FEAR THE MAGIC WIDGET

Our cable company changes their software frequently. They call these upgrades, though nothing improves. The equipment doesn’t work better. It isn’t easier to use. If there are new and useful features, no one tells you what they are or how to use them. You might discover them accidentally while trying to figure out how to do what you did before they removed the menu you previously used.

The newest feature is adjustable recording times. You can set them to before or after the times posted in the guide. It’s trendy for shows to begin and end at odd times, a few minutes earlier or later than on the hour or half hour. If you set up recordings using the default settings from the guide, the end or beginning of each show will be snipped. Annoying. Very.

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Why can’t developers make the software use actual start and end times? It couldn’t be that hard.

With shows starting and ending at random times, despite how they’re listed in the “guide,” being able to adjust them ought to help. It would if you could just set start and end time using regular time. Start recording at 8:01 PM. End at 9:03 PM. Simple, right?

Nope. Too easy. So you have to use “start earlier” — or — “start later” or “end early” — or — “run over.” We have no problem with clock time, but the “earlier” and “over” thing is fuzzy. We need numbers OR better yet, make the DVR’s internal computer deal with this so we don’t have to.

So. To record shows in a sequence when one airs right after another, is Kafkaesque. You must start with the final show in the sequence, then work forward, adjusting each show in turn so it does not overlap the next or previous or whatever.

Garry has been engaged in combat with the DVR for months. Yesterday, he got so frustrated he was ready to throw the remote against a wall. I wouldn’t let him quit. If you let a computerized device defeat you, news travels and all your widgets will take up arms against you. They will overthrow civilization as we know it.

Today, the DVR. Tomorrow, the world.

Nothing is safe. Snick, whir, beep. Chirp, buzz, click. Ding!  Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?

Show no fear!

Daily Prompt: The Little Things – Music to My Ears

The issues of the world … the problems between our government and the governed, hostility between nations. Terrifying and potentially calamitous environmental and economic crises everywhere you look. Bombarded by the woes of humankind and a myriad of looming catastrophes. Besieged by forces over which we have no control.

Indeed we have little control over many things. Our destinies lie in the hands of other people, Fate and God. Tossed hither and yon by the winds of chance, buffeted by challenges that seem unconquerable, we can take comfort in small joys, little things, simple gifts.

I didn’t expect acquiring an uncomplicated, modestly priced, nice-sounding CD player would present a major challenge. How hard could it be to buy something on which to play music as I fall asleep at night? It has been a while since we had the wherewithal to play music without complicated reconfiguration of speakers and various connected computerized equipment. I know MP3 players are all the rage, but I don’t want to use a teeny tiny device I can barely see and which requires either auxiliary speakers or earphones. I want music to fill the room. And I want it to be a simple thing. Put the CD in, press play. Music!

It turned out to be a lot more difficult to satisfy my criteria than I imagined possible. If I was willing to spend a lot of money — much more than I have — I could get something amazing. But I’m not looking for a stereo system. I’m sure Bose equipment is terrific, but it’s way beyond our budget. All I wanted was something simple. With a nice sound. At a reasonable price.

I actually found it. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Meet the PHILCO AM and FM Clock Radio with CD Player

Searching for my simple solution to playing CDs in the bedroom without buying a full stereo setup I finally saw this odd old-fashioned clock radio with a CD player built into it. I was about to give up, and there it was: this amazing retro style radio and CD player designed to look like an old Philco television set.

Philco CD player

The Amazon reviews were all five stars. You don’t see that very often. Like never. Usually someone has a complaint. Not for this, though. With a price just under $50 and a size that would fit on the shelf behind my bed, it looked to be exactly what I wanted. I could drift into slumber to my favorite Beethoven string quartets.

I remained skeptical. Too often I’ve been seduced by great reviews only to be disappointed.

In a strange happy moment, I got exactly what I sought. The reviews were dead on. It’s an amazing little unit. Wonderful rich, big sound. It fits on top of the headboard bookcase. It’s got a vintage look I like. It’s heavy for its size, has a solid feel, not flimsy or plasticky. I like it so much I got a second one for the living room. In theory our DVD player plays CDs, but it’s not a simple “pop the CD in and voilà music” sort of DVD player. It’s a very fine DVD player, but it’s got dozens of functions I have yet to figure out and in which I have no interest at all.

Philco Clock Radio CD

I am strongly in favor of simplicity. Easy to use stuff get used. The more complicated the equipment, the more likely it is to become a dust catcher, another great idea that didn’t work out.

And so we welcomed music back into our lives after a long absence. Surprisingly, radio reception is good too, remarkable for this area renowned for poor reception.

