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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Tribute to an Historian - R M de Vienne

From her sickbed, Rachael de Vienne stirred herself to tell me, through her daughter, that I was wrong. It was just on a tiny supporting fact of a book I was working on and I had only put the fact in so as to give her book a plug. I wasn’t even wrong on the fact—I was wrong on the inference I took from it, she said. I wasn’t even wrong on that, in my opinion. But that’s just it—it was my opinion. ‘Keep your opinions separate from the facts,’ she would have said. ‘There is nothing wrong with drawing inferences, conclusions, and educated guesses. Just label them as such.’ THAT is the kind of historian she was. Sigh—I changed the passage just to suit her, and it probably didn’t.

She wouldn’t review my first book, either, or any of the other ones, though I just asked her to do the first, Tom Irregardless and Me. I mean, I had written a nice review for her book. Finally, with some nagging, she said that she might review mine and asked how I intended to submit it. ‘It’s not done that way,’ she retorted, when I told her. Tweeting with a co-blogger about it, as though on a private phone connection and not a social media platform broadcast to the whole wide world, the co-blogger told her that he wasn’t going to review it, either—‘the first chapter is about Prince, and then in places it is a little “preachy”—not pure fact at all.’ It was too much. I tweeted: “YOU GET ON THAT KEYBOARD AND REVIEW IT RIGHT NOW!” but then had second thoughts and deleted the tweet. See what sort of historians she hung out with?

During her final few months, she interspersed regular tweets with some detailing her illness, at times getting quite graphic, caring not about revealing the personal humiliation you must experience as your own body is betraying you. Imagine—chronicling your own suffering that way—true to her calling to the last. See what sort of an historian she was?

The book that she co-authored with the unwieldy title—as though to make clear that it is scholarly and not a specimen of pop writing—A Separate Identity—Organizational Identity Among Readers of Zion’s Watchtower: 1870-1887’: I admit, I skimmed it. Not through lack of interest—you will never find a more thorough history of non-mainstream events—but through lack of time. I wanted to write a decent and coherent review. I agreed with her (explicitly labeled) speculation that the the reason the Watchtower Society received her completed book without comment after being semi-cooperative in providing source material is that “they are incurious as to their own history.” Yeah. I agree. They are. So am I—I mean, I (and they) am not uninterested—it is just that I am interested in other things more. The ‘Society’ is not rooted in anything, I don’t think. They are progressive. They move on.

Separate Identity is the not the only book that she wrote, and I look forward to curling up to it and others when (more likely if) I ever find the time, because it is excellent, universally praised, except occasionally by some hothead Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves because it does not adhere to the party line—it goes where it goes without regard to who has later been christened hero or villain.

She co-authored a book about Nelson Barbour, too, and this should interest me even more because I once lived about a hundred yards from where he did (also a hundred years). I had written a blog post about Barbour, a well-known “get-outer” preacher of the late 1800s that Charles Taze Russell for a time partnered with, and I observed that there must have been some relationship between he and a well-known Rochester Presbyterian preacher of the same surname, whose wife Elizabeth is listed as ‘excommunicated and expunged’ or words to that effect. Rachael told me that I was wrong on that, too—the two families were entirely separate.

I am not even sure that she liked me, really, but we followed each other on Twitter, and she would occasionally respond to my tweets and even more occasionally initiate some to me. My non-religious semi-serious historical work she let pass with minimal comment. Maybe she was more like my 7th grade social studies teacher, who made everyone literally start every essay paragraph with the phrase in parentheses: “who, what, where, why, how,” so that we would learn to write with substance, and who would say things like ‘Don’t write “In my opinion.” Of course it’s your opinion—you wrote it!’ This doesn’t entirely square with Rachael’s urging, which just goes to show why you mull over all input, but each one must ultimately develop his or her own style.

I always liked it that she found such great comfort from her family, to offset her many years of illness—lifelong, it seems. I miss her. Here is her obit, and the blog lives on in other hands, I believe. You will never find a more rigorous example of niche history, digging up letters, notes, minutia and photos 100 years old.

Let’s end with a review of Separate Identity that says it all. It is reproduced at truthhistory.

“Histories of the early Watch Tower movement tend to fall into two extremes, hagiography and polemic. This is because they are usually written from a range of widely differing theological perspectives, not that of a strict historian. Additionally, they tend to concentrate on the figure of Charles Taze Russell to the virtual exclusion of his contemporaries. This volume redresses that balance, written by two historians with an almost fanatical attention to detail as demonstrated by the voluminous footnotes. They appear to strive hard to keep any personal views out of the picture and go where the evidence takes them. The result is a detailed, even-handed history of Russell and his contemporaries - crucially in the context of their times. Many writers on this subject seem to try and graft 21st century attitudes onto 19th century people, not recognising that the beliefs of Russell and others in the second half of the nineteenth century were often far more mainstream than a modern reader might imagine. Even if one has no direct interest in Russell and what came later from his ministry, several groups today count people like Henry Grew, George Storrs, and John Thomas in their antecedents. These men all feature in this book and, certainly in the case of Storrs, you are unlikely to find as much detailed information on his life and work anywhere else. The writers have previously published a volume on Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet. That too is well worth reading, although the present volume (that takes history up to 1879) is a stand-alone book.”

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One Step Closer to Dear Mr. Putin Print Version - Learning the Tricks of Sectioning

It took me the longest time to figure out how to make headings different in each section. That's not to say I have worked on it throughout since I last griped about it. No. I have only worked on it sporadically because I couldn't stand the aggravation.

Even the person I consulted that has made her living off the use of Word didn't seem to know and suggested that if I hit the 'reveal' key to see all format instructions, I would be able to figure it out. I did so and It didn't help.

The Section command in Word provides that each section you make can contain repeating formatting that does not spill over into all other sections. If for some reason, you want an entire bunch of paragraphs to go landscape and have different margins from the rest of the document, you simply section it off, hit a 'break link' to previous section key, and you are golden

But the headers and footers toolbar is a different provision and it is not isolated from section to section in the usual way. This is presumably because you may want page numbers, for example, or book title to appear throughout all sections, even as you want chapter titles to change from section to section.

You can isolate the headers and footers of sections, just not in the normal way. This is nowhere clearly explained that I can see, and it took me the longest time to figure it out. So finally, all chapters show their individual titles on what will be the odd-numbered pages, while keeping the same book title across all even numbered pages. Now I have to work on pagination, which hopefully will be a slam-dunk and not another nightmare.

And no, I do not want that lying phony Microsoft support team to contact me and offer to help if I will but sign my computer over to them, and when you google the phone number they supply, you are told it is a fraud, Microsoft itself saying it will never provide a phone number to call.

It is another step in getting Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia into print, after which I will work on the other two.

Decyphering the vagarities of Word proved so infuriating that I devoted the better part of a chapter to relating my angst in No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash. This is not to say it is their fault, necessarily. It is more likely mine. But that is not to say that I cannot grouse about it, speaking in behalf of the billions of people who do not live and breathe for technology.


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