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Published by Swiatek Press, Inc. 71 Georgian Lane #3 Buffalo, NY 14221ISBN: 0-9817843-2-1
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED to the people whose lives have been made weary because of the wonders of technology also by Robert S. SwiatekThe Read My Lips Cookbook: A Culinary Journey of Memorable Meals
1. A week of technological troubles 1
2. He’s a regifter 11
3. Does your television have a spin cycle? 21
4. Take me for a ride in your truck, Mac 47
5. Press 8 to surrender 61
6. Time for an upgrade 69
7. I’m stuck in the web and I can’t get out 87
8. Meet serious singles 103
9. Better living through chemistry 109
10. BCCI means Bilk the Citizens 115
of Cash and Interest
11. You just need an appendix transplant 135
12. Get a free gift 145
13. Just do a restart 161
14. We’ll create a job for you 175
15. Work smart to make things better 181
References and recommendations 197
I really am not fond of terrorists. Soon after September 11, 2001, when our president mentioned that the citizens were either with the gub’ment or against, I assumed he meant that either we were fans of those nasty people mentioned in the first sentence or not. My feeling is really personal, as those suicide bombers have made my life more difficult by creating more work for me.
Before that tragic event, I could mail a book or two from my condo with no questions asked. The time involved might be about ten or fifteen minutes. Now when I send two or more books, I need to go to the post office because of the Patriot Act since the package weighs thirteen ounces or more. Apparently a bomb can’t be made that weighs less than that. This means a half-hour of my time or more is needed now. It gets more ludicrous. My mailman mentioned to me that were the package to result in fireworks on the plane, the post office couldn’t trace the cause if it wasn’t first brought to one of their buildings. If you figure out that logic, let me know.
It gets even more bizarre. On a trial basis – one year, that is – I am renting a mail station from Pitney Bowes. By doing that, I can now send packages weighing a pound or more from my residence, without being held back because of the possibility of explosives in the package. I don’t have to drive to the post office. Apparently those who fly planes without being able or caring to land them are not allowed to use these gadgets of metered mailing.i
On the weekend before the middle of the month in April of 2008, I modified the home page of my web site and loaded it to the Internet. I viewed it and everything seemed in order, including the counter for hits. The next Monday when I checked the site, I noticed that the counter was on strike – that is, it vanished for some reason. I went and loaded what I thought was another reliable one, made the needed modifications and it appeared that all was right with the new web counter, which displayed, “5801.” The next day when I checked the site, the counter hadn’t changed. Is it even worth the effort to have these accounting gizmos? I did check a few days after that and the counter had increased, so perhaps the counter needed a boost that took a day or so.
Like just about everyone reading this, I have a PC – if you read my other books, you know what I think those two letters represent. I have a spreadsheet of addresses that I use in conjunction with a Word file to produce address labels. I “simply” go to the address file and place a “!” in column G of the spreadsheet for the names and addresses I want on the labels and then close the file. Then I open the Word file – one I have already created for the spreadsheet – and click on Tools on the top row and from there, press Mail Merge. I then get another small screen on which I press Merge. After that, I get another screen and I then press Merge. Finally, I see the labels and if they are what I want, I can print them. As you may have guessed, I did a mail merge. You also see why the word, simply was in quotes above.When I want to sign off my PC, I have to press Start. Then I press Turn Off Computer. I then
get another screen and have to press Turn Off. Now you know why so many people are turned off by computers, instead of the other way around. If you still love technology, especially relating to PCs and the Internet, let me mention a few of the features with which you should be familiar: passwords, just do a restart, system is not responding, system processing, file not found and give up? That last one I haven’t seen yet, but it should be featured soon. It’s probably coming with the next version of the software.
Today, automobiles are so much safer than they were in decades past. There are more airbags and stronger material in the body to preserve the occupants. At the same time, because of these advances, an accident may result in death or a more complicated injury since rescuers can’t extricate victims of a car crash in the way it was done before.
I bought a new Subaru in 2005, having had good experiences with that product on two other occasions. About a few weeks later, I heard a car horn sounding and discovered it was accompanied by blinking of the parking lights as well, and that this greeting came from my car. This happened too many times, so I took the car to the dealer, who replaced the alarm system. Things improved, but there were still a few recurrences of these unwanted symphonies – I prefer the music from my CD player, which on occasion has behaved badly. The difficulty was finally gone in 2007, when I bought a Prius.
Someone said that many times you trade one problem for another and unfortunately I found that out with the Toyota vehicle. When I put the car into reverse, I hear a truly annoying sound of warningiii
and see a camera-dependent screen on my dash with a view of what’s behind me. This is so I don’t back into another vehicle or some building. One day while I was backing up, the screen indicated I had plenty of room ahead of the car behind, so I kept going and ran into the vehicle. I left the scene quickly so as not to have my insurance premiums increase. Obviously, I’m kidding, but I would have made contact with that automobile and I’d have to pay for my bad judgment had I relied on that camera.
Printed on my passenger-side mirror are those wretched words, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” – a possible book title for one of my books – and it seems that they apply to that other view that you shouldn’t bother with. Unfortunately you can’t turn either the sound or picture off, something you can do with your TV.
I own a Sony television with a remote that has too many buttons. One of them is for muting. It can really come in handy on occasion, but I don’t use it that often. Most of the time I press other buttons, such as the volume control or channel selector. On more occasions than I prefer, I depress a button that is far away from the mute thing and the sound goes off. You might ask why I don’t return the remote for another, but it’s past the warranty – in years, not months. That usually happens with guarantees, with the rule being that once it expires, the product will break down or fail. There should never have been such a problem with the remote anyway. It’s too bad we can’t use this remote on politicians, lawyers, realtors or businessmen.
If your video recorder – if you still have one – is a relatively recent model, you know that the technology inside is sophisticated enough so that when our clocks need to be changed in April and October, you need do nothing. With older machines, you had to make two adjustments, but then you were relieved of doing that. However, in 2008 things got messed up with two simple changes having to do with when the clocks change. That year, I had to adjust the VCR four times so there’d be agreement with the time displayed on my VCR and the actual time.
If you own a DVD player, you know that it may not play all DVDs. The remote for my DVD player wasn’t the easiest to figure out relative to subtitles. Usually you get the captions by doing it through the DVD, but you may need to get them through the player or even a combination of the two. When you think about it, the idea of subtitles is not that big a deal. They’re either on or off and then you need to make a choice about the language, which probably will be English. It shouldn’t be a hassle or require a linguistics degree in order to see a movie that has people speaking in French with their words underneath in English. I’ll talk more about a feature of our language in another chapter.
I have devoted an entire chapter to what has been referred to as a vast wasteland: the world of TV. If you feel that that device is so phenomenal, I can only offer these words: reality TV, news entertainment, Jerry Springer, Survivor, “we provide the news, you decide,” balance, Judge Judy and all her associates, The Shopping Network, infomercials, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, overanalyzed sporting events with all the accompanying hype and those atrocious commercials, even on cable.v
Corporations have chosen to install automated phone systems (APS) instead of having someone answer the phone. I don’t think they want to be contacted. On one occasion, I called a number and heard the message, “The person who you are trying to reach is not available,” followed by the dial tone. Wouldn’t it cost the company less to simply have the phone ring since the caller would get the same information? What I just described wasn’t common in the past, but seems to be usual today. On too many occasions, you will be put through one menu followed by another and most likely all the choices will not apply in your case. Still, you could eventually get to what seems like the last menu and hear the message, “Thanks for contacting us,” followed by the realization that you’ll have to try again.
You may be blessed and actually speak to a humanoid, but you could also be put on hold and hear, “Your call is important to us.” You won’t hear these words, “But not that important,” but you’ll probably hear some music by Kenny G. APS seem to have succeeded because rarely is the desired contact made and so many people complain about what really is a complicated semi-answering system. In many cases it appears as though all you will get is neither information nor any chance to speak to anyone. If things couldn’t get any worse, we now are blessed with technology that tries to converse with you and then go to a menu based on your response. Perhaps that acronym mentioned stands for Agitated People Screaming.
The phone of today has really advanced – I believe that’s the wrong word entirely – since talking to others is worse than ever despite all the technology, including email. I’ll get into that hemorrhoid later. My editor inquired what the purpose of text messaging was, and I couldn’t answer. You could ask someone in the know, but I believe my response is more accurate. You may have seen the Seinfeld episode where Jerry, in his monologue, discusses calling someone to talk to the machine. In effect people want to leave a message and not converse with the owner of the hardware, not unlike text messaging. As I said before, communication has not progressed accordingly.
These are merely a few examples of how technology has failed and throughout this book I will describe many more. Not long ago a friend and I were discussing what were the four worse inventions of all time. We came up with the television, personal computer, phone and automobile, in no significant order. Obviously, each of these has done more harm than good to the earth but they have had positive effects on society. You might say that somewhere along the way to great potential, screw-ups occurred, big time. There is one innovation that we overlooked: gunpowder and all its derivatives. It does have a good use, since it can put food on the table – even if a bit gamey – but this is the ultimate worst creation of all time and little good resulted from its introduction. I won’t spend more time here since I have discussed it in great detail in Take Back the Earth.
Press 1 for Pig Latin will cover each of these four additions to our society and a few others. This treatise will also indicate why the industrial revolution turned out to be a revolting development for too many people. You won’t have to travel far to hear your family and friends complaining aboutvii
their PC. Email and automated phone systems should be accompanied by PCs to the trash heap and all our lives would improve greatly. This book will discuss the technology’s failures but will also indicate what can be done to remedy the situation since technology in general has made our lives better. We can’t ignore recent advances as well as the fact that there are so many great possibilities. It may be broken, but we need to fix it. With each passing day, the situation only gets worse – for everyone. I hear stories about problems daily from too many people. Fasten your seat belt. Things will get worse before they get better.viii
In just a short period of time one can see numerous failures of technology. During a period of about seven days, I was bombarded with more than I could bear, but needless to say, I got over it. Before describing these events, let me remind you that we wouldn’t have all the advances we have today without people getting involved. This means that not only do people come up with an idea, but also human beings contribute to mess up what should be to our advantage.
I belong to St. Joseph’s University Parish in Buffalo. At the church from June to October or so, I am blessed with a bag of vegetables from Porter Farms, which is about forty miles from where I live. Whatever they harvest, they give us for less than three hundred dollars for the entire season. That’s a bargain considering that the food is grown organically and above all, it’s local so the goods don’t have to be shipped across the country, saving the planet.
Nonetheless, someone has to drive and procure the produce – but people take turns. One Friday, my friend Jerry phoned me and asked if I wouldn’t mind picking up the vegetables. She was having a difficult time contacting the person who signed up to do that, since the latter’s phone was disconnected. She mentioned that she would try to contact her again, and if I had to go, she would call sometime the next morning between nine and eleven.
It was about 10:40 the next day and I thought I was off the hook, but then the phone rang. I agreed to hop in my car and head out to Elba, the site of the farm. When I got there, all the vegetables for pickup were gone. I did get some extra lettuce and squash, and as I was exiting the farm via the rutted driveway, another car approached. It turned out to be some of the help and they asked if I was Bob and then apologized since the woman had made the trip after all. They gave me a handful of cucumbers freshly picked and I could have had some onions and beets besides, but I told the women that they wouldn’t have to bother since what they gave me was fine.