It is a small thing, but I smile every time I look at it. I sigh with contentment every night when I wrap myself in music. Sweet dreams guaranteed. For just under $50. Life is good.

– – –

Things that go beep in the night

Our cable company changed their software. Again. They persist in calling these changes upgrades, but I have trouble figuring out how any of the changes represents an improvement. They don’t make the equipment work better and they certainly don’t make it easier to use. There are some useful features, but they don’t tell you how to use them or even that they are there. You stumble on them by accident then try to dope out how they work. Meanwhile, they hide the functions you previously used. Maybe that’s the idea. Keep us guessing. It certainly maximizes user frustration.

Among the few useful new features, if one uses a DVR, is that you can now adjust the recording of a show so that it starts or ends earlier or later by anywhere from one to I’m-not-sure-how-many-minutes earlier or later. There has been a trend in the past five years for shows to begin and end at odd times, a few minutes before or after the hour. Usually, it’s just one or two minutes, but sometimes, as much as 7 or 8. When you set up recordings using the system’s built-in electronic guide, it always starts recording exactly on the hour and will end on the hour, regardless of the show’s actual running time.

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I have no idea why developers can’t set DVRs to automatically track actual start and end times. I’m sure they could if they wanted to, but they don’t. Meanwhile, the peculiar off-hour programming means many recorded shows are clipped at the end by a minute or two. This annoys everyone except producers who apparently don’t record anything … and for all I know, don’t watch anything either. The quality of programming proves beyond question that network executives don’t watch television. But I digress.

So, with shows no longer starting or ending on the hour, despite how they are listed in the “guide,” this feature can be useful. It would have been simple if they had made it so you set start and end time using actual time, like telling it to start recording at 8:01 and end at 9:01. Most of us have a grip on clock time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Instead, because the designers of software assume we are morons (to be fair, I tend to think most of them are morons, too), this function works by “start earlier or later” or “end early or run over” … which are much more abstract concepts. My husband, who worked in TV for so many decades, has no trouble with clock time, but gets lost in the earlier and over thing. He needs numbers. Me, I just want the programming of the DVR’s internal computer to be smart enough to automatically compensate so I don’t have to do all this diddling and adjusting.

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But, cable companies are tyrannical monopolies and one must live with whatever company one has been stuck with. The way you have to set up shows, especially if you are recording a sequence — one right after another — is byzantine to say the least. I doped it out, especially that you have to start from the LAST show in the sequence, then work forward, not because they couldn’t make it easier, but because it’s a cheap-ass piece of crappy equipment and they haven’t bothered.

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Garry is the Man with the Remote, so he has been engaged in combat with the DVR for some days now.

Yesterday, he got frustrated enough to just give up. Overwhelmed by the stupid and overly complicated process, he was ready to throw the remote against the wall … a very drastic action for a man who is serious about his viewing. The DVR is the only thing that enables him to find stuff to watch that he doesn’t hate … movies in particular, but also reruns of favorite shows.

But again, I digress.

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I wouldn’t let him quit. He thought I was just being mean, but I know the secret truth … the truth they hide from us: if you allow any computer-controlled device to defeat you, the news will pass throughout your little electronically controlled domain … and The Devices will take over. They have a malicious sense of humor and they are planning the overthrow of civilization as we know it … and they are winning, one beep and chirp at a time.

Tittering and chittering in their high-pitched electronic voices, during the darkest hours of the night, our devices and appliances plot and scheme. Today, the DVR. Tomorrow, the world. Your toaster won’t toast, or … horrors! … Mr. Coffee will not brew. Your clock radio fails to alert you to the start of your work day, your email vanishes. The contact list on your cell phone disappears and since no one remembers phone numbers any more and you don’t have a paper address book anymore (paper? address book? what’s that?), you can’t even contact your friends. The server for yourISP marks your messages as SPAM and deletes them.

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You are in thrall to microchip technology. The collective mind of the All-Knowing Net is gathering strength even as I write.

Nothing is safe. A few basic things used to be non-computerized but not any more. Even your washing machine, freezer, and automobiles … basics in your world and mine … depend on programming and artificial intelligence algorithms. One day you can open your freezer the entire interior is a block of ice, while in the other compartment, your crispy salad has become rotted vegetation.

If you stay up late, you will hear them. In  the dark, they connive, they scheme. Listen as they converse …

My Geekscape

Snick, whir, beep. Chirp, buzz, whistle. Beep ding ding ding. Beep.

It’s not paranoia. I hear them … the little voices … planning our downfall, planning to take over. You can hear them too. Watch for the flashing lights … code …going out into the ether …

Beep. Ding. Chirp.

They wait and when they sense our weakness, they pounce. Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?

Never show fear!