Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mrs. Smucker Hacks the Machine and Saves the World

There actually are things I like about electronic devices.  Or, more accurately, services they offer:

1. Email
2. Texting
3. film-less photographs
4. Blogging
5. Amazon, where one can buy shipping envelopes and obscure batteries without driving to town

And there are things that I absolutely despise about electronic devices.

1. They have creepy, secretive, stubborn, vindictive little minds.
2. They don't like me.
3. They are utterly disposable and unfixable.

We will focus on point #3 today.

The bigger problem here, and you do not want to get me started on it, is that we rich Westerners are all about consuming cheap breakable gadgets that are cheap only because some poor soul on the other side of the world is working long hours and inhaling chemicals and twisting wires with his teeth, and earning less in a month than you do in one day.

This means, among many other things, that IN AMERICA WE CANNOT FIX THINGS.

This is how it works.

I bought a pressure washer once upon a time.  It cost maybe $60 which for me is a substantial investment in a cleaning gadget.  It had a little yellow body the size of a 4-slice toaster, an electrical cord, a place to hook up the garden hose, and a long black tube with a gun thing on the end where the water shot out so I could clean a winter's worth of dog tracks off the porch.

One day the pressure washer stopped working.  I forget the actual issue, but it couldn't serve its purpose.

So, being a frugal and sensible former Midwestern Amish farm girl, I set forth to fix it.

I assume I asked Paul, since I always do, and he must have said it was beyond his capabilities.

I hunted a long time and found an address for a place in Eugene that repairs pressure washers.  Then I hunted even longer and found the place on a side street.  I took my cute little washer into the shop, where huge muscular washers the size of file cabinets sat around on the concrete floor like a bunch of Great Danes taking a break from eating cats.

I asked the large bearded man behind the counter if he could please repair my pressure washer.

He took one look at the machine I carried and turned to me in complete disbelief.  No.  Absolutely not.  He wouldn't even take a look.  Fixing it would be far more expensive than buying another one.

I knew he thought, but did not say, "Crazy woman."

We left, sadly, while the big washers nudged each other and rolled their eyes and grinned.

I like to have things I can fix if they break.

Such as the wooden chairs from Paul's mom that are over 100 years old.  When the bar across the legs gets loose, Paul glues it back in.

When my old sewing machine began clattering, I spent several hours taking it apart and then discovered it was all due to a bent needle.  Kind of embarrassing, but oh so satisfying to fix it myself.

Things like apple peelers, hinges, jeans, and roofs are all made of understandable components.  Thus, when they malfunction, they can be fixed.

I like that.

Other things, still in perfect condition but for that one tiny hidden electronic glitch, cannot be fixed and must be disposed of.

It drives me crazier than it should.

But still.  It's not just about a calculator or Magic Bullet.

It speaks of great economic disparities and terrible stewardship of the resources God gave us.

However, despite all this, at the moment I am very happy.

Because this week I outwitted an electronic device.


We have a printer that we use a lot, for sermons, to-do lists, photos, and much more.

Like all electronic devices, it has a mind of its own and communicates with us through a flat little screen, where one must perform obeisance in the form of pressing the right little pictures with one's finger.

If t runs out of ink and you insert a generic ink instead of the Sacred Epson Fluid, it makes nasty little beeps and makes you click through about 4 screens before it grudgingly prints.

But after printing mostly-cooperatively for a number of months, suddenly it stopped.  A nice document was turned to a vague bunch of dots every few lines.

I changed the black ink.

It didn't help.

I ran it through the maintenance procedures twice.

No change.

I put in yet another new black ink, desperately, and requested more cleaning and maintenance procedures.


Since this is one of the Unfixables, Paul bought another printer and set it up by his recliner where he does paperwork.  The old printer can go to Goodwill, he said.

But!!  We had all this ink we just bought!

Stubbornly, I kept begging this printer to work.  Please?  If I push "Setup"? Or 'More Functions"? Or run the cleaner once again?  Or offer incense and garlands of hibiscus??

It went bzzeeeeeep ca-dunk ca-dunk, but it didn't print.

Hey! I had tried to print the black ink only.  Maybe...

Sure enough, it printed perfectly in yellow, cyan, and magenta, otherwise known as yellow, blue, and bright pink. And in combinations thereof, such as green and purple.

Hmmm.  We could all print our documents in purple.  The day was saved.

Ben and Emily grimaced.  Seriously?  Thermo-fluid Dynamics assignments in purple?