The problem turned out to be a huge communication failure, but what more could have been done? Had the woman picked up the stuff earlier than she did, I wouldn’t have had to make the journey, since Jerry was in communication with the farm. An email may have helped unless the woman didn’t read them or had no Internet access. There’s no excuse for the phone being out of service, but maybe that was the fault of the phone company. The only saving grace is the fact that my Prius – just purchased in April 2007 – gets about fifty miles to the gallon so I used less than two gallons of gas and I did get some extra produce.
Karrin Allyson performed at the Albright- Knox Art Gallery in 2007 and I emailed a few samples of her music to my sister Pat to entice her to attend the concert. I also sent it to myself to make sure the files could be opened and she could hear the songs. I had no difficulty doing that but my sister had problems because of copywronging. I thought of a few solutions around the problem and emailed my sister with these options but she was too busy to try to retrieve the songs again. Eventually I made her a CD with a few songs by Karrin as well as some other selections, mostly by female artists. She didn’t make the event, which featured a wonderful singer, who also played piano, accompanied by three very talented musicians on drums, bass and guitar. Pat liked the singing of Karrin Allyson as well as the rest of the music on the CD I gave her.
Unfortunately, too often we get emails with attachments that can’t be opened for a variety of reasons. What happened in this case is inexcusable since there is technology to send data and music, but it doesn’t always work. All the time I spent working around the problem meant I omitted doing something else, even if it was insignificant. The process of getting results in this manner can be referred to as a “workaround.” This could mean that something works ninety percent of the time. In my judgment, that means it doesn’t work. So instead of fixing a problem, you patch it. You know what happens when patches fall off – you need to apply more. In the future, you may wind up working around the clock because you took this approach today. Getting back to the emailing of Karrin’s music, it would have saved me a great deal of time and effort had I just made the CD in the first place.
I mentioned my hybrid and I even added a page about it on my web site. You can add your comments by emailing me after clicking on “The Prius Report.” I will be updating the page from time to time. The same day of the aforementioned concert, I had a Prius experience. To really get into what happened, you will need some insight into one complicated aspect of the car: opening the doors.
There is no key to the vehicle. Well, there is a tiny spare key, in case all else fails. Instead, the owner has a rectangular device that enables the driver to enter the car after getting close to it. This applies to the driver’s door but the hatchback also simultaneously unlocks. That’s quite convenient – as you can guess – but to open the three passenger doors, you have to click on unlock twice on the gizmo. That was my first impression because that’s what I did on many occasions. However, on the day of the concert, all the doors were unlocked for me and my friends just by all of us getting near the Prius.
Hence, I really didn’t need to click to get the other doors open, not even once. But then, why couldn’t I open the passenger door on so many occasions just by approaching it? I was puzzled but then I realized that I was dealing with technology and I shouldn’t lose any sleep over the dilemma. In reality, there was a glitch. Fortunately, I can report it to Toyota and in the next model year, it can be remedied. Actually, why not remove the unlock button from the device completely, but leave the lock button. After all, the improved car will result in all doors being unlocked by having someone with that box in his pocket. Of course, to lock all the doors, one click of the lock button is called for. You can read more about these technological advances and my feelings toward my vehicle on my web site.
Returning to the telephone problem at the beginning of this chapter, I had two more encounters with similar difficulties. I decided to cook dinner for a few friends so I sent a few email invitations – I think Emily Post would approve – but decided to follow them up with phone calls. This was in case people didn’t get the emails – that does happen. Making one call resulted in my hearing the message, “Please dial an area code before the number,” or something to that effect. The only problem was that this was a local call. I couldn’t have yelled out the window to the invitees, but they didn’t live that far away and I knew it wasn’t a long distance call. I dialed the number again, figuring maybe my fingers messed up. Sometimes when I wash them, I can’t do a thing with them. The result was the same, even after a third try so I knew it wasn’t me. For some reason, I did finally get through later and left a message. Obviously, it was a technological glitch of some sort.
The second phone scenario probably shouldn’t be blamed on those service providers but on the health-could-care-less industry. One day before a scheduled routine visit, the doctor’s office contacted me and asked for a referral. However, my provider doesn’t require one – they are doing something right. I had been to this office before without referrals so I mentioned this but the caller insisted that I had to have one. After a short period, I got an apology and the person said that I was right. In August 2007, I had more health care encounters and I may write a book on some of those problems, since we all could use a few laughs. In early 2008, I received a referral in the mail – I thought they weren’t necessary. Shouldn’t it be sent to the physician and not me?
I have mentioned in passing the thought that all emails don’t get delivered and further confirmation of this came in a friend’s email. He mentioned trying to email me but getting a message saying that couldn’t be done for some reason. At the time, I had no disruption in my email setup. He was worried about me so he sent another email, which I received. When I responded, he didn’t get my email. I was going to resend my original email except I couldn’t find it in my sent folder. Obviously, at least two emails – most likely a great deal more – never got sent or maybe weren’t received and you may not even be notified of the failure. I think we straightened our problem out, but you never know.
With Internet problems, sometimes I wonder why I even consider paying bills electronically. I do it anyway because it saves paperwork and subsequently the planet. In the middle of August 2007, I converted all my mother’s bills – cable, heating, electric and phone – to online payments. Before that, I did my own to some extent and one day I decided to do the same thing with my electric bill. I logged onto the National Grid web site and as is to be expected, I had to set up an account. I did that and was ready to make a payment, but when I clicked on “pay bill,” I got the message, “Invalid option.” Instead of wasting time – which you will soon see that I did anyway – I called the 800 number of the company and was told that it would take twenty-four hours for the account to be set up. This was in spite of the fact that I saw the words, “account set up.”
I logged on the same site the next day, not without difficulty – for some reason I think I actually had two logon IDs – and once more tried to pay the bill. The result was different from the day before, but still a problem so I called the help desk. They mentioned that it would take a month to set up the account. I hung up the phone and did what I should have done originally. I wrote the check and sent the payment. Actually, what I had done was all right since I was able to pay the next bill on line, and all bills after that are deducted automatically each month.
After talking about the telephone and email, I need to mention another difficulty, with the U. S. mail. This screw-up is a combination of mishaps. I wrote two letters to literary agencies in an attempt to get an agent. Where I live, the tenants can leave their outgoing mail for pickup in the same area where deliveries arrive of mail too large to fit in the mailboxes. I deposited the envelopes but around lunchtime, they were still there to be mailed. Since my day’s mail was there, I could only conclude that someone didn’t quite do his job. I brought them back inside, figuring I would put them out the next day. You might figure that with another twenty-four hours, the problem would be solved and my letters would be on their way to their destination. Instead, things got worse.
I headed out the door at seven in the morning and put out the letters. When I returned an hour or so later, they were gone. Unfortunately the mail doesn’t arrive until at least eleven o’clock. So then, where did they go? Maybe one of my neighbors was heading to the post office and took them. That wasn’t likely. Perhaps one of the tenants thought it was their mail and took it inside. The only reason I say that is because I had witnessed just that scenario in the past. In that case, the correspondence was returned so that the recipient received it after all. There was another possibility – I will never know what really happened – namely, someone took the envelopes inside and thought they were junk mail and tossed them into the garbage. Somehow, I couldn’t rule out that possibility.
This mess would have been avoided had I taken the letters to the mailbox less that a half-mile from my house on my way to the trail, where I walk, or had the mailman simply picked it up the day before. Neither of those happened, so a week later I sent another copy of each letter. That very day, I got a letter of rejection from one of the agencies. About a week later I heard from the agency again with the very same form letter.
I didn’t mention that on that second disastrous day, I left the house again around 11:30 and the letters weren’t there although a card from one of my neighbors was there to be mailed. This led me to believe at first that the envelopes were trashed, but obviously that wasn’t the case since I got that rejection letter. I have a theory to what may have transpired. Someone picked up the envelopes and may even have opened one, realizing it was outgoing mail. He or she didn’t return it after taping it right away but did so after I left just before noon.
I conclude the chapter with a realization that I haven’t chronicled any technological television troubles. Perhaps I merely forgot, or there weren’t any in my home because I keep the monster off much of the time. However, I will mention a few things that I’ve run into that you probably have experienced as well.
From the listing in the TV topics, I saw that the movie eXistenZ was to be shown and decided to do the VCR thing. I usually add a few minutes before the beginning and after the end of the scheduled time for the program, but I should have been more liberal. When I sat down to watch the flick, it was almost at the end when I saw the dreaded blue screen, meaning the movie was a bit longer than the usual two hours, including commercials. Fortunately, I picked up the video from the library so I did see the conclusion.
The same scene plays out when a program that you want to record follows a sporting event, especially during football season. You need to allow for a messed up schedule on Sunday night after the game, which offsets the movie in some way. The best way to get around the problem is to use the same start time but add an hour at the end. Of course, if the Bears-Vikings encounter goes into overtime, the program may be pre-empted entirely. Isn’t technology wonderful?
2. He’s a re-gifter
If you are not a fan of Seinfeld, you will have no clue to the significance of this title. On one of the programs, Elaine got a label maker from a friend who apparently got it as a gift from someone else, and hence the accusation and title above. This chapter won’t be concerned with passing gifts on that you don’t care for, but about labels. Let me elaborate. The business world, which dispenses technology, uses language to baffle the rest of us. At the same time, they wind up confusing the help as well. You can really complicate matters by adding a computer. That department – now known as information technology (IT), and who knows what it will be called tomorrow – has its own lingo. With all these corporate efforts, it’s a wonder anything ever gets accomplished today.
What the world needs now – besides love – is simplicity. Speak in English and by all means, get rid of all those labels. People rely on them and everywhere you look, they are tossed about and it seems they can’t be avoided. There really is no place for them. I wrote a novel a few years ago and in that book I tried my best to keep away from labels. It was my intention then, and I hope to always be free from using them. Of course, when I write satire, all the rules are suspended.
If you read just about anything, say a book or the newspaper, or watch a television news show, the overabundance of labels is obscene. They are misleading, inaccurate, meaningless and only fill up space. The only place for labels is on the return address portion of an envelope.
In the winter of 2005, I participated in a retreat. When we sat down to dinner, one of the attendees asked me if I was one hundred percent Polish. I told her that despite my advanced age, I still need a great deal of polishing. But seriously, someone in my shoes – I’m not sure how he got there – would have said yes to that question if his mother’s maiden name was Choinski and father’s was Swiatek – the two Polish surnames of my mom and dad. However, doesn’t the real answer to this question have to take into consideration the mother and father of each of my parents? We can’t stop there as you have to also look at their grandparents and the process goes on and on. Terminating at some point down the road will not give you an accurate percentage. Thus, I shouldn’t say that I was one hundred percent Polish. It just wouldn’t be accurate.
