To Err Is Human

To really f%^$ things up, however, as is well known, requires a computer.

Every month or so my last client on a Saturday is a nice woman about my age, whippy and athletic, who regrettably has multiple sclerosis. It doesn’t stop her from working out every day or holding down her job, but she has wobbly days and this was one. Four feet from the door, on her way out, she butterfingered her car keys.

You can’t just get keys to a car any more, right? It’s this little plastic lozenge with buttons that lock and unlock and set alarms, and it’s designed to open so that you can change the lithium battery that makes it work, but God forbid they should have invested enough in the design of this one to keep it from popping open accidentally when it’s dropped from a height of only a few feet. The battery went one way and the printed circuit went another. The car, out in my driveway, began to shriek shrilly and repeatedly like a stereotyped lunatic in a Gothic story.

We hunkered on the couch with the parts between us. With my glasses up on my head I could just sort out which direction things went, but the fussiness of the tiny compartment was all but insurmountable.

After thirty seconds of rhythmic honking she tottered out through the hundred-degree heat and tried the key in the ignition anyway, what the hell. The car’s computer was apparently programmed to disable the ignition until the alarm was turned off by the keychain. My head swam slightly from the heat and the notion of an immobile, honking vehicle becalmed in my driveway, possibly overnight or till the battery ran down.

A few more panicky fidgets. The noise stopped. The car still wouldn’t start. She tried the lock button. The honking started again. I don’t know what she finally pushed or seated in place but after another fifteen seconds the frigging thing shut up and the engine turned over.

And duplicating those things costs, like, a hundred bucks. For a square inch of printed circuit in a case that won’t stay together.

Car manufacturers of America — or in this case, Japan — can you figure out a system that doesn’t trap a woman with a disability in the middle of a heat wave with a blatting car that won’t move?  Just askin’.


4 thoughts on “To Err Is Human

  1. Technology is wonderful. When it works. Phones at the Walmart where I get my prescriptions refilled have been haywire on and off for a couple of weeks. A handwritten note at the pharmacy counter says they’re working on it.

    The end of civilization will be precipitated by a thunderstorm that knocks out electricity, which crashes the power grid during a heat wave, leading to a food shortage due to loss of refrigeration, and fatalities due to loss of AC. Without electricity, computers crash, the internet fails, and if cell phones are still working, everyone will be calling someone about the emergencies, jamming the system. The end is near.

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