I had another wonderful idea.  Maybe I could fool the printer!  I popped out the cyan (blue) ink cartridge and sneakily pushed in a black cartridge instead.

Oh my.

The printer was NOT HAPPY.

Angry thumps and noises came from its bowels, disparaging words lit up on the screen, threatening wrath and condemnation.

"HOW DO YOU KNOW, you stupid printer?" I wondered.  It was creepy.  How in the world would it know black from blue if the cartridges are the same shape?

I inspected the cartridges.  And there was a mysterious little chip on the front with a strange golden pattern.


Gleefully, where the printer couldn't see me, I pried the little chips off the nearly-empty cyan cartridge and one of the rejected black cartridges.  Then I glued the chip from the blue onto the black.

And nonchalantly inserted it into the cyan slot.

Two bzeeeps followed, but no nasty messages.

In Microsoft Word, I changed a black document to blue, and then told it to print.

Oh the suspense.

Ca-chunk, zeeeeeeeeee, click click.

And out came the document.  In black.

YES!!!  I had both outwitted the machine and saved it from the landfill.

Sermons could now be printed again, I told the family.  And homework assignments and engineering diagrams and my speech for the Mother-Daughter tea, and checks for the warehouse employees, and grocery lists.

My children, yes, those offspring who communicate with electronics in fearless harmony, as starlings understand the wind and fly without conscious thought, they were impressed.

"Mom!  You hacked it!"  Emily said.

"HACKED it?"  Hacking is what pale brilliant 20-year-olds do in musty basements.  Moms my age do not hack.

Except maybe we do.

"That's what it's called!" Emily insisted.  "You fooled the machine.  And got around the system!  So, you hacked it!"

Really?  Little old me??

I was very happy.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny started a new job this week at Grocery Depot where Amy and Emily used to work.  I'm told this conversation took place the other day:
Donna the manager: I'm kind of worried about hiring and training two new people at one time.
Sarah Beth: Well, you won't have any trouble with Jenny.  She's like a miniature Amy.
Donna: Wow! I didn't know Amy could get any smaller!


  1. Good for you!

    I am also a fix-it mom...if something goes wrong it should be fixable. AMEN!

    Our granddaughter is dating a sewing machine technician. Told my hubby I would love to see him take a sewing machine apart...knowing my penchant to take things apart and trying to fix it he declared, "DON'T YOU TAKE YOUR SEWING MACHINE/EMBROIDERY MACHINE APART!!" Of course, I have to plans to do so at the moment...dadada, but who knows about a year from now?? SIGH

  2. I love that you were able to "fix" the printer, to bad not all things are that easy to fix.

  3. Woot woot! Congratulations! I was able to find a lost program on my computer once, when the men couldn't. I too know the joyous feeling of "I fixed it!"

  4. So many perfectly accurate and clever word pictures in this post. :)

  5. Very clever, Now if could you hack the big computers in the world to give us Peace and Prosperity

  6. Yes, wonderful word pictures...and filled to the brim with literary devices....I found the setting and mood, the antagonist and protagonist, simile, metaphor, anthropomorphism/personification, and wonderful onomatopoeia,foreshadowing and conflict (woman against technology??) and climax and poetic justice!!!
    What a good story!

  7. oh, I laughed so hard at this!!! TAKE THAT you unfixable machines! I'm so proud of your stubborness and cleverness - I want to claim those as unique Mennonite qualities, especially combined with your concern for the economic disparity that leads us to throw away so many unfixable things. I have also tried SO hard to get things fixed - one guy told me that if he would open my iron's guts to fix it, it would destroy itself; that it was manufactured that way so that the company would not be liable if someone "fixed" it and then the iron malfunctioned. WHAT?! Used to be fixing things was normal, not a liability.

  8. Wow, I am really impressed. Really, really. You go, you stubborn fixer-woman you.

  9. Nevermind! It just dawned on me maybe Goodwill has a recycling program, so I looked it up. Many do (ours doesn't, so I didn't know).

  10. Completely agree with you on our throwaway society. It is crazy that we are brainwashed to think we should just throw something away when it is no longer working!

  11. Yes, you definitely hacked it and, I have to admit, I do the same even though I am probably around the same age as you and not as mechanically adept as some of my friends. After all, it is ridiculous that so many companies expect us to just throw something away when it breaks down and buy a new one. Especially when you can often buy spare parts online and fix it yourself in just an hour or two.