I could categorically say that I have a bit of Polish in my background. Even then, it would be ludicrous to bring up any percentage. Any number given would be impossible to verify. Along the same lines, consider the relationship of Sally Hemings with Thomas Jefferson. I read somewhere that Hemings was twenty-five percent black. You should be in agreement – if you accepted my premise earlier – that whoever made that statement is no historian. That’s because it seems to be obvious that in the calculation, the person stopped at grandparents and went no further into the backgrounds of relatives. That twenty-five percent number is hogwash.
Throughout history, labels have been given to various peoples, based on all types of criteria. People who were unfortunate to be slaves were called all kinds of names, some very offensive. More recently the term “African-American” has snuck into the vocabulary of the times. As you might guess, I don’t believe those two words should be used. If someone happened to be a proponent of apartheid and a citizen of South Africa who moved to the United States, would you want to describe him as an “African-American?” I think not.
Another obvious label above is the term “black.” While we’re at it, we may just as well consider the term “white.” These are two more meaningless labels. I have yet to see anyone who fits either description. Well, there might be some people who appear to be white – albinos. However, in reality their skin is more apt to be described as pink. Those who are said to be “black” really have dark brown skin. You will never see anyone with black skin, no matter how dark it is.
Actually, each of us has brown skin. It is just that the shades vary from one person to the next. I really find it ironic that the label “black” is given to people based on their dark skin, sometimes called “colored,” while the label “white” is assigned to others, whose skin matches the color of Band-aids. Scientifically, “black” is the absence of color and the union of all colors in the spectrum is “white.” Since most men are colorblind, why is there such a big fuss, anyway? Like I pointed out, labels should be tossed out – they only belong on the groceries in the supermarket.
Some time ago, I watched Martin Mull do a diatribe on the use of words and labels relative to the male / female confrontation. It was quite funny and I wish I had a copy of it. It just pointed out the fact that we have too many words that seem to apply to only one gender. The result is that a feminist might point out that “mailman” is unacceptable and should be replaced. How about “Person person”? I hope you get it, but both complaint and solution are quite preposterous. A male chauvinist might say that “person” is unacceptable because the first part of the word is “purse,” a womanly device. Then another feminist would argue that the second syllable of the word is “son,” which is a masculine thing. This would only result in this choice being acceptable to no one.
So how about using the term, “communications provider”? That seems to describe the work of Newman and Cliff Claven, but it has a ring of the health care industry. If that won’t do, what about, “enhancement dispatcher”? Despite the fact that it might be appropriate, it’s quite vague and something the business community would come up with to confuse anyone not involved in its world. From the stuff I get each day – except for Sunday and holidays – I think the best term is “trash mover.” I wonder if that would be politically correct.
Those two words, “politically correct,” are also quite annoying. To begin with, that phrase is an oxymoron. I haven’t seen too much recently in government that is close to being right. I recently viewed a DVD of the great comedian Gallagher and he mentioned the fact that “Freedom of speech includes volume, too.” If we brought along the idea of responsibility, not that many people would need to worry if what came out of their mouth or from their pen would be offensive in any way. Note that I didn’t say all people.
I’m sure you have been bombarded with “liberal” and “conservative,” two more labels that should be eliminated. Consider the first word and remove the last letter and add the letters “t” and “e.” The result is the word, “liberate” as in Operation Iraqi Liberation. Of course, that moniker was quickly altered to Operation Iraqi Freedom because of the resulting acronym obtained from the first letter of each word. Let’s carry that a step further. I think the connection between “liberal” and “liberty” should be clear. Yet, even though the first few years of the twenty-first century brought endless use of the latter term, the party in power didn’t have the designation of “liberal.” On the other hand, they did take quite a few “liberties” and were quite “liberal” with the taxes that the majority of people of the nation were handing over to the government.
You can’t say an administration that began with a surplus which they rapidly turned into a record deficit is “conservative.” What exactly were they keeping? By their actions, they certainly haven’t saved very much. Under their tenure, the environment seems to be something to be destroyed and not preserved. Life is never conserved when war is waged. Perhaps the term “liberal” should be replaced with “progressive.” Without progress, nothing good can be achieved. The result can only be stagnation. Being familiar with the language, could we say that “progress” is the opposite of “congress”?
A few other terms that we hear too many times are “right wing” and “left wing.” Shouldn’t we also include, “center”? I’m not a big hockey fan, but I think that’s where these three belong. They certainly should be kept out of normal vocabulary. If someone who is supposed to be “right” is not held in check, there just could be no one “left.” As you can see, labeling people does nobody any good and the result usually is a great distortion.
I should also mention the red and blue states. This has nothing to do with their color on a political map. Maybe the latter color refers to the down and out, dejected feeling that one party felt after that Tuesday in November or the fact that they blew the election. Is RED an acronym for Results Enabled by Diebold? It wasn’t many years ago that red stood for an evil empire and it was the second choice when compared to dead. How times change.
To continue with the idea of color, not long ago I read a book called The Journey of Man by Spencer Wells. I did this after watching the PBS special of the same name. Generally speaking, the book is always better than the movie, but not in this case. Though being very informative, the book was too technical for me and probably for most people. View the video or DVD if you can.
You’ll probably agree that man – here I include female as well as male – did not originate in the United States but either in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley or in Africa. On his incredible journey, Wells illustrates that man began his existence in the dark continent – another bad label because there’s plenty of light in the daytime if you come out of the forest. There’s a great deal of desert on the continent as well. He discusses how man and woman – you can’t have one without the other – left Africa and settled in Europe, Asia and Australia. Some stayed there, while others headed out to use their frequent flyer miles and even made it to Antarctica, North America and South America.
You may wonder how they got from one land to another with all the oceans, but remember that these people were quite creative and certainly were capable of building vessels to get from one island to another. Also, you may have heard that many years ago the landmasses were close to one another, not the way they are today. Thus this journey was by no means impossible. It didn’t happen overnight, but then these people – without cable TV and PCs – had plenty of time, something that we don’t have today. What these people went through was incredible and it required great courage on their part. Their adventure, daring and bravery resulted in the population of the earth.
The Journey of Man indicates that each of us had some relatives who lived in Africa. You can’t come to any other conclusion. Since these travelers may have gone through Asia and Europe, we could probably conclude that our ancestors came from those lands as well. Wells shows us that the color of a person’s skin means absolutely nothing. We are all brothers and sisters. If you haven’t seen the program, I highly recommend it.
I close this section with a few observations that should convince you that labels only belong on CDs and DVDs, so that you know what music you are hearing or what flick you are watching. Some of these names you may have read about in my other books, but they are worth repeating.
There is a take-out restaurant in the Buffalo area that brags about its pizza. It’s called Just Pizza. I finally tried one of their pies and it was quite good, but overpriced. Since the people in town eat a great deal of chicken wings as well as pizza, you can also get wings at this establishment. This indicates to me that the name of the place isn’t quite right. My guess is that at one time they only served pizza and sometime later added the other items. They haven’t gotten around to changing their name.
I have eye exams through a company called America’s Best. I had dealt with a branch in Blasdell, which is south of Buffalo, but then discovered after I moved that I could go to the one in Williamsville, a town north of the city. I ordered a new pair of glasses with sun protection. When they were ready and I put them on, I noticed that something was missing – I couldn’t see as expected. Whoever was working on my order left out the prescription for one eye. It looks like it is time for another name change.
One of the banks in town changed its name recently to Citizens Bank, with the understanding that the customer would be served better by that alteration. Changing the name will not accomplish anything. Rather, it takes effort. There is no way I could enter that bank and ask for money since I am a citizen and in need. Do businesses consider any implications before coming up with a company name?
Perhaps businesses should refrain from superlatives as part of the name of their establishment. It just could lead to some inaccuracies. Also, if you claim to be “the best,” you have great pressure to live up to that name and you can never rest. Just be the best and the customers will spread the word. If you make false claims, the word will get around even faster. If you are a television station that brags about being “balanced,” you probably aren’t.
3. Does your television have a spin cycle?
One of the great innovations of the twentieth century is television. Growing up in Buffalo, I remember our family’s first set. The screen was unlike the shape of those of today. Imagine a circle, split it vertically and spread the halves out from the center, to the right and left. Finally add two parallel, horizontal lines to connect the two parts of the circle and that was the shape of the TV’s screen. The viewing area was quite small – about 12 inches across, diagonally – while the cabinet that held it was about four feet high and two feet wide and long. Of course, for a few bucks more, you could buy larger televisions in bigger cabinets. This invention started to be popular in the late 1940s and in the next decade most homes owned one.
Sometime in the late 1960s, my parents’ home saw their first color set, a GE 17-inch model. A few years later, it was replaced with a 25-inch SONY console, and where that set is today, I haven’t a clue. When my dad died, my mom moved to an apartment complex and today watches her programs on a slightly smaller SONY set – and I might add, more portable – hooked up to basic cable. The home where my family and my siblings and I grew up never subscribed to cable but was serviced by an outdoor antenna.
I probably should discuss my television habits, relative to the hardware – that’s the box, screen and sound coming out of it. I’ll discuss the software, or programming, later. When I moved away from my parents’ home for the first time, I took no TV with me. I did bring my stereo, without surround sound since that came later. There is no doubt in my mind that music and books are much better choices than the boob tube. It wasn’t long after leaving home that I bought an 11-inch black and white Hitachi television. I purchased my first color TV in 1973 and it was a used console that I sold for the same price that I paid. When I bought a SONY 17-inch Trinitron shortly thereafter, things changed, as I got cable for the first time. When I moved to my first house, I relied on the antenna on the roof for reception. I must also shamefully admit that I subscribed to TV Guide for a short time. However, I soon realized that you could be television savvy by reading that publication and not have to turn on your set.
The second time I experienced cable was about the time that MTV made it on the scene. In each case, I wasn’t all that impressed with what was available for my viewing pleasure. Perhaps my problem has to do with my life preferences. My first SONY was replaced with a 27-inch SONY sometime in the 1990s and it weighs more than I would like, but is still quite functional in my condo where I currently reside.
Before this last move, I relied on an outside antenna that I could rotate – until the motor died – on the roof of my home in East Aurora, which allowed me to view Canadian broadcasting. I could pick up a few stations, including Saturday Night at the Movies on channel 19 out of Toronto, a PBS equivalent. I also enhanced the sound for TV viewing by attaching my VCR – I bought my first one in 1988 – to my stereo with a Bose system and a few supplemental speakers. All right, it wasn’t true surround-sound, but it was loud. I dare not do that today but do have basic cable, without which I could only watch UHF stations, and some of those don’t come in that well. I would do away with the cable except that the price is reasonable and I do need to tune in because of my writing.
The small black and white television of the middle of the twentieth century was replaced by color and before long cable and satellite viewing and TiVo came on the scene. If I’m not mistaken, the latter enables you to watch a game on the tube, stop to eat dinner and come back right where you were with the contest. Why not just get out that other piece of hardware, the TV tray? As far as I am concerned, TiVo is merely a fancy television recorder. Today we have huge screens, projection TV, digital TV, surround sound, high-definition television (HDTV), flat screen TVs, televisions an inch wide and plasma – not to be confused with a necessary part of each of us. There was a time when we used videocassette recorders (VCR), including the short-lived Beta-max, but now we have DVDs as well as DVD players and recorders. Who can tell what will come next?
