COME AGAIN?

It happened again. Someone’s left a voicemail message, but all I can make out are a few words. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I recognize the voice. Maybe not.

roku and headphones

We used to leave messages on our answering machines telling folks to speak slowly and clearly, but most callers thought we were being funny. Leaving a coherent message was apparently a joke. These days, we get lots of incoherent messages. Usually, with caller ID (and now with a caption phone), we know who called and can retrieve the number, but not necessarily. If it’s garbled enough, the caption phone won’t get it either. It’ll just say “Incomprehensible” or “muffled” or something else that means “sorry, no idea what he/she said.”

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“Garry, your brother called. No idea what he said. Call him, okay?”

“Hey, Jim called about something. Call him when you have a moment.”

“One of your cousins called. They left a message but I can’t make it out.”

My favorite: “Someone called. Maybe it was important. They left a number but I can’t understand it.  Guess it wasn’t important enough.” Note: If it really is important and we don’t call back? Pick up the phone and call again. Seriously. If it’s that important, make sure we got the message.

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If you leave a message, speak up. Clearly. Repeat the phone number. Don’t forget to include your name — in case we don’t actually know you as well as you think we do or can’t recognize your voice.

Don’t mumble.

While we’re on the subject, how about those cell phones, eh? On which you can’t hear anything? From either end? I miss telephones on which you knew you had a connection that wouldn’t drop and on which you could hear what someone said to you — and know they could hear you.

No wonder texting is so popular. No one can understand what anyone else is saying.

PHOTO TECHNO CRISIS

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I was playing with a camera this morning, trying to capture flowers in the morning light. In the middle of this artistic endeavor, I had a minor, yet memorable techno-crisis. It is a classic example of the kind of problems that beset us because of the technology on which we depend.

I’ve been taking pictures for more than 40 years. I know my way around a camera.

My first cameras were mechanical. Film. I took a lot of rolls of black and white because I could develop black and white film. A lot cheaper than sending it out to a lab. I also did my own printing, mounting, and framing, though I’ve completely forgotten how.

Olympus PEN PL-5

The only electronic part of those film cameras might be the light meter. My first half-dozen cameras didn’t have built-in light meters, so I used a Weston Master V. It was a standard part of my equipment for years. If I forgot it, the piece of paper that came with Kodak film was a pretty good substitute. We affectionately called it “the paper light meter.”

A while back, I bought a handheld meter almost exactly like the one I used for so many years — and realized I had no idea what to do with it. It has been a long time.

Pentax Q7 plus lenses camera

Cameras might break and need repair, cleaning, or adjustment, but basically, there wasn’t much to go wrong. As long as you didn’t drop it, soak it in salt water, or spill coffee in it, it could last forever. To prove my point, there are a surprising number of these old film cameras still in use.

There weren’t many moving parts: shutter, film winding mechanism. You set film speed (ISO), shutter speed, f-stop. Aim, frame, focus, press the shutter. Voila. Photograph.

Today, my camera wakes me in the morning and starts the coffee. If I ask nicely, it will do the grocery shopping, though it draws the line at laundry. Not really. But close enough.

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If something goes wrong, it’s crazy time.

This morning, I removed the lens cap and turned the camera on. I unlocked the lens. The menu came on, but no picture appeared. Flashing on the screen was something I’d never seen before. Without a clue what it meant, I double-checked to make sure I really had removed the lens cap. I had.

So I did what I do with my computer. I rebooted. I turned it off, waited, then turned it back on.

More flashing. No picture.

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I removed the battery and the memory card, counted to twenty. Put them back. Still flashing. Still no picture.

By now, I was in full panic mode. My camera wasn’t working. Fear gripped me. Eventually, it occurred to me to check whether or not the lens was properly seated.

Click. The flashing stopped. A picture appeared. The lens had been loose. I must have accidentally pressed the lens release button, so it wasn’t quite locked. Ergo ipso, the camera wouldn’t work.

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With all the ridiculous, useless functions built into modern cameras, how come they don’t have anything that alerts you that the lens is loose? Or for that matter, that your battery is about to die? The next time someone is adding bells and whistles to the software, please consider adding something useful. If necessary, remove one of the many pointless menu options and add something we might use.

I felt like a moron. Then, I took some pictures.

WHEN THE GAME CHANGED

IT WAS NOT EXACTLY WHAT I HAD IN MIND.

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.

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But extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice.

Otherwise, we waited. And waited. Then, we waited some more. While we waited we had to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom — without permission. Permission was from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing, tiring, and dull. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment. Your presence or absence was (apparently) life or death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case.

I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.”

Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

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Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one.

Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but better and faster. And bigger, lighter, and takes (and sends) pictures.

I can’t imagine life without my Kindle. I don’t want to. I’ve got hundreds of books, audiobooks, music, everything on it. It goes with me everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand. And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal. Just another toy, one more electronic doohickey. But it isn’t. It was a game and life changer. Finally, I could always have a whole library of regular and audiobooks with me.

I’ve gone through four or five iterations of the Kindle experience since. By now, all my friends have them. Many of us have several, in different sizes and styles. I can’t imagine reading without them.

And finally, after my most recent upgrade to the next to the latest version of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ super tablet, I gave my iPad to my granddaughter (hers was pretty beat up and mine has 64 gigs rather than 32, like hers). After I got the newest (for me, but there is an even newer version available and probably will be yet another generation shortly), I had no further interest in the iPad which had always annoyed me anyway.

So everyone is happy. Skyping and reading and listening and watching … all because I met a lady when I was briefly (very briefly) a movie extra in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Watson, the game is on!

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH ORDER PIZZA

Daily Prompt: The Heat is On

(And now, the original answer from the first round of this prompt.)

