Computer Non-Sequiturs

A message box appeared on my monitor with the words “smoked lettuce.” It was one of those pop-up boxes similar to when the computer executes what it calls an “illegal instruction,” which I know isn’t “illegal” and bugs the heck out out of me, because I have some semblance of proper grammatical skills. I know the hack programmer at Microsoft really meant “improper instruction” but spent all his effort flash coding at three in the morning, drinking Mountain Dew to stay awake, not caring about proper grammar.

I was used to seeing the “illegal instruction” pop-up, and in fact had become sensitized to it because of the poor grammar and my dislike of Microsoft in general and the Windows operating system in particular. But I had never seen the box contain the message “smoked lettuce.”

I wondered if I had stumbled across an intentional coding bug, or an Easter Egg, one of those surprise undocumented features. I tried to recall the sequence of key strokes and mouse movements I performed to make the box appear. I could not think of anything I did which was special or unusual. I clicked on the close button to eliminate the box, and returned to my work.

The box popped up again. This time message inside was “gas museum.” I clicked on the close button, returned to my coding window and typed control-Z five times, looking at the monitor to see what work I was undoing. I manually restored all my undos to see if the box would pop back up. It didn’t. I returned to actual work.

After five or so minutes of heavy coding, I had forgotten about the errant pop-ups. After an hour of staring at C code, I took a short break to walk to the cafeteria and purchase a soda. When I returned to my desk and unlocked my computer, I saw another message had popped up. This one said “gamy chef.”

I poked my head over my cube wall and asked my colleague Andy, “Have you seen any funky pop-ups on your workstation today?” He looked at me as if I had soup pouring out of my nostrils. “I’ve been getting pop-ups today but instead of the boxes telling me I made an illegal instruction, they are displaying what appear to me random non-sequiturs.” He kept staring at me with the soup look. I shook my head and sat down.

I clicked the close button on the pop-up. Another appeared with the phrase “underarm dandruff.” I clicked the close, and worked through to lunchtime.

I had not encountered another pop-up for most of the rest of the day, until three-thirty that afternoon. The one which appeared then said “yellow wand.” I clicked on the close button, but this time, the pop-up did not disappear. I clicked the close button a second, third, fourth time. Nothing.

“This stupid thing,” I said to no one in particular, exasperated. I moved the pop-up box aside, out of the way of my work, and went back to coding. A couple minutes passed and another pop-up appeared. It also read “yellow wand.” I clicked the close button. It didn’t close. I moved the box aside. I returned to my work.

Thirty seconds later another box popped up, with the words “try typing.” I clicked close with the expected non-result, and moved the box aside. A few seconds later, another with the words “try typing.”

“OK, I’ll try typing,” I said to no one, and hammered my fingers on the keyboard. Nothing happened except for a small release of tension out of my fingertips. Another box popped up: “not random.” I sat staring at the box on my monitor. Another popped up repeating the words “yellow wand.” I looked at it a moment. I typed on the keyboard the phrase “yellow wand.” All the errant pop-up boxes disappeared. I pondered a moment. Another box popped up: “well done.” It stayed on my screen for about ten seconds, then disappeared on its own. I shook my head.

At four-thirty, I wrapped up my work, locked my cabinets, and gathered my belongings. I put on my jacket and headed towards the stairs.

“Wait up,” Andy called as I reached the halfway point. “I’ll walk out with you.”

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, Andy opened the door to the lobby. “So, did you figure out that thing that was going on with your workstation?”

“I don’t know. The pop-up messages kept getting weirder, and then I couldn’t close the pop-ups anymore. Then I got a couple that said ‘try typing,’ and I figured out I had to type one of the messages on the keyboard. When I did that, all the pop-ups disappeared.”

Andy patted me on the back, and said, “Well done.”