Initially, there were but a handful of stations, and all we had were ABC, CBS and NBC. At the outset, programming took up a few hours each day, beginning at four in the afternoon and signing off sometime around eleven or so. I don’t really know, as I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late. Once the day’s schedule was complete, the screen was taken oven by a humming test pattern. You could stare at that for hours on end and it might even put you to sleep. If you were watching a program and somehow dozed off, you could very well wake up to the boring, never changing screen.
That test pattern is gone and you might be thankful, but I certainly am not, because of what took its place. I’ll get to that shortly. When television first originated, someone had to pay for the programming. That’s where commercials come in. Initially, those short breaks seemed to be honest attempts to sell a reputable product and they were sufficient to keep programs on the air. Today, that has changed so drastically that false advertising appears to be a pleonasm. The majority of sales pitches are for beer, drugs and automobiles and an insult to anyone with intelligence. But people still buy the product, no matter what it is, even if they don’t need it. Television has been selling for years and will continue to do so, as long as there are buyers.
I mentioned the VCR, in my mind a great blessing compared to the great American wasteland. Some recorders allow the complete bypassing of commercials automatically, while others give you the fast-forward option. As you can tell, I am not a big fan of commercials, but some people actually live for them. After the Super Bowl – if that isn’t an oxymoron, I don’t know what is – people seem to be discussing the advertisements played between the start and finish of the game. These opportunities for sponsors during the Super Bore run into millions of dollars for seconds on the air. I tape a movie or show so I can bypass the breaks for selling but apparently others do it so they can watch the swill!
You may be aware that the average hour of television has about sixteen minutes of advertisements. Thus watching a movie that is actually two hours long would require you to be around the set for somewhat under three hours. The VCR is a great tool to record programs that you can’t be at home to view. It also comes in handy if there are two great programs you care to watch that are broadcast at the same time – that could happen. The feature I appreciate most is that you can watch a half-hour program in twenty-two minutes and best of all, skip the advertising. The bad news about VCRs is the time is constantly blinking and it never changes. If you have this problem, ask your children – they should be able to fix it. A black magic marker could also be used. Still, VCRs could be a bit more user-friendly.
Unfortunately, what began as a short attempt at selling has evolved into the infomercial, a half-hour of convincing and hawking. In fact there are networks out there that do only this. My basic cable seems to have at least ten percent of the stations selling in this manner. Imagine how many you will be blessed with if your cable gets 250 stations. Someone wondered how an infomercial or the QVC channel could survive. Stop your pondering – they’re out there and have been for some time so apparently people must be watching and buying. Most people won’t turn on the station and not order something. If that were the case, these selling venues would be history. Infomercials have taken the place of the test pattern of so long ago. Instead of ending the day with the National Anthem, the stations have chosen a capitalistic approach to fill time slots. Why not try to make money at all hours of the day? I will spend some more time later on this all-pervasive annoyance on TV.
Writing this has been very difficult for me because of the numerous issues that arise when television is the topic of discussion. That’s why the chapter is so long. Nonetheless, I’ll give it my best shot, without a gun – something that should be applied to television in general today, with bullets. I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker – KILL YOUR TV.
News in the early days of television doesn’t compare to what we see today, as those shows in the middle of the twentieth century were fifteen minutes. You may not believe this, but Meet the Press was on back then. Pioneer journalists of the day were Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. The latter hosted a program called See It Now. One of the nominated movies of 2005 for best picture was Good Night, and Good Luck, about the confrontation between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. It didn’t get the Academy Award, but I thought it should have. David Straithorn’s performance was so incredible that I really believed that Murrow was still with us – if only that were possible.
Murrow was an example of what a real reporter should be. A half century ago, he mentioned that television had great potential, but he also warned that if those in charge didn’t use the medium for the higher good, they might just as well forget that it existed. Unfortunately, very few heeded his advice. Murrow was one of a kind – if only we had more journalists with his integrity and courage today. His insight so long ago was profound.
Another thought from Murrow emphasized in Good Night, and Good Luck that I myself have been proposing for a long time is that not every story has two sides. If a chemical company has been found guilty of polluting a community or a company president convicted of looting the corporation, neither executive has a right to try to weasel out of the verdict by “balancing” the issue. There is even a news channel that overemphasizes “being balanced.” People who try to impress me usually don’t. Even my favorite network, PBS, is guilty of providing two sides to an issue when only one is appropriate. Balance is for tightrope walkers.
The national news shows eventually expanded to a half hour. Notice I didn’t use the term evolved when talking about what we can glimpse on our screens today. Initially there was very little coverage, but today with CNN, it is non-stop, all day and all night. Unfortunately most of the news is bad, depressing and sensational. If you tune in for a short period of time, you will hear the same story over and over and there will be spin, and the news won’t be tops. On one of my last contracts, when I entered the building, I couldn’t avoid a television monitor that was tuned into one channel and that was CNN. I usually went past it as quickly as possible.
There are other dedicated news channels besides CNN and various news programs. You can watch the local news – on at least three times each day – the national news and news programs like 60 Minutes and all its derivatives. Maybe spin-offs is a more appropriate word. These programs fall into the category of “sensationalism,” but even the national news tends toward that same outlook. Each of the networks is in competition with the others, so just about anything goes. And along with that goes the truth. It’s aptly referred to as news entertainment. These programs have become a competition to get viewers, whether you’re talking about ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX or NBC. PBS has the news too and probably does the best job as they try to be objective. The others do all they can to maximize market share. Minimizing the truth is not a concern. Sure, there are plane crashes, scandals in government, shootings and war that can’t be avoided. Nonetheless there are positive things that shouldn’t be neglected on the air. Also, there are times when one particular event is covered when another similar one is neglected because of some demographic. Skipping one is not right when maybe both should be passed over.
Today journalists seem to be out for the big story but along the way forget that someone was affected closely by it and should be afforded some privacy. There will always be time later to talk to witnesses about what took place. I’m sure that interviewers would feel different if they were in the victim’s shoes. Maybe the public is desirous of all the coverage because of the violence and gore, but don’t the media have celebrities to cover?
At times there is just too much coverage, which causes other people to repeat the original scene, all in the name of grabbing the spotlight. Take the case of the April 1999 Columbine tragedy. The devotion to details resulted in disaster duplication in other places across America. The trouble was that the major news services almost made the murderers into heroes, when that was the last thing that should have been done. Mention their names, but there is no need to put their pictures on the tube. Instead, honor those who perished if you need a photo. I have no desire to see what a person who takes so many innocent lives looks like. Another criticism is that the coverage never ends. We all had enough of OJ, Monica and the Bobbitt heads and Menendez Brothers. Don’t tell me there’s no other news. I think the ulterior motive is that trash sells.
In the early days of television, news was minimal and probably more objective. There was still a great deal of bias until we experienced the four W’s: the Warren Commission, the War in Vietnam, Woodstock and Watergate. Today we have another W. Before that time, even with television, many truths were glossed over. It was felt by many that these things were not that important to the public. Consider John Kennedy’s health and sexual indiscretions. A few other presidents had affairs that weren’t reported. We somehow survived, perhaps better than if we had known the truth. Television and the war in Vietnam had a huge impact as the images of war and all its carnage made their way into the American living room. From that point on, things would never return to what they had been. The war may have ended but healing may never come.
Not long after that war, we had live coverage of the First Gulf War – truly a misnomer if you speak to the people of Iraq – followed by the bombing in Kosovo. Today, there are wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, still going on even though you saw the sign that said, “Mission Accomplished.” I certainly don’t relish watching any of this and yet many people tune in to see the bombs dropping on a foreign land. I’m sure they wouldn’t feel the same if these munitions were falling on their heads.
Because news has become entertainment, what can we say of its validity? When referring to the Vietnam War, journalist and soldier Malcolm Browne, in his outstanding book, Muddy Boots and Red Socks: A Reporter’s Life, states, “War news may be factually correct but very unrealistic in context, and therefore misleading. (I could add that all news, not just war news, necessarily distorts objective reality to some degree.)”
This quote applies to any war. As far as the war against terrorism goes, we probably won’t know what really happened, and what is happening for years to come. Truth will eventually come out, but it will take time. Watching television gives us about as much information as watching a soap opera. I watched none of the events of 9/11 because my television was being repaired after a construction accident. Even had it been functioning, I would not have been watching. As it was, I still had as much information about what was happening on that day as people who sat glued to their TVs for the entire day. As everyone knows, war brings with it the disappearance of truth. Why then are we so obsessed with watching the news?
Besides the news, there are a handful of other live shows – that is, what you see on the tube is happening at that very moment. Many shows today are taped. The percentage of shows that were live back in the early days of television is probably the same as those that are recorded today.
Real comedy was not taped in what was called the Golden Age of television – perhaps rightly so – and led to great adlibs. You could get some great laughs on variety shows, such as Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Texaco Theatre with Milton Berle, I Love
Lucy with Lucille Ball, and the Colgate Comedy Hour with various guests. This was the time of Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Red Skelton and others too numerous to mention.
I have to mention a show that was live when it originated in 1975 and is still on today. Saturday Night – also referred to as Saturday Night Live (SNL) – featured some great comedy. I described my attempt to get tickets for the show in 1978 in I Don’t Want to be a Pirate, my journey as a writer, so I won’t repeat it here. I used to watch SNL but the comedy is not what it once was, even though the show is still one-and-a-half hours in duration. Getting new writers and shortening the program to an hour could help.
In the Golden Age of television, you could see some very talented people, whose performances on Playhouse 90, an excellent show, led to great careers. That early time even had the soaps, a kind of opera without the music. Some looked on it as drama. I believe the first ones were Search for Tomorrow and Love of Life. As the Stomach Turns wasn’t one of the early offerings. These were on in the afternoon and you can still see them in that same time period. When I was home recuperating from my hospital visits, I didn’t watch any of that swill. Susan Lucci would be very disappointed. Since I never turned the set on for those programs, I can’t comment on them, although I have an idea that they have almost no boundaries. We were also blessed with soap opera at night with the introduction of Knots Landing and Dallas, a show that hung around for years and proved that there are good people in Texas. Soap was an even better program that spoofed them, which I thought was hilarious.
You can find Soap on DVD, and it also represented a type of show that had an early beginning: the sitcom. I Love Lucy and all its derivatives were comedy but also sitcoms. When the 1970s rolled in, there were more of these programs. Some programs were taken off the air, but new ones replaced them that were just as good, such as All in the Family, Mash, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, the various shows with Bob Newhart, and of course, Seinfeld – my favorite comedy.
The early shows that tickled our fancy toed the company line and were in black and white, but the 1960s brought color to the picture as well as to the characters, such as the host of people on LaughIn and the Smothers Brothers, who introduced such stars as Glen Campbell, Pat Paulsen, John Hartford and Mason Williams on the Smothers Comedy Brothers’ Hour. That apparently wrong juxtaposition is really the way we saw it so many years ago. It was a program that I hated to miss – it was that good.
The music of Tom and Dick was top-notch, as was their comedy, but they got bounced from CBS because of their political commentary. They were censored and you can watch the DVD about their adventures, Smothered, an appropriate title. Their courage for speaking what they believed in was commendable. It was also what changed television over the years, in some cases not for the better. All in the Family and its spin-offs also led to
great advances in making television what it is today.
There was another show in this same vein,
the animated comedy or what is known as the
cartoon. Initially, it could be found on the air on
Saturday morning with programs such as Tom and
Jerry, Roadrunner and the Disney clan, Mickey
Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto. These evolved
into other ideas, such as The Adventures of Rocky
and Bullwinkle – this program’s first season is one
of the few DVDs I own – which really was intended
for adults, but the young ones could watch it for
other reasons. Before long, The Simpsons – not the
Juice and his family – opened our eyes with their
innovation. Then came South Park and The Family
Guy, a program that doesn’t discriminate. It offends everyone. This caught us up to the twenty-first
century, but long before that, public television used
animation to teach children in many areas, going so
far as to blend real live people with cartoons in an
outstanding program called Sesame Street. The
network even added a big bird and a few other
characters that would mesmerize children. Walt
Disney was a huge influence in this type of program
and eventually animated movies made it big.
Around the 60s, all types of movies made
their way to the small tube. Classics were shown, if
they were available, as well as movies that had been
out and left the theaters. If you missed the feature at
the show, you had another opportunity. It wasn’t
long before the networks dedicated evenings to
movies – some were made for TV as they produced
their own and were viewed for the first time. There
would be a single movie per night, but it seemed like every network had a night at the movies.
A very successful show of another genre originated around this same time. One cooking show made its way to a new network called PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, paid for by the taxpayers. The other stations had other sources for funds, which I will get into shortly. The worldrenowned chef Julia Child hosted that cooking program and it paved the way for many food shows that were to follow over the years, including food networks. For a delightful and informative read, I recommend Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch. There was a cooking show in Buffalo even before Julia did her thing on PBS, called Meet the Millers. The only thing I recall about it is the title, that it was in black and white and hosted by a husband and wife team whose last name was Miller.
The early days had quite a few westerns, such as The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, with his good friend Tonto, and Roy Rogers as well as some serials like The Black Hand and the futuristic Buck Rogers – no relation to Roy and Dale or Mr. Rogers, I don’t believe. The latter was in another neighborhood. As time progressed, there were a few more westerns, but these were eventually replaced by shows dealing with cops and robbers. The field of forensics wound up on television in various crime scene investigation shows, ingenuously titled, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. I believe that CSI: Mosul is in the works. There are a host of shows about hospitals, lawyers and ideas that hadn’t been conceived decades ago. In this case, some people feel that abortion was a good idea.
Hospital and police dramas have been around for some time. Perhaps I don’t watch the former because I am not crazy about going to hospitals, either as a patient or as a visitor. I also am not thrilled at the sight of blood, which you can find in either drama. Any gore and mutilation – if I had a choice – I would choose to visualize in a good novel rather than see on the screen. And that brings me to the point that years ago you could watch a program with a murder and not need to see all the “bloody details.” Violence had made its way onto the flat screen without any wars, as various shows had featured it because the networks felt that people were entertained and cared for it. With high definition television, the explosions and blood become even clearer.
Today not only do we have the police dramas but also the hour programs such as Cops, The World’s Worse Car Chases and other obscene shows. I don’t like to see other people’s misfortunes, so I don’t tune in to these shows. There are even shows in which the home audience can win cash by submitting home videos of unusual, but humorous events. Some of these might be funny to one person but embarrassing or even harmful to the person being videotaped. Over the years many laughs have been produced at the expense of others and it doesn’t appear that this will stop anytime soon.
The biggest sport on television in the early days may have been boxing and it featured individuals getting beaten up. That would soon simultaneously change (the popularity) and continue (the injuries) with the arrival of the American Football League (AFL). I also think that the advancement of color was a huge influence on TV sports. The AFL struggled at first but it wasn’t long before it had a great deal to do with broadcasting football to more viewers. Initially, the game was to be played and the televising crews showed up to broadcast the event. That changed as soon the networks dictated start times, timeouts and anything else to do with getting the “game” on the screen. It wasn’t long before the airwaves were inundated with baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis and wrestling, which the great sports writer Frank Deford calls the only true sport.
Another type of game made it in the early days of television as game shows were big for a long time, including such offerings as You Bet Your Life, starring Groucho Marx, Beat the Clock and The $64,000 Question, which we not that long ago discovered was rigged. The movie Quiz Show covers all the dirty details, if you haven’t seen it. Game shows are still around today with Jeopardy – a trivia pursuit game where you can earn cash – and The Wheel of Fortune, where you can buy vowels, but amazingly, they don’t charge you for them. Ted Mack is gone but Star Search and The $1.98 Beauty Pageant were here for a time in its place. Today we are blessed with another talent show, American Idol, not too much different from all its predecessors, specifically The Gong Show. The gong is gone now, but the hook is there, so to speak.
The early days in many ways have seen great advances but from what you can see today, improvements are necessary. Over time some shows started out so slowly and there was so little audience approval that they were almost cancelled. Fortunately they were allowed to stay on the air and that proved to be a good choice as they eventually ranked at the top – and they were viewable. Yet other shows that weren’t as good didn’t get cancelled – some remained longer than they should have. That was the case before and will continue to be so in the future, as is quite obvious even today.
This leads to another offering called Survivor that really took off and before long its spin-offs took over the airwaves. Another program, I Want to be a Millionaire, was actually an offshoot of the game show and its viewing made for conversation at the water cooler at work the next day. Reality TV had arrived. Some may feel – and I agree – that that is an oxymoron along with “Live TV” and “News entertainment.” The sad news is that these productions are with us today and when you read this, they probably won’t be retired to the junk heap. They’re on the air because they are so cheap to produce and people tune in.
If you find that I missed one of your favorite shows, it’s because there were and still are so many of them and I really have never been a big viewer of television. Also, I rarely watch shows except those on at night and my viewing is predominantly of videotaped programs. I mentioned the length of the programming day when it all began. Well it didn’t take the business world long to put on programming for the entire day – all twenty-four hours. If they could do it longer than that, they would. The networks increased in number and you now have the option of getting 250 stations – why anyone would want that many, I haven’t the foggiest. There are numerous sports stations, news channels, food networks, religious stations for you zealots, comedy channels, channels where you can watch a test pattern all day – just kidding – and various HBO stations. That’s just the beginning and there’s more to come.
As you can imagine, early television was quite addictive, and that continues today. One of the books I read in early 2006 was Jack Finney’s Time and Again, a trip back in time to the 1800s. When Si brings Julia into the twentieth century, she is completely mesmerized by the boob tube, not unlike the feeling of our first encounter. This was true even though cable, satellite dishes and high definition television and even color TV were far down the road. Moreover, there weren’t that many programs from which to choose.
I had the pleasure of hearing Ralph Nader speak a few years ago at Canisius College. He gave a serious talk but did entertain us by talking about the weather forecast on the evening local news. First he mentioned the early weather capsule at a few minutes past the hour and then the full forecast fifteen minutes later. Finally, as the news was signing off, there was a brief weather summary. Did the meteorological conditions change so much over the course of ten minutes?
We rely too much on television even for news about what the skies will bring. If you watch the forecast, what effect will that action have on tomorrow’s climate? The simple answer is none whatsoever. Perhaps there is an occasional prediction that would be nice to be aware of, but I can assure you that if you don’t hear about the oncoming hurricane on the news, you will be informed of it by some other source. It also doesn’t mean that the storm is coming just as the groundhog seeing his shadow doesn’t assure six more weeks of winter. The only sure thing about Groundhog Day is that it is a movie that will make you chuckle.
Returning to news addiction – one of many caused by the introduction of TV – those who spent too much time watching the events of 9/11 wound up with a health bonus. They became traumatized and many are to this very day, still not over what they witnessed. Viewing the news more than a few minutes a day is a huge waste of your time. It won’t change that often and you must have better things to do.
Television has also delivered some other addictions. It has led to couch potatoes, obesity and passivity. The need to have a satellite dish or cable with 350 channels will only lead to many hours in front of the tube and nowhere near enough exercise. This in turn leads to high blood pressure – you get that from watching the news – heart attacks and stomach problems. In general, health suffers and the flab increases. Just inhaling all that junk food will increase your hospital visits. This will happen even with the TV off. Once you get to your bed in the emergency room you can watch ER.
I mentioned the long-gone test pattern of the early days. It has been replaced with a bit louder sound multiplied by 450 channels. The outcome is noise – unending, mind-numbing and annoying volume. Some people walk into their home and the first thing they do is turn on the television. It won’t be shut off until they retire for bed. They may even fall asleep in front of the set. The sound parallels five minutes of the first quarter of the Super Bowl – that is how intense it is. With this jarring assault on the senses comes a shortening of the attention span. It is no wonder that humans have such high blood pressure and can’t sleep at night.
The never ending commercials for beer and drugs is one of the pitfalls of advertising, where the warnings of side effects are completely glossed over or mentioned nonchalantly. This sales marketing has led to dependencies, such as alcohol addiction and drug addiction, even for over-the-counter drugs. Family life will suffer too. Years ago people sat around and watched the same program – I mentioned they didn’t have much choice. Today, there’s no need to worry about variety as each person has a personal boob tube. The various sports networks have created another kind of addict. People actually plan a day around watching the professional football draft. Someone needs to get a life!
Another effect that we seem to gloss over is the influence of the advertisers on children, which along with the programming has led to the corrosion of the young. They are a captive audience – and that’s a huge understatement. Soon mothers will be hearing pleas to buy this Barbie doll or the cereal being displayed. That is hard to combat. The other problem results in trying to raise children today with some control of television viewing. If a child doesn’t watch this show and that other one, he feels deprived and can’t keep up with his classmates at school. It’s difficult enough raising kids, and parents don’t really relish the extra challenge posed by the networks.
The following few observations have to do with shows I refuse to watch. A big happening on the tube not long ago was the “instant millionaire” program, I Want to be a Millionaire, which I mentioned earlier. The program was on multiple nights and there were other reality shows, some of which I have already described. One I didn’t mention was about the “marrying a rich man” scenario. These shows were on because people continued to watch them. The person who won big on the first show I described was the individual who had the best trivia knowledge that night. Some say that you learn so much from the questions, but go to the library and get some books and you will increase your knowledge even more. I guess it’s probably better than watching a porn flick or a soap opera. I don’t think there was a question on that program about the “Moops.”
There’s a news article about some of the plot ideas for the coming fall TV schedule. Some of them sound completely ludicrous and we laugh at them. We stop smiling when October comes around and that is what’s on the screen, and it’s not funny. As I said, I don’t watch much television and so I probably shouldn’t be criticizing a show without watching it. Once in a while I do sit down in front of the set to see if there is anything worthwhile. That’s probably why I don’t think many of these shows are worthy of any of my time. People who watch night after night will disagree with me.
One of the first priorities for people is to have a television in their home, and along with it, cable or a dish. I saw an ad recently that said, “Get a satellite dish for more channels.” So now you can receive 550 stations instead of 450. How many of these can you watch? There may be many choices but how many of them are worthwhile? I don’t think there will be that many. That seems to be the trap. People first buy the set and then they need to get cable, since they won’t have any good reception to speak of without it.
That happened to me when I bought the Trinitron and the same scenario occurs when someone invests in HDTV. The picture is so incredible that the viewers can’t be pulled away from the set. They are now addicted. There is another justification for not exiting the family room: so much cash was put out for this device that it needs to be justified by increasing the hours of watching. Add surround sound and increase the size of the screen and the situation is now hopeless. This family better go buy more snacks – they’ll need a credit card.
The software may be toxic, but don’t think the hardware isn’t. There are concerns for TV addicts for another reason: emissions from the set. Many years ago, we were warned about being too close to the screen while watching. What we don’t know is if any of the latest innovations in our dens and family rooms are even more hazardous. There is further worry when the television bites the dust. Technology created it but somehow forgot one little detail. What will happen to it after it perishes? The answer most likely is that it will be tossed into the trash, which eventually winds up in the landfill. Electronic goods have so many chemicals in them that a once contaminated dump will only become more dangerous to society. The land, air and nearby creeks and rivers will only be rendered useless to the people, near and far.
The vast array of addictions, the apathy, laziness, brainwashing and distortion of the truth by way of news entertainment can only result in the decay of society. Sitting in front of a huge screen with surround sound can only cause us to regress into a nation of zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Zombies were a good group, but once again my preference for music over TV is showing. Obsession might be a good thing, but not when it results in the decline of intelligence.
The television has probably been more influential than any other innovation of the twentieth century. In some respects it mirrors the PC – which may be worse – since each puts an individual in front of a screen to be mindlessly entertained. Both can be rather impersonal and both can be a waste of time. Each can result in a person spending hour after hour and being completely deprived of vitamin D, since he never goes outdoors. If you sit in front of a television long enough, you will see a decent program. In the meantime, you could spend a lot of time in anticipation of that gem. Do you really want to wait so long for something that may never come? Personally, I don’t have that much free time.
Television may be one of the worst inventions of all time. This is due to the beast as well as what is shown on it. It experienced the Golden Age some time ago and unless drastic changes are undertaken, those days will never be repeated. When it was first introduced, it seemed as though there were no limits to how high the medium could soar. Over the years, there have been great innovations – programming-wise as well in the hardware – and it seemed that there would be no end to the greatness of that box.
The advantage of television is that it can enlighten and instruct, something that PBS should be praised for doing for so long. Information can be obtained from so many of the excellent programs. Getting involved in a show may even inspire the viewer to head over to the library to learn more about the subject. That is how I get numerous titles of books that I read. It is through TV that the arts are promoted, something that needs to be done even more so. The medium can arouse passion in people and be a call to action.
I mentioned the almost unlimited number of channels – many to be passed over – but there are good things on The History Channel, Bravo, Arts and Entertainment and various movie channels. I happen to love watching flicks, but since so many of them are junk or merely average, that is what winds up on your TV. HBO has a reputation for producing their own highly rated movies, such as And The Band Played On, the story of the early crusades against AIDS and The Rat Pack, a biographical documentary on Frank Sinatra and his cronies. The Sopranos was at the top of the list of highly regarded programs – I didn’t care for it – and through the years HBO has come out with other worthwhile viewing.
I mentioned PBS before and most programs I watch are from that network, since I contribute to my local station. There are some people who watch but don’t pitch in – shame on those freeloaders. In my mind, the best television is on PBS, including WNED-TV in Buffalo. It features one cooking show after another on Saturday. These programs do make your mouth water and I did tune in to a few of them when I was recovering at home not that long ago. Once you start watching, it’s difficult to change the channel unless you don’t like good food. Fat chance of that happening.
One cooking show on PBS nationwide is Ciao Italia, hosted by my high school classmate, Mary Ann Esposito, but there’s so much more. Children’s programming is top notch, with Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow for starters. Ken Burns has done some remarkable work and continues to do so. His series The Civil War, Jazz and Baseball were all outstanding and I doubt that you will see any program he produces that you won’t like. Other offerings on PBS include NOW with David Brancaccio, The News Hour, Frontline, History Detectives, Nova, American Experience and Masterpiece Theatre. Also provided are fine concerts, movies and stage plays, all worthy of your attention as well as special shows during the holiday season. Once you go over, you won’t return to commercial television, except for a few programs. Despite its offensiveness, I do recommend The Family Guy – you may turn it off if you tune in – and Everybody Hates Chris, the Chris Rock endeavor. They’re both full of laughs, something we all need.
I conclude the chapter with a few words about the title, specifically the second last word. Over the years, spin-offs from shows have been prolific. Sequels are usually inferior to the original and many of these second thoughts from hits on TV have been huge failures. Great examples of just this result were the attempts by the cast of Seinfeld to make it on their own. Being such a great fan of the show, I was pulling for them. Another connection of spin to television has to do with what we experience when we watch the news. Somehow the truth doesn’t quite make it to the surface and news of the early days has evolved into news entertainment today. Last but not least, spin refers to what a spider does to create a web in which to ensnare her enemies. People are caught in the entanglement and they can’t manage to escape, even though they have the power to do so. That is the main problem with television and why it is such a huge technological disaster. Nonetheless, it can be salvaged.
4. Take me for a ride in your truck, Mac
You may think that the assembly line was the creation of Henry Ford, but he just stole the idea for his production plants. The meat packing business was actually the originator of that way of moving things along. At first, only the elite could drive the automobile but Ford changed that. Before long, numerous people were on the highways, whether they were rich or not so well off. Being able to drive was not a consideration.
We no longer have running boards on vehicles but the past is reflected in the PT Cruiser and a few other cars that you can see on the road. If you could move back into the 1940s and talk to someone from that time period about some of the features present in cars today, they would probably walk away from you and say you were certifiably nuts. They’d probably be disappointed that there weren’t any flying cars – other than those driven by road ragers. By the same token, the cars our grandparents drove – if they drove at all – were interesting and a challenge to get from one place to another. You can read about the accessories and problems of the early automobile in a book that I highly recommend, Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: An American Legend as well as Dayton Duncan’s Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip. Just because Mr. Ford sold you a car didn’t mean it came with a Global Positioning System (GPS.) It wasn’t even that easy to start the vehicle, as getting it going wasn’t as simple as turning over the key.
The automobile has a long history and it has had and continues to have a great impact on society. It enabled people to commute long distances that could never have been easily done in the nineteenth century. It eliminated the pollution of its predecessor, the horse. I’m sure people with a strong sense of smell were greatly relieved, as well. Shoes were happier too.
I myself have traveled a great number of miles in various automobiles, including way more commuting than I ever wanted to do. However, it allowed me to put bread in my jar – actually I prefer the counter or freezer, as most of my jars are too small. That moving back and forth from where I lived to work on various computer software contracts had a great deal to do with my retirement at the end of 2001. One contract in Orlando forced me to drive ninety miles each way for two months, while a host of work in Rochester resulted in a seventy-mile trip each way from my home outside Buffalo.
The commuting option allowed families to live in a house that they were able to afford. The high cost of living in the city meant that it would be worth the drive from the suburbs in exchange for an affordable home. If you consider the cost today for housing in places like New York City, Boston or Los Angeles, unless you inherited a fortune or have a six-figure salary, you won’t have a condominium in the city.
A better deal was being able to get away from work and your home for a vacation from time to time. I saw many parts of the country by driving my Chevrolets, Buick, Audi, Subarus, Datsun, Honda, Saturn and now my Toyota Prius. At the end of November 2005, I returned from a short vacation down south, visiting Daytona Beach, Charleston, South Carolina, Raleigh and Savannah. After that, I journeyed in my Subaru to Thunder Bay, Ontario and eastern Minnesota for a short vacation. More recently, I escaped the cold of the north when I drove to Mississippi, Georgia, Tampa and St. Augustine, Florida in February 2007. Since I bought the hybrid, I have traveled to Savannah, Jacksonville, Washington, DC and Binghamton, NY a couple times. As you might guess, hopping on a plane is not my first choice of travel.
The automobile also had some side effects. The picture show soon moved outdoors with the advent of the drive-in movie, including first-run showings. Another type of drive-in came along as well – the possibility of banking without getting out of the car. In addition, now, there was no need to get food by entering a restaurant. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest meal, but the fast-food industry got a great boost when the automobile married Burger King and McDonalds.
Another building that would never have existed without Henry Ford is the motel. Hotels did fine, but a place for travelers to rest while on vacation or while they were on assignment away from home was needed. The motel was the answer, which had the advantage of providing the same service as the hotel at a lower price. Similarly, being on the road with the motel option meant that drivers could stop and get a good night’s sleep without the challenge of having to find a hotel.
I mentioned Mr. Ed’s relatives earlier, who didn’t need gas. Even so, the hay may have been quite costly. With all the environmental disadvantages of horses, the early automobile was a great deal worse. When you consider the effects on the planet through travel by horse, they were not as devastating as I mentioned or as people claim. I hear people complaining about the deposits of Canada geese. They don’t have the opportunity to use rest rooms. One of the reasons for this crossover is because builders have driven wildlife from their homes, forcing the animals to move into areas closer to the residences of the people. In the case of the horse, certainly the deposits are larger, but environmentally they don’t compare to radiation or toxic chemicals. The fragrances aren’t that pleasant but I’m not thrilled with some of the perfume that people apparently bathe in. It appears that the replacement for the horse was not welcome at all by the environment.
Fortunately, time would take care of that problem with advances. Cars eventually got better mileage and thanks to pollution equipment, the air, land and water benefited. Other features eventually were introduced to make traveling more comfortable. Further development resulted in some innovations that should never have been added to any vehicle. Unfortunately, with the good always comes the bad.
The list of the disadvantages of the automobile doesn’t stop there. I mentioned the exodus of people from their jobs in the city to their glorious homes in the suburbs. Obviously there is a huge tradeoff. You pay more for a place in the city and have no commute or chose a beautiful home but endure the commute. As I mentioned, in many cases people had no choice due to the cost of real estate. However, this desertion at five o’clock had a debilitating effect on the life of the city. Without question, the decay of the major cities in the United States was a direct result of the invention of this vehicle. The addition of mass transit entered into the equation as well.
In 1979 I started a software contract at Bankers’ Trust, located across the street from the World Trade Center. I lived fifty miles north of there and wound up with a commute of two hours each way. I got to work by a combination of driving, traveling by train and subway and walking. I tried driving to different train stations closer to the city, but I didn’t really save much by trying different variations. Finally, I decided the best alternative was to get the train at the place closest to my house and do some reading on the train. My contract ended in six months and I could have had it extended, but I found another gig closer to home.
Those few months on the job made for long days. Assuming I worked eight hours with a paid lunch of half an hour, I had to rise at 6:30 in the morning to be able to work from 9 to 5. I would then arrive home at 7 pm. Thinking about it just gets me tired. Nonetheless, the train I used was loaded with people and it was no different if I hopped on the train a bit earlier. Moreover, many of these people did this commute for years and some may have lived further from work than I or may have had to put in longer days. Why would anyone put up with this absurd routine? The answer is, “You do the routine to get the green.”
