The Geek Report


Adam Darack is the IT guy for the town of Edgartown. He’ll be writing The Geek Report every other week, addressing the technological troubles and traumas we all share. Got a question for the Geek? Send it to

Many people feel that geeks have a near hypnotic ability to make technology work, similar to the way a mechanic can will a car to start using what I can only refer to as “the force.”  I feel a bit like a magician unveiling how he does his tricks, but I am here today to assure you that all of us have tech horror stories, so please feel free to laugh at me. At my own expense. Really.

Home phones ring when they are sent an electrical ringing signal. Think old school here, not cell phones, not VOIP phones, just old rotary and push-button phones.

Living off Island in 2003, I decided to run my own phone cables during a home remodeling project. I wanted to learn how and had a friend who told me how to do it. Running the cables was easy enough, but then I had to “punch” the wires into a piece of equipment to make all the phones communicate with each other. When I finished, one of the phones wasn’t working so I pulled out the cable, stripped the insulation off, and looked at the wires. At that moment, I wondered how much current would have to be sent through those tiny wires to make a phone ring, but it was only a passing thought. After carefully checking and double checking things, I touched the copper wires I was looking at for some unknown reason. I simultaneously heard a phone in the other room ring and felt the jolt, making me wonder if “the” bright light was about to appear. It wasn’t horrible but surely a mistake I’ll avoid making again. Pavlov had it right by ringing the bell and providing a reward. The sound of a phone ringing made me wince for a couple of days. In round one, Pavlov has staggered me with a right hook.

I usually say that easy tech stuff should take 15 minutes to fix. This could be a quick email setting, checking to see if a cable is unplugged, or rebooting a computer and testing some functionality that had been problematic. At home, that 15 minutes sometimes is an out and out lie. It doesn’t happen often, but that short time estimate has turned into three to four (non billable) hours plenty of times, usually ending around 2 am. Things that should work don’t, or some little anthill of a project turns into a mountain. While crawling through hot attics, I have sweated for hours in the heat while checking every inch of cable only to find out that an end was defective after going in thinking something would take no time at all. I have seen 500 feet of coiled cable turn into a rat’s nest in 30 seconds, inducing hours of migraines, and I have even occasionally struggled with programmable remote controls. That last one likely strips me of my manhood, but again, feel free to laugh at me, I can take it. In round two, uncooperative cables have wrestled me to the ground while a remote control has sucker punched me below the belt.

Surveillance cameras are the rage these days and camera installations can provide good comedy. There is a vast collection of screenshots out there taken by various friends’ cell phones of me adjusting cameras while standing on things like spinning stools, fences, and every type of furniture. These are not flattering pictures and have even been known to provide photographic evidence that I have in fact had my tonsils removed.

Common camera cables have a total of four ends, two for video and two for power. The power cords have distinctive male and female ends. I once ran a 100-foot cable through a floor, down a wall, over pipes in a ceiling and through a nearly endless crawlspace on my hands and knees. Remember that distinctive male and female end regarding the power cable? I didn’t. I can assure you that running it the second time so the correct ends were where they should be took a fraction of the original time, thankfully. If I couldn’t laugh at myself in these situations, I’d be out of the field and living like a hermit. The Times would also have an empty page here, so I’ll do my best to avoid that. In round three, surveillance technology finishes me off with a Three Stooges eye poke. I’ve been bloodied, but always come back smarter, more determined, and usually laughing.

Again — these are exceptions, not the rule. For every epic failure there are plenty of successes but those are nowhere near as entertaining to share. It’s the summer and between traffic, sunburns, and frantic camp drop off/pick-up schedules, I felt the need to provide some humor at my own expense. The next time you struggle with technology, stop, laugh, and don’t feel so bad. It happens to us geeks as well, I promise.