Wednesday

Criminal Appliances Aim to Murder and Maim;Guest Writer Michelle Drivels

Pic of Day
An Albino Hummingbird
Appliances Causing Mayhem and Murder

Harry had always been a creative guy, an inventor of sorts, one who looked beyond the details to see a bigger, more efficient picture. He was eco-smart way before eco-smart was cool, he was a multi-tasker when the concept was just so much gobbly-gook, his mind went beyond the boundaries of ordinary thought to greater heights than most humans even attempt.

He was mostly an ordinary guy, however, not one to show off his talent or become insufferable in his cleverness. He was a forklift truck driver for a local manufacturer and in that capacity he did manage to “invent” a lot of efficient methods of making and testing the product, up to and including sloppy paperwork that made the task more grueling than necessary. Through the years we had a strong extra income from his awards through the company’s suggestion system and I was so proud of my man.

Tomorrow I will be putting Harry in the ground and I have to write his eulogy. I, of course, am saddened by Harry’s death but it was by no means sudden. Our children will be at the funeral and are writing short memories of their own.

Only I, however, know about the time that one of Harry’s inventions solved a murder while another broke the denials of an abused woman and another caused my mother to win ten thousand dollars on the lottery.

Harry did not plan on any of those outcomes with his cockamamie invention of the emailing appliances and after the terror of it all was over, it really was quite funny. My beloved Harry never got any credit for the amazing results of his “inventions” and I figure he at least deserved it in his death. The local detectives, my newly freed and invigorated sister-in-law, not to mention my mother, will be quite surprised by it all and even if after he’s gone, they can thank him with a prayer that he rest in peace and maybe go to heaven real soon.

“Cheryl my sweet,” Harry said, “I been thinking.”

Oh how my skin prickled at those words. I’d heard them often throughout the 33 years of our marriage and they always preceded a long stint by Harry out in the garage as he sawed, hammered and planed a dog house out of an old shed. At other times he would get the hot glue gun and some empty soda bottles and before too long a bird-feeding station would be set up, sunflower seed filling various ports to accommodate all bird fellow types, all easily filled by one chute as designed by my Rube Goldberg husband. Indeed Harry did cut out a hole in the side of our house that emptied into a buried trash can at our curbside.

 On trash days Harry just pushed the button and the big can came up from under the ground, filled with our trash that we disposed of via that hole and the underground route Harry designed to get it to the buried trash container. I don’t know Harry did this, all I knew is that I’d empty the kitchen’s trash once a day into that special place as instructed by Harry and…well that was the end of it. Same with the all the small trash cans located throughout the house. Don’t go thinking there was no recycling going on either. We just threw the plastic down the trash chute painted red, the glass down the chute painted yellow, cardboard down the container painted brown. This sort of rubbish didn’t go all the way out to the house’s curbside but instead was somehow collected in underground containers at the side of the house. Every once in a while Harry pushed a button and called up the filled containers and hauled them off to the recycle centers.

Harry had no fear of the computer either. Indeed it was the computer that occupied his brilliant mind in the later years of his life, that consumed him the final year before his heart, the organ of many years of fear, finally stopped its beat.



It was when the appliances began to send their emails to other addresses in our cyber-address book that things began to run amok.



 While Harry might be the guy pictured under the words “computer illiterate”, with the help of our son and Harry’s complete fascination with this machine of his creative dreams, Harry made the computer stand on its head and talk if he wanted.  Almost literally.

Allen, our youngest son, did apply for a patent for the game he and Harry jointly designed. For creating computer games was of no interest to Harry. He wanted the computer to make daily life easy, to take the pain out of life’s problems. Ah, but a 3-d computer game, THAT was something that caught Harry’s eye and held it.

“Every Day Warriors and Superheroes” is controlled by the computer but it is an actual board game. The game is loaded into the computer’s memory while the game board is set up on the table much like Monopoly. Allen and Harry spent many months perfecting this game and it is quite imaginative, utilizing the game board as a sort of theater backdrop for the various plays and options, creating weapons and strategies upon player request, setting up scenarios on the fly, designing costumes at the whim of the player.

