Disconnected – Published in the Providence Journal 2/8/15

The other day my bathroom plunger broke my Internet. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.
On the scale of tech nerdiness, I probably fall somewhere between a Luddite and Steve Jobs. This is true even though, in 1967, I became a certified computer programmer by completing a seven-month, full-time, government-sponsored programming course at Providence College.
We were taught, some more successfully than others, three languages: Basic, Cobol and Fortran. These are now computing’s version of Sanskrit writing on a cave wall. We punched chads out of stiff beige programming cards then placed the stack in the feeding chute of the class’s IBM 360 computer.
The 360 was a battleship gray behemoth about 4 feet long and waist high. The cards would feed into the 360 with an industrial “ka-ching, ka-chung” cadence. Unless they stopped in mid-feed. Stopping was not good. It meant the 360 had rejected the logic of the binary code your chad punching represented. Your program had crashed. I often crashed.
Despite my struggles, I managed to graduate and earn my certification. I also went for an interview at a large insurance company in Hartford. During a tour of the company, we spent some time in the programmers’ bullpen, a cluster of 20 small cubicles. Sixteen of the desks featured tins of aspirin or bottles of Bufferin plainly in sight. I decided, then and there, that programming was not for me. To this day I wonder what stronger narcotics may have been hidden away in the programmers’ desk drawers.
Flash forward 47 years, more specifically, to the other morning.
“Page cannot be displayed. You are not connected to the Internet,” read the message on my Dell monitor. Delving into the Help/Assist section garnered such advice as, “Input the IPS number of your Ethernet device into the dialogue box.”
Hello? While I certainly had to relearn some aspects of computers in my marketing career, at least enough to tell our company’s IT guru what I wanted to accomplish, those instructions on my home computer were way beyond my pay grade. So I poked around various System Preferences, Reset Options and other unsuccessful paths to no avail. I checked all the connections on the back of my system. Finally, at 6:30 a.m. I had an epiphany!
Our washer and dryer are in the basement of our home. If I go downstairs to check a load, and the timer shows a few minutes left on the cycle, I don’t like to waste the trip. So I keep myself occupied until the time expires.
Often, I’ll work on my golf game. I have found that the bathroom plunger is a wonderful swing simulator. It is short enough to swing without hitting the ceiling and the plunger part of the plunger provides just the right weight to duplicate the feel of my Cobra 460cc driver.
I’ve worked on my inside to outside swing path with this device numerous times without incident. The previous night, however, because of some holiday storage issues, I had to move several feet forward from my usual swing space.
My first swing had snapped into a coaxial cable hanging between two floor joists. The cable showed slightly more slack than usual, but I paid no heed. Until 6:30 a.m. the following morning when, after an hour of frustration trying to solve my problems at the keyboard, I came to the startling conclusion that my bathroom plunger had broken my computer.
Sure enough — I swear on Steve Jobs’s grave — I found a downstairs plug had been disconnected by my golf swing. A quick reconnect and I was back to my Google-y, Facebook-y and social media universe.
Yes, computers can be frustrating, but I have vowed to not let them drive me insane.
After all, in 1967 I was certifiable.
Jim Raftus (jraftus@aol.com), an occasional contributor, is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.

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