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“I’m headed out to Toys 4 Us. Wanna come?”

Harvey looked out the large picture window into the swirling white flakes that already covered the lawn, trees, and sidewalks and had begun their snowstorm2inexorable blanketing of the Avenue as well. “No thanks, Ada. I need to finish a few things up here. Are you sure you want to go out in that mess?”

“It’s not a mess at all. It’s beautiful! Don’t worry. I have snow tires. And with Henry driving me, it’s really safe.” Ada chuckled. “As you well know.”

Indeed, Harvey did know. Hadn’t he himself worked for years on the very algorithms that had plummeted driving deaths to a tenth their former level? Yet, even the Sing-Grid couldn’t over-ride the laws of physics. Ada did have a point though. In a way, snowfall swirling seemed — appropriate to the winter holidays. “Ada, I really need to finish up this report and then do some on-line shopping for presents. I should be done in an hour if you want to wait.”

“Okay. That seems pretty quick, but I can wait an hour. You sure you can finish that fast?”

“With Sing-Grid’s help it shouldn’t even take that long.”

“Okay. I’m going to stroll around the block a few times for exercise. And to look at the lights. See you soon.”

Harvey turned back to the wall-sized screen in front of him and decided to tackle his shopping list first. “JCN. Help with my Christmas list.”

“Sure, Harvey. Who would you like to buy from first?”

“Let’s figure out something for my grand-daughter Katie. JCN, did you say ‘buy from’?”

“You want to buy something from your grand-daughter Katie. Is that right?”

“No. I want to buy something for my grand-daughter Katie.”

“Here are a list of items that are popular choices from Katie’s to-do list.”

On the large screen a series of icons swirled into view and arranged itself in priority order. As JCN mentioned each one, the referred to item appeared to float in front of the screen and grow larger.

“First priority, find a gift for my friend Stephanie. Second priority, fix the roof leak. Third prioity…”

“JCN! Stop! Why are you reading me Katie’s to-do list? And you shouldn’t share it with other people. Anyway, I am trying to do Christmas shopping for her.” 

“I understand, Harvey. You want to do Katie’s Christmas shopping for her. Some of her to-do list mentions people she wants to get gifts for.”

“No. No, JCN. I wish to purchase a gift for Katie.”

“I understand, Harvey. You wish to save Katie the trouble of Christmas shopping and do it for her.”

“No. Stop, JCN. Forget this whole thing for now. Instead, I want to shop for…never mind. Show me popular sports books among college athletes.”

“How about a sports marketing degree?”

“What?”

“How about a sports marketing degree? It’s a sponsored link!”

“No, I mean. I am looking for books!”

“I have several suggestions for finding books. First, there are many books in your house. Second, there are several local libraries open at this hour. Third, you can download a book onto the device of your choice. Which would you prefer?”

“JCN, show me books about college athletics available on amazon.”

Harvey well knew that he needed to keep exasperation out of his voice. If he started to lose it, it would just degrade the speech reco and not help anything. But, at this rate, he would never finish by the time Ada got back.

Again the screen swirled. This time, the results were arrayed in three columns. On the left were a list of colleges. It seemed to Harvey that the colleges listed all had top-notch athletic programs. In the middle were a list of college athlete dating sites. On the right, were books about the Amazon. There had to be a problem. JCN generally wasn’t this confused. Sure, it did not totally master natural language. Who did? But this level of confusion? No. Maybe Harvey had led JCN down the garden path.

“JCN, clear cache.”

“I understand. Clear cash. Please confirm.”

“Confirm.”

“OK, Harvey. All cash reserves are cleared now. How will you be paying for continued service?”

“What? No, don’t clear my cash reserves. Geez! Clear the task cache. I want to start this conversation over.”

“I understand, Harvey. I would love to help you. How will you be paying for continued service?”

“JCN! Restore my cash reserves.”

“Restoring your cash reserves is a level four complexity task and requires a minimum of 25K credits. How will you be paying for continued service?”

Harvey felt tempted to throw his nice warm cup of hot-plate heated cocoa through the giant screen. He had to control himself. There had to be a way out of this maze. Just then, Harvey’s train of thought got derailed by loud screeching, banging, and crashing. He flew to the window and looked out on the breast of the new-fallen snow to see a pile-up of cars that covered the street and much of the sidewalk as well.

He returned to his workstation pod. “JCN. What just happened outside?”

“Welcome back Harvey. How will you be paying for continued service?”

“JCN. Just give me the number of tech support.”

“I understand. You would like the number for tech support. Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I can provide that information. How will you be paying for continued service?”

