“It Never Hurts to Smile,” by Mike Rosen

Jeeves Hates Me! (Part 2)

Several months ago, I wrote about how Jeeves (the name we gave to our Roomba) hates me. The column ended with my failed attempt to coerce Jeeves to fall down the staircase that leads to our basement. Since then, Jeeves has been a little less antagonistic to me, which led me to believe we were in a truce of sorts. Well, au contraire, mais amis. A few days ago I realized that we were in more of a 1950s Cold War state, only I didn’t know it.

It seems that email scams, phishing, and hacking aren’t the only problems we face in our overly connected world. Much as in the plot of pretty much any book or movie about a post-apocalyptic world, devices are capable of communicating with each other and then wreaking whatever havoc that pleases them (remember “The Terminator?”). And internet connectivity isn’t the only avenue required by the devices—apparently, simple electric wiring can bring them together. Allow me to illustrate.

Some time ago—a month, maybe longer—while preparing my breakfast, I noticed that it was taking quite a bit longer for my English muffin to toast (I like bread toasted fairly dark). The toaster oven I use has settings for several uses (toast, bagels, pizza, broil, etc.), and when I looked at the control panel, I saw the setting was on Pizza (which I don’t believe I have ever used, and is not the setting next to Toast on the selection menu). No biggie, thought I, undoubtedly, I just inadvertently adjusted the selection dial. Except the next time I made toast, it still took considerably longer and the setting was clearly on Toast.

That’s when I saw that the adjustable timer setting for Toast was at five minutes. Heck, the coils weren’t even glowing bright red by then. I upped the timer to its maximum setting—nine minutes and forty seconds—and this time the bread toasted, but not particularly dark. That is when I heard a faint noise coming from the unit that sounded like an electrical hum. Hmmm, I’d better keep my eye on the toaster oven. As I walked away, I heard the hum again. Disturbingly, this time it almost sounded like a giggle.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, I noticed that the battery in my laptop computer was low—charged to twenty-three percent. After plugging in the laptop I began work on a column for this newsletter and let the power cord recharge the battery at the same time. Sometime late,r I looked at the power indicator and the charge was down to twenty-one percent, and thinking I hadn’t connected the power cord to the laptop properly, reconnected it which, frankly, seemed to be connected just right. But when I plugged the cord back into the laptop, I heard what sounded like an electrical hum. Kind of like the one emitted by the toaster oven. Hmmm, I’d better keep my eye on the laptop’s battery. As I walked away to refill my coffee mug, I heard the hum go up slightly in pitch. Again, disturbingly, it almost sounded like a giggle.

Going back to work, the laptop seemed a little sluggish, and when I went to check on how the laptop’s resources were being used, the little sluggish became a near-crawl. Thinking I might have picked up a virus or malware somewhere along the line, I began a full scan on the laptop. This usually takes about an hour, so I thought I’d make better use of my time doing something else while waiting for the scan to complete. As I walked away, I distinctly heard a very low-pitched electric hum that I am now convinced was a chuckle.

It seemed a good time to tackle a small project. The wall switch, which is a push-button dimmer control in the room my better two-thirds uses as an office, had been weakening for some time.

Switches wear out over time—especially those that work by pressing a button—and this switch was at least ten to twelve years old. No biggie to replace it. I’ve replaced wall switches a number of times.

For those of you who don’t know how to replace a wall switch, here is a simple explanation: Switches (usually) have three wires attached to them two of which connect to wires located in a small metal box inside the wall while the third connects to a metal screw (for grounding purposes). One unscrews the existing switch from the wall and disconnects the wires by removing the connectors that holds them together. Then it is a simple matter of reconnecting to the new wires and screwing the switch in place. I cannot tell you how many times I have done this; the job usually takes me fifteen to twenty minutes.

However (if music were accompanying this column it would just have slipped into a minor key), the connecting wires within the wall had unusually little slack to them, and I had very little room to work with. When I tried gently pulling on the inside wires to gain some room—you can see this coming, I’m sure—I distinctly heard a soft, electrical hum. This was especially odd as I had turned off the circuit breaker that feeds electricity to these wires. I stepped back a few feet and peered into the metal box inside the wall.

Nothing seemed untoward, except when I reached inside again to gently pull on the wires, there was more resistance than before and I swear the wires pulled back a little! Which is when I heard the same chuckling hum I’d heard from my laptop’s power cord. And that’s when I began to suspect collusion between the devices and Jeeves. So I said the only thing I knew might help. Once again, I stepped back and with my hands on my hips and said loudly, “You know this is Susan’s office and not mine, right?” The chuckling hum stopped and changed to what I swear sounded like an electrical piteous whine. The sound stopped, and I had the wires connected with the new switch working perfectly inside of five minutes.

This can’t go on, thought I. That’s when the solution hit me. I went to the closet that houses our old upright vacuum cleaner, plugged it in, and began vacuuming the room where Jeeves is housed. After finishing, I turned to Jeeves and said, “Stop now, or you will be replaced.”

My laptop is currently in for major repairs, but no other devices have been acting up. It was my hope a truce had been reached, and I still thought so even a few days later when one of our window blinds failed to raise. I tried adjusting it, but clearly the blinds had worn to the point of needing replacement. Then, as I stepped back from the window, I distinctly heard it—a low pitched electrical hum coming from the window blinds. Wait a minute! The window isn’t an electrical device. It can’t communicate with Jeeves! Or can it?

A final thought: After I finished the laundry this past Saturday, one of my socks is missing and an undershirt shrank to a size I haven’t worn since eighth grade. No problem, of course, with any of my better two-thirds’ laundry. I now fear what might happen the next time I’m getting dressed. Who knows what the rest of my clothes might have been told to do? I’m grimacing at the possibilities.

I hate Jeeves!

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