Sam Cook column: Imagine — your own in-house technology guru

Sam Cook

Your “Al” wouldn’t have to be an “Al,” of course. Maybe your “Al” would be a “Michelle.” She, too, would be around all the time — morning, afternoon and evening.

I used to have an Al in my life, and a Michelle and a Dean and a John. In those days, I was a full-time reporter for this newspaper. They were the technology gurus. Their domain was down a long hallway and behind a locked steel door. Their lair was a bunker of hard drives, a spaghetti of power cords, a chorus of humming electrons. Entry was forbidden by those of us who merely pounded keyboards and made words.

But when one of our laptops decided to eat a story we were writing, or if it locked up between a subject and a predicate, we knew what to do — call the magic extension for IT.

Me: “Al, this is Sam.”

Al: “Yes, Sam.”

Me: “I’ve got a problem.”

Al: “Of course, you do. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Moments later, you’d notice a shadow behind you. And Al would be there.

“Lemme have a look,” he’d say.

Meaning: Why don’t you get out of your chair, let me sit down and have a go at this. Al would tap a few keys, ask how my last pheasant hunting trip had been and wait for my complete story to reappear on my screen. It always seemed magical.

“Is that the story?” Al would ask.

“Yeah,” I’d say. “That’s it.”

We’d talk about pheasant hunting for a while, and Al would grab some newsroom coffee and trundle back to his fortress.

These days, Phyllis and I have no Al. Nor a Michelle or a Dean or a John. Phyllis got a new iPad for her birthday and anniversary the other day. She was at the dining room table, setting it up. From another room, I could hear words coming from her that — well, she just doesn’t use those words very often.

It was clear she needed an Al. But since we didn’t have one, she called the tech helpline from the store where she had bought the iPad. She was connected with a savvy tech rep who knew how to talk to someone living in her seventh decade of life. Apparently, Phyllis had signed us up for this service some time ago. Phyllis and the tech dude hit it off right away.

He talked her through the setup. Very. Slowly.

Pretty soon, the iPad was humming. Phyllis was happy again.

And we don’t have anyone living in our basement. That’s probably a good thing.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at

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