“Why does the computer keep telling me I suck?”
She’s calling from her classroom, where her computer has her completely flustered. Truth be told, for her this isn’t an unusual experience.
“What do you mean, it’s telling you you suck?”
“That’s what it keeps saying, that I suck.”
Every day I see something new in my job, some piece of technology screwing up in a wholly unique and inventive way, so very little surprises me. This one, however, I’m having a hard time grasping. “You’re actually hearing these words? Over the speakers?”
“No, the computer keeps printing it on the screen.”
An image flashes through my mind: an operating system so vexed by the fumbling misclicks of a novice that it finally invokes some heretofore unknown lines of code buried deep within the Windows kernel meant to convince the user, once and for all, to give up. I shake off this image and continue. “And what application are you using?”
Aha! That gives me an inkling of what’s going on. No use trying to talk her through it, though. “I’ll be right down.”
In person she’s even more flustered than over the phone. “You see, look,” she says, jabbing keys accusingly, panting with humiliation. She’s always suspected the computer believed itself superior to her, and now this fear has materialized in glowing pixels of point-blank insult. “Whenever I type something …” She types: “w-h-a-t s-h-o-u-l-d i” – whereupon Word, with a soft mechanical jingle, replaces “i” with the words “I suck.” It’s funny. I ask to try, then type some lines that turn out as:
So now I suck need to decide what I suck’m going to type. I suck guess it’s going to replace only when I suck type the word I suck, and sure enough I suck can see that I suck’m right.
She’s beside herself; I’m caught somewhere between wonder and giggles.
“But why is it doing that?”
“One of your students has pulled a little prank on you.” I explain Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect feature, demonstrate it with a common misspelling, then show her the Tools -> AutoCorrect Options area where, sure enough, a custom alteration has been added so that instead of merely capitalizing “i,” the additional select letters are added in.
“So don’t worry,” I reassure her, undoing the hack. “Your computer doesn’t have anything against you personally.”
“No, but one of my students does!”
True, and a clever one at that. I don’t have the heart to tell her that other unflattering edits might lie within AutoCorrect’s hundreds of error checks. I’m not about to sit down for the hour it would take to scan all those lines. She’ll simply have to discover them as they spring into action.
Which is more fun anyway.