Misusing Tools

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
    for the ears of the wise seek it out.

  • Proverbs 18:15

Why is it that modern conveniences often make life harder?  In some cases, the designer of the convenience did not consider the user, and they put the button in the wrong place, for example.  But in most cases, people simply fail to learn how to use the new tool.

The joke regarding engineers is often true.  The first step in using a new thing or assembling something out of a box is to throw away the instructions.  I do not know how many engineering associates that I have had that took pride in never reading the instructions.  As someone who wrote the instructions, it can get frustrating.

No one would use a claw hammer instead of a spatula to scramble eggs.  I don’t know, maybe some chefs prefer a fork for that task.  I use a fork to whip the eggs for my omelets, but I use a wide spatula to flip the omelet in the skillet.  I would never consider using a screwdriver or garden shears.

Now, let’s come to word processing software.  For those of the typewriter era, they expect a computer with a keyboard to work the same way.  It kind of looks like it, sort of, maybe.  When it doesn’t work the same way, they improvise.  By brute force, you can get MSWord to print something that looks like what you want it to look like.  But then when you make a correction, fix a misspelled word, for example, all the words start flying all over the page.  You are left in total confusion.  You are left to the laborious task of retyping everything, starting over from the beginning.


The word processing software uses commands, often not used or used without knowing that the mouse hit a button by mistake, to right justify, left justify, center the text.  It can flip from single column to multiple columns and back again.  It can flip from 8.5×11 paper in portrait mode to 11×17 paper in landscape mode.  Most of these may involve a click and drag of the mouse and a single click of the mouse on the command ribbon beneath the tab row (that space at the top of the screen with the funny symbols).  And every time these things are used, there are hidden characters in the document to start and stop that special effect – and many people copy these hidden characters by mistake – screwing up the entire document.

I am self-taught, but I have often been asked to help others.  The biggest error that I see in helping others, maybe 99% of the time, is that they want the screen to look exactly like it will be once it is printed.  Under the Home tab, there is a paragraph symbol, ¶, the backwards P.  People hate activating this helpful tool.  It looks “icky,” (okay, one secretary once said that) and it isn’t there when you print it.  So why show it on the screen?!

If this function is activated, by clicking on it, it shows the instructions for changing some formatting on the page.  I have had people ask me why there is two blank pages at the end of their letter, just to find miscellaneous commands that the person writing the letter used at the end of the document, like a page break or fifty carriage returns.  Sometimes, people fall asleep while typing and there are two pages of spaces at the end of the document.  Yes, I have found that.  From my personal knowledge of the person asking for help, I assumed the slumber. The point is, with those things hidden, you never know they are there. Then you copy them, or the really confuse things, copy a few of them, since some cancel each other out.

In all of this helping, the hardest part of my job was to keep a straight face, to smile, to be patient, to be encouraging, to refrain from saying “How stupid!”, etc. A few times I had to excuse myself, go to the bathroom, and laugh or grumble at the mirror – once vented, I could return looking like I really had patience.

I always have this ¶ function turned on.  I want to know if I hit a key by mistake.  Yes, I often hit wrong keys.  I often bump the mouse and suddenly something wrong happens. Lately, by bumping the mouse, I am not even typing in the same document – making me do a careful proofread of both documents.  I leave that function turned on to keep myself straight, for I admit that I am not perfect.  I know what will not appear on the printed page (the hidden characters), but I could turn it off, just for a second, to see, in case I ever got curious.

Maybe that’s the answer! Hey, Microsoft, as if you’d read my blog. Make it where you can’t turn of the ¶, but have a button in all views where you can see it as it will print. Best of both worlds!

Why does this irritate me?  I shifted my career from engineering to industrial training because I realized that folks do not know how to use the stuff that the engineers create, and thus the new tool gets misused.  And sometimes, the engineer is blamed for poor design rather than the operator being blamed for making mistakes due to a lack of knowledge.  Making the engineer work harder, trying to make it “fool proof,” which is a fool’s errand.

Why do I write this now?  I just spent 2.5 hours fixing something in MSWord that a group of people could not fix over a period of two months, including a paid administrative assistant (notice that I did not say secretary – I’m being very PC).  Was I asked to help?  No, and it was probably not appreciated.  But after two months of it not getting fixed, I was irritated, so I fixed it, in less than half of a workday.  Of course, it will get screwed up again – next month. Why? I did not teach them. I only did it for them.

Oh, and for those paid professional typists, secretaries, administrative assistants, etc. that think MSWord is rewarding you for a job well-done by underlining a word in red…  It’s not a reward; the word is misspelled!  Yes, I have met those who thought they were being rewarded for their typing skills, instead of being warned for misspelling words.

Let us have discerning hearts and seek knowledge, regardless of the subject matter.  It really isn’t that hard, but we must desire wisdom to obtain it.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. That’s funny. I get frustrated sometimes with the helps and shortcuts that Microsoft engineers have put in their tools. For example, I’m trying to hit the backspace key to correct a mistake, and my finger slips and hits the F11 key, and my top and bottom bars vanish. I have finally learned what key I hit by mistake, so I tap it a second time and the problem is fixed. But there are other things I accidentally do that take time to fix because I don’t know what the accident was, so I cannot reverse it. J.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The thing that freaks me out is working in Excel and I hit the scroll lock button. Now, instead of the arrow keys shifting to the next cell, it shifts the viewed cells in that direction, but the cursor stays in the original cell. That used to send me into a panic, but now I think for a little while and calmly hit the right key, as you said, the same key again.


  2. Oh so true, I am one who reads instructions but I will forget most of them as I work. Especially with the computer. There are so many shortcuts that would probably make things easier, learn as I go mostly. It is amazing the engineering behind everything, like computers. To know the function behind every key would be wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

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