Still and so with all of his talent, Harry never wanted fame or even sought admiration for his clever ideas. He did what he did and around our house it was just accepted that vacuum hoses could be pulled out of the wall within any room, the end attachment could be pulled out from a nearby built in cabinet, with the flick of a switch on the side of the hose the rug or floor could be cleaned, the sucked up dirt going somewhere, then the hose recoiled into its hidey-hole, the end attachment snapped into its assigned place and boom, no one would be the wiser.

The computer, of course, made it easier for Harry to set up control of all this devices from his desktop or even from his cell phone. Harry’s entire cell phone fit directly in his ear, don’t ask me how he did that. It was when Harry designed all of the household appliances, even the car, with the ability to send email that all hell broke loose.

“Just think, Cheryl,” he told me with a smile as he labored in the refrigerator installing I could not imagine what, or why. “We’ll get an email when the water filter needs replacement,” Harry told me. I noticed that Harry was then installing a new water filter but there was also some weird wires hanging down from behind the refrigerator’s ice filter that concerned me. Much less the concept of the refrigerator sending me emails but that would be an issue for a later time.

It wasn’t but a few days later that I got an email from Jeep@verizon.net that had me pondering what this is all about. At first I thought it was spam but before hitting the delete key I wondered if maybe my Jeep was really sending me email. You get like that after living with Harry for a while.





“Air filter” was the only text inside of the email from the Jeep. Now I didn’t expect the Jeep to be all that wordy. It was a great vehicle, always starting when I turned the key, never failing to give its best to get out of snow piles. But it was more the strong silent type than a talkative jabberer, as I envision my Jeep that would send me emails. Harry told me that what else do I need to know, the Jeep needs a new air filter. “It’s a SUV of little words,” Harry smirked as he called the local parts store to have them set aside an air filter for a 2006 Jeep Liberty.

Indeed I began to get all sorts of emails from the appliances around the house, even some of Harry’s inventions sent me warnings about dust filters and kinked hoses. Harry somehow programmed these things to send emails and Harry was not one to say more than needed saying.

Thus the refrigerator’s email text might be “water filter”, or the air conditioner might ask to “test compressor”, or the TV might warn of improper color settings. Harry was forever putzing around with the appliances. I’ve no idea how he got them to send emails except it had something to do with a processor and an Internet receiver. And the emails didn’t necessarily come to me. Harry and I had an email addy that we both used for purposes of receiving email that applied to us both. I got so I didn’t even open the email from the appliances, figuring Harry programmed them with what to say, when to say it, how to phrase it. All I know that there was seldom anything around our house that didn’t work at its most efficient and I couldn’t even guess when the last time something broke down around the place.

It was when the appliances began to send their emails to other addresses in our cyber-address book that things began to run amok.

“Cheryl, I could swear that I just got an email from your refrigerator?” my mother told me, asking this somewhat unusual question softly lest I laugh at such an absurd assertion. Indeed I did giggle a bit although part of my mind was racing in the pondering of just how my refrigerator got my mother’s email address.

“What did it say,” was all I could stupidly ask.

“It just had three numbers on it..’492’,” my mother answered, then said she was sure it was from MY refrigerator in that a)I’d told her about Harry’s programming of the emailing appliances and b)no one else’s refrigerator had ever emailed her and she was not sure anyone else refrigerator COULD even email her.

“What’s so weird is that these are the last three numbers of my SS#, not that your refrigerator should be emailing out such confidential information. You better tell Harry to check it out. Meanwhile, what the hell, I’m going to play those numbers on the lottery tonight.”

Later that day Harry explained that those numbers were the number of the ice filter mechanism as he needed to know this to try and obtain a part. It was only my mother calling me with a scream that she’d won $10,000 on the lottery that kept me from asking Harry that if I were to understand him he’d actually sent an email TO the refrigerator?

Harry promised to look into the problem of the appliances emailing others on our email list, murmuring something about how this problem just started right after he’d programmed the processors to actually receive email. Again, the excitement of my mother’s lottery win so occupied my mind that the concept of the appliances RECEIVING email went right over my head.

Two days later my sister-in-law got a visit from the local social services agency. Seems they got an email from our air conditioner. The email contained a picture of Emily with two black eyes and a severely swollen lip. As Harry explained how this happened my eyes began to glaze with the technical detail. What was most important was that someone, even if just an air conditioner, finally got Harry’s sister to take that first step to freedom from that abusive man she’d been living with for the past six months.

