Friday, April 15, 2011

Houston we have a problem . . .

I recently bought my husband his own laptop.  He uses it mainly for email and web research.  It is a fairly simple, straightforward laptop.  No bells, no whistles, pretty much what Staples had on sale.  I have several computers in my home office but they are geared toward the kind of IT work I do.  My own background is in computer science and my ‘day job’ consists of a lot of programming, systems analysis, report writing and other high-geek stuff that I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say that the computers that I work on are not exactly user-friendly.  In fact, I would characterize some of them as positively user-hostile.  Hence the need for a simple laptop to perform straightforward tasks.
My husband had been using an older laptop of mine whose hard drive finally went to the big component roundup in the sky.  I was lucky enough to creep in an electronic back door and salvage all of his email and document history before the thing gave up the ghost.  I set up his new laptop with all of his internet history and his entire email configuration so he did not lose anything.  Given the state of the old laptop, pulling this off was the IT equivalent of skating’s quad jump.  I was justifiably proud of myself.
So why am I telling you all this?  Simply because today, I wanted to look something up quickly so I sat down with my husband’s laptop.  SOMEHOW I pressed just the right – or wrong as it happens – combination of keys which turned the entire display upside down.  Not kidding.  I also apparently got the keypad to work upside down and backwards.  Seriously.  So there I am, sitting in a chair in the family room staring open-mouthed at something I have a.) never seen before and b.) wasn’t even aware you could do.
OK.  So question number one.  How is this ever useful?  I guess if you were weightless in space this might – and I emphasize might – come in handy.  Other than that I have no clue.  And since I have never been nor do I ever intend to work in outer space, any other use this might serve escapes me entirely.  Maybe the manufacturers included this just to prove that they could.  Again, no idea.  It’s a really nice laptop and it was very reasonably priced.  This clearly was not on my ‘must have’ feature list (is it on anyone's?) and is about as meaningful for me as those pens that can write upside down – also, by the way, designed for the apparent hoards of people reporting for work beyond the stratosphere.
So if we remove astronauts from the mix, I’m guessing the number of people salivating for this particular feature is right around, just guessing here – ZERO.  HOWEVER, and judging from the research I did on the Internet, there is a considerably larger number trying to figure out how to DISABLE it.  This I located in pretty short order.
Fixing it required logging back into the computer upside down and left to right.  Up is down, right is left: you get the picture.  Then I simply had to press three keys together and –voila – back to planet earth.
So I spent a half hour learning a valuable lesson about how to fix something that makes no sense in the first place.  Which, come to think of it, pretty neatly sums up my day job in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Deliver us from Weevils

OK – as always, I will begin with the back story.  Many years ago, I had a little Meyer Lemon tree.  It grew in a sunny corner of our family room and when it was filled with flowers, the wonderful spicy smell filled the room.  Long story short, it died.  Since then, I have wanted another.  Fast forward to Christmas of 2009 when a tall cardboard box appeared under the Christmas tree.  I was given specific instructions not to touch, move or rattle so the secret of its contents would remain, well, a secret.  So naturally, I deduced immediately that it was a new little Meyer Lemon tree.  We all played the “you’ll never guess what this is” game for about six seconds when I stunned everyone by correctly guessing that they had gotten me another tree.
Meyer Lemons are difficult to grow in New England.  They need just the right combination of light, heat and moisture and will either bear fruit, or not, live or drop dead, based on some cosmic whim at which we mere humans can only speculate.  My husband, who has an unfailingly green thumb, took this problem ‘child’ on as a special project.  I should mention that he is eminently qualified to do so because he has a thriving crop of fig trees and has these Mediterranean natives flourishing and bearing fruit even in our wintry corner of the world.
He experimented with different soil mixes, fertilizers and finally, after many months, my little lemon tree began to leaf out and set flowers that did not drop but instead, grew into lemons.  And here is where our story begins.
Around November of last year, our daughter called to say that upon arriving home from work, she found a notice taped to her door stating that she had been visited by a USDA agent and that she should call as soon as possible.  Imagine her surprise upon learning that their visit to her home in Nebraska concerned the tree she purchased for me in her name back in December of 2009. 
This tree that had been bought from a dealer in Georgia in fact, came from Florida where there is a ban on exporting citrus trees of any kind due to some kind of disease or parasite – I neither know nor care which.  Apparently, the dealer had been travelling across state lines and illicitly bringing back <gasp> Meyer Lemon trees and selling them over the Internet.  The USDA caught up with him and was in the process of tracking down each and every Meyer Lemon tree, rounding them up and destroying them.   My daughter told the USDA that it was a Christmas present and that it was at our house in Massachusetts.   We both promptly forgot all about it.
So let’s stop right here.  The same government that has no handle on how many whackadoodles  are wandering around the U.S. planning to blow us to Kingdom Come tracked down ONE LEMON TREE.  But wait, as the man says, there’s more.
Fast forward again to December of last year and a ring of my doorbell.  A nice young man in uniform presents himself, his USDA credentials and his shiny badge and asks me in his very best NCIS voice if the infamous tree is on the premises and would I lead him to it.  My tree, which, at this point, has about eight nice lemons all about to go completely ripe and is the picture of, if not complete health, at least a tree nicely on its way.
He is very sorry but he is going to have to SEIZE the tree.   Which, after much signing of things in triplicate, he does.  By my estimate, the United States government has now invested a LOT of time and money to this point to track me down, come to my house and separate me from my fruit tree.
And now, gentle reader, you might be tempted to assume our story ends.  BUT NO.  I received a phone call not 2 hours ago from my father who played a message on his answering machine from the USDA regarding a Meyer Lemon Tree and giving a contact name and phone number.
Here is where your author went a little off the rails.  No sooner did I hang up from speaking with my father but I dialed the USDA.  I explained the thoroughness and care with which the USDA brought its not inconsiderable investigative power to bear on the mystery of my MEYER LEMON TREE OF DEATH.  On how they prevented a serious outbreak of Citrus Whatsis in the vast lemon orchards of New England, which, as we all know, is a major player in the citrus industry.  Or not as the case may be.  I explained that they had tracked down my daughter, me AND NOW MY PARENTS all in the cause of finding one tiny tree who never did anything but make me happy and smell nice.
I suggested that the agent round up all of his coworkers and that they report forthwith to the Department of Homeland Security where they should tell everyone at the TSA  (who are now apparently sanctioning the pat-down of six year olds at the airport) to step aside and that they would take over.  I said that if they could track one plant across time and space, their time might be better spent protecting me from TERRORISTS inasmuch as I do not feel especially threatened by PIECES OF FRUIT.
How can the same government manage to locate a single tree and, I might add PUT  A STICKER ON EVERY SINGLE APPLE IN EVERY SINGLE SUPERMARKET and  yet lose track of maniacs riding around with enough explosives in the trunk to take out a city block?  Never mind full-body radar.  Put a couple of these guys at the airport and we’ll see who has a bomb in their underwear.  Now we’re talkin’.