At the Toledo Zoo
Skirmish #100519 - A Typical Tussle Around the Line of Scrimmage

One Infuriating Day in the World of Mundane Technology

The Bluetooth keyboard won’t connect. The printer won’t print. As though in a conspiracy to infuriate me, they both rebel at the same time. So as to thwart them, I will deal with them just one at a time.

The pre-installed batteries that power the keyboard couldn’t possibly be bad. I know this because all the online reviews say that they last four years—essentially, the life of the iPad—and I have only had this thing for 6 months. Besides, when I ask the geek at the store whether it is the batteries, he says “no”—it is the keyboard itself. “You think so?” I ask. “I know so,” he says.

He must know what he is talking about. The online reviews tell me the same—the batteries are supposed to last 4 years, not 6 months. It must be the Slim Folio keyboard. I buy another—the are not too expensive. When I get it home, I discover (so I thought) what was wrong with the first one. There is a Bluetooth key on the upper row. When I hit it, it makes a connection. I didn’t know there was such a key. It must also have been preset. I must have switched it off by mistake.

I take the purchased keyboard back to the Best Buy. Do I have the receipt? No. The clerk with the tattoos hadn’t given me one, and I didn’t say anything because I know that they send receipts by email these days. They searched and couldn’t find it. Why not? Because they had on file the old Juno email account that I haven’t used since Jesus was born, and for whatever reason, can’t get into anymore. I think I changed the once-simple password to something more intricate and then forgot it. As I recall, retrieval proved near impossible due to an archaic interface and a since-replaced laptop that crashed if you looked at it wrong.* At last, the salesperson finds it and the return is made.

Back home, I find that my fix—the Bluetooth key—was just a red herring. Yes, I did get more life out of it for a few minutes, but it presently started to act up as before. It’s going to be embarrassing buying the keyboard again, and I am starting to think that maybe I should try batteries before I spring for a new board after all. They are the little coin-like batteries that I never use, and another reason that I just bought a new keyboard—now returned—is that I figured they probably cost as much as a Prius battery.

Amazon can get me the batteries I need, also the printer ink, but it will take two days. I want them both now. I want the keyboard battery so that I can type on my iPad, not on my laptop as though a caveman. My wife wants the printer to work so that she can print out a letter from an expert saying that another refurbishing job that she paid through the nose for is no good and that she should get her money back.

The Best Buy has those particular coin-type batteries, but only in a package of eight. They are not nearly as pricey as I thought—I found that out via Amazon—but I don’t need a 20 year supply of them. Wasn’t there a Steve Martin movie featuring him being hauled to the police station because, thinking that the world was out to get him, he had torn open either a hot dog package or a hot dog roll package so as to buy only the matching number of each that he wanted? And batteries are more expensive that hot dogs or hot dog rolls!

If Best Buy doesn’t have them, with all of the electronics that they sell, there is no way that Target will have them. But the Target is right next door—it is silly not to at least check. Target does have them, and in just the number (2) that I need. The battery display says $4.60, only a dollar more than Amazon, and I can get them right now, even though I may not need them and have no other use for them should that be the case. The self-service kiosk rings it up for $6.99. I must have picked up the wrong pack, I suppose, and I go fetch another one. No, I did not pick up the wrong pack. It, too, rings up for $6.99. I return to the display. It turns out that the battery is being re-introduced in a new package alongside the old and both are ringing up at the new price that only the new one is supposed to ring up at. I don’t want the new. I want the old, and the old price.

You wouldn’t think that one could get paralyzed over two dollars. But it is not two dollars paralyzing me—it is the thought of being played for a chump. “Forget it!” I mutter after a few trips back and forth to the register kiosk. I can get it through Amazon—why don’t I use them all the time, since aggravations like this so frequently happen?—and in the meantime I can make do with the laptop. I mean, for years and years I typed on the laptop, perfectly content. I can do it again for two days. Upon making this resolution, I leave to pick up some groceries at Aldies. The batteries might not solve the problem anyway—the geek told me they would not solve the problem—so if I am going to chance just throwing money away, it should be as little as possible, not the $6.99 Target wants just because they put them in a fancier package.

After grocery shopping, I return to Target. In the greater overall scheme of life, two dollars is not the end of the world, and it is worth two dollars to use my iPad today and not my laptop because, long ago, I ripped the laptop cord from the laptop one too many times while removing it from my lap, and it will now only stay connected if I firmly tape the cord in place with duct tape. The repair will cost over $200! Forget it. Taping the way I now do is enough to power it, but not enough to keep its battery (another battery!) recharged, so I have acquiesced to the laptop being no more portable than a desktop, because if I even look at the thing wrong, the cord connection breaks even with the duct tape and, having no battery, the machine crashes and I lose anything I have not saved—the only benefit being that I have learned to save after virtually every sentence. So I want to use my iPad, which is portable, and I will pay two extra dollars to do that.

Still, I grumble at the self-service line over the two dollars. “Do you want me to look it up for you?” the attendant who oversees four of these kiosks asks. I tell her no—it is just a price change, that I know this sort of thing happens—it is irritating but it is not her fault—why make trouble for her? Still, she can look it up if she likes, I tell her, mostly just so that she will get out of my hair and let me get on with shelling out the $6.99 that heaven has decreed I must before I change my mind again.

She DOES look it up. She scans my package with her phone. She has software (I think) that permits her to see the display, and she sees the original price. Nah—that can’t be—still, she somehow figures the original price. She changes it for me right there at the kiosk, punching in some codes—using her powers. Finally! A hero in a world of villains! When she is busy doing something else, I double back to tell her that she truly made my day, that she didn’t have to do it at all, that I never expected her to, and that she would never know how much such a gesture of service meant unless I told her, which is why I did.

