'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
SOFTWARE KEYS, MR. FREEZE & IDIOSYNCRASIES
There was an interesting story in the news recently. A Norwegian history museum had a computer database of more than 11,000 books and manuscripts. However, the guy who created this database died, and it turns out he never told anyone else the password to the computer program.
At first the museum hired professional computer technicians to unlock the database, but they failed. In desperation the museum’s director sent out an urgent request for help via the Internet. His public plea for assistance specifically asked for “software security experts,” a term everyone immediately understood to mean “mischievous computer hackers.”
Within one hour a software hacker from Sweden figured out the password and unlocked the database. (It’s rumored he also unlocked the museum’s banking records and had all the funds electronically transferred to his own checking account.)
When I read this news story, two thoughts came to mind. Number one, how loony must a guy be to let computer hackers have access to his critical software systems? It sure will be interesting in a few months if the hacker left a little time bomb software virus hidden among all the files.
And number two, if I suddenly assume room temperature—that is, die (although in Ted Williams’ case, he assumed room temperature only briefly since his wacko kid immediately stuck him into a cryonic freeze tank)—will I be taking any critical bits of knowledge to the grave with me?
Unlike the formerly alive Norwegian, I’ve never created a sophisticated database of information—unless you count the 4-foot pile of paperwork stacked up next to my desk, which I’ve been promising to organize and file for several years now. If I die, the secret password for unlocking this treasure-trove of data includes some lighter fluid and a match.
No, it turns out there’s no crucial information stored in my brain. (The jury’s still out on whether there’s any information stored there.) But if I did suddenly pass on to the next dimension (heavenly for some, very hot for others, and apparently quite cold for Hall of Fame hitters), I would be leaving behind an embarrassing legacy: my ballpoint pen collection.
You see, I’ve developed this quirky little habit of accumulating cheap ballpoint pens. I’ve got them piled up in desk drawers, the car, by the phone, on my bedroom dresser, next to the computer, in the shower stall—anywhere I might suddenly need to write something down.
Every time I visit a Staples or Office Max store, I always wander past the pen aisle, just to make sure plenty are still available. Sometimes I’ll impulsively buy a 12-pack of a particular model and color, even though I have at least 20 back home. (I rationalize the purchase by telling myself, “You never know. A burglar might be, at this very moment, ransacking the house and stealing all the pens.”)
This weird obsession must be the result of some repressed childhood trauma. I was probably in the sixth grade and the teacher announced, “This will be on the test. Take good notes.” At that moment I realized I had left my pen at home; no one around me had a spare; the teacher wouldn’t give me a lavatory pass so I could sneak out of school, steal a car, and drive to the nearest Staples or Office Max; and I was too chicken to cut my finger and take notes in blood. As a result I flunked the test, dropped out of school in shame, and spent the rest of my emotionally disturbed days living in a trailer park in West Virginia. (OK, well maybe that’s not exactly what happened, but something traumatic must have occurred.)
At least my strange compulsion is not expensive. Collecting Bics and Papermates is a lot cheaper than collecting artwork, sports cars, or frozen fathers. (Which gives a whole new meaning to the word Pop-sicle.) I just hope when it’s my turn to go and my family gets over the shock of just how many pens I’ve squirreled away over the years, they remember to put a few in the coffin with me (or the cryonic tank). You never know when you might have to write something down.
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