Harry and I, along with his other sister and his elderly mother, had spent many hours begging Emily to kick that man out of her house. Why on earth she even brought him there defied logic but Emily denied that the bruises and cuts she began to sport on a regular basis were caused by her new love. The picture that our air conditioner sent to the social service agency was actually a picture taken surreptitiously by Harry on one occasion when he had a chance to snap a pic with nothing more complicated or secretive than his cell phone.

We’d intended to go to the social services agency ourselves to somehow get help for Emily. But when Eve, Harry’s other sister, went downtown to get more information she was told there was nothing they could do unless Emily herself sought help.

“FREON!” Harry shouted in response to my accusations that he somehow programmed the air conditioner to send that picture to social services.

It would turn out that the chain of events wasn’t quite that simple. The air conditioner actually sent a picture of Emily’s abusive boyfriend to the social services with one word ‘FELON’. The social services sent the email on to the police department because they didn’t know what to do with it. Harry never was much of a speller or typist and he’d somehow programmed the air conditioner to notify us via email with the word ‘Freon’ so we would know when that chemical that helped chill the air needed replenishment.

It would turn out, to nobody’s surprise, that Emily’s fine boyfriend was, indeed, a felon, and a detective then involved with finding the guy suspected in the severe beating of a former girlfriend chanced to see the picture. Then began a frantic exchange between the police department and the social service agency and by connection of the email addresses of the original picture of Emily’s beaten face and the picture of her boyfriend sent by the air conditioner combined with the memory of a social worker who recalled the plea of Eve, well it all came together to the point where the social service department came knocking on Emily’s door and promised to keep her from harm if they’d help them catch the criminal she was living with and the rest, as they say, is history.

While we do live in a small town it still seemed like a strange set of coincidences and I confronted Harry with my suspicion that he somehow orchestrated that whole exercise via his emailing appliances.

“And I guess you figured I rigged your mother’s lottery win too,” Harry snorted then walked off shaking his head in a pose of humorous muse.

Everyone on our address book got an email from our security system less than a week after Harry's sister finally broke free from her abuser.

“I saw what you did last night,” the email said, a really strange sentiment although Harry laughed and said what the hell was so odd about a security system seeing what we did last night?

“I thought it was kind of a funny way for the security system to tell us it was working all right,” Harry laughed at the memory of his programming wit. “How the hell did I know it would send out email to all the people in our email address book like that? I really thought I’d manage to fix that code that was making the appliances send out emails to others in our address book,” Harry ended, scratching his head as he puzzled how he failed to stop our appliances from spamming everybody with cryptic and ominous sounding messages.

Only our family knew it was an email from yet another out of control appliance in our household and by this time everyone was kind of used to the strange emails emanating from our house. I can only imagine what our many other email friends thought about the weird message coming from security_camera@verizon.net but Harry and I had a good laugh about it.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that our neighbor reported his work buddy was the one who shot and killed a co-worker, leaving him for dead at a warehouse near us. This crime was all the sensation as we had very little crime in our neck of the woods. The weird thing was a bit of gossip our next door neighbor told us.

“He said he got a strange email saying the sender saw what he did last night and it was the last straw for Butch,” Glenda, our somewhat gossipy neighbor told me as my eyebrows raised. “Seems Butch and a couple other guys were trying to break into the “Wheel In” warehouse cause they heard the owner had a stash of weed in the back. Butch said his buddy got nervous and shot a guy just passing by with an itchy trigger finger. Said he’s tired of keeping this secret and that strange email was enough already.”

Harry just shrugged when I told him how yet another email from our appliance got insinuated into an ongoing crime investigation, this time solving it.

“Seems our appliances should be made deputies for the Marimot county police department,” Harry snorted, then assured me that he’d solved all email matters regarding our appliances and from now on the messages they will send would be clearer, he’d spell-checked his messages, he’d blocked them all from access to our email box.

As for me I raised my weary eyes to heaven that my life was never boring and nobody would believe my story even if I shared it.

Now Harry was gone, felled by the bad heart he’d had all his life that finally gave up trying to beat. The year of the appliances email was solidly behind us, our son was perfecting the 3-D computer game Harry and he had created. I sat and pondered my eulogy to my very creative husband and how much of my strange story I should reveal. A slight ding from my computer informed me that an email had arrived in my e-box.

