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Hudson's Corner: Ghost in the machine haunts car, Internet service, security system all at once

By Kathy Hudson

12:05 PM EST, February 3, 2013

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On a recent, frigid week of winter, some cold air blew in on possessions we use most. 

Early one Monday morning, our security system started beeping. The battery on the sun porch glass breaker was low. It was too cold to go out there, and the glass breaker is tough to dismount.

Originally, our security company covered replacement of batteries, which number more than 50. Last summer, several years after that company was sold to a conglomerate, we were told that batteries are no longer covered by the exorbitant maintenance fee. My husband's blood pressure soars every quarter when he writes the check. I reprogrammed the system, and we proceeded with our day.

That afternoon, as we came home from running errands, the car started smoking. At first I thought it was just the exhaust of a warm car in cold weather. No, it was steam billowing out from under the hood. We called our trusty tower and away the car went.

After dinner, the security system started beeping again. I reprogrammed it again. Before we went to bed, my husband thought it best to kill the main panel, so it would not wake us up with more beeping. All of our doors have deadbolts and the windows have double locks, so we felt safe.

Early Tuesday morning, I went to email a column to an editor. I could not connect to the Intern,et even though the icon on my laptop showed Internet service. I looked at the modem and router. All lights twinkled. I tried the iPad. It showed an icon for an old network that was reconfigured months ago.

I immediately called the phone company about our DSL line. A patient technician tested the line, the modem and the router. All worked. He figured that my router had somehow reverted to its original configuration. He tried unsuccessfully to redo it. After an hour he connected me to the company that makes the router. 

Another patient technician spent two more hours with me on the phone and on my computer, which she magically operated from wherever she was. Finally, my wireless network was restored, and I no longer had to stand at the bureau with a blue wire connecting my computer to the modem.

Her final question was, "Have you had any work done on your phone line?"

We had not. 

The next day, we had our security system services. An able technician rectified the situation with the errant glass breaker, he asked me to put the system in a test level. Everything went haywire. Erratic beeping began then the siren, which we could not turn off. The technician quickly killed the main panel.

"Have you had any work done on your phone line?" he asked. Again, I responded no. He pronounced our system dead and gave us an estimate for a new one.

A day later, temperatures started to warm. When I awakened, the security system was not beeping. I went upstairs and turned on my computer. It connected instantly to the Internet. Magic! It was hard to believe things were returning to normal.

Even harder to believe was the first email received was from my favorite novelist, Anne Tyler. I thought I was dreaming, but I was not. She had written in response to my previous column in this newspaper about an unpleasant experience I had when trying to mail a book by media rate. She correctly guessed which post office I had used. In her ever-precise way, she said she too had felt like a "prime suspect" there.

There's nothing like a little validation at the end of a week of pummeling by the techno-demons.