Just give me a sharp stick


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



There is a nice-sized room on the ground floor of our house that was intended to be the family dining room. I have always used it as an office.

When I worked at the hospital, there were days that I’d get busy with hands-on patient care and I would need to wait until I got home to do routine paperwork; staffing schedules, volume statistics, financial and monthly reports. I didn’t enjoy working at home, but at least I was home.

After I retired, I used my home office when I was the city safety director, county EMS coordinator, county commissioner, mayor and president of council. It is a very comfortable little home office. One wall is solid with bookshelves. The other walls are loaded with family pictures. There is even a small wine/beer refrigerator in the corner.

I can sit at the desk and read. I can swivel my chair around and work on my personal computer. My printer is sitting there ready to document anything I need. On a really pretty day, I can just stare out the window at our Dogwood tree and enjoy a cold beverage.

When everything is working well, I love my little office… when everything is working well.

Last week, I was in the process of printing some items for an upcoming meeting and I got the dreaded message – “Paper Jam.” I opened the printer and looked into that creepy, printer interior. There were wires and color-coded gizmos, shiny metal bars that things were supposed to slide back and forth on.

There were many, many little plastic gadgets and rollers that would direct the sheet of paper wherever it was supposed to go. There were also instructions about clearing a paper jam.

I soon found that nothing makes clearing a paper jam easy.

As it worked to clear the printer jam (doing exactly what the little instruction charts showed me to do), I ended up with several gears and rollers in my hand. Then I dropped one of the rollers and a little plastic gear broke into two pieces. I picked up the pieces and heard some curse words escaping my mouth. It wasn’t pretty.

One of the scariest books I ever read was a Stephen King novel titled, “IT.” The title character, the IT, in the book is a scary, killer clown that appeared every generation or so and left death and destruction in IT’s path. That book kept me awake at night. I really feared IT. I still do and refuse to watch the movie.

Later, at the hospital, I was introduced to information technology — I.T. That IT wasn’t scary. They were life savers. I loved our I.T. department. They knew things that mere mortals could never know. They could do things with computers that were amazing. I doubt that they ever broke a printer.

I was born in 1950. I was not born with the “I.T. gene” that enables a person to understand the workings of a computer. Anyone born after approximately 1975, seems to have the ability to understand how computers work. I’m not a stupid person, but I just don’t get it. I don’t have the I.T. gene.

It was so frustrating, not to be able to print when I needed to, that I considered opening the back window to see how far I could throw the darn printer. My goal would have been to throw it as far as the Dogwood tree.

Gladly, I would have traded my modern computer and printer for a nice slab of soft clay and a sharp stick.

The Sumerians invented cuneiform writing on soft clay over 6,000 years ago. I would have tired it, but I doubt my editor would have been able to translate the little stick marks on clay into a readable column.

So, off I drudged to the store to buy a new printer. That was the easy part. Getting the computer to recognize and talk to the new printer was horrible. If my old I.T. friend from work had been around he would have told me the problem was “operator-error.” He always told me that my problems were “operator error.”

As usual, he would have been right. That fact doesn’t make it any less frustrating for the operator… me.

I recalled with fondness my journalism typing class in high school. We used the old manual Royal and Underwood typewriters. I loved them, even when I tried to type fast and got several keys stuck right in front of the paper, I still loved them.

We each took turns using the new IBM Selectric typewriter. I didn’t like it.

Now, whether it’s a small homeoffice or huge office complex, work stops when the printer breaks. Finally, after two days of frustration, I got the computer and printer united again. It worked.

Admittedly, I’m an old guy who was born without the I.T. gene. I will continue to struggle to keep up with technology. Thank goodness for my kids and grandkids.

With their help, Pappy will get through his I.T. struggles without resorting to soft clay and sharp sticks.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington, Ohio and former Clinton County Commissioner. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist