That Blinking Computer

The teacher, Mr. Gepford, led my seventh grade class in one of the silliest assignments I had ever seen or heard. I might have understood the purpose if all my classmates had suffered from laryngitis on that day. Or perhaps if we got to build a working telegraph beforehand then the exercise would have been more fun. Instead we sat there, drumming our fingers on our desks and hoping to be understood.

Mr. Gepford had given each of us an alphabetic chart of Morse code. After granting us a few excruciatingly-boring minutes to study it, he began to work the room, stopping by each student's desk for the "fun" part. We were each to tap out a phrase in Morse code while the other students tried to decipher our phrase and call it out. On my turn I censored my hand from tapping out several phrases that described my opinion of the entire exercise and, instead, tapped an innocuous phrase like "I prefer talking."

I'm not against codes. I respect the fact that Morse code was a communications breakthrough. Each of us must translate codes each day. Pedestrian crossing signals are codes and so is a dial tone or the beep of call waiting. There is a place for codes and two places I've never liked them are in seventh grade lesson exercises and on printers.

I've had countless, frustrated clients call me with a printer that is blinking instead of printing. They ask me what the flashing light means and I never know. I ask for the model number, and then I look up the user manual on the web. After some short, but intense research, I translate the printer code which usually says to add some paper. "Is that all it was?" they say.

For me, the only thing worse than a dealing with a stubborn printer is having to diagnose its problem by using a tiny light on top of it that blinks in a particular rhythm that could mean anything from a paper jam to out of toner to maintenance due or it could mean job in progress. It's times like these that I wish the printer could talk.

While shopping for printers last week I saw two nearly identical models with a $100 price difference. The first featured the cryptic flashing light like the ones that have driven me to write this article. The other had an LCD screen that communicated with language. Now, I suppose that a shopper wanting to save a few bucks is admirable. But I've seen people threaten violence to a misbehaving, blinking printer! I think if they could redo the purchase, they'd go for the LCD upgrade. A printer that uses words and short sentences can make all the difference.

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