Computer Sleuth

Posted on Posted in Mixed Nuts
From the Spring 2004 The Storyboard by Michael Sweeney

One of the things that continue to set me apart as an “oddity” in Katiati is the fact that I own a machine that knows everything. At least, some people think that it does. My laptop computer is something of a mystery to most of the people around here, and I’m the only one that knows how to talk to it. One time it managed to solve a crime.
Several years ago, someone broke into a small trade store in a village about 30 minutes’ walk from us. That night, a delegation from that village came knocking at my door. “Mike, someone broke into our store and stole the entire stock [which consisted of one box of canned fish, and two boxes of laundry soap].”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes, we’d like you to ask your computer who did it so that we can go get them.”

What followed was a lengthy, though fruitless, discussion in which I tried to convince them that the computer doesn’t know anything; it just stores whatever information I put in it for retrieval.

I believe it was at that time that I learned the vernacular phrase for “yeah, right.”

Mike's laptop . . . okay, not really.
Mike's laptop . . . okay, not really.

Twenty minutes later they were still standing there, waiting for my laptop to point them to the rascals who had done this. When they finally accepted that I wasn’t going to put the question to my computer, they asked if they could borrow my dog to track the villains down instead.

I loved my dog, and she was quite bright; but sniffing out crooks was a bit out of her league.

So the men went to Josephstaal, and brought back the entire police department, which was a guy named Michael. I heard the next day that all the goods were returned.

Later, when I spotted Michael coming through Katiati, I called him over and asked him how he managed to get the stolen goods back so quickly.

“Easy,” he said. “I gathered the entire village together and told them that I wanted the goods returned by the next morning. And I warned them that if it didn’t happen, I would give the white man a court order demanding that he ask his computer who had done this. And when it told us the answer, we’d burn their house down. I guess they couldn’t face the risk.”

And to think that this was even before Microsoft came out with Windows!

Mike was a Bible translator for the Mum language group. He also served as PBT’s Assistant Director of Language Affairs. He and his wife Linda lived in the village of Katiati. Their two boys, Christopher and Ryan went to school at the Ukarumpa International High School.

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