It was from harrysheart@verizon.net. I couldn’t suppress my gasp. The email was evidently from Harry’s pacemaker. “Play the game with Allen” was all it said.


“Wow,” Allen said, “Dad really made some big changes to this thing,” Allen said as he moved his marker around the board. “Amazing how it gave you the right numbers to win the lottery,” Allen smiled and I tried to keep my face neutral.

So far Allen’s character had solved a couple of crimes as the detective he was during one round. My character had a close friend who’d been abused and via a series of electronic messages on the game’s equivalent of Twitter, necessary intervening help was obtained. As for the lottery, I was given a “gift” of choosing my favorite combination of three numbers, which I chose. The numbers I chose DID win me lots of money in the fictional role playing game. I supposed that Harry knew what three numbers I would choose and he’d programmed it to come up.

Allen vowed he would continue to finesse the program, that he’d gotten an email from an investor who was interested in helping to finance the project.

“Besides,” Allen said as he wrapped up the game with a wink, “I got an email from Dad’s pacemaker urging me to stick to developing the game, that there would be great rewards both in terms of money for our family and benefits to society that might come from the game.”

I was shocked and stunned by Allen’s casual comments.

“Dad could always dream big,” Allen said as he waved me good night. “But you know Mom, with a proper algorithm and some insight to a person’s thinking you could predict the chances of a lottery win. The air conditioner DID kind of nudge Grandma to a big win. As for solving crimes,” again Allen winked and beamed at me with Harry’s smile, “we’ll see”.

I didn’t mention anything about appliances that sent emails to win lotteries or solve crimes in my eulogy for Harry. I just described my wonderful, amazing and somewhat strange life with a most wonderful man.

 
Drivel: Snippets


I've been telling myself that I needed to Drivel. Life's moments have been passing by, unremarked and unshared. Little did I know that I *really* needed to Drivel. Now, the little things I haven't told you about have been overshadowed by something larger.

But why should you suffer? Old news is still news for those who haven't heard it, and if I save the big one for last, perhaps you'll get a sense of what life was like for me before yesterday. Right? Let's try it and see.

The first thing I kept meaning to write about was the aquarium. It's doing well right now. We've had two more hiccups in the path, but I think we're on the upside now.

After we set up the golf course, we let the aquarium sit fish-empty for awhile, like you're supposed to. About a week before I was set to put fish in it, I tested the water levels. Ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, all good. pH, not so good. Hardness, out of this world. Harry and I were puzzled. We'd used the machine - the water should be filtered and non-hard.

Disaster, if we didn't get it fixed, and quickly.

I borrowed a friend's son (and luckily he brought her SUV since the Tundra wasn't available) and the three of us drained the aquarium and refilled it with good water. You know, if you have a ten gallon tank, that's pretty easy to do. When you have a 125 gallon tank, it's a bit harder. We spent several hours just finding water jugs and filling them.

It took two trips to a Walmart, one trip to a Food-4-Less, and three trips to the local water-dispensing machine, with eight five-gallon jugs each time to do the deed, and we ended up emptying one of the machines. I didn't know that was possible.

The scramble paid off - within seven hours we had the tank emptied of bad water and refilled with good water. Once again, we let the aquarium sit fish-empty for a few days.

I put a few fish in it (eight, I think) and promptly lost one. Then another, and then a third. Water levels tested good, so after about five days we put in some more fish. A week went by with everything looking good.

Then one afternoon, I noticed the orange tetras (embers) were looking a bit odd. By the time I went to bed, they were all showing signs of fungus - white fuzzy patches on the body and some had opaque eyes.

By morning, all twenty embers were dead and the other species were showing the fuzzy stuff. I got fungus medicine and dosed the tank. Some fish still died, and the cure killed all five shrimp we'd bought, but most of the fish survived it.

Today, they're looking good and have for two or three weeks. They've visibly grown, and the species that change color with maturity, like the congo tetras, are starting to show signs of those colors. Next Tuesday, we add more fish. Keep your fingers crossed!

