Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, November 10, 1999

Patch this,
computer companies

One of the worries of the Y2K thing is that your computer is suddenly not going to work. Big deal. Computers have never worked right.

Since the advent of the personal home computer a million years ago -- in the 1980s -- I must have spent $20,000 on computers, printers, scanners, cables, software and enough mice to conduct cancer research. And they have never worked right. Sure, they've worked better, bigger and faster but they've never, ever worked right. They never did exactly what they were supposed to do.

It is said that if you compared the advancements made in computers and peripherals ("peripherals" in computer lingo means "extra thingies you are going to need that should have been included in the price of your original computer but weren't") to those of automobiles, today's cars would be able to go 1,200 miles an hour and cost $53. Yeah, but the wipers wouldn't work. Or you'd have to pay extra for brakes.

I would much rather have my computer from several generations ago working 100 percent correctly than the new and improved varieties with their ever-increasing glitches.

All this comes up now because I just bought a new laser printer. It wasn't a top-of-the-line printer. But it still cost three bills. And it was new.

It came with a CD-rom disc that took you through a step-by-step video of how to get the machine up and running. That was great. In fact, it was so cool simply following the digital video start-up instructions that just before the process was completed I mentioned to my wife: "These are absolutely the best start-up and installation instructions for a computer product I have ever experienced."

She shrieked. "Bachi! Bachi! Now you've done it! You've cursed it. It won't work."

No, I said, the installation went perfect.

"Double bachi," she said.

I printed out a test page, just like the video showed me, and it came out perfect.

"See? Works like a dream."

"Triple bachi."

Then I went to print out my first document and I got a little error dialogue box saying that the printer was out of paper.

Nonsense, I said. It's full of paper.

I spent the next hour fiddling with the computer and printer and poring over the scant documentation, but the computer obstinately refused to recognize that the paper tray was full of paper.

I went to bed in a triple bachi funk. The next morning I made the mandatory call to the mainland printer company technical service dude and he directed me through 30 minutes of exploratory surgery to determine why the computer had developed this anti-paper compulsion.

His final diagnosis? The printer software needed a "patch" that had to be downloaded from the company's Internet Web site. A patch is the same in both computer and medical contexts. It is something to stop the bleeding, make the patient function correctly. While hospitals rarely send patients out the door bleeding, promising to send them a patch later, it is standard operating procedure for computer companies to send products out in such a state.

Only the computer industry could get away with selling a new product that it knew didn't work and then expect you to live with it. Even auto giant General Motors never sold cars and then told customers to go onto the Internet to download the tires.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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