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Brokers and Breakage

Cramer reminds frustrated online traders that it is the machines that are to blame, not the people.
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Blame the machines. The tendency to want to shoot the broker can't be denied. You can't get through. You can't trade. You see prices falling. Maybe you want out. Maybe you want to buy. Should we hang the heads of the 10 largest e-brokers in effigy? In reality?

I don't think so. I have never met a broker in my life who was too busy to handle business. It's the first thing they teach you. Never let the phone ring more than once, and if the phone line is busy, you don't belong in the business. Brokers naturally knock down grandmothers to get to the phone at the office.

But then I got into this Web thing. I became mesmerized by the notion of great gleaming machines that would flawlessly pump out news pages as if by magic. I would write an article and press a button, and you would read it. You would read it, press a button and do a trade. Everything would be flawless.

Sun Micro

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would make it all happen. And no human would be involved to screw it up. Machines are infallible, aren't they?


I don't work at any of these e-brokers. I have no shares in any of them. But one thing is certain, I can't believe they are any different from what I experienced when I worked at

Goldman Sachs

. I can't believe that they aren't frantically trying to get the product to you. I can't believe that they aren't knocking down grandmothers to fix this stuff.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't apologize and hold your hand and do everything they can during these outages. But that doesn't mean there won't be outages. Because the real secret of the Net, the one that

no one talks about

, is that the machines don't always work well. And the backup machines don't always work well. And it takes a few moments to fire up the backup machines. And the software may not be set right. And the darn stuff is still in its Linotype stage of development. And on and on and on.

When we started

two years ago, I started coming to work two hours earlier so that I could test to see if the Web site came up each morning. Often it didn't because of equipment problems. I would call the Internet service provider people, and sometimes they would be asleep or not there or out sick. Then I would call the bosses and tell them to get the heck in and fix it. And next I would call

tech guys and get them out of bed to try to fix it. And they would call the Sun guys and the Cisco guys. And maybe, just maybe, we would be up three hours later. Everybody, including my wife, hated me for making these calls. But I didn't know what else to do. My name was on the line. I don't think the calls did any good, though, because the machines were broken, not the people behind them.

At no time did anybody deliberately try to sabotage us. At no time did anybody do anything wrong. The machines just kept breaking, and the coding, something that mean nothing to me, had bugs. Stuff stops working that worked the day before. Wear and tear and breakage.

Do I write this because I have sympathy for e-brokers worldwide? Heck, I have sympathy for my wife and kids when they have a tough day, and maybe my sister. I don't have enough left for anybody else. But I understand what they are going through. They have handled a doubling in demand every three months in pretty strong fashion. But the machines don't always work. Technology, not people, fails us.

We went through two ISPs at

looking for reliability. We have a third now, and I still don't know why things don't work right for us all of the time. But it is almost never the people. It is almost always the machines. I am now in the customer business just like you -- I don't run anything at

any more -- and it still angers me. And I blast away when things are down. But I know the truth: You can no more blame the people for the problems with the machines behind the sites than you can the service people behind the cars that break down with wear and tear.

Still, we can't yell at the machines. We have to yell at someone who is alive. We will always yell. But we should also understand that we are yelling at our transmissions and our electrical systems and our pistons and our accelerators when we do. And they could care less what we say. It is endlessly frustrating. But we must never forget that it comes with the program.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of At the time of publication, his fund was long Sun Microsystems and Cisco, though positions may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column by sending a letter to