Then, I was going to write about being sick. Harry and I both caught that whatever it is that's going around. Cold? Flu? I'm never sure which. He got it about three days before I did, so I got to watch his symptoms to know what I would soon share. It was comedic to me that the fish were sick, Harry was sick, I was sick, and I could predict how I would be feeling in three days' time.

I still have a bit of the cough, but that's normal for me.

Then on Thursday I had a rain story. On the drive home from the other work office, it was raining pretty hard. Windy, too, and it looked a lot like tornado weather. My little Honda isn't the best for rain driving - it's too short, light, and reacts badly to rolling through puddles of any depth.

I had a tense drive home, an hour plus, in weather where the cars ahead of me threw up clouds of water droplets. Being passed by a big rig going the other way resulted in a deluge I couldn't see through.

There were two accidents I passed - one looked like half a car was blocking the other side of the freeway, where an overpass goes over it. Not sure what happened to the missing half of the car, and I prayed for the driver. (I thought *my* drive was bad.)

I noticed the car behind me looked odd. When I really gave it my attention (rather than just "car behind"), I realized it looked like the loser in a dogfight.

 But that's not the story. The story here is about the crazy drivers. Bad weather seems to bring them out in droves and I don't think you have to worry about the weather so much as the idiots. One passed me on a double yellow line. (In the rain with bad visibility.) One passed me *and* another car, at a stop sign.

Seriously.

One was just scary. I noticed the car behind me looked odd. When I really gave it my attention (rather than just "car behind"), I realized it looked like the loser in a dogfight. The driver's side mirror was hanging down against the car door. One headlight was brighter than the other and pointed a bit sideways. One fender was a different color.

I was fascinated. Here I was, in really bad weather, driving a car not exactly geared for it, and I was being followed by a car that looked like a bulldog with a tattered ear. No way I wanted to tangle with that one! I hoped it would pass me, too, but it didn't. That car followed me for miles. I sighed in relief when I got off the freeway, as it kept going.

Good thing. I'm not sure what I would have done if it came off the freeway with me, but I am very certain I would not have let that "stray dog" follow me home.

So, I hope that was a happy journey for you. Mostly, I enjoyed it, too. The aquarium is a joy to behold, I love rain, and I survived the disease.

Ready? Here's the big news now, the work update.

I'm losing another boss.

In less than ten days, my current Supervisor will move to a different department and my whole team will shift reporting structure to a different Director. We'll have a new Supervisor, and while we've beengiven hints (like it's some tortured guessing game), we don't know who that is yet. The person has been offered the position, but until he or she accepts, everyone has to pretend that no one knows and we can't be told who it is.

I hope we find out before the ten days are up.

Stop laughing; it isn't a joke. When I was moved last July to this team, that was part of a major reorganizational shift. A *lot* of people were moved around. All that moving and it wasn't enough. Those of us who support the production teams were in limbo - not quite in the new structure and not quite outside it. Many things didn't mesh - like security reports. I was (and still am) Security Coordinator for my old area, pre-July. All of the employees in that old area look to me (and a few other folks) for various access needs. You need a new program on your computer? Yes, that would be me. But wait . . . I don't even report in that line of management anymore. Isn't there something wrong with having power over that for someone else's department?

When we brought it up, over and over again, we were told something was in the works. They're looking into it. They've got a proposal on the table. (It was a good one, too.) They're just waiting for the last decision. They'll know by October 14. They'll know by sometime in November. They'll know by year's end.

We’re still in limbo. Somehow, I can't get energized about my new nameless Supervisor.

Yet, at least. To be honest, that move in July was a good one for me. Perhaps this one will be, too.

It just doesn't feel like it right now.

I had lunch with a good friend on Thursday. She was a teammate back when I was on the IMPACT team. I spent a wonderful hour in the Thai restaurant with her, happily chatting about how great my team is and why I like the Supervisor I have. I had no clue betrayal was brewing.

All the uncertainties of that move in July are back, full force. Lying in bed tonight I kept hearing words. Finally they drove me out of bed and here, to the keyboard. Words like "I want to make sure you have what you need." Words like "Our people are our most important asset." Words like "We promise to tell you as soon as we know."

My head knows the words the company says are just words. They don't really mean anything. My heart keeps forgetting and eventually I get sucked into believing them.

Again.

Michelle
 The Desk Drawer writer's exercise list


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