The Evolution of the $#@%& Laptop

I am trying to embrace change. 

For example, the words above were the very first ones typed on my new non-Tribune laptop. For about an hour before that, I navigated the Internet for the first time on this foreign being, tried to locate all the cool new functions and yelled at my husband.

It then took me five minutes to craft this sentence because every time I typed a word, I inadvertently breathed on something that kept defining everything and then making it disappear. So I yelled at my husband some more.

Now I am exhausted.

This is not my first new laptop. In my 26 years of sportswriting, I have had many different models beginning with a “portable” computer roughly the size of a Datsun. To send my stories to the newsroom, I would first crouch in front of the headlights of my car (I was covering high school football in Central Florida in the early 1980s, and this is what we did), frantically punching in codes and secret formulas that I usually forgot.

Then I would take the giant black, rubber couplers that came with the “Port O’ Bubble” (this is seriously what the computer was called even though it was about as portable as a console television) and try to stretch them to the nearest phone booth (we also had phone booths then).

The couplers were supposed to fit over the handset of the phone. And they did – the first time anyone used them. Every time after that, they were stretched out sufficiently as to lose the connection of the phone signal the first 47 times you tried it. 

Over the next decade or so in the world of newspapers, we had a succession of Radio Shack laptops that were much more modern and much more compact – so much so that it displayed no more than three lines of type. Oh yes, and the screen was flush against the keyboard so you had to climb up above the computer, or perhaps sit on several pillows, if you hoped to actually see what you wrote. Mostly you just hoped for the best.

No matter which newspaper I was working for at the time – Florida Today, the Orlando Sentinel, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune – every other paper seemed to have better laptops than we did. They were always faster, sleeker, cooler. And just when we’d get an upgrade, everyone else did too.

There was, however, always one equalizer. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the laptop keyboard – or any keyboard for that matter – is not built to absorb liquid. At all. Not a drip from a cup of Coke jostled by another sportswriter’s belly. Not the spray from that same cup generated by an out-of-control Shaquille O’Neal barrelling toward the press table.

And strangely, not an entire cup of beer spilled directly onto your computer from an over-zealous fan leaning over the press box at the old Chicago Stadium. This happened to me once and trust me, all the cursing in the world will not bring it – or your story – back to life. I think I heard my laptop actually moan as it died. Or maybe that was me. No, I was swearing like a sailor, so it had to be the computer.

The tech support guys said they never actually saw a mother board completely submerged in Budweiser. Amstel Light, yes, but never Bud. But this was actually a fairly frequent happening in the Stadium press box in the early days of laptops. The roar of the crowd, followed by the swearing of a sportswriter who had beer dumped on their computer. After a while, there was almost a certain charm to it.

So I tried to never get emotionally attached to my computer. If it died, I would move on, usually upgrade, adjust. Or at least I thought I was adjusting. What I didn’t realize is that for the last 10 years or so, I have had computers extremely similar. They looked pretty much the same, felt the same and all had a little button thing in the middle of the keyboard that served as the mouse.

I have recently discovered that laptops are not made with the little button things anymore. That touch pads have been in vogue for some time now. I do not like the touch pad. No, I hate the touch pad. These last 14 paragraphs have taken me about four hours to compose, mostly because of the touch pad, along with the periodic yelling at my husband.

I FEEL LIKE MY WRITING HAS BEEN ADVERSELY AFFECTED. See? I meant to write, I feel like my writing has been adversely affected, but I was so distracted by the whole touch pad thing that the caps lock key got bad vibes.

I am trying to embrace change, I really am. And as soon as I yell at my husband again, I’ll let you know how it’s going.

5 Responses to “The Evolution of the $#@%& Laptop”

  1. Frank

    Melissa, good description of the laptop.
    I have never thought one way or another of them since I have my regular computer at work, plus personal at home. Never had use for a laptop, but many of my coworkers in security have them.

    However, I do appreciate what you go through working with them after reading this.
    I liked the part of the over-zealous fan spilling the beer on your laptop.
    You telling how all the cursing would not bring it back to life, story gone,
    and then a little humor, the laptop went into a moan as it died. That I liked, not your loss, but the description was funny.
    Good story.

  2. Jennifer

    Hi Melissa,

    A touch pad tip. I assume you’re using Windows. Go into the control panel and you should see a way to adjust the touch pad settings. You can change the sensitivity settings so that you don’t accidentally delete things when your wrist brushes against the touch pad. There should also be a setting where two quick taps to the touch pad is the same as a double-click. I’d disable that, too.

    Good luck!

  3. Mark

    The touchpad will become your friend in time.

    Believe me on this, grasshopper.

  4. Paul

    The secret to success with a laptop is NOT swearing at your significant other, but rather, perhaps, using a Mac laptop with a subscription to a service that uses cellular phone technology to send your messages and reports anywhere you like.

    The keyboard is mostly what counts with using a computer in any event, a bit of hardware IBM was always the best at. I am a Windows user by necessity, but love my Mac PowerBook as my computer of choice.

    Have you tried using a Mac?

  5. Mike


    I always enjoyed your writing even if I didn’t always agree with your opinions. Good job on Callaway and I watched it on the website. As for the touch pad, I had similar problems which I solved by buying a miniature USB mouse designed specifically for use with laptops. Can’t use a regular size mouse because laptop doesn’t always generate even power for the full-size mouse to function. You can buy these mini-USB mouses at any good computer or big box store. Best of luck and I will continue to read your blog.


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