At home, I put in the new batteries and the old keyboard works good as new. Even though the geek had said he KNEW that batteries were not the problem! Even though the online reviews said it, too, with batteries supposedly lasting the life of the iPad! (To be sure, I use it a lot.)

One problem down—only one more to go: the printer that won’t print. I know it is not out of ink because it has an icon that keeps track of ink, discoverable in several different ways, albeit with effort, and each of those ways returns the same result—there is still 3/8 of a tank left. So I spend three years pouring over online documentation as to how to fix the sullen thing. Cleaning the heads does nothing. The store geek who does not know a dead battery from a keyboard is not going to try his hand at my printer—I refuse to even think of taking it there—even if he will do it for less than a million dollars. As a last ditch attempt before escalation, even though gauges say that there is no way that is it out of ink, I buy some more ink. Of course, I buy the wrong package, a package number that came up when I searched the printer model on Amazon.

Why has not someone taken a stand on the biggest scam of all time—printer ink? Why are there dozens and dozens of printers, each one of which will take only a single specific pricey cartridge out of the dozens and dozens available? It is as though every single can of Campbells soup is unique and you will die if you eat any other than one out of 100. The politician that runs his platform on blowing the lid off this scam wins, as far as I am concerned.

Funny, the printer model itself is not on the cartridge package that Amazon says should work, I note at the Best Buy, though every other model on the planet is. “Ah, well, if it is not the right one, I can always take it back,” I say, and indeed I do take it back the next day. I pop the new cartridge into the machine that insisted it did not need one, and it immediately prints like the New York Times running down Trump.

Total price in money? Twenty six dollars

Total price in time? Twenty six years

Total price in aggravation? Twenty six thousand grey hairs.

Total number of heroes? One—the kiosk monitor at Target.

(Best Buy emerges from this post with a mild black eye, so I should point out that I have nothing against them. Their sales associates are polite, not pushy, and invariably will answer whatever you ask them. The point I am making instead is that tech is complicated and nobody knows everything. It was even a Best Buy sales associate who answered to my satisfaction why Microsoft gives me so much trouble (I have had updates that take hours) whereas Apple does not (I don’t think I have ever had an update lasting more that a minute or three). Microsoft is much more ambitious in the scope of what they offer, she told me, plus they have low price points that Apple does not. That satisfied me. 

It is annoying, though, that when you grouse about Microsoft online, thieves immediately show up insisting that they are them and ask for all sorts of access so that they can help you, and when they follow up with a phone call later, their English is indecipherable. One would think that Microsoft would shut them down, since it tarnishes their reputation. Later, I read that Microsoft did shut them down—it was an operation out of India—but later I saw that they had resurfaced—it is probably next to impossible to eliminate. Some less scrupulous companies have been known to kneecap scoundrels who tarnish their good name, but Microsoft is apparently too ethical to do that.)


*The old laptop: Modified from my book: “No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash”—the most autobiographical of them all:


The stupid thing is always pestering me that is nearly out of disk space. How can that be? It’s new—and I haven’t used it for anything other than writing this book! [Tom Irregardless and Me] The suggested tool to handle the error message launches into a circus into undiscovered galaxies! It’s like that Black Friday netbook I bought last year - another scoundrel! It harangued me forever about loading Windows 10. Finally, I said ‘All right all right’ - load the stupid thing!’ It wheeled and cranked and whirred like Dr. Who’s spaceship, only to declare at last: ‘You don’t have enough disk space!’ and then launched a tool which took me to Alpha Centauri!


“Just puttering along editing my document. Save a tweak and I get the message: ‘A file error has occurred.’ So? There’s no clue what to do about it. Or the consequences. Will a bomb detonate with the next keystroke? Or is just some tiny worthless snippet of software somewhere that feels it has to speak up from time to time so as to justify its existence? Aha! Close the document. Then re-open. I have saved every tweak up to that point, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. But when I reopen it, the changes I have saved have not been saved! No wonder people go mad! Before closing, it says a temporary file will be available! Where? On Jupiter? Open Word from scratch – it’s nowhere to be found! I have to re-treat the whole chapter!


“Okay, it doesn’t exist. That reassuring fix they were cooing about last night? That ‘solve-all’ dialogue box? It doesn’t exist! Or rather, it probably does, but only inside the 3rd module of the 15th lobe of the program designers brain. It’s impossible to find! Sure, I could find it in three days, possibly, but I don’t want to do that! I could have fixed the chapter by now by just writing it again! And I knew that’s what I should have done, I knew it! But, noooo – here’s some fine instructions – let’s follow them! See where it gets me!


“I have one book to write on my new laptop. Just one book! So I didn’t buy the $14,000 model. I bought the basic model, the cheap one. I’m not gaming with it. I’m not putting movies on it, or music, or photos, or even tweets! Just one book! One! And that’s not even on the hard drive, it’s in the cloud, and on thumb drive updates every two seconds, because you can’t trust this ‘Save’ feature as far as you can Spit! So why does it tell me every two seconds my hard drive is getting full? It just wants to make me mad! It didn’t say ‘Sucker Model’ at the store. It didn’t say ‘Gotcha’ Model. I asked the clerk if there were electronics inside the case, and he said there were! ‘Are you sure it’s not just gerbil cage shavings inside?’ I asked. He said he was sure! What a liar!”


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