Tuesday, 12 May 2015

124. Computer says no

Getting back into the UK after travelling aboard has been a bit of a challenge in recent months.

It used to be straightforward, especially since the introduction of automatic ePassport gates at Gatwick Airport a few years ago. You take one look at the long snaking queue at border control, move smugly to the short and quick queue at the electronic gates, slide your passport onto the scanner, look into the camera with your most serious face, and you are in. Open Sesame. Welcome to the UK.

Not now. When I returned from Holland a few months ago, the gates refused to open for me. I blamed the scanner. The man in front of me also had problems. Step back! Step forward! Try again! the machine urged, but to no avail. Like him, I was finally allowed to give up and go to a Real Person, who waved me through.

This weekend, returning from a conference in Denmark, I was similarly stuck.

Hm, I thought. I wonder if I should start taking this personally?

I asked the border control officer. Is there something amiss with my passport? She studied the passport. She studied me, with my ultra-short hairdo. (At least there was some hair this time.)

"Well," she said tactfully. "You have to look like your passport photograph, as much as possible." She added, trying to soften the blow, "It's a bit of a challenge for us girls."

She allowed me into the country, lack of hair notwithstanding.

Clearly, the passport scanner didn't think I was the woman I once was.

I agree. The cancer and the treatments have changed more than just my looks. Still, it would be nice if the computer recognised me as a valued member of UK society.

In Copenhagen this weekend.
But is that really Irene Tuffrey-Wijne, or an illegal immigrant?

It's not the first time chemotherapy caused electronic hitches. Trying to get into my fancy new laptop has also proved challengingIt's got fingerprint recognition. I had enjoyed the ease with which I could make it spring into life with a quick finger swipe. My computer knows me! We are friends! One look at me, and it welcomes me in! I always felt rather fond of it, somehow, when it responded to my touch.

Not so once the skin on my fingertips started withering.

"It's an impostor!" my laptop decided. "Keep her out!"

It took me ages to get into my files, because in my chemo-fog, I'd forgotten my back-up password. For months and months I had to go through the laborious route of pretending I was a visitor to my own computer, typing in passwords with my unrecognisable fingertips. Only recently has my laptop reluctantly allowed me access again, but I have to talk to it very nicely and swipe my finger several times. 

When a visiting ward doctor asked me about side effects and I told her about the laptop problem, she was intrigued. She'd never heard of this before. Could this be a growing issue, we wondered, what with all these fancy new fingerprint scanners on smartphones? (At least my iPhone is an old model.)

"You should write me up as a case study," I suggested. "You could be the first to identify a new side effect."

I've thought of a name of this new phenomenon.

CSN Syndrome.

Computer Says No.

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