Access Denied

June Men's Room column

Early this year, I got my hands on some “voice-recognition software.” That’s a tech-y term meaning I could just talk into a microphone, and the program would put my words on the screen. Hallelujah – no more typing! Finally, I could work while holding my grape Slurpee and Honey Bun.

There was, however, the matter of getting this new software set up. I tried. I tried again. Tried again. Tried again. Tried again. Tried again. Read the directions and tried again. No go. My computer kept telling me I didn’t have access to some folder.

I called the company. The guy told me to try again. Again, nothing happened. I tried five more times but came up empty.

“Access is to the folder is denied,” the guy said.

“But it’s my computer,” I said. “I own the folder. I own the access.”

“You should call Microsoft,” he said.

“And say what?” I asked.

“Say there’s a problem with your computer.”

“That’s it? I’m supposed to call Bill Gates and tell him I’m having computer problems?”

“Mr. Gates is no longer involved with the day-to-day operations at Microsoft,” the guy said. “You should call the switchboard.”

“Microsoft has a switchboard?” I asked.

“Sir,” he said, “the problem isn’t with our software. The problem is with your computer.”

I called a repair shop.

“Folder access denied?” this guy asked. “That’s never a good sign.”

I called tech services at work. After 45 minutes of sharing my screen with this guy, we agreed on a strategy: give up.

“This software is junk,” I complained.

“Wellllllllll,” he said, and when he dragged it out like that, I knew bad news was coming, “I see that your computer is kind of – when did you buy it?”

“Uh, a while back,” I said.

What I didn’t say was that “a while back” meant 2013, when I bought the computer used off Craigslist from an amateur filmmaker who had loaded the thing with vast video files and hadn’t updated the software since the day of purchase. In computer time, mine was prehistoric.

“I’m not telling you to buy a new one,” the tech services guy said, “but that might be what it takes to get the voice software to work.”

Indeed, that’s what it took: a thousand-dollar investment to make a $250 program work.

Now my desk sags beneath the weight of two computers: one old and slow but bargain priced and outfitted with a display so sharp I can look at pictures of my late dog and practically smell his fishy breath, and the other new and rocket fast but expensive and thrown together with a down-market screen that makes everything look like it’s covered in cheesecloth.

As for the voice-recognition program, it does what it’s supposed to do – and does it so well that when I give feedback to my grammar students, it cuts through the nonsense. I’ll say, “Add a semicolon instead of a comma, and make the ending a question mark rather than a period,” and the computer responds with, Add ; instead of ,, and make the ending ? rather than..

So, the software works great. It’s also useless.

I typed all these words myself. And, I’m sad to say, I had to put down my bun and Slurpee to do it.

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to

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Categories: Culture