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NOTE: I wrote this decades ago, but surprisingly little has changed…


To err is human, to forgive is divine…but this does not make it desirable to make as many errors as possible.—Roger Williams, 1603 – 1683) Puritan minister and founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

To err is human, to really mess things up requires a computer.
— Paul Ehrlich, in “The Farmers Almanac, 1978…

To foul things up requires Windows™, but to totally f**k up requires the root password.—Computer Guy looking at my computer

In the old days, everyone knew how to get on the good side of the Fates. You would just put up an altar and sacrifice the odd chicken, goat, or teenage (preferably virgin) girl. With the possible exception of the sacrificees and teenage boys, everyone was satisfied with this arrangement. Not only were the fates appeased, but you didn’t have to pay college tuition for the virgin.

But eventually people began to question this approach. “Can’t we think of better things to do with animals and virgins?” This led to the development of personal prayer, animal husbandry, The Miss America Pageant, and emails from websites featuring highly unlikely liaisons with farm animals.

I don’t mean to suggest there’s anything wrong with the system today, but occasionally the Fates do seem to get a little testy. I think they sometimes miss their old sacrifices, and just decide to help themselves to the odd burnt offering.

Take last Tuesday. Please. Except for the fact I was having a world-class bad hair day, it started pretty well. [Translation: we had enough milk for my latte, and The Hub wasn’t able to find where I’d hidden the Good Cereal with the red fruits (in the dog biscuit box) and so he had to eat the Bad Cereal with the raisins.]

You see, Tuesday was the day I was going to change my life. No more writing posts at 2AM. No more dirty house, piles of laundry, unanswered email. This was the day I was going to clean my house, do my blog (early), finish writing my book, prepare a detailed budget, and lose weight. I also planned to become taller.

I fired up the old computer and got to work. Well, okay, I was going to get to work, just as soon as I sent that email message off to… “Hey, what’s that burning smell? Please, Fates, please tell me you’ll take some sacrifice I don’t need, like the oven or the iron.”

I was staring at a computer screen proclaiming, “TOTAL SYSTEM FAILURE”.

“Get a grip,” I told myself. “You’re not some helpless computer-illiterate. You can handle this.” I got out my tools, pulled the cover off the computer, looked inside, jiggled a few wires, put the cover back on, and burst into tears. Then I took it to the computer store.

Their Computer Guy was interested in my computer. “Hey, look, my dad used to have one of those. I didn’t know there were any left.” The autopsy was brief. Postmortem report: “It’s the motherboard. She’s dead.”

Okay, I’m a mother myself. I know when the mother is gone, nobody can find anything. I’ve had kids stand in the kitchen and ask where we keep the milk. But I tried anyway. “Can you fix it?”

[image credit: Sex and the City]

“They don’t make parts for these anymore,” Computer Guy told me. “But you were lucky. All you have to do is find another one just like it, transfer your hard drive, and save your data.” It was like telling someone, “Sure, we can fix your old Model T car. All you have to do is find another Model T with a working engine to serve as donor.”

Have you ever noticed how when something terrible happens—say you total the car in which you are carrying everything you own—somebody is sure to say, “It could have been worse. You were lucky.”

“No,” I told Computer Guy, “I could have been more UN-lucky. Lucky people don’t lose the computer that contains every scrap of their work and personal life.” I’m not sure he heard me over all that noise made by The Fates cracking up in the background…

But maybe the sacrifice appeased them somewhat because not only did I find a good deal on a slightly newer used computer, but also got the files off my old hard drive.

[No, I DO NOT want to hear from you people who have backup copies of every word you ever processed. You are probably regular flossers who never have overdue library books, and have already completed next year’s Christmas shopping. I have a religious obligation—I’m a devout grudge-holder—to hate you, and possibly give your email address to some of those animal-love websites.]

But I’m still worried about The Fates. I’m thinking of going back to burnt offerings. The problem is that we don’t have any goats, chickens, or teenaged girls, and I’m not sure what else we have to offer. So I’ve kept the carcass of the old computer. Actually, down in the basement I have a museum of defunct computers going back to the Dawn of Silicon. I can only hope the bonfire doesn’t violate any religious or city ordinances…