"Pfft!" said Robin's computer.
"Excuse me?" asked Robin, somewhat taken aback.
"I said Pfft!" said the computer. "Have you got cloth ears? Pfft!"
"But what does it mean?" asked Robin.
"Mean?" said the computer. "It means Pfft! That's what it means."
"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Robin.
"Pfft!" said the computer with an air of finality, and all its lights went out and the gentle humming of its parts faded away into silence. Robin pressed buttons here, there and everywhere. Nothing happened; the computer remained silent, lifeless and pfftless, pining for the fjords.
"Ah!" said Robin. "So that's what Pfft! means. It means I need a new computer."
For many years, when overtaken with overwhelming techno-lust, I have been in the habit of slaking that lust in the welcoming wallet of my friend Helen who builds computers to order, stuffs them full of the sexiest electronics she can find, and then sells them for ridiculously low prices. In the days when we lived just up the road from each other at the top of the North Island, this was an easy thing for me to do. However these days I live at the bottom of the North Island and she lives at the bottom of the South Island where her cats spend their days hunting sheep and their nights howling rabidly at the moon. But I couldn't see why the distance between us should make any difference to the habits of a lifetime and so I sent her an email:
Robin needs a new computer.
Once I had broached the subject, I retreated into the background while Helen and Robin spent some considerable time discussing the finer points of graphics cards and processor speeds before finally coming up with a design for a super-computer housed in a gleaming silver case fitted with huge swirly ventilation slots that are protected by an embedded wire mesh behind which electrical components can be seen lurking slyly.
No sooner was the specification agreed upon than a courier delivered a large cardboard box to the door. Robin unpacked it and drooled.
"Careful you don't short circuit the motherboard with saliva," I warned.
Hurriedly she thrust cables into appropriate looking holes and turned the computer on. It glowed cool blue round the edges and through the sides. Perhaps the computer was so powerful that the electrons were moving between the components faster than the speed of light and so we were being bathed in Cerenkov radiation. I adjusted my lead lined underwear appropriately and nodded with admiration while Robin explored the many features of this undeniably sexy box.
"Look at that!" she exclaimed with glee, pointing out the gauges and meters on the front of the case that were displaying the temperature of vital internal components.
"Oh wow!" she gasped as she watched the blinkenlights flashing on and off in boastful and hypnotically complex patterns. "Everyone knows how important proper blinkenlights are," she assured me solemnly. "I can't think how we ever managed without them."
In addition to looking powerful enough to control the finances of a galactic empire while still having enough grunt left over to play graphics-intensive games in its copious spare time, this computer really is powerful enough to control the finances of a galactic empire while still having enough grunt left over to play graphics-intensive games in its copious spare time. For once, function follows form. I began to feel quite inadequate and more than a little jealous.
"If you are an extra specially good boy during the day," said Robin sweetly, "I'll let you touch the case for five minutes in the evening before you go to bed."
What a thrilling promise! Fair sent shivers down me timbers, it did.
There was only one problem. Everything the computer did was done silently. Robin examined the sound card carefully. There were six identically unlabelled holes into which it was possible to plug the cable that connected the card to the speakers. The designers of sound cards appear to be in love with vague ambiguities. Robin took the cable out of its current hole and tried another one. It made no difference to the lack of sound so she tried again with another hole. Not unnaturally, it was only when she plugged the cable into the sixth and last hole that the computer finally began to make noises. What a relief!
"I've got a birthday coming up," Robin hinted at me.
"Really?" I asked, as if I had forgotten all about the strategic reminder notices I kept finding written on the fridge with the words from the magnetic poetry kit we got given as a wedding present. Since the magnetic poetry kit is the erotic edition, there was more than a certain piquancy to the reminders, and I was quite looking forward to her birthday. Strange delights beckoned.
"Yes," said Robin, "I really do have a birthday coming up. Don't you think my old beige monitor looks a little infra dig when set alongside the new computer?"
"It's got a nineteen inch screen," I pointed out.
"But it's beige," said Robin. "And it's bulky as well. It's got a really old fashioned cathode ray tube in it. It's so twentieth century!"
"But it's got a nineteen inch screen," I said.
The computer flashed a few of its blinkenlights. "It's beige," said the computer forcefully, experimenting with its new-found ability to make sounds. "And cathode rays give me a headache in all my diodes; particularly the ones down my right side."
"Don't you mean the ones down your left side?" I asked.
"No," said the computer. "I haven't got any diodes down my left side. I keep my spare capacity there. I've got rather a lot of that," it added smugly.
"OK," I said to Robin, "let's go to the shopping mall."