The high-tech world is fueled by pizza. If it had not already been invented, a group of developers trying to meet a deadline would have had to invent it.

I could have invented it myself. As the only non-engineer on a development team, I was supposed to know about things like food. And complete sentences. And the difference between active and passive forms. Whew. That was why they paid me the big bucks.

The world in which I worked most of my life required tons of creativity and productivity. To keep these going, three key ingredients were needed:

  • Computers
  • Coffee
  • Pizza.

We could have posted a sign outside the offices which said “We work for pizza!”

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Because essentially — not counting salaries — that’s what kept us going. I never missed a deadline. No one else did either. When our efforts seemed in danger of flagging, copious amounts of pizza appeared in various permutation. Of course, there were plenty of computers and endless amounts of coffee too. That went without saying.

I do not believe any developer I know would work in an office where one actually pays for coffee. Blasphemy!

Question: How do you know when your development team has been working too much overtime?

Answer: When someone says “Can we have something to eat that isn’t pizza?”

No. Not really. And don’t forget to make fresh coffee.

TOO MUCH TECH

I went to the dentist. Discovered I’m not (no longer?) dying of infection (antibiotics), but I need a $1200 crown. If I plan to keep the tooth, that is.

Olympus PEN PL-5

At which point, I noticed how lovely was the late afternoon sun. Trying to forget about dental issues, I grabbed my camera to snap a few pictures.

My camera had lost its date and forgotten how to focus. And was making double and triple exposures. I was sure it was not broken, that I had inadvertently pressed something. Clicked something. Turned a dial and changed a setting. Lacking a viable manual, I’d have to go through every menu, setting by setting, until I figured out what happened.

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Every year, cameras have more settings. More menus, bells, and whistles we don’t need and probably don’t understand. Extra techno junk is no problem when everything is working as it should, but if it  goes wrong, I’m lost in technological la-la land.

One accidental pressing of a button, a glancing touch on a dial and your camera is a useless hunk of metal.

Unable to figure out what happened, I reset the camera to its default settings. After which, it was fine. I’ll never know what happened. Just one of those things.

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Did the memory card go belly up? Was it me? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve unset, or reset something without knowing what or how. Each time it happens, whether it’s a camera, software (Photoshop is particularly prone to going weird), or the computer itself … it makes me crazy. It requires a lot of deep breathing and mumbling to myself to straighten out the mess.

People say “extra bells and whistles” do no harm. I think they are tiny electronic land mines waiting for the unwary to step on them. Not that anyone listens to me, but I would love it if whoever you are, don’t add things, change things, complicate everything because you can. Not a good enough reason.

Stop fixing what isn’t broken. If you can’t improve it really, whatever “it” is, leave it be. And make dental work affordable.

GORT! KLATU BARADA NIKTO!

As Patricia Neal said to Gort (per Michael Rennie): “GORT! KLATU BARADA NIKTO!”

That’s alien robot talk for “Hey, Gort! Don’t destroy the world, but please bring me back to life, if it’s not too much trouble. Thank you very much.”

ROBBIE AS GORT

An afternoon of classic 1950s science fiction can ruin your brain for days afterwards. “It Came From Outer Space” (based on “The Meteor” by Ray Bradbury), followed by “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

I’ve got my own robot, so around here, I give the orders.

“Gort! BERENGA!” (Get in the spaceship, we’re leaving.)


 

Honorific – If you could pick one person to be commemorated on a day dedicated to him/her alone, who would you choose?

I CHOOSE ROBBIE!!

THE PRICE OF TRUST

Nothing is the way it used to be.

A couple of weeks ago, I needed some new nightwear. Nothing fancy. Not interested in lingerie. That’s for display, not sleeping. I’m talking about the ubiquitous sleep tee.

For years, I bought them from L.L. Bean. They were comfortable, loose, soft. Lightweight in summer, heavier, long-sleeved for winter. Then, L.L.Bean stopped making them. They decided we all want heavy flannel or pajama mix and match. In ugly colors.

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I don’t want elastic while I sleep. I want soft, loose, breathable, comfortable. Priced so I can buy more than one. Colors other than flaccid pink and dainty floral on white.

When L.L. Bean stopped making what I want, I switched to Land’s End. I’ve been wearing their sleep tees for more than a decade. But with each passing year, the fabric has gotten less refined, rougher, and the cut skimpier. The neckline has gotten tighter to the point where it’s hard to get your head through it. The price keeps going up.

I gave up. While the price has risen, the quality has dropped to completely unacceptable. I found quality sleep tees on Amazon.

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Did “new Coke” bring new customers to Coca Cola? Or did they give Pepsi a huge boost? Did Windows 8 improve business at Microsoft … or Apple?

Do corporations think we are stupid? Do they think we won’t notice when they sell us junk, reduce quality, raise prices?

I keep hearing that consumers are shopping online instead of at brick and mortar shops and it will drive them out of business. Has anyone in corporate America considered whether or not their products and stores serve the needs of the people they want as customers?

Did you know that Barnes & Noble booksellers — their brick and mortar stores — charge 30% more than Barnes & Noble online? For identical merchandise. If you want a discount card, that will cost you even more. Even with the “discount,” their stuff still costs more than it would online.

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When asked why I should buy at the store, I was told the online and “real” stores aren’t run by the same organization and have different price structures. Which isn’t an answer.

Original Coke came back. Windows 8 will pass into history in a couple of weeks. DiGiorno’s is selling pizza with “original” sauce. Eventually, if we “vote” with our shopping carts, “they” get the message. How long will it take? Will it matter?

The thing is, you can never get back the faith of customers you screw. The relationship is broken. Trust is ruined.

Is there a price tag on trust? How much are we — your customers — worth?