Our office, for a business so small, is very progressive when it comes to paper documents. Our vendors and customers seem to be able to generate mountains of paper, which are haphazardly handed to me by whomever sorts the mail each day. Once I, or my assistant, enter the information into one of our databases, the papers get filed (again, haphazardly) by either the accounts payable or accounts receivable person. Anything not pertaining to those two functions are stuffed into a bag destined for our accounting firm.

Normally, if we receive a telephone call about an unpaid bill, I can pull the data up on the screen of my terminal (a laptop) and inform them when the check was cut and the day it was mailed. Similarly, if someone within our organization has a question about an invoice, or a planner for an upcoming event, the data's right there, at the touch of a button. No duplicate papers to get mixed up; no unnecessary cutting of trees. The only paper we use is for copies of planners for customers, and translations from English to Chinese for use in the kitchens.

The death of the trusted laptop, the Oracle from which issues all information great, small and insignificant.

Two days ago, my beloved laptop, a Hewlett-Packard with a 17" screen, died. Press the power button, and all the little lights light up; but for a split-second. Then, nothing. No screen, no warning signs, just dead as a doornail. It's not the power adapter. It's not the battery. HP's support website suggested that I remove the RAM holders, remove the chips and replace them, which I did, not without trepidation. Every few moments I touched a piece of metal I knew was grounded so as not to zzzAP my precious RAM into RAM heaven.

Finally, I called tech support to see if they had any ideas. Now, the super-duper-ultra-24-7 additional warranty coverage that I bought with this machine cost $800. And I'm damned well going to use it. The nice man on the other end of the phone asked me for all kinds of information to confirm that the computer which was broken indeed belonged to me and was indeed covered by their additional warranty coverage. Finally, he asked "What can we do for you today?" I told him the computer wouldn't start. He asked if it was plugged in. I told him that, not only was it plugged in, but I'd consulted Hewlett-Packard's support website and gone through the entire self-help process they recommended, to no avail. That's why I'd called him.

A 15-minute question and answer session ensued, mostly about whether or not I'd dropped the machine, spilled water into it, tried to make a Panini sandwich by overheating the chips and utilizing the laptop to press down on two pieces of bread filled with cheese, ham, peppers and olives, etc. I was surprised he didn't ask "are you or were you ever a member of the Communist party?"

At long last, he had a suggestion for me. (Unplug everything and press the power button for 60 seconds; then re-connect everything and try again.) Suffice it to say that it didn't work. So now they've sent a box via FEDEX for me to place the broken machine into for shipment. The repaired machine should arrive within 10 days of pickup, they say.

Losing the use of that machine is like losing the use of my right arm. Worse, sadly, I had a whole week's worth of work on it that I hadn't backed up to my server. My bad. I typically backup everything automatically; but I've been doing so much work at home I didn't get a chance to just press the button and let it go, filing away all my new documents in the correct folders on the server, (and eventually on the server's backup drives). And that week's worth of work is what I've spent the last four days re-creating, piecemeal, from whatever data I have on hand.

Data's data; it just displays in different ways. Sorry 'bout that.

Now, here's my point. The lovely portable with its large, bright screen is what our accounts receivable people are used to viewing reports on. Then, duly assured that my invoices have gone out, (they're emailed to our vendors or otherwise sent electronically, e.g., by Winfax) the interested parties walk away while I store the invoices, in digital form, on the system. No paper; we save a tree, and we can retrieve the information whenever we like.

Today the accounts receivable lady, and my boss as well, came to me out of the blue with a situation which should've been resolved a long, long time ago (September, to be exact). The nice accounts receivable lady (who files things in the most haphazard fashion I've ever encountered; neither chronologically nor by vendor - I just don't know how it works) showed me two paper invoices that she hadn't any corresponding check stubs for. She assumed that this vendor hadn't paid the invoices. Now, the only reason why these paper invoices were at the bottom of her little "to do" box, was that they were generated by my assistant during my absence, from our "big" computer in the office. For some reason, the office staff just doesn't trust the numbers that come out on the 15" screen in the office. Their trust is placed in my computer. Well, now it's dead.

A veritable forensic investigation into the contents of the laptop.

So here I am, in the middle of re-assuring myself that everything from liquor orders to talent bookings have been accounted for (about 15 phone calls later), and the two "mystery" invoices show up. Common sense would dictate that if every single invoice sent to this vendor since September has been paid, most within the miraculous period of 30 days (thanks to the efficiency of our paperless, non-snail-mail-dependent system of doing things).

The bottom line is that absent the trust that my co-workers have in my laptop, the one they trust contains the most up-to-date information, they had me go into the office and generate paper documentation of each and every invoice, transmittal email, and A/R payment entry for this vendor, from the 1st of September, 2006, to the current date. They told me that I must do this because they "just don't trust" the big computer. So I've just completed printing out literally 75 or more pages of information, much of which is closed out (because it's now 2007; another tax year).

As they were poring over this stack of papers, helplessly trying to match my very simple, relatively unformatted reports with invoices, credit memoranda, and everything else in their files (hereinafter, the "files of doom") it occurred to them that the paper printouts don't resemble the clear, large numbers, column and row lines, and table headers on my computer's display. That's because I never have to print what's on the computer's display. Worse, there's no way for me to display the printouts destined for the 17" display on a 15" display, without having to scroll back and forth, horizontally.

This writeup would be interminable if I were to give you a blow-by-blow of my attempt to explain to all of these automation-unfriendly people that data is data and it doesn't matter how it's displayed, really, so long as you can match dates and dollar amounts. I'll just quote the last sentence I uttered to them before I went back into my office and locked the door: "I refuse to re-format all of what I've given you, go out and buy 11" x 17" paper and re-print over 75 pages of information that you really don't understand, anyway."

For awhile, I could hear them milling around outside of my office, speaking to one another in hushed voices. Then, they disappeared, thankfully, to God only knows where. I went to the back of the restaurant and got myself a huge bowl with two scoops of vanilla, two scoops of chocolate, and two scoops of rum raisin ice cream. While I write this rant, I'm consuming the ice cream. Is there such thing as suicide by ice cream? Should I discover that there is, I'll just bring the rest of the three gallon tub of chocolate into my office, and go at it.

Tomorrow, I plan on having a delightful day, whether or not I must kill someone to do so.

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