You could avoid using the train by driving to work and increasing your speed. Of course, that wouldn’t do any good in the face of construction, traffic jams or accidents caused by people going too fast. Traveling 70 in a 55 zone – if you could do it – might result in a summons for speeding. You could wind up in the hospital or worse. It could get messier if the roads were icy or snow-covered. Thus you could conclude that the automobile also generated the need for salt to solve the problem of winter. This in turn didn’t do any good for the environment, although there always is the possibility of using ice-melting alternatives that are friendly to the planet.
The automobile created the new communities outside the city along with the rat race. These suburbs just added to the problem as the location of various types of services soon were located in places that required even more commuting. When you do a great deal of driving or sitting on trains, you really don’t want to get in the car. You just want to stay home. Going to church or the temple meant more driving, as did shopping or going to the movies or picking up a video. It’s no wonder people were tired and the weekend wasn’t enough to recharge them. The automobile created a few headaches.
Since more and more people got their licenses, things got worse on the roads, eventually leading to another great misnomer, rush hour. No one’s moving, let alone rushing anywhere. This doesn’t help reduce stress in the least but only increases it. A direct result of that frustration is road rage, which appears even on a weekend when the highways are less congested. Henry never predicted any of these things would be happening.
I left out of this book any talk about airplanes. I will mention only one statistic since it relates to the automobile. It’s a known fact that air travel – despite the very concept itself, think seriously about it – is safer than getting behind the wheel of a car. This is based on miles traveled and accidents. The only reason why this statistic is fact is due to reckless driving, road rage, driving under the influence and the issuing of way too many licenses.
If you happen to be stuck on the highway somewhere for any number of reasons, you could check in to a motel, the home away from home that owes its existence to the automobile. I mentioned my days of commuting but I didn’t relate the fact that I saved drive time, wear and tear on my vehicles and on myself by frequenting motels. For me, those places are the last place I care to stay anymore – I guess I just was away from home on too many evenings.
The decline of mass transit is another casualty of vans and trucks. Traveling by train has been reduced over the years – it is still an option but people consider costs and rule it out from a financial aspect when they figure what it will cost to drive. That might change once gas gets to five dollars a gallon. People without cars don’t have that choice as they must take the train, bus or plane. The order in which I listed those three modes of transportation is the sequence of my choices for travel.
The automobile has also contributed health problems. Men and woman drive to places when they could exercise their legs. The latter choice would result in less sickness and stress, fewer heart problems and visits to the hospital. You might say that the car put more cash into the pockets of physicians and that’s a good thing – for them, alone. The explosion of the fast food industry may have provided a convenience, but it also helped to create a great deal of obesity at the same time. In this respect a mode of transportation created health problems on a couple levels.
While drive-ins helped advance society, even if the right kind of food wasn’t being consumed, the drive-by shooting turned out to be unhealthy in a completely, more permanent way. It is true that if crimes were committed by using relatives of Trigger for transportation, it may have been more difficult holding a machine gun and firing away while being in the saddle. At any time in history, along with progress come challenges.
Another creation of SUVs and cars is DWI. There probably never will be RWI or WWI – riding and walking while under the influence respectively, so Ford gets another black eye. Of course, Henry’s not to blame since he didn’t chug the beer. However, the impact of combining alcohol or drugs with getting behind the wheel has resulted in too many deaths, injuries and unnecessary suffering on the part of the families of the victims as well as those responsible, who just weren’t acting responsibly. Excessive speed and reckless driving bring sorrow and pain for the very same reason.
One obvious byproduct of Mr. Ford’s contraption is addiction. Just climbing behind the wheel could have been so intoxicating that the driver was hooked. If this wasn’t the case, a person could become that way after doing so much commuting to work. This has created huge problems, as people have no desire to abandon the automobile, even when mass transit is an alternative. The glamour of the car is so pervasive that teenagers eagerly await the chance for a driver’s permit and shortly thereafter the desired license.
Statistically, the worst drivers on the road are young people. When a teenager gets a license, by no means is that individual a good driver, which will take a few years. That is why most accidents occur to people younger than twenty-five and why insurance costs are so high for them. With time, each has the potential to be a good driver. There will come a time when the license should be surrendered. Age and experience makes one more proficient behind the wheel but eventually the passage of time leads to deterioration of what’s needed for these seniors to keep driving and not endangering themselves and others. There are many people over ninety who are still driving. The way these individuals park a car, maybe they should leave the driving to family members. But how do you get the keys away from advanced senior citizens? Try to take them and they’ll hit you with their cane. That is another dilemma posed by Mr. Ford.
One innovation that would not be around except for the automobile is the traffic signal. Initially, there were two options when you arrived at an intersection. The light was either green or red. The yellow was seen as green for the daring and interpreted as red for the cautious, so we need to only talk about the two possibilities. It wasn’t a complicated situation but with time, things really got messed up. Now when you approach the light, you can wait for a really long time because of a huge failure of technology. For one thing, there now happen to be at least four combinations – red with a left-turn arrow and completely green, and those two choices repeat for the other side. Note that I mentioned “at least,” because another possibility is the green with a red left-turn arrow. This only means that if you are about to turn left and there is no traffic coming against you, you’re supposed to wait.
This is really a problem because there is no reason for you not to go and it only indicates that the red left turn arrow is unnecessary. That choice is dumb. Because of advances with computers, many signals are timed – which they should be based on traffic flow and when a car enters an intersection. Smart decisions are applauded but if you are on the less traveled road with a red light and there is no traffic coming the other way, why doesn’t the system know to change so you can proceed? That would be the intelligent way to handle this. Perhaps that will change with time.
Some time ago I heard about the allowed right turn reaction in New England. This allowed you to turn right on a red signal after stopping. I heard that someone in power didn’t care to go along with the idea in their state. Instead of doing the reasonable thing, they spent an outrageous amount of money to put up signs saying, “No right turn allowed.” What they could have done to save money was to put up a few “Right turn allowed” signs and mention that right turns were only allowed where posted. Actually, this last option is insane since any “No right turn allowed” sign is dumb. Why not allow right turns everywhere? Naturally, caution and responsibility are needed as well.
Advances in technology aren’t always for the better, especially when talking about the features in cars. I have already specified my feelings about alarm systems but there are a few other concerns. First, you can’t open the car windows for most cars if the ignition is off. The addition of a DVD player or separate controls for temperature monitoring in vehicles isn’t really necessary. Of course, it does give the manufacturer the opportunity to raise the price.
Nonetheless, I will accept these ridiculous add-ons but I have to complain about some of the failures of the car companies. The automobile giants have been reaping huge profits for years. They failed the American public when they could have done much more for the environment and its inhabitants. Just consider gasoline mileage over the last thirty years. If some cars could get twenty-five or thirty miles to the gallon a quarter century ago, today you would expect advances in technology to result in even better mileage. Look around on the highways today and you will see that the average mileage is less than twenty miles to the gallon. It doesn’t look like there have been any improvements.
For a time some cars were getting better mileage and even today some newer models of some lines do improve from year to year. The smaller car was the answer to improved mileage. I bought a used 1989 Honda Civic CRX in 1991 and when I had finished driving it seven years later, the odometer read over 237,000 miles. I myself had accounted for 200,000 of those miles and my total mileage including highway and city driving was very close to fifty miles to the gallon.
This vehicle was manufactured almost twenty years ago and it had a four-cylinder gasoline engine. That was one of the reasons for the great mileage. The other was that it was a small car. There are some cars today that get better mileage than that, but not that many and not significantly better. Actually if you look out your window as you drive on the highway you will not see that many cars. Instead the majority of vehicles will be trucks, vans and SUVs. This explains why there have not been improvements in gas mileage over the years. Those trucks and SUVs need gasoline to perform, and lots of it. The vans do better when it comes to fuel economy. Unfortunately, gas mileage today is the worst it’s been in twenty-five years. A boost of one mile per gallon results in a savings of half a million barrels of oil a day.
Here is an indication of just how little the greedy corporations and people in power have done about increasing gas mileage. In May 2006, I read in Esquire about the Honda Civic Hybrid. It was described as having the possibility of achieving up to fifty miles to the gallon. My 1989 CRX ran solely on gasoline and for the 200,000 miles I drove, my total mileage including highway and city driving was almost fifty miles to the gallon. Do you think that any one is looking out for the people and care at all about the planet? If you think that the gas companies didn’t gouge the public during the spring and summer of 2006 – the practice continues today – you’re watching too much reality television.
The need to consume huge amounts of gas means we use resources, the environment is polluted – many SUVs and high performance vehicles are notorious for pollution – and the process of getting the oil only adds to destruction of the planet as well as danger to the workers involved. There was a great opportunity for advancing society when the gas crisis of the early 1970s resulted. At first people did move in the right direction but when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, all that flew out the window. The result is the scenario we see with the high price of gasoline and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Had alternative energy ideas and conservation been promoted a quarter century ago, it is likely that the events of September 11, 2001 would not have occurred.
Unfortunately, the people were just as guilty as the corporations and the government, since they bought the gas-guzzlers. Meanwhile the gas companies gouged the citizens at the pump and automobile organizations went right along with program, encouraging them to continue their driving habits. Some people in government were concerned, and I related this in Take Back The Earth: The Dumb, Greedy Incompetents Have Trashed It. It didn’t really matter as corporate crooks downplayed the issue and ruled the day.
I have to conclude this chapter with a plea for forgiveness. I will not apologize to those who are responsible for the mess we are in today having to do with this mode of transportation. Henry Ford came up with a good invention, despite its limitations. He also made the car available to the ordinary citizen – granted he wanted to make money – but the difficulties that ensued can’t all be blamed on his creation. He had accomplices, whom I have described earlier. Shame on those whose only motive was greed and power and who did their part to mess up the planet when it came to the automobile. If you still disagree with my assessment about technology relative to the automobile, I need mention four words: Pinto, Corvair, Edsel and Yugo.
5. Press 8 to surrender
The title of the book is closely related to the title of this chapter. When it comes to the former, I didn’t think sows could understand English let alone a Romance language. Maybe they’re smarter than we think. Well, you won’t hear either the title of this chapter or the book as a message when you get stuck in voice maze, but if you do, we are really in deep trouble. By the time you get through all the menus to talk to a human being in an APS, provided you don’t give up, you’ll probably want to speak in another language – one that your mother won’t be pleased to hear.
We have Alexander Graham Bell to thank for the telephone. That invention has always had limitations as I felt you only got half the story since you were only listening with a single ear. Obviously, you will hear more by using both. As the telephone was evolving, there were other concerns, but many of the problems would be resolved. At the same time, new difficulties would ensue.
Thanks to the phone, we can communicate easier and don’t have to wait to hear from someone by hanging around the mailbox. Lost mail is never a concern in this regard. Lives have been saved because of the opportunity of getting help quicker when a fire or heart attack occurs. Today, a phone call can be a great deal cheaper than writing a letter or postcard.
