Dragon and Lotus: a nerd horror story

In his Skeleton Crew collection, Stephen King has a wonderful short story called “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet.” It involves a writer, an editor, and little men called Fornits — Rackne and Bellis. The Fornits make their home in the writers’ typewriters, and their job is to sprinkle the keys with a good luck dust called fornus. They are paid with scraps of bologna and mustard, dropped carefully between the keys.

I mention this story because, in an attempt at testing various free and cheap word processors with Dragon — this was before I downloaded Jarte Plus — I had the adventure of installing IBM’s Lotus Symphony. I attempted to dictate and test the gamut of commands, and with mixed panic and amusement thought, “Holy god, there’s a Fornit in my machine!”

The program is no longer on my machine and was downloaded late at night, so my details are a little fuzzy, but it went something like this.

After the huge file finally downloaded and extracted and installed, I returned to my computer and said “Start Lotus Symphony.” Dragon complied. So far, so good. I got to a blank document page and tested the menus — all verbally accessible by name. Better. Then I started to dictate…

Under normal circumstances and a good machine, Dragon’s transcription is instantaneous, flashing all the words in the results box onto the screen like a photograph. Not so in Lotus. The results box registered “I am testing Lotus” dutifully, but the words floated to the screen as: I a-m t-e-s-t-i-n-g L-o-t-u-s, letter by letter as if some adroit two fingered typist were tapping out the words.

Interesting, I thought, continuing to dictate. Inevitably, though, I hit a snag and had to test the correction commands after a paragraph or so. So I said “Correct [some word in the middle of the paragraph].” Obligingly, if a little slowly, the correction box appeared and I made my choice. It was then that I realized I was indeed dealing with a Fornit for a scribe: a hunt and peck typist who gorged himself on RAM. How else to explain the logic of what happened next?

The Fornit proceeded to backspace my entire paragraph up until my correction point, as inexperienced typists will do, type the correct word, then cheerfully retype everything that it had backspaced. I don’t know what programming incompatibility led it to do this, but there was such an earnest human hemming and hawing about it that, even knowing the Select-and-Say didn’t work and it was terribly slow, I found myself almost charmed. The little guy was doing the best he could in that big gray box, after all. My bemusement didn’t last long.

Having finished my experiment, I attempted to close the program and found that Dragon and Lotus had completely frozen; the Fornit had gorged himself into a stupor. I just barely managed to press control-alt-delete on my keyboard, figuring that terminating Dragon or Lotus or both would fix the problem. No joy — the puckish little dude had witched my keyboard, too. My arrow keys were dead, as were the letter keys I tried to press to highlight an entry in the task manager. Pressing Alt-E for “end process” did nothing. Thinking I could resort to my trusty Mouse Keys backup, I reached for the keypad and attempted to physically move the pointer to the entry I was trying to kill. Something moved, but it wasn’t the cursor: the task manager window stretched and skewed as though it were melting. I alternated pressing Insert and Delete, thinking I had accidentally set Mouse Keys to drag, and the task manager just kept bleeding down the screen.

Clearly, Rackne and Bellis were pigs, frying bologna in my CPU and smearing peanut butter in my keyboard. I don’t remember how I eventually got the hell out of that program — probably invoked some arcane Lotus command in my frantic key-striking that they were bound to obey. I immediately uninstalled the program, but have you ever tried erasing the evidence of vaporized Fornit? There were Fornit-innards splattered all over my machine — it took at least two passes with CCleaner, more with Regedit, and a couple of search and delete missions before I was satisfied it was gone.

Do not attempt to install IBM Lotus Symphony. DO NOT FEED THE FORNIT!

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