Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Broken Calculator: A Warning to All

This morning I received a phone call from my co-worker. She told me that she was having trouble with her calculator and wondered if I might be able to look at it. Something you may or may not know about me is that I’m a fairly decent problem solver. I am called quite frequently by co-workers to help resolve these sorts of “why won’t my computer/printer/calculator/chair/mouse/keyboard/[insert random software or device here] won’t work” problems. I don’t always have answers and I can’t say that I always make things better, but I must do something right because I’m the go to girl: the Jane of all trades. So, being asked to help my co-worker “fix” her calculator was nothing out of the ordinary.

When I walked into her office and found her fidgeting with the device it appeared was that the paper wouldn’t fully feed into the device. It would intake the paper just enough to give you hope that it would work, but then would suddenly stop. The noises coming from the machine and the little things in the calculator seemed to be moving appropriately. (Did you know that “little things” is the proper terminology for all the motors and whatnot in the calculator – yeah, I know, I’m so smart.) I figured that since those elements were fine that it probably wasn't a malfunction with the calculator, but there was probably something stuck in the system. My co-worker informed me that she had pulled a piece of paper out of it but we couldn’t see anything else stuck. This meant of course that we would need to take the calculator apart. Brilliant.

After rummaging through the draws in our central office supply area I found some screwdrivers. Unfortunately they were too large for the tiny little baby screws in the calculator so we resorted to opening it with a pair of small scissors and using one of the single blades to unscrew the four screws in each corner of the machine. In the middle of this process, the director of our office walked by the door and noticed us both hunched over the device with scissors in our hands. Since this is not normal workplace practice his puzzled look was completely warranted. Our attempt to explain what was going on was somehow communicated through our giggles and laughter at our commitment to this project. We did ask him if he’d like to help with our endeavor, but he declined saying that it was not his “area of expertise” and left the room. I would like you all to note that apparently, calculator fixing is my area of expertise.

We struggled to get the back side of the calculator off for awhile. Those suckers are really stuck on there. But thanks to my non-existent fingernails (which I had clipped the night before in the privacy of my own bathroom) and a flathead screwdriver we were able to pry the machine apart. We turned it off (so as not to be electrocuted) and began tinkering. After trying to feed the paper in and see what was happening we realized that there was another screw that had to be undone. Of course this screw was even smaller than the first four, so it took a bit more precision with the scissors to be successful.

As I examined the device and tried to just push the paper into it (since logic wasn’t working, maybe brute force would?) with little success, I noticed that there was a tiny little white strand that was hanging from the metal band that held the paper against the roller. “Interesting” I thought (profound I know), “I wonder if the paper is supposed to go on the other side of this little thing.” I poked around at it and realized that the strand wasn’t really a strand of string or anything thin and malleable; it was hard and plastic feeling but still movable. I could put my fingernail underneath it and almost pluck it, like a string of a guitar. I didn’t want to break this important little piece – mostly because I had no idea what it was or what its purpose was – so I was careful as I examined it. I looked at the roller from the other side to see how it was attached and realized that this thing wasn’t really attached (or if it was, it was done so very poorly) but more wedged between the bar and the roller.

At this point I had a choice. Since I didn’t know what the strand was or why it was there I figured my best bet was to remove it. The risk was that if it was a necessary component of the calculator, there was almost no way I was going to get that little guy back into place and the calculator would be even more useless. If it wasn't important however, it would fix the machine. In the end I decided to try. I figured the calculator was useless anyway (at least for printing) so what did I have to lose? I found a piece of thin cardboard (from the back of a pad of paper that I had to talk my co-worker into letting me use because she hates it when the back’s of pads are missing) and wedged it down into the device, pushing the little strand out of the way. I removed the cardboard (thankfully it didn’t get stuck) and we tried to load paper into the calculator.


Once we had solved the mystery and put the calculator back together (which I think took longer than taking it apart because of the tiny little screws and using scissors for the task instead of a screwdriver), my curiosity shifted to what this little strand was that had caused so much trouble. I picked it up and took a good look at it. Yep, it definitely looked like a thin little fingernail clipping. I turned to my co-worker and asked, “Do you clip your fingernails at your desk?” With a sheepish grin and a timid, “Yes, I did it the other day” we had the complete answer.

Of course this caused us to explode into laughter and exclamations of shock and amazement. We shared the story with our supervisor, who was disgusted to discover that it was a fingernail at the root of the problem. I shared that I had recently had a discussion with some friends about people clipping their nails at work and whether that was appropriate to do or not. Honestly, I didn’t think it was something I would ever do, but didn’t really care if others did it as long as no mess was left behind.

Well, I’m here to officially tell you: Clipping your fingernails at work is dangerous. You never know where one of those little suckers might land what damage it could do. Just ask yourself this, is the 5 minutes you save at home, worth the cost of a calculator?

Please pass this warning to each of your nail clipping co-workers. The life of a calculator is just not worth it.


Sarah Elizabeth said...

Hilarious!!! I love your writing. I need to make a note to myself to call on you the next time I break something, which is unfortunately quite often!

gail said...

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