With the telephone, you can converse with someone on the other side of the world. You may want to be sure they’re not sleeping because of the different time zones – unless you aren’t concerned about losing a friend. The business world takes full advantage of this situation by not having to worry about where they set up their branches. A company can be headquartered in New York and have offices in Paris, Peking and the Cayman Islands.
One of the byproducts of Mr. Bell’s innovation is the answering machine. Personally I hate them but they’re a necessary evil. Without them some people could never be reached. It also enables you to leave your residence even if you are expecting a call. You don’t have to be held prisoner in your own home waiting for the phone to ring. Another good use for answering machines is to screen calls. Too many times telemarketers, banks, credit card companies and charitable organizations bother you at the wrong time – is there a right time? With the answering machine turned on, this is no longer a problem. The same can be said for obscene phone calls, as these callers don’t usually call collect or leave messages.
Some time ago I had a house to sell and I knew that I wouldn’t be around most of the time to respond to phone inquiries were I to place an ad in the paper. The solution was very simple, as an answering machine would take care of my dilemma. I purchased one and it wasn’t long before I sold the house – I have been with an answering machine ever since. That purchase of my first recording device was over twenty years ago. Today that tool is nothing but voice mail and you really don’t need the physical device to have this convenience of phone monitoring.
To remedy the concern I had about a single ear and the phone, someone came up with the speakerphone. Now we can listen with both ears and should have less of a chance of missing anything. This new possibility also means that three or more people can be on the line together with the conference call feature. On numerous occasions over the past few years, I was part of business meetings in which it seemed a dozen individuals were participating, even though they weren’t all in the same room. You could be home and still be part of the proceedings. If I was away from the office, I certainly wouldn’t get involved, since I figured I could always ask someone in my group to fill me in on any important details.
The features that we see today don’t stop with the speakerphone or conference calling. We have the cell phone, call forwarding as well as the ability to do many more things with a phone that anyone could ever have imagined. I have to plead ignorance in this regard since I don’t own a cell phone, don’t use caller ID or call forwarding or waiting. Nonetheless, Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed if he could see what his first call so many years ago has become.
Many of these features really aren’t necessary and others are truly irritating, especially cell phones going off in public places. In April 2006, I had the opportunity to attend an after tax party, but instead went to a Department of Health report on a cancer survey in my former hometown, which resulted in some very contradictory findings. The evening left the residents shaking their heads and wondering why our tax dollars were spent on this effort at all. My sister was there too with her cell phone. During the proceedings, her device made the sound that most people hate, myself included. I didn’t mind it going off that evening, though. The majority of people claim they can’t live without the cell phone while at the same time, over fifty percent surveyed said that this is one item which should never have been invented.
I don’t know many people that care for the annoying ringing of cell phones or beepers anywhere. Some day the inventors will come up with a way to notify the user of an incoming call without having to tell everyone else in the room as well. How about having it vibrate? Every week before Sunday Mass in most churches, the greeter implores the congregation to turn off all cell phones and pagers or put them in vibrator mode. Personally I think people should leave these gadgets home, or at least in their car as they can live for an hour or so without them. Maybe people let the device ring just to tell others that he or she is an important person. I hate to say this, but the receiver of that call is not that important. There are very, very few people who need to have a pager or cell phone – doctors might be the only ones. Ironically, with all the proliferation of these devices as well as email – which I will get into later – communication has not improved in the least.
There is a much more troublesome problem with the cell phone. It is very possible that excessive use may cause cancer. Of course, the same is probably true with sitting in front of a television or PC. The difficulty has to do with the fact that since the technology is quite new, few studies have been done and it will take years to get any reasonable conclusion. Like most technological gadgets, tossing a used cell phone into the garbage really hurts the environment. It has to be done with care.
The answering machine may have been a great idea, but it created voice mail or the automated phone system, which I mentioned earlier. I like to call it voice maze, since you probably won’t talk to anyone if you get stuck inside and you will waste a great deal of time. I also think the device we attach to our phone would be more appropriately named the “no-answer machine,” since it doesn’t talk to you and you won’t get an answer since you haven’t reached the party you dialed. Yet, these advances were meant to improve our lives. It seems that they have only made them worse.
As great as the speakerphone might be, it’s a real pain. I thought of getting one but came to my senses and decided against it. I’m sure that you have listened to people using it and it sounds like they’re in a vacuum, and they’re not David Oreck. Technology really should be able to remedy this shortcoming. Of course, it probably can’t because it has other difficulties.
In early May 2006, I got a call on my noanswer machine that said, “Would you please give a call to…uh.” That was all I heard immediately followed by the words, “End of message.” A few days before that, there was a message for a Mrs. Nolan to call a specific number. Unfortunately the caller had the wrong number – from whence I don’t know. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from my agent saying, “Just an update to my message left on your answering machine.” The problem: My noanswer machine never got the message, and I’ve had it a few months, whereas my first one lasted years and it was quite reliable. I mentioned the truncated call earlier. This is despite the fact that I set the message length for one minute. What I heard was about five seconds of what the caller said. More recently, someone left a few words on my machine sounding like she was looking for me, but left neither a name nor phone number.
As I described in the introduction, I replaced that defective device – though not that old – with a new one. I hope it lasts at least a few years and doesn’t miss too many calls. The first one I owned cost me $150 in 1983, which a $30 machine replaced and in turn I replaced in 2006 with one that cost a mere fin. From all indications, it wasn’t worth the change in my empty pockets. That is one of the huge failures of technology, as gadgets have only gotten worse as they have gotten less expensive. Perhaps that is the reason: if you don’t pay that much, don’t expect a lot in return. Even setting up the very latest no-answer machine that I bought wasn’t without challenges. Setting up the time on the system took much longer than it should have to put in the day of the week, date and time. Also, the device has more buttons than my shirt, while in reality it doesn’t have that many functions. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.
I described my call waiting feature, which I never paid for, in one of my other books. You may have seen the episode of Seinfeld where phone etiquette was the issue. The show was hilarious but also made some great points about the use of the phone. Saying “I have another call,” is really something no one should hear when he is on the phone with anyone. If that happens, someone will be put into second place. As far as I am concerned, the busy signal solves this difficulty quite easily and it’s a cheaper alternative. I worked with a guy who had call waiting because he didn’t want to miss a call. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a no-answer machine. I never said that all the people I associated with were intelligent all the time.
The phone also brought into play caller ID, followed closely behind by caller ID block. I’m not sure if caller ID unblock is here yet, but if so, block of the caller ID unblock can’t be far behind. All these special features only tend to make the phone company richer and the user more frustrated. I always wanted to try an experiment. Since I retired, I can’t do this, but I thought of forwarding my calls to another office. Optimally, it would be to an unused cubicle. I would then forward that phone back to mine. One thing for sure, the office would be a great deal quieter.
We can thank the phone for some of the most annoying people on the planet, telemarketers. You can try to stop them by enlisting, not in the Army – I would never recommend that – but in the “do not call registry.” You will still get hounded by the organizations I mentioned earlier. However, there are a few things you can do to thwart these clowns and simultaneously have some fun. Refusing to answer the phone is one choice or just let your no-answer machine do its thing. You could also let it ring six times before the message comes on and you could make the message quite long. In most cases, the caller will give up and not leave a message. You can also pick up the phone and when you are asked for specifically, take a message and say he’ll get back to the caller. I guarantee they will say, “I’ll call back, later.” I have a few suggestions in the books on intelligence on vacation, and I’ll come up with more in the sequels.
I don’t consider telemarketers very ethical, which brings up another type of criminal. Did you ever check out your phone bill? Take a good look and you will see an endless list of services for which you are paying. I should remind you that I don’t have call forwarding, call waiting, teleconferencing and caller ID. Even so, these are some of the expenses on my bill from one month: WireSolution, portability fee, network access surcharge, federal universal service fee, federal excise tax, state and local taxes, state and local surcharge. I don’t have the faintest idea what some of these represent, but if I were to call to ask, I am sure that I would be rewarded with “voice mail.”
Alexander Graham Bell created a great invention but it seems to have been abused over the years. We have the ability to talk to anyone anywhere today, but communication problems are worse than ever. In his book, Doing Our Own Thing, John McWhorter mentions that with the cell phone, communication between people has never been better. I disagree for a number of reasons. Reaching someone is more difficult than ever. There are so many annoyances of the gadget. People drive – and not too well – while conversing on the cell phone, which is against the law. The telephone is a huge technological failure for these reasons, but if you disagree, let me just reiterate a few concerns: voice mail, cell phone symphonies, call waiting, the no-answer machine and calls at dinner time that could be made at some other time – like when you’re not home.
6. Time for an upgrade
I spent more years than I wanted in the business world, including over twenty years as a software consultant. I have a degree in computer science from the School of Advanced Technology at Binghamton University. In 2002, I developed my own web site and currently maintain it. Perhaps my feelings regarding PCs are slanted because of my knowledge of computers. However, I have always felt that since there are so many branches of the computer business, so many participants trying to make money and such great innovation – maybe that’s the wrong word, but you get the idea – there is no such thing as a computer expert.
I have already mentioned a few of my experiences in the world of PCs in the introduction, but by no means was that the end of what you’ll be reading. Computers have enabled calculations to take place at the speed of light whereas prior to the invention, some could never be done in anyone’s lifetime. They have enabled all kinds of data to be stored, processed and interpreted in media that take up virtually no space whatever. They have allowed us to get things done much quicker than if we attempted the same process without them.
PCs have a few purposes: word processing, game playing, getting data – music or information from the Internet – calculations, photography and reporting. I may have missed a few functions and by the time you read this, I’m sure there will be other uses as well. This device can be for business or personal use. I think the designation is inappropriate – I used a personal computer on numerous business contracts. Perhaps we should call it a YUC (Your Unlimited Computer.) Over the years people who invested in PC’s have gotten obsessed with their new tool of technology. Some have spent hour after hour in front of the machine and others have been logged on to the Internet for days on end. It may have reached the point where family or friends had to make a call to PC Anonymous. This machine has caused the breakup of some happy households and some bad feelings. You thought that addicts only got involved with drugs.
Writers first wrote with the pen, followed by the typewriter. Eventually, the word processor took over, much to the relief of many authors, myself included. These writing tools can help to produce a document, but there are limitations to each one. If you are working on a typewriter and make a mistake, your only recourse is to cross out the error, use whiteout or start over. Two solutions are messy and the third is more work and a waste of paper. You won’t have this situation with a basic word processor but if your document is a long novel, you could run out of room, since storage may be a problem.
All these challenges seem to be solved when you use a PC for word processing, except that now other problems arise. To begin with, you need to learn the intricacies of the software that is used when editing documents. Some are simple and easy to comprehend while others are so complex that you can be working with the package for some time and still be baffled by what occurs on occasion. But that is not all. You have to allow for the preponderance of bugs that you will run into from time to time.
There is still more to worry about if you use a PC for word processing. One word will sum it up and bring fear into the hearts of computer aficionados. That word is “crash,” – a great 2005 movie but nothing to write home about when it affects your PC. Users accept this as a normal activity in the life of a computer. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you either don’t own a PC or never worked with one. Come to think of it, “working with a PC” may be an oxymoron. I was under the impression that computers were meant to make our lives easier.