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Computers can be real lifesavers. Right up until they turn on you

Sometimes the computer in your phone shows it can do just what you tell it to. Other times the computer in your phone shows you it was listening all the time - whether you knew it or not.
Sometimes the computer in your phone shows it can do just what you tell it to. Other times the computer in your phone shows you it was listening all the time - whether you knew it or not. Dreamstime

Father Matt interrupted the baptism to fling the crying baby at me.

“Do something with this thing,” he barked.

I caught the howling bundle, turned it over and beat on its back, trying desperately to make it coo or gurgle, but it just cried. Finally I sat on it. That worked. The doll was still crying, but you couldn't hear it.

This was my practical introduction to the computer age.

That baby doll, Baby Soft Sounds, was brand new in 1979, a birthday gift for my 4-year-old daughter. The youngest of six, she inexplicably hoped for a baby sister. So the doll, with a basic computer, was programed to say “Mama” quite fetchingly. It cooed, gurgled and cried in a hitching pattern that quickly became very annoying.

We hoped this would soon convince our daughter of the impracticality of her sibling dreams. While waiting for that to happen, I volunteered the doll to stand in for a real baby when our parish priest taught first graders about baptism.

But Baby Soft Sounds wouldn’t shut up. It was supposed to stop crying when you laid it down, but even basic computers don’t always act as advertised.

I learned that again last week when my car suddenly stalled behind the Lakewood Albertsons store in Oakbrook.

I’m proud to say, I carry jumper cables in my car at all times. My kids gave them to me so I’d always be prepared. I gathered up the cables, still in their original case, opened the hood and stood, looking around hopefully. I had reached the limit of my expertise.

Almost immediately, two women came out of neighboring houses. In literally two minutes, they jumpstarted the battery, shook my hand warmly and went back to what they were doing.

You notice? No computers. No apps to determine strange cars or neighbors to alert on her smart phone. One of my good Samaritans, Christina, just stepped out of her door and gave me the universal look for “You’d better have a pretty good reason for being here.” And I was on my way in less than 10 minutes.

But the next morning, my car, which has a scant 140,000 miles on it, was ill again. It started up smartly but wouldn’t go more than six feet without stalling. So the auto club sent someone to tow it away and I had to ride along.

The bad thing about riding in a tow truck is that somewhere along the way you have to climb in and out. That tends to draw quite a crowd.

“Just hang on to the handle and hop in,” the driver instructed.

Let us think. When was the last time I hopped anywhere? I finally sort of did one of those rock climbing exercises and clambered onto the seat.

“You can just slide out when we get there," the driver said hopefully.

The trouble is, when I slid out, it turned out there’s quite a gap between feet and ground. I waved my legs about and then let go. Those last two feet really hurt.

“It was the computer,” Rod, the Subaru wizard, said when the car was returned to me. Why? He explained, using technical terms. “Well, you know computers,” he said.

When I got home, the back-up external drive for my laptop was making noises like two cats fighting. Splip! Ppftt! Now it’s just lying there. I’m pretty sure it’s a conspiracy, but I am not sure who to call. Maybe the iPhone will make the decision for me.

One of my sons made a long drive with his father-in-law just before Father’s Day. On the two-hour trip, the dad, a devout Catholic, talked about the comfort he derives from his devotion to the rosary.

Nothing unusual about that. Until they got home and my son turned on his phone. The first thing to display was an ad that read, “Where to buy rosaries for your father for Father’s Day.” Clearly the phone had been listening.

With the Fourth of July coming, it might be time to leave laptops, tablets and phones behind and go to the beach. Of course, there are always consequences.

“Worst sunburn ever," wrote my friend, Sam. “From miles away, from other nations, from distant undiscovered extraterrestrial planets, I attract enthusiastic slaps on the back. Yow!”

There probably is an app to tell you when you’re getting a dangerous sunburn.

I don’t trust computers anymore. For goodness sake, don’t tell my phone.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional humorist, speaker and writer. Contact her at 1-800-548-9264 or PO Box 881, DuPont, WA 98237. Listen to her hybrid radio show, Swimming Upstream at her website,