You don't have to be a Luddite to have a love-hate relationship with computers. I see them as invaluable tools to create and process information more quickly.

But I'm also painfully aware of their fallibility. They have failed me terribly more times than I care to remember. I have lost months’ worth of data in disastrous hard drive crashes. And I am so used to program faults while working on lengthy articles, I automatically save my work every 10 minutes or so. Ten minutes of lost creativity is far easier to recover than two days’ worth.

So when people like Bob Hansen express frustration with computers, I can identify with their ire.

Hansen is a former owner-operator who has built Robert Hansen Trucking into a fleet of 150 trucks. His roots as a trucker make him a practical man. He's not easily impressed by systems and devices which promise to save time and improve efficiency.

Not that he's totally averse to technology. He's found it useful to equip his trucks with on-board computers and satellite communication systems.

But he's certainly no fan of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), a computer-based system designed to speed the flow of information between shippers, receivers, and truckers. He told truckers and suppliers at the recent ATA Management Conference "EDI is 10% useful, 90% bull" and has "given a lot of job security to computer people."

Instead, Hansen offers a more practical option: limited access to his company's computer system so customers can check the status of their load. All with a standard PC and modem. No expensive software required.

Hansen sees computers the way I do: as means to an end, not an end unto themselves.

By their very nature, they are complex, delicate pieces of machinery. They demand enormous chunks of our valuable time to keep them running smoothly and to understand their functions.

Fleets spend years trying to configure computer networks so that they work seamlessly with existing in-house and external management information systems. By the time everything is in place, the equipment is often obsolete.

Or they find an old paper system did the job just as well.

For years, Gra-Bell Truck Lines of Holland, MI, used a trusty old dispatch board with cards representing trucks and loads. A few years ago, a fancy computer system was installed to replace the primordial card system.

But the cards were brought back again recently. Seems management found it a lot easier to see, at a glance, how many loads were being delivered and which trucks were being used. The computer system is still being used to store and process information on loads and vehicle activity. At the press of a key, it can spit out everything you ever wanted to know about load trends, vehicle utilization, deadhead percentages, etc.

But as a quick reference tool on current activity, one that would allow management to make fast decisions, it failed miserably.

Computers should be simpler to use. They should be as easy to turn on and navigate as a television.

And they should stay understandable for a longer period of time. We shouldn't have to climb a steep learning curve, only to be rudely shoved all the way back to the bottom just before we've reached the summit. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little tired of that exercise.

If we want them to be really useful, computers should be a destination, not a process. Too easily, they become an avocation which keeps us from doing productive, meaningful work.

But I should be careful about maligning computers. After all, I'm using a very sensitive and unstable piece of machinery to type this. One that has a mind of its own.

And one that's very demanding of my time. To the point of obsession

Aaaaarggghhhh! No, not my hard drive again. Please, anything but my hard drive. Pleeease...Nooo... ZAP!