Tuesday, July 28, 2009

(Wo)Man vs. Machine

There have been stories, this past week, that Scientists are worried. That's pretty much what Scientists do. They worry that something collided with Jupiter. And that people in New York City are exposed to too many trans-fats. And that Jon Gosselin has too many girlfriends. No, wait, that's "US Magazine." And now The Scientists are worried that we are making machines too smart, and that they are going to become smarter than we are; and very bad things will happen.

Well, duh. I guess The Scientists finally went to the movies. We've all been worried about this exact thing since Karel Capek coined the word, "robot", in 1921. Terminators, Transformers and The Evil Hymie, built by K.A.O.S. to kill Maxwell Smart, have been having their way with us Mere Mortals for decades.

And I am here to tell you - not only are machines smarter than we are. They have twisted, wicked, sadistic and totally not nice ideas about what is funny. We are often the butt of their cold, blinking, binary senses of humor. And we don't even know it.

For instance, everyone in the state of Georgia, except yours truly, has an imprint of their fingerprint on the back of their driver's license. I have an imprint of my thumb. Because machines make fun of people like me, who have Reynaud's Syndrome.

That is a not-funny affliction, involving a lack of circulation in the fingers and toes and nose and other exposed parts of the body. People with Reynaud's Syndrome are, essentially, allergic to cold. Suppose I had a pierced navel, which I don't. And a really cute midsection, without stretch marks. Which I also don't. And a super-awesome belly-button ring, which I could make in my jewelry studio if I wanted to. And suppose I was going to a concert in Minneapolis in February, at the First Avenue Nightclub. I love the First Avenue Club, but I digress. And I wanted to show off my belly button and the super-awesome belly-button ring, so I wore a crop-top in minus 10 degree weather; and stood outside until the doors opened because there is no advanced seating. My brain would say to itself, "My goodness, it is cold!" (Well, my own personal brain would use much more colorful language.) "So I think I will shut down circulation to the fingers and toes and nose and teeth of this body. They can all fall off, as far as I am concerned; we have to sacrifice something for that midsection with the awesome belly-button ring!" And those cold circulation-impaired fingers would no longer trigger the heat reaction necessary to fire the photo app of the cell phone inside the First Avenue Nightclub. Where cameras are not allowed, but everyone sneaks them in.

This means that, if I am chilly anywhere, touch pads don't work. And, unless it is August, something is chilly...so the fingerprint sensor at the Department of Motor Vehicles thought it would be fun to confound the operator, and humiliate this writer. It refused to register Pointer Finger, Tall Man, Ring Man and Pinky. It finally caved at Thumbkin.

So, haha, all the machines got their jollies this evening. I needed a bag of lettuce.

Put the casserole in the oven, had 1/2 an hour to get lettuce and toss a salad.

First, I had to get some cash. Stood behind one person at the grocery store bank, which boasts two ATMs. The one on the right vacated. I stepped up to the plate, inserted my card, punched in magic numbers, and...it was out of money.

Stepped back into line for the machine on the left. Where a sweet Asian woman was, no kidding, sorting through a veritable deck of ATM cards. Removing $200, inserting another card, depositing $200...we went through 6 sets of removing/depositing.

I was not the only one marveling at the volume of ATM cards in the possession of one person. The line snaked to the front of the store.

Two tellers asked me if I needed help. That has never happened, in the 35 years I've deposited my money with that particular bank.

Finally, finallyfinally, the Asian lady stopped taking money out and re-depositing it. IT WAS MY TURN!!!!!! I pushed the "start" button and the instructions popped up...in Korean. Hit return, got a card left by the previous "resident." Saw her exiting the store, chased her into the parking lot, realized I had the bag of chopped lettuce just as it alerted the shoplifting alarm, flung it into a rogue shopping basket, raced to the parking lot, found the Korean lady, gave her the card, raced back in, grabbed the lettuce out of the rogue cart, got back in line for cash...and...it worked.

I had money. And lettuce. But the machines weren't done with me just yet.


Punched in my phone number for my "Customer Loyalty Discount." Got charged nearly $10 for a bag of lettuce. Because someone had "borrowed" my phone # to find out the price of something called "Wild Grass". But they didn't purchase it. Still, it turned up on my bill.

I pointed the problem out the the Customer Service Specialist on call at the You Scan. She informed me that she could not void the "wild grass" purchase; I would have to go to Customer Service, where manymanymanymanymany people were buying lottery tickets. I begged for an alternative. Sorry, Charlie.

Finally got to the Customer Service Specialist, AKA Lotto dispenser. After CSS looked carefully in my empty-except-for-lettuce shopping bag, got reimbursed for Wild Grass.

And, as I left, I HEARD the U-Scan machines chuckle.

They will be sorry.

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