, you’re right. I took it too far. There’s no way I could imagine their hardships.

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson (Photo credit: Adam Franco)

But I count myself fortunate to live smack dab in the center of a triangle of three residences belonging to past American presidents. And by past, I mean expired to the point folks paste their likeness on our paper currency and coins.

Many Americans (a large chunk of them being schoolchildren) hate to be reminded of the past, but for some reason, they love to reenact it. Because I am married to Sir Sackier, Brit extraordinaire, I find myself in the not so enviable position of hearing just how much we colonists have made a muck of things as often as I’d care to tune in. I figure I’d tune in a lot more if he’d dress in period costume, but that certainly won’t happen unless I agree to play the wayward wench opposite his feudally monocratic role.

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

Yet you can’t turn around in this state without accidentally elbowing somebody next to you who happens to be dressed like the Revolution is still taking place just yonder down the street. I have perfected the double take when caught off guard seeing a few regimental Civil War soldiers, bloody and bandaged from battle, purchasing a ticket to see Spiderman at the town cinema.

I think it would be easier if our local time travelers could remain in character.

A few days ago, I made my annual trip with some out of town friends to one of my favorite historic eateries. It has a name like Ye Olde Durty Bird or Red Coat Tavern; House of the Village Baker and Physic. We specialize in both baking and bloodletting.

I feel compelled to return year after year, because the food is unbeatable. You sit in a smoky, dark dining room brimming with tourists and the only sounds you hear are those of people weeping with pure culinary pleasure and groaning at the amount they’ve stuffed into their gobs.

The tricky bit is trying to maintain the feeling of having passed through the portal of time. Yes, the food is authentic, the crockery and cutlery realistic, the costumes genuine copies, but it’s the occasional slippage back to our current Twilight Zone that catches me.

When passing by the kitchens, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Shirley! Stop all that damn texting and get that cabbage in the kettle!” Or when someone at a nearby table mentions their black-eyed peas are stone cold, the scullery maid grabs the bowl and chirps, “No worries, I’ll just nuke it in the kitchen.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the staff doing the Macarena out back while taking a ciggy break.

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

In fact, I’m certain, when auditioning for the role of one of these fine dead people, the one caveat they accept, and then promptly ignore before receiving employment, is to read George Washington’s classic best seller—the one he wrote before his sweet sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.

The book is a fascinating read, and I implore you to take a quick peek at just a few of his rules, but you’ll find that we—as a society in general—would discover the white-wigged man choking on his Cheerios to see how it is that we have “adapted” his suggestions to better fit our present lifestyles.

For instance:

His 3rd rule states: Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him. Umm … what are we going to do without YouTube?

12th  … lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth … He’s just eliminated all the qualifications for a successful James Bond audition.

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Blackberries, iPhones, Androids … you guys are sol.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. Obviously, Washington was portending rush hour traffic.

52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Ahem, Lady Gaga.

64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho’ there Seem to be Some cause. Looks like we’ll have to nix all reality TV.

72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously. This one will wreak havoc with our pubescent saplings.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. There goes Facebook.

107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth. Never gonna happen in my house and at our table.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. Someone needs to do a little housekeeping in the Capitol.

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

Now I’m not suggesting we catapult ourselves back to slave trade, revolutionists, and no underarm deodorant, but yearning for yesteryear’s grace and civility is a small spark that keeps my own celestial fire burning.

To sum up, it appears we’ve got some work in our future if we hope to live up to the past.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!