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Friday, August 01, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 3/1/2000

When all else fails, fix it with jargon

I do believe we are so intimidated by technology that we fear to tamper with it - even when it's wrong.

We seem to have adopted an "If it's broke, don't fix it'' attitude with anything that we don't understand, and, let's face it, precious few of us understand anything about modern-day technology other than which buttons to push.

And what happens if those buttons don't work? We call a technician to fix it.

Now I'll let you in on a little secret: Anyone can be a computer technician even if he or she hasn't the foggiest notion of how a computer operates.

All a technician needs to know is the magic word:

Reboot.

Yes, it's really that simple. In all the years I've been working with computers at The Blade, the advice is always the same no matter what the problem. "Reboot,'' says the technician with a smug smile, and most of the time, it works.

However, if that magic word fails to get the desired results, we are told that whatever problem we have is a "glitch in the system.''

Great word, glitch. It covers a lot of sins. And, apparently nothing can be done to actually fix whatever the glitch is. I asked once, "If we know it's a glitch in the system, why in the name of Bill Gates doesn't someone fix the glitch?''

This is obviously unheard of and to even think such a thing is looked upon with suspicion.

"You don't fix a glitch,'' is the uneasy reply. "You reboot.''

For those of you in blissful ignorance of computers, reboot isn't what it sounds like. You don't actually kick the machine (although that is always a tempting thought), you merely turn it off, then restart it, generally losing all the work you did up until the glitch.

Another thing I've discovered over the years is that people, especially people in charge, are reluctant to admit they don't understand the technical language. And they can easily be bamboozled.

Just throw out a strange word in an authoritative way and you can usually get by with it.

I discovered this many years ago when I was working for a paper in Cincinnati. It was my job to see that the pages were sent to the presses by deadline and the presses started on time. We had a managing editor who was very persnickety about deadlines, and if the presses didn't start precisely on time, he would call me and tell me to find out what was wrong.

I would go to the pressroom and ask whoever was in charge what the problem was.

The answer was always the same:

"The color spectrum,'' the man would say.

I would dutifully call the ME and tell him the presses were delayed because of the color spectrum.

He accepted this philosophically and I would have too, except that we weren't running any color in that paper. It was then I realized that neither of us had a clue as to what the color spectrum was.

After a few months, I even stopped going to the press room to inquire. Whenever the boss called, I just informed him it was the color spectrum again.

One day, just to ease my curiosity, I asked the pressman exactly what the color spectrum was.

"It's what makes the newspaper late,'' he replied.

"But we don't use any color on this newspaper,'' I protested.

He paused and looked at me for a long while.

"Look, kid,'' he said, "you're new here so let me give you some advice. The color spectrum has kept everyone happy for years and if you know what's good for you, you won't mess around with it.''

With that he walked off, and I learned to keep my mouth shut.

That was all a very long time ago, before we had computers and other modern technology in the newspaper business. But I guess it was the beginning of the new era.

Maybe color spectrum was the harbinger of reboot.



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