New PC is a colonoscopy in a box

The lowly scribes at my local news shop have been working extra hard lately, but we hope the readers haven't noticed.

We've been putting in extra time because the computer guys are overhauling our entire system. In case you've never been through a computer system overhaul, allow me to describe it thusly: On the scale of painful experiences, it ranks somewhere below "IRS audit" and "root canal," but above "colonoscopy."

Don't get me wrong. I'm pleased that management values us enough to provide us with new machines. We wondered how long some of those Macintoshes were going to last. I mean, eventually the hamsters running on the wheels that powered our iMacs were going to get tired.

I'm also grateful for the technology whizzes who installed all the new hardware and software. They put in a lot of extra time to ensure technologically challenged journalists like me didn't unintentionally initiate any self-destruct sequences.

By now you've probably realized that I just went out of my way to praise management and the Information Technology Department. Why? It's important to compliment the publisher, because he signs the checks. It's even more important to praise IT, because they are capable of making your life's work disappear with just a click of the mouse. Not to mention hacking into your e-mail account and sending love notes from your box to your most grotesque colleagues.

A computer system overhaul has its benefits. We all have new Dells with spiffy software. Which will be really cool once we learn to use all of it. Right now we feel like tourists in a country where we don't speak the language. We know how to write stories and design pages, but all of a sudden we have to figure out how to do it in a new way. It's like trying to order dinner in Moscow, and ending up saying something that lands you in some gulag as a suspected terrorist.

I'd like to tell you this has been a smooth process, and that the newsroom is filled with smiles. But let's keep things real: You'd have to pump ether into the air to get an entire newsroom to smile.

The fact is that this has been a challenging transition. Some of us hadn't so much as touched a PC in 15 years. Getting thrown into Windows makes us want to throw these machines out windows.

Hardware is just the beginning of the changes. We're also switching to new software for writing stories and designing pages. Not to mention a new system to organize the flow of stories, pictures and pages. About the only thing that hasn't changed around here is a certain columnist's tendency to chuckle whenever anybody says "Uranus."

We've been assured that once we adjust to the new system, we will thrive. Or at least stop cursing like George Carlin with every keystroke. Once the dust settles, we will see that it was time for the old equipment to go. Some of our Macs had been through hard times: I saw one disk drive that looked as if it had been used as a toaster oven. Leave it to enterprising journalists to attempt using a CD burner to make grilled cheese.

There have been a few potholes along our path to progress. And when things do get messed up, we suddenly have an acceptable excuse.

What's that? You say my column wasn't finished by deadline? My new computer must have eaten it. Speaking of eating, do you think I can grill a sandwich in this DVD burner? The hamster that powered my old machine has finally been allowed to stop running, and I'll bet he's hungry.

Ben Bromley is a former Lillie Suburban Newspapers editor and is now a writer for the Baraboo News Republic.

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