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{Now, for something completely different, a chapter about “Intelligent Agents” and attempts to do “too much” for the user. If you’ve had similar experiences, please comment! Thanks.}

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At last, we arrive in Kauai, the Garden Island. The rental car we’ve chosen is a bit on the luxurious side (Mercury Marquis), but it’s one of the few with a trunk large enough to hold our golf club traveling bags.  W. has been waiting curbside with our bags while I got the rental car and now I pull up beside her to load up. The policeman motioning for me to keep moving can’t be serious, not like a New York police officer. After all, this is Hawaii, the Aloha State.  I get out of the car and explain, we will just be a second loading up. He looks at me and then at my rental car and then back to me with a skeptical scowl.  He shrugs ever so slightly which I take to mean an assent. “Thanks.” W. wants to throw her purse in the back seat before the heavy lifting starts. She jerks on the handle. The door is locked.  

“Why didn’t you unlock the door” she asks, with just a hint of annoyance in her voice.  After all, it has been a very long day since we arose before the crack of dawn and drove to JFK in order to spend the day flying here.  

“I did unlock the door,” I counter.  

“Well, it’s locked now.” She counters my counter. 

I can’t deny that, so I walk back around to the driver’s side, and unlock the door with my key and then push the UNLOCK button which so nicely unlocks all the doors.  

The police officer steps over, “I thought you said, you’d just be a second.”

“Sorry, officer”, I reply.  “We just need to get these bags in.  We’ll be on our way.” 

Click.

W. tries the door handle.  The door is locked again.  “I thought you went to unlock the door,” she sighs.

“I did unlock the door.  Again.  Look, I’ll unlock the door and right away, open it.”  I go back to the driver’s side and use my key to unlock the door.  Then I push the UNLOCK button, but W’s just a tad too early with her handle action and the door doesn’t unlock. So, I tell her to wait a second.  

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“What?”  This luxury car is scientifically engineered not to let any outside sounds disturb the driver or passenger.  Unfortunately, this same sophisticated acoustic engineering also prevents any sounds that the driver might be making from escaping into the warm Hawaiian air. I push the UNLOCK button again.  Wendy looks at me puzzled.

I see dead people in my future if we don’t get the car loaded soon. For a moment, the police officer is busy elsewhere, but begins to stroll back toward us. I rush around the car and grab at the rear door handle on the passenger side. 

But just a little too late.  

“Okay,” I say in an even, controlled voice.  “Let’s just put the bags in the trunk.  Then we’ll deal with the rest of our stuff.” 

The police officer is beginning to change color now, chameleon like, into something like a hibiscus flower. “Look,” he growls. “Get this car out of here.”

“Right.” I have no idea how we are going to coordinate this. Am I going to have to park and drag all our stuff or what? Anyway, I go to the driver’s side and see that someone has left the keys in the ignition but locked the car door; actually, all the car doors. A terrifying thought flashes into my mind. Could this car have been named after the “Marquis de Sade?” That hadn’t occurred to me before. 

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Now, I have to say right off the bat that my father was an engineer and some of my best friends are engineers. And, I know that the engineer who designed the safety locking features of this car had our welfare in mind. I know, without a doubt, that our best interests were uppermost. He or she was thinking of the following kind of scenario. 

“Suppose this teenage couple is out parking and they get attacked by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Wouldn’t it be cool if the doors locked just a split second after they got in. Those saved milliseconds could be crucial.”

Well, it’s a nice thought, I grant you, but first of all, teenage couples don’t bother to “park” any more. And, second, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is equally dated, not to mention dead. In the course of our two weeks in Hawaii, our car locked itself on 48 separate, unnecessary and totally annoying occasions.  

And, I wouldn’t mind so much our $100 ticket and the inconvenience at the airport if it were only misguided car locks. But, you and I both know that it isn’t just misguided car locks. No, we are beginning to be bombarded with “smart technology” that is typically really stupid. 

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As another case in point, as I type this manuscript, the editor or sadistitor or whatever it is tries to help me by scrolling the page up and down in a seemingly random fashion so that I am looking at the words I’m typing just HERE when quite unexpectedly and suddenly they appear HERE. (Well, I know this is hard to explain without hand gestures; you’ll have to trust me that it’s highly annoying.) This is the same “editor” or “assistant” or whatever that allowed me to center the title and author’s names. Fine. On to the second page. Well, I don’t want the rest of the document centered so I choose the icon for left justified. That seems plausible enough. So far, so good. Then, I happen to look back up to the author’s names. They are also left-justified. Why?  

Somehow, this intelligent software must have figured, “Well, hey, if the writer wants this text he’s about to type to be left-justified, I’ll just bet that he or she meant to left-justify what was just typed as well.” Thanks, but no thanks. I went back and centered the author’s names. And then inserted a page break and went to write the text of this book.  But, guess what? It’s centered. No, I don’t want the whole book centered, so I click on the icon for left-justification again. And, again, my brilliant little friend behind the scenes left-justifies the author’s names. I’m starting to wonder whether this program is named (using a hash code) for the Marquis de Sade.  

