March 17, 2009 at 1:32 am | Posted in Herman the Soothsayer | 3 Comments

computer1A com-pu-tor (usually rendered “computer”), or “Midnight Machine,” as it is known colloquially, is really nothing to be afraid of, once you know a little more about it. The rumors about the destruction of Atlantis, for example, turn out to be mostly false. Before 1985, there was no generally accepted term for what we now call a computer. The machines had been known in professional circles for years as “thunder boxes” or “Hiroshi’s little helper,” but were christened by a confused and frightened public “Midnight Machines,” punning on the word “thespian.” The angry mob responsible later glumly admitted it wasn’t sure what “thespian” met, or what a “pun” was – unfortunately, by that point, several fine actors had been killed in the search for the answer to these questions. The term “computer” comes from the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe character Com-Pu-Tor; his power was certified accountancy. It was first applied to “Midnight Machines” by Dr. Eric von Hoeffel during an unsolicited lecture which unfortunately quickly devolved into an embarrassing and abusive tirade about “these young bastards with their queer new ideas” at the World Psychiatric Association’s 1985 gala ball in Stockholm, Sweden.


The first computer can be traced all the way back to Abacus and Eniac, a softshoe song-and-dance act on Vaudeville in the 1890s. After putting aside their show business dreams, Abacus and Eniac opened a small office in Tennessee specializing in vacuum cleaner repair in 1915. To keep better track of the services they performed, Eniac proposed to Abacus that they record the name of each customer to whom they provided service and the specific services that they had provided. This revolutionary notion – Eniac called it a “filing system” (after his grandfather, “Filing System McBackwater”) – changed the way the world worked. Most of the unemployed historians whom I was able to interview while on line at the unemployment agency agree this marks the beginning of recorded time. From this humble notion by a humbled failure of an actor and singer, we get the modern computer: for you see, dear reader, a com-pu-tor is nothing, really, but an electrified filing system, keeping dates and names and other sundry information on electric sheets of paper.

How to Use a Computer in Today’s Vibrating Environment

Computers, as I said earlier, are really nothing more than electric filing cabinets – not marauding pseudo-cannibals, as some less reputable news sources might have you believe. Think of the screen you are looking at right now as the handle on the drawer of a fine, rosewood filing cabinet, perhaps built by an old, sea-weary carpenter from the Old Country. His name is Ezekiel. Think of the keys on the keyboard in front of you as the oiled sliders inside that cabinet that allow its drawers to slide in and out easily: imagine that that great old knotty carpenter Ezekiel bought those sliders from a drifter looking to get enough money for bus fare to Tulsa, and that he tried to attach them, oh how he tried, to your beautiful rosewood cabinet, but that he ultimately failed, so now he put them into some particle board he found in his old leaky boat. Now think of the desk your “midnight machine” is sitting on as the cabinet structure as a whole; think of it as the new, godforsaken thing that our battle-torn carpenter Ezekiel made from pieces of the rosewood cabinet he was trying to build for you, but destroyed instead, in a fit of jealous rage, and rotted, mildewed particle board he found soaked in seaweed in his old leaky boat. Have you got this image? Good. Now you not only know the basics of computer operation, but you have a handy, tortured metaphor to call to mind any time you become overwhelmed or suddenly panicked by what you are doing. Remember, a computer is a large, poorly constructed cabinet filled with electrified glowing documents ready for you, the user, to call up at a moment’s notice with a few simple keystrokes (called “plastic tickling” by insiders).

Now, enjoy your entry into inner outer cyberspace! – Herman the Soothsayer

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