Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #18

June 8th, 2009 by Wordsman



Jon leaned over in his chair and glared downward.  There it was, staring up at him, seeming almost to smile at his frustration.  It did not look embarrassed or ashamed at its repeated failures.  All it did was blink, the soft, repetitive glow saying, “You are at my mercy.  You cannot go on without my help.  And, at this particular moment, for reasons that you are completely incapable of understanding, I have no desire whatsoever to provide this help.”

He turned back to face his computer screen, because looking at his uncooperative printer was making him too mad.  The floor was a dangerous location for an old machine like that, not because there was a risk of anyone accidentally stepping on it (Jon was the only person who ever entered his room, and there was no reason for him to walk in that space), but because every time it printed everything blurry, or with random extra black lines, or failed to print a certain color, or just refused to print altogether, it became more and more difficult to resist the urge to kick it.

This rebellious printer was not Jon’s only option.  There were plenty available in the library, and as long as he didn’t go during peak hours he would be able to get one to use fairly easily.  The school did not even charge students to print things out, as long as they were under a certain length.  It was not raining that day, and Jon had been cooped up inside the apartment for quite a while, so he really could have used the fresh air and exercise.

But it was the principle of the thing that was important.  He owned that printer, and had for a very long time.  It answered to him.  If he let it get away with this mutiny, then the entire chain of command would break down.  Other devices might decide that they could simply stop doing their work out of sheer laziness or spite, just like the printer.  There was nothing else for it.  Jon had to assert his authority to maintain order, and the only way to do that was to get his printer to print his document, no matter how many times it took.  Jon, by the way, did not normally believe (at least, not very strongly) that devices such as his printer or his computer had wills of their own, but by that point, as you can probably guess, he was running on very little sleep.

Unfortunately, Jon did not know enough about electronics to attempt any sort of troubleshooting for the printer, so all he could do was go to the menu and instruct it to print again, just as he had done the six times directly preceding this effort.  The computer beeped.  The wheels and other infernal devices in the damned printer started to whir.  A single sheet of paper was sucked down into its maw.  Printing began.  Then, a few moments later, the result emerged, but it was error-ridden once again.  This time the printer had decided to only print every other line.  Jon’s paper was double-spaced, but, unluckily for him, rather than skipping all the spaces that were blank anyway, the printer had decided to leave out all the ones with text.  And then, just to ensure that the page that went through before Jon stopped the process could not be reused, it put a bunch of meaningless characters at the bottom.  Jon was running low on paper.


Jon spent a few more minutes letting out some words that were considerably more inappropriate than “raaaaargh” before he was interrupted by the sound of feet coming up the stairs.  Dave poked his head tentatively in the doorway.  “You okay, man?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah,” Jon replied.  He must have been shouting much more loudly than he had thought, because as far as he knew Dave and Jordan had been in the basement.  Jon was not sure which was more worrisome: the fact that one of his roommates had entered his room, or that he appeared to be concerned about him.  “I’m just having a little trouble with my printer.”

“Printer trouble?” asked Jordan, who suddenly appeared from the other side of the door and walked into the room.  “You must teach it discipline.”

“Sure,” said Jon.  Right at that moment he was less focused on the familiar problem of getting his printer to work than he was on the unfamiliar problem of getting his roommates out of his room.

“Jordan’s right,” said Dave.  “You have to threaten it if you want it to do what you command.”

“Threaten it?” Jon asked.  He had, of course, threatened his printer many, many times before, but Dave seemed to be suggesting that it would accomplish something more than just relieving frustration.

“Sure,” said Dave, in a very different tone than when Jon had just said it.

“Take up your blade,” said Jordan, pointing to the foil leaning against the wall.

Jon picked up his sword and brandished it at the printer.  He did not expect it to help, but it was satisfying.

“Stab it too,” said Dave.

“No, I think it’s, uh, learned its lesson,” said Jon.  “I’m just going to try printing again now.”

A little while later, Dave and Jordan were sitting on the couch, discussing what they had just seen.  “I told him to stab it,” Dave said.  “If he had just done that . . .”

“Still,” said Jordan, “it was an effective threat.  No machine would dare to defy him after that.”

He glanced out the window at a spot that was directly below Jon’s room.  A pile of plastic and metal that may once have resembled a printer lay there.

“Think we should let him use our printer?” Dave asked.

“And if it makes a mistake . . .”

“Yikes.  That’s a good point.”

“Just let him walk to the library,” said Jordan.  “He may need to blow off some steam.”

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