A lot of people didn't trust ATMs when they were first introduced, preferring to make their transactions with a live teller. While I did enjoy chatting with my teller from week to week, I must acknowledge that I did not relish waiting in line behind the person who was making the regional Girl Scout cookie sales deposit with a stack of singles and a shoe box filled with loose change.

So in the interest of time, I forayed boldly into the new ATM technology more than three decades ago. And I discovered that I could, from the comfort of my vehicle, wait just as long or longer for banking service. This is because I always seem to get behind the folks who must execute lengthy, awkward parallel parking maneuvers in order to reach the machine. People who must rummage under their seats or in their pockets or purses for 10 minutes to find their ATM card. People who consistently deliberate for another five minutes or more over their transaction - as if the Burger King menu screen were suddenly substituted for the banking one.


In the words of French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose," or, roughly translated into English by John Mellencamp, "Ain't that America."

A lot of people don't trust online shopping these days, either, but while I am not necessarily an early adopter of new technology, I just can't stand to hear "Jingle Bells" barked by dogs over the mall sound system while I am waiting in line with throngs of aggravated people. I like the idea of sitting with a cup of coffee - preferably Orange Cappuccino - and browsing in the solitary bliss of cyberspace.


The main problem people have with online shopping is security - cyber theft - and yet I find that with reputable sellers, there are a number of safeguards in place. In fact, I almost always fail the final test that is required to complete my sale. I'm speaking of the little box with the random words and the following instructions: "Type the characters you see in the picture below."

In case that piece of direction is not 100 percent clear, there's usually another message right near the little box where you're supposed to type in the code that reiterates: "Enter the letters as they are shown in the image above. Letters are not case-sensitive." Sometimes it's an incongruous word, such as the word "incongruous." Other times, it's a completely random assortment of letters, such as "mujafsilnk." Certainly, this is not an easy or intuitive collection of characters, but it's made all the worse by the fact that the font is some sort of compressed, uneven curlicue where the letters always run together. I find myself peering at the screen and covering up letters with my finger to be sure I haven't mistaken a lower case "m" for an "n" or a "p" for a "g." It might be more truthful if the instructions said "We dare you to copy this illegible collection of slashes and spirals."

If you guess wrong two or three times, you do get a different collection of characters to type in, and if you are lucky it will be an actual word, such as "dimwit." But if the system generates another "flieknvb" and you fail to type it in correctly with your remaining attempts, you have to go back and reorder your stuff and enter your payment information all over again.

This is not unlike finally arriving at the front of a long checkout line with a cart full of items in a jam-packed mall, and finding you left your wallet in the car.

So I just want to say that I look forward to doing a lot of my holiday shopping online this year, provided the online retailers can type the characters exactly as they see them in the line below:

Help me!