Kent Norman did something most people would like to do with their workplace irritations. After work one day, he torched the source of his...

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Kent Norman did something most people would like to do with their workplace irritations.

After work one day, he torched the source of his angst: a computer mouse.

The darn thing’s ball kept freezing, making it hard to keep the cursor on target.

Actually, he first tried a candle, but it didn’t perfectly crisp the mouse. He then grabbed a torch, eventually throwing the disfigured mouse onto his grill.

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A bit extreme? Maybe. But you try working for two months with an unruly mouse.

As he said, it was very annoying.

Come on, it’s not like you’ve never imagined whacking a sledgehammer through a computer that keeps freezing.

Workers nowadays are overly reliant on this one piece of very fallible office equipment.

So in the likely event that your computer misbehaves — like taking hostage three weeks worth of work — who can blame you for getting superstressed?

Such workplace stress can proliferate in many ways. Most people in one such study commissioned by Compaq, for example, have seen other workers rage against their computers — swearing at the equipment, for example.

Norman said he felt better after he destroyed his mouse. And it wasn’t just personal. Norman is director of the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Automation Psychology and Decision Processes, studying interaction between people and computers.

His mouse ordeal even prompted him to start an informal online survey on computer rage. About 2,600 responses later, he learned that many people have found themselves swearing at their computers.

It can’t fight back

Some have turned violent, including one frustrated worker who threw his computer to the floor and lied to his boss about why it was damaged.

Norman even started a Web site on ways to safely vent against your computer — www.lap.umd.edu/computer_rage.

So what can workers do to avoid such stress?

Basic steps include backing up work on a hard disk and taking courses to bolster your computer know-how, Norman said.

In the likely case that you still have problems, he suggested walking away from your computer and taking a break. Maybe companies could have rage breaks, providing a punching bag to help workers vent their frustrations?

(He also put in a plug for his Web site, which he said might relieve stress.)

All companies need to have a backup plan, added Andrew DuBrin, a Rochester Institute of Technology management professor.

In case DuBrin’s home-office computer goes down — which is where he does his research and writing — he has a backup laptop with some of the same capabilities.

After all, he’s not immune to computer mishaps. Last year he battled for weeks with an unruly computer, before finally buying a new one and getting over his fear of learning new software.

“It would do the strangest things,” he said. “All of a sudden everything would be highlighted, like I had hit Control Alt. I couldn’t get out of it.

“Computers aren’t mystical, perfect machines,” he added. “You just have to take the steps to prevent being traumatized.”