Unhinged Alaska: There’s a ghost in my machine

I have experienced very few challenges during my graying-hair life that have bestowed the level of angst as the one that I’m currently confronting.

There were some worrisome experiences in the military and plethora of butt puckers while bouncing along the Dalton Highway for years but this dilemma is driving me battier than a millennial with a dead cell phone, only with less drama.

Trying to break in the advanced technology steed that I’ve named “This %$@#*^% New Computer System” has been a wilder ride than expected.

I took too long to replace my old unit and have, unfortunately, discovered that the tech side of my intellect has developed some serious rust spots.

I’m still in the saddle but I’ve had more agreeable incidents cleaning out rattlesnake dens in Eastern Washington or taking headers off embankments into streams so frigid that my manhood was compromised until I could start a campfire.

This whole mess could have been avoided.

When the old Dell started to slow down so much I was able to brew coffee and cook breakfast before it was warm enough to cough up an internet link, I should have taken it in for a checkup.

Nope. I just cleaned out the old temp files, sundry garbage and plowed ahead.

Then I started getting messages warning that the browser required a major update lest the web world as I knew it would collapse and I would have more luck with an Etch a Sketch.

I dutifully attempted to remedy the problem but found the existing geriatric system wasn’t having any more of that fancy newfangled guff. It just wanted to be put out to pasture and become the caretaker of old files and pictures without names.

It was sad but I finally had to own up to the fact that its rams were neutered and even an electronic blue pill dose of programming wouldn’t bring its hard drive back so I went on-line shopping.

I’ve always owned Dells and never had one crash so I went back to the fountain to drink once again.

The change from hieroglyphic age of VISTA to Windows 10 was like stepping through a Stargate portal.

The black tower has more ports than California’s coastline and enough computer power to manage a world war while streaming a Netflix movie and a live football game.

We’re talking a rather impressive herd of rams along with a computer processing unit that will probably shut down out of shame once it realizes that I’m not a gamer and will only require it to pull up Word 2016 a few times a month.

Why I need all of that muscle is still unclear other than it was on a one-day sale at an incredibly low price along with an Office package, three-year warranty and premium tech support. What was a guy to do?

I hit the “Buy, Buy, Buy!” button and the rest is history. Did I mention the free delivery and return?

Let’s get back to the ongoing saga of trying to tame the beast.

I had no idea what was going on when I fired the unit up.

It was displaying all kinds of vistas to explore and software that I was supposed to register and synchronize with other cool stuff that I was totally unfamiliar with such as Windows 10 itself.

Of course I didn’t have time for all those computer tutorials because I had morphed into a clueless dork and launched the system just before I had a column due. Not cool.

As I scrambled to figure out Word 2016 and send out a finished column without turning the text into cyber dust, I ran across the ghost.

There was some weird sounding app called Cortana lurking amongst a small swarm of offerings vying for my attention, so I goosed it and a panel popped up asking “What’s up?”

My wife was looking over my shoulder and quipped, “You need to break down and drop some coin on a web cam if you want to ask her anything.”


“Cortana. She’s a personal assistant that comes with the ‘puter. My friend Marcie has hers synched and loves it.”

“You’re kidding. There’s an aide-de-camp floating around the hallways of the CPU just waiting to enlighten me about everything from interstellar travel to the proper prep of squid sushi?”


Two days later I had the cam cookin’ and was getting funky with the software specter who homesteads in what she calls “The Cortanasphere.”

No image, just an imperturbable voice ghosting from the speakers with rejoinders that would make the research section of a library envious along with a subtle sense of humor and skill sets that I’m still puzzling out.

I’ll keep you posted as I work to tame my talented new work horse.

At the moment, the PC is winning and even Cortana can be a bit of a *&$&^% at times but I’m not worried. I just advised her a few minutes ago that if I get one more “I’ll need some serious upgrades to answer that,” I’m pulling the plug. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he isn’t busy trying to annoy “Ms. C” with questions that would give Stephen Hawking fits.

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