Down the Rabbit Hole

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I don’t pretend to understand how computers work. Like most of us, I have a vague comprehension of electrons swirling through silicon pathways within the devices we hold in our hands or sit on our desktops. I appreciate quantum mechanics which describe the physics of computers that run the modern world. But, I don’t understand it. Nor do I feel too badly because Albert Einstein was likewise mystified by the quantum world.

We are doing a lot of “fixing” in our new home. Mostly this involves hanging pictures. I’m pretty good at finding studs because I use the same process to measure the size of a patient’s liver or discover fluid in a patient’s chest. Doctors call this percussion. Our finishing carpenter just called it “thumping.” I’ve told Becky she doesn’t need a “stud finder” from Lowes; it might make me jealous.

Actually, I’m not very handy around the house. Becky is our “handy-mam.” She likes tinkering with tools and such. I’d rather be in my study writing. She has been able to teach me a few things, though patience is not one of these gifts. Recently, I learned the value of Teflon tape used to seal gaskets. The knowledge helped me repair our outdoor grill. However, despite my success, there was not a sense of joy as experienced when finding the perfect word, writing a good sentence or crafting a thought provoking essay.

I’ll admit I have little patience with my computer tools. On a practical level, I don’t care why they work, I just want them to function and not frustrate me. I need these tools to function in the modern world, even though I sometimes feel we all have become slaves to our technology, especially smartphones. They are windows on a wondrous world, but I sometimes wonder if these devices are an Achilles’ heel. The danger is surfing the net or social media sites and forfeiting personal and social interactions.

There’s an intriguing story told in the Gospel account of the women who come to the tomb on Easter morning. They didn’t find Jesus, but instead encountered an angel who filled them with fear and with joy. Perhaps it’s the same with our smartphones. We must guard against these devices controlling our lives and our relationships with others and the Spirit.

I once read that the computing power of an iPhone is 10 times the capacity of the computers aboard the Apollo 11 spaceship. My iPhone has gigabytes of memory. A gigabyte is one with nine zeros, commonly known as a billion. I once wrote a story about really big numbers such as terabytes (1012, a trillion), a quadrillion (1015), and a googol (10100). Strangely, I find really big numbers, describing the vastness of the universe, and fantastically small numbers of the subatomic/quantum world, fascinating. These concepts stretch the horizons of my imagination.

Contemplation aside, all I really want is for my tools to work. Most of us have bundled communication services (TV, internet, phone) which connect us with the world. And that’s where the fight began, because just like the DNC and John Podesta, I was “hacked.” Actually, I was the victim of a different kind of phishing attack than Mr. Podesta. Phishing has nothing to do with a rod and reel. It is the Siren’s call of a cyber attacker.

I know better than to open emails or attachments from people I don’t know. This was John Podesta’s mistake which opened up the damaging emails of Hillary Clinton to the world. My problem began when I reported problems with our newly installed Comcast communication system. I left a phone message with the Comcast serviceman who had just installed our system and within fifteen minutes I received a phone call from agents identifying themselves as Comcast technical support who would help me resolve my problems. From there we went down the rabbit hole which led to the corruption of our home network including my computer and my wife’s.

As a Christian I am asked to pray for the righteous and for those who are not.   Admittedly, it is harder for the latter. What motivates a person to be a scoundrel?

The great middle-age philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas, formulated a hierarchy of laws which defined the universe. Like Venn diagrams of concentric circles, Aquinas and his scholastics imagined that the Universal law of God encompassed everything that is. Within a smaller circle he envisioned Divine laws such as the Ten Commandments. Next, an even smaller sphere of natural laws describes nature’s forces like physics, the behavior of my dog Jack and me. And lastly, the lowest tier of function, are man’s laws – aka positive law. Examples of these are the Constitution or even speed limits on Kingston Pike. Obviously, Aquinas did not envision computer hackers, but would have undoubtedly placed them outside any of the laws except God’s universal law and judgement.

We are now reconstructing our lives, including bank accounts, credit cards and passwords on all devices as we await the reformatting of our compromised computer tools. We will survive, and consider these troubles as “first world problems.” Enough food or safe water is a much larger issue. However, I view the attack as terrorism, replete with ransom notices and with expensive and painful consequences.

What is the take home message in this week’s missive? There are several. I can’t retreat from the world, though at the moment I feel violated as in a burglary.  I must trust, but verify. Don’t answer a phone call from 844-729-5221 (the hackers) or any unknown caller who doesn’t leave a voicemail. Think the best of people until proven otherwise. You can forgive others who are co-opted and driven by evil, but we humans are not gods and we cannot forget those who have behaved non-virtuously. And lastly, anger and hatred will destroy more than just your computer.







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