bunt sign

March 21, 2000

I had a bit of a tiff with the Boss this morning. I got a little snippy with him. I may have come across as a bit of a smartass.

About ten years ago, he took an introductory computer course, but it didn't stick. He doesn't trust computers, rarely uses them, and doesn't think they are reliable. He does all his writing in longhand, and all his calculations on an old-fashioned portable calculator. (I know, I know.) He is such a total technophobe that he actually thinks I'm some kind of genius, just because I can make the machine he bought me do what he pays me to do. I do know a couple of things, but what I don't know would make up an impressive résumé.

The spec that we spent all last week writing turned out to be eight pages long. The government agency that we wrote it for wanted it on a disc so they could edit it, and the Boss didn't know what they meant by that. I explained that it would be simpler, if possible, to send it to them as an email attachment. He didn't know what that meant, either, and didn't seem to want to hear another explanation.

But he told me that he had an email address for them, and he read it to me over the phone. That was a big mistake, but I made the mistake of taking him at his word and writing it down as he said it. That was Friday, and today he called and told me they hadn't received it. "I don't know why things never work right with computers," he whined to me.

"They usually work for me," I said. "It's so incredibly simple to do things the right way that most people don't have a problem." I couldn't believe that email, of all things, was such a mystery to a man with an engineering degree and a grasp of almost any theoretical concept he reads about.

He had the government engineer on the other phone. Literally — he had one phone in each hand. First he tried to get the fellow to tell him his email address, but since he had both hands busy and couldn't write, he had to relate it to me letter by letter. Naturally, it got hopelessly muddled. Then he wanted me to tell him my address, but that didn't work any better.

Finally he gave me the agency's fax number and I sent guy my address by fax, so that he could email me and I could send the spec to him as an attachment to a reply to his message. Believe it or not, that worked, probably because it got the Boss out of the mix. It turned out that the original address he'd given me had an underscore in it that he either didn't think mattered or didn't notice or just didn't bother to mention.

So I got a little impatient with him. Sure, computers can fail. Mine does at least once a day. But it usually works if your input is accurate. It doesn't take much of a mistake to gum up the works. You have to respect the standards and principles of the system you're using, but it's worth a little effort to be accurate, considering the disparity in outcomes if you're not.

"If this is all so incredibly simple," he said to me, "then why doesn't it ever work when I try to do something?" I didn't respond with the obvious answer to that. I'm not that much of smartass, at least where my meal ticket is concerned.

Apparently they've determined that men can find their way through a virtual maze more quickly than women. They say this means that men driving through unfamiliar areas use a different part of the brain to navigate. The article quotes an expert who says that this doesn't prove men are smarter than women, because women are better at making a list of words that start with the same letter. Don't you think she could have used a better example? Like how women can talk to each other without having to prove anything, and as a result start way fewer wars and not as many knife fights. But that list of words thing, that's good too.

Let me try to understand this. A few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency directed states like California, with poor air quality, to add the oxygenate MTBE to their retail gasoline supply. This caused the price of gas to rise (and reduced fuel efficiency, and contaminated groundwater). Now the EPA wants to eliminate MTBE. This will somehow cause the price to rise again. They might want refineries to substitute ethanol, which has its own problems. This will cause the price to rise still more.

The oil refineries want to try to produce clean-burning fuel by technology, rather than by adding chemicals. The EPA can't decide if this is a good idea. The EPA, in fact, would rather not have to make a decision on that at all. If they can delay long enough, Congress might be forced to act. And we all know whose interests Congress holds in its heart. I'm glad our environment is in such good hands.

One of these nights I'm going to get some actual sleep. Without pills or potions, I mean. I don't know why I ever even go to bed, when all I do is stare at the darkness and listen to the sounds that seem so much clearer and more present in the stillness. My refrigerator makes a noise that any smooth-running machine would be embarrassed to make. There isn't much traffic at three in the morning, but I can hear every car on the neighboring streets. This old house creaks and snaps at random times, but I only hear it at night. When I finally do drift off, it seems like mere minutes until my alarm goes off and I have to deal with another day.

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