Harvey sighed. He gritted his teeth so hard they hurt. Luckily, he had written down the number for tech support in his pocket calendar. He looked it up and tapped the number. Then, he donned his coat to go outside and make sure Ada was okay. He shivered as he stepped out onto the porch. The wind was howling. He adjusted his earphones to maximize the cutoff of ambient noise.

“Welcome to Sing-Grid tech support. Due to an unusually heavy call volume, it may take some time to answer your call. Your call is important to us. Your call may be monitored for quality purposes. Did you know that you can also access many common questions at www.singgrid.com/techsupport/faq?

Harvey could not imagine what the devil had caused this pile-up. He scanned up and down the street for a sign of Ada. The snow had already obliterated her tracks. She generally circled the block counter-clockwise. He pulled his collar tighter and lifted it up to cover the back of his neck. The drivers seemed pretty much unhurt. Many had come out of their vehicles. The tone of voices mainly seemed to reflect wonderment more than anger. No fist fights. Good. Chalk that up to the Holiday spirit perhaps. The noise cancelling features of his headphones made hearing the conversation difficult. From what little he could make out, everyone seemed convinced that the auto’s auto-features had all failed simultaneously. It’s too cold, he thought. If I am going to search for Ada, I need a hat, goves, and boots. He turned back toward home while the annoying jangle of badly off-key and scratchy musak tortured his ears.

Back inside, Harvey quickly removed his shoes, buckled his boots, and grabbed a winter hat. Finding his gloves proved more difficult, but eventually he accomplished that as well. Back to the door he strode. This time, he was going to find Ada. He was prepared. As he stepped outside, tech support came on.

“Welcome to Sing Grid tech support. This is Ban-Tan. Please enter your 16 digit customer number?”

Harvey quickly tore off his right glove with his teeth. “My…my customer number? I don’t know. I can give you my name and address. Isn’t that enough?”

“I’m sorry sir. I will need your customer number to provide an answer.”

“Well. I’m outside.… Never mind. Just a second.” Harvey went back to the door and pulled on the handle. Stuck! This door never sticks. He pushed harder on the doorknob. I did not just lock myself out! I did not lock this door! “Uh. Look. I seem to have locked myself out although I am sure I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry for your troubles, sir. You will have to enter your 16 digit customer number before I can help you though.”

“Listen, Ban-Tan, I need your help. Don’t be a robot. Help me figure out…my JCN made a mistake and….”

“Thank you, sir. I very much need your help. Can you key in or say your 16 digit customer number please?”

“I can’t tell you from a computer!”

“Thank you sir! That is very kind. I hope you will fill out a survey for me. Now, if you can please tell me your 16 digit customer number, I am sure I can help you further.”

“Well, that’s just it. My customer number is inside and I am outside. And the frigging door is locked.”

“I am truly sorry for your misfortune, sir. I am only able to help with Sing-Grid tech support however. But only when I know your customer number. Perhaps you need to call a locksmith first and then call us back. Have a nice day!” The phone clicked and a different voice intoned, “Thank you for calling Sing-Grid Tech Support. Please help us improve service by completing a very short survey. On a scale from one to nine, please indicate how helpful our tech support was. Press one for ‘somewhat helpful’ and nine for ‘extremely helpful.’”

Harvey tried to cut the call short, but his fingers were too frozen. He put his glove back on, started to shiver and hoped that Ada had taken her key with her. And where was Ada anyway? Meanwhile, the robocall droned on. “Thank you for calling Sing-Grid Tech Support. Please help us improve service by completing a very short survey. On a scale from one to nine, please indicate how helpful our tech support was. Press one for ‘somewhat helpful’ and nine for ‘extremely helpful.’ If you are having trouble, please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly to help you.”

Harvey hung up and again scanned up and down the street but saw no sign of Ada. Maybe he should call a locksmith. Oh, crap. That could take hours. Maybe he needed to break into his own house? At least the gloves would provide some protection. He could break a small window near the doorknob and reach around to open the door from the inside. In the distance, he could hear police sirens. And, more crashing sounds as well. What was happening?

Harvey’s cell buzzed. He took off his glove and tapped the answer button.

“Welcome to Sing-Grid Tech Support. Please help us improve service by completing a very short survey. On a scale from one to nine, please indicate how helpful our tech support was. Press one for ‘somewhat helpful’ and nine for ‘extremely helpful.’ If you are having trouble, please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly to help you.”

Somewhere, far in the distance, Harvey heard the muffled strains of a Christmas Carol. “We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas. And a Happy New Year.”

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