Down the Road a Piece
When computers drive you nuts
I’ve been using a computer since my first job as a news reporter in 1984, and I don’t think I could be without one now.
Well, except for those vacations we take to get away from it all --including the computer.
That being obvious, when I first started freelance writing, I used a rebuilt Underwood typewriter my father had given me for college. It came with a typewriter table that had a sharp protrusion or two, which regularly gouged my leg....I assume to keep me awake.
Manufacturers think of such amenities. Or don’t.
I finally gave that table away to an unsuspecting writing student. I haven’t heard from her since nor heard any screams from the direction of her house. So she either learned to live with the gouging monster, or it did her in and her final cry didn’t reach my ears.
I used the typewriter for years. I recall the nasty word -- the one at the very bottom of a page on the right hand side, the last word of the page. That’s the word that always misspelled itself or did some other really stupid thing that left an ugly mess at the bottom of the page.
I had two choices, well actually three. I could smear that white-out stuff on that bottom word to cover it, which always looked too awful to send to whomever I had been planning to send it. Second choice, retype the entire page and hope that last word landed on the paper came out as I had intended. Or, third choice. No, I never committed suicide over it, at least I can’t remember doing so.
I thought that Underwood was pretty spiffy. Got a lot out of it despite those last words on the pages.
Then at my first newspaper I graduated to an electric typewriter. Holy cow! Or, as an editor recently wrote to me, Crikey! That beast was really fast and led me to typing on special paper we would feed into a gadget in a room filled with computer stuff. Out would come ticker tape, which was the article. What a miracle! And it only took a little religious language to get it to work correctly.
Then, and here’s where I thought I’d lose my first reporting job, the publisher bought those first little MacIntosh computers. You had to insert a disk to have any type show up. They were so quiet, tippy tapping on the keyboard, that at first I wondered if I were writing anything.
But there was the type right on the screen.
I thought I’d never be able to learn to use the little MacBeast and that I’d be fired for the cause of stupidity. But, to my surprise, I did learn, and I’ve been using a computer, usually a Mac, ever since.
For one job at an agency, I used a Microsoft program. It kept telling me that I’d done some “illegal?” That might have been the word. It may have told me to lean against the wall with both hands on the wall due to my sin of illegality. I can’t quite remember.
I only stayed there a couple of years, and at home I’ve always had a Mac waiting for me to tango -- or typo -- or at least try to use it.
Computers are great! Except for when they don’t do as they’re told. As in yesterday and today’s outburst of misbehavior. It misbehaved until I called it a Windows, then it smartened up and behaved. I sent out a couple of things to a person I didn’t really know. One came back, and this morning that recipient sent me an e-mail, saying one of the e-mails hadn’t arrived.
So I fooled around with it again for awhile. The e-mail didn’t make the usual whooshing sound as it went out to Wherever Land, the place e-mails go on the way to the place their going.
Finally I broke down and called the recipient, who this time had received the e-mail. Why did it not go yesterday? Who knows, and I don’t know who Who is, so I can’t ask Who why it didn’t go.
At the agency where I worked, I returned from lunch one day to hear another employee asking who had used her computer while she had been at lunch. I asked her why it mattered, and she told me it was not working right. Like a true sexist hero, I asked her if she didn’t have to use the ladies’ room. She said she did and hustled away.
Did she or didn’t she really have to....? That was the question I didn’t bother asking, because I was too busy that few minutes. I did just what you’re not ever supposed to do. I unplugged the little monster, plugged it back in again, and turned it on.
It worked fine...not bad for a Windows.
She returned, thanked me, and continued with her unhappy day of employment. Which, in case you don’t remember, is much more pleasant than a happy day of unemployment.
That paycheck is so meaningful.
One laptop I used when I wrote for the Lewiston Sun Journal didn’t like either coffee or olive oil.
At some “events” I covered, I was also required -- maybe, I don’t recall for sure -- to drink coffee and eat Italian sandwiches. After three months or so, the little laptop would stop laptopping, and I would take it to Radio Shack for repairs. The paper would give me another laptop, which faithfully made it through the next three months before itself succumbing to coffee and olive oil.
If I remember correctly, the paper gave me four laptops a year.
The stories got sent in via a special phone number straight to the paper. Sometimes another reporter dared to phone the paper with their computer, and I got a busy signal. I waited until the line was free and then sent my tale of non-news.
Now we use e-mail, which is much better than either taking or mailing hardcopy stories on paper or sending them via phone. Except when the e-mail screws up and takes its turn at driving me nuts.
I read a piece in a magazine the other day, stating that handwriting is the best way to communicate to a reader. It listed all the reasons but failed to deal with guys like me, who are left handed. Just try to read anything I write longhand.
Kenneth Roberts wrote all his millions of pages by hand, whether by choice or because he didn’t have a computer since it hadn’t yet been invented, I have no idea.
I only know his books were great, although they were in print and not hand written.
But the important thing to remember from all this computer-and-e-mail-driven nonsense is how great computers are.
Except when they don’t work.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013