A new shop has recently opened in the shopping mall. It has a noticeboard outside it which proclaims, in large friendly letters: We Fix PC's. Because of the apostrophical misuse on the notice, I have always refused to enter the shop, but Robin is less sensitive to punctuational abuse than I am and she has browsed around inside it several times and has been quite impressed with the things that she found there. It is a one man and a dog operation (I think the dog wrote the notice) and therefore they have a very small, but very carefully selected, stock of computer bits and pieces for sale.
"Can I help you?" asked the man.
"Wuff," said the dog, looking up from a complex spreadsheet displayed on a massive wide screen LCD monitor of fearsome proportions and alarmingly bold sensuality. He wagged his tail and typed a complex mathematical formula for calculating the tensile strength of a bone into a vacant cell. I began to change my mind about who might have written the notice.
"I want one of those," said Robin, pointing at the screen in front of the dog.
"Well hello there," smarmed the screen in a sultry voice, "I'd really like to go home with you! Just wait 'till you check out the depth of my colours."
"Wuff," said the dog, ears drooping with disappointment.
"That's the only one we have in stock," said the man. "I'll go and get the box."
"I notice that you fix PC's," I said to the man when he returned with the box for the LCD monitor. "Do you, perchance, also fix PCs?"
"Yes," he said, looking slightly puzzled.
"We have a computer that said Pfft!" I explained. "Do you have any advice for us?"
"Ah!" he said wisely. "I know exactly what that means. Bring it in and I'll take a look at it."
"What does it mean?" asked Robin.
"Mean?" said the man. "It means Pfft! That's what it means. Could be quite serious. Or possibly not."
We brought the new screen home and Robin retired to her room to enjoy her hugely graphical games. It was obvious that I wasn't going to see her again until bedtime (and probably not even then) so I went downstairs to my distinctly primitive looking computer and clicked on the icon that connects me to the internet.
"No dial tone," it said smugly. "And therefore no internet either. Go away!"
I picked up the phone that is connected to the same socket. It was dead as a very dead thing. I was not being lied to. Hmmm. What about the other phone sockets in the house?
I went up to Robin's room. She was absorbed in building the Roman Empire. The new graphics card and huge monitor allowed her to zoom in and micro-manage every blade of grass in Italy. She didn't even notice me come in to her room. I unplugged the cable leading from the socket and plugged the phone in. I was greeted by the warm, friendly sound of a dial tone and the lights on my phone lit up. I plugged Robin's cable back into the wall socket and went downstairs.
"No dial tone!" said the internet connection icon. "It isn't your lucky day, is it?"
Fortunately there are two phone lines coming in to the house. I used the other one to phone TelstraClear.
"I understand simple words and phrases," said the TelstraClear robot that answered my call. "Please tell me which of the following options best describes your needs."
It gave me several choices.
"Report a fault," I said.
"Did you mean debauch a sloth?" it asked.
"Report a fault," I said again.
"I do not know how to deport a malt," said the robot. "I will connect you to a human being who is an expert in divorcing vaults."
The phone rang in my ear and then a human voice said, "Salt department. How can I help you?"
I explained my problem.
"We'll send a technician round tomorrow," said the human voice.
The technician tested my socket and found it wanting. I showed him Robin's socket. He was greatly impressed.
"That's live," he said as he unplugged himself and put Robin's cable back.
He carefully traced the phone line from the top of the gently rotting pole out on the footpath to a mysterious grey box attached just to the right of my front door. Then he dismantled the box and attached meters to various cables. He examined their dials with a frown on his face.
"That's not possible," he said, and he did it all again with the same result. Desperate measures seemed to be called for, so he scratched his head. As it invariably does, this worked perfectly and the answer was revealed to him. All he had to do now was reveal it to me.
"The cable from your new computer is shorting out the phone line," he said. He unplugged the cable from the socket in Robin's room. "Now go and check your socket downstairs."
I did so and was greeted with the melodious hum of a dial tone.
He plugged the cable back into the wall. "Now go and test your socket again."
Dead as a dead thing. A small pile of dodo corpses lay rotting around the phone.
"See?" he said triumphantly.
I stared suspiciously at the back of Robin's computer. For the first time I noticed that the phone cable was plugged into the network socket. It wasn't a perfect fit (the plugs are the same shape, though a slightly different size) but it fitted well enough to make contact with some wires that disagreed with it and which gave it indigestion of the phone circuit, thus causing dodos in the downstairs room. I carefully removed the cable from the network socket and plugged it into the modem socket where it belonged.
Dial tones! No dodos. Scarcely even any dodo's.
The technician packed his backs and left, happy with a job well done. Robin, glowing blue, returned to Rome. I went downstairs to check my email.