On the other hand, in places where you’d think the software might eventually “get a clue” about my intentions, it never does. For example, whenever I open up a “certain program,” it always begins as a default about 4 levels up in the hierarchy of the directory chain. It never seems to notice that I never do anything but dive 4 levels down and open up files there. Ah, well. This situation came about in the first place because somehow this machine figures that “My Computer” and “My hard-drive” are SUB-sets of “My Documents.” What?  

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Did I mention another “Intelligent Agent?”…Let us just call him “Staple.” At first, “Staple” did not seem so annoying. Just a few absurd and totally out of context suggestions down in the corner of the page. But then, I guess because he felt ignored, he began to become grumpier. And, more obnoxious. Now, he’s gotten into the following habit. Whenever I begin to prepare a presentation….you have to understand the context. 

In case you haven’t noticed, American “productivity” is way up. What does that really mean? It means that fewer and fewer people are left doing the jobs that more and more people used to do. In other words, it means that whenever I am working on a presentation, I have no time for jokes. I’m not in the mood. Generally, I get e-mail insisting that I summarize a lifetime of work in 2-3 foils for an unspecified audience and an unspecified purpose but with the undertone that if I don’t do a great job, I’ll be on the bread line. A typical e-mail request might be like this:

“Classification: URGENT.

“Date: June 4th, 2002.

“Subject: Bible

“Please summarize the Bible in two foils. We need this as soon as possible but no later than June 3rd, 2002. Include business proposition, headcount, overall costs, anticipated benefits and all major technical issues. By the way, travel expenses have been limited to reimbursement for hitchhiking gear.”

Okay, I am beginning to get an inkling that the word “Urgent” has begun to get over-applied. If someone is choking to death, that is “urgent.” If a plane is about to smash into a highly populated area, that is “urgent.” If a pandemic is about to sweep the country, that is “urgent.” If some executive is trying to get a raise by showing his boss how smart he is, I’m sorry, but that might be “important” or perhaps “useful” but it is sure as heck not “urgent.”  

All right. Now, you understand that inane suggestions, in this context, are not really all that appreciated. In a different era, with a different economic climate, in an English Pub after a couple of pints of McKewan’s or McSorely’s, or Guinness, after a couple of dart games, I might be in the mood for idiotic interruptions. But not here, not now, not in this actual and extremely material world.

So, imagine my reaction to the following scenario. I’m attempting to summarize the Bible in two foils and up pops Mr. “Staple” with a question. “Do you want me to show you how to install the driver for an external projector?” Uh, no thanks. I have to admit that the first time this little annoyance appeared, I had zero temptation to drive my fist through the flat panel display. I just clicked NO and the DON’T SHOW ME THIS HINT AGAIN. And, soon I was back to the urgent job of summarizing the Bible in two foils. 

About 1.414 days later, I got another “urgent” request.

“You must fill out form AZ-78666 on-line and prepare a justification presentation (no more than 2 foils). Please do not respond to this e-mail as it was sent from a disconnected service machine. If you have any questions, please call the following [uninstalled] number: 222-111-9999.”  

Sure, I’m used to this by now. But when I open up the application, what do I see? You guessed it. A happy smiley little “Staple” with a question: 

“Do you want me to show you how to install the driver for an external projector?” 

“No,” I mutter to myself, “and I’m pretty sure we already had this conversation. I click on NO THANKS. And I DON’T WANT TO SEE THIS HINT AGAIN. (But of course, the “intelligent agent,” in its infinite wisdom, knows that secretly, it’s my life’s ambition to see this hint again and again and again).  

A friend of mine did something to my word processing program. I don’t know what. Nor does she. But now, whenever I begin a file, rather than having a large space in which to type and a small space off to the left for outlining, I have a large space for outlining and a teeny space to type. No-one has been able to figure this out. But, I’m sure that in some curious way, the software has intuited (as has the reader) that I need much more time spent on organization and less time (and space) devoted to what I actually say. (Chalk a “correct” up for the IA. As they say, “Even a blind tiger sometimes eats a poacher.” or whatever the expression is.)

Well, I shrunk the region for outlining and expanded the region for typing and guess what? You guessed it! Another intelligent agent decided to “change my font.” So, now, instead of the font I’m used to … which is still listed in the toolbar the same way, 12 point, Times New Roman … I have a font which actually looks more like 16 point. And at long last, the Intelligent Agent pops up with a question I can relate to! “Would you like me to install someone competent in the Putin misadminstration?”

What do you know? “Even a blind tiger sometimes eats a poacher.”

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Author Page on Amazon

Start of the First Book of The Myths of the Veritas

Start of the Second Book of the Myths of the Veritas

Table of Contents for the Second Book of the Veritas

Table of Contents for Essays on America 

Index for a Pattern Language for Teamwork and Collaboration