My computer was being a little balky the other night, so I slipped off my right shoe and gave it a quick tune up in the form of a couple of good whacks. It took the hint and began to work properly, but the incident got me to thinking about the sad fact that we are at the mercy of computers, and thus we are subject to forces beyond our control and understanding.

Basically, if a computer ceases to operate and smacking it upside the monitor with a shoe doesn’t bring it around, then most of us are in big trouble. In acknowledgement of this fact, over the next few paragraphs I am going to present a quick crash course in some of the basics of computer literacy. So pay attention, because Computer 101 is on the way.

Most people expect too much from their computers, and that is where they get into trouble. They set themselves up for disappointment from the outset. To avoid unhappiness, I recommend that you develop the mindset that your computer is actually a $1000 typewriter with a bad attitude. And no, it can not do the things that the computers on TV and in the movies can do. Those are special computers.

Thus, you cannot hack into the Department of Defense database, go into 3D mode at will, or be sucked through the screen into alternate realities. You cannot erase identities, secretly move large sums of money from Swiss banks into your checking account, or change government records so it looks like you have already paid your taxes. Your computer cannot carry on an intelligent conversation, has no personality, and is always one keystroke away from ceasing to do anything at all. Get used to it.

Smacking a computer with a shoe, incidentally, was how the term boot evolved. Legend has it that a young Bill Gates—while in absolute frustration over a garage full of uncooperative electronic equipment—threw his sneaker at the whole pile. Luck was on his side that day, and his footwear struck the correct component, which started to hum. The screen began to flicker and glow, and the age of the personal computer was upon us. Later in the afternoon when he had to repeat the process, the term re-boot was born.

Crash is the technical term for what happens when your computer loses its little electronic mind and becomes catatonic. A good sign that this has happened is if your screen turns blue and you smell the odor of scorched plastic. Notice that the word crash rhymes with cash, which is what you will need plenty of if your computer crashes hard enough.

There are no little people inside the computer box, also known as a tower, so leaving offerings of Halloween-sized candy or airline bottles of strong drink in front of the computer will do you no good whatsoever, although they do come in handy if you have a slow modem and need something to occupy your time while you are waiting to connect to the internet.

The internet is the place where members of the human race go when they should be doing something productive, instead. The name is actually derived from two ancient Babylonian words: inter (to waste) and net (the bosses’ money). One of the myths of the computer age is that Al Gore invented the internet, but this is not true. The real creators of the internet were a group of graduate students from MIT who spent sixty-three billion dollars of government grant money figuring out how to send the electronic message “Want to go get some beers?” to a group of graduate students at Berkeley, who then replied, “Sure, Dudes.”

Spell check is a feature installed awn awl computers two prevent ewe from producing grammatically incorrect documents, sew bee sure to you’s spell check every thyme you right.

If you instruct a computer to perform a function such as, say, Delete hard drive, and the words Are you sure? appear on the screen, you should always click No. Computers are devil machines, but they are polite, and this is their way of telling ignorant humans that they are about to commit a grave error.

Drag and drop is a computer term that refers to moving an object from one place to another. I will use the phrase in a sentence so that you may get a sense of the context. After many years of trying unsuccessfully to get his computer to do anything he wanted it to do, John was forced to drag it to the Second Avenue bridge and drop it into the river.

The mouse is the little plastic jobbie you move with your hand. I have heard that it is called a mouse because it allegedly looks like one, and all I have to say about that is the day I see a plastic mouse with a six-foot-long vinyl tail skittering across the kitchen floor is the day I start sleeping in the car.

Anyway, the mouse controls the cursor, which is the arrow or blinking vertical line that shows you where you are on the computer screen. Ironically, many a computer-user has actually become a cursor of another sort when they could not get the little arrow or blinking line to behave as they wished.

I think that is enough for one session. Researchers have proven that the average person assimilates technical data best if it is presented in small segments over time. Besides, my computer is acting up again, and I have to go find my shoe.

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, The Old Red Kimono, Long Island Woman, and Savannah Magazine. His humorous column —"South of the Etowah" — appears in The Rome News-Tribune. His industrial maintenance column — "The Fundamentals" — appears in Maintenance Technology Magazine. His humorous column — "And So It Goes" — appears in Memphis Downtowner Magazine. His first novel, "The Front Porch Prophet," was published by Medallion Press in June of 2008 to critical acclaim and earned the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel. His second novel, "Sorrow Wood," was released in June 2009 by Medallion Press and has been nominated for the 2010 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. His third novel, "Camp Redemption," will be released in August, 2011.