Ones and zeroes


Ever since I was a wee lad, I’ve had a natural (or unnatural) gift, one that allows me to communicate with another race. I don’t think I was taught, but that it comes deep within a memory core, one that is beyond humanity.

I speak the language of machines.


I’m the lucky fellow in the office that winds up showing people how to unfreeze a program, or changing the toner cartridge (a messy, unpleasant task) in the copier or laser printer, or walking through the steps of putting a name ID on voicemail.

In part, it’s because I read the manuals. Cover to cover. The editing and pagination system at my last job was from the Stone Age; the software was a cursed cheap piece of code that made life for newspaper people beyond miserable.

The manual was written like typical manuals, dry and cumbersome. It was anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pages, and I read every single one. I knew that system inside and out.

So yes, reading the manual gives me an edge. But I talk with and listen to most machines without ever having read the instruction booklet. Fax machines, copiers, cell phones, digital cameras, VCRs, cable boxes, sound systems, watches, computers (Windows and Mac), oven clocks, car computers — anything with a chip.

I learned as a boy how to program computers. With punch cards. You think it’s tough figuring out why your saved files keep disappearing, try asking a machine to add integers using pieces of cardboard with patterns of tiny holes.

I learned Pascal early on, in addition to BASIC. I never mastered binary programming, God knows how nerds managed to code entire games using ones and zeros. I had fluency in several primitive computer languages.

But you can’t talk with a fussy checkout scanner or ATM in human terms, whether it’s commands or even ones and zeros. Those are human languages.

I anticipate how machines act, why they seemingly stop working the way they’re supposed to. And I don’t mind showing people how to get along with machines. Some engineer put minimal effort into making his device “user-friendly,” so I can empathize with frustrated people.

They are often amazed at how well I commune with the circuited ones, but it’s nothing really. It’s a fundamental compact between man and machine.

They do my bidding. I keep them from harm, specifically being tossed out the window by its unhappy owner. Win-win-win.


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